This week is a bit of a weird one. For context, this is the second writing contest that someone has suggested I enter during this challenge. I am still awaiting the outcome of the first contest (more on that as I have it), but this one has a prize of ACTUAL MONEY so hopefully I can come out of this one with a win.
Anyway, this competition is a North Wales based one, and the only rules are that stories have to bet set in North Wales and less than 1000 words each. As it is a time sensitive competition, I have bumped other stories back a week like last time.
As this didn’t fit with my 1500-2000 words limit, I elected to enter two. I got one story suggestion from my dad (a story about heroism during the Dolgarrog dam disaster) but in lieu of another suggestion from Huw Lloyd Jones, whose idea it was that I enter the contest, I have used an idea I had myself.
I’ve not been in the habit of editing stories as I go along, but seeing as there’s money on the line with these ones, I will be doing so before I submit them. If there are massive changes then maybe I’ll post the edited versions on here later in the week.
So, I have met all my criteria (word limits, at least one story suggested by someone else) and those of the contest. Without further ado, enjoy two whole stories, for the price of one.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Llewelyn Roberts ran down the cobbled street at full pelt. He skidded round the corner and in to the lane that led to his house, up an incline on the outskirts of the village of Dolgarrog.
His mother would be furious. Llewelyn had agreed to watch his sisters for the evening whilst his parents went to watch a new film up at the local theatre, but he had gotten caught up playing dice at Alun Jones’ house. He had lost track of time, and only realised he was late when the church had chimed out the hour.
The door was open when he arrived, and his mother was stood in the cottage’s small kitchen wearing her theatre dress and a thunderous expression.
“Where have you been, Bach?” she asked. “You’re late.”
“I’m sorry, mam,” Llewelyn replied, wincing at the nickname he hated. “I lost track of time.”
“Well, the girls are in bed already and there’s dinner on the table. We should be back by 11.”
At that moment his father came downstairs, wearing a top hat and tails, a huge grin plastered across his face.
“What do you think, Bach?” he asked, running a hand over his moustache, which he had waxed.
“You look a treat, dad,” Llewelyn replied, returning the smile.
“Oh, Morris, you silly bugger,” his mum said. “We’re going to the theatre, not for dinner with the King.”
His parents promptly departed to the theatre, and Llewelyn was left alone, the two girls sound asleep upstairs. He stoked the fire that almost always burned in the sitting room, picked up a book from the shelf and began to read. Before long the book slipped from his hand and Llewelyn himself nodded off in to a warm sleep.
A while later, Llewelyn woke to a loud crashing noise that came from some way off. Startled, he leaped from his chair, as the crashing sound was followed by a series of dull thumps. He ran upstairs to check on the girls, to find Meredith, his youngest sister, crying in her cot, and Elin still fast asleep in the bed across the room.
Llewelyn picked up his baby sister and soothed her until she stopped crying. As he laid her back down in the cot he became aware of a rushing sound, that was growing louder. He went over to the window and was shocked to see water rushing down the street at the end of the lane. The road looked like a river.
Llewelyn heard a loud banging on the front door, and went down to answer it. It was his friend Alun, out of breath and utterly drenched from fighting his way up the road against the flow of the flood waters.
“It’s the dams,” he gasped while fighting to regain his breath. “They’ve burst.”
“Both of them?” Llewelyn asked incredulously.
“Looks that way,” Alun replied. “We need to get up to the village to help.”
Llewelyn thought about his sisters asleep upstairs. Judging by the course of the water, and the relative height that the cottage stood at, the flood should flow right past.
“Let’s go,” he said.
They took a back path round to the centre of Dolgarrog. When they arrived the scene was one of devastation. A lot of the stone buildings had been smashed to pieces, not designed to withstand a torrent of water so vast in size.
The waters were beginning to subside when they arrived. Those buildings still standing looked to have been badly damaged, and some looked as though they would collapse any moment.
A woman, covered head to toe in mud, came wading through the water to meet them; she was crying, the tears cleaning lines through the mud on her face.
“Mrs Pritchard? Is that you?” Llewelyn asked.
“Oh boys, my poor mother is trapped upstairs in my house,” the woman replied, nodding. “I can’t carry her out and I’m worried that the building is going to collapse any moment.”
Llewelyn looked at his friend.
“Alun, you take Mrs Pritchard up to the hillock over there and wait for me.”
Llewelyn plunged in to the house, not looking back to see if his orders were being carried out. The house was dark and he had to push himself past broken furniture and other items that floated in the chest high water. It made for slow progress, but eventually he found his way through the gloom to the staircase and clambered up out of the water.
When he reached the top he found Mrs Pritchard’s mother sitting in a corner of one of the bedrooms, utterly terrified.
“What is happening?” she asked. “Are we being punished by God?”
“I don’t know,” Llewelyn answered honestly. “But I’m here to get you out.” He extended a hand, which the elderly lady took, and gently lifted her on to his shoulders.
Progress was even slower than before when they got back downstairs and in to the waters, as Llewelyn had to ensure that he kept Mrs Pritchard senior’s head above the water line at all times.
Eventually they made it out of the house and Llewelyn waded over to the hillock where Alun and Mrs Pritchard were waiting. He carefully handed the old lady over to Alun, who set her down next to her daughter.
Just as Llewelyn was preparing to come out of the water on to the hillock, a second surge of water came down the street towards him. The current was too strong, and there was nothing he could do but stand there and await his fate.
He closed his eyes and braced for the water to hit, but before he could be swept away he felt hands under his shoulders that began dragging him up out of the water.
