“The Bad Folk (part one)”

This was written today and first published on my steemit blog (check out steemit if you don’t know it, it is a really supportive platform for writers, or at least I’ve found it to be so).

The Bad Folk

 

“Mummy?” Eliot said, tugging at Audrey’s hand.

“Yes, dear?” Audrey, pushing the trolley (which for once was travelling in a straight line) with one hand, holding onto her son with the other, did not look up from the recept she was checking (resting it on the handle of the trolley).

“Is that man sleeping or dead?”

“Hmmmm?” Audrey said, not really hearing the question.

“That man, over there. Is he dead? Or just asleep? It’s a funny place to sleep!” Audrey looked up and followed her son’s pointing finger. She wasn’t sure what she expected to see – her son, like most children, had an imagination that left her speechless, quite often, and what came out of his mouth often featured on the pages of her social media accounts (much to the irritation, she suspected, of her childless friends) – but it certainly wasn’t the body of a man lying on the edge of the wall of the multi-story carpark. Her son was right: he looked either dead, or asleep.

The dilemma of a caring empathetic young mother. Should she show her son that one should always try to help people who need it? Should she approach the man to see if he was alright? But what if he wasn’t? If he was dead, Audrey certainly wouldn’t want her son to be that close to a dead body? And if he was just asleep? Perhaps he would be angry at being woken, and use threatening language… or worse. If he was asleep, at this time in the afternoon, it would be a fairly safe assumption that he was drunk or had taken some kind of drug or another.

She should probably find someone. Call the police, perhaps. Or an ambulance? Audrey rummaged (one handed of course) in her bag, that was balanced on top of the trolley, looking for her phone.

“I think he moved, Mummy!” Eliot tugged again at her hand. “Come on! Let’s go and see if he is okay.”

“I think we should probably call someone, darling.”

“Daddy says, you should never ask someone else to do something you are not prepared to do yourself,” Eliot sung the sentence, as if he had learned it word for word. It certainly sounded like the kind of think Dan would say.

“Yes, well your father… never mind. Okay, we’ll get a bit closer and then we’ll call out to him to see if he needs our help. Not too close! Some people don’t like being woken up. You wouldn’t wake up a grumpy old bear from a sleep, would you?”

Eliot seemed to ponder this for a moment. “I think it depends on the situation,” he said. That sounded like Dan too.

Audrey wheeled the trolley, holding on tightly to her son’s hand up the ramp, closer to where the man was lying on the wall. It was a pretty dangerous place to sleep – if he was asleep – if he rolled over the wrong way he would fall several stories down. If he was lucky enough to avoid killing himself he’d end up with a broken back at the very least.

“Hello?” Audrey called, when she was with hailing distance. The body didn’t move. Eliot tugged at her hand. Audrey moved a little closer. “Excuse me. Are you alright?”

This time there was a definite twitch. The man was alive. That was something.

“I don’t want to bother you, but I-” tug. “- we, just wanted to check you were alright. It doesn’t look like the safest place to sleep.”

The man stretched and sat up. He smiled at Audrey and then at Eliot.

“Hello again,” he said.

“Errr, I don’t think we’ve met,” Audrey said. Eliot was grinning like an idiot at the man. That was odd. He was usually shy with strangers.

“No, we haven’t,” the man said, leaping down from the wall and bouncing over towards them. Audrey gripped hold of Eliot’s hand, pulling him closer to her. She swung the trolley round slightly, to form a small barrier between the man and them. The man reached over the trolley with one hand outstretched, ready for a hand shake. It was to Eliot he offered the hand.

To Audrey’s amazment (and concern) Eliot pulled his hand from hers and took the man’s hand.

“Hello, again!” Eliot said, his voice bright and cheerful. “I didn’t know it was you! I didn’t expect to see you here!”

The man shook Eliot’s hand warmly and then turned to Audrey.

“You must be Eliot’s mother,” he said. “Audrey, isn’t it?”

Audrey nodded, and automatically shook the man’s hand. It was warm and dry, a firm confident shake.

“My name is Gillien,” the man said. “We’ve not met, but I’ve worked with your son, on a number of occations.”

“Worked?” Audrey said, confused. “Oh, do you work at his school?”

