The Crumpled Note (729 words)

Looking back on that brief summer in France, I can’t help but think how different my life could have been. Regrets are such wretched companions: they nag me, laugh at me and bully me.

I remember the picnic with Peter (how could I ever forget it?), by the tree stump, on the small oak-shaded hill overlooking the vineyards. Insects buzzing around us, and birds of prey swooping down on unsuspecting rodents in the fields around us, we were the only two people in the world that day. Or, at least, that’s how it felt to me.

I had always loved Peter. He had been a dear, dear friend for many years. He could always make me laugh, even when I was in “one of my moods”, in my darkest of days, at university. It wasn’t just the way he spoke, but the way he used his eyes, in the expressions on his face.

It was that day, by the tree stump that I realised that my love for Peter went past that of mere friendship. I didn’t just love Peter: I was in love with him.

I often ask myself what my life would be like now if I had just said it. Right there in the moment, when he was passing me the brie, or later when he used a napkin to mop up up wine, spilt on my shirt.

By this time, the day of the picnic, I had already spent two whole weeks with Peter. If I had realised my feelings for him before that last afternoon, would I have had the courage to tell him?

That night, whilst he slept in the room next to mine, I wrote him a note. A love note for heaven’s sake! Young as I was I was no brooding adolescent. It was short and to the point. I decided I would give it to him at the station, ask him to read it when I was on the train. I remember that I had a ridiculous little fantasy that he would quickly devour its contents and run after the train, like the hero in a romantic black and white film. I would lean out of the window and we would kiss….

We said our goodbyes. Not on the platform: my silly fantasy was dashed upon the cobblestoned pavement outside the station. We hugged and told each other how much we had enjoyed our brief time together, and that we shouldn’t leave it so long next time, and we must do it again soon. Really, we must.

All the time I felt awkward, nervous. Thinking of the note in my pocket.

And then it was time to leave and I stuck my hand in my pocket and searched for the note. I thought it must have fallen out, but no there it was at the very bottom. I took hold of it and…

…and then I ran for my train. The note remained crumpled in my hand, in my pocket.
At first I told myself I would forward the note on. Or rather rewrite it, make my feelings clearer, and on a rather less tatty bit of paper.

But the weeks went on, and I did not write. The crumpled note found its way into a drawer in my writing desk.

Peter wrote to me at Christmas, and after that we exchanged letters. It was before the time of skype, of course, before the time of emails. Communication was slower, more formal.

Some thirty years have sailed past me. The river of my life seems to flow faster and faster. Peter got married. I did not, of course, but I had my fair share of adventures. I received the invitation to Peter’s wedding, But things were difficult for me, at that time, and I didn’t go. We lost touch, after that. My fault, I suppose.

And then a few weeks ago I had a friend request from Peter. His wife died five years ago, cancer he said. He has a couple of children, grown up now. He doesn’t see them as much as he’d like, he said. He still lives in France, he invited me out there. He even suggested we go back to the oak-shaded hill with the tree stump for a picnic.

I still have the crumpled note. Perhaps this time I will give it to him.

 

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You can listen to the author read this story on SoundCloud

This Wretched Boy (641 words)

This story was written as a response to this photo

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Bang! Bang! Bang!

The floor shook with each impact. The table, and chairs heaped upon the trap door moved. But it was enough to prevent him getting in. For now, at least.

Geppetto held on to the axe, more for comfort than protection.

A sudden thought: although the trapdoor was made of metal, the furniture was wood! The virus could infect it through the gaps in the trapdoor. Geppetto looked desperately around the small cellar. An old cheese (past its best), a wheel from a bicycle, a hammer and a collection of old newspapers. There was nothing he could use to protect himself.

He would be torn apart, the virus would escape the house, the carnage would spread. Collodi, his beloved village, would be destroyed! And after that? Who would be able to stop it?

He could see the furniture was beginning to move. Was it independently of the force of the hammering from below?

Geppetto gripped his axe, ready to attack.

