Tag Archives: picture prompt

Writerly Wednesday

Pestles and mortars, taken by Tomas Laurinavicius Image sourced: getrefe.tumblr.com

Pestles and mortars, taken by Tomas Laurinavicius
Image sourced: getrefe.tumblr.com

Magdalena

‘Aw, nice one,’ the lads had said, almost in one voice, when I’d slid her photograph across the table. ‘You’d never be able to pull a bird like that on your own,’ Jimmy’d muttered, after a few minutes, his jaw clenching. None of them had been able to take their eyes off her – Magdalena. Lithuanian, and looked it. The pints sat untouched on the table, the football unwatched. Magdalena lay before them, a desert island to a drowning man.

‘Yeah, well I’m the one dropping over to her house later, right?’ I’d said, grabbing up the photo again. Jimmy’d blinked, shaking his head slightly, and Gerry’d straightened up. George had cleared his throat with a sound like an excavator, but he’d said nothing. I shoved Magdalena back where she’d lived ever since the agency had sent her over – my right jeans pocket, within easy reach. I’d looked at her photo so often I knew it by heart; the particular green-gold of her widely spaced eyes, and the beautifully peculiar turn to her lip. The tumble of her hair. The exact length of her slender neck.

‘Here, mate!’ Gerry’d said, settling himself back onto his stool. ‘What’s the number of that bloody agency, again?’ Jimmy’d been the first to laugh. Gorgeous George, who’d grabbed up his pint and downed most of it in one gulp, said nothing.

‘They’re not looking for lads like you, fellas. Sorry,’ I’d said, lifting my pint. ‘Only the quality, like meself. You understand, I’m sure.’

George had rumbled, then. ‘How much you payin’ ’em?’ he’d asked, from out of his beard.

‘Paying?’ I’d said, licking the froth off my top lip. ‘What makes you ask that?’

‘Experience,’ he’d said, but that was all.

I’d been buzzing from the beer when I made my way to Magdalena’s. ‘Come around ten,’ I’d been told. ‘She’s working until then.’ I wondered as I walked through the rain-speckled evening what sort of work a woman like Magdalena did. Modelling, I thought. And the rest. I picked up my pace. I’d mapped out my route days ago; I knew where I was going. I’d memorised the address.

Nothing was going to go wrong. Not tonight.

When I got there, I searched for her buzzer. Fourth floor, the instructions had said; a button marked ‘M’. I found it, and leaned. A gentle click, and the gate moved under my hand.

I was in.

I trotted down a tiled corridor, the lights flicking on as I went. Everything gleamed. Doors either side stayed shut as I passed. I stepped into a lift at the far end, and it smelled like honeysuckle. The ride was smooth. Fast. Expensive.

All I could see when the doors opened was a giant entrance, ten foot tall if it was an inch, leading through to a dark, shaded room as big as an aircraft hangar. I could barely make out the ceiling, and the walls were soft, distant smudges.

I blinked into the gloom and finally saw a brightly-lit desk in the centre of the massive room. There was a suggestion of movement around it, but I couldn’t see clearly enough to be sure.

‘Alistair?’ came a voice. It mangled my name, but I didn’t care.

‘M-Magdalena,’ I replied.

‘Come on in,’ she said. ‘Forgive the dark. The light has faded too far for me to continue my work this evening.’

‘Sure, sure,’ I said, even though I had no idea what she was on about. I took a few steps forward, but it was weird walking into the murk. ‘What’s – well, if you don’t mind my asking – what’s your work?’

‘Oh, there’ll be time for that, later,’ she said, and a laugh warmed her words.

I came closer. The desk, I now saw, was cluttered with stuff; jars and bottles full of pigment, brushes stuck in water, pestles and mortars which looked battered and war-worn, splashed with paint. Lumps of solid colour like soft gemstones lay carelessly strewn about, and a large grater like one you’d use for cheese dripped hues from its blades. Things glistened in saucers, green and brown and blood-rusty. The air smelled funny, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

‘You’re an artist,’ I said, finally. ‘Wow. That’s interesting.’

‘After a fashion,’ she said, still bustling about in the shadows. I heard the slither of what sounded like fabric, and strained to see.

‘What do you paint?’ I reached out and touched the handle of one of the pestles with a fingertip. It felt cold, and slimy. I grabbed my hand back, wiping it quickly on my jeans.

‘Portraits, mainly,’ she called, her voice muffled. Is she undressing? I thought, and quickly squashed it back.

