What Pegman Saw : The Moses Rickson Poker Club

 

 

We’d sit out the back of the casino after our shift, packing crate as a makeshift table,  three plastic chairs Moses had rescued from a skip because he was ‘too damn old to sit on the kerb.’ We’d smoke, pass a bottle of pétrole, stagger home at dawn and sleep till it was time to do it all again.

The poker club was Moses’ idea. He thought it was funny, watching rich fools lose thousands of francs all night, then going out back by the steaming dumpsters, playing cards for matches by torchlight. We’d shiver under blankets in the dry season and in the rainy season, we’d string up a plastic sheet, listen to the drains gulp down the rats.

Tonight is the last time the poker club will meet. We’ll smoke, laugh, drink too much home brew and toast the empty chair where Moses once sat his skinny behind.

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week, we visit Kinshasa, Congo. See here to join in.

I haven’t posted for two weeks, the longest gap since I started blogging over three years ago. Work and family issues have taken up too much of my time to commit to being here, so sorry for my absence, dear blogging friends.

NB

Pétrole is the slang name for Lotoko, a home brewed moonshine commonly made in Congo from maize, plantain or cassava. It can be up to 50% proof.

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Writing opportunity: Calling all Wyrd Sisters … and Brothers

 

Now, I know many of you out there are weird*.

I don’t mean that in a bad way, because you’re like me – you’re drawn to reading and writing on subjects from the darker realms of your imagination and that’s great, right?

When you close your eyes or put pen to paper/ fingers to keyboard, you’re mind is not teeming with big-eyed Disneyfied, fluffy bunny fiction, spilling over with love and flowers and happy endings.

That’s not to say everyone your write is a sociopath with a taste for human flesh, but if your characters are good people who rescue small children and help old ladies cross the road, they are made that way so you can do horrible things to them.

Preferably with pits of magma.

And ghouls.

And horned beasts.

Given that you are a fellow twisted soul who needs a creative outlet (and let’s face it, we’d all be very afraid if you didn’t have an outlet), you might be interested in this writing opportunity at The Wyrd magazine.

So if you’re an author or artist who has

a fondness for weird and slipstream themes

Pop along here. Closing date is the end of this month and good luck, siblings.

 

*Of course, if you’re genuinely weird, you’ll spell this WYRD

Shadowmaker – the beginning

Teenage girl tattoos

Image : Pixabay

Here, just for fun, is the opening of my YA novel Shadowmaker, a time travel yarn that’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while now. It’s had a little notice – a shortlsting in a magazine competition and it made it to second reads in a Hodderscape open house – but no takers as yet. As I’m considering putting it back out there, any creative criticism – especially from you YA readers and writers – would be gratefully received.


 

The Gift

Edie looked around the kitchen, at food-splashed walls the colour of cowpats and woodlice moored to the floor by lakes of cooking oil. Shouldn’t August sunshine make a place look less like a squat?

‘It’s disgusting.’ She was tired of  carrying boxes and being sticky with dirt. And although they still hadn’t unpacked yet, she was already tired of living in a basement.

‘It’s fine,’ Mum said, dragging the bucket closer to her. ‘Just needs a bit of love. More importantly, it’s cheap. My new job doesn’t pay enough to be fussy.’

Edie groaned. ‘It doesn’t need love, it needs a blowtorch. The carpet looks like a defrosting woolly mammoth.’

Mum giggled. ‘Funny.’

Edie wasn’t trying to be funny. She’d left her friends and her home behind for a flat that smelt like a fish and chip shop run by rats. The thought made her want to punch the wall.

Mum hadn’t listened when Edie begged to stay in Manchester. So one Saturday, after an hour of swearing and door slamming, Edie stormed from the house to the nearest salon, where she’d had every inch of her shoulder-length copper hair shaved from her head. Mum hadn’t said a word when Edie returned home, but her eyes had spoken for her. She’d loved Edie’s hair – and Edie had been sure to keep it cropped ever since.

‘Make yourself useful,’ said Mum, emerging from the cupboard to flick her with a rubber glove the colour of phlegm. ‘Could you fetch me some fresh water, please?’

Edie twitched her arm away. ‘Well, that’s assault, for a start.’