To think that the thing he had created with love was reduced to this. The virus, spread by the rare woodworm, Anobium Zombium, had eaten away at his creation’s very being, turning a loving (if not often mischievous) boy into a murderous brain-eating creature.

The woodworm virus had definitely invaded the furniture: the table began to walk towards Geppetto. He raised his axe and quickly hacked at the legs. It fell to the floor. The chairs moved more quickly, Geppetto swung his axe, splintering the first chair, but the second one launched itself at him, hitting him full in the face with one of its legs. Geppetto fell backwards. His axe fell and skittered across the floor. Something in his pocket dug into his leg as he hit the ground.The chair was upon him trying to jam one of its legs into Geppetto’s mouth. He reached out, his hand made contact with the hammer and he swung it at the chair. The chair fell off him. It was not damaged, but Geppetto had time to reach the axe. He turned as the chair came at him, splitting it in two with a single blow. The splintered wood writhed like two halves of a slaughtered worm.

He reached down and rubbed his leg. He felt in his pocket for the thing that had hurt him as he landed. His precious tinderbox. Perhaps there was hope!

The trapdoor had swung open now. Geppetto worked quickly gathering the still twitching wood, and the newspaper.

An arm came through the trapdoor, and then the other. And then it – no, Geppetto corrected himself – HE appeared.

Pinocchio – or at least what was left of him – hauled himself into the cellar. His eyes, once beautiful and blue, were now black pits. Any soul, the poor boy once had, had been long destroyed by the woodworm. His once beautiful face was ravaged by rot, decay and mould.

Pinocchio opened his mouth and a sound came out, if it was words, Geppetto could not understand it. His arms outstretched, an inhuman grin on his face, he took a shuffling step towards Geppetto.

Geppetto muttered a prayer and struck the flint. The newspaper caught quickly and with it the twitching wood from the chairs and table. Geppetto ignored the tortured sounds that seem to come from the wood and dashed to the other side of the cellar. The metal hatch made a crash as it covered the only exit.

Pinocchio lurched away from the fire, now building in intensity, his arms still raised up as if searching for something in the dark. There was an inhuman scream, Geppetto knew not if it was anger, fear or hunger but it broke his heart.

Tears in his eyes, Geppetto opened his arms and took a step towards Pinocchio.

He would have one final hug from his boy.

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It is Time (266 words)

According to The Clock on the sacred tree in the heart of the Sombre Forest it was ten minutes past Blue Tit.

Time to move. Time to fight.

Matt re-checked his supply of arrows, and the tension in his bow, trying not to look at Allenia. She was busy organising the ForestFolk, moving quickly but reassuringly amongst the small group of newly made warriors. Her easy way and positivity motivated the others, until a few weeks ago more suited to foraging for fruit and nuts, rather than battle. She gave them confidence and strength.

She gave them hope.

The Forest had endured weeks of attacks. The OtherKind had demonstrated no mercy in their slaughter of the ForestFolk, and the destruction of the trees. They had been forced back into the heart of the forest, and this little band, pathetic as it was, was all that was left of a once large, happy and peaceful species.

Allenia her axe held in her hand, her long knife hanging at her side. She carried no arrows: her fighting style was better suited to up close work.
It was Matt’s task to clear the way for her to get close enough to the King of the OtherKind. He would not fail her.

Not this time.

He felt her hand on his shoulder and felt his heart swell with love. With pride.
He looked up at Allenia, her mossy hair was pulled back allowing him to look deep into her eyes.

The fear had left him now.

“It’s time,” she said. “Are you ready, Father?”

Matt found that he was.

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This story was inspired by this photo: http://matthias-hauser.artistwebsites.com/featured/strange-find-in-the-forest-orange-clock-hanging-on-tree-matthias-hauser.html

One beach of a trip (621 words)


“So, you seriously expect me to believe that this overgrown cheese grater will actually work?”

“It’s not a cheese grater: it’s a teleportation system. And please don’t touch that!”

“It looks like a cheese grater.”

