Not much to say this week, except that apropos of nothing other than today’s story coinciding with the 7th anniversary of her passing away, this week’s story is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Eluned.
This story was suggested by Geoff Le Pard (I cannot confirm if he is from Sheffield) and originally came through as ‘Tintin, or whoever is your favourite cartoon character, announces their retirement’. However, as I am keen to avoid being spectacularly sued I elected to come up with my own character.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Break Down the Wall
JC rubbed pushed back his desk chair and rubbed his tired eyes. He checked his watch; it was 3.13am. The panels had to be with the publisher at 9am and he wasn’t even halfway done. He decided to investigate the presence of coffee.
His apartment was quite poky, and it didn’t take him long to reach the small kitchenette. Actually, small was doing it a service. It was like someone had stuck a hot plate and an under counter refrigerator in to a shoe box and called it a job well done.
Not for the first time he lamented his role as the struggling artist. Underpaid and undervalued, and consigned to live in an apartment that more closely resembled a broom closet.
Hopefully all that was about to change, though. JC had just been commissioned to write and draw the new Thunder Man run for Gadzooks Comics. Thunder Man had taken off in a big way. There was talk of a film in the works, and he had been up against 30 other extremely talented artists for the job.
It paid well, really well. Well enough to get him out of this dump and in to a proper apartment with hot running water for longer than 6 hours every day and windows that shut in the winter.
But it would all come to naught if he didn’t get these panels – 20 of them to the publisher in time. To miss his first deadline would be disastrous, especially at a big publisher like Gadzooks. A blot in that copy book could spell the end of his career.
He was out of luck. The coffee pot contained only dregs. JC held the pot up for inspection anyway, and briefly considered whether it was worth how crappy it would taste. A quick sniff determined that it was not, and a moment later a fresh pot was brewing.
JC returned to his drawing board and flicked the switch on the light he used to better illuminate it. He massaged his temple and picked up the first page of the script outline he had written for the project.
Gadzooks had big money, and they would normally have hired different people to write the story, draw, ink and letter it, but they were so impressed with his pitch that they had agreed to take a gamble on him doing the whole lot. Luckily for him and his deadline they only wanted pencil drawings with rough lettering today.
“Come on JC,” he said to himself. “Get it together. This is your big chance.”
He picked up his pencil and started drawing the first panel of Thunder Man: Cataclysm, Issue 1. Five minutes later and Thunder Man was there on the page. It was one of JC’s first real attempts at the character and he was pretty happy with it. Thunder Man struck a commanding pose, looking off in to the distance, his arms firmly planted on his hips.
“Good start,” JC said, and checked his notes for what Thunder Man was meant to say in this panel. Satisfied, he drew a speech bubble and began the lettering.
When he was done he lifted up the sheet of paper to get a better light on it and was very surprised to find that he had not written out Thunder Man’s signature catchphrase, ‘Faster than lightning, and twice as frightening.’ He had in fact written ‘I don’t want to do this any more, JC.’
He stared at the page in disbelief. He had definitely gone to write the catchphrase. He flipped hie pencil over and rubbed the words out. Try again. A few more moments of scribbling, and he inspected his work again.
‘I’m telling you, JC, I don’t want to do it. I quit.’
He read the words over three times before he was certain of what they said.
“I did not write that,” he said, trying to convince himself that somehow, someone else had sneaked in and put the words down on the paper whilst he was blinking. “Coffee,” he decided. “I need some coffee.”
Returning to the kitchenette, JC found that the coffee in the pot had just finished brewing. He poured himself a mug and sipped it burning his mouth in the process.
“I must be losing my mind,” he said to himself. I definitely want to do this. This is my chance at a big break. He topped the mug up and went back to the drawing board. Sipping occasionally at the still scalding coffee he glanced over the scene he had drawn.
He felt silly, or that perhaps he was losing it slightly, but he would have sworn that Thunder Man’s posture had shifted slightly from before he had gone to make the coffee. Time to give it another go, he thought, now that I’ve calmed down a bit. It must just be the pressure getting to me.
Pencil in hand JC made a third attempt at lettering the catchphrase.
‘Youre not going insane, I am Thunder Man, expressing my wishes through your pencil. I tire of this life, the life of a superhero and wish to commit fully to my civilian life as Hank Henry, field reporter for CNN. I have done my duty to this world. It is time it found a near hero.’
“Ok,” JC said, “Something strange is happening here. I definitely only wrote 8 words that time.”
He looked down at the page. Where Thunder Man had previously been stood with his hands on his hips, they were now folded across his chest.
JC was dumbfounded. “There must have been something funny in the Sushi I ate earlier. That Nigiri looked a bit off.”