“Not this time,” Alun grinned as he pulled Llewelyn on to the bank. “You still owe me three shillings from our game of dice earlier on, and you’re not getting out of it that easily.”
2014 – A Year In Stories
A Kiss to Build a Dream On
Agnes grumbled as she stepped off the coach.
“I don’t even know why I’m here,” she moaned to Mavis, her oldest friend.
“Agnes, you’ve been so miserable since Harold died. You need a break and here we are.”
“Of course I’m miserable,” Agnes replied. “He was my husband of 45 years after all.”
“I know, dear,” Mavis said, patting her friend on the back. “But the point still stands. You needed to get away.”
“I suppose so, but did I really have to get away to Llandudno?”
“Oh come on,” Mavis said, smiling mischievously. “It could be worse. Look, I’ve got to go off and meet up with the local WI chapter, but why don’t you have a look around? I’m sure you’ll find something to do.”
Agnes wandered off down towards the promenade, and browsed the stalls on the pier for a while. However, she quickly tired of the hustle and bustle and the loud noises that came from the various arcades dotted along its length, and retired to a bench that looked out over the sea, and up to the Great Orme.
She reached in to her purse and pulled out a picture of her and her husband. Harold would have loved this, she thought. A new adventure. He had always been the adventurous type. She sighed.
She became aware of someone walking past behind her as she caught the tune of the man’s whistling.
“That’s Louis Armstrong,” she said out loud, almost without meaning to.
“A Kiss to Build a Dream On,” came a voice from behind her.
Agnes stood up and turned around. “Oh gosh,” she said, her cheeks reddening with embarrassment. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt your walk.”
“Not at all,” the man said. “Are you a fan?”
“A fan?” Agnes said. “That is mine and my husband’s song. Or rather, it was,” she added, looking downcast.
“I’m terribly sorry,” the man said. “I lost my wife a couple of years ago. After 50 years. All that time and it doesn’t seem long enough, eh?”
“No, not long enough indeed.”
They stood in silence for a moment and looked out at the vista.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Agnes said, breaking the silence.
“It is,” the man replied. “The name’s George, by the way.”
“What brings you to sunny Llandudno, Agnes?”
“My friend Mavis dragged me here. Said I needed to get away for a day. It’s three years since my husband died this week, and it’s always a difficult time of year.”
“Maybe she’s right, the sea air often does good for the soul. At least, that’s why I come here.”
“Are you from the area?” Agnes asked.
“No,” George replied. “I live in Welshpool. But I come up here on the senior citizens coach trips they organise every now and then. Does me good to get out of the house. What about you?”
“Stockport,” Agnes answered.
George smiled. “I thought I could detect a Lancashire lilt.”
“So what is there to do around here for a young lady in the prime of her life?” Agnes asked, a smile broadening over her face.
“Well, there’s all the wonders of the pier, but I don’t have you pegged as much of a gambler. There are plenty of charity shops around for the discerning consumer, and a wonderful new retail park opened the other year. And of course there’s the local Wetherspoon’s. Take your pick.”
Agnes laughed. “Sounds delightful.”
“Ah, I don’t come here for the sights and sounds, I come here to get away. Welshpool is very sleepy, and while Llandudno is hardly a paragon of excitement, it offers something a little different. Helps me clear my head, being away from it all.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Agnes replied. “Perhaps this place isn’t so bad after all.”
Four hours later, Mavis wandered down on to the promenade and found her friend sitting on a bench, talking to a gentlemen whom she did not recognise. As she approached the bench, the man stood up.
“Until next time?” the man said.
“Next time,” Agnes replied, and the man walked off, whistling a tune that Mavis did not recognise.
“Who was that?” Mavis asked.
“Oh, no one,” Agnes replied, turning away from her friend to hide her blushes.
The mischievous smile returned to Mavis’ face. “Come on, you,” she said. “Or we will miss the coach.”
Three months later, Agnes wandered down on to the promenade and sat down on the bench. She waited, nervously, for half an hour, and was about to give up and leave when she heard the sound she was expecting.
“Give me, a kiss to build a dream on, and my imagination will thrive upon that kiss…”
It was not a strong singing voice, and it went off key several times in that one line alone, but she knew exactly what it meant.
“Hello George,” she said, and smiled.
Before today’s story I must post a correction from last week.
It was pointed out to me that last week’s story brief indicated that it should have been a single mother of three, and that I had in fact included a married mother of two as the protagonist.
This was not deliberate, and I didn’t do it in order to make it easier on myself to write or anything, I simply forgot that bit when I was actually writing.
It’s a bit late to change now, but I will see what I can do about that in editing.
Anyway, on with this week’s story, which was suggested by Mary-Alice McDevitt, and has been modified somewhat to meet my own purposes. ‘James bond takes on the creatures from the depth/or from beyond the stars’.
2014 – A Year In Stories
From Rusholme With Love
James sighed as he stepped out of the van. It had been another long day, and his back was killing him after he had spent 4 hours on the floor underneath Mrs Brockhurst’s sink. It’d be the same again tomorrow, and the next day, and so on until he could find the source of her poor water pressure.
His wife, he knew, would already be in bed. She had an early start in the morning, and he didn’t want to wake her up.
He sneaked in to the house on his tip toes, his workboots held in his hand. Carefully he climbed the stairs, making sure to avoid the creaky step, and slowly opened the door to the bedroom, where his wife, Shauna, was indeed asleep.
With the utmost care, honed from hundreds of such late night returns, he slipped out of his overalls and pulled his pajamas on. Finally, and with the gentleness of a feather floating to the ground, James slipped in to bed. He gave his quietly snoring wife a peck on the cheek and settled down to sleep.