“Well it’s not, Freddie. I’ve spent two years building it, I’ve tested it: it works! Don’t press that! Can’t you read the signs?”

“No offense, Sam but you seriously expect me to believe you have built a teleportation device funded through Kickstarter?”

“I have. Not only that I’ve tested it. I transported myself to the park, at the end of the road. No ill effects. Once you get over the temporary excruciating agony, of course. You can go wherever you want, almost instantaneously. Get in, select a destination, press the button and before you know it you are there. Please put that down, Freddie, you are going to break it!”

“I still say it looks like a cheese grater.”

“Stop calling it that. You’re undervaluing my work.”

“OK, so let’s say I believe you: you have created a teleportation device, that happens to bear more than a passing resemblance to an implement from a giant’s kitchen. How do I know you won’t teleport me right into the walls of a building, or a rock, or the middle of space?”

“I make use of the latest GPS technology: it’s completely safe.”

“Hell, Sam! My TomTom can’t even get me to the supermarket without taking me up a one way street!”

“I’ve been given access to the Government GPS system. It’s foolproof”
“Oh, well that’s set my mind at ease! The Government are renowned for never making mistakes! If the Government says it’s foolproof…”

“Sarcasm, doesn’t suit you, Freddie. Come on, get in and I’ll show you how it works.”

“Ok, Sam. Send me to Bondi Beach, Australia.”

“Why so far? What’s wrong with the park at the end of the road?”

“I can walk to the park at the end of the road, Sam! I walk through it everyday, for godsake! I want to go somewhere I can’t get to without spending a fortune and 24 hours in a ‘plane. You know I hate flying!”

“OK, Freddie: get in and press the button.”

“Don’t I need to strip off?”

“No, Freddie: you can keep your clothes on. You can even take your mobile phone. Objects can be transported if they are in contact with the transported person. Get in, and press the button.”

“This one, here? OK. Here it goes, Sam. I hope you know what you’re doing…oh my… that huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurts!!!…….”

…..
…..
….(phone rings)

“Eh, hello?”

“Freddie, is that you?”

“Yes, Sam. It’s me.”

“It worked, didn’t it Freddie! You’re there, you’re standing on Bondi Beach!”

“Yes, Sam. It worked. It hurt like hell: it did actually feel like my body was being pushed through a cheese grater. But it was over quickly and now I’m standing on one of the most famous beaches in the world. However I’d forgotten that July is winter in Australia and it’s the middle of the frigging night here. It’s cold, it’s dark and I want to come home. Give me a few minutes to recover and you can bring me back.”

“I can’t bring you back, Freddie.”

“What do you mean you can’t bring me back?”

“ I only have one teleportation device and it’s right here, not in Australia. You’ll have to fly back.”

“I haven’t got any money. I haven’t got my passport, Sam!”

“Not my problem, Freddy. You could have walked back from the park at the end of the road.”

The gift from the sea

“I used to come here, everyday, when I was.a kid, this beach was my playroom. I spent hours clambering over the rocks searching the rock pools for crabs. One day (I was ten, or eleven, I think) I saw something sparkle in the water. Just over there… You see the gull ? Well just to the right of him there’s a a big rock. It was right there. I clambered over the pepples slippery with seaweed, I fell over twice in my haste to get there, grazed my left knee although Ididn’t notice until much later. At first I couldn’t see what had caught my eye. I almost gave up. And then the sun came out from behind a cloud, and I saw it, twinkling in the rockpool. It was jammed in between two stones, andit took me 10 mimutes to dig it free. It was a ring. I ran back up to the house, desperate to show my mother. When she saw what I held in my hand, she simply burst into tears. I didn’t know what I had done. When she eventually spoke, she told me she had lost her engagement ring, here on this beach, a couple of months after I was born. She told me her and Dad searched for it for hours, but it had gone. A gift for the sea, she said. That the sea had chosen to return it – to give it to me – was a very special sign, she said. She said I should keep it. She said I should give it to the person that means the most to me. That’s why I have brought you here. This ring was meant for you. Will you marry me?”