“No, no!” the man smiled. It was a pleasent smile, and Audrey couldn’t help but return it. “No, not at all. This is the first time I’ve been in this Realm. I know nothing of these schools. I have had the pleasure of traveling with your son in another world.”

Okay. This was getting weird, now. Audrey’s hand took her son’s again, whilst the other grabbed her phone. Just in case.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. “And I don’t know how you know my son, or my name. But if you don’t go away I’m going to phone the police.”

It was the man’s turn to look confused.

“The police? Who, or what, is the police?”

“He is perfectly safe, mummy,” Eliot said. “He lives in my dreams. He helps me fight the Bad Folk. He protects me.”

“I- what?” Was this some kind of sick joke? Had Dan some how put Eliot and this man up to playing a joke on her? Try to freak her out? To make her look bad? Was she being filmed? Some kind of YouTube sick prank? She looked around, frantically, but couldn’t see anyone else. But of course, cameras could be hidden anywhere these days.

“Look,” the man said, his face, suddenly very serious. “I know this might be a little bit weird for you. But I’ve come to warn you. The Bad Folk have crossed over. They are coming for your son. I am here to protect you.”

“Look,” Audrey said, backing up. Eliot was looking the man, his eyes wide with fear. “I don’t know who put you up to this – Dan, was it? – but it isn’t very funny. You’re freaking my son out. I’m going to leave now. And I’m calling the police now,” she pressed the three numbers quickly. “So I suggest you leave, before they arrive.”

The man shook his head.

“I can’t do that, I’m afraid,” he said.

To be continued…

 

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“Jump!” a short story

I wrote this today (first published on my steemit blog earlier)

“Jump!”

 

The water might have looked inviting if it wasn’t so bloody far away. It was clear, and I could see the sand and the rocks below the surface.

That didn’t help.

I licked my lips, nervously. I wasn’t exactly afraid of heights (if I was I wouldn’t be up here looking down into the ocean below) but I did have a healthy fear of dying. It had served me well up until this point.

“You’ll be alright,” Jim said. “You don’t need to do a fancy dive. Just a jump, straight down, legs together. It’s deeper than it looks.”

That was good. It didn’t look very deep.

“And, everyone does this, do they?” I asked again.

“Yes, I told you. It’s part of the initiation.”

I couldn’t make out the others: they were so far below I could barely see there were people in the boats, let alone make out their faces. I imagined they were looking up at me, a tiny dot standing on the rock that jutted out over the ocean above them. I imagined Clara’s face, laughter lines accentuated as she squinted against the strong sunlight.

What would she think of me if I bottled it? Would she think less of me? Would she think anything at all? I swallowed. Was I really going to go through with this insanity, just to impress a girl? At my age?

Who am I kidding? Of course I was.

I took a deep breath closed my eyes and leaped into the air. I could feel my legs moving, and fought to keep them together, as the air rushed past my face. I hoped my decent didn’t look as undignified as I felt it was. There was an unpleasent noise – a scream. I knew it was me. I tried to turn it into an excited sounding whooop! but – to my ears at least – it sounded like someone torturing a puppy.

And then my legs hit the water. I seemed to be going downward for so long I thought I would never stop. And I realised with all the screaming and falling I’d been doing, I had forgotten to take a breath, before I hit the water. I began to panic, and started flailing. My feet made contact with the sand – just a touch – and then I was moving back towards the surface. By this time my eyes were open, my lungs were aching and I wanted to scream again, but knew as soon as I opened my mouth the water would be pouring down my throat filling my body. The light was getting nearer and I broke the surface with a cry, sucking in air. Around me I heard the others whooping with excitement, and at least one “Nice one, Phil!”. And then I felt hands grasping mine, and I was helped onto one of the boats.

“I can’t believe you did it, man!” someone said – I think it was Frank. “I can’t believe it!”

I smiled, trying to pretend I’d enjoyed the experience. Frank – it was he – passed me an open bottle of beer. I took it and took a gulp. It was warm, but I drank it anyway. Kit and Olly were the others on the boat. I was a little disappointed not to be on the same boat as Clara. Looking around – trying to appear casual, as I sipped my beer – I spotted her. She was on the same boat as bloody Martin. I watched as he said something and Clara laughed, leaning in and touching him on the shoulder as she said something in his ear.