A few minutes later, just as he felt sleep’s warm embrace welcoming him, James was jolted back to consciousness by a soft whirring noise coming from outside the window.
“What on earth is that?” he whispered to himself, and turned over, trying to block the sound from his mind.
As he lay there, the sound got louder and louder. He bet it was his neighbour, Simon, again, up doing some more late night DIY or gardening. As quietly as he had slipped in to bed he was out if it again, placing his feet in the slippers that were there waiting for them.
Purposefully he strode over to the curtains and flung them open, casting around through the window for the source of the noise, but he could not see it. All the time, it got louder and louder, and he was amazed Shauna had not woken up. Perhaps all this time he had not needed to be so careful.
Unable to find the source of the humming he closed the curtains and went back to bed, pressing his pillow over his head. It was no use, it was just too loud.
Just as James was prepared to give in to a sleepless night, the noise reached a crescendo and halted as suddenly as it had started. A few moments later it was replaced by a loud ‘thwock’ sound, and the room was immediately and brilliantly lit, as if someone had just turned on the floodlights from Old Trafford in his garden and pointed them at his window.
That bloody well does it, he thought. I told Simon to turn off the auto sensors on his garden floodlight and he hasn’t done it.
Furious, James swept out of the bed, depositing his half of the duvet on top of his still sleeping wife, muffling her snoring somewhat. He strode over to the window and flung the curtains open once again.
When his eyes finally adjusted to the all consuming light, he realised it wasn’t Simon and his floodlights that he was dealing with.
James ran downstairs in disbelief, trying in vain to coerce his bathrobe in to a position that would allow him to tie it shut. Finally he wrestled it into submission just in time to open the front door and gaze up in wonder at what confronted him.
Three flying saucers hung in the sky above his garden. Well, he thought, only one of them was hovering above his garden – it was only a small terraced house in Rusholme – but they were hovering with intent nonetheless.
James cowered in his doorway as the craft manoeuvred to land. One came down on his lawn, the second in the street, and, he noted with some satisfaction, the third landed directly on Simon’s ornamental bird table, crushing it with a satisfying crunch.
He gazed on as a ramp descended from the saucer in his garden, and a humanoid figure appeared in silhouette at the top.
“You are Bond, James Bond?” The voice had come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
James assumed it had come from the creature at the top of the ramp, but it had sounded as if it was spoken from right by his ear.
“I’m err, James Bond, yes,” James replied cautiously.
“Bond, James Bond?” the voice came again.
“Um, no, just James Bond.”
“Very well Just James Bond, are you he that is employed by her majesty the Queen of England on her most secretive of services?”
A realisation of sorts dawned on James.
“Uh, no. I think you’ve got the wrong guy,” he said. “I’m a handyman. I do odd jobs for people.” He cursed the words as soon as they had left his mouth.
“Ah!” The voice sounded excited now. “Yes, you know Oddjob. You are the right man indeed.”
“No, you don’t understand!” James protested. “I do plumbing, electrician stuff.”
“Electrician? You surely mean Elektra King. She was not one of your better opponents.”
James was starting to run out of ideas by this point. “Look, I’m not a spy, OK?” he pleaded. “I’m just a bloke from Manchester. I’ve never looked like Sean Connery in my life.”
“But of course, that is what the real James Bond would say. He would not out himself as a spy voluntarily, he would use a cover alias.”
“He wouldn’t bloody well keep using the names James Bond, would he?” James shouted, waving his arms. “Look, it was bad enough at school. Do you have any idea what it’s like to have a famous name? You get laughed at, constantly.
“I thought that now I was an adult I might have escaped it all. But I still get the constant sniggering behind my back. Hire James Bond to do your plumbing, the man with the golden plunger. Har bloody har. Ten quid is not enough. Great one pal.”
“But what about your vehicle?” The alien creature asked, gesturing to where his van was parked. “Was that not kitted out by Q, that you might thwart the plans of the world’s most evil organisations?”
“The only thing that van is kitted out with is a full tool kit, and it wasn’t provided by Q, or M, or MI6. It was bought for me by my wife, Shauna, as a birthday present two years ago. Look, pal, I don’t know who told you that I was THE James Bond, but I’ve got some bad news for you. He’s a fictional character. He was invented by a buy called Ian Fleming and there have been several dozen novels and a bunch of films made about him, but it’s all fake. He doesn’t exist.”
“But those films are dramatisations of his biographies. Fleming and the others who wrote about Bond were all writing about his exploits, surely?”
“Sorry mate, fictional character. Fick-shu-nal character. Am I getting through to you at all?”
“Oh…” The omnipresent voice sounded dejected now. Its owner had yet to leave the ramp.
“Sorry. Why did you want James Bond anyway?”
“Back on our home planet there is a catastrophe occurring. We had received decades old transmissions of the James Bond documentaries…sorry, films, and believed that a man such as he might be able to save our planet. It seems we were wrong, and that we are doomed.”
“What’s the problem?” James asked.
“Our ancient pipe system has ruptured and is flooding the biggest city on the planet. We have done what we can to stem the tide but it is only a temporary measure. We bought ourselves some time but if the problem is not fixed soon then millions will die.”
“That’s your problem? Just get a plumber out,” he said.
“We cannot. The pipe system is ancient, and until now has proved sturdy for thousands of years. The need for the skill to repair such pipes died out a long time ago, and it seems that we are destined to die with it.”
“Well, uh, I’M a plumber,” James pointed out. “Maybe I could help?”
“Are you certain?” the voice replied, hesitantly. “Our planet is some weeks travel from here. You would be gone a while.”
