Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Time's running out.......


The old year is winding down - just around 80 hours (at the time of writing) left of 2010. In these 'in between' days from Christmas to New Year, life seems to be on 'hold', waiting for the normality of the daily grind to begin again!

The chaos of opened Christmas presents piled up all over the place, the fridge stuffed with all sorts of leftover goodies and the hesitancy to knuckle down and get back to the normal chores (because then it would seem like Christmas is over...) leaves me in a sort of limbo.

So, before I think about plans and resolutions for 2011, I've been back over the last twelve months remembering all that's happened; all the things I planned to do and didn't; all the things I achieved and all the things that crept up and surprised me!

2010 was the year I diced with death and did a stunt-driving course, raising money for charity! (surprising how much notice I take of car chases in films these days!!)

It was the year that I read more and wrote more than ever before - shoe-horning both activities around the usual household/employment demands. I enjoyed the challenges from Cormac Brown and Lily Childs to create and weave stories nudged on by various selections of words and phrases!

It was was the year I travelled to America for the first time - experiencing a culture that, at first glance, I'd thought would be relatively the same as my own. Some very noticable differences there....!

It was the year when I lost one of my very best friends - our rescued GSD X Whippet, Brucie. Christmas was strange for the fact that if you left a plate on the coffee table ALL the food was still there when you returned to it! (And it was the first Christmas I can ever recall NOT having to leave the lounge/kitchen doors open for the four-legged one to move around the house freely!)

Also - my first visit to an IMAX theatre! A family trip yesterday to see 'TRON : LEGACY' yesterday was quite an experience.

It was the year when, as I look back now, I realise the hobbies I left by the wayside as other things took up my time. Maybe next year I'll make it a priority to get back to playing the piano every day! On the Genealogy front, perhaps I'll even break down some of the 'brickwalls' in my quest to map out the family tree! (the parents of Archibald Meyer - you're out there somewhere...!)

So, before the old year ebbs away I'd like to say thankyou to all who have stopped by on my blog, your coments and encouragements have been much appreciated.

And remember this:

What life is this if, full of care, we have no time to.......

.......flit around the internet catching up with our mates' blogs!


Cheers chaps!

Monday, 20 December 2010

" 'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS "


I was asked by someone (DB!) who frequently drops in here to 'get writing'! Well, the 'muse' hasn't struck (yet!) but I was shuffling around folders on my laptop and came across this little piece.

Afficionados of Lee Child will recognise the character of Jack Reacher. On one of the forums discussing his books, they often have an invitation to pen a Christmas 'Reacher' story. Luckily, Lee Child appears to take this in good spirits (I wonder if he ever picks up any tips? ;-p). Anyway, here's what I wrote last year - hope you enjoy!


" 'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS "


'Twas the night before Christmas…….and all through Jack Reacher’s mind nothing was stirring. Except one thought. What the hell just happened?

He could smell a warm, spicy fragrance, like cinnamon. It tickled at his nostrils and agitated his brain into action. A quick mental stock-take suggested no apparent injuries but he had the mother of all headaches. He tried to sit up. That’s when he realised he couldn’t move. Ropes, handcuffs, any kind of ‘normal’ restraint he could cope with, but this - this was something different.

The cinnamon aroma was joined by something else, or maybe his addled brain had only just become aware of it. A dark, and mellow smell. Coffee. Man, he’d kill for coffee right now. Yeah, right, he thought. How d’you ‘kill’ when you can’t even move? When you can’t even open your eyelids?

So, work the problem, find the solution. He pulled his mind away from the immediate situation and tried to think back, to what had happened before. The last thing he remembered clearly was climbing off the bus in…. Damn, he couldn’t even remember the name of the place. Ok, night or day? It was dark. And cold. And he’d been hungry.

Time to try the eyelids again. Well, he could move his eyeballs. And he could feel the hardness of the floor he seemed to be lying on. So, progress of sorts. Now he thought of it, he was still hungry. Whatever had happened must have occurred before he made it as far as getting a meal.

The coffee aroma was stronger now. Or was it just the fact his senses were responding more readily? Either that or he was dead and in his own private hell, being taunted by something he’d never taste again.

He heard a dripping noise. Good. Another sense returning. He counted off the rhythmical splatting sounds. They were coming from somewhere behind him. Try the eyelids again. A slight flicker. Try again. Reacher felt a stickiness trying to hold his eyes shut, but eventually one eye opened. A shock of colour hit his optic nerve and fired up images in his brain.

He spent a few moments trying to work out what he was seeing, his sluggish mind trying to process an unfamiliar sight. No. He’d seen that image before, but something looked wrong. He waited patiently for his brain to catch up. It looked like a tree, but it was horizontal, not vertical. Wait. He was horizontal. He was lying on the floor looking at a tree. A special kind of tree. He remembered now. It was Christmas Eve. The sparkling lights winked back at him as if to say ‘Yes, Christmas and Santa Clause and candy canes - the whole package’.

He felt the coldness of the floor against his face and the tingling that meant his brain was responding to the nerve signals his body was sending out. Touch, smell, hearing, sight.... Damn. His mouth felt like shit. And tasted like it too. He realised he must have been drugged. But why? And by whom?

He willed his hand to move and was surprised that his fingers flexed easily. He found he could roll over onto his belly. It took a moment to recover from that activity, but then he pulled his right leg up underneath him and eased up until he was on all fours. The queasy sensation in his stomach lasted a few seconds, as his equilibrium settled, and then he straightened up into a kneeling position.

“Merry Christmas!” boomed a voice, somewhere to his left. Reacher slowly turned his head. The room was brightly lit, he saw tables and chairs and garlands strung up across the walls. And then he saw the figure, seated behind what looked like a shop counter.

“I hope you’ve been a good boy!”

Reacher steadied his eyes on the man. He recognised him at once. His coat was a big giveaway, and his facial hair. He’d seen him before, alright. What he didn’t quite recall was the gun in the man’s hand. It was pointed at him.

“I take it that’s not a toy,” he said, nodding towards the weapon as he pulled himself to his feet. If the man wanted to kill him he’d have done it already. He kept that thought on a back burner while he continued getting used to being upright.

“Yeah,” joked the man. “I pulled it right out of this sack, here!” His eyes changed. They weren’t so merry and bright now. “Of course it’s real - like me to prove it?”

Reacher saw the gun barrel dip to a vague area below his waist. Again, he thought to himself, why now? Why drug him and bring him here if someone was just going to shoot him anyway. And just how had he been drugged? A tinkling bell rang out, interrupting his thoughts, as the door opened.

“Stop fooling around! Put the gun away”! The blonde in a miniscule elf outfit stepped quickly inside the door. She flipped the sign to ‘Closed’ then turned and stared up at Reacher. “Oh, you’re awake then!”

“What’s a big girl like you doing dressed up like that?” he replied. At around five feet ten inches she seemed a little tall for your average Christmas Elf, but he had to admit she was the prettiest elf he’d seen in a long while, with curves in all the right places and endless legs. Ms Elf looked sourly back at him and something seemed familiar about her face. Not the sour expression, but the eyes. He’d seen her before. She’d been on the bus. The bus he’d stepped off when it pulled into - where?

“Ok,” she snapped, directing her words towards Santa, behind the counter. “Let’s get ready.” She began pulling at the back of her costume, Reacher heard the ripping noise of Velcro being pulled apart and watched as she shimmied out of it and kicked it away, tossing her hat on top. She looked up at him, pulling her blonde hair back into a ponytail, totally unashamed to be standing there in not very much at all. If he thought all his Christmases had come at once, Reacher didn’t show it.

“Shame about the height,” she mused, reaching behind the counter to pull out a black skirt and top. She dressed quickly and Reacher remembered it wasn’t polite to stare. He turned towards Santa and saw he had morphed into a man wearing a faded t-shirt and jeans. The white hair and beard were replaced with a shaven head and a chin that bore several scars.

“Put those on!” the elf replied, flinging Santa’s cast-offs towards Reacher. He paused for a moment wondering what the hell was going on. The smell of coffee was strong as ever and he glanced longingly towards the machine behind the counter. Ms Elf was now transformed as she tied an apron around her trim waist. It bore the legend, ‘CafĂ© Arabesque’. He could imagine those long legs doing just that as he watched her move behind the counter.

“How about a coffee?” he asked, nodding to the machine. She gave a half-smile, which improved her features remarkably.

“Sure,” she said, almost politely. “But get dressed!” She busied herself at the coffee machine. Reacher noticed she handled it like a professional barista, which wasn’t all that surprising, as she seemed to be in charge of what was going on. And not just in the coffee-making department.

