Wednesday 28 May 2014

Project Shakespeare

My response to yesterday's prompt of a locked room mystery.  Rather than a room I chose a spacecraft, with inspiration from David Bowie's Space Oddity - 'planet earth is blue, and there's nothing I can do' with shades of Apollo 13.  The dialogue in italics are flashbacks.

Project Shakespeare

Alex looked out of his small triangular window just in front of him.  Empty blackness everywhere, a small tip of blue in the corner down below him.  Or was it above him, what was up, what was down.  Circling the earth in geostationary orbit, was like standing still and the universe spinning around him.  Occasionally the moon traversed his window, the sun burned like a raging inferno  several times a day.  No night, no day, no difference.
The rocket boosters, dead as the eternity of space remained silent.  He thumped the buttons again and again.  The supply of de-hydrated food was rapidly running out, did it matter?  The hatch above his head, he looked up at the emergency release.   Just reach up, unlock it; float out silently to freedom and oblivion.
Remembering the call to Mission Control’s inner sanctum somewhere on the outskirts of Houston for a Code One briefing.  Sitting outside the chamber room, waiting to be called in.  The grey, solid metal door clicked open and Greg Dunbar NASA’s Operations Director beckoned him in.  The windowless room, dimly lit with modern wood panelled walls, full length red curtains along the end wall. 
‘A directive from the White House, we must have a manned surveillance flight to pinpoint the Russian nuclear installations and see what they’re developing.’
‘OK Chief, where do I fit in?
‘We want you to man the flight, you’re our most experienced astronaut on the Apollo programme, and you’ve already flown the Gemini capsule.’
His first Gemini mission, with Doug Newsome, a forty eight hour extravaganza, spaceflight was fun in those not so distant days.  The re-entry was something else, glowing white hot, flumes of flame danced outside their tiny windows.  Feeling the heat in the spacesuit.  The ecstasy of splashdown followed by the sudden chill and seasickness, bobbing around in the Pacific Ocean.
‘An unmanned satellite is not sophisticated enough to search numerous locations, interpret the data you identify and come up with a logic for what’s going on at each base.’
No joyful return on this mission; falling to earth so many miles below, burning up in the atmosphere, like an errant meteorite.
‘You’re our only man for the mission.  We can’t utilise an Apollo capsule, they’re all allocated to the lunar landing programme.  We've got the spare Gemini capsule; number seven that was never flown, but used for training purposes.’
‘Wonder what Doug is doing now?  Is he still with Stella, they made a good couple.’
‘She’s currently at Cape Kennedy being modified to fit all the spy gear and multi linear encryption modules.  It needs to be ready for launch in three weeks, and so do you.’
‘If I press all these switches, what the worst that can happen?  There must be a self-destruct button here somewhere.’
‘This is all top secret stuff, the media will be told it is an unmanned satellite launch.’
Lift off was Sunday 23rd April 1967, with splashdown in the Pacific four days later.  Alex was briefed on all his duties and operation of the equipment at Mission Control, before being transported to the launch site two days before lift off.  A trouble free ride on the modified Saturn V rocket, took him to orbit approximately 22,000 miles above the earth. 
‘Alice, precious Alice, if only … I could say sorry.  She wouldn't care ... that jerk Roger … an accountant, what a bore!’