‘Right,’ I said. ‘So, um. Should I come back there, or..?’

‘So eager!’ her voice said, straight into my left ear. I yelled, and spun around, but there was nothing there except shadows and the vague suggestion of a giant canvas looming over my head.

‘Th-that was a good trick,’ I said, trying to laugh.

‘Patience, Alistair,’ she said. This time, I couldn’t tell where her voice was coming from.

‘So, am I going to get to see you at all?’ I said, my eyes hopping from dark surface to dark surface. ‘Only, the agency’s email said… well. It said we’d do stuff – you know?’ I shoved my hands into my pockets; they were trembling, and I didn’t want her to see. I stroked the cool surface of her photo, and tried to squint at the giant painting. It was a human figure, I thought, splayed out. A man. Muscles straining. His face in shadow. Organs shining…

I never saw the blade coming.

I dropped like a rock, clutching my midriff, and Magdalena stepped into the light. I couldn’t help but look. She sank to her knees before me, beautiful and terrible, inhumanly tall, perfectly made but for her face…

‘Jesus,’ I muttered, trying to drag myself backwards. The pain of movement ripped through my gut. I glanced down; my blood was pooling beneath my hand. Spreading like crimson. She could’ve dipped her brush in it, I thought.

‘What are you?’ I asked. My teeth clenched. ‘What’s going on?’

‘You can see, I’m sure, that eyes are all I lack,’ she said, crawling towards me. ‘As I paint my picture, I complete myself. But painting eyes which look real – well. That’s the challenge, Alistair.’ Every word she spoke, she crept a little closer. In her hand, she clutched another blade, scalpel-thin. ‘So I realised, why paint them at all?’

‘No,’ I muttered. ‘Please. Please!’ I tried to slide again, but understood – too late – that all I was doing was retreating further into her lair. The door was miles away, and she was between me and it.

She hefted the blade and smiled, too widely.

‘Count yourself lucky,’ she said, as she pounced, ‘that I only require one heart.’

 

It’s the Apocalypse! (But it’s not all bad…)

Image: Nuclear Winter Recon, CC Photo by Paul Hocksenar, sourced via flashfriday.wordpress.com

Image: Nuclear Winter Recon, CC Photo by Paul Hocksenar, sourced via flashfriday.wordpress.com

once-Earth

The Elders said this day would come. As he tended their tanks, monitoring their cryo-levels and checking their blood purity, he thought of their words: EVENTUALLY, THEY WILL DESTROY THEMSELVES. WHEN THEY DO, WE WILL BE WAITING.

Over generations, the creatures of the blue planet had revelled in their own filth. Again and again, The Elders thought their time had come, but they were thwarted; some of the creatures fought, hard, against the dying of their planet.

But they knew – they all knew – it was doomed from the start.

Then, nuclear war had wiped the blue planet white, and The Elders had begun their long wait for it to heal. In their circling ship, they watched in semi-stasis.

GO, they finally told him. MAKE THE WAY FOR US.

And so he walked once-Earth’s surface, testing every inch. Finally, he removed his mask and faced the yellow sun, breathing the air of a free world. Yes. They would be happy here.

 

**

So much for the ‘apocalypse’ of today’s title; now, what about the ‘it’s not all bad’ part? Well, work on my newest WiP went rather okay yesterday. I ripped the story back to its last ‘good’ place, like it was a knitting pattern, and reworked from there. I’m not sure what effect the changes I made will have on the story as it goes forward – for, like dropping a stone into a pool, every tiny change has huge repercussions and echoes – but I hope it will be for the best. Wish me luck as I step into the unknown today! Oh, and happy Friday, while I have you here. Try to take care of your little bit of still-Earth, while we have it.

Writerish Wednesday

Image: birds by nandadevieast on flickr; pinned to 1000 words' Pinterest board

Image: birds by nandadevieast on flickr; pinned to 1000 words’ Pinterest board

Duty

When the birds came, they hid the sky. The streams were endless, a liquid black flow of flesh and feathers, all converging on the horizon. It was the sign we had been waiting for, but we watched for two whole days and nights before the choice was made.

Like all the other girls of my age, I was ready to leave, but when my name was called the sigh of relief from every other mouth was a warm wind, and I felt light-headed as it passed me.

Being chosen was a huge honour; this, I knew.