He turned to the matter in hand, trying to work out how he was going to fit the Santa outfit over his huge frame. He tossed the stuffing out of the inner pouch, leaving the jacket like a limp red rag in his hands. It had been loose on the other man, who was nearer six-one and had a lighter build. Reacher pulled the jacket on, easing it across his shoulders. He felt one of the seams ‘give’ slightly, but it just about reached around. The trousers were like baggy pyjamas, until he pulled them on over his pants, seeing the hems land somewhere around mid-calf. He caught sight of himself in the mirrored effect of the glass door. It wasn’t pleasant.

“Here,” said Ms Elf-turned-barista, pushing a cup towards Reacher. He stepped closer towards the counter and clasped the drink in his hand. He pulled the Santa beard down under his chin and savoured the rich aroma as he lifted the cup to his lips. It tasted as good as it smelled. Almost the finest coffee he’d had in a while, but not the finest ever. He could remember that particular one well; it set a benchmark against which all others were tested. But, this was good, especially as it cleared away the dryness in his mouth and ratcheted-up the efficiency of his brain.

Reacher sipped at the steaming hot drink, turning round slowly, checking the place out. He hated to waste good coffee but he was willing to make the sacrifice, just this once. He sauntered towards the other end of the counter, where the reject Santa still trained a gun on him, the barrel moving to keep pace with Reacher.

“Damn, fine,” he said, turning slightly and nodding over the rim of the cup at her. “You guessed well.”

“You didn’t say how you wanted it.”

“You didn’t ask!”

Without pause he pulled the cup away from his mouth and threw the contents in the man’s face, watching him loose his grip on the gun, pawing at the scalding coffee that burnt his face and eyes.

Reacher grabbed the gun and put him out of his misery instantly. The man toppled back off his chair, crashing into the shelves behind him before landing in a heap on the floor. A crimson line ran down from his forehead, bleeding out into the coffee trails across the man’s face. Bone and blood and brain matter were spattered over the upper shelves, bearing testament to the efficacy of a semi-automatic pistol at such close range. He would have just slugged the guy rather than shot him, but the man’s reflexes were fast and Reacher had spotted the flash of the knife that was being aimed at his gut.

He turned away, keeping the weapon in front of him, and walked closer towards the barista, his eyes focussed on her face, but aware of any sudden movement she might make. The close fitting top outlined the flesh of her arms meaning he’d notice the tightening of her muscles and have fair warning of her impending actions.

She stared back at him. Cool. Not even a glance at the dead body that was already beginning to add a new and unsavoury aroma to the establishment, as the sphincter muscles relaxed.

When Reacher was directly in front of her, he lowered the gun and put the cup down gently on the counter.

“I’d really like another,” he said. “But I’ll settle for a few answers.”

She relaxed slightly, now the gun wasn’t pointing directly at her.

“Drifter, right?” she said softly. “I watched you get on the bus. You didn’t
carry any luggage, no book to read to while away the long hours, no music. You didn’t pay attention to anyone else, found a seat on your own and just settled back and slept. Glad to be in the warm, I guess.”

Reacher tried to recall such an image in his mind. He’d gotten on countless buses in different places, and her description of his actions was pretty spot-on. Except the faces. He always checked out who he was travelling with. Who was going to want to talk and keep him awake? The mom’s with young kids - the kids he wasn’t really too fussed about but a screaming, fractious infant might make him want to get off at the next stop, regardless of where that might be.

Service men going home on leave - yeah, maybe he might be willing to share a seat with one of them. Pretty women. He wouldn’t want to sit next to those. In his experience a pretty woman travelling alone on a bus usually meant trouble of one sort or another, either in their past or coming up ahead. Besides, it was better to sit further away in order to be able to admire the view.

Now he looked at her face he began to remember something. Two rows behind him, on the opposite side. She’d been wearing glasses then, her head buried in a book.

“So,” he said, finally. “You want to tell me what this is all about?” He glanced around the coffee shop. It was a fairly average-looking establishment. The front opened out onto a small open forecourt. It was deserted. Of course, it was Christmas Eve. Office workers and shoppers would have been home hours long ago, or still sitting in bars getting drunk because there was no-one they wanted to go home to. The hour was late and this didn’t strike him as the sort of place that stayed open all night.

“We’d planned a little late night shopping,” she began. “You know the sort of thing. A few little last minute Christmas purchases, a few diamonds, that sort of thing.”

Reacher followed her gaze out of the window across to a small jewellery store across the way.

“Except we were a man down,” she continued. “Lucas’ brother got sick.” She looked down at the pathetic corpse at the other end of the counter. “I was travelling back here, ready to take over and do the close down. You know, do the decent thing, let the boss go off home early to be with the wife and kids. Then Lucas rings up and tells me his brother Martin got the flu. Can you believe it?”

Reacher was piecing the jigsaw puzzle together in his head, but he was still several pieces short of the full picture.

“So why the dressing up?” he asked.

“Because, anybody seeing us is going to be able to give a really good description to the police, right! ‘Yes, officer, I saw Santa and his elves robbing the jewellery store’ -like that’s going to be believed! By the time they’d have decided the witness wasn’t drunk or off their heads, we’d be long gone.”

Reacher thought about it. She was either extremely stupid or extremely clever. At this moment, with the remnants of the drug still kicking around in the back of his brain, he wasn’t entirely sure which.

“But why me?” he asked. “And why drug me?”

She smiled.

“We needed a big guy, to lift the safe.” She looked him up and down, admiring what she saw. “You seemed to fit the bill!”

“And afterwards?”

“You’re a drifter, who’d miss a drifter, if you see what I mean?” She smiled again, raising one eyebrow that said he’d be a loose end that could be neatly tied off later. Permanently.

“And I couldn’t take the risk you’d not come quietly, if you got injured you’d be no use to us.”

“So how’d you do it? How did you drug me and get me here?”

“That was the easy part,” she said, spreading her hands out on the counter and taking her weight as she eased forward. “You like my perfume?” she said, leaning forward. Reacher was aware of the sultry mix of exotic oils and floral notes, evaporating from the heat of her body. It was heady and intoxicating, but hardly enough to render him unconscious.

Then he remembered something. He was standing outside the bus, debating where to go in search of a meal, maybe a room as well. Some one tripped over behind him. He recalled the bag that fell, its contents rolling out in different directions. He remembered what looked like a perfume atomiser that had spun away and come to rest against his shoe, and the hand that had retrieved it before he could do likewise. A pretty face. A woman travelling alone. Trouble.

The barista straightened up, standing back and mimed using the atomiser, as if spraying him in the face. Now he recalled a different smell, a light chlorine odour that stung at his nostrils.

“I had to be careful how I did it, so we wouldn’t have far to move you. Lucas had the van just around the corner. We drove into the back of the shop and dumped you here, and then I went out and delivered coffee and cookies to the guy in the jewellery store. Mr Weinsfeld doesn’t celebrate Christmas but, hey - the man’s working late, why not spread a little seasonal cheer? I gave him a stronger spray - he’s still out cold, in the back room.”

“So why’d you get out of costume?” asked Reacher. “Aren’t you worried about being recognised?”

“Night watchman calls round in half an hour,” she replied. “If I’m closing up I give him an extra coffee. On the house. I want to make sure he remembers me being in here, in uniform.”

“Pity he’ll see more than that,” said Reacher, looking at Lucas’ body.

The barista leaned a bit closer, her perfume a welcome change from Lucas’ aroma.

“Of course, we could still go with my plan,” she said. “I’m sure you could move Lucas to somewhere… more comfortable. I could meet the watchman at the door; say the drains are backed up….”

Reacher had to admire the cool tactical skill she displayed. She didn’t miss a beat. But he still had the gun. He raised it slowly into her line of sight.

“You trust me that much?” he said, watching the slight quiver around her fading smile. “Make me another coffee, while I think about it.” He had to point the gun nearer to make her move, then sat down at a table opposite, thinking about what he was going to say when the night watchman arrived.

The barista nervously carried the coffee over to his table, a tremor visible in her hand.

“Sit down,” said Reacher. He only had to say it once. She dropped like a stone onto the chair across from him and sat bolt upright. The cool exterior had gone. She wasn’t in control any more. She didn’t know what was coming next.

Reacher savoured the drink, although it wasn’t as good as the previous one, the one he’d had to sacrifice on Lucas’ face. She must have been nervous, didn’t wait long enough to get the right balance of flavour. No matter. He’d tasted worse. A lot worse.