Fucker.

I didn’t like Martin. He was funny – or thought he was – handsome – if you liked that kind of thing – and young. I hated him. He looked over, our eyes met and he waved. I dragged a smile onto my face and raised my bottle at him. Clara didn’t look over.

“Come on,” Olly said. “Let’s get over to the beach. I’m bloody starving!” Olly was always hungry, it seemed. Skinny as an anorexic stick insect, but he ate more than I have ever seen a human being eat.

“Are we not waiting for Jim?” I asked.

“Jim?”

“To jump.”

Olly laughed. Kit looked a bit embarrased.

“What?”

“No one else is stupid enough to do that jump, man!” Frank said, starting the engine. “It has always been a bit of a joke,” he shouted over the noise. “You’re the first. You’re a legend, man! You’ve got balls, especially for an old dude.”

Oh.

Frank took the lead, and the boat skimmed over the waves. I sat back in the boat, toying with the now empty bottle of beer, pulling of the label, trying not to notice Olly and Kit sucking each other’s faces off.

What was I doing? It was one thing to chuck in my job, and go see the world. Why not? My brother’s death – four years younger than me – from a heart attack brought home how random the lottery of life is. If you have a chance to do something – to grab hold of life and give it a shake, before it turns round and chokes you – then do it.

But this…

Joining up with a bunch of kids I could have been old enough to father, and to pretend that they were hanging with me because they thought I had something to bring to the party. To hope they thought I was “cool”. God, I felt like an idiot.

And Clara… did I honestly think she was interested in me? Because she seemed interested in my story? Because she laughed at a couple of jokes.

Oh God. I’d turned into that guy.

I’d been so desperate to impress Clara – and the others, too, but mostly her – that I had fallen (literally, it turns out – into the fucking ocean!) for this story about an initiation into their group. An initiation ceremony for fucks sake. What was I thinking of?

Frank brought the boat right up to the beach. Jim was there – he’d driven down from the cliff top – and clapped me on the back when he saw me, laughing and telling me I was a good man. I smiled, accepted the beer he offered me. I watched Clara, Martin and Frank as they set about organising the barbecue and then assured no one was looking at me, I headed off, up the beach, back towards the campsite.

I turned around, just once. No one seemed to have noticed I’d gone.

 

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“Deception”

This was a story I wrote today in response to the daily picture prompt on Steemit (I’ve been writing something every day for 242 days and counting)

 

“Deception”

 

“You go first,” Saranda touched his shoulder, just gave it a little push. He felt his skin beneath his shirt tingle at her touch. “Go on!” she insisted. Maikel looked out over the bridge. It was a bloody long way to the other side. He looked down. And an even further drop to the valley below.

The light was beginning to fade, the trees – already wearing a thick blanket of mist – were beginning to disappear into the dusk. The bridge was lit by the twinkling light from thousands of Burning Bugs that clung to the sides.

“Is there another way?” of course, he knew the answer.

“If you know the answer why are you wasting my time, with stupid questions?” she said.

He smiled. He still wasn’t sure if he was entirely comfortable with all her abilities but there was a certain thrill about knowing he had to be one hundred percent honest with this woman. It had meant he’d become more honest with himself.

“I’m scared,” Maikel said. “Why don’t you go first?”

She laughed.

“I don’t think so.” She reached out and touched him again. “It will be alright. I know we get across this… it’s just important you lead the way.”

He nodded his head.

“Okay,” he pulled the hood over his head, and started to walk. The bridge was as stable as it looked. That is: not very. It swayed with every step he took and he felt it move again when Saranda joined him. It took them a moment before they got into the swing of it – so to speak – they learned to roll with the motion, if they fought against it they fell against the flimsy feeling guide rope.

They were almost halfway across when Maikel heard it coming. At first he wasn’t certain – the wind was whistling past his hood, and whipped his clothing, creating a noise that was hard to describe. But the second time he heard it he was certain. The sound of thick leather wings beating their way fast, high above them.

“Don’t look, keep going!” Saranda said. She wasn’t shouting, but he could hear her voice clearly, despite his hood, the wind and the pounding of his heart. “Don’t run, either. Concentrate on putting one foot in front of another.”

