Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Hey Jude

F3, Cycle 95: Sorry, Wrong Number…

Let’s say you need some serious R&R and you decide to spend the weekend at an isolated cabin. It belongs to a friend, who will be out of town, and it is well-stocked with food, liquor, first editions, and firewood. The thing that is most enticing is the fact that there is no cell service; therefore, no one will be able to bother you with the day-to-day nonsense you are trying to get away from. There is a working phone in the cabin, but it’s a rotary that your friend keeps around for laughs.

All goes smoothly until you’re carrying in the last of your personal items from your car. The skies open up and set free that rainstorm that’s been brewing during your drive up. You know the one road in, or out, will flood, and mudslides usually clog most of the trails, but what do you care? You’re not planning to do any hiking–only drinking, reading, and tons of sleeping. As you sit to remove your wet shoes before preparing some dinner, the phone rings. You pick it up and hear two people discussing something, but they ignore you when you try to interrupt, or perhaps they really didn‘t hear you. All at once, they hang up and the crossed-up connection is broken. Hmmm…

Prompt: Craft us a tale and share with us exactly what it was that you overheard, and also, while you’re at it, let us know how that weekend turned out for ya! If you can, that is…


Jemma had said it was a few yards left of a post box, so this must be it. It looks pretty dilapidated from the outside, that’s for sure, and I’ve had to park the car on a slope – a bit precarious to say the least, especially as they’ve forecast rain tonight. Isn’t it just typical? For weeks and weeks we’ve suffered a heat wave and now, as soon as I get a chance to be by myself and to chill (ha!) winter decides to visit. It doesn’t matter, because I’ve brought my Kindle and Jemma’s promised there’s plenty of wine in the cabin.

I guess it’s cozy. It hasn’t seen a duster in many a year, that’s for sure. I hope there aren’t spiders. My mother warned me about Hantavirus – but I’m not scared of that. I’m scared of spiders though. Is that one? Up there in the eaves? No, I think it’s just a hole in the roof. I won’t look again, just in case the hole moves. Is it too early for wine? And should I light a fire? Thank goodness there are electric lights and a flushing toilet. I was right to bring my own paper though. I brought my own sheets too – not that I’m fussy or anything – but I hate scratchy things.

The sofa springs are digging into my butt; can’t get comfy. Gee, it’s quiet here. I’m not sure that I like it quite so quiet. I can hear my own heartbeat and a strange rustling sound at the window.

What the hell? It’s a frickin’ phone!

‘Hello.’ ‘Hello.’ ‘Hello’. ‘Are you speaking to me?’ ‘Do you have the right number.’ ‘Who are you?’ ‘Can you hear me?’ ‘Hello’. ‘What?’ ‘Oh no.’ ‘That can’t be true’. ‘Say it again.’ ‘Please – tell me it’s not true.’ ‘Hello, hello, hello – can you hear me?’ ‘Shit, where’ve you gone?’ ‘HELLO, HELLO, HELLO?’

Oh God, this is awful. Oh God, run over by a car! Can’t believe it, just can’t believe it. I can’t get a damned line out. God damnit! I need to find out if it’s true. I don’t believe it. Can’t believe it. Won’t believe it.


That’s definitely a hole in the roof. It hasn’t moved and the rain’s dripping down through it. I’m glad I decided to sleep on the sofa; the bedroom was creepy. Can’t sleep though. I’d drive home, but I’ve drunk a gallon of wine and, in any case, doubt I could get the thing out of the mud. I need to know. Run over by a car? Untrue. Untrue. I guess I could drown in here, if I stayed long enough and the rain continued like it is. Would that be worse than being run over by a car? ‘Woman found drowned in cabin.’ Who would even care?

All my life – just all my life. The entirety of it. Just about. All devoted to him. I only married Martin because he reminded me of him. OK, so Martin has his good points – but I could’ve probably done better. Could’ve maybe had my own cabin in the woods by now. I’d have had a better one than this one. With a veranda and a hot tub. Can’t stop thinking about him. Can’t stop. Run over by a car? What kind of car?

