Casual Narrative

Fiction, musings and photography. Maybe even some paintings.


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NYC Midnight FFC – Round 3: The Bear Un-Necessities

This round I landed in what is now known as “the infamous toilet group”. Our prompts, Rom-Com / family restroom / rubber boot. Lord help us all.

 

The Bear Un-necessities

Girl meets boy, meets bear?

 

Erica gave a small sigh of pleasure when she spotted the little cabin that was now a family restroom. It was rustic, but after a weekend of hiking the Colorado Ice Lakes, any working toilet and sink seemed luxurious. The door made no sound as she pushed it inward and headed for the second of the five stalls. Setting her backpack on the floor, she slid the latch. “Hello indoor plumbing! I’m sorry I stink so bad!”

“Hello?” A British sounding male voice called from the next stall.

Cringe! “Hi, stranger who talks to young women in restrooms. How you doing?”

The guy gave a weary sounding laugh, which had a distinctly sexy timbre. “Not great. I don’t mean to alarm you but, are you alone and have you locked the door?”

Warning bells sounded in Erica’s head. Sexy sounding or not, he’s a stranger in a restroom. “I’m hiking with my university lacrosse team.” Ha, that will put him off.

“Thank God. HEY OUT THERE!” he bellowed, “WE NEED HELP. THERE’S A BEAR IN HERE!”

This guy is nuts. “Woah toilet dude, stop yelling. All the bears are hibernating. There is no bear.”

“My name is Nathan, and I’ve been trapped in here for three hours. I can assure you; there is a bear in here with us. HELLO? ASSISTANCE NEEDED! Why aren’t your friends coming?”

Sexy sounding British guy is clearly insane, time for me to leave.

While the toilet lunatic continued to yell for Erica’s imaginary friends, she hefted her pack and slipped out of the cubicle. As Nathan drew a breath for his next round of hollering, she heard a sound behind her. A soft grunting which drew her eyes to the closed outer door. There, behind the very door she had walked through, in all its hairy and clawed glory, was a bear. The fur was deep blue-black and the eyes, two dark pools of sleepy confusion. It huffed at Erica and cuffed the ground with a massive paw.

“Holy fuck!” Erica backpedalled as fast as she could, slammed the cubicle door and latched it. “Toilet dude, there is a fucking bear in here!” How did I miss a bear?

“It’s Nathan,” he grumbled, “and I already told you that.” The bear made curious snuffling noises outside Erica’s cubicle door, and she let out a small hysterical laugh. “What is so funny?” he demanded, starting to sound as disgruntled as the bear.

“Sorry.” Erica stifled her giggles. “I’ve locked myself in a toilet cubicle to save myself from a bear who could eat this door if it felt like it. Oh, and I lied to you about having friends outside.”

“What?! I’m angering this bloody beast by yelling, and there’s no lacrosse team coming?”

“Hey!” snapped Erica. “When an unknown man in a toilet, in the wilderness, asks me if I’m alone, I’m going to lie. Y’know, so I don’t get murdered.”

“I suppose when you put it that way,” there was a scuffling sound from the cubicle next door and a moment later a head appeared over the partition.  Erica felt her insides flip-flop, in a way which had nothing to do with her current bear-related circumstance. Shaggy brown hair, a few days of stubble and deep brown eyes, he was every inch as sexy as the accent and laugh had suggested. He reached down a hand, “Pleasure to meet you…”

She laughed and shook his hand, “Erica.” He smiled at her and she groaned internally, I’m going to be eaten by a bear, in front of the hottest man alive.

“Ok, Erica. How about this bear? It seems to have wandered in here and can’t get back out. I think it’s confused but not too annoyed. It hasn’t tried to eat me. Yet. If we could lure it over to the other side, next to the baby table bit, we could make a run for the door. If Paddington makes it out before the door closes again, he’ll probably just run away, right? Do you have any food in your pack?”

Erica reached down and scrabbled about but came up empty, “There’s nothing left, I’m headed home. What if we throw some things behind it to get it away from the door?”

Nathan thought for a moment. “That might work. Pass me some stuff from your bag.”

Erica delved into her backpack and began handing Nathan her gear. Sleeping bag, flask, tent, raincoat, a pink rubber boot. Whatever she laid her hands on was passed to a precariously balanced Nathan, who in turn lobbed it in the direction of the bear. “It’s mad at us, but it’s moving out of the way,” called Nathan. They both unlocked their cubicle doors. With a final clang from a saucepan Nathan leapt down, bellowing “NOW!” and they sprang from their cubicles, yanked open the outer door and raced over the grass.