They’ll burn the bridge, Maikel thought. That’s what I would do. If I wanted to stop us. Take the bridge out, kill the runaways. End of problem.

“They won’t destroy the bridge,” Saranda said. “They need the bridge. They want to intimidate us. They are counting on you making a mistake. They think they’ll scare you into doing something foolish.”

Maikel tried to shut the fear from his mind, and when that failed, tried to dampen it. He kept his eyes straight ahead – he couldn’t look down at his feet, and if he looked up… if he saw them. Well, look what happened the last time.

He could feel wind generated by the massive wings as they came closer. One of them shrieked as it flew by and his nostrils were filled with the creatures stench. It flew along the bridge and for a moment Maikel doubted Saranda: they are going to destroy the bridge.

“Hold on tight!”

Maikel did as Saranda commanded – he usually did – using both hands to grab hold of the rope either side of the bridge, as the great winged serpent skated the length of the bridge and then flapped its wings twice. The shock wave travelled the bridge towards them, rippling the wood. The sound of the clacking of the wood as it bent and beat against itself was deafening, and if Maikel wasn’t holding on for dear life he would have been happy to cover his ears to try to block out the terrible noise. Then as the beast climbed high into the sky it let out a roar and a jet of flame setting the tops of the trees on the far side of the bridge alight.

Where is its companion?

“It’s searching for the others. This one is alone. Keep on going. We have another three minutes before it comes again!”

Still keeping his hands on the rope – it burned the skin on the palms of his hands as he moved them – he ran forward, ignoring the violent swaying of the bridge as best as he could.

He could hear the dragon’s approach, he felt his bowels lurch and he prayed he wouldn’t embarrass himself – or create a slipping hazard for Saranda.

“You’re doing fine.”

He felt her touch – not physical but tangible, nonetheless – a comfortable feeling came over him and he found the strength he had thought had deserted him.

The end of the bridge was in sight now. The solid ground was two hundred paces away.

“Run!” Saranda shouted, and even though he was running already he found the power to increase the pace.

He could hear the wings beating as he threw himself at the ground on the otherside, skidding into the dusty earth, stones grazing his hands and legs, dirt flying into his eyes. He lay still for a moment, blinking the filth from his eyes, spitting it from his mouth. And then he sat up, laughing with relief.

The dragon passed over head, screeching with rage.

Or… perhaps it was victory.

For as Maikel looked around in desperation, at the ground around him, and then at the bridge that still swung back and forth, he could see no sign of Saranda.

He felt a fear overcome him. She said they would be safe. She said they would both make it over the bridge. Maikel let out a wounded cry.

The only woman he’d met he could never manage to deceive had lied to him.

 

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“Fortune Cookie” a short story by Felt.Buzz

This story was first published on my Steemit blog (you can find it here)

“It’s here somewhere,” Graham said, pulling her along by the hand.

“Can’t we just eat in this place?” Marie said, pointing at the nearest restaurant, The Golden Dragon. She looked at her phone. “It’s got good reviews! The crispy pancakes are to die for, apparently.”

“I don’t want to eat at the fucking Golden Dragon, I want to eat at the Rising Sun!” He stopped, turned towards her and looked into her eyes. “Sorry,” he said, looking like he actually meant it for once. “I didn’t mean to swear at you. It’s just it’s significant, isn’t it? It means something. At least it does to me.” A smile. “I want things to be right, just for once. Just for tonight, at least.”

Marie smiled, weakly. She was getting a little tired of Graham’s little mood snaps, as she called them. But Dr Jenkins said it was part of his condition. She had to be more accommodating, he said. She thought she had been pretty bloody accommodating, already, thank you very much!

“I know,” she said. “But perhaps it’s closed down.”

“It hasn’t,” he said, looking around him again. “I passed it a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure I did, I remember…” he stopped. “Anyway…” he said, looking away, over his shoulder. Was he blushing?

“You were in town a couple of weeks ago?” Marie asked. “I don’t remember you mentioning it.”