He finished his drink, wiping his mouth and laid the cup down on the table and glanced at the door, then turned and looked to the other end of the shop. He stood up and saw her flinch at his enormous height stretched above her. She watched as he picked up the gun, her mouth opening to scream, or maybe to beg for mercy. He put a finger to his lips to silence her, and in the distance they heard a tune being whistled. It was a pretty discordant version of ‘Silent night’ but it heralded the night watchman, on his rounds.

“What are we going to do?” she hissed.

You,” replied Reacher, “you are going to say someone came in, tried to rob the till. Lucas, here, tried to be a hero and stop him. Now, go get that sack. Put the cash from the till in it and bring it back here.”

She got up and crept behind the counter, pulling the sack towards her. God, Lucas smelled awful. A brown stain had puddle around the seat of his pants. She was gagging on the close proximity of the stench and scrambled back towards the till, stuffing notes into the sack. She handed it over to Reacher.

“Now drop your cell phone in there, too,” he ordered, while he kicked at the junction box by the payphone on the wall, dislodging the wires and rendering it useless.

She pulled the phone from under the counter and slipped it into the sack along with the money and the boxes of presents that every self-respecting Santa sack should be carrying.

“What are you going to do,” she asked, her voice now timid and shaking.

“Me?” replied Reacher. “I’m a drifter. Who’d know I was ever here?” He swung the sack up onto his back and walked towards the rear door.

“But what about me?” she whispered.

“You haven’t killed anyone,” he said. “You haven’t stolen anything. About all you have done is knocked out some poor guy who’s right now probably still dreaming of sugarplums dancing in his head. And you made some damn fine coffee.” He walked on towards the back of the shop, then turned. “And if you say anything different I’ll hear about it and I’ll start remembering where to find you.” He chuckled and tapped his nose then turned out of the back door and was gone.

He crossed the back parking lot, and slipped out along a back street. The night air was cold but he kept a reasonable pace, a late night Santa on the way to his last drop. He was glad of the hood on the jacket and the beard acted as a wonderful muffler.

He turned at the end of the street. It was deserted, but one building was lit up and he could hear people inside. He crossed over and climbed the steps, laying the sack on the floor and peeled off the jacket and trousers. He picked out the cell phone and then stuffed the clothes into the bag along with the money and the presents and the beard he’d ripped of his face. He pocketed the gun and the phone and stepped silently down the steps and made his way from the church. It was as good a place as any to leave the sack. Someone in there would put the contents to good use. The gun and the phone would be ‘re-homed’ too, but not here.

He heard the sirens growing closer and saw the lights flashing and the discordant change of tone as the two police cars speeded past him, up towards the coffee shop. The night watchman must have arrived soon after he left.

Now there was another sound. A rich, clanging, seasonal sound. Church bells sounding out good will to all men. It was no longer the night before Christmas. Reacher smiled, thinking about the surprise on the church steps.

“Happy Christmas to all,” he thought. “And to all a good night,” then crossed the road and went in search of a bed.


© Sue Harding 2009

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Twinkle, Twinkle....


One week to go before Christmas! The presents are wrapped, the freezer's full, and sitting looking at the Christmas tree sparkling in the conservatory I think to myself - how blessed I am.

Life's not all hunky-dory at the moment, but on balance I have much to be thankful for and with New Year's resolutions on the horizons I'm thinking about how I can use what I've been blessed with to hopefully make a difference for someone else.

2011 may indeed be a very different year for me - on the work-front at the very least! So, I'm thinking about how to use my time wisely.

One of the projects I want to do more to support is The Butterfly Home. It doesn't take much to knit a few garments and these kids are so needy it breaks my heart.

Another charity I'd like to do more for, practically, is Dogs Trust. This year we lost our faithful hound, Bruce, whom we'd adopted from Dog's Trust twelve years ago; it would be nice to give something more back to this charity, perhaps by becoming a volunteer dog-walker?

So with all this for starters, will there be time for writing....? I'd like to think so, but who knows!

Anyway, as we all celebrate this Christmas let's spare a thought for those less fortunate. Wouldn't the world be a slightly better place if each of us was able to make even a small difference in someone else's life?

Monday, 13 December 2010

"Bah's" and "humbugs" prohibited here!

I know for some of you it might still be a little early but....."It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas......" ;-)

After the annual 'mini'-Christmas family celebration over the weekend it's now down hill to Christmas 'proper' as far as I'm concerned!

All the pressies are bought and wrapped - just waiting for the 'man in red' to do his bit!

And to get you all in the mood, I just have to share this:

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Deep, and Crisp and Even!


While other parts of the UK are locked in snow, here in the Midlands we are being given a rare glimpse of one of creation's beautiful effects - hoar frost.

I donned suitable apparel and footwear and went off to explore this new wonderland this morning and managed to take some beautiful pics and only fell over once!

This countryside shot is literally five minutes' walk from our house - quite a 'Christmas Card' view, I thought!
Photobucket

Then, a gentle meander along the towpath brought me to the scene of narrowboats locked in the ice on the Oxford canal.

Photobucket


Not bad for a little phone-cam, eh?

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Happy Brithday!


Today my blog is exactly one year old! It’s been a crazy twelve months, but I’ve learned a lot about organising pages, learning very basic html code, editing and adding features to my blog!

In this last year I've managed to complete an 80+word manuscript, met up with amazing and like-minded writers (and even published authors - you know who you are!), done a stunt car challenge (and survived!) and travelled to America for the first time!

So, a BIG thankyou to YOU, dear reader, for putting up with my ramblings and mutterings! Thanks also, to those who have visited, read my offerings and posted comments. I hope I’ve kept you informed and entertained and in turn I offer a big 'thank you' to all the blog-owners who’ve allowed me to participate and comment on their various challenges and posts.

Here’s to the next year!

Cheers! :-)

(and typically, my 'visitor counter' has gone kaput!!!)

Monday, 29 November 2010

"NO CRY FOR HELP" - Review


A few weeks back I blogged about Grant McKenzie's book 'SWITCH' - well, now his second book is on release: 'No Cry For Help' - and once again, it's a goodie!

A finely woven tale, it leads the reader on a 'bread-crumb trail' through a forest of unanswered questions - until you find yourself so caught up with the twists and turns that the story MUST be pursued to discover the fate of the main character, Wallace Carver!

In his previous story, 'Switch', Grant McKenzie posed the question: to what lengths would an 'average Joe' go in order to rescue his family? With 'No Cry For Help' he again puts the reader in that unenviable position, as a family trip across the Canadian border turns to disaster.

Wallace Carver begins to worry when his wife and two children fail to meet him at a shopping mall. As the minutes tick away his anxiety grows and as the shops begin to close, all the possible scenarios for their tardiness that he has had running through his mind begin to evaporate.

Finally, after persuading the shopping mall security guards that something may be very wrong, the local police begin to question Carver and following the discovery that his vehicle bears no signs of luggage for anyone else, assume that his story of a missing family is a work of fiction.

Trying to maintain his account of events, Carver finds his story is disputed further when the police discover that photos taken at the border, of traffic crossing from Canada into the US, do indeed reveal Carver's vehicle - with himself as the sole occupant!

Initially suspecting foul play, but then with all trace of his so-called family's existance erased, the police have Carver expelled back across the border to his home territory of Canada.

Now, Carver has to fight to find out how to get his family back.

Who who has taken them? And why?

'No Cry For Help' is, like it's predecessor 'Switch', a roller-coaster ride of action and emotion which Grant McKenzie handles so deftly. The reader instantly identifies with Carver's feelings of bewilderment and helplessness in the face of bureuocracy, and as he has to grow 'street-smart' and leave behind his former life as a law-abiding citizen there is a sense of driven desperation as he seeks his wife and children - whatever the cost.

The twists and turns of Grant McKenzie's tight plotting keeps the reader on his (or her) toes and seemingly loose ends are expertly woven in as the story kicks on with unrelenting pace!

'Switch' burst onto the literary scene just over a year ago and now it's joined by this excellent follow-up novel!

Now, Mr McKenzie - don't keep us waiting too long for No.3!!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Short Story Challenge


Knowing how some of the people who visit my 'umble little blog love to write - here's a challenge for which I'm happy to drum up trade!

My friend Yvette has a truly wonderous blog which, as well as being a treasure trove of literary wonders, is also something of an Aladdin's Cave - festooned with things upon which to feast one's eyes (I can spend ages wandering through her blog.....)

Anyway, a few days ago she posted a link that suggested a great mystery.

