Casual Narrative

Fiction, musings and photography. Maybe even some paintings.


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Lucy in the Sky with diamonds

A few weeks ago I took part in the Blank Page Challenge. It’s a new fiction challenge featuring a picture or word prompt which must be used in a story of no more than 2000 words.

My entry didn’t make it yo the top three, but I do love it. It felt like the story told itself to me as I wrote it. It’s being featured today by the lovely Hollie on her blog today.

Please go check it out and let me know what you think.


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Death Smiles for us All

Her skin was as pale as a moonbeam and her hair as black as the deepest part of the night where no such moon could shine. She stood removed from the crowds, her eyes demurely averted, never making eye contact with the theatregoers, but Billy could not tear his gaze from her.

Beautiful ladies might sometimes stand outside theatres, some even alone as this one was, but it was not her beauty that fascinated Billy. He was eight, and not yet sure why women were beautiful. The first thing that struck him as strange about this woman was the great black wings of shining feathers sprouting from her back. You don’t see that every day. The other thing he found strange, no one else was paying the winged lady in black a blind bit of notice. Did her marvelous show costume not impress them? Adults were often beyond his comprehension. They missed the most interesting things because they were always so busy looking in another direction.

His Granma’s wheezing cough averted his attention. He turned to offer her his clean handkerchief. Taking it, she smiled at his good manners, and they walked on into the theatre. Twisting his head to glance back, Billy saw that the lady in black was gone.

~*~

Jimmy Ducks paced upon the gangway with heavy and impatient strides. The stalls below him filled with expectant whispers, the cool air from the open door pushing the scents of popcorn and ladies perfume upwards to mingle with the dry tickle of dust and rigging grease. All of those whispering termites were against him. Muttering to one another of his disgrace.

I heard he was drunk.”

“Let the rigging fall.”

“Nearly killed the poor girl.”

“Such a disgrace.”

“Useless drunkard.”

“Never was any good.”

He could almost hear them saying it down there, but they would be sorry soon enough. People would stop laughing at Jimmy Ducks soon enough.

~*~

The orchestra stuck up a lively tune as 14 Japanese dancers in flowing gowns filled the stage. A dazzling display of beautiful colours and twirling ribbons. They spun across the boards with precision and grace, filling every available space but never colliding. Where one ribbon ended, another lady began. Billy sat back on his balcony. The dancing was ok, but he was waiting for the samurai battle, but that wasn’t until act three.

His eyes wandered and found the lady in black. She occupied the balcony opposite. Half hidden by shadows, she looked at the floor and not at the stage, waiting for her moment.

Billy wondered what part she would play.

~*~

Harker climbed up to the gangway. Man, he hated these stupid things, hated heights too, but they were short-handed, and he was the one walking by at the wrong moment. Didn’t matter that he was doing his own job, it could wait, they said. Scurrying up the last few steps, Harker was surprised to come face to face with a drunken Jimmy Ducks and his loaded 9mm.

“Don’t move Harker. I didn’t come here to be shooting you.”

Hands raised in instant submission, Harker hoped he looked compliant and not moving. “I ain’t lookin’ for no fight, Jimmy. Just come up fixin’ lights.” Jimmy nodded his acceptance but did not lower the gun. “Outta curiosity though pal, who did you come up here to shoot?”

Jimmy appraised him for a second or two, then leaned forward with a conspirators whisper, “Them!”

Taking the cue, Harker leaned in closer to Jimmy and whispered back “Who’s ‘them’?”

“They all think they’re better than old Jimmy,” he patted his chest with his gun hand, causing Harker to wince. “I’m going to show them, all those whispering maggots down there,” he made a sweeping arc with the gun to encompass the packed stalls and stage below. Harker took a breath, prayed, and grabbed the gun.

The shot was deafening.

~*~

The theatre fell eerily silent in the moment after the loud bang, the last notes of the orchestra dwindled away into the hush like a last plaintive cry. In the brief silence before the murmuring began to rise from the crowd, Billy heard the soft grunting of struggle that drew his eyes high above the balcony to the eves of the theatre where he found the two men fighting on the platform.

