What Pegman Saw: The unforgiving sand

Image: Google Street View

When I was a little girl, sand meant days at the beach building castles with a bucket and spade. Once the work was done we’d sit back and admire our hard work, eat shrimp paste sandwiches with crusted nails as the sea undermined the foundations, as the walls softened and melted into the brine.

No castles here.

The sand is too dry – it sucks the moisture from my skin, grinds at my teeth and the corners of my eyes. It’s harder too, filled with the rubble of ancient cities, fragments of musty tombs returned to the light, the secret corners of a lustrous palace laid bare.

The castles melt away and city’s fall. Only the wind remains.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we visit Old Dongola, Sudan.

Years ago I was lucky enough to visit Egypt, to the north of Sudan. Venturing into the Sahara Desert, I can vouch that the sand is pretty much as I describe here – definitely not fit for making castles.

What Pegman Saw: Badlands

Image : Google Street View

On the horizon was a band of trees, quite black in the dying sun. It looked to Kitty like a great wave of night, threatening to overwhelm the plain.

Over the previous day, the party had been lashed by rain, pelted by hailstones the size of Kitty’s thumbnail, scarified by sun and a wind so strong it cut the canvas loose from the wagon, leaving it to slice the air like a loosed sail.

‘Badlands,’ Mama had muttered, face hidden by the wings of her bonnet. ‘That’s what they call them. That’s what they are.’

That night, Kitty and Jed were put to bed in the wagon early. Kitty lay on her back, watching the firelight dance on the canvas roof, listening to Jed’s slow, steady breathing as Mama sobbed over her coffee and Papa sung an old song about lost hearts and lost fortunes.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street view as its inspiration. This week, we visit the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The Black Hills were dubbed such by the Lakota Sioux because the trees gave them a dark appearance, so I thought I’d include this idea in my story. Part of the Black Hills is also known as the Badlands. See here to learn more.

Short story publication set in Cottonopolis

Cotton mill, Yorkshire, Hebden Water, Gibsons Mill
Image : Pixabay

I grew up in Derbyshire, just a short, uphill train ride from Manchester.

Living in a small town there was little excitement – scouting for bargains at the local Kwik Save supermarket, a tatty nightclub on the market place called the Gaslight, Saturday nights watching drunks evicted from the Gaslight fighting outside Kwik Save …

In comparison, Manchester was impossibly exciting, kind of glamorous in a dirty, dishevelled way and not a little unnerving.

Yes, it was grubby back then, all tumbleweed chip papers and drunks begging for a light, and the valleys of old mill buildings channelled the wind so your face was constantly sandblasted by good Northern grit, but even before its financial and cultural renaissance over recent decades, the city held its head high.

All those towering brick edifices spoke of the great wealth that had poured into 19th century Manchester as the cotton spun in its many mills poured out (The city had 108 cotton mills at its peak in 1853, hence the sobriquet Cottonopolis) and that impressive architectural legacy left an impression on me.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve set my People’s Friend short story

A Straw Hat for Hetty’

in nineteenth century Manchester. The young heroine has grown up in the shadow of the mills, in the choking city slums of the Industrial Revolution.

Writing Hetty’s story has given me a grand excuse to use a smattering of the dialect words I grew up with – ‘summat’, ‘owt’, ‘nowt’ – and to explore the slums of Angel Meadow and the mills of Ancoats.

If you’d like to learn what happens to Hetty, The People’s Friend Special number 171 is due out tomorrow.

So, stop mitherin’, pour yersen a brew and let me spin you a tale, lad.

Friday Fictioneers: The Watching

PHOTO PROMPT © Karen Rawson


 

We called it the Monastery.

It hung over the low field, a precipitous slope of scrubby saplings shadowing the churned cattle way.

We’d pass below the sickly trees, tuck-tucking at Gideon the bull, calming his twitching flank with soft palms.

Something about the broken-tooth ruins made it impossible not to look, impossible to keep looking.

A glimpse of the carvings told me no holy man ever passed there – grinning, malformed beasts, grotesque imps twisted into impossible acts … My memory blanks the worst.

Some wise soul destroyed that place. Still its evil spirit survived to watch us all.

 


This ghost story flash fiction was written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. Be inspired, share, read and comment. See here to do all that.

 

 

What Pegman Saw : Beyond the Pale

 

Indri was already running, sandals slapping flagstones. ‘I know where they’ll come out!’