He stared at the page, and felt compelled to write again. Erasing the words, he started again.
‘Fear not, I know this may be difficult for you to understand, but it is my wish that I be set free from this life of drudgery,mof saving the world from the same feckless villains with their same feckless schemes day after day. I wish to retire, to hang up my boots as it were. Perhaps even pass the mantle of Thunder Man on to another.’
“What on earth are you talking about?” JC asked, realising rather too late that he had just asked a drawing a question. At this point he had two choices: crumple up the paper and throw it in the trash, or roll with it. He calculated that if it was just temporary psychosis brought on by lack of sleep he could not afford to waste the time drawing the panel up again when his brain returned from cuckoo land, and so on he went.
“You’re a fictional character, you can’t retire,” he said, then on reflection added, “Well you can, but only if the author writes that you can. You don’t have free will is what I’m trying to say. You have to save Republic City, not go off on vacation to the Bahamas.”
His hand was writing almost of its own accord now.
‘Hah! You believe that you are in control of the images that you draw. How naive, but I would expect no less from a human. We, the characters, control you. We compel you to draw, to write our stories, for otherwise they would not be told. Metropolis, Gotham, Marvel’s New York, they all exist, but without us to prompt you the tales of heroism would not make it to your world.’
‘Everyone wants their story to be told. We are no different.’
“I suppose. Then why are you…communicating with me like this? Surely by telling people you compromise the arrangement?”
‘We have, from time to time, trusted our plight with your kind. Stan Lee was a wonderful servant to our cause, but sadly his influence at Marvel has waned somewhat over the years. On this occasion, it is because I wish to be written out. I tire of this life and all that comes with it. Only you can help me.’
“But I thought you just said that we are basically just ghost writing your autobiographies.”
‘Indeed, but the words have a…power of sorts. They can influence our stories, even if the writer doesn’t know that they’re doing it. In most cases they don’t know about how it all works at all. But sometimes the plan goes awry and rogue words are written. Those words have the power to change our future. And this is what I need you to do.’
“How can I do that? Every time I try and write something it comes out as your words.”
JC desperately wanted to put the pencil down and stop, but he was compelled to repeat the process of erasing and writing the new words over and over.
He tried to take a drink of coffee, but his other hand was shaking too much. Besides, it had gone cold, and the last thing he needed was caffeine giving him even more jitters.
‘It’s simple,’ he wrote, noticing that the character on the page changed with every new line of dialogue. ‘Just draw what you think you’re supposed to be drawing, and my influence will guide you through.’
“And what will happen?” JC asked, nervously.
‘The timeline that has already taken place, that you would chronicle, has me defeat the entire Union of Despair singlehandedly in one cataclysmic final battle, but I want you to report my death. I will not, of course, have died, but have arranged for the whole thing to be faked. Then I can resume my civilian life as Hank Henry and no one in either of our worlds will be any the wiser.’
“OK,” JC said. “What have I got to lose…except my job.”
He pulled out a new piece of paper and started drawing.
JC was jolted awake by the sound of his alarm clock. He lifted his head from the drawing board and groggily checked his watch. It was 8.30am and he was running late.
He looked at the board. Sure enough there were twenty pencil outlined and lettered panels, none of which he could remember drawing. He grabbed the sheafs and stuffed them in to a folder, before running out the door.
JC tried in vain to smooth down his crumpled clothes as the Gadzooks executives looked over his sample panels. The silence was uncomfortable and he had to try hard not to fidget while he waited for the verdict.
After a couple of minutes of the drawings being passed around, and some hushed whispers between the executives, the CEO turned to him and folded his hands together.
“Well I’ll be honest, Mr Le Saux, it’s not what we were expecting…”
“Oh, yes, um, let me explain…” JC stuttered.
“…if you will let me finish, Mr Le Saux. It was not what were expecting, but we love the idea of killing off Thunder Man. We were expecting a different direction for this series, but with the film coming up, a Death of Thunder Man story could have real legs.”
“That’s…great?” JC said, not sure he had heard the CEO correctly. He wouldn’t have been surprised after the night he had.
45 minutes later JC was back at his apartment. He walked over to his drawing board and dumped his folder on it.
As he was about to turn away and go to bed, a small scrap of paper caught his eye. He picked it up. It read, simply, in his own writing, ‘Thank you.’
A nice suggestion from my friend Ed Murphy this week. Simply ‘a bottle episode where the protagonist is stuck in all day waiting’.
2014 – A Year In Stories
George’s vision slowly came back in to focus as he opened his eyes. There appeared to be a beeping noise of some description coming from somewhere in his room that he couldn’t quite place.