A second shot rang out, the dome of the theatre amplifying the sound so that it echoed down on the theatre-goers like a physical blow. The bullet went wild, across the stage, and part of the scenery fell away. The murmurs grew in a slight fever as they too began to look for the source of the shots, some dancers fleeing from the stage, others rooted to the spot in confusion.

The two men fought on, oblivious.

Billy scanned to the balcony belonging to the lady in black. Was she watching now? She was not. She was gone.

The third shot struck a member of the audience in the stalls. Terrified screams now filled the echoic room as those around the fallen man moved away in droves. The stage emptied, dancers no longer caring from where or why the shots were coming.

The wounded man in the stalls bellowed with such ferocity that he could not be mistaken for dead. His cries were pain filled and easy to pick out over the higher pitched wails of terror. The aisles were full of finery. Silk, wool and lace, all crushing together like an exotic stampede to escape this room of death.

Billy felt a hand on his shoulder, the sensation pulled him into the moment, and he knew that he and his Granma must get away from this madness, but the hand was not his Granma, it belonged to the lady in black. Cool blue eyes shone from her pale face as stark a contrast as seeing the moon in the bright light of day. She looked down at him and smiled.

Billy heard the final shot and scream of fear. The man with the gun was falling. The man he had fought leaned far over the railing, sweat glistened on his face, arms reaching down to the fallen man as though he may be able to save him still. The gunman was lifeless below, no amount of wishing or longing could undo that now.

A wail cut through the air, above all fear and pain. Grief makes its animalistic sound, refusing to be mistaken for anything but what it is, even to the ears of a boy who has never heard such sorrow before. The lady in black still looked at him. Not the fallen him over whom his Granma keened sorrowfully, but the one who now looked on.

“Time to get out of here Billy,” she said and held out her hand.

“What about Granma?”

“I can’t help her right now, that is a job for the living.”

“Well, what about him?” Billy gestured to the fallen gunman, “shouldn’t you take him too?”

“He isn’t allowed where you go. Something else will come for him.”

Billy took her hand. It was warm despite her pale skin. “Where are we going?”

“Somewhere nice,” she replied.


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It’s a small world

It’s not easy to fit a real story into just two sentences, but my twitter friend and author extraordinaire Rebecca Yelland likes to challenge herself and us other authors to do just that.

Check out the responses to that challenge on her blog, I think they’re impressive, and they were fun and interesting to do.

Challenge one – 3rd February 2018

Challenge two – 3rd March 2018


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Grandad

The noise is constant.

In the hall outside I can hear the rustle of starched uniforms, the squeak of a rubble sole and the endless movement of harried people with too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Inside the room, there is too much time and not enough to do. The four walls echo with the hum of machinery and the dry rasp of laboured breathing.

I feel guilty because my mind is full of the mundane and self-absorbed thoughts rather than me considering the man who lies a few feet away.

I don’t want to be here. 

My foot itches. I wish I could take my shoe off and scratch it. You can’t take your shoes off in here!

I’m starving, should’ve had breakfast. I could really go for a lemon muffin.

Why is the air so dry?

It feels as though the air molecules are dehydrated and trying to regain their moisture from me. My skin feels too tight across my forehead, and an arid tickle has started at the back of my throat.

“Jenny?” His voice is barely a whisper above the crinkle of the sheets as he stirs.

“Hey, Grandad. You ok?”

“Tip top!” He gives a dry chuckle which turns into a cough. I fetch the water from the bedside table and hold it so he can take a sip. He struggles to swallow, and a trickle of water escapes his lips. I put the glass down and blot the side of his face gentle.

“Mom has just taken Nan for a cup of tea. They’ll be back in a minute.”

He pats the bed beside him. “Sit down a sec, Pet. Sit with a tired old man a minute.” I can never resist him. I was Grandad’s Pet from the day I was born, or so they all tell me. I perch on the very edge of the bed and take his hand in mine. Although old, he had always been such a strong, solid-seeming man. Swinging me up onto his shoulders as a child so I could see all of the world. Now, I am careful. His hands feel fragile. Like a bundle of autumn leaves and dried twigs, the slighted pressure could cause them to crumble into dust.