He had to fire a number of small boosters to manoeuvre the spaceship over the Russian steppes and lock on to the co-ordinates of the likely nuclear weapons sites. 
‘No one knows I’m here.  No one cares.  I’ve disappeared, a missing person.’
The radio crackled into life, his daily five minute report to Mission Control.
‘Okay Alex, Houston here, do you read?’
A stunning silence, looking out of the window as Earth drifted slowly into view.  The clouds had mostly lifted over South America, he could just about make out Mexico.  Houston was just above that cloud.
‘Alex, Mission Control Houston here, do you read? Over.’
It was Angela today, he liked Angela.  They nearly had an affair a couple of years ago, but it was another might have been.
‘Mission Control, I hear you.’
‘How’s it going today Alex?’
‘Shit, basically Angie!’
‘We’re all praying for you here, Alex.’
‘Thanks, that’s about all that’s left I guess.’
‘The guys in R&D are working round the clock with the engineering crew looking for a solution.’
‘You guys have just drifted into view now, I can see the whole of good old Earth.’
‘That’s nice, Alex.’
With a blast of static crackling over the miles, the radio link went down.  Alex groped under his seat and dug out his remaining supplies of food.  Only three dehydrated sachets left, all turkey stew with vegetables.  They all tasted the same anyway, he threw them back under his seat. 
‘Wonder who Angela’s screwing now?  Not Gary, surely; he was always sniffing round her.’
An endless journey, a timeless flight.  Alex mumbled the words to himself, sounded like the words of a song, he wasn’t sure they were.  Maybe he could write something, but then who would be reading it.  Maybe the Russians were listening in to his every move.  Maybe they had a laser trained on his disabled spacecraft and were about to blast him into oblivion.  That seemed like the best scenario now.
His eyes wandered round the inside of his cockpit once more as Earth disappeared from view in the window, leaving the blackness stretching to eternity.  There were protruding wires adjacent to him where they’d modified the spacecraft with all the spy gear.  He grabbed the orange, black and purple wires and tugged them.  They held firm, he tugged harder; still they resisted. 
‘If I can make a spark, it may trigger the oxygen.’
He pulled harder still, they’d been fixed in good.  Exasperated he released his grip and stared at his control panel in front of him.  He tried the booster buttons again, in rapid fire succession … still nothing.  Then it struck him.
‘The pill, I’d forgotten about the pill!’
His hands patted the various pockets of his jump suit.  Anti-sickness tablets, no not them.  Diarrhoea tablets, you must be joking!  Valium, why not?  He pulled out a red foil wrapped strip of six tablets, slowly taking them one by one.
‘What I really need is alcohol now and plenty of it.’
Then he remembered as his brain relaxed for the first time in three days.  They were above his head.  A small orange plastic panel with skull and cross bones, concealed a small recess.  Inside a small foil strip, only two tablets.  No instructions, nothing.  He pulled open the foil and released one of the tablets; a pinkish colour, oval in shape with grey flecks on the surface.  Rolling it in his fingers, lifted it to his nose.  A faint smell of rotten eggs, possibly hydrogen sulphide he guessed, maybe cyanide.  What did cyanide smell off?  He brought it to his lips, his tongue lightly brushed the surface of the tablet.  It burnt the tip of his tongue, he felt drowsy. 
‘Shall I?’
‘Why not?’
‘Shall I?’

