jack london’s three paragraphs

A lie, really, because it isn’t by Jack London, and it isn’t even three paragraphs.  I was looking for inspiration and saw a quote (which London did write).  Immediately, something within me said: flash fiction.  So I got ready to write three strong paragraphs and produced this desperate, clichéd trash*.  It just goes to show that forcing yourself to have an idea, even with all my practice, produces mixed results.

*Author’s appraisal.  Reader experience may vary.

His hunger fed upon what he read, and increased.”

I suppose I should have known by the way his glasses had that opaque kind of shine to them. That’s something that only really happens in comics and films. I know that now. In my defence, I don’t think there was ever any chance for me. From the first moment he opened his little black notebook and began to scribble, that was it.

I saw them all, a whole wall of soft, leather-bound notebooks. When he wasn’t writing them he was reading them. I saw his chair, the upholstery almost worn through but the seat as firm and proud as if the springs were put in that morning. I don’t even know what I was doing there; I just was. I don’t know why I put my hand on that particular notebook but I did.

I should never have begun reading but, when you think about it, how could I not?

Because there was everything in there. Everything since I first looked into those opaque glasses at the park. Everything including breaking into that house and seeing the notebooks. Everything except what I do next.

Even this thought process – these exact lines – it was all in there. But I can see out of the corner of my eye that the writing will stop soon. And then what? Do I have to wait until he comes back and writes more? What happens when he closes the book forever and puts it on his shelf?

I already know the answer: it will be the end of me.  After that I’ll exist only for him. After everyone who ever knew me is dead, there he’ll be, reading the story of me in the same chair, and when he’s sucked every last breath of me from my story I expect he’ll throw the book out.

He’s got plenty more.

Emblem Black (2)

better late than never

I told you I would see you tomorrow, and then you had to wait until the following year to hear from me, and for that I am truly sorry.

I thank you for your patience, and since it is the new year, I’m going to suggest two things:

1. Instead of making a new year’s resolution, why not write a list of things you hope to accomplish?  Resolutions tend to the negative, the restrictive: argue less with my girlfriend; cut back on drinking.  Why not work on making a few of your dreams come true instead?  Argue with your girlfriend somewhere you’ve always dreamed of going, for example. Last year I set myself the challenge of getting a piece published, and damned if I didn’t accomplish it!

2. Read the second half of that piece you started!

Emblem Black (2)

Perhaps he once planned to divorce her, but staying was easier. He doesn’t have to cook or clean or wash his clothes, and she looks up at him with those doleful brown eyes and she’s just so grateful. She stays out of his way so that he can work, and so that their fundamental incompatibility never surfaces.

He’s trying to find the formula for calculating the path of lightning; once he does that, it’s only a matter of time until mankind can control it.

“He’s so close!” says my mother, on the few occasions we speak.

I could tell him he’ll never be able to do it. Lightning only wants one thing, and it twists and writhes until it gets there. The lifespan of a lightning bolt is a constant, desperate, infinitely-complicated struggle. Impossible to calculate.

Humans, now . . . they’re different.

“Why did they have to take my van?” said one gin drinker to me. He’d lost thousands of dollars’ worth of electronics for his business and the strain was ruining his marriage. I could have told him about failsafes: insurance, GPS, and so on; red flashing alarm systems that deter all but the most naïve or reckless criminals. I didn’t, though. I served him his gin and shared his disappointment.

That’s the difference between the path of lightning and the path of a human: humans follow stories. They fall in and they float, waiting for their happy ending, and eventually they look at life – enormous and cold and merciless – and they look at the story they’ve created, and they make a decision.

And it isn’t: ‘I choose life.’

I read a lot of stories. It’s true what they say: there are no new stories left, only rewrites of the classics. Everybody understands that, even if they don’t know it for a fact. I no longer see people coming through my doors. I only see stories, the same stories, repeating forever.

And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I’m in a story, too.

You know the one: the genius who rejects her calling, who follows her own path, who changes the world on her own terms and finally makes peace with her estranged lover/best friend/brother.

Mother.

Except happy endings don’t happen to you. They all said I was a genius, so why did it take me so long to realise? I’m going to soak up the disappointment of everyone at my bar, and one day it will drown me, and a few sad drinkers will come to my funeral; the end.

My mother was always disappointed in me, and maybe she always will be, but there are pages left to be written. Our story is thirty years old, it’s strong, and the strongest stories suck people away like rip tides and bind them to anchors on foreign beaches. I can’t let that happen.

Maybe I still have the chance to be lightning.

Tell me EXACTLY what you think of it below!

find your purpose

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all knew our purpose in life?