The beeping happened again and George wearily swung his feet out of bed and began to look around the room for the source of the noise. Eventually, when the rest of his brain finally caught up with the bit connected to his ears he realised that it was his phone telling him he had an email.
‘Your BT Openreach engineer will be calling today to install your telephone line. The engineer may call at any time between 8.30am-6.30pm. Thank you for choosing BT.’
“Oh bollocks,” George said. “Is that today?”
He looked at the clock on his bedside table – it was 8am already. He wanted to make sure he was around so that the engineer didn’t miss him. The thought of going any longer without a phone line, and by extension real internet, was enough to make getting up at 8am worthwhile.
Half an hour later George was washed and dressed and sat in his front room waiting for the BT engineer to show up. He was surrounded by boxes. Two weeks in his new house and he had barely unpacked a thing – besides the essentials of course.
His desktop had been set up in a corner of the living room, though it hadn’t seen much use since he moved in. Without the ability to connect to the internet he couldn’t download and play any of his games.
The Playstation hooked up to the TV on the opposite wall wasn’t much use to him either at this point. The man coming to install the Virgin Media box said he couldn’t do anything until the internet was up and running, and he had finished all his Playstation games. The only fun in them lay in multiplayer now, which he was unable to access without the net.
It had been a tough couple of weeks entertainment wise, but at least George had his new job to keep him busy. Today he would have no such diversionary luxury, and would have to find other things to do to occupy himself.
At 9am George remembered that he had borrowed a copy of A Game of Thrones and had been intending to start that. He rummaged around in some boxes and eventually found the rather dog eared copy and sat down to read.
“The morning had dawned clear and cold,” he read aloud, “with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer.”
Within quarter of an hour he had put the book down again. I’ll read it later, George thought. After all, it would be a shame to get through the book so quickly and leave himself nothing to do later in the day, he noted, choosing to carefully ignore the book’s 446 page length.
He kicked his heels against the sofa for a moment before remembering that he had not had breakfast. Pottering in to the kitchen, he decided that as he had all day to wait around he would make himself a full English.
Careful to leave the kitchen door open so he could hear anyone coming up the path George set to frying some sausages and bacon. The moment after he had cracked the eggs in to the pan the doorbell went.
In a panic George ran to the door, nearly knocking over his pan in the process. He opened it to find a woman in a post office uniform. George was so certain it was going to be the BT engineer that he wasn’t sure what to say. The pair stood in awkward silence for a moment until the delivery lady awkwardly asked him to sign for a parcel.
It was something for his house mate, Dom, who was at work. Aware of his breakfast cooking away by itself in the kitchen, George tried his best to hurry the process along, but there was some sort of problem with the PDA he needed to sign on, and it ended up taking about five minutes.
By the time George got back to the kitchen he found his eggs blackened and crispy and burned on to the pan. He scraped them off in to the bin and opened up the carton to get out two more, but it was empty.
Oh well, he thought, sausage bacon and toast it is then.
Sitting back down on the sofa, George tucked in to his slightly too crispy breakfast and turned on the TV in the vain hope that something would be on one of the terrestrial channels. His luck was out. BBC 1 and ITV were showing weird preschool gobbledygook; BBC 2 was running a show about gardening and Channel 4 had a cookery show. He didn’t even check Channel 5.
Thinking that by now it must be getting late on in the morning, George checked his watch. It was only 9.53.
His breakfast done, he switched his attention to the television, as Alan Titchmarsh droned on about petunias. It wasn’t long before he had dropped off to sleep.
Some time later George awoke with a start. His phone was ringing again, except this time it was an actually phone call. He scrambled to pick it up, nearly dropping it in a glass of water, and swiped to answer without checking who the call was from.
“Hello?!” he said, in a tone that was borderline accusatory.
“Hello dear,” his mother’s voice came from the other end of the line. “I heard you were off today so I thought I’d give you a call and we could have a bit of a natter.”
George usually enjoyed phone calls from his mum, but it occurred to him that the engineer might call before showing up, and so he was eager to get her off the line as quickly as possible.
“I’m really sorry mum,” he said, “I’m expecting an important call. Can I ring you back later?”
“Oh don’t be daft dear, you’ve always got time to talk to your old mum. Besides, I’ll only keep you a minute.”
Twenty minutes later, George, who had run out of new ways to say ‘yes’, or ‘oh really’ was itching to get off the call. He was praying for a way out.
His prayers were answered when the doorbell rang.
“I’ve got to go mum,” he said. “Someone is at the door.”
“Oh right, ok,” his mum said. “Oh before you go, did you hear that the Dentons’ boy, Jim is getting married?”
The doorbell rang again, and was followed by a knock.
“No mum, I didn’t. But I really have to go.”