“Er… no. It was probably longer ago, than that. You’re probably right. I mean,” he laughed, it sounded hollow, false to Marie’s ears. “What kind of restaurant doesn’t have a website these days?” Marie was about to reply, when he grabbed her hand. “There!” he said. “I recognised that sign! I think it’s over there.”

And she was being pulled again. She sighed, although it was one of her internal, silent sighs, that Marie had perfected, recently. Don’t show frustration with him. You must be patient. Easier said than done, Doctor.

Anne said Marie had “the patience of a Saint. If it had been me, I’d have booted him out after that dalience with that woman!” And perhaps she should have done. But after thirty years of marriage, it wasn’t that easy, was it? To throw everything away. To start again. They had married so young. Marie hadn’t been with anyone else. Graham had been her one, her only.

And the affair with the other woman (a fellow lawyer at the firm he’d been working at for seventeen years) had been a result of his illness.

Right?

His depression caused a lack of judgment. He wasn’t thinking straight. Doctor Jenkins seemed to think so, anyway. Although Marie wasn’t sure if things fitted together quite that conveniently. In her mind (and she had replayed the events of the last year in her head over and over and over – particularly at night when sleep escaped her) the depression had come after the affair had ended. After he had confessed.

After Marie had threatened to leave him.

But Dr Jenkins said that was just when the depression had gone through “a different phase”. Anne said that was “just bollocks”.

Or had so at the time.

Graham had taken time off work. And the lawyer he slept with – Jenny Somethingorother – had left the firm now. He was getting better. Dr Jenkins said he’d be ready to return to work soon. And Marie had thought so too. Over the last couple of months, or so, Graham had perked up. Found his mojo. He’d started reading again, showing an interest in current events. He’d even started going out.

Marie thought she had the “old Graham” back. And then a couple of days ago, the return of his mood snaps. He didn’t want to go out. Marie had phoned Dr Jenkins and brought his appointment forward.

Then, this evening, when she returned from work Graham had been waiting for her. Smartly dressed, clean shaven. Even wearing that aftershave she bought him for Christmas, last year.

“Let’s go back to the Rising Sun!” he said. It took Marie a few seconds to place it. It was there, thirty years ago that Graham had proposed to her. It had been unplanned. Silly really. At the end of the meal they had been given a fortune cookie each. Marie had broken her’s open and read it and burst out laughing. It wasn’t the usual fortune cookie message, enigmatic and badly spelled. This one just said “You’ll be happily married for thirty years”.

Graham had asked what she was laughing at, and she passed over the bit of paper, and he looked at it and asked, “Well, why not?”

“Why not what?” she countered.

“Why don’t we get married?”

Not the most romantic proposal, but it was the only one Marie had ever had and she cherished it. She said yes, and he had saved for a ring and then asked her properly two months later. They married the following spring.

Graham explained, in the back of the taxi, on the way to Chinatown, that the fortune cookie had correctly predicted the number of years they were happily married. They needed to go back and to get another cookie, he explained. Marie worried that this was another “phase” of his illness. He had never been superstitious before, and she was worried that he had got this strange idea in his head that a generic message in a stale-tasting confectionery could fix everything.

The restaurant looked as it had thirty years ago. The staff had changed, of course, the man who showed them to their table – the same one as they had sat in thirty years before – probably hadn’t even been born when they had last set foot in there. But the decoration, the smell, and the paint work looked the same.

Graham insisted they have the same meal as they had thirty years ago – although how he could remember, Marie had no idea – so she let him order.

At the end of the meal the fortune cookies were delivered and Marie opened hers, whilst Graham looked on expectantly.

“All good things come to an end,” she read. Graham snatched it from her and read it before throwing it aside.

“No, no,” he said. “Not that one.”

“True friends will never betray you.”

“No!” Graham shouted, whipping the paper from her hand. He stood up, abruptly, the chair crashed to the floor. “I’m going to the toilet, and then I’ll demand to see the manager!” he said.

Perhaps, he had organised something, Marie thought. Arranged for a romantic message to be delivered to her. But they had given her the wrong cookie. As she pondered this, her husband’s phone, vibrated gently on the table beside his half empty water glass. Without thinking Marie reached over and swiped the screen.

“I’m sorry, my love,” the text read. “Forgive me. We are meant to be together.”

Marie read and reread the message, and checked the number three times. It was from Anne. Their best friend.