So, spurred on with her own suppositions she has declared a challenge to write a short story based on a possible explanation. There's plenty of time - you have until Feb 14th, 2011.

Alas, there is no stash of cash up for grabs, or a publishing contract in the offing, but the winner will receive the very first annual award Icon to display on their blog!!

So,what will YOU come up with, hmmmm?

Go check out her site, anyway, but take a cuppa with you - you may be gone for some time..... ;- )

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Sentinal - Lily's Friday Prediction


Every week, without fail, Lily Childs, hosts a 100-word flashfiction challenge. Why not drop by, take a look, oh - and have a go yourself, perhaps?

This week's words up for grabs were:

Kestrel
Bed-chamber
Uriel
[the Archangel]

Sailing very close to the wind, with just a few hours of the challenge left, I scraped together a story (of sorts!) - not one of my usual genres but, hey - first time for everthing!

Here 'tis:


The Sentinel

Uriel’s reflected light shone on the rich tapestries in the bedchamber, picking out fine gold threads in the weave.

His presence disturbed the kestrel, tied to its perch, head shielded in a tiny hood. Though unseen, it sensed the emissary sent from the Most High.

Not so, the woman in repose, fever blighting her slumber in the canopied bed. Uriel leaned against one of the posts, watching. Her beauty stirred him, but only to praise her Creator.

Charged with her protection, he glowed brightly, defying the demons that encroached upon her.

Tonight, they would have to feast on other flesh.

Friday, 5 November 2010

In Memorium




Every Friday, Lily Childs launches a weekly prediction. Using the three words she selects at random, participants are invited to create prose or poetry up to a wordcount of 100.

This week, the word-prompts were:

Admonish
Percussion
Belong


Perhaps it was the noise of fireworks outside but the word 'percussion' conjured up a sense of gunfire and inspired my entry for this week's challenge, as we (in the UK) pause for thought for fallen heroes.



IN MEMORIUM

Fearful.

Admonished by those who thought themselves their betters.

Seeking a last breath of freedom from their squalid trench they rose,

Sacrificing themselves to shrill whistles and cries

And then the staccato percussion that charted their rapid demise as over the top they went,

Pouring like ants from a nest,

Seeing a new horizon, briefly, before lead and shrapnel marked their bodies,
In daubs of crimson.

Now, here, in fields to which only the valiant can belong,
Remain those daubs of poppy-red
Fluttering in the breeze.

Remembrances to the long-ago dead.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

'DEAD LIKE YOU' - Peter James


On Monday 1st November a new online book-group is starting - no, not just focussing on one book and 'doing' it to death - this group aims to give contributors the chance to 'promote' some of their favourites reads and authors, encourage others to try them out.

To kick off this new venture, here’s my first review. Feel free to comment here and/or visit the site, and check out the other ‘reads!




DEAD LIKE YOU by Peter James


This is the sixth title in a series by Peter James, following the central character of Detective Superintendant Roy Grace. Located in and around Brighton, the earlier books set the scene with a regular ‘supporting cast’ of fellow officers, of both lower and senior ranks – some of which Grace relies on; others he tolerates!

Along with the rest of Peter James’ books, Dead Like You has a kernel of truth being based on a real life occurrence. Here, the villain, known as the Shoe Man, attacked women and stole their shoes as trophies. The book covers two time frames – a ‘cold case’ several years previously, in 1997 when the Shoe Man was at the height of his campaign, and the present day when it appears he may have returned – or is it a copycat? The storyline covers two possible suspects and I oscillated between the two as being the guilty party right up until the final scenes where I was convinced I knew which one was the perpetrator – but there’s a twist at the end!

Counterpoint to this, runs the story of Grace’s missing wife, Sandy. In the first book of the series, Dead Simple, we are told that Sandy has been declared ‘missing’ some time earlier, leaving Grace in a sort of ‘limbo’ situation. By book six, he has developed a relationship with Cleo, a Home Office pathologist. With the imminent arrival of parenthood Grace is ready to settle down and re-marry, having started the process to have Sandy declared legally dead. Dead Like You fills in some of the relationship story of Grace and Sandy, as the flashbacks to the 'cold case' of the Shoe Man return to a time when they were happy together, even if she was not always supportive of his career!

If you like police procedural novels, you will love this book! Peter James has built up a strong relationship with former and currently serving police officers, coroners and pathologists, thus helping to give authenticity to his work. Yet he writes with an added vulnerability to Grace’s character as the Detective Superintendant bends the rules, or at least blurs the lines he’s prepared to overstep, in order to solve the case.

The paperback edition of Dead Like You was released in the UK on 14th October this year and is currently at No.1 on the Sunday Times book list for the second week running.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Phantomania!

OK. Call me an old softy, but I do love a good show!

For many years "Miss Saigon" was way up there on a pedestal but sadly it's no longer touring the UK (Please Mr Mackintosh, bring it back, huh? Pretty-please?)

Now, after a weekend trip to the West End I think I shall declare "Love Never Dies" a justifiable contender for 1st place on my list of top shows!

Having seen Phantom and it's new sequel back-to-back earlier in the year, R and I went to see Love Never Dies again - and I think there's a real danger of us two becoming LND-groupies!

For a flavour of the magificence, watch Ramin Karimloo (Phantom) belting this out:



....such a wonderful show and amazing special effects!

And, in these days of economic hardship (we were in the fairly-high-up-but-not-quite-in-'the gods' cheap-ish seats!) - at the end of the performance the star of the show interrupted the curtain-call to give his personal thanks to the audience for spending their hard-earned cash in supporting 'live' theatre.

(....and, cheekily, persuaded us part with more of it, as members of the cast held a collection on behalf of the 'Acting For Others' charity, which supports former artistes and their dependents in need)

Monday, 18 October 2010

SWITCH-ed ON!


In 24 days time, Grant McKenzie's new book, 'No Cry For Help' is released in the UK.

So, if you're not familiar with his work, that gives you just over three weeks to catch up with him and read his first book, 'Switch'! :-)

Last year I picked up this book, while I was sorting through the newly accquired books (one of the few perks of working for the library service) and read the blurb.

Well, that was it - hooked!

I literally couldn't put it down (I kept sneaking off the library floor to read a couple of pages - but don't tell my boss, will you?) and it was a real rollercoster-ride of a novel!

'Sam White believes his family are dead, killed in a house fire, and his world falls apart - then someone contacts him to say they're alive, but to stay that way he has to perform a few simple tasks - including murder.....!'

So, I've been eagerly awaiting a follow-up from this cracking author (and jolly nice bloke, too! :-) ) - not long to wait, now!

Do yourself a favour and get a copy of 'Switch' - a thrill-a-minute, white-knuckle ride!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Spread a bit of cheer!


Writing is hard - first you have to have an idea - then you have to couch it in terms that others will enjoy! And that's just the beginning, never mind completing the work and getting it published!

As well as yours truly, a few people I know are in need of some TLC and encouragement in this department - YOU probably know others, too! So why not drop by and give them a (metaphorical) hug and whisper words of encouragement to their flagging enthusiasm.

Come on, everyone needs someone cheering them on.....


.....just don't expect me to jump up and down waving pompoms, tho'! ;-p

(and by way of amusement - I came across this.... ;-)

Saturday, 9 October 2010

NaNoWriMo - the month of madness!


OK. I gave in to pressure and signed up for NaNoWriMo once again! I've mothballed the current WIP in order to give myself breathing space - now I just need inspiration to kick-start my imagination!

My 'partner in crime' (R) has also signed up - so we will have to keep gaoding each other during the inevitable 'writers block' moments. ;-)

I'll be registered under my previous nom-de-plume: 'Library Maid' so, if any of you budding writers fancy the challenge, why not head over there and check out the website? (and give me a buzz when you arrive ;-) )

What have you got to lose?



(....the words 'sleep' and 'sanity' come to mind......;-p)

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Be careful what you wish for.....!

I used to joke that I could do with a nice sprained ankle or something - just enough to make it impossible for me to go to work (or do housework!) and not impair my appetite so I could still enjoy my food, that way I could lie back and get stuck into the TBR pile guilt-free! ;-)

Well, I sort of got my wish - this gammy knee is getting no better and it now seems I may have damaged ligaments. But, the Doc didn't seem to think it warranted a sick note so I've had to hobble into work for the last couple of days, while waiting to see what the hospital has to say about possible physio.

The mini-Matterhorn of books in the TBR pile just glares defiantly at me - I have a couple of titles on the go at the moment but can't seem to settle to read at all....typical!