“Honestly,” James said. “I’d be glad to see the back of the place for a little while. Mrs Brockhurst’s pipes can wait for a little while.”
“Who is this Mrs Brockhurst you speak of? Is she your ‘M’?”
“She might as well be the way she orders me around.”
“So you will help us?” The voice was hopeful.
“You bet. Just give me 20 minutes. I need to go wake up my wife.”
30 seconds later James was back in the bedroom. He walked over to the bed and gently tapped his wife on the shoulder.
“Wake up, honey,” he whispered to her.
“What is it?” she asked. “Is something wrong?”
“No, quite the opposite. Get up and pack your bags. We’re going on holiday.”
Shauna looked at the clock. “At 3am? Where are we going?”
A smile swept across James’ face. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly tell you. I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise…”
First of all I just want to let you all know that I was delighted to be asked to join Mat and Martin, my good friends at Oh No! Video Games! on their Ice Analyser podcast all about the card game Netunner. If you like to run nets, enjoy Collectible or Living Card Games in general, or simply want to hear my dulcet tones then you can listen or subscribe here.
This week’s story is the second submitted by Fiona Heffernan and her wonderful plot generating book.
Not much more to say about this one other than that the brief it generated using its booky algorithms (some pages were opened at random) was: ‘Suddenly able to hear others’ thoughts, a single mother of three uncovers a hidden family secret’.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Amanda tried to juggle the heavy shopping bags in her hands in order to get her keys out of her handbag and in to the lock on the front door. She struggled and eventually managed to reach out to the door, but it was at that moment that the plastic bag containing all the fruit she had bought at the supermarket split, and her efforts were greeted by the loud splat of half a dozen peaches impacting with the path.
She sighed. At least that was one bag less, she thought, and with a little more reshuffling she managed to get the door open without any further casualties.
Dumping the shopping bags on the table she went back outside to collect the fruit that had gone overboard. As she was about to go back out the door her daughter, Lisa, came out of the front room.
“Oh, hi mum,” she said before making to go upstairs.
“You wait right there, young lady,” Amanda replied. “I was struggling outside for five minutes with those bags and you were in the front room all along?”
“Yeah…?” her daughter replied.
“Didn’t you think you might come out and help me?”
“I was on the phone to Sean,” came the reply.
“I’ve told you not to use the phone before 6! Honestly girl. Go to your room.”
“Um, I was heading there anyway, but ok.”
“And no using the phone or the internet!” Amanda called up the stairs after her retreating daughter.
She took a moment and inhaled deeply to calm herself down. After retrieving the strawberries from the lawn she went in to the front room to sit down and relax for a bit before her young son was done with play group and her husband returned from work.
Still distracted by the lack of consideration just shown by her daughter she was not paying attention, and kicked a wooden fire engine very hard. The toy went spinning off across the wooden floor as Amanda swore and hopped around clutching her foot. She was lucky, in fact, not to come down from one of her hops on to a wide selection of toys, the more painful of which included a pile of Lego and a stegosaurus Transformer.
When the pain had subsided and she had retreated to the sofa, wishing she had picked up a bottle of gin at the supermarket, Amanda surveyed the scene in the front room.
Her husband had packed the kids off to school this morning and had not made her son, Billy, tidy up his toys before they left. It didn’t seem to matter go many times she told him to do it, he didn’t seem to want to. It was in one ear and out the other with this family.
45 minutes later she was in the car again, pulling up outside Billy’s play group. Her little boy came running out of the gates, a wide smile grew across his face as he spotted his mum’s car.
She opened the door for him and he scrambled in, doing up his own seatbelt. As he himself would assert, he is a big boy now and that meant doing big boy things like putting on your own seatbelt; even if it meant standing up to be able to reach the strap to begin with.
She had planned to scold him for his lackadaisical attitude towards tidy up after playtime, but when she saw his face, framed by his messy mop of salt and pepper hair, she simply could not. It was his father’s fault anyway.
Throughout the short drive home she wondered what could possibly happen next when she got there.
When they arrived and Billy had bolted through the front door, Amanda locked the car up just as her husband, John pulled in to the driveway. He got out of the car and smiled wearily at her.
“How was your day?” he asked.
“Don’t ask,” Amanda replied. “How was yours?”
“Long, tiring. As usual,” her husband said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “What’s for dinner?”
As always, she thought, it’s up to muffins here to cook. This lot would be knackered without me. If I didn’t cook, or shop, or clean then no one would.
Billy poked his head out of the door. “Yeah mum,” he said. “What’s for dinner? Can we have chips?”
“You’ll get no dinner until you’ve tidied up your toys in the front room young man.”
“Aww,” her son said dejectedly. “That’s boring. Can’t you do it mummy?”
“Right!” Amanda shouted. “That’s it! The three of you can look after your bloody selves for the evening. I’m off out!”
“Oh come on love, there’s no need to be like that,” John said as she walked out of the driveway. “Where are you going?”
“Out,” she replied. “Don’t wait up.”
Amanda had walked for 20 minutes, turning down roads whenever she felt like it. She was now in a part of town she had never been to before. Stopping to get her bearings, she decided that a drink was required. A strong one. She spotted a bar, seemingly the only one in the area. It was called ‘Enchantment’, and seemed as good a place as any.
Pushing open the door she was greeted with a dark interior, covered from floor to ceiling with occult nicknacks and ornaments. She pushed her way through a set of beaded curtains and came up to the bar.
A young woman with long, raven black hair, dressed almost entirely in black stood behind the dark mahogany slab. Her smile seemed forced; not because she was unpleasant, but rather because she was unused to smiling in general.
