Feeding Frustration – a very short story

 

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It was really extremely annoying.

He had been studying the new layout all day. Previously, when food had been loaded onto the platform it had been the work of moments to climb the pole and demolish the pile of goodies. Then, for some bizarre reason, they had greased the pole.

It had taken a few days to work out a route. There was a rope strung across the area diagonally. Sometimes it hosted an array of damp cloth and he found it hard to negotiate but usually he could simply skim along, leap to the feeding platform and indulge. He thought they might move the rope so that even a prodigious leap would not take him to the platform, but really, why should they?

He was sure the changes, like the greased pole, and the occasional cloth hangings could not be directed at him. The food was still put out regularly and even though some birds came to peck and play there was always plenty left. He knew he didn’t frighten the birds, much; they knew he was not a predator so it was a case of live and let live.

And now, today, there were new hazards.

The rope was still there. There were no damp cloths. But there were strange translucent plastic shapes with the rope running through them. When he tried to navigate one it skittered and whirled so that he was decanted to the ground. He tried again. Same result. A starling was, he thought, laughing at him.

The platform was full of delicious snacks and besides, he was hungry. He chittered angrily and felt that the snap and click from the stone hole near the feeder was perhaps the last straw. He had a vague idea that the food providers were laughing at him, too, and somehow recording his despair.

Manipulation (a ficlet)

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This is a mini-fic I wrote for entry into a competition. It didn’t get anywhere. When I read the winning entry and the runners up I realised I had perhaps gone off at a tangent. Still, I quite liked my ficlet and it’s a pity to waste it on some judges who didn’t really want it in the first place. So here you are! A kind of alternative future.

Alice checked the power levels. Despite Michael’s film download things were fine. She was glad they’d moved south when things started deteriorating but even central Portugal couldn’t guarantee sufficient solar power and mountains bristling with wind turbines could also block the sun.

The flicker must be the ISP’s. After the US lost the wars and the oil ran out there were few options. Some solar-powered servers were in the newly independent American Bible Belt, the rest mostly in Saudi or Iraq. Aborigines, working with anti-internet fanatics, closed the Northern Territories to development. Africa was out of the question. Religious leaders controlled what most people could see. Michael chose an Iraqi ISP, reasoning that Saddam, not the most religious man, would be less likely to interfere with content.

But there were still power struggles, terrorists, bombs; half a world away but they could prevent Alice seeing what she so needed to see.

The screen cleared and steadied; she gasped as the young man seemed to walk towards her.

“Michael! He’s here,” she called.

“Hi Gran! Hi Gramps!” His infectious grin made her wish she could hug him.

They worried when Jake chose to spend his gap year travelling; when he settled in New Zealand they worried more.

“It’s a smaller world nowadays,” he said.

They hadn’t even been able to meet Jennifer in person. But now Aiden could visit them once a month, Hussein and Bin Laden willing.

Alice spared a glance at the blue skies beyond her grandson and tried to remember how con trails had once traced lace paths across the world.

They frittered away the precious hour comparing fruit crops and the price of sheep. Too soon, Aiden waved and blew a kiss.

Michael switched to their homepage.

“They’re accusing people of tampering with 3D chat services,” he said, “using a kind of photoshopping technique.” Alice dredged her memory for the term.

“You mean…”

He shrugged. “They’re comparing it with postcards from concentration camps,” he said, “but surely we would know if things were that bad?”

Happy New Year!

NY 16

I remembered I’d written a pair of ‘mirror’ ficlets about New Year, some time ago so thought you might be interested to see them here. The first is dark and angsty, but the second, which starts with the same premise, holds out hope for the future and is the one you should regard as the ‘correct’ version.

New Year’s Resolution 1 (500 words)

He stroked the soft worn leather; fingered the prong on the well-known buckle – a snake swallowing its tail.

He watched her bring a bag of cast-offs, her own, her husband’s, her son’s. All for charity. The sick. The deserving. But when she looked at him there was no charity in her eyes.