Monday 26 May 2014

It ain't easy being ...

Today's prompt; an everyday tale of a parent's worst nightmare! Not getting back in time for an after school event.  I didn't need to think too hard about this!

It ain’t easy being …

A smell of burnt toast pervaded the kitchen; random muzak streamed out of the digital radio.
‘Dad, why have you got a suit on?’
‘I have to go to work today.’
‘But you said you’d be working from home today,’ moaned Madeline.
‘I know, but I’ve got a meeting this morning.  I’ll leave at lunchtime and be back home this afternoon.’
‘You’d better be! I’m fed up with you never turning up at my concerts … or anything!’
‘Leave your dad alone, Maddy,’ Jeanette added.
‘It’s not fair Mum, you always come, but he’s never been to anything yet.  Always having to work late.’
‘I came to your carol concert last Christmas.’
‘And you were late! You only got there twenty minutes before the end.’
‘I know, but we had the Christmas accounts to sort out.’
‘Now, now you two,’ Jeanette tried to referee.
‘Someone has to earn a crust! Where do you think the money for your flute lessons comes from? And the horse riding lessons.’
‘Dad, get over it!’
‘Do you want a lift to school, Maddy?’
‘Please Dad, you’re a star.’

Maddy safely dropped off at school, Michael was in work early enough to prepare for his meeting.  He was chairing it today as Paul was on holiday in Scotland.
‘No more than two hours, should be a piece of cake and home this afternoon,’ he thought.
One o’clock and the meeting had dragged on for two and a half hours now.  Three more agenda items to cover.
‘Plenty of time, concert starts at five,’ he rationalised.
He managed to draw the meeting to a close just before two o’clock, nearly three and a half hours.  Michael was just putting his ‘out of office’ on as Joseph, his boss came up to him.
‘How was the meeting? Thanks for chairing while Paul is away.’
‘Dragged on a bit, but got it wrapped up eventually.’
‘Well done, the Strategy Group can really go on at times.’
‘Thanks, I’m just on my way out.’
‘Have you got a minute?  I just need to go over the New Projects report with you.’
‘Err, I need to be away soon, my daughter’s school concert this afternoon.  Can it wait until Monday?’
‘It won’t take more than five minutes.’

Half an hour later Michael escaped from Joseph’s office.  Dropping the file on his desk, he headed straight for the door.  As he waited for the lift he realised he needed to get some cash out.  There was always drinks and cakes after the concert and they didn’t accept cards.
‘There’s a cash machine at the bank round the corner,’ he remembered.
Fortunately there wasn’t a queue at the machine.  He squinted at the screen in the bright sunlight. 
This machine is out of order, other machines are located inside.
‘Damn, there’ll be a queue inside.’
It was busy inside the bank, Friday afternoon people sorting out their weekend finances.  There was a queue, but only two people in front of him.  Impatiently shuffling from foot to foot he remembered he needed the toilet.  Should have gone before he left work. 
‘Never mind, be home in half an hour.’
Finally it was his turn.  He put his card in the machine and waited to punch in his PIN.  There was a commotion behind him, but he was intent on getting his cash out.
‘Everyone on the floor!  Then no one will get hurt!’ shouted the gunman.
Michael spun round to see two men, both dressed in black wearing bright green ski masks.  One had a hand gun, the other a rifle.  The banking lobby fell silent, customers and staff stared in disbelief.
‘Get down! Get Down!’ the guy with the rifle shouted waving the weapon in an arc.
‘Shit, this is all I need.’
There was an immediate rustling and chorus of disapproval.  Everyone was on the floor.
‘Face down, face down!  All of you,’ the rifle man shouted.
 The other gunman threatened the cashier as the alarm sounded, panicking the robbers.  They looked at each other, unsure what to do.
‘Give me the money,’ screamed rifle man. 
The cashier ducked down behind the counter.  The guy with the pistol aimed it at the ceiling and fired twice.  Fear spread through the prone customers like a tidal wave.  Michael could feel his heart pounding as though it was in his throat.  Laying down was not helping his desperate need for the toilet.
‘Stay down, stay down!  Nobody move or you’re dead!’
‘Go, go, go, let’s get out of here.’
Two more shots rang out cracking into the ceiling as both gunmen made for the door empty handed.  Michael felt his bladder emptying, this was not going to be pretty!  He laid perfectly still as the warm moisture filtered down his trousers.  The alarm continued screeching, no one dare move.  Eventually the cashier appeared above the counter and managed to cut the alarm. 
‘Maddy and Jeanette are never going to believe this.’
‘OK, everyone it’s safe to get up.  The Police will be here in a few minutes.’ The cashier advised.
Michael stood up and pulled out his mobile phone to text Jeanette.

‘running late, held up in bank robbery. love mick.’

Thirty seconds later his phone trilled.

‘WTF??? thats your worst excuse yet! jenx’
‘no excuse, wet myself, robbers fired guns. love mick.’
‘RU OK?’

Sunday 25 May 2014

Good Vibrations

The prompt from the Beach Boys classic, suggesting something relating to California, San Francisco, etc.  I thought vibrations and came up with the San Andreas fault, hence a rather gloomy but still optimistic one hundred words.  Is a story? Is it a poem? You decide.

Good Vibrations

Can you remember 1989? The pain, the suffering, so much destruction.
1906 catastrophe so long ago, destroyed so much of the city.
The next one could be much, much worse.
Lives torn apart, buildings destroyed, properties damaged, transport and communication disruption.
San Andeas fault, tectonic plates, Richter scale, friction leading to earthquake!
West Coast paradise, 1967 the summer of love.
Cars on the Golden Gate bridge, street cars up and down Fisherman’s Wharf.
No more hippies, no more flowers in their hair, no more 49ers.
Geologists, Seismologists, Engineers, Scientists are looking for an answer.