And the knitting yarn I bought home from America is whispering seductively at me....but it's hard to knit/crochet AND hold a book at the same time (now I see the point of a Kindle, as I could just prop it up in front of me...!)

As for the appetite - no problems there at all. However, having returned from 'across the pond' and realising my clothes are a wee bit tighter (too much good food!!) I'm having to get back to eating simply and sensibly (how boring is that?)
;-p

Saturday, 2 October 2010

(Sort of) Normal Service Is Resumed


Ho, hum - back to good old 'Blighty', complete with rain and grey skies :-(

Farewell to the beautiful New England colours and glorious scenery.....and 'hello' to wet and windy Warwickshire. It will take some getting used to but at least I have very pleasant memories of a wonderful stay with K and O (will have to go on a diet after all the wonderful food O produced! ;-) )

This jaunt had a sort of literary feel to it: visited Louisa May Alcott's house in Concord (R loves 'Little Women') and the House of Seven Gables (another R favourite, imortalised by Nathaniel Hawthorne) plus, had to check out that Matt Hilton had got a real flavour of Maine in his latest book, 'Cut and Run'! (just about spot-on I'd say!

Like home, this holiday involved both books and beer - from home-brew to local ales - and a drink in 'Cheers!' in Boston ;-p

Until the rest of the photos get sorted out (my camera jammed the first day there >:-( ) you'll have to make do with this piccie taken on my phone at Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

...and we're already planning a return visit, this time taking in Prince Edward Island (books, again - 'Anne of Green Gables' - another R favourite! The things you do to indulge your kids, eh? ;-) )

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Th-Th-That's all,folks!


"Well, my bags are packed (nearly), I'm ready to go (almost)....." strains of John Denver ring through my mind. Just need to round up the last bits and pieces!

Daughter R and I are watching 'National Treasure" to put us in the mood for the forthcoming trip across the pond and we are certainly ready for it! Despite injuring myself, I'm hopeful it will not affect the holiday too much - just need to take things at a leisurely pace!

I will try to keep adding to my blog with piccies etc. and detail what we get up to in the 'colonies'! ;-)

Well, a brief intermission will now ensue.....and I'll catch up with you all when I get back!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Pre-vacation recuperation....


One week to go - and then I'm off on hols, avec daughter :-) but sans OH :-(

So, my usual fiction challenges and aspirations are on hold, but depending on my access to the 'web I'll hopefully keep up with all the 'usual suspects'!

In the meantime, I have to get my gammy knee to rights (hobbling around IKEA yesterday was probably NOT the best of activities!) so today I plan ......... very little that requires movement! So - feet up, a bottomless teapot and excellent reading material will be the order of the day!

Also, I need to plan which literary works to take with me to while away the seven-or-so-hours' journey time 'across the pond' - currently on the list are Peter James "Not Dead Enough", Sean Black "Lock Down" and (in view of the fact that there will be a visit to Maine included in this trip!) John Connolly's "Every Dead Thing".

Meanwhile, keep taking the tablets and back to the tea.......aaaaaahhhhh! :-)

Monday, 6 September 2010

FFF #41 WAITING




For the FFF challenge this week, Cormac Brown ran a poll on different starter sentences and this time The Professor's entry came out on top. (well done, Prof!)

Thus, our literary efforts for this week have to begin with the sentence:

"He walked in and slid the photograph across my desk."


Thanks, Cormac, for facilitating the whole event, keeping us on track and allowing us to flex our literary muscles!

So,without further ado - here you go!




WAITING

He walked in and slid the photograph across my desk. It was hard not to look but I was fighting that urge because looking at it might finally make me face up to something I’d been tying to avoid for the last few months.

“Frank, I need you to look at this for me.” The policeman’s voice was firm but there was a kindly edge to it. Or maybe I’d just grown used to it after all this time.

Since Debbie had gone missing six and a half months ago Detective Sergeant Peter Guidrey had been in contact with me in some form or another every few days. Lately he’d taken to calling into my office, sometimes with possible news, sometimes just touching base, as if to say ‘We’re still on the case’. It was a kindly gesture, rather than being summoned yet again to the police station.

In the first harrowing hours of her disappearance I’d seen the finger of suspicion waver in my direction. That was normal I suppose. I’ve read somewhere about the number of abduction cases involving a known family member, usually a parent, often a male. My alibi had checked out, but I wonder even to this day, if somewhere lurking below the surface of formal Police procedure, they still suspect my involvement.

Peter pushed the photo towards me, prompting a reaction. Trouble is, the reaction I might give would not help matters.

“Please, Frank. Let’s settle this. Take a look.”

Settle it? Doesn’t he understand how much I want it to be settled? To see my beautiful Debbie come springing into the room in all her teenage youthfulness, with her music playing way too loud and her pleading for a newer, smarter phone…..?

He doesn’t understand the hours I lay awake at night going over and over in my head the last time I saw Debbie. I’d dropped her at the station. She was meeting her friends and they were going into the city to shop for new clothes and spend far too much money and hang out together and whatever it is that teenage girls get up to these days.

I should have waited; made sure some of her friends were there, but she’d waved me away. I shouldn’t have looked at my watch. Perhaps that’s why she told me to go. She’s a good kid. She knows the business pays the bills and the pressure to keep the whole thing afloat takes every minute I have. I should have waited.

So when Peter asked me to look at the photo and settle it I really wanted to, believe me. But I also want to rage and curse because my little girl is missing. She walked out of our lives and just disappeared. No trace. No explanation.

Sometimes I imagine she’s walking down a street, carefree and happy. Other times, the imagination turns the opposite way, to a darker reality. In the moments when hope is at its lowest ebb I secretly wonder where her body lies, her soul crying for us to bring her home.

“Frank?”

My attention returns at the sound of Peter’s voice and my eyes focus on the white edge of the photo. I take a deep breath and reach out, my fingers tracing the corner of the print as I pull it towards me, like all the others I’ve pulled close to scrutinise before.

Slowly, I force my eyes to focus on the image. The air in my chest is frozen, hard, a leaden weight. Such beautiful hair. A cute, button nose. A fine bone structure. The picture blurs as my eyes fill with tears. The photo is obviously post mortem.

The heavy weight in my lungs escapes in one long, low groan as I push the photograph back.

“No,” I say quietly. It is not my beloved Debbie. Part of me is relieved. Glad to see that this is not my daughter, and yet somewhere her own parents will see this picture and their world of restrained agony will explode.

My relief is tinged with the pain of yet another day of uncertainty, another monochrome day in a world of technicolour, of putting one foot in front of another and working every hour God sends because to be at home is to be close to all that reminds me of Debbie. Stephanie, her mother, understands. She copes in her own way, seeking comfort from alcohol-induced inertia. What right have I to take that from her?

“No, it’s not Debbie,” I say, looking back towards the policeman who must now go back and cross her name off a list of missing girls, before the photo is circulated to other grieving, waiting families.

Peter retrieves the image and straightens up. We’ve had this conversation before and he knows not to pressure me to be sure.

“I’m sorry, Frank,” he replies. “You know we have to check each unidentified victim.” The word ‘victim’ cuts yet another sore in my heart.

“We will find her, I promise you,” he says as he turns towards the door. It’s a hollow promise, one he probably will never be able to make good on, but still he makes it, each and every bittersweet time we meet.
I raise a hand in acknowledgement as he opens the door and leaves, curbing my gut feeling that we will go through this charade again, sooner or later.

The clock has moved on ten minutes.

Another six hundred seconds of waiting.

As the empty, cavernous, fear of unknowing devours me yet again, how many more will there be, I wonder, until my daughter finally comes home?

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Well, is IS Sunday....


For all I moan and whinge about the things in life where I feel hard done by, I have so much to be thankful for. I have a roof over my head, food to eat and a job (however much I moan about that, I'm still lucky to be able to work!).I have clothes to wear, a car to drive and something called 'leisure' time. Yet, for so many people in the world today these things seem unnattainable.

Even someone earning £25k per annum is in the top 1.42% of the world population! (As calculated here)

On that scale, it makes you appreciate what you have. (and not what you don't!)

Though we can support charities both here and abroad it makes me wonder if my own little drop in a bucket can make any difference. But if all those drops around the world get together, the bucket would soon start to fill up.......gets you thinking, right?


Anyway, thought I'd share one of my favourite bands with you, Big Daddy Weave.

This track was what got me thinking through this whole issue....


