Friday, 15 March 2013

'Three paragraphs or less' challenge

'Despair' in two paragraphs.

She shrank back against the cold concrete of the sewer pipe wall. It was a funny place this, a labyrinth of sewer pipes tangled together under the streets of the town, sporadically leading out into daylight. To her left, away in the distance she could see the circle of light that signalled the outside world, and to her right a vast expanse of darkness. The tears rolled silently down her cheeks and splashed softly into the dirty puddle in front of her toes. The cracked rubber of her sneakers scraped against each other and she concentrated on the irritation of the noise. Channelling all her feelings towards the sensation allowed her to breathe deeply and deaden the pain in her chest. She was desolate and hollow. It was as if some great blunt object had peeled back her ribs, gouged into her chest cavity and spooned out her heart. She felt the ache where it had been and her hand clawed at her left breast involuntarily. Her tears were now punctuated by bleating sobs. She swallowed the sound and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth in its dryness. 

It was lonely here, the drips of her tears had occasional echoes in the dark, and the smell of damp seemed to permeate even her skin. All was sodden sorrow, drenched in pain and salt. Her other hand clutched at her skull, stroking her forehead aggressively and pulling at her hairline. She replaced the inner tension with the physical. Her breath began to cloud in the cold and she felt her lungs struggling like a pair of old concertinaed bellows. Her energy waned and she grew numb. She pushed herself away from the wall and took one large gulp of fetid air. Then, turning inwards, she took slow, purposeful steps and retreated into the darkness. Anaesthetised to pain, she was yet fully aware of her dank despair.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Fun with dolphins :)

As requested by Chomsky, a short story based on this:
Utterly ridiculous, but fun all the same!

James McGrath worked with animals. At least that is what he told people at dinner parties. It wasn’t deemed polite, so his wife had told him, to mention the seven degrees he had from various Ivy League colleges. It was in fact, rather rude to start explaining why Mrs Jefferson couldn’t possibly grasp the intricacies involved in the superlatively important work he performed every single day.  So, his participation in the inane and banal conversations of social formalities was limited. 

That said, James had never expected that he would ever be ashamed of his work. I mean for pity’s sake, he worked with animals. But when you’re a Marine Biologist, specialist in animal behaviour and you work for a section of the government not commonly spoken about in decent company, it would be na├»ve to expect anything less than shame. In fact, shame was the least of it. Guilt, stomach crushing guilt, sickness, anger, remorse, paranoia, anxiety and then, then the weight of shame fell on him. Shame at his own utter stupidity. When the men in suits and perennial  sunglasses show up at your house to request your skills in a highly sensitive situation, you don’t blindly follow just because you’re flattered. But he did. James McGrath was smooth-talked into co-operating in a covert mission to kill the president. 

Dolphins. That’s how they did it, or rather, how he did it. The beauty of it lay in its sheer preposterousness. He had unwittingly trained a single animal to recognise the president as a predator, specifically the president. I mean, it was a miracle really. His genius had allowed it to infiltrate the waters surrounding the president’s holiday villa and attack him whilst he was swimming with his family. It was all perfectly co-ordinated. The thing was, he had no idea of the intended outcome. He was just testing the theory of using animal attacks in covert warfare, it wasn’t real. Some smart Alec in the lab had jokingly suggested he use the president as bait, some grudge about the rise in the price of beer, harmless fun. Only it wasn’t. He couldn’t have known that that had been a set up too. He’d been stupid and arrogant. His failings would haunt him for the rest of his life. 

It had all been hushed up of course. James had been gagged with threats; his hands were stayed by the men in suits and sunglasses. He’d had to watch whilst they’d butchered the dolphin and burnt his files, eradicated any trace of the operation. He would remain anonymous, no record would ever be kept of his involvement, but he would never be allowed to speak out, never whisper his confession. They would be watching him from behind darkened glass. They would watch as the guilt and shame festered in him, contaminating his relationship with his wife, his family, his neighbours and friends until there was nothing left but pleasantries. 

And what is it that you do? 