“How can I help you?” she asked.
“I’d like a drink,” Amanda said assertively, but failed to follow up with anything else.
“Well, you are in a bar, so you’ve come to the right place. What would you like?”
“Err,” Amanda said. “I’m not sure. I’ve not had much chance to drink since I had my kids.” Her mood soured as she remembered them, and she added “the bastards.”
“Something wrong?” the barmaid asked.
“It’s my bloody ungrateful family,” Amanda said. “They don’t appreciate everything I do for them. I just wish I knew what they were thinking sometimes, you know? Even just for one day.”
The barmaid smiled again, but this time it seemd a lot more natural.
“I think,” she said, “I can help you out there.”
Without further ado she began mixing a drink, and before long it was in a tall glass in front of Amanda. She took a sip.
“That’s delicious!” she said, and drank the rest. After the drink she had calmed down and decided to go home, and an hour later she was tucked up in bed. Her husband barely stirred when she came in.
The next morning was a Saturday. Amanda woke up with a headache and didn’t feel that she had earned a hangover after one drink.
She slipped out of beds the house was very quiet as she wandered down the stairs. As she reached the ground floor Lisa came out of the kitchen.
“Oh gosh, dad was right, we’ve been so thoughtless,” she said.
“Excuse me?” Amanda replied.
Lisa looked at her oddly. “I didn’t say anything mum.”
Amanda looked confused as her daughter ran up the stairs. She had heard her daughter’s voice, she knew it. She shook her head to try and get rid of the cobwebs and went in to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.
Her husband was sitting at the table as she entered.
“Good morning, love,” he said. “The poor thing, she’s been working herself to the bone here and I haven’t even noticed. I’m such a terrible husband.”
“What was that?!” Amanda said, completely taken aback.
“I said good morning…” her husband replied, unsure of what to think of her reply.
“That was all?”
“That was all,” John said. “Let me get you a cup of coffee.”
He went over to the coffee pot and poured her a cup before handing it to her.
“Are you ok, love?” He asked, adding “She looks like she’s seen a ghost.”
His lips had definitely not moved that time. “I think I need a lie down,” she said.
Amanda went in to the lounge and was surprised to find it as tidy as it had ever been. She drained the cup of coffee and laid down on the sofa.
What was going on? Was she hearing things? What was in that drink she had last night? Wait, she thought. The drink! The bar! She had told the barmaid about her problems. What had she said? She wished she could hear their…oh bloody hell.
Leaping off the sofa she ran in to the hall, taking the stairs two at a time. She knew how she could confirm it. The door to Billy’s room was wide open, and Amanda walked right in.
“Fireman Spam! Fireman Spam!” her son sang tunelessly. “Hi mummy!” She looked at him for a few seconds before it finally came. “Poo, bum, wee, willies, farts!”
That was it, she could hear his thoughts. He would never dare say words like that in front of her, and even though he had his finger up his nose when he said it, she could see his lips hadn’t moved.
Amanda had never gotten dressed quicker in her life. She was out of the door in minutes, and tried carefully to retrace her steps from the night before. It took a few wrong turns but eventually she found the same street she had been on. Frantically she searched up and down but the bar simply wasn’t there. There was just a brick walk where it had been, with the words ’24 hours’ spray painted on it. She walked back home in a daze.
When she arrived her husband the two kids were stood outside looking sheepish.
“I hope she likes her party,” her husband thought.
Amanda burst in to years
“Poor mum, I feel so bad,” Lisa added telepathically.
“Bum, bum, bum, bum,” Billy finished. Amanda’s tears turned in to laughing sobs.
“Hello, love,” her husband said, using his actual mouth. “We all feel terrible. We all had a chat and we are going to pitch in much more around the house from now on. And before that to say sorry we’ve thrown you a little party.”
They led her in to the kitchen, which was decked out with streamers, balloons, the works.
Lisa handed her a glass of champagne.
“What do you think, love?” John said.
“I love it!” Amanda laughed. “And I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I WOULD like a slice of cake!”
And so here we are dear reader, at week 22. I have been doing this for nearly six months now. How time flies eh? Not a whole lot to say about this one except it’s a bit absurd. But then, a lot of the best stories are.
The other salient thing to mention about this is that it was generated by a build your own plot book, kindly supplied by my writing group buddy Fiona Heffernan. I can’t remember the name off the top of my head but it’s responsible for this week’s story and next week’s, so I’ll try and get the name, as it’s a useful tool for those a bit stuck for inspiration.
Anyway, without further ado I give you: ‘Vowing not to bathe for an entire year, a North Korean scientist becomes the subject of a documentary film’.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Kicking Up A Stink
The Demilitarised Zone, Korean Peninsula – 1990
The boy cowered behind the hillock. Here he was, only 12 years old, making one of the most dangerous journeys on the planet. If he made it, he made it to freedom; but if he failed, then he would be returned home, and probably shot as a deserter, along with the rest of his family.
His father had sent him, reasoning with his mother that North Korea was no place for a boy of his talents. He had to make it to the South, where he could be free to use his intellect for good.
And so he had crawled across this vast expanse, finding hiding spots wherever he could. He could see the South Korean end of the zone. He was nearly there.
The searchlights passed over his head, and he made a dash for it.
Seoul, South Korea – 2013
Dr Kim turned on the television in his office in the chemistry department at Seoul University. He regretted the decision immediately as the news channel came on screen, showing a highlight reel of the latest posturing taking place across the expanse of the 38th parallel.