Her best friend.

Marie stood up and picked up Graham’s chair, tucking it neatly under the table. She found the two crumpled pieces of paper Graham had thrown away. She carefully flattened them out so he could read their message, placed them next to his illuminated phone, and left.

True friends will never betray you. All good things come to an end.

 

 

If you like my writing and want to support me you can:

1. leave a comment (I love comments, and they cost nothing other than a tiny amount of your time!)

2. If you are on Steemit pop over and say hi! (and upvote or share a post or two, if you’ve a mind to)

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Outwitted (a long short story)

Today, I completed my story Outwitted (a 32 part fantasy story of around 32000 words in total). It is the tale of magic, family, betrayal, and murder

You can find all the parts to the story on steemit. Below is part one
Part one: https://steemit.com/fiction/@felt.buzz/outwitted-a-little-bit-of-fiction-for-365daysofwriting-challenge

In cold blue light of the moon the streets appeared to be made of ice. Barefoot, I followed the old man as he made his way slowly through the alleys and passages, trying to avoid the central lowered flagstones where faeces floated in puddles of urine.

The clunk of his clogs, and the tap-tap-tap of his stick echoed around the walls, creating a strangely hypnotic music. He stopped, suddenly. Leaning on his stick for support, he turned and peered into the eerie light behind him. I ducked back into a doorway, trying not to inhale the odd mixture of odours: cabbage, spices and cat piss.

At this time of the evening, it was hard to follow someone without being noticed: this close to the curfew there were few people on the streets. If he spotted me he would lead me away from her, not to her. And no doubt he would lead me into a place where I could be taken, questioned and killed.

I took a breath and peered round the corner. The old man had vanished. I had not heard the percussion of his walk, which meant he must be close.

She must be close.

I crept towards the spot I had last seen the man. Hidden, on the left, was a passageway with steps leading up to a door.

The door was ajar.

Aware this was likely to be a trap, but seeing no other option, I eased the knife from its scabbard, hidden under my cloak and skipped lightly up the steps.

Neither light nor sound trickled from the cracks in the door. Perhaps I should mark this place, somehow. Come back in daylight. But if I was right and she was here, it was unlikely she would remain until I returned with my friends.

The regimented sound of boots on stone echoed up the streets behind me. The City Guards were out, strictly enforcing the curfew with their steel. If I wanted to leave, I should have already done so. My mind made up, I inched towards the door and, taking a deep breath, pushed the door open.

The hinges were well oiled, and did not creak. That both relieved me and worried me in equal measure. Noisy hinges were useful for alerting those who listened for them to the presence of unwanted intruders. Either, she was not here, after all, or they did not care who entered.

Inside it was dark, and very cold. This dwelling would have been carved into the rocks of the city many centuries ago. I stood for a moment, listening, and letting my eyes adjust. I could hear something, I realised. Music. And laughter. Using the walls as a guide I slid along the passage until my hand touched the warmth of wood. Another door. I pressed my ear to the door. It was from within that the music and laughter came. I adjusted the grip on my knife and let my other hand wander over the door until it found the handle. I took a deep breath and turned it and pushed the door open.

The room was lit by lamps flickering oily flames up the walls, and by a fire that sat in the middle of the room, the smoke flowing up a metal tube that led up through the high ceiling above. She sat behind a table laden with food, and jugs of what I assumed was wine. Musicians playing flutes and instruments stringed with animal gut were sat on cushions and rugs beside her. There did not seem to be any guards, or visible weapons.

Perhaps this would be easier than I thought.

The musicians continued to play their music, despite my intrusion. If she was surprised to see me – barefoot, black cloak covering my thin body, knife held out towards her – she did not show it. Her smile widened and she gestured towards the table in front of her.

“You must be hungry,” she said, her voice loud enough to carry through the music. “Come, eat. We have much to talk about.”

I sensed a movement from behind me, and turning I found the old man’s toothless face in mine. With a flick of his staff, he sent my knife spinning from my hand, across the room. She caught it, without seeming to move.

All the while the musicians played on.

I have been outwitted, I realised, as I am led by the old man to her table.