I work with animals.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Auld Shakey Challenge

'Tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted Devil'

We called her Lorna Nextdoor even though we had never met another Lorna. I don’t remember her being small because I was even smaller. She started trying to be a woman and sometimes my sisters would flirt with the image to make it reflect back on them. My brother seemed indifferent. It frightened me. The red gash of lipstick across her face, clumping on her long mouth, the dry flakes of beige cracking on her skin and the blur of colours bruising the edge of her eyes, one day purple, one day green, one day silver, one eye more smudged than the other though her drawn eyebrows hung, a perfect mute match, precise and grotesque. It started to make me feel sick, to make me afraid to see her face in all its colours or that unnatural walk in her shoes that tried to raise her up and up and push her forward to fall, just fall on that awful face. I could scare her too. She used to make fun of my wooden cat. What point is a cat without fur? She asked me once and didn’t want an answer so I didn’t say if you just wanted fur, you could just have a fur, if you want a cat you need to have bones that can fold on themselves and hate you. My wooden cat is painted grey with green, green eyes and splotched black nose. He doesn’t have a mouth and she didn’t like that, I knew, she didn’t like that. I used to hide the cat around her house when I played there. At first she laughed and threw it to me and I made sure not to ask any questions but not to admit anything, not to say a thing. I kept hiding it. I did it even when she stopped laughing, even when she frowned. I would let her find the cat, pleading silently in her sock drawer, in the medicine cabinet, behind the toaster, in her shoe. She started to leave it where it was and so I kept moving it to and fro so she would always find it somewhere new. She yelled at me once, trying not to be angry, to take the cat home but I pretended I didn’t know what she meant. I hid it and moved it and once I heard her cry when she found it in her pencil case. I could hear through her bedroom door, no one else was nearby and I tried not to laugh. She threw it in the bin that time but I got it back and I cleaned it and kept it for a while, a few weeks and then it turned up again under her pillow. It was a courtship, forcing her to look at the thing, the silent thing with no mouth, to make her frightened and I was less afraid of her painted womanhood though the colours would still catch me once or twice and the thrill would make me feel sick with fear and joy and I wanted to peel my arms off. I could make the mascara bleed right out of her eyes and she didn’t say a word to me about it anymore, I think she knew, she knew the fear moved on its own and my hands weren’t responsible for a painted cat.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

My beard has grown attached to me...

My beard has grown attached to me...