Mum fixed her with cool green eyes and her ‘you’re pushing your luck’ face. ‘How about you mope less and help more. And after you’ve fetched the water, can you nip upstairs and ask Flora for the back door key.’

Edie sagged. ‘Can’t you go? The house stinks of poodles and pee.’

‘Don’t be mean, love. She’s an old lady living alone. She’d appreciate the company.’

‘She’d have more company if she didn’t smell of poodles and pee.’

‘Edie!’

‘All right, for goodness sake!’

      ***

If only she had a Taser.

As her finger touched the bell, there was an explosion of yapping from the other side of the door. Before today, Great Aunt Flora had just been spidery writing in birthday cards and a five pound note every Christmas.  Now they were living in her basement. Would Edie have to call her Aunty? Well, she could get stuffed. Mum and her Nan had been her only relatives for sixteen years. Now Nan had died, she didn’t want or need a replacement.

‘Bluey!’ Flora’s voice was the same pitch as the dogs’ yapping and was so loud, she could’ve been standing on the step beside Edie. ‘Leave Poppet alone or it’s the naughty step for you. Sammy, move your bum. Budge, you lot. Mummy’s got to open the door. Where’s that key?’

A couple of minutes and a torrent of swearing later and the key was found, two chains swung free and four bolts were loose. Despite the hot sun on the back of her neck, Edie thought of crypts as the door creaked open and through a narrow crack, she glimpsed a walnut face and two raisin eyes.

‘Hi, Flora. Mum asked me…’

‘Quick.’

She gripped Edie’s arm, pulling her inside as the front door slammed shut. Edie blinked in the gloomy hallway. There was a smell like public lavatories and soft, snuffling noises coming from somewhere by her ankles. She jumped as something rough and wet brushed the back of her hand.

‘They’re just curious, lovey.’ Flora’s voice receded along the hall. ‘Sorry if I was a bit rough, but Bluey’s a little sod. Nearly escaped yesterday when the postman delivered the nightie I’d ordered. A cracker it is, all pink and flowery. You can’t hardly see the bra cups for lace.’

Edie tried not to imagine Flora wearing a nightie, but failed.

‘Little bugger’s got an adventurous soul, see,’ said Flora.

‘Is that the dog or  the postman?’

Silhouetted against a rectangle of light from the kitchen doorway, Flora tossed a sluggish miniature poodle  to one side with a flick of her slipper. The dog shivered from nose to rump then trotted towards Edie, joining a circle of eager, weepy-eyed faces.

‘Don’t let’em bother you,’ called Flora. ‘Suckers for tickles, that’s all. Come to the kitchen. Got some squash somewhere .’

As her eyes grew accustomed to the light, Edie glimpsed walls crowded with photographs and portraits, surrounded by chocolate brown wallpaper and pale green paintwork – it was like an art gallery inside a mint Aero. Keen to escape all the eyes, she headed for the kitchen, dogs parting before her. She was pretty sure a grave would feel less claustrophobic.

The kitchen resembled a junk shop,  cluttered with stacks of yellowing newspapers, food packets, tins and dismantled electrical appliances. Edie picked up something that looked like a food mixer with a propeller on the top.

Flora blushed. ‘Great fun taking ‘em apart, bloody nightmare putting ‘em back together again. Now where’s that squash? Ah, pantry.’ Flora ducked through a bead curtain with a clatter of plastic.

Edie was reluctant to trust even mucky jeans to Flora’s chairs, which had the same greasy sheen as the basement’s kitchen counters. There were more photos hung by the cooker, so for lack of anything else to do, she wandered over, careful to avoid an Everest of mouldy tea bags heaped by the gas ring. The first picture she looked at was of a young woman in a long dress, hair scraped back from her face. Behind the woman hung a painted backdrop of broken stone columns and tumbling roses. On the cardboard mount in gold lettering, an inscription read Albert Dee esq 1881.

‘There you go. Found ‘e under a load of old fairy lights.’ Flora reappeared from the pantry draped in cobwebs, a sprinkling of dust in her hair. ‘Why’s it what you want’s always at the back?’ She brandished a mug filled with something luminous.

The liquid had a chemical smell, a mixture of fruit and plastic chairs. Edie forced a smile, carefully resting the mug on the draining board.

‘You found my pics, then,’ said Flora. ‘Gorgeous, wasn’t I?’