Friday, 3 September 2010

J.M. Prescott's 'I Dare You' Challenge


Rising to the challenge by Paul Phillips, guest 'editor' on J.M. Prescott's Weekly Dare, I submitted a piece entitled 'RECALL'.

The remit was to use the term 'passage' in whatever connotation that took our fancy, be it a 'passage' of time, or a physical 'passage' as in thoroughfare, etc.

Herewith, my entry (which actually is a prologue to a bigger work, but that's another tale!)


RECALL


He knew he was a dead man.

He knew, because the intense pressure and pain in his chest had ceased.

He knew, because the noise of people and machines around him had gone and he heard – nothing. Not even the steady pulse you hear when you jam your fingers in your ears; the sound made by your heart pumping blood around your body.

He knew he was dead because his body didn’t feel cumbersome and heavy and uncomfortable any more. In fact he felt weightless, as though he was floating.

But he was puzzled.

He remembered he'd read accounts of people dying and being led towards a bright light. There was no light as far as he could see, but he did have a sensation of moving along a passageway. He could see a series of what looked like half-open doors moving into his field of vision. In fact, he wasn’t sure if the doors were moving or he was.

Whatever; just as he drew level with each one it closed and he moved on to the next, and the next, each one closing as he reached it. Finally, there was just one left; straight ahead.

He was torn between wanting to know what was behind the last door and yet there was the urge to turn back, almost sensing that he’d forgotten something; like when you run to the top of the stairs with a purpose and then when you get there you have no idea what you planned to do when you got there.

He turned his head, or what he assumed was his head because at this point he had no sensation of having a body at all. As he tried to look back he felt a searing pain. It was unfamiliar. It hit him almost as if he’d never, ever, experienced the concept of pain before. Going from a state of feeling absolutely nothing this was shockingly raw, crude, gut wrenching pain. A pain that seemed to arc out from his chest, pulsing down the insides of his arms, speeding to the tips of his fingers.

Again.

And a third time.

After the fourth, he’d felt like his body had been slammed onto a concrete floor and he could hear a cacophony of noises and voices and sensed a flurry of activity.

“He’s back! I’ve got a pulse!”

He heard the words, somewhere above him, like the melody line over the accompanying chorus of mixed voices calling out stats and codes. After the previous, almost peaceful, silence this was bedlam but no matter how much he tried he couldn’t summon command of his muscles to even flicker open an eye.

He felt trapped and immobile and there was an intense sensation of pain and pressure all over his body but the relentless pulsing rhythm in his chest told him one thing - that he was back in the real world and that he’d left death behind.

Yes, he was back.

But, given this new unadulterated agony, there'd better be a damn good reason why!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

What are YOU doing this weekend?


I have to work Saturday and Sunday, again! :-( (groan)

The up-side is that my 'weekend' starts now! :-)

Two whole days to myself - so I'm hoping to squeeze all the housework-type-stuff into tomorrow morning, leaving plenty of time for creativity of the literary kind! (oh, yessssss!)

Plan is to get a few more K's added to the WIP (finally get all the thought-out ideas into a readable format) and also take a look at the previous work to pack a bit more punch into the opening chapers before I send it off out there into agent-ville again! (have invested way too much time to give it all up now!)

Need to also factor in more reading time!

Last weekend disappeared into a Joe Hunter void...... don't want to reveal too many spoilers but Matt Hilton's latest JH adventure, 'Cut and Run' is absolutely sublime! Get your reading-faculties round a copy at your soonest! (hurry, hurry - then we can discuss it!!!!)

So, this 'weekend' I want to get to grips with John Connolly's 'Every Dead Thing' - the first Charlie Parker story, esp. as the books have a Maine connection (which destination is also part of my upcoming holiday to New England!)

:-)

Saturday, 28 August 2010

FFF #40 HONEY, I'M HOME


It's that time again!

For this week's Friday Flash Fiction, our leader, mentor and cracker-of-whips Cormac Brown has set us an interesting conundrum, whereby we weave a tale which begins with a sentence supplied by MRM:

"I heard footsteps on the wet sidewalk and the sound of keys."

Stepping up to the challenge (which came very easily this week....maybe it's just that bad! :-o) here's my take on that opening line.....



HONEY, I'M HOME



I heard footsteps on the wet sidewalk and the sound of keys landing on the paving. Squinting around the net curtains I could just make out Jack’s form bending over and cursing under his breath to retrieve them. I turned away from the window quickly as he made his way up the stoop and heard the impatient rattle of the door as he tried first one key then another in the lock.

Tiptoeing into the darkness I glanced back up the hallway, seeing the shadow of his frame silhouetted on the frosted glass panels of the door. I had, I guessed, just a couple of minutes left and what hadn’t already been accomplished was too bad.

I edged backwards, feeling my way round the open door into the back room. I heard the children shuffling and whispering and cut them a warning glance. Tobias, the eldest, clasped his hands protectively over Maggie’s shoulders. She shivered slightly in her cotton nightgown clutching her ragged, but much loved teddy in a death-grip of anticipation, her eyes wide and her thumb wedged firmly in her mouth for comfort. It was way past their bedtime but I wanted them nearby, I wanted us all to be together no matter the outcome.

I blew her a silent kiss then ushered them to move further back as I tiptoed over to join them. Squeezing over behind the table I motioned them to crouch down safely out of sight and there we waited, counting off the silent seconds, my heart pounding.

First came the creak of the opening door. I was glad I hadn’t oiled the hinges as I’d been meaning to do – it gave us a few precious seconds of warning. Listening to the sounds in the darkness I imagined the scene in the hallway, with Jack dropping his coat on the waiting chair, familiarising himself with the layout. Things had changed while he’d been away but he’d quickly found the light switch and the flood of brightness illuminated the floor, spilling into the backroom.

I turned and looked down at Tobias, crouched beside his sister. I could just make out her face, the bright reflection of her eyes, then the horrified realisation that the thumb had slid from its warm repository leaving her mouth open and ready to cry out. Tobias quickly clamped his hand over her face, stifling her attempted yell. I raised a finger to my lips and shook my head, desperate for her to keep quiet, yet not wanting her to be alarmed.

The footsteps in the hall were coming closer and I took one last glance at the table beside me. In the darkness I could just see the glint of reflected light along the blade of the large knife and moved my fingers to pull it closer.

In those final seconds, I wondered if I shouldn’t have left the children sleeping peacefully and unaware upstairs after all. It had been a long time since I’d seen Jack and there were things that I might have said that would have been better out of their earshot.

Too late now, though. I saw the edge of Jack’s tan loafers as they stepped across the threshold and saw the black shadow of his hand reach up the wall, feeling in the dimness for the light switch. As the room was flooded with brilliance there was movement, chaos and noise and a brief look of bewilderment on Jack’s face.

“Surprise!” shrieked the children, as they scrabbled forwards and wrapped themselves around their Father, home at last after the long weeks of his business trip. He smiled lovingly at them and hugged them as he glanced over towards me with a look of far more than mere affection.

I sighed and picked up the knife, wondering if eating a ‘Welcome Home and Happy Birthday’ cake at 3.20 in the morning was quite such a good idea after all!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

I'm KALULA - fly me!


This really made my day ! At first I thought it was a joke, but no - KULULA really exists!

Check out the rest of their fleet at the website.
With a healthy does of hilarity, some of their in-flight info would have the passengers screaming with laughter and rolling in the aisles - even the inflight magazine is written by South African comedians - to enhance the 'travel experience'!

And this must be the BEST pre-flight safety demo ever! (OK, takes a few moments to tune your ear to the dialect, but still a bit of a giggle!)

Thursday, 19 August 2010

FFF#39 CONTAINMENT


How quickly time flies - and Friday Flash Fiction is with us again!(even though this is only Thursday......)

After a brief vacation Cormac Brown has returned and set us the task of creating a story from an opening sentence supplied (way back when!) by one of our FFF cohorts, Randal Graves.

An extra challenge was to write in a different genre from our usual output!

To that end, I've opted for a Sci-fi element - I hope it works for you!



CONTAINMENT


She knew time was running out, fast, but opening that door was Pandora's Box all over again and Langley’s skin was already turning a peculiar shade. Or maybe it was just the artificial light in the airlock. Either way, she needed to get him out of there.

Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Hope cursed him silently under her breath as she struggled with the manual over-ride. The noise of her laboured breathing rasped through her headset as a welcome distraction from Langley’s slurred rendition of “ten green bottles” which was now almost like listening to a monotonous loop-tape.

“Mullarkey?” she called out.

“Yes, ma’am?” came the reply through her headset.