'Nay, faith, let me not play a woman; I have a beard coming.'
– FLUTE, (1.2.307) A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“The original American Pallas Athena, wonder at her visible wisdom and masculinity! Step this way ladies and gentlemen, the great Pallas Athena this way!” Francis could hear Johnnie trying to attract the punters outside the display tent. Bless him, it was a tough job and it was a miserable night. The rain splattered wetly against the heavy canvas, and the wind crept in to set the candlelight flickering. It wasn’t the weather that kept them away though. It just wasn’t the same anymore. The freak shows had lost their shine, become tarnished by their familiarity and the dawning realisation that its inhabitants were genuinely human. She’d only been with the Biggins & Biggins Company for a few months, she’d thought it would be her big break, but even in that time she’d noticed the decline in visitors. It worried her; there wasn’t much call for her kind around. 
     Francis Amelia Walker was a bearded lady and used to be one of the strongest draws for travelling shows across the Eastern seaboard. But not now. Not even Job and Daniel, the identical brothers joined at the hip, were enough to pull people inside the dank ring of tents that they’d pitch sporadically on the outskirts of towns.
“The great Pallas Athena, come and have a gander m’am, sir! Only a dollar a time…”
     Francis sighed. There was something a little sad about her job now. She used to like putting on costumes and the theatrical makeup. She’d spend hours brushing and oiling her beard, waxing the ends into elaborate curlews and using the hot iron to make her hair into a frighteningly shaggy mop of auburn ringlets.  But in this moment, with a distracted, flirting couple sheltering from the storm and only the gormless eyes of one snotty-nosed bespectacled child in front of her, she couldn’t help feeling pathetic, and the loneliness of it made her shiver inside the ridiculous Grecian dress. She felt the beginnings of tiredness prickle her neck, which made her sit up that much straighter. The boy sniffed and she started gurning at him to try and raise some kind of reaction. He merely repositioned his glasses, wiped his nose on his sleeve, swallowed once and then became slack-jawed and still again.
     As she twisted the ends of her impressive facial hair idly between her fingers, Francis dwelt on her predicament. Without her livelihood she had nothing. No family, no home and nowhere near enough savings to sit back and rest on her laurels. She could apply to be a shop girl; she was clever enough with numbers, sailed through her arithmetic classes at school. But they’d never hire her as she was, and she couldn’t bring herself to be parted from her beard just yet. It wasn’t just her living, it was a part of what made her herself, part of her identity.
     Johnnie’s voice brought her back to the present. The boy had gone, and Johnnie was trying to urge the lovebirds out into the rain. She sighed at the way they clasped hands, the way the man sheltered the woman under his jacket, the adoring look in her eye. Johnnie lolled towards her, the lanky frame making his movement awkward, making the too-short sleeves of his jacket noticeable. Francis grinned at him. He reminded her of a brother she once had, before the cholera epidemic hit her hometown. Johnny looked nothing like family though. His tall, boyish blondness earned him a few catcalls now and then, but it was nothing compared to Francis’ visage. Her beard spread downwards, a thick and full five inches from her chin. Above this was pale, clear skin and an aquiline nose. Dark brows sat above dark eyes, brown and deep and brilliant. Her form was on the broader side, but her expansive bust was hidden beneath the beard and if she were to dress in a suit she could pass for a portly man. The hands gave her away though. They were small and fine boned, and soft as velvet. Johnnie grinned back at her.
     “Good work tonight Frannie” Only Johnnie called her Frannie, she didn’t seem to mind it when he said it.
“Don’t pull my leg love, it’s not detachable like Janet’s is.” Janet was Francis’s caravan mate. She’d lost her left leg to frostbite when she was small and had accumulated a collection of detachable appendages. They got progressively bigger as she’d aged and she’d display them whilst visitors listened to her stories and examined the stump of her thigh. As customers sought out bigger thrills, however, she’d learnt to perform acrobatics with the troupe the younger Biggins had picked up in Russia. She claimed that seeing a cripple fly through the air was more impressive, but she kept all her prosthetics. Some sentimental value still clinged to the things and they were wrapped up and stored underneath her bed.
     “Well, you can’t expect too much on a night like this one. It’s so damned bitter.” Johnnie helped Francis down off the small stage and they stepped towards the exit. “Mr Biggins wants to see you Frannie, he said to bring you right after closing. And not to take no for an answer neither.”
“All right Johnnie, I guess this was coming. Lead on Macduff.” He looked at her quizzically, his brows drawn together. “It’s Shakespeare you cretin.”
“No it’s not. I think you mean ‘Lay on Macduff’.”
“Oh ho, not so soft headed after all! Better make you mine before some other gal gets to noticing what a brainbox you are.” She took his arm and snuggled in at his shoulder.
“You couldn’t stand me. I snore.”
“Oh is that right, well, the other ladies can have you then. Can’t be putting up with a snorer, even one as clever as you.”
They chuckled and trod boldly out into the swampy clearing. Some of the crew had put palettes down to form a make shift walkway, but even so the bottom of Francis’s dress was three inches soaked in mud by the time she knocked on the door of Wallace’s caravan. The door was painted a beaming yellow that seemed to shine in the dark, and glistened where the raindrops clung to the gloss.
“I’ll leave you here Frannie, I’ve got a date with a bookie.”
“Alright love, see you tomorrow all being well.”
“G’night.” And with a swift peck on the forehead, he disappeared into the darkness beyond the pools of lamplight. Johnnie always kissed her on the forehead. He’d explained once that he found the scratchiness of her whiskers disconcerting, but she liked the affectionate gesture, there was something sweet and brotherly about it.
     She knocked on the door again and, hearing a muffled indication to enter, she stepped over the threshold into the relative warmth of the cabin.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Challenge: Shakespeare

So folks, truly boring one here but the challenge is this:
Use a Shakespeare quote of your choice (the more obscure the better) to prompt a short story or poem.

Some of my faves are
'a young woman in love always looks like patience on a monument smiling at grief'
'Fare thee well/ A fiend like thee might bear my soul to hell'
'Nay, faith, let me not play a woman; I have a beard coming.'