I returned home to collect my pack. I could bring one small loaf and one water-skin, as well as my tinderbox and a spare pair of sandals. The empty golden box weighed more than everything I owned, but it had to be carried, too.

‘Go quickly, by night,’ advised my father.

‘Take care where you place every footstep,’ muttered my brother, holding me close.

I bowed to my mother’s picture, asking her blessing, and left while my family slept.

The way was hard, and the further I went the colder it got. I shivered in my thin robes, walking hard to keep warm. For three nights and days I travelled, resting only during the brightest hours of the day. I kept away from the main paths, and spoke to nobody. I kept the pulsating, beating darkness in my sights, training my ears for the cries of the ravens.

Then, one day, I was forced to loosen some of my robe and place it over my face; my breaths became shallow and fast. The air smelled hot and foul and full, and my steps fumbled their way across the rocky ground. It was drawing near.

On the eighth morning, I found the first of them. Pecked almost clean, his armour still shining despite his violent end, I touched his bones and wished his soul free. The next lay a spear-length from him, and the next, and the next… Again and again, my own bones and blood aching with exhaustion as I bent and stooped and prayed.

The birds hissed, circling. I ignored them.

I rested amid the battlefield that night. All around me unquiet souls tossed and turned in their pained sleep, like children lost in a crowded place. I could sense their fear and confusion, and in my dreams they plucked at my clothes, their eyes hollow. Do you know the way? Where is the light? Bring us home, they whispered.

I am sworn to do it, I told them, but they didn’t seem to hear.

The birds attacked midway through the following day, beating me with their wings and snapping at me with their sharp, bloodied beaks. I did not have time to do anything besides cover my head as best I could and carry on, bending and praying and releasing, one by one by one. My arms ran with my own blood and my ears rang with raucous calls.

I hid beneath a shield that second night, the spirit of its former owner gallantly defending me against all comers despite the fact that he was no more substantial than a thought, now.

He was the first I released the following morning. I had no other means of thanking him.

In the deepest part of the battle, where bodies lay ten-deep, I found myself drowning in death. I had to continue, because there was no other choice. The birds screamed overhead, wheeling and striking like lightning, forcing me to take up the weapons of the fallen to stop them from adding me to the sacrificial pile.

Throughout it all I bent, and stooped, and prayed.

Finally, I found a body without armour, bearing a short and notched blade and a simple helm, and I knew. Weeping, I searched his wounds as I said the prayers of release, and finally I slid the ring from his finger.

The birds fell like battering rams as I took my tinderbox from my pack. I set the sacred fire as I had been taught, using the lost king’s hair and sinew as fuel, cleansing his ring in the flame before placing it carefully in the heavy golden box I’d carried all this way. Then, with a word, the flames leapt from man to man, and I ran in terror even though I was beyond their power.

The birds wailed in rage as the conflagration claimed their prize.

I limped into the village ten days later. My father had been watching for me since they’d seen the smoke rising, and he alone had not given up hope.

Three children had been born while I was away, and they were brought before me without delay. One slept throughout, another laughed without cease, and the third – a girl – grasped the ring with eager fingers when I showed it to her. She brought it to her tiny lips as though to kiss it.

She gazed into my eyes as I held her, frowning up at me as though trying to place where she’d seen me before. I smoothed her softly wrinkled brow and laid her down, hoping she would never remember.

Is It Friday Yet?

Man.

This has been a long, hard week – in so many ways. Reality (boo hiss!) has prevented me from doing as much writing as I’d like, and the writing I have done has been execrable nonsense. No – really.

As proof, let me proffer the following.

I laboured for hours yesterday on a piece of flash fiction which I had intended to submit to a prestigious competition. Its closing date? Today. Yeah. Not so clever.

Image: kotaku.com

Image: kotaku.com

Normally, my internal ‘deadline widget’ would keep me from making such a colossal mess-up, but for whatever reason it was on the fritz this week, and so things started to get on top of me. Anyway, after all the hard work of producing this piece of flash – and, for a while, I genuinely thought it was okay – I read it over this morning and realised that it literally makes no sense. None whatever. As well as that, the stuff that happens in it is physically impossible – which I know doesn’t really matter, because it’s a story. However, when the crux of what you’re writing hangs on something that couldn’t actually happen in reality, and the story relies on the events taking place just as they would in reality, then you’ve got a problem.

So, as you can imagine, there’s been plenty of wailing and tooth-gnashing this morning, and the day hasn’t even begun properly.