Erica glance behind them. The bear had also made it out of the restroom and was now chasing them. Pulling the final item from her pack, the remaining pink boot, she did the only thing she could. She hurled it as hard as she could in the direction of the bear. The boot arched magnificently through the air and smacked the poor beast square in the face. It skidded to a halt, blinking in surprise. Probably not wanting to contend with another item of pink footwear, it gave an annoyed “prrruffff” and ambled towards the treeline.

“Yeah bear, you better run!” yelled Erica.

When she turned, Nathan was staring at her. “I’m impressed. You just welly-wanged a bear!”

Erica shrugged. “No idea what that is, but sure thing toilet dude. Survival of the fittest. Now, I think we need to go back to civilisation. You can buy me a drink for saving your ass.”

Nathan smiled warmly, “It’s a date, on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“Stop calling me toilet dude.”

She smiled, “I’ll see what I can do.”

 


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Only Blue – NYCMidnight FFC 2017 (Round 1)

Three prompts, 1000 words, 48 hours.

Genre: Horror

Location: Dog show

Featured object: Pasta

 

Only Blue

I wake to the rhythmic thudding of an epic hangover. Rasping a thick tongue across chapped lips, I force my groggy eyes to focus. Green carpet and the edge of a grooming table swim into view. I’m in the show ring: the sturdy bench and canine smell are unmistakable. Small dogs with big egos had sat atop tables like this earlier as I cast critical eyes and hands over them to determine who was best. Bichon, Poodle and Papillion in an endless parade of fluffiness.

I do not feel Best in Show. How much wine did I drink?

I’m draped unflatteringly over something on top of the table.

Not my finest hour.

Someone sniffs. It sounds like Nancy, our show secretary. She has a very distinctive sniff; stiff and scratchy like the tweed skirts she wears. We had pasta and wine after the show, apparently too much wine.

Welcome to regret Nancy!

Time to get up.

My brain is suddenly awake.

I can’t move.

I’m bound at the wrists and calves. A metal arch on the table presses against my naked torso, holding me in position on my hands and knees.

I’m naked!

My alertness slips towards panic. I’m defenceless and exposed.

Who did this?

What do they want?

Am I hurt?

Fear pierces me like needles pushing through my skin from the inside. Every atom in my body screams.

Throbbing in my head from the wine, or drug? Pain in my knees from pressing on the hard table. Wrists and legs? The restraints. Nothing else hurts.

I swallow the fear. It settles like a weight in my stomach.

It’s quiet. The people and dogs are gone, and it’s dark except for the lights in the ring. To my left are two more tables like mine. On the nearest is Gerry. Hours earlier I had pinned a blue Best in Show ribbon on his well-pressed shirt. Now he lies next to me, slumped like a flabby and wrinkled baby. Beyond him is Nancy, bereft of tweed.

“Heaaaaahg.” I try to speak but pain bites at my jaw and the sound becomes a useless gargle.

“No, no, no,” admonishes a sing-song voice.

Cynthia?

She steps into view. A platinum blonde perm and a cloud of pink chiffon. Phoebe, her beloved Pekingese, glares at me from her arms. “Whatthefuarrrgghhhhhh!” My brain feels like it will burst into flame.

What is happening?

“Shock collar dearest. Noisy puppies get punished.” Each word punctuated by a manicured nail tapping my nose.

“Right Snuffikins, time to start the show.” The sound of her voice skitters across my skin like cockroaches. She nuzzles Phoebe, allowing the dog’s tiny pink tongue to lick her lips before placing her on the ground. “Lets begin.” Cynthia taps her clipboard. “Eyes? Bright.” Bony fingers grasp my chin. “Strong jaw and nose.” She pinches my ears. “Acceptable.”

She has my judging sheet.

She moves out of sight. My body tenses, pulling inwards trying to avoid her hands on any part of my nakedness. With firm presses from the heel of her hands and a brisk raking of nails, she feels my body anyway. My mouth fills with bile but I can’t scream for fear of the collar.

God, make her stop touching me!

It is silent save for the scratch of pen on paper, Cynthia’s murmured comments and Nancy’s plaintive sniffling. I almost choke to death on my humiliation.

