Tag Archives: picture prompts

Wednesday Writing – ‘Hotel Finisterre’

Photo Credit: David Kracht via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: David Kracht via Compfight cc

Hotel Finisterre

I was alone in the hotel room when it happened.

It wasn’t even a nice hotel; it was one of those with chipped paintwork and a faint whiff of mould everywhere and a TV tuned to no known station. The shower-head dripped – bop, bop, bop – like the tapping finger of Death himself, and the door wouldn’t lock unless I bashed it with my shoulder. Eloïse – my wife, or former wife I suppose I should say – would’ve hated it on sight.

Not that any of that matters, now.

I’d just taken off my watch, absent-mindedly rubbing my wrist (I’m not sure why I ever did that. It’s not like my watch was too tight, or uncomfortable. It just seemed like the thing to do, you know, like get married or get a dog or buy a new car because Next Door bought one) when I thought to look out the window. It was going for dark, the sky faintly pink on the far horizon, and the lights popping into life all the way up the driveway, like eyes opening. It had been a nice day – just as well, really – so the sky was still that hazy blue you sometimes get in late summer.

Then, it all changed.

The best way I can describe it is this: it was like the sky was made of celluloid film – remember that stuff? I do – and someone had taken a naked flame to it. The light blue started to blacken and bubble overhead, and then it ripped and began to melt away like a wormhole opening. There was nothing behind it. I don’t mean ‘nothing’ as in ‘blackness’ – I mean nothing, the kind of nothing that means you’re sure someone has made a huge mistake which will need sorting, and the kind of nothing that drives you to your bed-side telephone and that makes your shaking fingers dial ‘0’ for Reception.

‘Good evening, sir. May I help you?’

‘Yes. This is Jeremy Evans, room 353.’

‘Thank you, sir – yes, I see that. What may I help you with this evening?’

‘It’s just – I mean, have you looked outside? At the sky?’

‘A lovely evening, sir, I do agree.’

‘No! I mean, I’m sorry. Look. I mean, look. At the sky! It’s melting!’

‘Yes, sir. Is everything all right, sir? Do you require assistance?’

‘Just look, man, will you? Am I the only one seeing this?’

‘I’m just alerting our medical team, sir, and someone will be with you shortly. All right? You just sit tight, now, and hold the line.’

‘I don’t need a doctor, you imbecile! Something has exploded, or something, in the sky. Shouldn’t we phone someone? The government? MI6? Or MI5? What’s the difference between MI5 and MI6 anyway?’

‘I’m sure I wouldn’t know, sir. Now, have you taken anything today? Drugs or medications, sir?’

‘Look, I’m hanging up. This is stupid. The sky is melting, and all you can do is ask me if I’m on something? Goodbye.’

‘But sir -‘

I cut him off and wandered back to the window, barely daring to blink. The sky was blackening now, its edges on fire. The hole of nothing was sucking at me. I felt my eyes bulge out of my skull and my lungs start to deflate. Distantly I heard screaming as people began to fly upwards, sucked into this terrible maw of death. Trees uprooted. A coach – double decker, too – flipped end over end and slid right into the hole. The blackened circle grew wider as the world began to smell of burning and ash, and everything began to wrinkle and decay.

A knock on the door.

‘Sir? Mr Evans, sir? It’s George the porter ‘ere, and Elsie, th’staff nurse. Sir?’

‘Mr Evans, this is Elsie. All right, love? You’ll open the door, won’t you?’

I didn’t answer. My eyes were shaking with the effort of keeping them focused. The blackened bite in the sky was now bigger than my field of vision. I had to turn my head to see the edges of it, and it was growing fast.

‘All right. Use the master, yeah? He’s not answerin’.’ I barely heard the mumbles and the clatterings as they entered the room. The nurse was a strong-looking woman of at least fifty, her uniform crisp as a snowflake. She seemed kind.

‘Mr Evans, love. Let’s get you into bed, all right? I’ll give you a little something to ease you through, okay? Just a little something.’

I blinked my red-hot eyes and closed my desert-dry mouth for long enough to look at her properly.

‘Ease?’ I croaked. ‘Ease me through?’

‘The end of the world, silly,’ she smiled, preparing a syringe. It gleamed in the reddish light from outside. ‘You haven’t taken any other drugs or medications today, have you, love? Only they can make this jab hurt just a little.’

‘What?’ My voice sounded like it had been through a sieve. How had it grown so hot in here? ‘End of the world?’

‘Happens reg’lar round here, love,’ she said, flicking at the needle. Satisfied, she lowered it to my arm. ‘Hasn’t been one now for, ooh – what would you say, George? Hundred million years, something like that?’

‘Couldn’t say for sure, Else,’ shrugged the porter. ‘Hunnerd mill sounds ’bout right, though.’

‘Call it a hundred million years, then,’ she said, sliding the needle home. Its sting felt like a spider-bite, and my heart instantly began to slow.