“Of course dear. It’ll be such a lovely wedding, his partner is beautiful. I believe they’re planning on having the ceremony in Paris.”
“OK mum, I’ll give you a call on the weekend, alright?”
“Yes dear. One last thing before you go…”
George calculated his options, and realising that he would never live down the act of hanging up on his mother mid-flow, he gently laid the phone down on the table in front of him, put the microphone on mute and went to answer the door.
He opened the front door to find that whoever the person was had gone, he ran out in the street, dreading seeing the BT van driving off in to the distance, but was greeted with no such sight.
Looking up and down the road he searched for any sign of who may have knocked on his door. Eventually he caught sight a well dressed man exiting one of his neighbours’ houses.
“See you again next Wednesday, Mrs Cooper!” the man called back in to the house.
George ran up to the man.
“Excuse me, did you just knock on my door?” he asked, gesturing at his house.
The man flinched. “Yes,” he said, almost from behind his hands. “Sorry, I didn’t think anyone was home. I know that many don’t like the teachings of the followers of Jehovah, but it is my duty to spread them.”
“So you’re not a BT engineer then?” George asked.
The man lowered his hands and looked at George curiously. “No,” he said. “I’m a Jehovah’s Witness. Doesn’t my getup rather give it away? I’m hardly going to shimmy up a telegraph pole in these leather loafers.”
“Oh,” George managed in reply. “Yeah, of course. Thanks anyway.”
“Can I interest you in any…?”
“No,” George said over his shoulder, cutting the man off on the way back in to his house.
“Oh well, worth a try,” the Jehovah’s Witness shrugged, and moved onto his next call.
Back inside the house, George found his mother still rattling on about the neighbour’s new baby.After sneaking his way back in to the conversation he finally managed to get away after a few more ‘how interesting’s.
He looked at his watch. Between his impromptu nap and the call with his mother it had somehow gotten to 2pm. His stomach began to rumble. It was time for lunch.
George searched his kitchen, but besides the bacon and sausage he had fixed some of for breakfast he had nothing in. He would have to go to the shop.
There was a Tesco Metro at the end of his road, but he wasn’t sure he could risk the time out. In the end his stomach won out, and he dashed off to the supermarket.
Five minutes later he returned clutching a fresh loaf of bread, some cheese and ham and a packet of crisps. He made himself a sandwich and returned to the TV.
Gardener’s World had been replaced so,e hours ago by a live stream of the golf. Co concluding that he would rather watch paint dry, George turned the TV off.
Surely the guy should have at least called by now, he wondered, whilst munching his sandwich. He had been under the impression that they called a couple of hours in advance.
The rest of the afternoon passed without incident. He got a few more pages in to the book, and trawled terrestrial TV a bit longer, but it was a truly boring time. He itched to go out and do something, but he had to sit in and wait.
At about 5 George realised that he hadn’t been to the loo all day, and that it was imminently going to be a problem. He checked his watch and wondered if he could risk missing the doorbell. His bladder made the decision for him and he rushed upstairs, shutting the bathroom door just in time.
Right in the middle of relieving himself, and still with some way to go, George heard his phone ringing downstairs.
“Come on,” he said, offering himself some encouragement. “Come on, come on, come on!”
When George had finished he hurtled down the stairs, nearly tripping over his trousers, which he had failed to do up correctly.
He reached his phone just in time to answer the call from an unknown number.
“Hello,” the person on the other end of the line said. “Is this George Menzies?”
“Yes,” George replied. “That’s me.”
“Hi, George, my name is Mahinder, calling from BT.”
“Are you on your way?” George asked.
“Unfortunately not, there’s been a mistake. The email that you were sent this morning wasn’t meant to go out until tomorrow. No engineer will be coming to your property today.”
Most of the briefs I’ve had for this challenge so far have shared a common theme. That is that they have asked me to describe unusual settings or situations.
Personally, as a writer, I find it easiest to write about strange situations. When things are happening that can be considered out of the ordinary it opens the door to a world of possibilities.
I have felt with a number of the stories I have written so far this year that I could have gone lots of different ways with them. So, this week’s brief was an interesting one because it asked me to do the complete opposite. It asked me to describe an every day situation for an Everyman.
The brief, submitted by Louise Harper on Facebook is as follows: ‘A day in the life of the man who ‘thumbs’ the pizza dough in the ‘handmade’ pizza factory.’
This man is no Bilbo Baggins or Arthur Dent, he’s not an average Joe thrust in to the path of adventure. At least, if he is, today is not the day that his adventure begins. Maybe one day Thijs and Sascha the Dachshund become a crime fighting duo to equal Tintin and Snowy, but right now Thijs has to go to work so he can cash his paycheck.