He remembered skin, supple and brown as the belt encircling it. His eyes must have shouted their loss because he heard the girl on the stall say gently to him,

‘We haven’t priced this lot yet but if you really want it that badly …I’ll just ask.’ Then after muttering with another woman,

‘Is 50p OK?’

And he exchanged the 7-sided coin for a memory.

At Christmas he wore the belt close, like its owner had been. Had appeared to be. True closeness could not, surely, have been severed by the parental knife so surgically, easily, in one direction. The filaments of his own life were still entwined..

On New Year’s Eve he stayed in. Others had asked him to join them at parties, in bars, at meals in private houses and convivial restaurants. He had refused all invitations. Each thought he was with another, never imagining him alone. Their brilliant friend, star of every gathering.

He leafed through the photographs, glad he’d had them printed. The two of them, on the beach, in the woods, walking in the hills. First one, then the other, then, as familiarity with the camera brought confidence, both, smiling at the timer that allowed them to pose together. The belt showed clearly in some of the shots. He held it as he remembered, the leather warming beneath his touch.

He had never understood how they had known. Or how strong their hold was. How all that love and brightness could crumble to ash in the blaze of their fury. His invitation to leave, live with him for ever, had been spurned as if it came from the devil himself. The family had closed around their own, leaving him on the outside, not even looking in.

Did they know what they had destroyed? He sensed that they did.. That they were proud of their achievement, would be equally proud of the outcome.

He dreamed fitfully and rose at a quarter to twelve. He’d already set crossed sticks and balled paper in the grate. Now he carefully added the photographs and placed the belt on top. As the church clock started to chime the hour he lit the match and set fire to his life. Ringing bells across the town accompanied the beautiful flames.

His brain made moving pictures in the flickering orange and gold. Two young men. Teenagers still. A camping holiday that turned into something more. Turned, in the bitter end, to tears and mud. Careless of the remaining heat he smeared the debris across his forehead and lay down beside the hearth.

After that, it was easy, inevitable even, swallowing the bitter medicine. And falling gratefully, permanently, asleep.

New Year’s Resolution 2 (500 words)

He stroked the soft worn leather; fingered the prong on the well-known buckle – a snake swallowing its tail.

He watched her bring a bag of cast-offs, her own, her husband’s, her son’s. All for charity. The sick. The deserving. But when she looked at him there was no charity in her eyes.

He remembered skin, supple and brown as the belt encircling it. His eyes must have shouted their loss because he heard the girl on the stall say gently to him,

‘We haven’t priced this lot yet but if you really want it that badly …I’ll just ask.’ Then after muttering with another woman,

‘Is 50p OK?’

And he exchanged the 7-sided coin for a memory.

He wore it sometimes, savouring the closeness, his own skin tingling with the remembrance of touch. Mostly it stayed coiled on the windowsill, a memento of summer and teenage craziness, the buckle a reminder of desire and laughter. Bittersweet memories, like the nest of adders they’d disturbed on the South Downs. Tender memories like the night on the cliffs at Dover.

Then he would remember the homecoming and the look on their faces when they said he wasn’t welcome any more. The finality of the door closing in his face.

Christmas had no sparkle this year, despite the lights and the music. All he wanted was something he couldn’t have. And he imagined the scene in their house, the prodigal son restored, the fatted turkey roasted to perfection, the devil cast out. All their prayers answered. He made duty visits then returned home.

New Year approached on leaden feet but all at once he felt a stirring of courage. One final throw of the die, for the sake of his pride if nothing else. He bought wine, cheese, chocolates. Entertaining his as yet uninvited guest had to be treated as a foregone conclusion. He dressed with care and forced himself into the frosty streets.

When he let the knocker fall beneath its pine wreath and heard the echo in the hall he almost turned away. It was too like a death knell. But the door opened and a startled face blossomed with joy.

‘They said you’d gone away!’

‘They said you didn’t want to see me!’