They laid me out on the bed and I let my head slump to one side, allowing me to watch them as they walked to the window. They stood either side of it like angels at the doorway to Eden, their faces glowing as the world burned.

‘Be a long wait now till next time, Else,’ murmured George.

‘Right you are, sunshine,’ she sighed. ‘Right you are.’

‘Wonder how it’ll all shake out?’ George mused. ‘Where we’ll be, what we’ll be doin’.’

‘Don’t you mind,’ said Elsie, reaching across to chuck him under the chin. ‘I’m sure it’ll be you an’ me against the world, Georgie-pie, same as always.’

‘Business as usual in the ‘Otel Finisterre, eh?’ chuckled George.

‘You’ve said it now, my duck. You’ve said it now. Ooh – look! Here we go. Right, Mr Evans – take a deep breath, love. Soon be over! Won’t hurt a bit.’

She lied about the ‘won’t hurt a bit’ part, but about everything else, she was right on the money.

Speaking of which, the annoying thing is I won’t even be able to get a refund for the room. I should’ve known it was too cheap for its own good. At least I won’t have to be annoyed for very long, though; one takes one’s comforts where one can.

My eyes slide shut and eternity closes over me like a fist.

 

Wednesday Writing – ‘Reflections’

Photo Credit: Magdalena Roeseler via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Magdalena Roeseler via Compfight cc

Reflections

It was Friday, and that meant Mama would be working late. When the last bell rang and school let out, I had to be careful to remember to turn left instead of right outside the gate and go to Grandma’s house instead of home. I knew there’d be dinner waiting which always tasted okay even if it smelled funny, and then – if Grandma’s feet weren’t too bad – we’d go for a slow stroll to the corner of the block. She’d buy me a grainy, too-sweet hot chocolate from the stand there, counting out the coins slowly with her nubbled fingers, and she’d hold my hand as we walked home, rubbing her thumb against mine as we went.

But today, the streets were strange. Everything seemed bigger than before. There was smoke on the horizon, black like bad weather coming, and I wondered what was burning. Far away I heard the shrieking of a siren and, without thinking, I crossed myself like Mama used to, before, and then I threw a look around to make sure nobody’d seen me. But there was nobody there to see, and that was lucky. My heart took a while to calm down, though. Stupid, I thought as I hurried on. Mama would whip you, if she knew. I kept forgetting what was allowed, and what wasn’t. It changed all the time.

I saw someone coming towards me while I was still a long way from Grandma’s, and it looked so like her that I squinted, staring. I wanted to run, but I wasn’t sure – this lady was walking fast, in a strange up-and-down way, her head like a bird’s, never still. She had a patterned headscarf on, and large glasses just like Grandma’s, but I’d never seen Grandma move that fast in all my life, and I’d lived for nearly nine years, which was a long time.

‘Jacqueline!’ she called, and then I knew it was her. I ran, but I dropped my smile as I got close, and it smashed on the ground like a slippery plate.

‘Grandma?’ I asked, but she didn’t answer. Her hand shot out and grabbed my arm, and I felt every one of her fingers. They weren’t shaking now, but strong. ‘Ow!’ I said, but she said sssh! and so I stopped.

‘Come on,’ she said. ‘We have to get inside.’

‘What’s happening?’ I asked, but she turned away and hurried on. I felt a bit like our old pet dog on his lead, and I got sad, but then I swallowed it away because that wasn’t allowed. We’d had to give him up, and then we had to forget all about him. Citizens will not claim ownership of that which is not State-sanctioned was the law, and Mama’d had to explain it to me. So, I just tried to keep up.

At the next corner, Grandma muttered something under her breath and dragged me into the shadows of a doorway. I felt her trembling.

‘What’s -‘ I started to say, but her hand, soft and rough all together, slapped down over my mouth.

‘Just keep quiet, treasure,’ she whispered. ‘Come in here, and don’t look.’ She pulled me towards her and I leaned in.

‘You smell funny, Grandma,’ I whispered, pulling away. I turned a bit, trying to see, but she slapped me, hard, and I got too big a fright to even cry.

‘I said don’t look, Jacqueline,’ she muttered, digging her fingers into my shoulder. ‘And stay quiet!’

Ages went by. I listened to Grandma’s stomach gurgling and felt her breaths getting tangled and her fingers, shaking again now, stroking my head, and then I heard her praying, in whispers, using the old words. It made me feel mixed-up to hear them, like how it used to feel to have my birthday on the same day as a test at school, and I looked up at her face. She was crying, big fat tears, and her mouth bit back the words of her prayer as she stared, away from me, down the street. I saw shapes moving in the lenses of her glasses, and they looked like people running, and other people chasing, and sticks falling, falling.

And then the world exploded into screaming. I grabbed Grandma and she grabbed me, and I scrunched my eyes tight up.