It hasn’t been helped by the fact that today’s Flash! Friday prompt was cruelly complicated.

image: batoto.net

image: batoto.net

All in all, I wonder if today’s one of those days which should just be rebooted. Shame I can’t just Ctrl+Alt+Del and get on with things in a better and more sensible universe.

Anyway.

So, today’s Flash! Friday required element was ‘Vendetta’ – not the word, but the concept. The prompt image was as follows:

Image: en.wikipedia.org (entry: Rosie the Riveter)

Image: en.wikipedia.org (entry: Rosie the Riveter)

And the following wee bitty tale is what I made out of all that prompty goodness.

Top Secret

I watched them, all three, huddled over Marcia’s workbench. My little buddies. Joe and his fan-club. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

‘C’mon!’ he urged. The glow of Marcia’s torch threw them into sharp relief. Carla was – I guessed – supposed to be on watch, but as always when she got close to the action, she forgot herself.

‘It looks swell,’ she said, with a low laugh. ‘Real swell, Joe!’

I took a step closer, thankful for my rubber-soled shoes. I could see the little hairs curling on the back of Carla’s neck now, smell the tang of her sweat. The torch’s hiss covered my approach.

My project – my pipework – lay on Marcia’s bench. She was welding something to the front of it. Something obscene. Something which would’ve gotten me fired.

I sighed.

I should’ve just let Joe do what he wanted, that time. Touch me. Take me.

My throat tightened.

I raised the wrench, planted my stance, and took aim.

**

I guess the fact that I managed to get a story (one I’m happy with, too) out of a pair of fiendishly complicated prompts should make me feel a bit happier about my labours. It doesn’t make up for  yesterday’s silliness, but I suppose it’s all about the horizon, isn’t it. No point looking back. Keep going. Stiff upper lip (whatever that means.)

And, thank custard, it’s Friday. Next week I’m going to be machine-like in my efficiency and productivity. I can feel it.

Happy weekend, all y’all. And thanks.

 

Friday Flash

Well, golly.

Today’s a whirlwind of activity for me – you may or may not have noticed that I’m, oh, three hours late with the blog post, so if you’ve been inconvenienced let me heartily apologise – and I must dash now, too. The wind is howling outside, I feel like I’m wearing ice-block socks and I am in dire (dire!) need of a cup of coffee.

So, without further ado, I present today’s Flash! Friday entry. This week, contestants were asked to include a telephone call as part of the story, and the prompt image follows (apologies for the poor quality – but you can always visit Flash! Friday’s blog if you’d like to see it more clearly. Nudge nudge, wink wink, why don’t you enter a story this week? Anyway):

Image: zazzle.com

Image: zazzle.com

Overdue Justice

‘Jen? Pete. Look, uh –‘

‘Pete? It’s four a.m.! Couldn’t this have waited?’

‘Nah. Listen. Jen, I found our boy.’

‘You what?’

‘Chrissakes, Jen! Arlon! I swear it’s him.’

‘I’m – I can’t be hearing this. Arlon? The chronofugitive? The murderer?’

‘Nothin’ wrong with this telephone line. Arlon Nash, big as life.’

‘But – when? He’s been in the vortex so long –‘

‘Got careless, I guess. All I know is, I’m lookin’ at an image, 1920, 21, and it’s him. Laughin’, standin’ near a car wreck. Jen, he’s smirkin’ like he knows somethin’ we don’t.’

‘Pete. Listen, I’m coming over.’

‘God. If we found him, after all these years?’

‘Don’t get your hopes up. And don’t Slip without me, okay?’

‘Sure thing.’

Pete hung up and stepped straight into the Slip, leaving the photograph on his screen.

Jen arrived within minutes. The first thing she saw was Pete’s broken face behind the wheel of the car. Arlon was long, long gone.

**

I really enjoyed writing this story; I loved the apparent mismatch between the prompt image and the prompt element of the telephone call. However, one thing that writing this story taught me is this: titles are important. I apologise for the title of this one. I went through several options, including ‘Timehunters’, ‘Chronokiller’ and ‘Justice, Overdue,’ and – in a fit of desperation – settled on the one you see above. It’s not great, I know. But it’s what you got. Sometimes life is cruel like that.

Happy reading, and happy writing! Why don’t you get involved in a writing challenge, enter a competition, or even just create something that only you will see? It’s the best way I know to put those grey cells to work. Speed-the-pen.

Have a great weekend, everyone.