Edie looked between the graceful figure in the photograph and the gnome-woman beside her. ‘That’s you?’ The words were out of her mouth before she could think of something polite to say.

Flora just smiled. ‘Oh, yeah. ‘Bout 21 there.’ She pointed to the next picture along, which had crinkled from the heat of the oven. ‘Bit younger there. Too skinny, but that was mostly corset. Good one of the ghost, though.’

‘Ghost?’ Edie had seen the smudge of grey but assumed it was dirt. Now, as she peered closer, the mark resolved into a translucent figure, dark blotches marking the eyes and mouth.

‘I was so young when I met Albert,’ sighed Flora. ‘He was a snapper in town and I was a girl who saw dead folk. Being a medium was fashionable then, see.’ She traced the name with her fingertip. ‘So handsome ‒ moustache like a floor brush. All fake, o’ course.’

‘The moustache?’ Conversations with Flora mangled her brain.

Flora laughed, showing a mouthful of unnaturally white teeth. ‘Not the ‘tache, Muppet. The pics. You can’t photograph real ghosts.’ She dabbed at her nose with her cardigan sleeve. ‘Now, what do you want?’ Flora was soon scuffing back to the pantry.

Edie looked up at the gold lettering: 1881

 

K. Rawson : Hitlist

 

 

Anyone who spends time exploring the wide open plains, narrow gorges, warm shallows and chilly depths of WordPress will be aware of what a wonderfully creative slew of people there are out there.

Every time you discover one of these people it’s as if you’ve stumbled across a nugget of gold, a precious stone you can hold in your palm. And because of the intimate nature of reading, you can feel that discovery is all you’re own, a wonderful secret few others have seen.

But there are some discoveries that should be shouted from the rooftops …

Those of you who take part in the writing prompt What pegman saw will have already discovered the talented writer and fellow Friday Fictioneer K. Rawson‘s stunning short fiction, but did you also know that she’s written a novel for young adults with a great premise and the most timely of subjects?

K herself describes the book as

‘a YA Novel about a teenage girl who writes a computer virus to get revenge on cyberbullies’.

Do take a read of the preview above.

 

The Blood-Tub

Nighttime London

Image : Pixabay

 

He steps back to survey his work.

The alleyway stinks of the Thames, of fish baskets, of ropes steeped in river water. Snatching the handkerchief from his neck, he cleans the filth from his hands, grinds clean the half-moons of his nails.

Time to leave. He almost drops the ruined kerchief, but instead screws the sodden cloth into his trouser pocket to dispose of later.

Now the thing’s done he feels calm. The buzzing in his head has eased, the swarm of bees that beats and hums and stings the inside of his skull gone, leaving him soft.

As he turns to go, his heel slips on the greased cobbles.

*

The pub was busy tonight, the raddled old tarts warming themselves before the fire like stray dogs. ‘Terrible nip in the air, Pol,’ they said, ‘not fit for a dead moggy’. They don’t say the real reason they stay together, avoid the alleys and steaming rookeries. No mention of the Lambeth Butcher, as if to say the words aloud will summon him up.

My feet ache as I leave work, left big toe pressing against the seam of my old boot. Time for a new pair, if I had the money.

I smell the meat market before I see the runnels of blood, slick black in the lamplight. I jump over a clotting stream, leaves and a half eaten rat caught in the flow. The stink of death should make me heave, but my empty stomach growls, working against itself.

In my room there’s bread, a piece of cheese wrapped in a square of muslin to keep the flies from laying their eggs. But I’m not heading home.

Hand in my purse, I feel three fat pennies.

*

He stands on the Embankment, looks across the blinking river, imagines the carrion in the water, thud-thudding against the wherries. He lifts a finger to his nose, inhales, licks the tip. Tastes metal.

*

Pie in one hand, half cup of cocoa in the other, I walk. The brew’s watered down and gritty, but it’s hot and feels good in my chill fist. I don’t have a hand free to lift my skirts as I turn down New Cut, so I skip over horse shit, the potholes filled with straw and stinking run off, risk losing some cocoa.

The Old Vic Theatre lamps are off and the place feels haunted, hollow in the darkness. But the rain’s pattering the roof like hail, so I hunker by a column, swig the last of my drink, eat the pie, all tough pastry and grey tubes that stretch when I pull one from my mouth, like chewing on something newly dead.