“How’re the gauges running?”

There was a mild static hiss and the faint noise of Mullarkey’s voice humming an indiscriminate song absent-mindedly. Ronnie closed her eyes as she continued to pump back and forwards on the compression handle, gradually bringing down the atmosphere in the airlock to a viable level as she asked herself why, perhaps for the millionth time, she had agreed to assume control of the station.

After Captain Brakes had called a halt to his own career by deciding to exit the station without his suit it had been a rollercoaster ride. The madness that had prompted his swift and final departure seemed to have spread in varying degrees to the rest of the crew. Now, with the material that Brakes had retrieved from the Primary Quadrant safely isolated, she had to try and preserve what was left of the fourteen-man crew – Langley, Mullarkey and herself.

“Mullarkey?” she called again. Man, it was hard just keeping him on task. “Mullarkey, what are you doing?”

The static popped on and off in her ears.

“Hey, Ronnie, the pressure’s falling in four and five, but six thru nine are looking good.”

“What about one to three? And that’s Captain Ronnie, to you!” She pumped the handle again, back and forwards, waiting for Mullarkey to report.

Curiously, the insanity that infected the original presiding officer-in-charge had spread like wildfire amongst the crew but did not seem to affect the three females. She was now the last surviving woman, courtesy of Lt. Miller taking out Maj.Christa Blake in his bid to blow apart one of the labs.

Sherri LeRoy, her fellow Scientific Investigation Officer, had died when a lower ranking officer, in one of his more psychotic episodes, had mistaken her for his ex-wife. Having waited until her husband was safely out of Earth’s orbit, she’d filed for divorce taking the kids, his car and his dog, along with the proceeds from the sale of the house, and set up home with one of his best friends.

Rage and elevated hysteria had seen him ransack the armoury and let fly with his pent up fantasies after four years of ruminating on those facts; well, maybe only the last six months, since they’d been awake – Ronnie Hope didn’t recall anything, not even dreams, during the long flight of induced sleep that had brought them to the farther reaches of Earth’s new territory within this particular galaxy.

“Mullarkey?” She hissed her impatience. “MULLARKEY!” Her arms were beginning to tire of the constant backwards, forwards, motion but the dial on the airlock was moving closer towards equilibrium.

The crackling static signal announced Mullarkey’s presence.

“Here, boss.” The static was interrupted by sniggers. Soft and slow at first, then louder.

“Cut that out!” she yelled back. The last thing she needed was him going ape-shit on her right now. The effects of the crystals Ray Brakes had brought back to the station seemed to trigger some sort of mental collapse, a number of the affected crew members becoming violent whilst others dissolved into increasingly infantile behaviour.

Ronnie wasn’t entirely sure which end of the spectrum she’d prefer Mullarkey to lodge in but clearly he was on the downward spiral to senility. She needed him to keep sane for just long enough to get Langley out of the airlock.

‘And what then?’ a voice in her mind had questioned. Before she could think up an answer for herself, the airlock slid open with an almost silent ‘phhhhhuttt’.
She reached inwards and grasped the man’s boot and dragged him out of the way. His dead weight told her he was no longer a problem.

“Mullarkey, I need you to blow the outer hatch on Bay 16.”

Silence greeted her request.

“Mullarkey?”

Static whispered through her headset and a descant of humming, interspersed with manic laughter.

“MULLARKEY! For the love of all that’s decent, answer me!”

The static hiss grew louder in her ears.

“BLOW – THE – HATCH!!!” she shrieked. “NOW!” A wild panic threatened to break out like the sweat that was dripping down her face. A pause of silence that seemed to last an eternity ended in a blinding flash and she found herself thrown outwards into the debris of boulders and rocks.

The imploding vacuum threatened to drag her back into the mausoleum she had created. She wondered briefly how long Mullarkey would survive, the last representative of his species marooned on this distant outpost of Earth’s empire, the madness finally contained and isolated. Pandora’s Box had been breached and now only Ronnie Hope remained.

A few spatters of static noise still filtered through her headset as she forced herself to release the catches on her helmet ready to embrace eternity, preferring a quick death to a slow suffocation.

Just as the final images of the space station presented themselves in her brain she saw the faces at the next airlock; Ray Brakes, Mullarkey and – Christa?

The figures frantically gestured towards her and a voice of clarity broke through the static. In one final, lucid moment she heard Mullarkey’s voice through the receiver in her helmet.

“I tried to stop her sir, but she just seemed to go mad. She’d been in the lab working on those samples you brought back….”

Her fingers clad in their heavy gloves reached for the release clasps and Ronnie began to giggle; a sound that started in her throat and never reached her mouth.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Death in the Aisles



Following on from something I read on David Barber's blog I was inspired to come up with a wee story, based on an actual event that took place this morning! Herewith.......



Hushed in their devotions, lips moving silently in their incantations, the faithful make their way up the aisle.

They pause, reflect, close their eyes to remember and then, nodding, continue their journey. All around lies carnage, blood pooling around the eviscerated flesh.

Cold corpses, still whole, their flesh still encased in pale and dapple-hued skin stare blankly back with opened eyes at the dark procession of the old and the young, the babes in arms, the elderly shuffling past.

Hands reach out and hesitate, then move along as they read the precious words and petitions, recorded in their own hand on crumpled paper.

A voice booms out from on high, exhorting the faithful to continue, to enrich their experience. And all around is death, where once was life.

Then, with the coldness leeching heat from all available living flesh, the procession make their way to the end, waiting in turn to reach the exit. A quiet moment of contemplation, looking at all before them, perhaps a pang of regret for what was forgotten, a last look back - but time has run out.

A face turns, mouth open to speak, dressed in uniform, declaring the name of the deity they have all come to worship within the narrow aisles.

“Morning, love. You OK with your packing?”

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Airshows and other attractions!


A pretty hectic 48 hours!

Down to the south coast to visit rellies and watch the Red Arrows (see pic) amongst other flying combo's at 'Airbourne' airshow, along the beach at Eastbourne. Then a musical show in the evening, followed the morning after by a run back up to London to the Imperial War Museum (for daughter and I - the OH had an appointment at White Hart Lane!) - then, in the evening we drove to Hampstead to the grounds of Kenwood House for an open-air concert by Jamie Cullum (and the weather, despite having been awful earlier, was very kind to us!).

So now we're home again - (arrived home shortly before midnight) and realising that age is catching up with us......;-p



But here's a spooky thing - some of you may know about the crime story I've written called 'DOMINO'? Part of the story is set in a London police station (which I picked out randomly after a wee trawl around the internet).

Yesterday, when daughter and I remerged from the IWM, we realised we didn't know the way to the nearest tube station (having been dropped at the museum by car). Having asked directions from the museum staff we ventured out into the rain and went in the direction we thought was right.


When it looked as though we'd made a mistake, I jokingly said to daughter, "Oh well, when in doubt, always ask a policeman!" and looked up to see we were standing right outside a police station - and not just ANY police station, but the very one I'd written about! I almost half expected to find one of my characters walking down the steps!

Funny old world, isn't it?

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

FFF #38 DYING FOR A SMOKE


Or illustious mentor, Cormac Brown, has set us quite a task this week for Friday Flash Fiction !

Using the words: BUBBLE, TOIL, RUBBLE and COIL in any order, we were invited to create a story. So, here's my interpreation of said words. I hope you like it!



DYING FOR A SMOKE


Blood, sweat, toil and tears. That’s all Frank Grady’s life seemed to amount to, he thought wearily, as he lay amid the rubble of his home. He didn’t remember much about the blast except being bodily carried through the air when the gas exploded and ripped the walls apart.

The only saving grace was that the man who’d forced his way into the neat little terraced house in the early hours of the morning and trussed him and his wife Martha up was lying somewhere under what used to be the kitchen. He wouldn’t be going anywhere soon, thought Frank; not with the severed remains of one leg, still complete with intact trainer-shod foot, thrown across the room together with a mixture of loose digits scattered in the general carnage and debris.

At least he’d got to see some sort of justice done before he shuffled off this mortal coil but, curiously, the last four hours had seen him almost thank the intruder in a way.

Martha’s dementia had concealed from her the horrors that might have filled her with terror. She remained locked inside a bubble of her own reality, where she’d imagined the young lad to be a long-lost son.

Her incessant questions and total compliance with the thug who had tied her up with the flex from the table lamp he’d smashed, had seen him turn from amused to frustrated, until he’d been obliged to silence her once and for all. As he’d tightened the cord around her neck her face had grown mottled and bloated, but her eyes had never really expressed any sense of fear.

