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The House (a sci fi ficlet)

They came up between the floorboards at first, a little like smoke, or perhaps mist because nobody seemed to suspect fire. Tendrils crept into the various rooms, up the stairs and down into the root cellar.

They made things strange. Not uncomfortable, exactly, or not that anyone could articulate. There was an atmosphere of oddness, of unrightness. A glass that had been polished and put away would reappear on the table, smeared, with a yellowish sediment in the bottom. A bed that had been neatly made would be tumbled and creased, the pillow tossed on the floor. A towel in the bathroom would be wringing wet when nobody had used the basin or shower since the previous day. Everything could be ascribed to poor memory, to human error. But everything added up. Nobody was harmed, but nobody was happy and eventually they left. They sold it, of course, but the next residents, and the ones after that had the same experiences. Ridding the house of humans took a few years but they could afford to wait.

Next, they turned their attention to the small things. The bugs that lived in the cracks, once there were no humans to clean the place, found their cracks filled with unpleasant textures and smells. The mice under the kitchen sink had a nest damp from drips even though the taps were no longer working. The birds that built homes in the roof space had a feeling that predators were constantly overhead. They all left, not at once, but one by one, reluctantly but in the end with relief.

Then the moss on the roof failed to thrive. The lichen that tried to establish itself on the front step found the atmosphere polluted despite the lack of anything within miles that could affect it. The creeper on the back wall rotted.

At last they had the house to themselves. It was a beautiful house, built from aged silvery grey wood with large airy window frames. It was the perfect home and it had taken a while to get it exactly the way they wanted and it had taken a lot of work but at last it was finished, and they settled down. Anyone passing, though very few ever passed, might have heard, soft on the evening air, a sigh of contentment.

(The picture is not mine. It’s a slightly photoshopped version of one I found on Pixabay by Wyosunshine. The information for the photograph said it was free for even commercial use. It’s very similar to the one used for a prompt that inspired this ficlet. Given a lack of wooden houses anywhere near either of my homes, I felt obliged to go looking and make sure there was no copyright violation. One or two of you might have seen the ficlet a while ago on my personal journal.If so, ignore!)

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Posted by on April 14, 2017 in ficlets, writing

 

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A ficlet for Valentine’s Day

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Travelling together

Ken had only come to Waterstones to get a map. The trip up to Scotland would take him off the beaten track and he had no desire to get lost before he found the castle where his cousin’s wedding was to be held. He had neither the money nor the inclination to install any kind of GPS in his car and those print-outs from the AA usually led via diversions into delays.

So he headed for the map section but couldn’t resist a glance at the sci-fi shelves on his way past. Maybe there would be time to read and relax over the weekend.

A mass of red curls over a slim but muscled body was evidently studying the section in depth. Luscious. And with a shared taste in reading matter.

Ken sighed and continued to ‘Maps’. No time for dalliance if he was to set out today. But how he wished… Then again, he consoled himself, the other man might be a raging homophobe or perhaps just choosing a book for a sci-fi loving sister.

Comparing maps of the glens and realising he hadn’t brought his reading glasses, Ken sighed again, then noticed a slender hand with a dusting of freckles picking up the map he’d just discarded. A polite voice murmured,

“I don’t suppose you’d know which of these would be the best to get me somewhere near Gairloch?”

Ken looked up slowly. Red curls framed enquiring green eyes. The hand that wasn’t holding the map was clutching a copy of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal.

“I don’t,” he told the green eyes, quietly drowning in them as he spoke, “but I’m going there myself. Perhaps we can figure it out together?” He gestured with the map he’d almost decided to buy and indicated the coffee bar across the shopping precinct. It was too much to hope they were both going to the wedding, but at least the detour to Waterstones seemed to have led to a meeting of minds.

It turned out they were indeed both going to the wedding. Alasdair was a distant relative of the bride and despite his Scottish name had never ventured across the border. They agreed to travel together and Ken walked out of the shop with his map purchased but no more longing glances at the fiction books. He rather thought his time in the Highlands would be adequately filled.

(Yes, it’s Edinburgh Castle, but it was the only Scottish photo with a castle I could lay my hands on today)

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2017 in ficlets, writing

 

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Last Christmas

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Last Christmas…

I remember it as clearly as yesterday, and you’re lying when you say it all passed in an alcoholic blur because of your new job and celebrating and so on. We were living together so it would have been a bit hard to fool me that much. Most of the time you were sober and a bit morose about having to move, to leave, even though you were pleased with the new status and even more with the new pay package.