Hands grope my breasts and squeeze my ribs. They pinch the flabbiness of my belly and then my thighs. I struggle but can’t move. There is no escaping her probing fingers as they lightly spread my buttocks. “Pleaseeeeeeggggh.” I start to weep.

Phoebe dances below my table, tongue lolling with joy. I realise that this is all about her losing the blue ribbon to Black Diamond, Gerry’s glorious poodle. I glare at her scrunched little face with hatred. She doesn’t care.

Then the hands are gone and Phoebe is trotting away. I watch Cynthia with her pink ruffles and botox-pout inspect Gerry in the same horrendous way. His eyes remain fixed on a black bundle below his table. Cynthia moves on to Nancy, but now I’m fixated on the bundle too. It shouldn’t matter in the circumstances, but for some sinister reason, it does. I need to know.

What is it?

I finally make out a dainty foot and a curled coat. The body is so broken and mangled I barely recognise it as a dog. Diamond!

“The judging is over!” declares Cynthia. “Third place!” She slaps the yellow ribbon against Gerry’s cheek. The pin pierces him, but he doesn’t move except for the rise and fall of his chest. He isn’t dead, simply indescribably broken. “Can’t win them all.”

Cynthia’s eyes dart between Nancy and me. She plays to the empty room. “Second place!” She skips towards Nancy who tries to shrink away. “You know what they say, red ribbon for the first loser.” Her lip curls as her eyes dart to me, “Isn’t that right dear?” Mania pours from her in waves now, and Phoebe is yapping excitedly. The ribbon draws blood as the pin forces its way into Nancy’s flesh. She can’t help but scream and electricity is her reward.

Cynthia moves toward me, brandishing the coveted blue ribbon. “Best in Show,” her eyes blaze with a fiery hatred.

“You’re going to make this right.” She speaks in a rush, face so close to mine I can see her lipstick stained teeth, “You’re the best, my Phoebe, she deserves the best.” Pain burns through my hand. I scream and lightning claws at my jaw. I watch as Phoebe triumphantly snatches my severed finger from the floor and grunts merrily through each sickening crunch.

“Snuffikins needs more protein in her diet,” Cynthia coos as she begins to wheel my table towards the darkness.


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Sword of Honour

Next round of the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Challenge. Prompts this time round were Genre: Action and Adventure / location: shooting range / Object: Full-length mirror .

Synopsis: An orphaned daughter uses the sword of her father to seek revenge.

 

The candles flickered, their reflections danced on the steel of her blade setting it alight. The breeze caressed her skin and stirred her long dark hair, she closed her eyes and cleared her mind. Her father had taught her to fight with this sword, just as his father taught him. He told the story of how his Sofu had come to America with only the sword and his recipes.

 

Now the bakery and its recipes were gone, and the sword would be the tool of her revenge. Pushing back the sadness that clawed at her heart she stood and blew out the candles. There would be time to mourn later.

 

~*~

 

Knowing that the sword at her back would never make it through the front door unnoticed she climbed the fire escape and entered through a second-floor window. The building had once been a shooting range. When the Yakuza moved into the neighbourhood last year, they turned it into an exclusive club; shot-up silhouettes left to decorate the walls like sinister bunting. The false ceiling had been removed, leaving the gangway on which she now walked hidden by lights and air-conditioning pipes. The gun check was now a bar where a full-length mirror adorned the wall, fronted by expensive bottles of sake lined up like soldiers. Below her, a throng of bodies danced to pulsing music.

 

In the corner, a plush booth sat like a throne from where Billy Yen reigned over his little kingdom. Publicly a fine upstanding businessman and citizen, privately a crime lord and to an unlucky few, a murderer. Handsome and confident he lounged against the crushed velvet, two beautiful women draped on either side like fur coats, laughing at a private joke. She crouched on the gangway and scanned the crowds, picking out five bodyguards. Angry looking men, all conspicuous amongst the revellers, the bulge of automatic weapons showing under their suit jackets. Marking the place of each opponent, she inhaled the smell of sweat and alcohol and stepped off the platform.

 

The crowd gasped and parted as she landed with cat-like grace, knees bent to absorb the impact and one palm to the floor to steady her. Straightening, she met their awe with a glare and drew her blade. They stopped staring and began to run. She headed for Billy Yen.

 

The world around her slowed as instinct and training took over, time experienced in movement and sound. Large hands grasped at her through the screaming crowd as the first member of Billy’s goon squad lunged for her like a fool. Her sword swung high then arced down, severing both his hands. The music stopped and his roar of pain rushed to fill the void, followed by the percussion of gunfire. She pushed on through the thinning crowd.