A North Korean rocket test strayed ‘off course’ and killed two South Koreans on one of the border island, and in retaliation some South Korean bombers very deliberately dropped their payloads on a known munitions cache in the North, killing the three guards of the base.
The two killed in the South would be mourned as countrymen, the three Northern soldiers worshipped as martyrs.
Dr Kim took his glasses off and placed them on his desk before closing his eyes and rubbing the bridge of his nose. He let out an audible sigh and turned the TV off. God save us all, he thought. God save us all.
Just as he moved to look over the latest findings from the experiments in the graduate laboratory a knock came on the door.
“Enter,” he said, returning the papers to the desk. The door opened to reveal Ri Su Yun, one of the grad students on his team.
“Dr Kim, we are closing up the lab for the day. It’s late. You should go home.”
“I will soon,” Dr Kim replied. “I just have a couple more things to finish up.
“Will there be anything else before I go, Doctor?” Ri Su Yun asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” the Doctor began, but changed his mind as the girl went to leave. “Wait, before you go, tell me what you think of the situation with the North.”
His protege hesitated, and Dr Kim noticed her unease.
“It’s ok,” he said, smiling. “I know I was born in the North, but I have no affiliation with them anymore. I left there 23 years ago. You will not offend me with your opinion.
“Well, if you are certain…” Ri Su Yun began. “Honestly I think that in the press, the media, that the North fares rather badly, and the South, they can get away with anything. Because they are the ‘good guys’ they get a free pass because all they’re doing is killing the bad men north of the border.”
“That is an interesting opinion. One that I suspect would not curry favour with our government,” Dr Kim replied.
“I am not saying that the North is innocent. It is they that are responsible for starting the vast majority of the border skirmishes, and without that they would not be so demonised. However, our military had killed at least as many of their citizens as they have of ours, if not more.”
“And what do you think is to be done?”
Ri Su Yun paused for a moment, and then spoke. “I am not sure,” she said. “Perhaps the governments need to make a concerted effort to fix the problem.”
“They have been trying that for 60 years,” Dr Kim replied.
“Well someone has to do something!”
“Yes, they do,” Dr Kim smiled.
San Diego, California – 2014
“Come on, Jerry, we need to think of a subject soon or we’re going to be in trouble. I’ve got the executives up in Hollywood breathing down my neck to follow up on The Life of Sharks with another hit. There must be something in the news that’s caught your eye.”
“I’m looking, Roy. Believe me I’m looking.” Jerry sat on the sofa in the offices of SanSan Films and browsed the news pages on his laptops. He skimmed past a few editorial pieces about Obamacare and the state of the country and landed on the more lighthearted new section.
It was mostly dross, but after skipping over the first couple of stories something can’t his eye.
“Roy,” he said. “Have you ever been to South Korea?”
Seoul, South Korea – 2014
“I am here today with the man himself, Kim Myung Hee, to talk about exactly why he has undertaken this…extraordinary protest,” Jerry began, talking to the camera that had been set up in Dr Kim’s office. “Dr Kim, please do tell me what inspired your decision to not bathe until the conflict across the demilitarised zone is resolved, and the Koreas reunited in peace.”
“Because the situation stinks!” Dr Kim replied. Jerry smiled at the phrase, and wondered if the Doctor knew it would be used as a sound bite in the trailer for the film. If so, he must have said it deliberately.
Truly the man smelled awful. Jerry and Roy had never smelled anything like it before. Jerry wondered at what point it had simply reached its zenith and stopped getting worse. After all, a person could only smell SO bad before it just became vomit inducing. It certainly was a powerful hum.
His appearance was notably affected to. His hair was matted in clumps and his clothes were all grubby. He allowed himself to wash them, but when you were as dirty and smelly as he was, eventually it began to transfer directly to your clothed as soon as you put them on. Roy reckoned he would have to shower for a whole day to get rid of all of the grime.
“Every day the two armies sit a stone’s throw away from each other and brandish their weaponry, and it seems that no-one wants to do anything to stop it. The Korean people are one people. Not two. And we are forced to sit here and watch the news every day and here about another 10 families whose sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters aren’t going home for dinner that night.
“The situation affects everything. It hangs around our daily lives, like a bad smell. And so I wanted to give the government another bad smell to think about. My bad smell. I have not bathed for one whole year, and I will not bathe again until I hear concrete assurances from both sides that they will engage in talks to end this madness.”
“That is an…interesting solution, Dr Kim. But tell me, how do you plan on enforcing this. Pyongyang is some distance from here, and even the South Korean government can’t smell you from this far away, and they’re in the same city.”
“I am aware of the limitations. An annual meeting has been scheduled between high ranking members of both governments in the demilitarised zone next week. They will discuss the possibility of opening full discussions regarding the situation. It is strongly expected that both parties will be attending with the sole intention of delaying talks for another year. But not if I have my way.”
“You sound like you have a plan, Dr Kim.”
“I do. And if you follow me it may well win you one of your coveted Oscars.”
The Demilitarised Zone, Korean Peninsula – One Week Later
The three men crouched behind the low wall. It had taken them 6 hours to trek out to this remote location, far enough away from the prying eyes of both sets of border guards that they could sneak in to the DMZ unnoticed. The cameraman had abandoned his larger camera back at the university and had opted for a much more portable camcorder.
They were fortunate, as the abandoned village that was being used for the talks was stationed only a mile from where they were currently hiding, just inside the zone on the South Korean side.
They crept along slowly, keeping as low to the ground as possible. The light hadn’t quite left the sky yet so they were at much greater risk of being spotted by one of the guard towers. Eventually they were in sight of the building.