I gave you my heart…

…right after the office party, on the way to the station. You were grumbling about having to pretend we weren’t together and I suggested we should stop pretending, let the world know, get married (it’s legal now, after all) and let the office busybodies have their nine days’ wonder, shock and salacious gossip. I said I would come to London with you, find a job somewhere, somehow, so that we could be together. We stopped under one of those huge streetlights on the station approach and you kissed me right there in public. Well, OK, there weren’t many public around and the ones there were were wrapped up in their own thoughts and destinations. But you kissed me without looking over your shoulder and I remember the sleet glistening on your hair under the light, the fiery coldness of your lips and the way my heart sang. Then you held my hand till we had to leave loose and run helter-skelter for the last train, laughing.

Neither of us had had that much to drink. We never did at those office things, too scared, I suppose, of giving ourselves away. So instead I gave my heart away and when we got home we fucked, or rather made love, till almost dawn.

The very next day …

It was Christmas Eve and we went into the village to buy a tree. We thought they might be cheaper, with less than twenty-four hours to go. We found a really nice little tree outside the supermarket, with a huge ‘reduced’ sign on it and we were just going to go in when Anna, that new girl from the typing pool, came past. We hadn’t known she lived in the same suburban village as us; she’d left the party early and of course we normally travelled in by car so we wouldn’t have run across her. She looked surprised then asked if we were together, with one of those smirking, knowing looks that some people seem to find appropriate. I was just saying yes, proud and dizzily happy when you said no, we were just flatmates. I felt the bottom drop out of my world.

We didn’t even decorate the tree and it just stood there all dark and bare till I threw it out on New Year’s Eve, tired of the needles dropping on the carpet, dry and spiked like my thoughts.

You left on the Sunday night and you tossed me your keys without a care in the world.

This year…

I was surprised to see you, pleased for you to hear about the promotion and the return up north, but not impressed that you seemed to think I’d just have been waiting all year, like some kind of doll you can throw into a box and take out again when it suits you. You were never that great a ‘catch’ despite the inflated salary. I could always have found someone else but we were good together or at least I thought we were. You didn’t. obviously.

… someone special.

He’s already asked me privately and he’s arranged this romantic public proposal under the mistletoe at his mum’s house. They know, too, so there won’t be any outcry, just lots of people pleased for us. He’s really dependable, and not bad-looking. I’m going to be happy.

But sometimes, very privately, I just wish it was last Christmas all over again.

 

(I wrote this a few years ago to a prompt from a writing group. I’ve tweaked it slightly to bring it up to date. It’s a kind of homage – and maybe we all wish it could be last year and 2016 could be re-run with edits?)

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2016 in ficlets, writing

 

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Feeding Frustration – a very short story

 

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It was really extremely annoying.

He had been studying the new layout all day. Previously, when food had been loaded onto the platform it had been the work of moments to climb the pole and demolish the pile of goodies. Then, for some bizarre reason, they had greased the pole.

It had taken a few days to work out a route. There was a rope strung across the area diagonally. Sometimes it hosted an array of damp cloth and he found it hard to negotiate but usually he could simply skim along, leap to the feeding platform and indulge. He thought they might move the rope so that even a prodigious leap would not take him to the platform, but really, why should they?

He was sure the changes, like the greased pole, and the occasional cloth hangings could not be directed at him. The food was still put out regularly and even though some birds came to peck and play there was always plenty left. He knew he didn’t frighten the birds, much; they knew he was not a predator so it was a case of live and let live.

And now, today, there were new hazards.

The rope was still there. There were no damp cloths. But there were strange translucent plastic shapes with the rope running through them. When he tried to navigate one it skittered and whirled so that he was decanted to the ground. He tried again. Same result. A starling was, he thought, laughing at him.

The platform was full of delicious snacks and besides, he was hungry. He chittered angrily and felt that the snap and click from the stone hole near the feeder was perhaps the last straw. He had a vague idea that the food providers were laughing at him, too, and somehow recording his despair.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2016 in ficlets

 

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Manipulation (a ficlet)

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This is a mini-fic I wrote for entry into a competition. It didn’t get anywhere. When I read the winning entry and the runners up I realised I had perhaps gone off at a tangent. Still, I quite liked my ficlet and it’s a pity to waste it on some judges who didn’t really want it in the first place. So here you are! A kind of alternative future.

Alice checked the power levels. Despite Michael’s film download things were fine. She was glad they’d moved south when things started deteriorating but even central Portugal couldn’t guarantee sufficient solar power and mountains bristling with wind turbines could also block the sun.

The flicker must be the ISP’s. After the US lost the wars and the oil ran out there were few options. Some solar-powered servers were in the newly independent American Bible Belt, the rest mostly in Saudi or Iraq. Aborigines, working with anti-internet fanatics, closed the Northern Territories to development. Africa was out of the question. Religious leaders controlled what most people could see. Michael chose an Iraqi ISP, reasoning that Saddam, not the most religious man, would be less likely to interfere with content.