No more earthquakes, only Good Vibrations.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Verona to Venice

Using yesterday's Shakespearean prompt, this is my story.  It was fun writing, I used the quote from the Merchant of Venice to end the story and used another from Romeo and Juliet to open the story.  Hence the title, and the story is set in Rome.

Verona to Venice

‘What light through yonder window breaks?’
Richard noticed a beautiful blonde haired girl looking out of the open window above the Gelato shop.  This was one of the few Shakespeare quotes he remembered from school.   She was watching the procession of tourists marveling at the exterior of the Coliseum across the road.  Probably eighteen to twenty, her long straight hair cascaded over her shoulders.  Wearing a low cut white t-shirt she seemed to have a permanent smile on her face. 
‘Buongiorno, bambino,’ he shouted up to her, being almost the extent of his grasp of Italian.  To his surprise she smiled even more and waved to him.
‘Ciao, signor’, she responded.
Taken by surprise Richard nudged Ian.
‘She fancies me.’
‘Momento, momento, signor,’ she called down to Richard. 
Leaving her window seat she quickly disappeared from view.  Richard and Ian were on a month long tour of Europe after graduating from University.  Ten countries in thirty days, looking to score as many times as possible.  Still waiting to open their accounts after the three weeks.  Richard’s eyes bulged as she appeared out of the Gelato shop.  A tight pair of very short denim shorts and her cleavage looking as though it would escape from her t-shirt.
‘This is it, brother,’ he called.
‘I’m not so sure.’
‘Ciao, signori.’
‘Hi babe,’ Richard replied.
 ‘Ah you English, yes?’
‘That’s right; what’s your name? I’m Richard, this is my brother Ian.’
‘Hi Gabriela,’ added Ian.
‘You boys like drink, yes?’
‘Well, yes great.  Where can we go?’
‘Upstairs, I have Grappa.  You like Grappa?’
Richard looked at Ian with a puzzled expression.
‘Not sure we’ve tried … Grappa.’
‘You love Grappa, is good Italian drink.’
Ian looked reluctant, he was a year older than Richard and marginally more sensible.
‘Steady on Rich, it might be rocket fuel.’
‘It’ll be fine bruv!’
Gabriela ushered them into the Gelato shop, past numerous different coloured tubs of ice cream through to a door at the back.  This opened onto a narrow staircase, white washed walls with paint peeling off; brown cardboard boxes stacked at the top of the stairs.  She led them into a bedroom, the one she’d been looking out of at the front.  Bright yellow painted walls, a single bed with a faded pink quilt under the window, a small pine dressing table at one side. Numerous pictures of the Madonna hanging on the wall.  She poured the translucent brown spirit from a large bottle into two small grubby glasses. 
‘Are you having a drink?’ queried Ian.
‘I only drink water,’ she replied picking up a small bottle of mineral water, taking a sip.
‘Do you live here?’ Richard asked.
‘No, no, no.  I work in Gelato shop.’
Approaching footsteps on the stairs.  A small tanned man with dark curly hair looked round the partially open door.
‘Caio, Luigi.  This is my brother Luigi.’
Luigi, said nothing but eyed up the brothers.
‘These friends of mine, Ricardo and Jan.’
Gabriela looked at her brother and nodded to him.
Luigi nodded back and went back downstairs.  The boys finished their drinks.
‘Wow, that’s powerful stuff!’
‘It’s like firewater,’ added Ian.
‘More Grappa?’
Richard readily accepted, although his brother was unsure.  Gabriela quickly refilled their glasses.  She sat down on the bed and motioned for the boys to sit either side of her.  Ian sat at the bottom end of the bed keeping his distance, but Richard shuffled close to her on the other side.  Immediately she put her hand on his knee.
‘You on holiday, Ricardo?’
‘That’s right, only here until tomorrow, then we’re going to Lucerne.’
‘I love Lucerne, when you go back to England?’
‘After Lucerne we’re going to Munich for the beer festival and then home.’
She started stroking his leg and shuffled closer so they were sat side by side.