Everybody must die. Sure, everybody must die. Even him. But they were so casual. Like it didn’t matter. Like they were just passing the time of day. Although one of them did sound as though she was sniffing a bit. She said he was old. But not THAT old. I didn’t think he would ever die. He wouldn’t have died if it weren’t for that car.


I’d just as well not have slept. I wish I hadn’t. Now I feel groggy. The water from the faucet spat out at me and is a rusty brown – good job I have water in the car. But they say that you shouldn’t drink water from plastic bottles, because of chemicals leeching or is it leaking? Hell – everything is dangerous these days. The car’s not too badly stuck in the mud. And it’s a sunny day – hooray – perhaps I’ll be able to get out of here soon. I want to go home now. Need to go home. I tried the phone again. No dialling tone. I tried the car radio, but there’s no reception here. Damned trees. I need to go home. I need to find out if it’s true. And I need to figure out what to do about it. Oh, I’ve no doubt that I won’t be invited to the funeral – haha – that would be absurd. But I need to do something. For closure, you know.

I should stop reading these Peter James books. There are always people buried alive in them. Clawing at the lid. Not being able to breathe. Not being able to lift their heads even. I shall be cremated. Then, if I am alive, I won’t be alive for long. Going out in a blaze of glory – ha! He won’t be cremated though. There will be a massive vault – or maybe even Westminster Abbey. Unless they’re full. I expect they’re full. All those poets and kings and stuff. Where’s his wife buried? I used to hate her – but she made him happy, so there must’ve been some good in her.

You are a good friend, Jemma. I know you meant well. But this wasn’t a good idea. Goodness knows my mother is driving me potty, but I’m being driven even more potty here. I need to know. I bet mother knows. She never liked him. She said he looked like a woman. So she’ll be happy.

It is too early for wine, isn’t it?


I’m glad I decided to go for a walk. I thought about following Ariadne’s advice and taking a ball of twine with me. It sure would be easy to get lost in this forest. But I don’t care if I get lost. Perhaps I’ll be eaten by a bear. These gumboots are too tight for me – bet I get blisters. Blisters are nothing. They’re better than dead. Should’ve brought a sandwich with me or at least a chocolate bar. I may have to start foraging for berries soon – ha! Ah, chipmunks. I love chipmunks. Cheeky chappies. No guys, I don’t have anything to feed you with – sorry. Tummy’s rumbling. I’d better get back.


What’s that? It’s the phone ringing again! Quick! Run!

‘HELLO? HELLO? HELLO?’ It’s them again. ‘HELLO, HELLO, HELLO?’ One sounds a bit like Lisa Minnelli. The other one speaks with a lisp. There’s music in the background. Rap music. ‘Can you hear me? Can you hear me?’ They’re talking about him again. Saying how sad the children are. Whose children? Your children? His children? Isn’t the whole frickin’ world sad? ‘Hello?’ Lisa is saying that he had a good long life. ‘Who are you? Please, please, please speak to me!’ ‘What?’ ‘Burying in the backyard?’ What the heck? The room’s swaying. This can’t be right. ‘Hello, hello?’ ‘What? What? Shelter? Say that again.’

They’re gone.

And I get it. I get it. I get it. My face is flushing. My shoulders are relaxing. My heartbeat is slowing. A black spider is crawling down the wall, but I don’t care. It’s so funny. So frickin’ funny! I’m smiling. I can’t stop. The smile is fixed and spreading towards my ears.

And Martin is here to fetch me. Come on, Martin. Smile! It’s so funny!


‘Where’s mother?’

He’s looking at me that way he does.

‘Asleep. Like an angel.’


‘We’re nearly out of coffee. The sheets got tangled in the dryer. Mrs Hope wants to know if you can take her on the bus to the hospital next Friday for her check-up. You know that orange rose in the garden? I think it’s died. Do you remember where I put the receipt for those torches I bought last week? They don’t work. Oh and how do you get dried on scrambled egg out of the pan?’

He’s missed me!

‘I saw lots of chipmunks.’

‘That’s nice.’

‘And somebody’s cat got run over by a car.’

That look again.

‘That’s a shame.’

‘They’re getting a new one from the shelter. Maybe tomorrow.’

‘That’s good.‘

‘Yes, that is good.’

‘Not for the cat.’

‘No, not for the cat.’