 

Darting to avoid the second gunman, her petite form nimble and graceful in contrast to his brutish fumbling. A practised slice from navel to nose put him down. She spun like a dancer, sword glittering in the multi-coloured lights before arterial spray from the throat of number three coated her face like war paint. She let her momentum carry her forward to meet number four with a rapier thrust to the gut. Blood flowed across the polished floorboards and she knew he wouldn’t live.

 

Pain seared through her as a bullet tore the cartilage of her right ear, stumbling as a second hit her shoulder. Gritting her teeth she ran at the shooter, weaving to avoid a further hit and finally, ducking beneath his gun hand. She dropped into a slide and kicked him hard in the right knee with both feet. The crunch of bone filled the air as he fell and his gunfire ceased. She shivered with delight and repulsion, rising to pierce his heart with her sword. All five bodyguards were down.

 

Solitary applause echoed in the deserted room as time resumed its normal pace. Billy Yen sat much as he had before, unfazed by the drama. The two women were no longer laughing. Pain radiated through her body, but she stood steady and poised. She looked to the women and offered two words; “Get. Out.” Billy didn’t blink, arrogance blinding him to his imminent death. The women fled.

 

His voice flowed through the silence, soft and lilting, untouched by the gore that surrounded them. “Impressive, perhaps you should work for me rather than…” He gestured to his fallen men, eyes lingering over the one still alive who whimpered as he tried to pick up his hands.

 

“I’d rather eat pig vomit.”

Billy glowered, patience lost. “What do you want, girl?”

She rolled her eyes, arm sweeping to gesture to the carnage. “Surely you’ve caught on?”

He leaned back, unconcerned. “Yes, yes. For my life. What do you want in return for my life?”

“You think you can buy me?” She swallowed the rage that rose within her.

He remained calm. “Everyone wants something,”

“Hayashi Kafu.” The name tumbled from her lips, yet no flicker of recognition showed in Billy’s eyes. Hatred knotted in her stomach. “You don’t even know his name?”

“Understand girl, I am a busy man, and I deal with many people.” His tone was nonchalant.

“He was my father!” She yelled. “Your petty thugs beat him for ‘protection money’, all five of them. Then you murdered him.” A tear betrayed her shattered heart. She dashed it away. “You beheaded him!”

“You seem confused.” His tone mocked her “I’m a businessman. I…”

 

Her father’s katana sang one final time. The look of surprise on Billy Yen’s face would have been comical, but for the macabre fact that it now looked up at her from the table while his body still lounged in its seat.

 

Turning, she paused to wipe the blood from her sword and scoop up the severed hands. She caught sight of herself in the mirror she bowed to her reflection, honour restored.

 


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Waiting for the moment to pass…

Since the NYC Flash Challenge started I’ve had nothing but amazing and fun ideas. It could be the incredible talent of my competitors or maybe it’s the varied prompts in which I find my inspiration. Who knows, but without fail I have come up with the bones of something I’m itching to write about. Surprisingly, my favourite ones have most randomly occurred to me whilst I was washing my face before bed. My muse lives in the bathroom sink.

I want to write them so badly…

But I can’t, because it would be just my luck that the next round of the contest would perfectly fit the most brilliant of my ideas. So we have to wait for the moments to pass us by and work on some longer pieces. Maybe revisit some old ones.

In the meantime, along with my sink dwelling muse, I have picked up a new and permanent friend who will accompany me everywhere I go.

notes.jpg

I think we’ll call her Alice.


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Hunger Pains

My round one submission for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge.

Prompt: Mystery, art museum, butter knife

 

I’d looked forward to lunch all day. Toasted focaccia layered with Spanish ham, a crumbling of goat cheese and dots of chopped peaches. Lastly a sprinkle of rocket and then a drizzle of balsamic-honey glaze. I knew it would be perfect.

Alas, it was gone. A blue handled butter knife, a brown smear of glaze on the blade, the only clue that my glorious creation had ever been here. My stomach gave a mournful rumble.

I was late to lunch today. Tourists had caused a ruckus in the Religious Arts room while I was doing my rounds. I thought about who would have been for lunch, my suspects.

First, there was Susan. 5’5” of the pretty brunette. She specialized in art restoration, and I had been half in love with her for the last two years. She was sweet and always smelled of vanilla, but was she also a thief?