Because neither side could agree on who should police the agreements, there were very few guards in the area around the village. Anyway, anyone who started a shooting match here was in trouble. It would very quickly escalate to several government ministers from both sides being significantly more dead than when they had entered the DMZ, and that would be a PR nightmare for both sides.
Using the ever fading light as cover, the three men swept around the side of the area until they had managed to get right up to the back of the building. Only two guards, one from each side, remained positioned in front of the door. Positioned between Dr Kim and his objective.
A light breeze kicked up, and the smell from the man who had not bathed for a year wafted round the corner of the building. As it pierced the nostrils of the two men at the door they both began to eye each other suspiciously.
“Was that you?” The North Korean guard asked, disgusted.
“No, it was you, you filthy mongrel!” The Southern guard replied.
The two men flung their weapons to the ground and leaped at each other, rolling around on the floor swinging punches. Dr Kim saw his opportunity when a set of keys fell from the belt of one of the guards, who had now both moved off elsewhere to continue their brawl. He ran forward, grabbed the keys and locked the door to the building shut.
Pulling a megaphone from his belt he raised to his lips and spoke.
“Honourable members of the North and South Korean governments. I am sure by now that you can smell my rather pungent odour. The door to the building has been locked and you have no escape.
To ensure my safety I have brought a documentary crew with me. I am sure you would not shoot a man live on camera. I can assure you that what you are smelling now will only get worse. Therefore I will kindly ask you to throw away your usual reluctance and agree to open full and frank discussions in the future of the Korean Peninsula as soon as possible. If you agree I will leave, and take my smell with me. I await your response.”
For a few seconds there was only silence, and then fits of coughing erupted from the building. A moment later a rasping voice came.
“OK! We give in. We will agree to at least talk to each other.”
“And the other side?” Dr Kim asked.
“Yes, yes. Anything! Just go away! We can’t breathe!”
And so Dr Kim and the camera crew retreated. The long walk back to their pick up point gave them time for reflection. Jerry and the cameraman thought about the Oscar they would win, and the money and fame that would come with it, while Dr Kim spent the journey looking forward to the most well earned shower in history.
Hello all, your friendly neighbourhood storyist here , back with another yarn for you to read (but not knit a scarf out of). This one was really fun to write, even if I hasn’t sure how it was going to end right up until the last couple of hundred words.
It’s stories like this one that remind me how much I enjoy writing, so thanks very much to Susie, who submitted this story idea through a website comment over three months ago. I hope she is still reading!
Her suggestion was: ‘Man hears scratching in the walls, under the floor boards.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
The Walls Have Eyes
Albert Finch sat bolt upright in bed. The room was pitch black, but he could hear it. Again.
It was the third night this week that he had been woken up in the wee small hours by the scrabbling noise in the walls of the bedroom.
He shook his wife awake.
“Mavis, it’s happening again.”
“What is, dear?” she replied, without stirring from her position facing away from him in the bed.
“The scrabbling. In the walls. Can’t you hear it?”
“No, dear,” came the sleepy reply. It was swiftly followed by light snoring.
Albert tutted to himself as he swung his legs from underneath the covers, in to his slippers which, as always, were waiting by the bedside.
“Bloody mice,” he muttered. “Gotten in to the walls again. I’ll teach them to interrupt my good night’s sleep.”
Albert plodded out of the bedroom, and down the stairs of the house that he and Mavis had lived in for 50 years. He entered the kitchen, and began rummaging around in one of the cupboards for the rusty, but trusty, old mousetrap that had served them well for the past couple of decades.
Eventually he found it hidden underneath 30 years of collected Tupperware, and set it up on the floor by the cupboard, using a small piece of cheese liberated from the fridge, with a piece for himself as well, of course,
The trap set, Albert trudged back up the stairs and laid back down in bed, managing to tune out the scratching enough to sleep right through the rest of the night.
The next morning, Albert woke up, as he did every day, at 7.30am. He didn’t require an alarm for this. Despite having been retired for 10 years, a whole working life of his body conditioning itself to be awake and out of bed in time to get to work was difficult to undo, and so he still rose at the same hour as he would have done if he had still been required to go across town to the dockyard to earn a living wage.
As always, Mavis was already up before him and was probably long gone on one of her WI errands that seemed to take up so much of her time since she had retired from her job as a nurse.
After a quick shower, Albert went downstairs to make himself some breakfast. As he crossed the threshold of the kitchen he remembered the trap he had set the night before. Hearing no more scratching he decided to go and check it.
He walked over to where he had laid the trap, and smugly bent down to find…that the trap had gone.
A puzzled look crossed his face, and he cast about in surprise, looking to see what had happened to it. It was nowhere to be seen.
Perhaps, he reasoned, Mavis had moved it out of the way when she got up. He shrugged, stood back up and turned around in the direction of the fridge to make himself some breakfast, before standing directly on the mousetrap.
He leaped up, grasping his foot in agony, the mousetrap still hanging from his big toe.
Once he had managed to remove the trap, and the pain in his foot subsided, he began to wonder how the trap had gotten there. He had looked all around for it when he found that it wasn’t where he left it, and he definitely had not stepped over it on his way in.
Exasperated, he returned the trap to the cupboard, and limped over to the fridge to get the ingredients for breakfast.
He elected to ask Mavis about it when she returned, but as he opened the fridge he could have sworn he heard a quiet sniggering, followed by further scrabbling behind the walls and under the floorboards.
Albert was watching daytime television with his foot up when Mavis returned around lunchtime. She noticed his swollen toe with the ice pack around it as soon as she entered, and she rushed over to him in his favourite armchair.