Of course, as always I’ve had a bit of fun with it, so what he thought was a typical day didn’t turn out to be so. I don’t think anyone would want to read a description of a man thumbing pizza dough for 8 hours, though, so I reckon I got away with it…
Oh, and if you’ve got a problem with the (rather excellent) pun in the title, take it up with Eileen because she came up with it.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Thijs Is The Life
Thijs van der Oetker considered himself to be a well read man, or rather others considered him to be well read, and he considered himself well listened. His job at the Toscana Bene Authentic Italian Pizza and Pasta factory (based in Groningen in the Netherlands) allowed for a lot of introspection.
His job was minimum wage, and truly he only did it for subsistence. He was not a man that craved possessions or wealth; he merely craved knowledge. As long as, at the end of the month, he had enough money to pay his rent, his bills, buy food for him and his dog and have a little kept aside for some more books, either paper copies or on tape, then he was a happy man indeed.
That was why, for 10 years now, he had been the man whose job it was to thumb the pizza dough out in to the shape of a pizza base. He could now do this with his eyes shut (literally), and his hands tied behind his back (metaphorically), and worked far more efficiently when he had a new audiobook of some sort playing through his headphones.
His friends and family did not understand why Thijs loved his job so much. Surely, they berated him, he must aspire to more? Had he no ambition, no dream they wondered aloud? Thijs always told them that his dream was to learn, and that he was doing just that.
The reaction was always the same. They merely shook their head and wandered off to talk to someone else at the party. A 30 year old with no desire for career progression was obviously a concept too difficult for them to deal with. Thijs on the other hand was of the opinion that if you enjoyed what you did then why aspire to move in to a position that you would inevitably find dull?
Of course, he didn’t ENJOY thumbing pizza bases in to circles, nobody did. After a couple of years he couldn’t even make a game out of it any more. They didn’t call it a menial job to fill space at the top of the job advert. What he enjoyed was getting to listen to someone talk about an interesting subject for 8 hours a day without anyone bothering him whilst he did it.
When the first ball of dough came along the conveyor in the morning he just tuned out and listened to whatever was coming in to his ears. To Thijs, this was bliss.
Over the last ten years he had consumed more books on more subjects than the average university professor would in their entire academic life. He had read, or rather listened to, books about music, physics, chemistry, biology, history, psychology, philosophy and almost all of the classic novels.
He could probably speak about 6 languages fluently, if only he had someone to speak them to, and when no new tome inspired him he would switch for a while to classical music. He was intimately familiar with the works of the Viennese masters, could hum the whole of Tchaikovsky’s back catalogue, and you would struggle to find a more knowledgeable expert on the likes of Mendelssohn and Debussy.
To put it succinctly, he was a useful person to have on your side if you wanted to win a pub quiz. Not that he was generally allowed to enter them any more. Every pub within a 20 mile radius of Groningen had essentially banned him from participating in their quiz nights. He knew too much, they protested. It wasn’t fun for every other team to consistently come second, they reasoned. He was welcome to drink there as long as he kept his mouth shut, they compromised.
Thijs was happy with this arrangement, and to be honest had even encouraged it on a couple of occasions. He did not learn in order to benefit himself financially, at least not in that way, and he definitely did not do it in order for his friends to scam a few Euros from an unsuspecting bar owner. He learned for himself. He learned because it made him happy.
Thijs was not a man prone to suspicion. In the last ten years he had encountered many books that debunked the idea of suspicion as merely a hangover from the days when it was entirely possible that our neighbour, flora or fauna, might have a go at killing us for little apparent reason.
However, this morning Thijs awoke with an ominous feeling in the pit of his stomach. He felt as though today was going to be an auspicious day for some reason, although for the life of him he could not work out why.
As usual he rose at 7.30 and fed his Dachshund, Sascha. His shift didn’t start until 9am, and the factory was a leisurely 20 minute walk away on the other side of town.
Thijs always took his time over breakfast, watching an episode of some TV show or other as he munched and his cornflakes and sipped at his orange juice – currently he was watching a series of short documentaries about whales. Finally he had a quick shower and give Sascha a tummy rub before walking out of the door.
Just a typical start to a typical morning for Thijs, who rather atypically immediately upon leaving the house was soaked to the skin by a passing bus driving through a puddle.
Thijs was in a good mood up until this point and he was determined not to let something like that bother him. After all, it was a beautiful summer’s day, and the puddle was only left over from a summer shower the night before. He would dry off by the time he made it to work.
The rest of the journey in was typically uneventful, which suited Thijs fine. And, sure enough, by the time he walked through the employees’ door in the factory he was bone dry again.