But there were still power struggles, terrorists, bombs; half a world away but they could prevent Alice seeing what she so needed to see.

The screen cleared and steadied; she gasped as the young man seemed to walk towards her.

“Michael! He’s here,” she called.

“Hi Gran! Hi Gramps!” His infectious grin made her wish she could hug him.

They worried when Jake chose to spend his gap year travelling; when he settled in New Zealand they worried more.

“It’s a smaller world nowadays,” he said.

They hadn’t even been able to meet Jennifer in person. But now Aiden could visit them once a month, Hussein and Bin Laden willing.

Alice spared a glance at the blue skies beyond her grandson and tried to remember how con trails had once traced lace paths across the world.

They frittered away the precious hour comparing fruit crops and the price of sheep. Too soon, Aiden waved and blew a kiss.

Michael switched to their homepage.

“They’re accusing people of tampering with 3D chat services,” he said, “using a kind of photoshopping technique.” Alice dredged her memory for the term.

“You mean…”

He shrugged. “They’re comparing it with postcards from concentration camps,” he said, “but surely we would know if things were that bad?”

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2016 in ficlets

 

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Happy New Year!

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I remembered I’d written a pair of ‘mirror’ ficlets about New Year, some time ago so thought you might be interested to see them here. The first is dark and angsty, but the second, which starts with the same premise, holds out hope for the future and is the one you should regard as the ‘correct’ version.

New Year’s Resolution 1 (500 words)

He stroked the soft worn leather; fingered the prong on the well-known buckle – a snake swallowing its tail.

He watched her bring a bag of cast-offs, her own, her husband’s, her son’s. All for charity. The sick. The deserving. But when she looked at him there was no charity in her eyes.

He remembered skin, supple and brown as the belt encircling it. His eyes must have shouted their loss because he heard the girl on the stall say gently to him,

‘We haven’t priced this lot yet but if you really want it that badly …I’ll just ask.’ Then after muttering with another woman,

‘Is 50p OK?’

And he exchanged the 7-sided coin for a memory.

At Christmas he wore the belt close, like its owner had been. Had appeared to be. True closeness could not, surely, have been severed by the parental knife so surgically, easily, in one direction. The filaments of his own life were still entwined..

On New Year’s Eve he stayed in. Others had asked him to join them at parties, in bars, at meals in private houses and convivial restaurants. He had refused all invitations. Each thought he was with another, never imagining him alone. Their brilliant friend, star of every gathering.

He leafed through the photographs, glad he’d had them printed. The two of them, on the beach, in the woods, walking in the hills. First one, then the other, then, as familiarity with the camera brought confidence, both, smiling at the timer that allowed them to pose together. The belt showed clearly in some of the shots. He held it as he remembered, the leather warming beneath his touch.

He had never understood how they had known. Or how strong their hold was. How all that love and brightness could crumble to ash in the blaze of their fury. His invitation to leave, live with him for ever, had been spurned as if it came from the devil himself. The family had closed around their own, leaving him on the outside, not even looking in.

Did they know what they had destroyed? He sensed that they did.. That they were proud of their achievement, would be equally proud of the outcome.

He dreamed fitfully and rose at a quarter to twelve. He’d already set crossed sticks and balled paper in the grate. Now he carefully added the photographs and placed the belt on top. As the church clock started to chime the hour he lit the match and set fire to his life. Ringing bells across the town accompanied the beautiful flames.

His brain made moving pictures in the flickering orange and gold. Two young men. Teenagers still. A camping holiday that turned into something more. Turned, in the bitter end, to tears and mud. Careless of the remaining heat he smeared the debris across his forehead and lay down beside the hearth.

After that, it was easy, inevitable even, swallowing the bitter medicine. And falling gratefully, permanently, asleep.

New Year’s Resolution 2 (500 words)

He stroked the soft worn leather; fingered the prong on the well-known buckle – a snake swallowing its tail.

He watched her bring a bag of cast-offs, her own, her husband’s, her son’s. All for charity. The sick. The deserving. But when she looked at him there was no charity in her eyes.

He remembered skin, supple and brown as the belt encircling it. His eyes must have shouted their loss because he heard the girl on the stall say gently to him,

‘We haven’t priced this lot yet but if you really want it that badly …I’ll just ask.’ Then after muttering with another woman,

‘Is 50p OK?’

And he exchanged the 7-sided coin for a memory.

He wore it sometimes, savouring the closeness, his own skin tingling with the remembrance of touch. Mostly it stayed coiled on the windowsill, a memento of summer and teenage craziness, the buckle a reminder of desire and laughter. Bittersweet memories, like the nest of adders they’d disturbed on the South Downs. Tender memories like the night on the cliffs at Dover.

