7 September 2011

The prompt for this was these words: Lament, Accept and Remote. But that doesn't matter at all.


She sat on Wilmington beach in North Carolina, near her parents home, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and sipping red wine from the bottle. She had kicked off her sandals and her feet baked on the sand as she looked at the horizon. Beyond that horizon was England, and Rob.

She knew that Rob would be lying in bed with a new girl by now. She wasn’t sure which of them it would be but it would certainly be one that she had met before. Probably somebody from his office that she’d been drunkenly introduced to at the Christmas party. She’d probably even hugged and kissed and said something harmlessly sociable to her. And Rob was probably fucking her right at this very moment. The arms and legs that she’d so adored were probably right now propping up his swooping pelvis while his mouth, whose kiss she still daydreamed about, pressed at the mouth of some faceless whore. Some dead-eyed wraith. Some cold, breathless, gasping slut.

She could feel her heart beating as she roughly scrubbed the images from her mind. The air-raid sirens in her heart were at full wail. The pitch rising and falling with each wave of murder-soaked blood that boiled through her lungs. She lay down on her back. It felt like her eyes were spinning. Holding her clenched fists into her stomach she pushed down inside herself and crushed whatever feelings were there. Good or bad, they all hurt right now. They all burned and she wanted to be rid of them completely.

She wiped some tears onto her sleeve and sniffed. The sun was high in the sky, straight up above her, against the blue. Letting the sun scorch her eyes, she recalled a fantasy she used to have in which she would make herself believe she was flying over the clouds, looking down at a sky- blue ocean, empty except for one fiercely burning island. Heaven is on that island. Only heaven could be that bright.

Looking down at heaven through the clouds, she felt it was real. This is what it felt like to see it with her very own eyes and to know it’s really there. Any doubt of its existence wilted and she bathed herself in complete relief. There was no fear, no death.

Another tear ran onto her cheek, spoiling the illusion. Now she was not floating in the sky but pinned to a ceiling. The ceiling at the edge of space that all the stars are stuck to. She was pinned to it by one big nail in her stomach where all the pain oozed from. Or she was stuck to it like a swatted fly - guts smeared and dried.

She snapped out of it and sat up, riding nausea as her senses swivelled back around into reality. Still the waves came, rolling in from the horizon. A horizon that was keeping her away from Rob while he fucked. A new cigarette. A mouthful of wine. The quenching of fires again. Think of something else. Think of the future. He said that he was going to be the future. Plans had been forged and dreams had taken root. Stalks were entwined and blood had been mixed. They were one, they were unique together, there was magic in the world.

She had walked in their garden as a wonderful Summer had drawn to a close. Ripe peaches and apples hung pendulously all around. Bright yellow flower buds barely held themselves closed while honey flowed from the base of the bee-hive, forming rivulets amongst patches of strawberries which were themselves the size of fists. The bees slept, their work done. There was honey for everyone, the garden was almost bursting.

Gemma had reached up and plucked the softest peach. It was so heavy and seemed to almost hum with the power of its imprisoned sweetness. She closed her eyes and lifted the peach with both hands to her mouth. As she raised it in slow motion, she could hear tiny muffled, tearing pops as the flowers began to burst open behind her. Opening her smiling mouth she held the warm, vibrating peach to her lips and held it there. This moment is perfect and all is well.

Her teeth tore through the skin of the peach and, eyes still closed, she waited for its perfume to fill her nose and for juice to run over her chin. No juice came, only wasps. Wasps filled her mouth and wasps filled her nose. Breathing in to scream, wasps filled her lungs. Coughing and gagging, she fell into the strawberry patch. All the strawberries burst open at once, releasing their hidden bounties of fire ants into her clothes and hair. They swarmed over her. Peaches rained down and burst all around, some full of hornets, some with more wasps. The flower-buds blossomed, unleashing spits of vinegar and instantly shrivelling. Gemma rolled and screamed, covered in wasps and honey and vinegar and hornets. Ants crawled into her ears and gnawed.

And here on the beach the last few ants were still roaming around her body. Stinging her and reminding her, every few minutes. Another cigarette. Another mouthful of wine.