His legs were longer than Pina’s and he’d soon rounded the corner of the alley, dodged a pomegranate seller, vaulted the legs of Zaru the beggar, careening into the opposite wall before stumbling on. Complaints rang around her.

‘That boy!’

‘Pina, tell your brother -‘

She yelled her apologies, tucked her head down and ran after him. ‘Indri! Where are we going?’

But soon the city gate was looming overhead and she knew – outside the wall.

‘The Pale?’ she yelled. ‘You think they’ll come out at the Pale?’

Outside the protection of the city walls, where traitors were executed, where outcasts cried and screamed for home.

Indri had stopped under the golden halo of the gate.

She came panting to his side. ‘What …?’

He pointed towards the baked earth of the Pale as it cracked open.

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that uses Google Stretview. See here to share, read and comment. Today, we visit Mdina in Malta.

So, what do you think is coming out of the earth? I have my own ideas, but I’d like to hear yours.

Notes

The Pale – a term borrowed from County Down, Ireland when governed by the English.

Beyond the pale – There were many ‘Pales’ (a term that signified home ground, being within paling, meaning fencing) and to be beyond it means going outside the confines of what is acceptable.

 

 

 

What Pegman Saw : The revenge of Dinah

 

 

Dinah tucked up her skirts and stepped into the green water, the mud sucking at the heels of her boots. Five steps in she crouched, careful not to let her petticoats drop – getting smeared in algae would warrant a beating.

She gazed into the periwinkle eyes. The fact he still had eyes meant he’d been dead less than a day. Yellowed, smashed teeth showed through puffy lips. His nose was broken, knuckles bloodied – he’d fought back.

The ink swallow on his neck marked him as a sailor, one of the many that swarmed the docks, drinking, whoring, fighting. Mama kept the girls inside when a new ship docked, in case.

Dinah stood, the disturbed water shifting his pale hands as if he was about to swim. She placed one muddy boot in the centre of his chest and pushed, watched the periwinkle eyes submerge.

‘Goodbye to bad rubbish,’ she said.

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that uses Google Street View as its inspiration. This week we visit Treasure Cay in the Bahamas – beautiful but with a sometimes less than glamorous history. See here to join our growing throng, read and comment do.

When looking into the history of the Bahamas, I was tempted by tales of pirates and seafarers, but English Puritans settled there too and I wondered what happened when those groups of people met. See here for further history of the islands and here for an interesting post about pirates and tattoos.

And here is the story of the Biblical Dinah.

 

What Pegman Saw : Spangles and sparkles and rainbow shells

‘Roll up, my babber!

‘Wanna forget that pox-scarred mug of yours for a time? The face that scares the pretty maids and leaves you thrashing alone in your truckle bed, sweating and wracked with a guilty glow at your own sinning?

‘Wanna leave that slum you call home, choked with jaspers and river stink in the summer, crumbling into the Avon with the black damp in winter?

‘You wanna see a mermaid, my dove, her tail flash with sparkles, head acrowned with abalone shells bright as a rainbow?

‘Wanna see a prince, all ‘andsome, bedecked with spangles, limbs straight at a plumb line, not like mine that’s bent as a sail in full blow.

‘Forget the dog eggs and horse shit, forget the rent’s past due and you’ll soon be toshing to make ends meet. Inside’s love and loss and happy endings ever after.

‘And who don’t want that?’

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that uses Google Streetview.

Well, how could I resist this one? I know this fair city rather well, having lived here for the last thirteen years. There are many rundown, twisting alleys to inspire dark tales, there’s the harbour with its seafaring history, local pubs like the Llandoger Trow (supposedly the inspiration for the Admiral Benbow Inn in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island), or the Hatchett Inn on Frogmore Street, where the door is reputedly covered in human skin.

But I chose the historic Bristol Old Vic Theatre. Built in 1766, it’s Britain’s oldest continually working theatre and during recent refurbishments a gutter was discovered down which cannon balls could be rolled to mimic the sound of thunder.

And for those of you not from the southwest of England …

Brizzle Dictionary

Avon – main river running the centre of the city, separating North Bristol from South Bristol.

Babber – mate, pal.

Brizzle – Bristol

Jaspers – wasps

 

General and historical notes

Dog eggs – canine faeces

Toshing – searching the sewer for lost valuables.

Truckle bed – low wooden bed, often on casters, that can slide under another bed when not in use. Often used by servants.