Then he would remember the homecoming and the look on their faces when they said he wasn’t welcome any more. The finality of the door closing in his face.

Christmas had no sparkle this year, despite the lights and the music. All he wanted was something he couldn’t have. And he imagined the scene in their house, the prodigal son restored, the fatted turkey roasted to perfection, the devil cast out. All their prayers answered. He made duty visits then returned home.

New Year approached on leaden feet but all at once he felt a stirring of courage. One final throw of the die, for the sake of his pride if nothing else. He bought wine, cheese, chocolates. Entertaining his as yet uninvited guest had to be treated as a foregone conclusion. He dressed with care and forced himself into the frosty streets.

When he let the knocker fall beneath its pine wreath and heard the echo in the hall he almost turned away. It was too like a death knell. But the door opened and a startled face blossomed with joy.

‘They said you’d gone away!’

‘They said you didn’t want to see me!’

And as easily as that the door swung shut and they were together. Running down the street hand in hand, shouting, laughing, crying. Shivering, too, in the icy east wind. His apartment, then, and a quick rummage through clothes that were all too big, too long, but were at least warm. A sweater that could be held in by the belt, restored to its rightful place. As he fastened it he knew it would have to be unfastened almost at once, but first, first …

They went out onto the balcony and stood, arms around each other’s shoulders, each holding a glass of wine. Wished the whole world a Happy New Year as the clocks chimed, then turned to the warmth, and to each other.

 

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2016 in ficlets, writing

 

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Two prompts recently filled

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At a recent writers’ group meeting (most of us were fanfic writers) we were given prompts to pick from a hat and a time limit for writing.

My first linked prompts were: ‘a historical personage’ and ‘coming out’. That, in fifteen minutes, produced the following:
Out

A ghost talking? I can see your disbelief. But we’re all ghosts now, those of us who were here two millennia before you. Yet to me it is yesterday and I need to tell someone about it. You’ll do.

The word in the forum was rumour built upon rumour until even the youngsters were scrawling their ideas on the walls; black, white and ochre graffiti. ‘Who the woman in the relationship?’ they scribbled. ‘Who the one shamed?’ Drawings asked questions as rudely as words; laughter came alike from merchant, soldier and slave. But no-one really knew the truth of it; it was all suspicion and turmoil, envy of those in high position, belief that leaders might or even should have feet of clay.

I could have told them. Throughout the campaigns, military and political, I remained silent and so did he. We never spoke of what we shared, even to each other, of the hot sweaty grappling that ended in heaven-sent release. The army was, in any case, a forgiving environment where what men did in tent or camp stayed there and did not follow them back to Rome. And yet it hurt, somehow, to pretend we were no more than friends or colleagues, hurt not to acknowledge the real, closer relationship.

We all knew events were spiralling out of control. We all knew secrecy could breed sourness on every side and that every public mask could hide a growing private bitterness. I knew in my heart that jealousy and a fear of power would eventually rot and spoil what we had together. But I had never thought that love could turn around as if from north to south, into hate.

I never intended to out myself or my lover. Then as I felt my life seeping away, the dagger thrusts hurting my heart more than my body, I could not help but say, with what I knew was a tone of injury beyond mere death, “Et tu, Brute?”

 

My second pair of prompts were: ‘Merlin (the show) or Arthurian legend’ and ‘threesome’. Another fifteen minutes gave me this.

Before

Before the fighting began, before their armies were drawn up behind steel lines, before it was too late… and yet perhaps it was always too late? Anyway, they drank together, trying to find some way back. Drink loosened their tongues and their moods. Drink fuelled a pissing contest, real and metaphorical. Whose piss arced furthest? They were too drunk to measure with any accuracy. Who was the bravest? Gawain might know but he wasn’t there. Who was the most daring? They took time in a confused fashion to tease apart the ideas of bravery in the face of immediate danger and daring in rushing to face danger that had not yet appeared. Who was the best lover? They could hardly ask Guinevere.

The last two questions merged. It seemed the answer could be had from anyone, male or female. They did not so much invite Mordred as hijack him and take him to one of their beds. It wasn’t clear whose bed it was but Guinevere, at any rate, was not in it.

Consensual but very drunken sex followed. If they fumbled and were less than brilliant in their loving, well, all were drunk and unobservant. They all swore a solemn oath on the grail they could not see never to tell Guinevere, or anyone else. Mordred pronounced, his judgement as weighty as that of Paris but less intelligently reached.

Next day they awoke together but fled apart, each thinking someone had played a cruel hoax when they had been in their cups. None of the three could ever recall anything of the night other than a faint feeling that their relationships were not quite as they used to be. Not that, in the end, it mattered.

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2014 in ficlets, writing

 

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