3 August 2011

This month it was my turn to suggest a prompt for our little group. I chose a photo of a tornado that swept into Brighton in 2006. I wish I'd seen it.

Here's my 1000 word story:


Oh my god we were laughing so hard! Our castle on the beach was now complete. Golden walls formed a soft-edged square and we were in the centre of the courtyard. A turret at each corner and battlements atop the walls. The four of us lay on our backs or rolled from side to side, in absolute hysterics as we used to say.

There were no sandy steps to the tops of the crenellated curtain walls. No doorways leading to spiral staircases inside the turrets. No rooms at all, just a square space inside four walls that we couldn’t see over. An arch had been formed in the southernmost wall, facing the sea which was a distant blue strip across the horizon. So much sand. What else would you do? You build a castle, of course you do, but this one is ridiculous! It’s bigger than my house and we’ve spent all day making it. We are four grown-ups and we’ve spent the hot day building a castle that would shortly be washed away. It felt wonderful. Look at us! Look how stupid we are! See what we did today?!

A deck-chair flies high over the courtyard as if hurled from miles away. Its yellow and orange stripes blurring into the colour of flame. It leaves a smoky trail in front of the blue sky.

I roll onto my face to stifle my laughter and sand sticks to my eyeballs and fills my mouth. The laughter leaves me and I just cough into the ground. The others are growing motionless too as we forget what it was we were finding so hilarious. We blink sand out of our faces and sit in silence. As the silence grows, we become aware of the sound of a kettle whistling. Grains of sand tumble from the battlements as the whistle gets louder. Is nobody going to take it off the stove?

My girlfriend crouches by a wall and I stand on her back to look over it, my hands clinging to the drying sand as I get whatever purchase I can in the crumbling structure. I fling an arm between the battlement teeth and pull my head up. The beach is deserted as far as the eye can see, except for the usual longboats that criss-cross its irrigation channels - they drift from the beach to the ash-covered fields and back again as the wind turns.

One of the nearest longboats has a man standing on it with one of those poles they use to push themselves along. The whistling sound is coming from inside his boat and he opens the cabin doors to see what’s happening there. He disappears from my view as a spinning funnel of dense grey cloud bursts out of the doors and envelopes him. I describe this to my companions.

My best friend wants a look, so he stands on my back. In a very calm voice, he says “Oh my god there’s hundreds of tornadoes out there all over the fields”. We all run over to the farthest turret from the whistling sound. There is a door here now and we all run inside. It is dark and the floors are wooden and brown. We rush up some dusty steps to a room with broken windows in every shadow-covered wall. Through these windows the sky is the colour of tarnished lead. Its weight crushes and sedates our words, which come out too slowly and quietly.

“Run away” I say in a slow motion moan. We all stand and stare at each other, eyes wide. More words are spoken and ignored. Desperate for something to deliver us from this terror, I switch to the past tense and third person.

The whistling was by now a roar. The whirlwinds were closing in. They heard glass shattering upstairs and ran over to a window. They were at street level, looking along an avenue of fire-gutted buildings which lined a cracked concrete road. Smoke and glass drifted through the air. I saw them climb in turn through a broken pane. I saw my best friend come through last and as he did so the fuzzy black edge of a tornado loomed across the gaps in the wall. Splintered timber and lumps of stone smashed into the room like bullets. Broken steel cables tore through the walls and whipped through the air - neatly slicing off my best friend’s head which fell onto the floor and looked up at me stupidly.This almost forced me back into a first-person present tense perspective, but the terror was freezing my blood into sharp little rubies tumbling through my veins - reminding me to stay safely outside. I felt angry with the look on his face for a moment. This helped me to ignore what had actually just happened.

The three of them ran away, along the wrecked street. As they ran they could see crowded tornadoes stumbling drunkenly across the landscape, smearing black all over the fields and igniting wild animals. Blades of shattered glass rained down on them. Flaming birds screamed and flew into their faces. I saw my girlfriend apologise and leave them there. I don’t know where she went. I saw myself and the other friend (whose face was not familiar) run on until they reached a green field. They caught their breath as I reverted back to first person, present tense.