“What’s up with you then?”

He gives me the barest of smiles, as though it takes enormous effort to hold up the corners of his mouth, but exhaustion does not dim the sly twinkle in his eye. “What’s the opposite of coffee?”

I roll my eyes and return his grin. “Dunno, what’s the opposite of coffee?”

“Sneezy!” He replies and a dry cackle escapes him. Laughter fizzes up inside my chest and tumbles out. The joke is terrible, but I laugh because he is so delighted with it. It is so typically Grandad.

“What are you two up to?” Mom and Nan stand in the doorway looking slightly bemused. I look to Grandad, still swallowing down my giggles.

“Nothing at all,” he winks at me. “Alright now, it’s time for you to be getting on, let an old man get some rest and visit with your Nan and Mom.” I pat his hand and slide from the bed. I lean over and kiss him, feeling the hollowness of his cheeks under the wrinkled skin.

“Love you, Grandad.”

“Love you, Pet.”

I closed the door to his room, knowing I probably wouldn’t see him again.


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Porcelain

You stand alone, blinded by darkness. There is no sight and no sound. All you can taste and smell is the tang of your fear. With all other senses rendered useless, you strain against your skin to feel. The blackness pushes back, both trapping you, and making you feel vulnerable as it stretches to infinity on all sides.

Your reward warmth. It slides up your arm, drawing goosebumps in its wake. You should invite it, but it freezes you with its heat. Not welcome a breeze, a snuffling breath.

It moves over your shoulder, brushing against strands of your hair that beg to flee this strange presence. Coldness touches the crease between your neck and collarbone and then pulls back, as though the terrible unknown has tasted you. You fight the urge to break into a blind run.

You need to see it but don’t want to at the same time. Your eyes stain at the edge of their field of vision until finally, they pull your head to the side. You see it, and part of you wishes to return to the unknown blindness. A pale porcelain face with black, gaping holes where eyes should be. In return, the sight of you is tumbling into the endless nothingness of its eyes. More terrifying than it looking at you, is the fact that it shouldn’t be able to, and yet it is. With its head in a coquettish tilt to the side, it considers you from an unfathomable abyss surrounded by the jagged edges of its shattered eye-holes.

Finally, a sound fills the space between you. A sharp cracking that reminds you of breaking glass and bones. The perfect smoothness of the face begins to crack and collapse. The china pieces tumble inwards, spinning into the nothingness contained within the creature. A ragged hole has opened, frozen forever in a silent scream.

It wants to make you scream too. The knowledge is imparted from nowhere but is so certainly true that it infuses every part of your being and each muscle screams at you to move. With your heart hammering terror through you, you turn on your heel and run.

It gives chase, arms outstretched in a twisted parody of longing.

The dark dissolves into peace, of a sort. The dream is gone, and the room comes into focus. Light seeps through the curtains but the terror drums in you still, with the strange feeling that it has followed you into waking.


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The Addiction

This is a reworking of an old piece that needed a bit of love and a new lease on life.

 

The landscape stretched below us. A twinkling world, shrouded in rain. There were so many lives down there under those lights, all filled with joys and sorrows. For so long, I had felt nothing. The cooling bliss that was once a rush of joy had eventually stolen all other emotion from me. I was hollow now.

When they told me my mother had died, I knew that there was a feeling I should have. I reached for it. Rummaging around in the empty landscape of my soul, but I came up empty. Unable to mourn the loss of the feeling, never mind the loss of my mother.

“What the hell are we doing up here? It’s pouring!”

I slanted a look at her. She was still beautiful. Face drawn now with the addiction, eyes duller than the shocking blue they had once been. Her hair hung limp and drab in the pouring rain where once it had been a lustrous mane of golden blonde. She was a beautiful ruin.

“I’m not really sure. I used to come here when I was a kid. It was my happy place, you know?” She knew. She knew everything.