“Oh, Alby, what on earth did you do to your foot?” she asked, busying herself about the foot, making sure it was elevated well enough and that the ice was being applied with sufficient pressure.
“I might ask you that question,” Albert replied with a grimace.
“What do you mean, dear?” Mavis asked.
“Did you move that mousetrap I set in the kitchen last night before you went out this morning?”
Mavis looked puzzled. “No, I had to meet Edie at 7.30 and I woke up a bit late so I didn’t have time to make myself any breakfast before I left. I didn’t even set foot in the kitchen this morning.”
Albert looked at his wife, gobsmacked. “But I put it down by the cupboard, and it wasn’t there when I woke up!” he protested. “Are you sure you didn’t move it?”
“Positive, dear. It was late when you got up last night, gone midnight. Perhaps you’re misremembering because you’re tired.”
“But…” Albert began, before trailing off. Perhaps his age was catching up to him.
Mavis went to dump her bags in the kitchen, and as she left the room he heard the same quiet sniggering he had first heard earlier in the kitchen.
That night, Albert had hatched a plan. He waited until Mavis was asleep and sneaked downstairs in to the kitchen. With a little work, and some appropriation of household objects, he managed to create a passable trap that couldn’t be shifted easily, and baited it with a selection of food from the fridge. And then, he waited.
A while later, the scratching began and he realised, upon jerking awake, that he had dozed off in the kitchen chair. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and they began to adjust to the light. Sure enough, there in front of him, a group three of small humanoid creatures were standing around the trap, looking at it suspiciously.
They either hadn’t noticed him or didn’t care, but he stayed perfectly still anyway just in case. He watched as they chattered amongst themselves, gesticulating at his rudimentary trap. They were clearly weighing up the pros and cons of going for the food.
Eventually the three reached an agreement, and appeared to play a game of tiny Rock Paper Scissors. Dejectedly, and cautiously, the one that lost edged forward towards the trap as the other two looked on.
When it reached the device, it gingerly picked up a piece of cheese from the plate, and the large, ancient Tupperware box that was resting gently above it slammed down, trapping the creature inside. Its comrades scattered, chattering away to themselves as they went, and quickly vanished in to the gloom.
Triumphantly, Albert strode over to the box, slid the lid underneath and sealed it almost completely,leaving just enough gap for the little blighter to breathe without escaping.
The creature chattered incessantly and banged on the lid of the box as Albert placed it in one of the higher cupboards, out of the reach of its friends, until the morning. He would show it to Mavis and she would know that he had been telling the truth. He slept easily that night.
The next morning he awoke even earlier than Mavis. Practically marching her downstairs he triumphantly threw open the cupboard which contained the hostage creature. He picked up the Tupperware box and removed the lid. But it was empty.
“But, I swear I caught a real pixie!” he said.
Mavis looked concerned. “I have to go now dear, but we can talk about this when I get back later.”
They never did talk about it.
The pixies became an obsession for Albert. He concocted more and more elaborate ways to trap one as proof of their existence. He even bought a cat. On the first night the cat caught one of the creatures in its jaws. Seeing it was dead, he was certain that would be proof, but the next day the carcass had somehow turned in to that of a mouse.
Mavis became more and more concerned as the days went by, but she knew her husband wasn’t one to make things up, so she stood by him throughout all of his increasingly obtuse plans.
After two weeks of trying to find proof of the pixies’ existence, Albert gave up. He was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and he hadn’t slept for more than an hour at a time in over a week. In the meantime he noticed things start to go missing from the kitchen. Every morning his wife would ask where more of the cutlery, or a pot or pan had gone, and he could not offer an adequate explanation.
On the fifteenth night he broke down, and simply couldn’t take it anymore.
As he sat his nightly vigil in the kitchen, he waited for the scratching to come. Sure enough it wasn’t long before he could hear the noise coming from behind the walls, and the little creatures emerged from the darkness in to the main area of the room.
“Please,” he cried, startling the creatures, who had long since given up paying him any mind. “Please just tell me what you want. My wife thinks I’m crazy, and every attempt I’ve made to prove that you exist has failed. What are you and why are you tormenting me?”
The group of pixies stared at him blankly for a second, before dipping down in to a huddled the customary chattering ensued, until eventually the huddle broke and one of the pixies stepped forward. It beckoned him forth with its tiny arm, and Albert laid down on the floor, so his head was next to the little creature.
“We are from the Land of Air,” it said, in a small voice. “We flew here from our home on a remarkable contraption, but we were harassed by a large bird, and the machine broke. We have been scavenging supplies from your house, that we may repair the flying machine and return to our homeland. But alas, none of us are skilled engineers, and we lack the knowledge to fully implement the repairs.”
Albert felt a huge pang of guilt in his stomach. This whole time he thought hey had been invading his home, and he has tip ride to drive them away, even killing one, and all they wanted to do was return to their own.
“Perhaps,” he said, “I can help.”
“Are you sure?” the spokespixie asked.
“It is the least I can do.”
As the sun rose the next morning Albert saw the pixies fly off in their machine that, using his engineering knowledge,he had helped to fix. He waved them goodbye from the front door as they flew off in to the sunset.
Just as he shut the door Mavis came downstairs. “What have you been doing up all night this time?” she asked, sceptically.
“Just sorting out the mouse problem once and for all,” Albert replied with a smile on his face. “We won’t be having any problems with them anymore.”
Mavis looked at him as if he had gone crackers, which, technically, he had, albeit briefly. After a second her expression grew in to a smile. “If you say so, dear,” she said, planting a big kiss on his cheek. “I’ll bring home sausages for dinner.”