We catch our breath and look back at the city. It’s smaller than it was before, about the size of a red car. The tornadoes are only as big as my fist now, and they track up and down the windscreen of the car. I pick one up and let it spin on my hand. It feels like a toy gyroscope, whirring and leaning around like they do. I hold it near my face - I’ve always wanted to see the inside of a tornado, so I peer in and it’s just like in that film where it’s all watery blue spirals and peace.

26 July 2011

To get the made-up-shit ball rolling again I resorted to interpreting a dream into a sequence of words and here it is. I have called this one "Bee".


A bee and a small fly are fighting at the base of the windscreen, inside the car that I am driving. The fly takes a bite out of the bee’s abdomen, with jaws that are rather spider-like. They lock legs and tussle, buzzing and tumbling up and down the glass. It’s hot in the car and I notice a tiny flash of flame on one of the bee’s wings. The two insects fall down the gap between the dashboard and the window.

I follow the signs for the car park, and am led down a residential street. The white wooden houses jut out into the road and and I navigate between them very slowly. A final sign leads me on to a private drive outside one of the white houses. Paint on the ground leads me into the garage, where I turn right into a parking space right next to the kitchen. It seems an unlikely place for a public parking space, but all the signs and road markings led me here and nobody is complaining.

As I get out of the car I look to see what the fighting insects are doing. I can’t see them, but there is an orange flicker behind the centrally mounted air-vent. I lean closer and between the plastic bars of the grating there are flames. No doubt about it. The flames are only the size of my fingernails and I decide that they’ll go out soon. I leave the car and walk into the now busy street. I’ve got to be somewhere but I’m not sure where now.

I start worrying about the fire, and I snatch a bottle of water from the hands of a Chinese lady who was about to drink from it and then I run back into the garage. I’m sure the water bottle lady will understand when I come back out and explain things to her, but for now I must douse the little fire so I can remember where I was supposed to be going.

I open the car door and pour water into the vent. Steam rises from the gap where the windscreen joins the dashboard. Orange flames lick out too. I find a watering can, half full, and pour water all over the dashboard, trying to force it down the gaps. The fire really takes hold now.

One of my friends has joined me and I ask her to go and find more water while I warn the people in the house about what is happening. I bang on the front door and shout. An elderly lady answers. “FIRE FIRE” I say. “ FIRE IN YOUR GARAGE”. She starts crying and frantically running around the front of the house as smoke pours out of the garage.

My friend has called the fire brigade. I am in the kitchen, pouring water on the walls, when they arrive. The old lady and I lead them through the kitchen towards a door to the garage. The old lady wrings her hands. The fireman pokes his hose through the door and sprays water at the car which is now fully ablaze.

As the fire is put out, I go to the car and pour water on it to cool the fiercely hot metal. The fireman stops off the hose, but I can feel that the passenger door of the car is still too hot and I hear hear a little fire inside it. He doesn’t like me telling him what he should do, but we wrench open the door itself and douse the remaining flames.

18 June 2011


This month's prompt for the writing group was this photo. I wanted to write an actual self-contained story for this one and to include a bit of speech in which some substantial idea was conveyed. So I made this - it's been tweaked after a couple of comments from the group. 
(There's another version where I go into more depth about the history of the thing, but it was a little bit too much. This is the one in which I stripped out all the explanatory stuff)