“And?” She drew the simple word out, perhaps trying to sound like she didn’t care. I could tell that she did.

“I liked to watch the lights,” I continued. “Imagining all of those lives being lived down there beneath them.”

“Lives?” She laughed then. It was almost her old laugh, but it held the tinny sound of emptiness. “That’s not real! You’ve tasted real living. All of that mundane Suzy Homemaker bollocks is a descent into madness baby, and there is only one thing that lifts you up.” She placed the syringe in my hand. It felt so light, almost weightless, but I knew it held a whole world trapped inside that clear plastic. “That right there is the candy-coated topping, it’ll take all your pain away.”

I looked at her. She talked like a camp movie villain, but the way her eyes suddenly came to life for the syringe was magnetic. They sparkled with anticipation and passion as she spoke of it. If love was real, then surely there was none greater than hers. Throwing her arms wide and turning her face to the rain she spoke with rapture in her voice, “It’s the only way to fly!”

I felt sick, “but I don’t want to fly. I only want to feel.” The words slipped out meekly, but it didn’t matter. The venom I hadn’t intended to show was still there. The accusation of thievery that I had never voiced outright but had felt for some time. She heard it too. Head snapping down to face me with ice in her eyes she mocked me.

“I want to feel,” she mimicked. Her eyes were walls of blue stone as she drew back her hand and slapped my face. “Can you feel that?” Hell yes I could. The stinging imprint of each finger caressed my cheek, “Bitch.” She drew back again and slapped the other cheek. I didn’t even try to stop her.

“You want to leave me is that it? I gave you meaning! I gave you everything when your family turned their backs on you. They threw you out in the street, but I stayed with you. I gave you bliss, and you want to leave me?” She was spitting the words at me, and the burn of the truth in them held more hurt that her fists ever could.

“I don’t know!” I cried, “Maybe?”

She now looked as though I had been the one to slap her. Mouth agape as the rainwater poured into it and then twisting in anger. Suddenly she was not quite so beautiful. “You ungrateful whore! You’re blaming me because they turned their backs on you at the graveside? They turned their backs on you and you now turn your back on me, is that it? They didn’t want you baby, but we do.” She gestured to the needle still cradled in my palm, pleading now, “me and the bliss, we want you baby. We need you.”

It glowed warmly there in the haze of the headlights, heaven wrapped in plastic. Begging to be slipped under the skin and take the hurt of the world away. It would heal me.

I knew better now. Comfort was tempting, but also temporary. Each high was shorter than the last, demanding more cc’s from the needle to fill the emptiness that consumed me when the warm fuzz turned back into a cold dark ache.

Heaven and hell wrapped in plastic and holding me hostage.

I watched my fingers unfold as though from afar. The syringe hung there for a moment, balanced on the tips of my fingers as though I alone could be the scales of justice. In the end, it tumbled to the tarmac, bouncing and then lying still. I stared at it for a moment, my reflection a strange halo in the puddle in which it lay, and then I crushed it under the heel of my boot.

She had watched the whole melodrama, eyes riveted to me, feeding on my pain like an emotional leech and then dropping silently to her knees when I made my decision. It was not the ending she had expected.

“How could you?” She moaned, hands scrabbled uselessly at the broken remnants of our life. “You’ve lost your mind.”

I was towering over her. Steady and yet shaking, unsure yet resolute. “I don’t need it anymore,” my voice faltered. I could do this. I had made my decision. “I don’t need you,” turning, I walked to my car.

“Don’t leave me.” She whimpered, “You can’t do this, can’t abandon me.” I glanced back at her. A sad figure huddled on the ground. I felt such pity that she was so broken, but I knew I had to save myself.

“I can’t stay,” I explained patiently. “You’re killing me.”

I got into the car and her voice followed me there. “Please,” she begged. I couldn’t. There was no going back now. No giving in. I chose to live and shut the door.

My throat was raw from shouting. My face stinging from the blows it had taken, hands still tingling from delivering them. I drove back down into the lights and I left my addiction on the bluff.