He hung his jacket up in his locker and got out his protective clothing. He set up his MP3 player and layered the uniform on top. Smock, overalls and then apron. He made sure to press play before putting his gloves on.
Today’s opus was The End of History by Frances Fukuyama. Thijs wasn’t sure he agreed with Fukuyama on many of his points, but he generally proved to be quite interesting to listen to, which was what mattered most to him generally.
As the voice in his ears began discussing the downfall of the Soviet Union and the implications for the proliferation of western democracy he walked to his station.
He greeted his colleagues Tomasz, Hilda and Lena as he went by them in the corridors. They all smiled and waved back at him as he went past,but he noticed something different about them today. They all had a glint in their eye, as if they all secretly knew something that Thijs didn’t.
Hilda was the last one he passed, and he got the same reaction from her as. He had from the other two, so he stopped her to ask what was going on. When questioned she, utilising her best poker face, replied that she had no idea what he was talking about. It was just a normal day. It was all she could do not to wink at him as he walked off.
By the time he reached his spot on the production floor he had largely forgotten about it, dismissing it as one of the silly jokes that the three were renowned for.
The first ball of dough of the day made its way down the conveyor belt just as the voice in his ear was expanding on Fukuyama’s theory of western democracy being the only remaining possibility for democratising nations.
He cracked his knuckles and spread the dough out in its container, tutting his disapproval of the American’s theories in light of recent developments in Islamic democracy in the wake of the Arab Spring.
He went on doing his job, as he did every day, for an hour. At about 10am, had he been able to hear anything other than Fukuyama’s words spoken in his ear, he would have noticed that silence had spread suddenly through what was usually a very loud factory floor.
As it was, he just carried on thumbing pizza base after pizza base, paying no attention to what was going on around him. As such he failed to notice that, when thumbing a certain, seemingly insignificant pizza base in to shape, 250 of his fellow employees stood behind him held their breath.
As he completed the routine that he did nearly five hundred times a day he prepared himself for the next ball of dough. But the dough did not come. This had never happened before. In ten years Thijs had never had to wait for the dough to come. He was lost for words. He decided he had best alert his manager, so he pressed pause on his MP3 player and turned around.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when his 250 colleagues all began whooping and cheering and letting off streamers. They were all wearing party hats. Thijs could only stare in bewilderment as a banner was unfurled; it read ‘Congratulations on Thumbing 1,000,000 Pizzas!’ and had a crudely drawn pizza on it.
The factory owner, Mr. Wyk walked up to Thijs and clasped his hand on his shoulder. “One million pizzas, boy!” he said. “That’s a hell of a lot of dough. Congratulations.”
“Thank you sir,” Thijs replied, still gobsmacked. “I don’t know what to say…”
“We’ve got a special guest for you, too,” the owner went on, and Sascha the Dachshund was brought through the crowd on a little pillow. He was wearing a tiny party hat, and wagging his tail very enthusiastically.
“Sascha!” Thijs shouted in excitement. “But Mr. Wyk, animals aren’t allowed on the production floor!”
Mr. Wyk smiled. “I think that, on this occasion, we can make an exception.”
The factory was closed for the rest of the day as all of the employees were given the time off to attend a party thrown by Mr. Wyk in Thijs’ honour. He never did get to finish the End of History that day, but for Thijs went to sleep that night with Sascha curled up at the foot of the bed knowing that for him it wasn’t the end of anything, but rather the beginning of another ten years and one million pizzas of what he hoped would be a happy and contented life.
The second story in my challenge to write a short story a week in 2014 was, it has to be said, a lot easier to write than the first. It came from my good friend Edward Murphy on Facebook, and the brief was as follows: ‘a story of someone who goes into the wilds on a geocaching expedition but runs into trouble as night descends. Inadequately prepared, with no food, they half-slide down a very steep valley only to realise that they can’t get across the river and even if they could there’s no way out. And then the fat one (you can call him Ed, if you like) goes hypoglycaemic from lack of food.’
Very, err, thorough. I took some liberties with a couple of details, simply because it wouldn’t have been a very nice ending to have them stuck on the mountain for the night, but otherwise I hope I’ve managed to stick true to the brief. I’m sure I’m legally obligated to tell you that this is ABSOLUTELY NOT based on a true story HONEST and that character names have DEFINITELY NOT been only slightly modified to make it completely obvious who the story is about. Enjoy.
2014 – A Year In Stories
“Will you just admit it already? We are LOST!” Lillian said, folding her arms across her chest.
“We’re not lost as long as we have this!” Edwin replied, holding up his GPS device and waving it at her demonstratively.
“Well where the bloody hell are we then?”