The sun was red in the clear, noon sky. Marius looked up and held his hand in front of the inscrutable disc – barely covering a quarter of it. His visor darkened, cutting out the radiation which had begun pouring into his eyes. He lowered his hand but continued to look at the red circle. The visor had turned opaquely black over the centre of his view of the dying star, revealing its mane of writhing flares, looping and falling, gigantic and slow around its circumference. His mind glanced back to the archives where he had been shown whales bursting from the surface of the sea and crashing back in again. Were there whales on the sun?
His thoughts were pierced by a squeal of delight from the speaker by his right ear. Turning to look, he saw his sister waving at him from beside a brown boulder. Although the suits were identical, Tinga’s still had the green hue of infancy, marking her out from the rest of the older children whose suits had all reverted to their natural, reflective silver-white.
Marius left his spade poking out of the sand and walked across to see what she had found.
“Marius! It’s a curly shell!” Tinga shouted through her beaming face. Although he was still a few paces away, he could see her wide eyes through the visor’s tint.
“It was just under the pearls, where you said it would be” she continued, handing her net to him. Sure enough, there it was, in her net amongst the usual strings of ancient jewellery and polished stones.
“Well done Tinga, it’s important to take good notice of exactly where the shells are found. Has anybody found any above the Pearl Horizon yet?” Marius looked around at the other children, who shook their heads and said no.
“Do we remember what it would mean if we did find a shell that was at a shallower depth than the pearls?”
Sertorius, a bright but serious boy answered immediately
“It would obviously mean that there were shellfish alive after the Paradise, but we know that’s not true so I don’t see why we have to bother with this stupid exercise.”
Marius had been expecting somebody to raise this point.
“The reason,” Marius answered, “is to demonstrate the power of evidence. Any idea that is worth having will also define its own downfall. A good theory will answer questions but it will also tell you what evidence would render the theory obsolete. The evidence may be in the next hole that you dig”.
Sertorius rolled his eyes and whispered something to the boy next to him, forgetting that whispering wasn’t much use when microphones picked up every word for broadcast to the group. Marius ignored him and the children carried on digging with their little spades and filtering sand through their nets. As they busied themselves, Marius, walking amongst them, said
“In this case, we are testing the theory that during the Age of Paradise, shellfish were simply wiped out. Most other animals were destroyed forever too, but in the case of shellfish we have the unique possibility of proving this theory wrong. If we found a shell from a creature that was born after the Age of Paradise, we would have to revise our view of history, wouldn’t we?”.
Marius decided he’d taught enough for now. He left them to consider his words as they scrabbled in the ground and rejoined Tinga. She was crouched next to a hole, looking closely at the shell she had found. Two of the boys stood in the hole up to their waists, as they tried to clear away more of the stones and sand. The Pearl Horizon here was about a metre under the surface and every now and then some of the formerly precious orbs would be flung out along with the sand.
Having cleared enough sand away for now, the two boys climbed out of their hole to sit and rest. Tinga slid down the side, plunged her hermetically sealed feet into the pearls and giggled as she kicked excitedly at them for a few seconds. She dragged her net through them so that it was full, shook the sand out of it and sat down to remove the pearls one by one - throwing them over her shoulder and out of the hole so they wouldn’t  have to be filtered out again.
Marius sat on one of the brown boulders and watched. The two boys reclined next to the hole they had been digging, clad in their closely-fitted silver bodysuits, each capped with a sphere of tinted glass, always darker on the side facing the sun. Between these two, he could see the top of Tinga’s head through the glass of her own helmet, jerking back with the force of her arm as she cast out worthless pearls onto the sand. Similar scenes were played out among the rest of the group as they dug and searched. Fleeting skirmishes would break out as one child or other would fail to resist the urge to fling an ancient necklace at one of their friends. He’d give them another half hour before taking them back to the refuge.
Marius looked back up at the sun, and again his visor compensated out the brightest part of the disc. As it turned opaque, he saw something in the dead centre of the red just before it was obscured. He thought he’d momentarily seen a lop-sided, yellow smile there. His brow furrowed and his lips pursed as he stood up, eyes fixed on the darkened centre of his view of the sun. He was about to instruct the visor to reduce the opacity so that he could have another look, but instead sat back down and blinked a few times. He looked over at his sister once more and saw her entirely occupied, gleefully throwing pearls out of the pit.
Sertorius, standing by another pit, was also looking up. He had clearly seen it too. As the boy raised both arms to point, Marius remotely deactivated his comms unit. Sertorius’ mouth was visibly open and screaming but nobody could now hear him as they sifted their pearls in the sunshine. Sertorius dropped to his knees, still looking upwards, and held up both his hands to shield his face.
Marius instructed his own visor to cancel all protection and looked up towards the sun once more. The tiny yellow smile had already outgrown the red disc of the sun and was now stretched right across the sky, widening rapidly. Marius thought briefly of whales splashing down in the sea.

7 May 2011

Azaleas exercise

For the Writer's Group I'm with, we all had to do 1000 words using this image as our subject. The flowers are Azaleas. Here is my contribution.