‘Remember thou art a reflection of thy Creator,’ Grandma whispered into my ear, her breath hot against my cheek. I felt a warm droplet running down my face, splashing onto my chest, and I wasn’t sure whether it was her tear or mine. ‘His glory is reflected in you as your destiny is reflected in Him.’ I held my breath and let the old words wash over me, thinking of Mama. I wondered where she was, and if she was okay. ‘Remember this as you gaze upon one another; honour this reflection as you would honour the Lord.’ She kissed me, and her breath sounded like it had been bitten in half, and she dug her fingers into my shoulders.

‘Run, Jacqueline,’ she said. Her voice was hoarse. ‘Run now, and don’t look back!’

I did as I was told, telling myself Grandma was right behind me, even though I knew she wasn’t, and I only stopped to cry when I passed the crumpled hot chocolate stand. It lay on its side, still smoking from the fire that had burned it up, and the man who had poured the chocolate every week for all my whole life was flat on the ground, and in his eyes the sky was mirrored, blue and clear and perfect.

 

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.

 

The Smaller they Are…

…the harder they can be to write. Don’t you think?

But seriously - how cool is this? Image: themarysue.com

But seriously – how cool is this?
Image: themarysue.com

I’m not talking about the physical act of using tiny writing or minuscule* print, of course. But you knew that. I’m talking about short stories, and – firstly – how hard they are to write, just in general, but also how hard it can be to switch your brain between different types of work.

A while back I wrote a piece about my brain ‘switching gear’ and beginning to think in terms of short stories, having been programmed up to that point to think only in terms of book-length projects. I thought, in my naïvety, that this was a huge breakthrough. I was under the impression that my brain would now find it easy to hop between the two, and I could happily change gear whenever it liked.

Nothing’s ever as easy as that, though. You’d think I’d have worked that out by now, wouldn’t you?

Anyway. I’ve been writing short stories for the last few days (I wrote three yesterday, so editing will be needed today), and it’s been a very strange experience. The first story had to be 500 words long, and for whatever reason I managed that reasonably well. Writing it was a bit like watching a gas in an enclosed vessel – it expanded to fit the the space available to it, settling into the nooks and crannies without a problem. The idea for the story (as with a lot of the flash pieces that I write) was centred around a particularly emotional, dramatic event in a person’s life, and I felt like the 500 word limit was tight enough to focus the story on what was important, and long enough to hint at the character’s history and future. So, that was fine.

Then, I moved on to another story, also flash (just about) at 1,000 words. The story, in this case, had to be prompted by an image, and as the idea began to grow in my mind, I sat down to start writing it. And, completely without warning, I started to feel dwarfed by the immensity of the 1,000 word limit. It was like I was standing in the centre of a huge, frozen field, so large that I couldn’t see the ditches on any side – the white, hard land just rolled away out of my eyeshot in all directions. I felt marooned, and a bit scared. And I’m a person for whom finding words has never been a problem. Normally, I run to the verbose. I’ve written novels! I’m used to the long form.

But 1,000 words scared the living daylights out of me, yesterday.

I couldn’t understand this. I’d never felt anything like it before. I mean, think about it. Being afraid of a word count? Completely unsure of how you were going to structure a story in order to fill the word count adequately? It sounds ridiculous, because it is. But there you are. That’s how I reacted yesterday to the task of writing a piece of long flash fiction. I did write the story in the end, and I’m going to revisit it today to see how I can improve it; then, I think I’m going to have to write another, just to get my brain to limber up. Perhaps it’s not so much the differing word counts that bamboozle me, but the rapid swapping from one to the other. I guess, just as your muscles start to seize up as you get older, so does your brain.

Do you think it’s possible that some writers are naturally better at short stories than novels? Or, even, that some people who write short stories are better at certain types of short story than others? Logically, there’s not a lot of difference between short stories and longer pieces. You need character, plot, motivation, drama, crisis and resolution in a written piece, no matter how long it is. So, it shouldn’t really matter. But I think it does.

The important lesson I learned yesterday, anyway, was this: don’t assume that because you’ve done something once that you can do it again, effortlessly, whenever the mood takes you. Writing, like everything else, needs practice. You need to switch it up – change genres, change styles, change narrative voice, change authorial perspective – to avoid over-developing a particular writing muscle. I tend to get stuck in first-person narration, so it takes a huge effort for me to use third-person. I tend to use present tense, so I need to work on that. And, I’ve learned, I tend to get comfortable in a particular length of short story; getting out of that comfort zone can leave me very disoriented. So, to avoid that, there’s only one thing to do.

Write more.

 

Image: oxbridgeessays.com

Image: oxbridgeessays.com

Happy Thursday! I hope, wherever you are, that life is treating you well.

 

 

*Not in the palaeographical sense, either! I just mean ‘really, really small.’ There was a style of handwriting known as minuscule in the Middle Ages – click here to read about it. I’m too much of a nerd to write this post without mentioning it, and making the distinction. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, sometimes it *does* hurt to be this pedantic.