Martin is looking out the window, as though searching for something. Words, perhaps.

‘They’re burying him in the backyard,’ I say.

‘That’s nice.’

‘Not in Westminster Abbey. Not next to his wife.’


‘He was called Sir Paul.’

‘Like Paul McCartney.’

‘Yes, like Paul McCartney.’

He’s switched off now, like he always does. He’s watching the ballgame on TV. He’s always been jealous of Paul McCartney.

‘What’s for dinner?’


I sense him behind me. I’ll turn around soon and he’ll hold me tight. I’ll ask him when the voices will stop. He’ll say, ‘Soon’. They all say that. I’ll sob that I couldn’t help it. The cat ran out into the road. Our precious cat. There was Jemma in the front with me and mother at the back, with her shopping bag. I swerved. Swerved and swerved again. The bus swerved too. Swerved and swerved again. And sliced off the right side of the car. So quick. Walmart white knickers and cans of Jolly Green Giant all over the road. People screaming on the bus. I couldn’t hear. Could only see their mouths moving and their eyes. Their eyes. Their horrified eyes.

He’ll be strict with me and say, ‘You know the rules, Jude. No driving; no wine. Not with the medication, you know.’ I’ll say ‘Sorry’ and he’ll wrap me up and take me to bed.

I put the sweet peas in the tiny vase by the tiny grave with the tiny cross with the tiny words, ‘Sir Paul’. He lived to a ripe old age. Kidneys gave out in the end. Poor thing. We keep meaning to get another cat from the shelter. Tomorrow. Or maybe the day after tomorrow, because tomorrow I might hear Jemma and mother again. I need to tell them that the cat was fine. But they can’t hear me. Or they don't want to hear me. They want to believe that the cat died that day. If the cat died - if I didn't swerve - then they would be alive. But that didn't happen and I need to tell them that the cat was fine. But they won't listen. I get so confused. So confused.

Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day. The next day would probably be better. We’ll get a girl. Yes, a girl. And we’ll call her Penny Lane.


Saturday, 25 August 2012


This one was really difficult - and doubly difficult when you know so little about baseball - so I had to move away from baseball a bit!

F3, Cycle 94: Love and Diamonds

Write a 1000 word story about someone who has no self awareness, or, alternatively, someone who has far too much. Include the following words: curve, substitution, relief, sacrifice, strikeout.


And, on the Sixth Day

Sunday was muggy and hot. The Padres were playing the Mariners, and Petco Park was a riot of color and noise. Tyler had no interest in baseball; he didn’t really understand it. And today, he also had no interest in candy floss or in corn dogs or in anything much at all.

‘Strikeout!’ bellowed his father, a smile of deep satisfaction on his face.


‘Yes, son?’

‘Dad, Miss Trotter told us that fish have no memories.’

‘That’s right, son.’

‘She says that they are not like us.’

‘Well, ‘course not, Tyler – they live in water.’

‘No, Dad, she says they’re not like us because we have souls and fish don’t.’

This threw Tyler’s dad somewhat and he was irritated. He didn’t care two hoots about damned fish and just wanted to watch the game.

‘Sure, son – only humans have souls – that’s why we’re special.’


Monday was a little cloudy.

‘Please, Miss.’

Tyler sat with his arm up and the class turned in unison to glare at him. It was the end of the last session of the day, and they all wanted to go home. Miss Trotter also wanted to get on home – she had a date with a man she’d met on the internet; he promised a GSOH. She hoped he was also DDF, unlike the last guy, who had cost her several visits to the clinic.

‘Yes, Tyler?’

‘Miss, if fish don’t have souls, do cats?’

‘Tyler, no. Only humans have souls.’

‘But how do we know that?’

Miss Trotter sighed and glanced at her watch.

‘Tyler, look up “self-awareness” on Wikipedia, that should help. Class dismissed.’


Tuesday dawned damp. Tyler’s mom had kept him home from school, because he’d complained of stomach-ache. When she’d caught him reading Wikipedia the previous evening, she’d been cross.

‘Tyler – there is no substitute for real education.’

Now she was at work and Tyler had all day to educate himself regarding his cat, Maisy.