These pink-white petals, caught in the mess of a shattered beam of sunlight, remind me straight away of your neck and how it curves into the top of your white shoulder. I recall solar shards lying wearily across the cool expanse of your flesh; the patterns swaying with the slow rhythm of your breathing, and flickering with the pulse I can see in your skin; a bumblebee hovering among the leaves of a wind-worried bush.

Yet, these captured rays and their luminous displays are bought at the price of the shadows beneath. For each illuminated lobe, basking and shining, there is a world underneath, robbed of light. White turns to grey when the sun is removed and the leaves and the stalks are just so much green plumbing; although as the sun traverses and shadows pivot, such functional limbs are themselves set ablaze with reflected celestial splendour and life. Each imprinted point of sunshine on the pale face of the flower seems to awaken a brilliant, self-evident purpose within: it must glow. Even the supporting elements are afforded their moments in the brightness, providing some contrast to the general scene as the flower bathes oblivious always. The permanently highlighted flowers and the shifting green shadows beneath form the picture we see when we recall a flowering plant.

You see, I thought of your beauty not as some merely two-dimensional photograph, but as a vivid, three-dimensional hologram. When tilting this image to one side or other in my memory, new facets of sigh-inducing jewels take their turn in the light and they flare. I ask myself if angel’s lips might be the same colour as these sunlit petals, this blazing flesh. And it’s usually about here that I start to wonder if I’m lending too much importance to the way I feel when I look on you, or on the memory of you.

(The difference between a flower in sunlight and a flower under a cloud is the same as that between the eyes of the living and the eyes of the newly dead. A flower in the sun is clearly living, even if it has been plucked from its roots. A picture of a flower without its accompanying foliage may be pleasing at first, until we admit that we are gazing at a beautiful severed head, as it dies.)

Beauty is still only beauty no matter how richly manifested it is. Physical gorgeousness drags me towards you as it drags a bee to a set of petals. The seemingly transcendent nature of the flower’s beauty is as functional as the structure of its stalks. Flowers are lures for pollinating insects. Prettiness is a lure for those humans who mistake it for beauty. I am just a firefly, barely sentient, careering across the evening sky towards the oh-so-alluring, greenly glowing specks of light in the shadowy hedge. There is no beauty in a face or a body, or anywhere. Objects can be literally attractive, but only in the same dumb way that a magnet is attractive to iron. It is nature. Why do we confuse prettiness and beauty so readily? Have we not, as humans, conquered such primal illusions yet? Or are we doomed to forever remain the slaves of lust?

This is how I talk myself out of those pangs of loss that grip me from time to time. If I blame beauty for luring me to you, then I must learn a lesson and flee beauty whenever I think I encounter it, as it is only a portent of forthcoming pain. No amount of wishful thinking will transform our flawed, pretty lover into the perfect human that we believed would fit their face.  An illusion of hope evaporates when we realise that the target of our amorous affections does not possess any of the magical virtues we’d attributed to them, and which we had loved all along: we were in love with a model form that we created in our head and no human will ever fit this template perfectly. It’s not their fault they aren’t really magic, is it? They never said they were magic did they? You wanted them to be magical and wishful thinking did the rest.

Thus I am delivered from my moment of nostalgia, having distracted myself. Now I can re-evaluate the image of the azaleas with my mind freshly retuned to calm, objective reality, can’t I?

The burning white reminds me of the colour of a blast of pain as it flashes through my eyes on its way into my skull. Hell is not red, it is as white as these sun-kissed petals. Just a few seconds of unfiltered sunshine on your retina has you begging for an eternity of glowing red no matter how, painful and permanent it is. A sun-struck petal is a tiny fragment of hell; launched into your eyes by a fiercely malevolent star that will one day consume every atom of you.

The sunlit, flower-sprinkled bush is a snapshot of vegetation right on the very point of flashing into flame during a nuclear explosion. Each bursting flower is a large-calibre, high-velocity bullet hitting a sleeping horse. It’s the fireworks at the end of the world, exploding over and inside the burning jungles. The white flames, the pink, scorched skin, the green smoke and the black, black eternity.