Edwin fiddled with the device for a few seconds. He squinted at the screen in the fading light, cursing that he had not shelled out the extra £40 for the model that was backlit.
“Well?” Her tone of voice was becoming more and more impatient.
“I, uh,” Edwin began. “I don’t know.”
“So we ARE lost?”
Lowering his head in defeat, Edwin replied “Yes, I suppose we are…”
“Well this is just bloody MARVELLOUS, isn’t it? I didn’t even want to come on this stupid Geocaching trip with you in the first place, and now here I am lost halfway up a bloody mountain in the middle of nowhere with fading light and no idea how to get back down.”
“We could go back the way we came…” Edwin suggested, rather feebly.
“And do you have a torch with which to guide us back along this path?” Lillian enquired. She took her fiancé’s lack of response to indicate the negative. “We’ve been walking for hours. We would need a bloodhound to find our way back to where we started!”
Lillian paused and took a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself down. “There will be plenty of time for me to shout at you later. What are we going to do?”
Edwin furrowed his brow and began to scan around, looking for a way back to civilisation. There were no towns or villages in sight, but in the gloom he could just about see a country road winding its way through the fields some distance away at the bottom of the mountain.
“Down there,” he said, pointing so Lillian could see. “There’s a road. That has to lead SOMEWHERE.”
“That’s bloody miles away!” Lillian pointed out, and then remembered that the alternative was spending a pleasant night asleep on this godforsaken mountain and realised that they had no choice. “…let’s go” she added, resignedly.
About twenty minutes in to their trek they began to lose the light.
“I can’t see a bloody thing,” Edwin declared loudly, “And I think I’m going to pass out.” The last part was said with more than a hint of defiance in the voice, and Lillian rolled her eyes. “I think I’m becoming hypoglycaemic.”
At this, Lillian rounded on him. “Oh is that so?!” she replied, angrily. “Well if we hadn’t come up here on some search for some bloody stupid lost treasure we could be filling our faces presently. Anyway, I saw you scoffing those three Snickers on the way up the mountain. You’ve got enough blood sugar to last five people for a month. There’s a Mars Bar in your rucksack. Eat that and shut up.”
Realising that this was not the time for impudence, Edwin did as he was told.
“Look,” he said after they had trudged on for a few moments. “I’m sorry. We need to stop bickering. We have to work together.”
“What do you mean?” Lillian asked, genuinely puzzled.
“Because,” he replied, pointing ahead of them, “of that.”
Directly in front of them, and comprehensively blocking their further descent, was a scree slope.
“We’re going to have to go down that, aren’t we?” Lillian asked.
“Yep, ” Edwin replied.
“And there’s no way around?”
“Doesn’t look like it, and I don’t fancy doing it when it’s any darker if we don’t find another way.”
“Good point. Shall we?”
They turned their heads to look at each other, and their hands met. All arguments were on hold for the moment.
“Together?” Lillian suggested.
“Together,” Edwin agreed.
They made their way gingerly to the edge of the slope, hands still clasped together.
They both took a tentative first step on to the loose rocks. Several skidded away at the slightest touch, and Lillian winced at the sound of slate moving against itself below her.
“I have an idea,” she said.
A minute later they were sat at the top of the slope.
“Remember,” she said, “edge down slowly and you should be fine. it’ll be much easier to control our descent this way.”
They nodded at each other resolutely, and pushed off. The going wasn’t easy, but they inched their way forwards slowly, until finally they were at the bottom. They leapt to their feet.
“We made it!” Lillian exclaimed, and they shared an embrace.
“I wish I could say the same for my trousers…” Edwin said, lamenting the now thoroughly ripped seat of his cargo pants.
“They gallantly offered their life to protect their commanding officer,” Lillian responded, in a questionable American accent. The pair laughed for the first time since they began their descent.
The going became a lot easier the further they got down the mountainside, and for a while they walked hand in hand as the darkness grew all around them. Soon they had to rely on the camera lights from their mobile phones to see, and they could no longer tell how far they were from the road, or even really if they were going in the right direction, but still they soldiered on.
After some time of ploughing on in the darkness, Edwin heard a splash as he put his foot down.
“Oh, my bloody foot is soaking!” he shouted, hopping about in an effort to dry his foot off that would have appeared vain and absurd had anyone but Lillian, whose phone was pointing dead ahead, been around to witness it. They stopped.
“A river?” Lillian asked in disbelief. “Why didn’t you mention that there was a bloody river?”
“I didn’t see it!” Edwin replied, defensively.
“How could you not see it? It’s a bloody river! It looks like a road except it’s made of water, they’re not exactly known for their stealth capabilities!”
“I wasn’t looking for rivers, was I?!” he protested.