What about if your life’s purpose was to find your purpose?

And what if you couldn’t die until you had?

Following a prompt courtesy of Reddit, I’ve just finished the first draft of a story on precisely that theme.  Coming in at just over 6000 words, it’s about the right length for a short story.  Some of it will be uploaded here in the coming weeks – maybe all of it if people want.

But you can’t just release a story out into the world when it’s only in its first draft – that would be tantamount to murder!  You kick your children out of the house once they are mature enough to handle it, not before.  On the other hand . . .

. . . it would be a dreadful post without just a taste of what is to come.  Here’s one of my favourite bits so far:

I have to say, this last century was probably the least fun.

I’m sat right now at a café. Not in Paris, good grief no; this isn’t a film. I’m actually in Warsaw, wrapped in a blanket and sipping a hot chocolate which I am pleased to discover is just as disgusting as the last time I was here. I’m scanning the bodies as they go past, hoping for some spark – anything – but no. My people are all gone now. And this century is just the worst, and it’s only just started, and I’ve done my best but in the end it wasn’t enough.

My name at the moment is Davis, by the way, not that it matters.

I didn’t cross the continents. I regret that. I mean, I’ve been everywhere now, but I really wish I’d been alive back when you could walk from Sydney all the way to Reykjavik. I once met a guy who claimed he had, but he claimed all kinds of stuff. And he’s gone now.

There was a girl, too – there’s always a girl – but that’s not really surprising, given my age. There have been girls, guys, and everything in between.

But the girl is what’s important right now, and not for the reasons you might think.

Find out all about Davis and his long, curious life in the coming weeks!

Emblem Black (2)

still falling

Following on from last week, I present to you – without any sort of nonsense or idle chatter – the second part of my investigation into faith.

If you missed part one, read it first HERE

Emblem Black (2)

To Lilith, the rain that poured from the sky was a mere annoyance. It drenched her to the very bones, sapped her strength away as it flowed out of her trouser cuffs. Before the sun was even in the sky, it had rained. And now, several hours later, it showed no inclination to stop. Lilith had never lost a battle of wills, but it seemed that this particular rainstorm was a seasoned opponent. It wasn’t the worst thing, though.

“What the heck are you doing out in this weather?”

No, not the worst thing by a long shot. This one looked nice enough, at least. But he wanted the same thing as the others. She didn’t break her stride. “I’m fine, thank you. I can manage.”

“But you’re soaked! Why don’t you at least come in and dry off? I’ve got a spare room with a nice, soft bed. You’ll be off again in no time.”

He was short. Shorter than her, in any case, but then most normal people were. She was just a little shy of six feet, like all the other actors, which was a pity. The problem was not her height, but the fact that most male leads these days were chosen for their looks rather than their ability. These days. She would have to stop thinking like that: the theatres were all closed now.

“Thanks, but I really have somewhere to be.”

Hm. Little guy, seems nice, sheltering under a newspaper. Hold on, under a newspaper? How long had he been out in this rain sheltering under a bloody newspaper? Where the hell would you even get a newspaper?

“That’s far enough, miss.”

Ah, yes. Here it comes. Since making the decision to travel to Brinchester alone, and on foot, she had encountered several such people. Lilith was about ninety per cent certain that, if she did as he suggested, she would be imprisoned, drugged, possibly raped, and forced into prostitution. Even in the old days, it wasn’t unheard-of, but since the world had started collapsing, it was more or less commonplace. However, Lilith was not yet ready for such a radical career change.

Acting, she had always thought, was desperate work. Becoming another person for a short while, living as them, rehearsing all hours of the day and night, only to cast off that skin, like every other, and do it all again in a few weeks…and that was if you were lucky. If you were unlucky, the jobs stopped coming, you couldn’t pay the rent, you ended up sleeping with the director or trying for an office job. With zero experience. And a 2:1 in Drama. Good luck.

As desperate as it was, it had been enough. But then, England had begun to fall into the sea and, somewhat understandably, people had stopped going to the theatre. Westminster had tumbled into the Thames, along with most of the leadership of the country, but unfortunately, from there it had gone rather downhill.

Brinchester. That was the whisper on the air. In Brinchester, everything was fine. Running water; electricity; no gangs; a nice, high wall to keep the undesirables out. In a town like that, Lilith could make a living on her feet, just like she had always done.

She didn’t have the influence to board one of the few trains that were still running, so she was walking; had been for a few days. And in every town, there were men like this. The ‘nice, soft bed’ men. And that is why there was a knife in her pocket, another one at her ankle, and pepper spray in her bag.