Next, there was Charlie. Nineteen and whip thin, he studied art history and lived with his mom. His summer job was answering questions for the tourists in the Baroque rooms. He was a nice kid, always ready with a joke for me.

Last, there was Norma. She was a plump and quiet woman in her early sixties. She said little but saw everything. She worked in the information booth, surrounded each day by marbled athletic perfection and blank aristocratic stares. Come to think of it, on my way past earlier I heard soft humming coming from the break room. Norma hummed all the time. I headed for the sculptures hall.

I could hear her humming before I rounded the corner. Her plump curves stretched the cotton of her uniform to the very limit, I leaned against her booth and tried to keep the tone light.
“Hi Norma, how’s it going?”
She turned to me with a cool glare. Lips pursed tight she hummed her response in the way only women of her age could “Mmmhmmmm?” Sweat prickled my scalp under her steady glare. The gurgling of my stomach filled the silence. “I didn’t eat your sandwich,” she said.
“What?”
“I saw your little empty container.” She gave a rich chuckle, “Security Dan can’t even protect his own sandwich.” She guffawed, and it echoed around the hall, bouncing off the marble. Norma was not a woman who told even the whitest of lies. She was not my thief. “Saw Susan in there.” She offered.
“Thanks,” I muttered and headed out.

I spotted Susan as I passed Scottish Artists. She flitted around giving instructions in her melodious voice. Seeing me, she stopped and smiled. My heart melted.
“Hi Danny, you coming to guard me?” She turned the wattage up on her smile. My stomach grumbled its reply.
“I was just wondering, have you had a chance to get lunch?”
She pulled a face. “Yep. It was disgusting, but I’m pretty sure I’ve lost weight.”
I remembered, Susan was two weeks into a 30 day cleanse. She had been awful to everyone for the last week and a half. Yesterday she had miserably dipped her knife in hummus and slathered it over a cracker. Without a word of conversation for the whole half hour, she had angrily repeated dip, spread, and munch.
I couldn’t believe sweet Susan was a sandwich thief. “Did you see anyone in the break room?”
She thought for a moment. “Charlie was leaving when I went in.”
“Brilliant, thanks!” I left her with an awkward pat on the arm.

Hurrying along halls lined with pastoral scenes I thought about Charlie. Lunchtimes always made him miserable. His mother made him lunch but everything that woman made smelled like dog food or week old tuna, sometimes both. I imagined being him. Seeing the horror that waited in the fridge and then… my sandwich. Of course he would eat it. My stomach growled agreement.

Footfalls ringing against the hardwood, Charlie turned to see if there were any tidbits on Rubens or Rembrandt that were needed. He started to raise a hand in greeting and then faltered. He knew I was on to him. “Everything alright Mr. Newton?”
“How was lunch, Charlie?” Brow furrowing he struggled for an answer.
“It was fine?”
“Fine?” I crowded towards him. “Your Mom make you something good?”
A flush of red turned his ears scarlet. “Oh god Mr. Newton, please don’t tell her I threw her hotpot away. She’ll be so upset.” He waved his hands uselessly in the air. He had eaten my sandwich, and all he worried about was my telling his mother?
My stomach made the grumble of all grumblings. Then, I heard the answering roil from Charlie. A sad empty gurgle, not the happy rumblings of a digesting tummy. I took a step back. “It wasn’t you. You didn’t eat my sandwich?”
Charlie furrowed his brow even further. “Your sandwich? No, sir. I wouldn’t take another man’s sandwich. That’s just plain wrong!” I nodded my agreement and realisation dawned on Charlie. “You’re hangry Mr. Newton!” he exclaimed.
“Hangry?”
“You know, angry because you’re hungry.”
I laughed. I apologised for my accusations with a handshake and turned to leave. “If you don’t mind me saying, I saw your sandwich. You’d have to forgive a hungry person for eating it. It looked delicious.”
I gave a wave.

Out of suspects, I headed back into the break room with seven minutes left for lunch. Filling a cup with water, my eyes strayed to the knife that bore the traces of the crime committed against me. Charlie’s words came back to me. I saw your sandwich… couldn’t blame a hungry person….
I pulled the top from the bin, wanting to be wrong but knowing what I’d find. Her happy smile, so different to the previous day. Using that butter knife to smear hummus on crackers, the offending food now all heaped in the bin. Susan wasn’t hangry anymore.