And as easily as that the door swung shut and they were together. Running down the street hand in hand, shouting, laughing, crying. Shivering, too, in the icy east wind. His apartment, then, and a quick rummage through clothes that were all too big, too long, but were at least warm. A sweater that could be held in by the belt, restored to its rightful place. As he fastened it he knew it would have to be unfastened almost at once, but first, first …

They went out onto the balcony and stood, arms around each other’s shoulders, each holding a glass of wine. Wished the whole world a Happy New Year as the clocks chimed, then turned to the warmth, and to each other.

 

Two prompts recently filled

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At a recent writers’ group meeting (most of us were fanfic writers) we were given prompts to pick from a hat and a time limit for writing.

My first linked prompts were: ‘a historical personage’ and ‘coming out’. That, in fifteen minutes, produced the following:
Out

A ghost talking? I can see your disbelief. But we’re all ghosts now, those of us who were here two millennia before you. Yet to me it is yesterday and I need to tell someone about it. You’ll do.

The word in the forum was rumour built upon rumour until even the youngsters were scrawling their ideas on the walls; black, white and ochre graffiti. ‘Who the woman in the relationship?’ they scribbled. ‘Who the one shamed?’ Drawings asked questions as rudely as words; laughter came alike from merchant, soldier and slave. But no-one really knew the truth of it; it was all suspicion and turmoil, envy of those in high position, belief that leaders might or even should have feet of clay.

I could have told them. Throughout the campaigns, military and political, I remained silent and so did he. We never spoke of what we shared, even to each other, of the hot sweaty grappling that ended in heaven-sent release. The army was, in any case, a forgiving environment where what men did in tent or camp stayed there and did not follow them back to Rome. And yet it hurt, somehow, to pretend we were no more than friends or colleagues, hurt not to acknowledge the real, closer relationship.

We all knew events were spiralling out of control. We all knew secrecy could breed sourness on every side and that every public mask could hide a growing private bitterness. I knew in my heart that jealousy and a fear of power would eventually rot and spoil what we had together. But I had never thought that love could turn around as if from north to south, into hate.

I never intended to out myself or my lover. Then as I felt my life seeping away, the dagger thrusts hurting my heart more than my body, I could not help but say, with what I knew was a tone of injury beyond mere death, “Et tu, Brute?”

 

My second pair of prompts were: ‘Merlin (the show) or Arthurian legend’ and ‘threesome’. Another fifteen minutes gave me this.

Before

Before the fighting began, before their armies were drawn up behind steel lines, before it was too late… and yet perhaps it was always too late? Anyway, they drank together, trying to find some way back. Drink loosened their tongues and their moods. Drink fuelled a pissing contest, real and metaphorical. Whose piss arced furthest? They were too drunk to measure with any accuracy. Who was the bravest? Gawain might know but he wasn’t there. Who was the most daring? They took time in a confused fashion to tease apart the ideas of bravery in the face of immediate danger and daring in rushing to face danger that had not yet appeared. Who was the best lover? They could hardly ask Guinevere.

The last two questions merged. It seemed the answer could be had from anyone, male or female. They did not so much invite Mordred as hijack him and take him to one of their beds. It wasn’t clear whose bed it was but Guinevere, at any rate, was not in it.

Consensual but very drunken sex followed. If they fumbled and were less than brilliant in their loving, well, all were drunk and unobservant. They all swore a solemn oath on the grail they could not see never to tell Guinevere, or anyone else. Mordred pronounced, his judgement as weighty as that of Paris but less intelligently reached.

Next day they awoke together but fled apart, each thinking someone had played a cruel hoax when they had been in their cups. None of the three could ever recall anything of the night other than a faint feeling that their relationships were not quite as they used to be. Not that, in the end, it mattered.

“Exit, pursued by a bear.”

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SHAKESPEARE AT THE ZOO

“We’re supposed to be rewriting Shakespeare, not messing about researching Polar Bears.” Amy was always grumpy before the keepers brought their morning fruit.

“Not rewriting, writing all over again. But Polar Bears are more interesting. I saw some in the zoo once.” Adam always had a reply for Amy. Of course, he was the leader and was expected to keep everyone in order.