End date is February 14th - I'm assuming there'll be a mushy romantic challenge at this point - so get cracking :)

Sunday, 6 January 2013

You so Punny!

So I did it. I did it a day late, but it's here! This is my attempt at cramming as many puns as I could into a story, hope it makes you giggle. I cheated and used this website a bit to help me:

Hugo was channel hopping, as he tended to do each morning. He also watched television illicitly in the ferry crew staff room. He switched over to the news. The nasal voice of the whingeing reporter made a tinny echo in the small, sterile kitchenette.  
“It's a bad week for the stock market. Helium was up, but feathers were down. Paper was stationary, but pencils lost a few points. Elevators rose but escalators continued their slow decline. Switches were off and mining equipment hit rock bottom. The raisin market has dried up. Pampers remained unchanged while Sun peaked at mid-day.”
At this point Earl walked in and nodded his greeting to Hugo. Earl Lee Riser always worked the morning shifts with Hugo, and he liked the friendly, laid-back familiar amiability of routine they shared. They sat watching the inane reporter for a little while until Earl broke the quiet.
“Oolong has this tea been sat here man?” 
“Too long Earl, it’s probably gone grey by now. But you know what they say; time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana. I just haven’t gotten around to boiling the kettle yet. I did try and get some of that loose tea you like, but the price was too steep.” 
“Oh, that’s alright, thanks for trying anyways. So what did you get up to with your woman last night? Whatever it was you’d better have been safe man, you know condoms should be used on every conceivable occasion! Think of Kit Baker, he was with Mary for two seconds and now he’s got a bun in the oven!”
“I know, I know. Stop behaving like my mother Earl, I’m a grown man. And you know Kit, he’s not like his brother, he’s the good Baker, he’ll rise to the occasion, it’s the yeast he can do after all.”
“That’s true enough. So what did you and Iona get up to?”
“Well, where do I start. We were over in France so I thought we’d go and have a romantic day in Paris, see the sights and that. But all of a sudden she starts talking about marriage and stuff. It was getting really heavy for a bit there so I was trying to do make light of it but it didn’t work. And you know how I feel about marriage”
“It’s just the mourning after the knot before,” they intoned together.
“So what happened then?” Earl leaned forward in his seat.
“She said she wasn’t happy, she said she wanted more. She wanted marriage and all that came along with it, a new name and a dress. But I wasn’t having none of it. And then she got all hysterical saying she’d throw herself off the bridge if I didn’t ask her to marry me.”
“No way! Then what?”
“I simply told her that if she did that she’d be in Seine and no man would want to marry her after that.”
“I suppose not, I’ve heard it stinks.”
“Exactly. Then I did the right thing and broke up with her. I told her we were too alike, we’re both too selfish and when two egotists meet it’s always an I for an I.”
“How did she take it?”
“Not too well. She stomped off to her little beat up Honda and drove away into the sunset. I guess that’s the last I’ll see of Iona Ferrari.”
“I’m sorry man, but it sounds like you’re well rid of her. Bit psycho if you ask me!”
“I suppose so. I’ll miss the little things she used to do though, like cook me breakfast at the weekend. She always said a boiled egg in the morning was hard to beat.”
“Cheer up Hugo, it could always be worse, did you hear about the marine biologist who developed a race of genetically engineered dolphins that could live forever if they were fed a steady diet of seagulls. One day his supply of the birds ran out, so he had to go out and trap some more. On the way back, he spied two lions asleep on the road. Afraid to wake them, he gingerly stepped over them. Immediately, he was arrested and charged with - transporting gulls across sedate lions for immortal porpoises. Hahahahahahahaha!” Hugo, who’d been staring glumly into his cold tea, cracked a smile.
“Earl, that’s got to be the worse bird-related pun I feather heard. I need a drink, but if I was caught on the job they’d make me take a leave of absinthe.”
“That’s the spirit! Don’t let your troubles get you down mate, after all, suicide at sea is definitely going overboard. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”
The two men went back to their amiable quiet and stared at the television. The reporter on the news had changed. A pretty, pert brunette beamed at them from behind her desk. They sat up and took notice,
“Next up” she chattered, “why are corduroy pillows making headlines?”