Making a quick calculation of risk and reward, she decided on the pepper spray this time. She made a show of helpless resignation, locking his eyes with a bit of deer-in-the-headlights mummery as she groped in her bag. A little razzle-dazzle for the poor bastard, just to make sure he didn’t notice–

The bag was wrenched from her fingers. “This one’s got pepper spray, Danny. Pepper spray!”

“Perhaps you should hang on to that, Chapper. That stuff’s dangerous.”

Well, they had her. Lilith could sense an enormous presence behind her, presumably this ‘Chapper’ creature. Meanwhile, Danny – with a face as dark as the skies above – advanced towards her. She still had two knives, but she would have to move before the big guy grabbed her. Risk and reward. She thought quickly, then bolted through the rain, leaving her bag and most of her sleeve in Chapper’s fingers.

Six feet means long legs, good acceleration. She was fit, and she had the element of surprise. Lilith was under no illusions, however. These men were after her. She had hit them where it hurt: right in the ego. Twenty-five seconds to get lost, she estimated. More if she jinked a little through the side-streets, less if Danny was as fast as he looked. A lot less if any of the side-streets were blocked.

How many seconds was it now? She sprinted past disinterested groups of people, lining the streets with nowhere to go and no reason to go there. It was the same in every town. Would it really be different in Brinchester? She didn’t have time to think about that now. She cut down an alley, lungs burning, the rain masking any sound of pursuit. Any second now, the game would be up. A nice part of town, at least. If it had to be, this was as good a place as any.

Feet splashing through puddles. Fingers curling around a knife-handle. A desperate sidestep through a colonnade. Clutching hands.

A heavy, wooden door.

A bewildered-looking man with a backpack.

Collision, stars, darkness.

we all fall down

This week, I’d like to talk about faith.  No, not about Faith, but about the everyday ideas, objects, even people, in which we place our trust.  We trust that, if we have a job today, we’ll have a job tomorrow.  We trust that, if we are love today, we’ll be in love tomorrow.  We aren’t always right – but then again, that’s the nature of faith.  Most of us trust, at least, that the world itself will be there when we wake up.

And if we can’t rely on that, we can’t rely on anything.

Part two is online HERE

Faith

Act I

Jerry was drunk. It wasn’t the standard, weekend drunk – which for Jerry, had long since ceased to be standard – and it was also different from the glow to be had from drinking nice, expensive whisky. No, this was something else entirely. This was game-changing drunk, this was the deep from which some never surfaced, the fathomless murk which made best friends with sleeping pills, or with that old pistol that came from your grandfather that you never got round to throwing away. Squeezing the trigger, half of you might wonder if it still worked, while the other half would hope like hell that it did.

But Jerry was too comfortable for that. A less dynamic man you would be hard-pushed to find. It was not that Jerry couldn’t kill himself, more that he would do it on his own terms. And those terms happened to be sitting on rich leather and drinking everything in his collection, hoping against hope to go in his sleep by some sort of happy accident. Jerry couldn’t hurt a fly; his mother had always said so.

Murderer.

Somewhere in the crystal glassware on the table, his shattered reflection looked back at him, with an accusation he could not deny. It didn’t matter at all that someone else would be doing the deed, the blood that was spilled would be splattered across Jerry’s hands as surely as if he held the knife himself. And there was no way to call it off. There was an email address that bounced back everything he wrote, a phone number that gave two beeps and rang off, and a large sum of money no longer in his safe.

Murderer.

It was drink that had started it, and in drink it would no doubt end. It wasn’t his fault. His friends were gone. Archie had disappeared; no word where. Ron was probably still hanging in his office. His family were no longer at the house. Jerry had checked. Toby, at least, was in the ground; knifed for a couple of hundred and some Wrigley’s spearmint. So much death in the air. It was all around. Those at the top had the furthest to fall.

So paying a man to off the head of a rival company, that bastard who had scuppered the deal with AEG, had seemed the proper thing to do. At least, after three bottles of Merlot with whisky chasers. The phone number had lain in a drawer since the day before Archie disappeared, pushed into Jerry’s hand with a meaningful glare and the words “For when negotiations break down.” Nudge, nudge; wink, wink; goodbye, Archie.

Murderer.

This new world was horrible. Jerry wanted no part of it, certainly didn’t want to end up like the people he saw from his window. The things they did to each other…he had heard things in the night, seen the bloodstains on the street the next day. They couldn’t hurt him, though. Not up in his plush lounge. But as his supplies dwindled, he knew he would eventually have no choice but to die out there, or starve up here; Jerry couldn’t hurt a fly.