“When?” Amy was brave, questioning him, but then she was always brave. “When you went to the hospital?” Adam just sniffed but Antony looked admiringly at him. A trip to the hospital was an adventurous thing to have undertaken, even if occasioned by a septic toe. The grand outing had spawned enough tales to keep Adam’s image glowing with glory.

“They eat sheep.” Alan looked up from his research and announced this fact to the assembled group. “Well, they eat meat of any kind really, but at the zoo they eat sheep meat. It says here.” He gestured towards the screen. There was a silence, broken by Adam scratching his head.

“Any meat? You mean…” Perhaps a Polar Bear wouldn’t make such a good hero for their story after all. He shuddered and remembered the delicate look of the railings around the enclosure.

“But you’d keep us safe, wouldn’t you?” He knew without looking that that was Antony, so certain and trusting.

“It’s only a story, Antony,” he said, and Amy laughed, pointing at Antony and chuckling, her sides heaving with mirth.

“But you really would?” Antony was insistent and Adam reached out to fondle his head.

“I’m not God, Antony, even in the story,” he reminded him. “But I’d do my best. You know I would.” They all nodded, even Amanda, who was, as usual, distracted by the antics of baby Bill.

“None of us believe in God,” said Charles, leader of one of the other groups. There were about a hundred of them in the huge room and sometimes rivalries and tempers threatened to wreck the supposedly literary atmosphere. “I’m not sure,” he went on, “that we believe in you, Adam, or even in your hospital trip.”

There was a brief but extremely loud scuffle. When order had been restored Adam watched Charles walk away, cowed for the moment but hardly defeated. Charles looked, he thought, a little like a goat, with his wispy beard and the way his ears stuck up like horns. And those slitty eyes… He looked out of the window towards the enclosure where the petting animals grazed and browsed contentedly in the children’s corner. Yes, a goat. Perhaps the next stage in the plotting of the story would involve tethering Charles as bait for the bear. It was turning into quite an epic, with villains and heroes and suspense.

Antony was tugging at his arm, chattering in excitement at seeing his own hero defeat a rival. Antony’s attentions were very satisfying, Adam decided. He fondled the youngster again in a proprietorial manner and they settled to grooming each other, only half aware of Alan and Amy, who were considering a sub-plot of romance.

“If we had Adam and Antony…” Amy began.

“But we thought in terms of a Romeo and Juliet theme,” said Alan.

“Romeo and Romeo would have been just as intriguing,” Amy told him. “And now that you’ve introduced bears I think we have a bestseller on our hands.” And so saying, she grinned before peeling and munching noisily on a banana. The fruit had arrived and all was well with her world.

 

Halloween Drabbles

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I have written, from time to time, drabbles in various ‘fandoms’. They are a form of fanfiction and I have adhered to the 100 word rule in these six examples although the titles are extra. They are all related to television programmes shown in the UK – some of them quite a while ago. They are also all based on the general theme of halloween.

I haven’t given the names of the series. Guess them all correctly (there should be enough clues) and I’ll write a couple of drabbles for you, provided I know the series you choose.

1. Callers.

Janet sighed and closed the door on yet another small skeleton. She had treated each caller with gentleness and courtesy, offering candy and remembering the real monsters out there; monsters they had met and fought. Monsters who would eat these little ones for breakfast. Surely the stream of costumed frights would stop soon and she could relax with a drink and her favourite TV series.

Another knock. But no shuffling or giggling on the step. She hesitated, wondering what waited. Then she heard a voice she knew calling, ‘Trick or treat?’ and opened the door gladly to a smiling Sam.

2. Clubland.

The canal water gleamed like mercury, poisonous and thick. For a moment Vince imagined creatures from some Cheshire lagoon or aliens from the Doctor’s adventures, boiling into the street. He shivered and drew back from the low wall. Halloween was depressing enough without nightmares like that. Then his friends spilled out of the club, backlit by the pulsing neon glow, and he was cajoled into his usual role of best mate, chauffeur and all time gooseberry. The monsters were all too real, green-eyed and menacing. A turnip lantern in a pub window grinned fitful mockery as he accepted the keys.

