What Pegman Saw: Say no to yes.

The wind was blowing hard now, peppering Naga’s face with grit. He took a last drag of his cigarette, dropped it, screwed the stub into the dirt with his sneaker.

The sun was low behind the trees, sky burnt orange at the horizon. Where was Maja?

Robbing the convenience store had been her idea. Said she’d seen the clerk bundle notes into a battered tobacco tin, hide it under the counter. The guy was ashy with age, walked with a frame. One look at Maja’s hunting knife and he’d hand the tin over. Sweet and simple, she said. Reluctantly, Naga had agreed.

He blinked, cuffed his eyes.

But the old man had screamed – a weird, trapped rodent noise. He’d stumbled forward, lashed at Maja with his walker. The knife flashed. Naga ran.

Something his mom used to say pinballed through his head.

Say no to yes, beta.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that uses Google Street view. This week we are in Cape Disappointment, Washington. See here to join in.

And if you want to know where I found the title, just look at that scabby wall …

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What Pegman Saw: A pocketful of keys

We dreaded visits to my great-uncle Dilwyn’s.

His house was a gloomy pile overlooking Hampstead Heath, the walls wood panelled, the furniture solid and carved with grotesques. I remember the drawing room with its Greek masks, the watchful eyes and leering faces. There was a plastered ceiling in there – cracks as wide as my finger, sooty acanthus leaves twined with serpents – that I imagined would crumble one windy day, burying all of us alive.

As we shuffled round the old house stirring up dust, disturbing cobwebs, I envied other children their caravan holidays to the coast or camping trips to the Forest of Dean.

Seeing how bored and listless we were one rainy summer afternoon, Uncle Dilwyn handed me a bunch of keys. Some were dull brass, others rusty iron, all were thick and heavy and felt warm on my palm.

He waved a leathery hand. ‘Go. See what they open,’ he said.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Streetview. This week we are in London.

The photograph is not in Hampstead but one of the rooms in the Sir John Soane Museum in Holborn. Soane was a 19th century architect fascinated with art and sculpture, particularly that of the ancient world. His fascination turned into a collecting habit and through his life he gathered thousands of sculptures, architectural fragments, paintings, models … even the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I.

On his death, he left the house and his collection to the nation and entry is free. See here for more details.

What Pegman Saw: The scent of nutmeg

Adhiarja was my guide up the mountain. The man reaches no higher than my shoulder but is lithe as a tumbler, an adequate shot with a bow and the best man with a knife I’ve seen.

I felt some trepidation as we left behind the circle of huts, the village fire pit, even the deer-pigs that furrow the sand with their ferocious curved tusks. All have become familiar over these weeks, while the forest remains as much of a mystery to me as it was the day I left Plymouth.

Still, my guide is a good man – patient with my clumsy footing, alert to danger when I blundered on oblivious. He saved my life more than once.

And on reaching the top – what wonders! The scent of the nutmeg trees was intoxicating, catching in my throat, clouding my eyes.

With God’s grace, my fortune lies here.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we are in Indonesia.

When I saw our location, it reminded me of a book I read some while ago – Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton. It gives an insight into the European fight over the Indonesian island of Run (at that time the only place the priceless spice nutmeg grew) and England’s subsequent deal to relinquish the island to Holland in exchange for another island – Manhattan.

Notes

Adhiarja was well named – the Indonesian man’s name means ‘safety’.

Deer-pigs are also known as Babirusa and cave paintings show they have been native to the islands since at least the last Ice Age.

What Pegman Saw: Calamity Hollow

Alis stared out across the Monongahela River.

Wherever she looked was billowing smoke, from the steelworks to the tug boats and paddle steamers, to the shanty town with its huddle of shacks and stove pipes.

On laundry days her sheets came in dotted with smuts. Every sip of water and bite of bread was gritted, speckled black.

‘Not so different from Merthyr after all,’ Evan had said, wrapping oily arms about her waist.

In a way he was right. Half of Glamorgan seemed to have followed them across the ocean to Pennsylvania and seeing the men trudge home, black faced and bowed was so familiar, she had to nip her arms to remind herself she wasn’t home.