The Wikipedia article had disturbed him. It said that only humans, dolphins, elephants, some apes and maybe magpies possessed self-awareness. There was no mention of cats. A link from the self-awareness article had led him to another article about a mirror test. So he sat Maisy in front of every mirror in the house and waited for her to recognize herself. He was certain she would. But, at each mirror Maisy either gazed blankly, sniffed, or walked away without investigation. Tyler stroked the sinewy curve of her back and she purred contentedly.

‘C’mon, Maisy,’ he pleaded, close to tears, ‘GET WITH IT!’


Wednesday was hot. Tyler had returned to school, but had found it difficult to concentrate. He didn’t get it. How come Maisy turned her head when you said her name? How could she not be ‘self-aware’ if she was afraid of the door-bell, and hid under the couch when the pet carrier appeared? He’d hoped so much that the mirror test would have given him relief from his worries, but that only seemed to prove that the cat clearly didn’t know who she was.

Their next-door neighbor, Father Morgan, a jovial Catholic priest with glowing red cheeks, was just putting his key into his front door, when Tyler strolled home from school.

‘Father, may I ask you a question?’

Father Morgan was in a hurry – the hot-tub was bubbling away nicely in the back yard and he had an expensive Chardonnay on ice. But his calling meant that he often had to make a sacrifice on his time.

‘Of course, young man – what is it you’d like to know?’

‘If you have no soul, Father – can you go to Heaven?’

Father Morgan sighed.

‘How can you go to Heaven if you have no soul, Tyler?’

‘B-b-but, Father Morgan, what are animals for if they have no soul and can’t go to Heaven?’

Father Morgan’s eyes rolled up into his head.

‘The Lord has provided us with animals to feed us and to entertain us,’ he replied with an assertive nod of his head.


Thursday was another gloriously sunny San Diego day. But there was a stuffiness in the air – the kind that only a good thunderstorm can clear. Tyler was late home from school, because he’d been to the library. He’d annoyed Mrs Trim with his barrage of questions, but he’d eventually found what he was looking for.

The smell of apple pie and the lash of his mother’s tongue greeted him when he arrived home. He gulped down his supper and went to bed early, taking his books and the cat with him.

‘Good-night, Tyler.’

‘Good-night, Mom.’


On Friday, the heavens opened. Lightning flashed across the sky and rain ran in rivulets along the sidewalk. The weather suited the mood of the neighborhood. The news had spread quickly and it was up to local journalist, Trudy Moon, to report the sad story. She did her best.

Ten-year-old Tyler Starky of 15, Rainbow Drive, was found dead in his bedroom this morning. His distraught mother, 47-year-old florist, Danielle Starky, said that she found him curled up with his cat on the floor of his room. At first glance, she’d thought he was asleep. She said that both her son and his cat appeared to have smiles on their faces. As she moved closer she noticed that the cat had earphones attached to its head. She’d thought this really cute, but when she discovered that the earphones were plugged into the electricity supply, horrific realization hit her. Both the boy and the 3-year-old cat were declared dead by means of electrocution. A library book, ‘ECT Improves Self-Awareness’ by Tonto Drake-Fitch, had been found, open, at the boy’s feet. Tyler’s father, 50-year-old truck driver, Dave Starky, who only saw his son on weekends, commented,

‘He sure did love that darned cat. He loved it more than baseball, that’s for sure.’

An inquest opens on Monday.”


Saturday, 18 August 2012

Back to School

F3, Cycle 93

Prompt: Write a story using the following word list: Traffic, New Shoes, Calculus, Bus Stop, School, Principal
Word Limit: 1000
Genre: Open

The Return

It was just me and Jenkins at the bus stop. We exchanged brief grunts of recognition, but he stood a safe five feet from me, shuffling back and forth on shiny, new shoes. I looked down at my own new shoes – black brogues with suede stripes down the side. Were they cool? Jenkins lit a cigarette. He was too grown up now to gather with his mates behind the bike shed. I looked away; didn’t want to smell that delicious, deadly smoke; didn’t want to fall off the wagon. Jenkins started to bob up and down and I feared he might be having a fit. Then I realised he had music plugged into his ears.