I want my mother.

Well that, at least, was a different thought. And yet, why not? When Westminster happened, he had phoned her. Last he heard, she was OK. “We live in Hope.” Always the same joke. But of course, there was no reception on the coast, and the landlines had gone down three weeks ago. She was an old lady. She needed him.

You need her.

Yes, perhaps that was more accurate. He had always needed her. Her love had raised him; her money had put him through university; her contacts had got him a job. Now all he had was a safe full of useless money. And five or six bottles of whisky.

Jerry filled up his glass, and wept.

gorge yourselves

Although it appears I have seriously fallen off the wagon when it comes to regular updates, let me assure you that I am, at the least, gainfully employed in my craft.  The flash fiction trade is keeping me nice and busy, and as a special gift to you, I am giving you the complete and whole story of my shortlisted flash fiction piece: An Ugly Harvest
All questions, comments, and out-and-out abuse gratefully received.

An Ugly Harvest

Bill sits through another eighty-minute commute. Today is Friday, a day usually marked by nothing much – but today, for the first time in seven years, he will go home on time. The flesh-tinged aroma of recycled air barely bothers him; his mind is, for once, in a rosy future where the breeze is sweet and at four pee em on the dot, he will go home.

On time.

The agency receptionist gives him her trademark eastern-European scowl as he punches in. He bites his tongue; now would be a terrible time for over-confidence. Last week he returned her grimace and, as punishment, Perce pitched a flash drive at him at fourteen minutes to four – with a wink and a double-point and a ‘Top priority, Billy!’ Nobody ever calls him Billy. Only Perce.

Of course, it is laughable to think that Perce somehow went downstairs to talk to the receptionist, scoured the departments for buggy code, waited until just before quitting time and then gave it, specifically and personally, to Bill. Laughable. But still . . .

Bill is no writer, but a fixer. He is good at it. And he hates it.

He hates the way the coders never explain anything like they are supposed to; he hates their lack of finesse, the way they just mash line after line together until it runs – on their system, at least. The mammoth, lumbering, convoluted pile unfailingly lands on Bill’s desk before the client can actually use it.

But today . . . today he will go home on time. There are no projects to complete, no reports left to file. He has only to top and tail the week’s work. His thoughts wander to the evening ahead, and his fingertips begin to sweat.

No less than three episodes of his favourite series to watch!

A pizza with meatballs on it!

Meatballs!

And some expensive German beer that you can only get from that international boutique on the edge of town (that is for after dinner, of course. With dinner, there is actual, real, Coca Cola).

And then, as four o’clock approaches, Perce’s disembodied head floats past the office screens towards Bill and tells him that some bad code was sent to him attached to an email, an email that has just pinged back to sender due to a host error, but an email that was nonetheless actually sent yesterday.

Naturally, it is top priority.

He might need to come in on Saturday.

Maybe he could work from home over the weekend.

A big bug.

A salmonella.

And as Bill eats his now-tasteless meatball pizza in front of his laptop, the figures before him slowly spiralling into nonsense, he knows already that he will work on the program all weekend in order to be ready for Monday’s roll-out.

He knows that, even if he watches his series, the spectre of the approaching deadline will watch, clucking its tongue like a disapproving, puritanical nun, until the experience is as bland as his overpriced dinner.

Bill’s news feed auto-scrolls towards infinity. His friends and colleagues live their lives. Each new post twists into his guts like a worm.

Why can’t he just couldn’t close the tab?

But then, he has always known his place. Always. It is he alone who sowed the seeds of his life, and now they are grown, and the fruit is this pizza, on this night, that passes his lips and clogs his arteries, but brings no pleasure.

It is an ugly harvest, but he grew it himself, and it is all he has.

Emblem Black (2)

The website who originally posted this competition is http://needleinthehay.net/

an ugly harvest

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  I’m currently writing for a competition.  Flash fiction!  It’s all the rage at the moment.  Essentially, it means simply writing to a (sometimes ludicrously-)low word count.  This piece currently stands at 677 words, which means the next draft will have to cut a minimum of seventy-seven words.  I am only allowed to reproduce a small section, but I gladly do so for my loyal readers.

A closing section of ‘An Ugly Harvest‘:

Bills news feed auto-scrolled into infinity as his friends and colleagues lived their lives, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to close the tab. As far back as ninth grade, he had known his place. He had never been one to say no. He had sown the seeds of his life, and now they were grown, and the fruit was this pizza, on this night, that passed his lips and clogged his arteries, but had no taste.

Emblem Black (2)