Frank had watched with a sense of desperation tinged with relief that Martha’s living hell was finally extinguished. She had died with a smile on her face and if he had to remember that last sight of her, then it was almost a blessing. She remained slumped in her chair, the colour drained from her face and her head rolled forwards with a soporific grin on her face, as if enjoying an afternoon doze.

Yet justice was seen to be done, thought Frank, as he lay in the ruined debris of his home. Having ransacked their precious belongings, smashing photos and ornaments and found a small amount of cash they had saved up, the intruder had grown angry and had tied Martha up threatening all manner of atrocities, hoping to get Frank to reveal where the rest of the money was hidden.

After the third slap to Martha’s face, Frank had realised neither of them were going to get out alive. There were real tears in his eyes as he had begged for her to be left alone and agreed to get the money together. This had seemed to relax the young man, made him cocky even, so that when Frank persuaded him to untie him he’d rested a hand on Frank’s shoulder.

“You got any beer, old man?” he’d said, a smirk smeared across his vicious face. “ I could kill a beer; thirsty work getting money out of you.”

Frank had felt his chest rise as he’d eased himself from the chair. A sense of hope had renewed his resolve for justice and if he’d have been younger and fitter, maybe he would have taken the young punk on.

Moving into the kitchen he’d rattled around, shuffling drawers, lifting an old coffee pot down from a cupboard as he’d quietly turned all the gas burners on. He’d reached into the larder, almost as an afterthought, and pulled out a bottle of Ringwood Fortyniner; he doubted the young man would appreciate it but he’d been willing to make the sacrifice.

As he’d trekked back into the other room something in Martha’s eyes had suggested she recognised the bottle of beer and began to tease her assailant about how her little boy was all grown up now. After a few swigs he’d grown tired and wrapped the cable tighter round her neck until she was at last quiet.

Frank had mourned silently and swiftly, almost paying lip service to Martha’s passing. In his heart he’d known that the vibrant woman he’d loved all these years, who’d planned for babies that had never arrived, had effectively died months previously, snatched away by the dementia that left him married to a stranger.

With the beer all but consumed, the man had lunged forward and grabbed the coffee pot from Frank’s grasp, sending the contents flying. A few tenners fluttered free and something else. The man pounced and retrieved the half empty packet of cigarettes.

“I was trying to give them up,” Frank had said, shrugging his shoulders.

“Don’t mind if I finish them off, then Pops? Anything I can do to help, y’know!” the man had sniggered back, patting his pockets. “Lighter?” he'd said, looking questioningly at Frank.

Having looked briefly around, a last glance sweeping over his wife’s body, he'd nodded towards the kitchen.

“On the counter,” he'd answered quietly.

As the young man sauntered past, Frank had resisted the temptation to trip him or have a chance of lashing out. There was no need. Justice would be served. Just like he’d planned. He'd counted off the seconds in his head and reached six before the blast sucked away all the familiar reality around him in a maelstrom of colours, shapes and movement.

Now, some minutes later as the ringing in his ears began to subside, he heard a distant wailing sound growing louder. Two-tone sirens. Too late, he thought. Too late for any of them. His world had been taken from him, all he’d worked for in his life. But in the taking, had come what he had silently longed for these past months as he heard a voice quietly in his head.

He closed his eyes.

Did he really hear her voice? He was certain he could smell her favourite perfume, and surely behind those closed eyelids he saw Martha in all her beauty?

He allowed a soft smile to leak onto his lips, the intense pain and pressure in his chest beginning to fade along with everything else.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

THIRTY YEARS? You don't get that for murder, these days....


Fresh-faced a ne'ery a wrinkle - but thirty years on we're still going strong!

August 9th sees us two old codgers celebrating our Pearl Wedding Anniversary (...and they said it wouldn't last!)

OK, we're a little greyer and a little slower but we're more or less firing on all four cylinders as we wobble off towards the land of senility and zimmer-frames.



(Perhaps the secret of our 'success' is that we're never in the same place together for too long - daughter thinks we shall probably kill each other when we both give up work. ;-p)

Thursday, 5 August 2010

All beer and kitty litter!


What does a tube train and 60 kilo's of kitty litter have in common?

In this instance - CAMRA's Great British Beer Festival at Earls Court.

This week I am a beer-widow. (Ok,every working day for Mr H means I am a beer-widow, given his job!) What I mean is - he's off at Earls Court all week and I've been abandoned/left-to-my-own-devices back in the Shires.


Anyway, it all seems to be a thundering success - apart from one small hitch (well,I suppose size is relative....)

This is where the kitty litter comes in.

60 kilos of the stuff! (can you visualise that....?)

Apparently kitty litter is useful for dealing with spillages - beer from leaking barrels and ......other stuff which, in the interests of good taste we won't mention here (but too much ale can have an effect on the constitution - you get the picture?)

The problem arises when said kitty litter is delivered to the wrong address. My address, in fact. Yup, this morning I actually took delivery of half a lorry load of large boxes of kitty litter. And we don't even have a cat!

The delivery address had got mixed up with our home address - so the kitty litter was in fact 91.8 miles away from where it should be!

So, 'white van man' (in this instance aka my OH) had to drive all the way up from Earls Court and pick up all the boxes and depart southwards again.

The fact that I nearly did myself a mischief helping first to unload one lorry and then re-load another is neither here nor there (I think that's good for a few treats in the future!!! Hmmmmm -I foresee prolific amounts of 'plastic'-assisted shopping expeditions!) So hubby dear, when you read this - you have been warned!

Anyway, the problem was solved and apparently the GBBF is going very well. Do drop in if you're in the vicinity.....those who know Mr H will probably be able to scrounge a pint off him! ;-p

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

And the award goes to........


Wow!I have to say a big 'thankyou' to Dave Barber - he's nominated me as a recipient of the Versatile Blogger Award. This is a very unexpected pleasure!

I also have to thank this young man for introducing me to the delights(?!) of Cormac Brown's Friday Flash Fiction ( er, isn't that a bit like thanking a drug-pusher for introducing them to addiction....?) Meanwhile, he acts like a truss - an ever-present source of help and support. ;-p

So, as I understand it, I have to list seven or so things about myself (this could be really interesting (not?) - OK , here goes:

1. I was born in the days of black and white TV, pirate radio, and before the term 'software' was invented.

2. I have a family tree that stretches back over 400 years (so far), made up of sheep stealers and cattle thieves and one brave soul who stood up to Bonnie Prince Charlie.

3. I worked on a Hammer Horror film, starring Vincent Price. ('Theatre of Blood')

4. I am maried to someone who is PAID to go to beer festivals! (and sometimes he takes me too! :-) )

5. I was a true 'Promenade-er' at the Last Night of the Proms, 1981

6. I recently completed a six part Stunt Driving challenge to raise money for our local Air Ambulance charity. How's about this for my first hand-brake turn!

7. Some people (Mr Glasnost, Col Bury, Dave Barber etc.) were a bit bemused when I was sinking pints after a recent book launch (shame, I think they must lead very sheltered lives...)

I think that'll be enough to keep you going - don't want to share ALL my secrets!



I also undertand that I am now required to pass on this award to other blogsters - hard for me to do as most of you seem to have already received it!

But, here goes:

To my daughter, R, for getting me started on blogging in the first place, and her cheerleading from the sidelines as I attmept to get my work published!

To Matt Hilton for being a brilliant writer, bringing Joe Hunter to life and being general all-round good-egg and one of the best things to hail from Carlisle (as well as my own family!)

To Roger Ellory for being so generous with his time and writing brilliant novels. (just another little award to add to your recent Theakstons' success, then, Roger? ;-) )

To Don Miller and his sometime blogging dog, Lucy, for being a daily inspiration and a thought provoking look at life!

To Doc because his blog is just an all-round interesting read and always entertaining.

To Jarrett Rush, for his infectious enthusiam for writing and tenacious spirit!

Last, but by no means least, to fellow aspiring authorPaul G. for his enthusiasm and encouragement, and also for allowing me to spend a few very pleasant hours in the company of his characters, John Blake and Gareth Bell. I look forward to meeting them in print in the not-too-distant future!

Um, I think there must be more but alas, a long and tedious evening shift at the library followed by a glass (or ##) of red wine has sent me sliding into ultra-relaxed mode and is hammering the braincells......

Anyway, thankyou, Mr Barber, sir, for my nomination. Anyone who hasn't read his blog (there might just be the odd one or two of you kicking about ;-p) needs to get over there and sample his wares, pronto.