The traffic was heavy this morning; the school run in full swing. The fumes coming from the cars were more dangerous even than the smoke issuing from Jenkins’ sullen mouth – but who was going to step forward to ban fancy packaging for fancy vehicles? Hypocrisy. I wanted a cigarette. I popped a Polo into my mouth and sucked on it furiously. A frazzled-looking woman, being dragged along behind a yapping poodle, muttered a tired ‘good morning’ as she hastened on towards the corner shop for milk or biscuits or sherry.

We were waiting for the number seventy two bus, Jenkins and me. It was already five minutes late. There were no more school buses; not in urban areas anyway. Council cuts. Only a few school buses continued to run in rural districts, where not everybody owned Landrovers and where the narrow, unlit roads were considered too dangerous for children to walk. Not so in the towns. From here, school was too far to walk - so you either used your parents as taxi drivers, or risked muggings and perverts as you half froze to death at lonely bus stops. I would have cycled, but the roads were too dangerous and cycle lanes were practically non-existent. A Ford Fiesta almost drove into the back of a Toyota as mother took her eyes off the road to pass a packet of crisps back to her fat, spoilt offspring. The screech of brakes frightened a pair of sparrows, who had been sitting peacefully on a whitewashed wall. A lean tabby cat, who had been watching them from a distance, skulked off in disappointment as he watched the birds fly into the leaden sky. Rain started to fall.

Jenkins pulled up his hood and rummaged around inside his rucksack. As he took out a fresh pack of B&H, a new looking copy of ‘Calculus for Wimps’ almost fell out onto the sodden pavement. I felt for him. My father had attempted to teach me calculus when I was twelve years old. He said it would give me a head start. I didn’t get it. And he didn’t get that I didn’t get it. With tears in his eyes, he’d thumped the table and roared, ‘It’s only differentials. It’s easy!’ I vowed, from then on, to concentrate on the arts.

Finally! The bus turned the corner of Mumford Street, only eight and a half minutes late. I followed Jenkins onto the bus; both of us drenched as we showed our passes and took seats as far away from each other as possible. Two elderly women with pursed lips and tight white curls sat together at the front of the bus, loudly discussing gall bladders. The only other passenger was a scruffy girl of about fourteen, who was simultaneously chewing gum, tapping out texts and picking her nose. The bus driver was humming some tune – it sounded like ‘Hark the Herald Angels’ but it couldn’t have been – although Christmas decorations would surely start appearing in the shops as soon as the leaves began to fall.

At 8:20am, Jenkins, me and the girl (still texting) got off at the stop outside the school gates and went our separate ways. It was an old Victorian building – once a proud grammar school, where academia was king – but now it was a comprehensive where mere attendance was looked upon as a sign of achievement. The teachers were weak; stripped of any means of discipline by the self-righteous, ‘children can do no harm’ brigade – God bless ‘em.

The corridors were buzzing. Children were sliding along polished floors; teachers’ heels were clip-clopping with unfounded confidence. Scenes from Harry Potter flashed across my mind, and I could smell boiled cabbage already. Mr Hardman whooshed past me, a pile of books under his arm, his bat-cloak flying out behind him. Now, there was a man who would love to wield a cane. If only.

I wanted to turn around and catch the bus home. I felt like I was coming down with flu. And my stomach wasn’t right. Oh to be curled up under the duvet with a mug of hot chocolate, watching ‘Homes under the Hammer’. But my leaden legs carried me onwards, past the chemistry lab, the gym and the library – past displays of trophies and photographs of triumphant football and cricket teams – onwards towards a heavy oak door, where the etched brass plaque read, ‘Principal’. I felt a tug on the back of my jacket and looked around. I squirmed. There stood Adams – his cherubic curls concealing the demonic little creep that lay beneath. He owned a pony and boasted a sister called Stardust. His father expected him to go to Oxford. No chance. He smiled up at me sweetly and I wanted so badly to slap him.

‘Good morning, Sir,’ he said, ‘isn’t it great to be back.’


In an effort to get myself writing again, I'm going to follow the advice of Ravens who is a fellow student on the literature course I'm following - and I am going to have a go at flash fiction from Flash Fiction Friday (F3) and also perhaps Terrible Minds. I think I really do need an awful lot of practise - it's a long time since I wrote the NaNoWriMo 2011 effort!