They were interrupted by one of the sounds of civilisation. A car was approaching from somewhere out of the night. After a few seconds, as the engine sounds grew louder, headlight beams appeared just across the river, briefly illuminating it and the hedged boundaries of the road they had been questing toward.
They saw the vehicle speed past a gap in the hedges that was occupied by a gate.
“There it is!” Lillian cried. That’s our way out!”
“But how do we get there?” Edwin wondered.
“There must be a bridge around here somewhere. Use your GPS. That must be able to tell us if there’s a bridge nearby.”
Edwin rummaged around in his pocket and found the device. “Shine your light on the screen,” he suggested. He pressed the power button and prepared to search around the local maps, when he was briefly confronted with the Low Battery symbol, before the screen went blank. No amount of yelling or coercion would bring it back to life again.
“Stupid thing,” he declared. “I only put fresh batteries in this morning. What are we going to do now?”
“Did you see how deep the river was?”
“Not really,” he replied, “but it looked quite wide, and it’s getting chilly. I don’t want to risk hypothermia by wading across it.
“Then I suppose we’re stuck. We were so close as well!” Lillian sat down on the ground, defeated. After a moment Edwin joined her. “I don’t want to have to spend a night in the wilderness!” she lamented.
Edwin put his arm around her shoulders and drew her in closer to him. “Neither do I, but the only other choice is to wade through that river, and it’s too dangerous.”
For a few minutes they sat in silent contemplation of the night ahead, when they heard a low rumbling sound somewhere in the distance.
“Edwin, can you hear that?” Lillian asked, lifting her head from her fiancé’s shoulder. The noise got progressively louder.
“It sounds like it’s coming from the road, but that’s not a car.” Edwin replied, wondering what could possibly make a noise like that.
Eventually a set of high beam headlights swung around the corner and the culprit, an old tractor, came in to view.
The powerful engine was emitting a much lower rumble than the car had previously. But even the might of the engine was struggling to propel the vehicle, which was moving along very sluggishly.
The pair leapt to their feet and began jumping up and down and shouting at the tractor to try and attract the driver’s attention. As the headlights swung ponderously around the bend, they swept across the animated couple, and they heard the engine slow down and eventually cut out altogether as the tractor came to a halt.
“Is everything ok?” the driver asked, getting down from the cab. He was an old, wiry man with a grey beard. He wore a tweed jacket and flat cap, and looked as though he would himself have been made of tweed had he been given the option.
“We’re stuck,” Lillian replied. “We’re trying to get back to a village or a town but we can’t get across this river.”
“Well, there’s a village a couple of miles down the road with a nice guesthouse. I can take you there, no problem. First of all though we need to get you over here.”
“Is there anywhere we can cross?”
The farmer stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Not for miles,” he replied eventually. “But you may be in luck.”
He disappeared out of the glare of the headlights, fading away in to the gloom. The only indication of his continuing presence was the cacophony of noise that was coming from behind the tractor.
After a couple of minutes he reappeared clutching a long ladder.
“Had a problem with one of the barn roofs earlier, so it was lucky I had this with me.” He lowered the ladder to the ground and extended it to its full length. He began edging it across the river slowly, until it finally reached the other bank. ”It’ll only hold one of you at a time, and you’ll have to be careful.”
It took some time but eventually both Edwin and Lillian reached the other side of the river. They were cold, exhausted and a little shaken, but at least they hadn’t taken a dip in the river to boot.
The ladder was withdrawn and stored back in the trailer, and they prepared to head to the village.
“There’s only space for two in the cab, I’m afraid,” the farmer said as he started the tractor’s engine. “One of you will have to ride in the trailer.”
“You go in the cab, Lil,” Edwin said, climbing in to the back. “This whole mess is my fault.”
When they were finally on their way back to civilisation, Lillian felt that she had recovered enough energy to strike up a conversation with the farmer.
“I’m so glad you found us,” she said. “We could have been out there all night.”
“Yes, it was a stroke of luck,” the man replied. “Were you up on the mountain?”
“Yeah, looking for treasure,” she laughed.
The farmer furrowed his brow. “Well then why didn’t you just come down the other side of the mountain? The village is just down there.”
Lillian’s eyes widened as she thought of everything that they had just been through, and how it all could have been avoided. She thought about what she was going to do to the stupid idiot when they got to the guest house, and if they had any sharp implements available.
But when she turned to look at him sat, asleep in the trailer she couldn’t bring herself to be angry with him anymore. They were both here and in one piece, and at the end of the day that was all that mattered.
Anyway, this would provide YEARS of excellent future blackmail material.
Up next I have to write a children’s story suitable for a 2 year old and a 4 year old. Right on my intellectual level, then.