Is my Francis is on his way? Boots shiny as a soldier’s, bowler tilted low?

I don’t like being alone.

*

Waterloo Bridge. Bridge of the dead. How many has he tossed into the water from here? It’s a simple thing once a body’s up on the balustrade – a brush of the hand and momentum does the rest. They drop like kittens in a sack, kick and beat against the tide, against the weight of their own clothes. But the chill Thames always wins.

Rain starts to fall.

*

The Blood-Tub, that’s what they call the Old Vic and the peeling advertisements show why. There’s a play about a man who shoots his sweetheart during a fight, buries her in a barn. In the print, her body’s scraped over with dirt, hand sticking from the ground like she’s trying to unbury herself. There’s red on her fingertips, blue for her dress, green for the barn, ink messy splashes like a young child’s painting.

The thought of that girl lying under the cold mud makes me shiver. And all by the hands of a man who loved her.

*

Trains rattle-clunk-wheeze to a halt on the railway bridge, a surge of smoke, smuts in his eyes, pricking his lungs. Gaslights gutter above him, remind him of the hole in his head where the buzzing grows. He stops a moment, listens for the bees.

A woman emerges from the smoke. Skinny, shawl pulled tight round her shoulders, dress faded, hem splashed with filth from the road. As she draws close, he can smell meat on her, something sugary.

His mouth begins to water.

*

My heart jumps at the sound of footsteps. I imagine blood washing the streets black, the glint of a blade. My mouth seems stuffed with gristle and I see a dead girl, hands clawing aside the earth, pointing a bony finger at her killer. I’m shaking hard, my eyes fill with tears, my bladder aches and I’m choking and I can’t swallow and a man steps out of the smoke, arm outstretched, reaching, reaching …

‘Evening Polly.’

‘Francis.’

I’m so relieved, my knees sag, I reach for him to stop from falling. My face is wet and his arm folds round me and he smells of the city – of smoke and the river and tin – and laughter rumbles in his chest.

In a while I’m calm and say, ‘Got a hanky?’

His hand reaches to his pocket then stops, falls limp to his side.

‘I … lost it,’ he says. ‘Come to my lodgings. I’ll build a fire.’

He takes my hand and I flood with warmth. Finally I’m safe.

 


This was originally posted on Waltbox as The Fate of Lambeth Polly, but as it’s nearly Halloween and we all need to be creeped out a little, I thought I’d repost it here on Word Shamble. Happy Scaring.

 

The Devil of Moravia: From Hell to Heaven

Scarlet velvet

Image: Pixabay

I’ve been rather remiss, having left my ‘Devil’ alone for a couple of weeks. But here we have a return visit to Lord Edmund Spencer – look here to read parts one, two, three and four.  About to end his life, the disgraced Edmund meets the mysterious Slatina who wants to show him something …


At the door, Slatina stopped, turning that half moon smile on me once more.

‘Here is a promise,’ he said. ‘From this day on, I shall be ever by your side.’

With that he reached forward, turned the handle and flung wide the door …

At first I saw nothing, for the wind was still howling across the moors, still battering the oaks along the drive, singing through their boughs like the Devil’s own church organ.

Then something moved in the shattered darkness and forward stepped a footman in full livery – gloves, buckled shoes, scarlet coat braided with gold – the only sign that he walked through the worst of storms, a speckle of mud on his stockings and his wig slipped askew. In his hand was a silver platter, balancing a crystal decanter and two glasses, the stopper rattling in the gale.

Perhaps I said something witty at this most particular of sights, but if I said anything, I’m unclear on what it was, my mind was so befuddled, my senses dazed and scattered as the oak leaves.

The man stopped before me, bowed stiffly, offering me the decanter. I stared at him, dumb as an ox, silent as a grave. Slatina took up the decanter in his deft, slight fingers, filled the glasses, passing one to me and keeping one for himself. I took the proferred glass as if in a daze, as if the footman had beaten me about the head with the very bottle.

Slatina raised his glass, a smile as thin as a razor cut opening his palid face. ‘To interesting times,’ he said.