“Eat,” she said, pushing a plate towards me, with my knife. “Drink,” she said, gesturing at a goblet already full of dark red wine. “And then, my dear brother, we will talk.”

Part two: https://steemit.com/fiction/@felt.buzz/outwitted-part-2-a-fictional-tale-for-365daysofwriting-challenge

Nessie (462 words)

“You’re new,” the girl said, looking Maggie up and down. Not a statement, not a question: an accusation. The girl wore a sneer like Maggie’s dad wore his favourite jacket. It was ugly, but a perfect fit. And, just like her dad, this girl wasn’t about to take it off because Maggie didn’t like it.

Maggie considered all the various responses on the sarcastic spectrum, before settling on a neutral, “Yes”. This morning, over breakfast, she’d given Dad her word she would try her very best not to get expelled, not on the first day, anyway. It was a promise she intended to keep. This time.

The girl nodded, and continued to size Maggie up. There was a lot to take in, as Maggie was all too aware. She was tall for her age, and she felt as awkward as she thought she looked. Her size always drew the attention of people with something to prove, bullies and teachers alike. Being self conscious about it never helped: they could smell weakness, they thrived on it. Jenny, her last psychologist, said not to worry about it, she would grow into her body. Whatever the fuck that meant.

“Where you from?”

“Totnes, “ Maggie said.

“You Scottish?”

“Do I sound Scottish?”

“I don’t know. Never met a Scottish, before.”

“You still haven’t. I’m from Devon. Totnes is in Devon.”

“Hey! Anna!” the girl called over Maggie shoulder. “This one’s a Scottish! From that place with the monster.”

Maggie opened her mouth to respond, but another girl – presumably Anna – stuck her head in her face. Bright green sparkling eyes stared into Maggie’s brown ones.

“Looks like they’ve mislaid the monster, to me,” Anna said. “You are fucking huge, Nessie.” There was something in the way she spoke, in her smile, in her general manner, which stopped Maggie from punching her. Despite the words, there didn’t seem to be any malice.

Anna’s smile widened and she stuck her hand out, like her dad did when he was introduced to someone for the first time. “My name’s Anna,” she said. “What brings you down from Scotland, Nessie?”

Maggie found herself duplicating the strange girl’s smile as she shook her hand.

“I’m not Scottish,” she said. “Your friend, here, obviously doesn’t pay attention in her geography lessons. I’m from Totnes. My name is Maggie.”

“Don’t pay no attention to Dips,” Anna said. “She thinks the world ends at the M25. Never been out of London, have you Dips?” Dips shook her head, nearly – but not quite – dislodging the sneer.

“I know Totnes,” Anna continued. “Spent last summer at my cousin’s house, in Paignton. Went to Totnes for a day. Full of hippies and crystal shops. You’re well out of it, Nessie. Come on, I’ll introduce you to the others.”

First Date (273 words)​

They met at the vernissage of an art installation called “Mirrors in Scarlet”. Supposedly “a three dimensional critique on the use of reflection in The Scarlet Letter”, Dave thought it was actually just a load of bollocks. Red lights, scarlet ribbons dancing in currents of air (produced by two large men dressed as Pilgrim women each pumping a pair of massive bellows), mirrors of various sizes, and shitty atmospherique music, did not make what he considered to be art. There were, of course, the requisite number of beard-stroking hipster types, nodding appreciatively, as they quaffed the free champagne. And some dreary bloke (presumably the “artist”) wanking on about imagery, symbolism and other bullshit to a crowd of sycophantic hangers-on.

He watched Diane as she contemplated the scene. He couldn’t read her expression: did she actually like this crap? It had been her who had suggested meeting here for their first date: her friend had given her tickets. Dave hoped her friend wasn’t the dreary bloke or one of his simpering groupies. He really liked Diane: online chats, and the five minutes they had spent chatting outside, had shown she was funny, intelligent and cute. But he was fairly sure he would end up insulting someone if they didn’t leave soon.

Diane mouthed something. Dave raised an eyebrow, not quite sure if he’d understood. She moved close to him, and whispered in his ear.

“Let’s go to the pub,” she said, her breath tickling his lobe. “Before I end up punching one of these arseholes.”

Dave smiled, and they linked arms as they left the room. They were going to get on just fine.