She was lucky to have a life, to have breath and water and food, no matter how tainted.

To have a husband, not a ragged corpse swinging from the gallows back in Wales.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that gallops across the world using Google Street View. This week we visit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

On reading about Pittsburgh, I found an interesting snippet. It seems that in the 1830s many Welsh coal miners and steel workers immigrated to the city after the Merthyr Rising, a protest against working conditions and unemployment. The unrest only lasted a week but during that time several locals and soldiers died. One man was hanged as an example to others.

It’s said that the Merthyr Rising was the first time the red flag was used as a symbol of revolution.

I found Calamity Hollow on the map, on the banks of the Monongahela River.

I imagined Alis being the wife of one of the men who had taken part in the rising. The house pictured is probably too fancy to be that of a coal miner or steel worker, but I imagined Alis standing at that balcony, staring out across the polluted river.

What Pegman Saw: The house of Dajjal

Dajjal’s house was an eyesore.

Corrugated iron sheets rusted over the front door, the balcony was crumbling, buttressed by wormy wooden posts. People would retell the story of the day the railing gave way, when metal poles and curlicues pocked the street and concussed Ori the grocer.

Food rotted in the kitchen, the floors rippled with rats and the drains flooded in the annual rains, turning the street into an impassable sewer for weeks.

Still, no town inspector visited. Dajjal was never reported by his neighbours for the stench, the ticks or the occasional outbreak of Weil’s disease.

Instead, they nodded courteously if he was sitting on his front step smoking his evil smelling cigarettes, though each house kept planks by the door to lay over the filth when the street was in flood.

When your neighbour is the Antichrist, you show respect.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt with Google Street View as its inspiration. This week, we visit the Israeli city of Lod.

Whilst reading a little of the history of this city, I discovered a couple of interesting snippets.

Firstly, the UK’s patron saint, George, is reported to be buried there.

Secondly – and the snippet that inspired my story – is the fact that according to Islamic tradition, the Antichrist – Dajjal – will be killed on a battlefield in the city before The Day of Judgement. I just imagined what Dajjal might do while he was waiting for that day.

What Pegman Saw: Cisco’s mission

Image : Google Street View

Every day Cisco sat in the Plaza De Armas, overlooked by the Cathedral and the Jesuit Iglesia.

When drizzle speckled his lashes he pulled up his hood. When the sun blazed he did the same, ignoring the children selling day trips to the mountains or alpaca wool hats. The young hawkers would stare with their deep, curious eyes before scurrying after tourists with deep pockets.

All the while, he’d try to keep the same scene running through his mind and when his rumbling stomach or stiff limbs distracted him, guilt would descend like a cloud. Because how else would God know what he wanted – what his family needed – if he couldn’t keep the image clear in his head?

The kitchen at home. Mama at the stove. The scent of chilli chicken.

Papa walking in through the back door, face wide with a smile.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its jumping off point. See here to join in and to read other tales.

What Pegman Saw: The only honest soul

Image : Google Street View

Maria was the town’s scarlet woman, though she didn’t help herself.

Well into middle age her hair changed with the seasons – auburn, black, white blond, gold – while the wives of the village turned a respectable steel grey. And while the Mamas went to market in buttoned up dresses and skirts to their thick calves, Maria’s cleavage was always golden in the sun, a camelia nestled in the chasm.

Her neighbour Dorothea would tut over shared cups of black sweet tea and hand rolled cigarettes. ‘Got to play the game, girl. Whole town’s built on lies – why’d you have to be the only honest soul?’

When Maria died her memorial was there among the others, jostling with the Mamas who’d feared her, the Papas who’d loved her. And though she had no family and Dorothea had already passed, there was always a freshly picked camelia tucked by her smiling image.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we are in Patagonia, Chile.

As it’s Mother’s Day here in the UK this weekend, I have a very busy week ahead, so please forgive me if it takes a few days for me to reply to your comments. Normal-ish service will be resumed soon.