I heard the glasses chink, was aware of the wine burning me like hot lead poured fresh from the foundry, but though I know these actions occurred, I felt I had no control over them, that they happened distinct from my being, the deeper part of me that I recognise as myself. It was as though some other force controlled my hand and now it seems to me this was the case and that this was the true start of my troubles. For if in my naivety I believed my life had fallen into the worst, the deepest and darkest of places, I knew nothing of what was yet to come.

Though I was confused I noted one more thing that struck me as peculiar – that Slatina merely touched the glass to his lips, the wine imparting a colour to them that had not been there previously. But drink he did not.

That slash of a smile widened still. ‘If I may ask you to step to your left, Lord Edmund. For you have visitors.’

Baffled, I stumbled to one side, one hand on the glass, the other gripping a door shivering in the wind, though I know not if I held it to stop a gust from slamming it to or to stop myself from buckling at the knees.

For a moment there was merely myself and the smiling Slatina and the torrid night. Then I heard footsteps crunching on the gravel and from the darkness stepped another man and then another and another and when I peered further into the crashing rain I saw more shapes, an endless trail of men and each one in scarlet velvet, each laden. They marched into the house one after another, a trail of firey soldier ants, and I agog at what they carried: hams clothed in muslin shrouds; joints of beef and loose necked chickens already plucked for the pot; crates of champagne and wine and port; baskets of rosy cheeked apples and potatoes and cabbages green as grass in Spring.

On and on they came, men with gilded chairs and tables, ormolu mirrors decorated with fat cherubs and oyster shells, star fish and ribbons. One man bowed under a canteen of silver cutlery, another toted fine crisp linens. Then a trail of puffed and powdered servants carried cloaks and boots, waistcoats and shirts and cravats, long trousers and knee breeches, all seemingly cut for my own frame. In other words they brought a like replacement for every item I had lost to cards, or sold to pay wages or to buy rank claret.

The trail of men continued for many minutes, my mind so dazzled by the colours, the brightness of it all, the sheer cost of all the goods there before me, I believed my wits had finally left and I was fit only for the most rank Bedlam cell.

As I was wondering whether this trail of glories would ever end, someone caught my arm. It was Slatina and writ across his face, an expression of amusement. The narrow man gave a bow so shallow it was little more than a dip of his eyes.

‘Lord Edmund,’ he said, ‘come let us retire and leave the men to do there work.’

He reached his hand to me and I, like a young child following his nurse, staggered after him.

Who was this man? Why was he helping me and how could he afford luxury that has not been seen since the days of Croesus? If only I had asked these questions then, perhaps … But I beg you to understand how magical – how miraculous – that night was to me, a man so recently wallowing in the depths of disaster, in the lowest place on this earth, now raised to greater heights than any foreign potentate or bejewelled maharajah. From Hell to Heaven in less time than it took for the hand to swing around the face of a grandfather clock. Perhaps this dramatic change in circumstance and the effect it wrought on my senses will help exonerate my later actions – if anything can.

Back in the study, a fat log crackled on the rekindled fire, a table groaned under platters and decanters and glass ware. And a thick blanket of soft fine wool lay over my chair, just a such as I had wished for minutes before. The joyful sight brought tears to my weary eyes.

Slatina and I sat by the fire and I listened to the footsteps, the busy comings and goings of Slatina’s men as that so named gentleman poured yet another glass of wine.

‘So, Lord Edmund,’ he said. ‘You see what help I can be to you?’ His finger slid round the top of the glass, skin squeaking and catching, the sound making me shiver. ‘Now. Let me say what little service I may ask in return.’

TLT: A hand as flimsy as tissue paper

three line tales 5: world book day edition

Image: Glen Noble Unsplash

***

The first time I heard them I was standing in the Cookery section, somewhere between Mary Berry’s Family Recipes and an old tome by Madhur Jaffrey.

Dave laughed it off, swore it was the old pipes rattling (‘they’re lead you know’) or a fiesty gang of mice looking for A Thousand And One Ways With Cheese – funny guy, Dave.

Then one night on the run up to Christmas, the shelves festooned with fairy lights, the cinnamon and clove candle making me nauseous, I edged along the tunnels of paper, nudging one stack, then another, disturbing the scent of old facts … and I felt it

– a hand as flimsy as tissue, slipping into mine.

***

For Sonya at Only 100 Words Three Line Tales. Pop along here to read the rules and join the fun.