3. Foreshadowing.

Nick watched Wani sadly. The man had always been as sleek and as independent as a cat, dark and magical. On their first meeting Nick half expected him to leave by the window and prowl the rooftops. Now he had carelessly squandered his nine lives and was clinging to the earth by the tips of his claws. He would haunt their usual places, that was certain. Whether Nick would see him next Halloween would depend on how far he had cast his sickness along with his spell. Others would see a momentary beauty swirl through the dark streets and wonder.

4. Monsters large and small.

Trick or treat. He’d give them trick or treat. He’d treat them to a piece of his mind. Parents should have more sense. Didn’t they know how dangerous the streets were? Paedophiles and drug pushers didn’t go home and draw the curtains just because it was Halloween. Rosy-cheeked ladies offering apples might have hidden blades in the sweet flesh. Idiots, prey and predators alike.

Andy found himself hurrying, wishing he’d stayed at home. John might be trusting enough to open the door. And Theo…

He would have to trust John. Meanwhile, he growled at a small ghost who fled, terrified.

5. The Knock.

“Trick or treat, missus?”

Dipping her hand into the sweet jar, Ros threw a handful of toffees at the sheeted figure.

“Nah. Me mum says them things’ll rot me teef.” The ghost was still solid; Ros realised money, rather than sugar, was modern halloween currency.

“Shut the door and let them do their worst.” Adam’s voice galvanised her.

“Trick,” she snarled. The snick of the latch was satisfying, although she could expect jam or glue in the lock later. She went back to the bedroom.

“Thought we were the spooks,” she said wearily. “We’re no match for the real thing.”

6. Touchdown.

“The planet of Halloween!” His face broke into a creases of delight. “Imagine! Trick or treat every day and pumpkin pie after every meal!”

Donna was less than thrilled. There were shadows that loomed, stalked and flickered; flames where there should have been darkness and darkness where the sun should have shone.

“What do you want to see first?” he asked. “The Sea of Souls, the bat colony in Outer Ghoul, or the Witch King’s palace?”

She shook her head.

“Spoilsport!”

Donna shrugged. She had always hated things that went bump in the night. She wanted to go home. Now.

Birthday ficlet

birthday card

My last post, promising or threatening to upload ficlets, was well received. As it’s my birthday next week I thought this very short flashfic (posted to a Yahoo writing group in 2009) might be a suitable first ficlet for this blog. I’ve altered it slightly and added the photo. I sometimes make online cards for my friends, using my own photos of flowers and natural scenes. Then I photoshop to get special effects and this is one of my efforts. So here’s the story, all 269words of it :

Writer’s Block

It was exquisite. The paper, thickly textured and probably hand-made, was deep cream, cut or perhaps torn in squares about the size of the palm of his hand. The sheets, piled into a rough cube, were fastened with a lavender ribbon that crossed and recrossed, finishing with a sophisticated knot and softly trailing ends. The gift came wrapped in gold tissue with a card that read: ‘from Hilary, with best wishes.’

Tom phoned his friend. “Thank you! It’s lovely! But what’s it for?”

“Your birthday, of course. Duh!”

“Well, yeah, I figured that out but what do I do with it? I mean, I never use snail-mail and my phone saves all my messages.”

“You know what you were saying last week? About having ideas when you were cooking or watching TV?”

“So?”

“So I thought of this. Dan Sweeney makes them and sells them in his gift shop.”

“And he deserves to do well but that still doesn’t tell me what it’s for. Is it supposed to give me ideas?”

“Stoopid!! You’re supposed to keep it in a convenient place. With a pen or pencil. It’s a writer’s block.”

Tom let his fingers caress the surface of his new aide-memoire and wished he could transfer the gesture through the phone to Hilary’s skin. “Thank you again,” he said. “You can be sure I’ll make good use of it.” He sighed happily and went in search of a suitable writing implement. It was a most satisfactory present. Somewhere to store his thoughts that would also remind him of the giver; riches indeed.