New Year's Eve 1973

Image: sjdents0 Pixabay

‘Lesley Howard?’ Patricia pulled on her cigarillo, puffed a cloud of blue grey smoke into the air. ‘Is that the Brief Encounter chap?’

‘No, that’s Trevor Howard. Leslie Howard was Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind.’

Patricia selected a card from the hand she was playing and slapped it on the green baize table. ‘So in answer to the question, “which film actor would you want to be”, you choose the one who loses the girl.’

Bobby rubbed his stocking feet against the flank of a dozing Labrador. Firelight flickered around the living room, casting picturesque shadows over the threadbare rug, the stacks of mouldering newspapers. ‘Always seemed like a decent sort,’ he said. ‘Shot down over the Bay of Biscay, 1943.’

‘A dead war hero? So decent, so proper, such a good egg.’

He recognised the hard chink in her voice. ‘You and Scotch do not make happy companions.’

She raised a hand. ‘I’m just saying you sound very alike, you and your dead actor.’

‘Oh, yes?’

‘Always doing the right thing. Fighting for King and country. So noble. So very, very bland.’

Bobby reached for his own glass. New Year’s Eve and she was as impossible as always. Well, this year he refused to bite. ‘Who would you be then? Greta Garbo, I suppose, wanting to be alone?’

Patricia’s teeth chinked against her glass tumbler as she threw her head back, laughing hoarsely. ‘No, not Garbo. Too sulky. Perhaps Marlene Dietrich in Morocco. Remember that scene? Her in a top hat and tails?’

‘Huh. Very, very you.’

She raised her glass. ‘I always was the butch one, dear.’ She drained the last of her Scotch, rolled the glass between the palms of her hands. ‘Ideally, I would have been Gable.’

‘Clark Gable?’

Patricia nodded. ‘That sharp moustache, the oiled hair, stamping around the Deep South, shooting Yankees.’ Then with a watery smile, she added, ‘Not giving a damn.’

***

I’m currently planning a new novel and these are two of the main characters. Their spiky relationship keeps drawing me back and Patricia talks to me, even when I don’t necessarily want her to.

For reference, the novel is set in the early 1970s and they’re both in their 70s, hence the selection of old film stars.

NB For those too young to know…

To learn more about Leslie Howard, Trevor Howard, Brief Encounter, Gone with the Wind, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo, follow the links.

Writing Competition: This is the end, beautiful friend

Image: Alicja Pixabay

Is it me or does the world feel like it’s more messed up than ever?

There was a time when all we had to fret over was nuclear annihilation and whether Wagon Wheels are smaller now than they were when we were kids (Yes they are.)

Now the NHS is on its knees, we’re threatened with medicine and food shortages if we leave Europe, civil disobedience if we don’t.

We’re in the middle of a man made Mass Extinction event, global warming is causing erratic weather patterns that threaten much of life on Earth and we’re liable to choke on our own plastic waste in the coming decades.

The question is, where do you channel the quite justified anxiety caused by these concerns?

Do you

A: go full Rambo-style survivalist, build a bunker in your flowerbeds and wait for the coming end armed with a cricket bat and some ancient tins of fruit cocktail to throw at oncoming hordes (I’m in the UK – holding them off with an assault rifle is not an option)?

B: pretend nothing’s happening, keep the worries inside until they form an ulcer the size of a dinner plate?

Hmm. If only there was some useful way to work through these anxieties …

Storgy Magazine has the answer.

They’re running a competition called Annihilation Radiation. There’s an End of the World theme, but here’s the twist that got me excited.

You enter the comp through Storgy’s Submittable page. Within 24 hours, you’ll be sent a link telling you whether you’ve been allotted a Beginning, Middle or End story.

Will you get to write a tale about patient 0 in a global a virus pandemic? Or one that records the catastrophe as it transpires? Or tell what life could be like after the mushroom cloud has settled?

And they’re not purely looking for grim outcomes – humorous stories are encouraged.

If you fancy a go, follow the link and if you do enter let me know – I might just be tempted to hold your hand through the End of Days.

Friday Fictioneers: In the flat below


PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

Johannes was already awake when the baby in the flat below started crying.

He’d passed the mother once, short skirt above skinny legs, jacket too thin to keep out the cold. The baby was pale and slender as she was, spider fingers grabbing for a half empty bottle of milk.

It was 2 a.m. when the mother’s sobs began – deep, shuddering sobs. He got up, hobbled to his kitchen.

At Johannes’ knock, her door opened. Her red eyes narrowed, suspicious of the old man holding a box of eggs, a half loaf of bread.

‘Too early for breakfast?’ he asked.

***

Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the pic, write a tale and don’t forget to share and read the others.

Not sure if it’s because I haven’t taken part for a few weeks or because it’s Easter Sunday, but for a change I didn’t kill anyone, nothing nasty is going to happen to my characters. Just one human being reaching out to another in need.

Happy Easter everyone.

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.

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.