‘I would love to go London, and see your Big Ben.’
‘Oh, yes.  That’s nice.’
Blushing, Richard downed the last of his Grappa and swallowed hard.  He could feel his temperature rising.  His eyes were fixed on Gabriela’s revealing t-shirt, beads of sweat were developing on his forehead. 
I think it’s time we were going,’ Ian suggested.
‘No, no, no.  I get you another drink.  We having good time.’
‘Just one more,’ said Richard.’
Leaving his leg alone Gabriela sprang up and brought the bottle over to the bed.  Richard held his glass out as she filled it to the brim.
‘Not for me thanks,’ said Ian covering his glass with his hand.
‘You no like grappa Jan?’
‘Very strong, I’ve had enough.’
Gabriela sat down the other side of Richard, leaving Ian isolated at the far end of the bed.  She put her arm round Richard’s shoulders and pulled him towards her.  He rested his head on her shoulder, staring down her cleavage as he sipped his drink.
‘I think you’ve had enough to drink, Rich,’ Ian warned.
‘Nonsense, I’m absolutely fine.  Gabby is a good friend, aren’t you?’
He felt the room starting to spin, Gabriela’s cleavage came in and out of focus.  One final gulp of grappa and he waved the glass in front of Gabriela.  She took it off him just in time as he slumped against her, ending up across her lap.
‘Luigi, Luigi, veloce, veloce,’ she shouted.
‘Rich, Rich, what you doing bruv?’
Ian jumped up and pulled Richard off her lap, she stood up and he laid Richard onto the bed.
‘I knew he’d had too much to drink!’
Luigi ran upstairs and dashed into the room.
‘He’s passed out, we need to get him back to the hotel,’ Ian shouted.
‘Si, si, I help you.  We go in my car,’ offered Luigi.
Luigi helped Ian to maneuver Richard into a sitting position.  Taking an arm each they managed to get him stood up, while Gabriela looked on.
‘Poor Ricardo, he not very well.’
‘Rich, Rich, can you hear me?’
He opened his eyes and stared at his brother, slowly nodding his head.
‘We’re going back to the hotel, Gabriela’s brother is going to take us.’
They made their way slowly to the top of the stairs, and very slowly down them.  Luigi’s car was parked round the back of the Gelato shop, a small dark red Fiat 500, with a broad white stripe over the bonnet and roof.  It was only a short drive to their hotel, Luigi helped Ian to get Richard to their room.  They struggled to get him on the bed, but once there he fell asleep straight away.  Ian thanked Luigi and prepared to spend a long night looking after his brother.
Richard woke up early in the morning, still in his clothes from the day before.
‘What happened?  Oh God, my head hurts.’
‘You had too much of that Grappa, bruv.’
‘Where’s Gabriela?’
‘I don’t know, we left her at the Gelato shop, her brother Luigi helped to bring you back here.’
Rolling on to his side he swung his legs round to sit on the edge of the bed.  He stared at Ian trying to focus, then checked his back pocket.
‘What happened to my wallet?  Where did you put it?’
‘Dunno, I never took it out of your pocket.  It must have fallen out, is it on the bed?’
Richard looked behind on the bed and rummaged around the crumpled blanket and sheets.
‘It’s not here.  It’s gone!  That bloody Luigi has robbed me, he has.   How did you let him?’
‘I don’t know, it was difficult getting you down the stairs and into his car.  Then getting you onto the bed wasn’t easy.’
‘That was my money; it’s all gone!  You should have looked after my wallet.’
‘You shouldn’t have drunk so much Grappa.’
‘It was that Gabriela, the cow; no wonder she was so friendly!’
‘Right we’re going to sort out that bitch and Luigi, come on bruv; we’ll show them not to mess with us.’
‘They won’t be there today, it would be too easy for us to get them,’ Ian surmised.
‘But what about my money, I’m skint now, what are we going to do?’
Ian sat on the edge of their bed, lost for words.  After a short silence, he turned to Richard with a rueful expression.
‘If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?’

Thursday 22 May 2014

Early days of Spring

A very short piece of nonsense (flash fiction) that utilises all the requisite words from today's prompt in less than 200 words.

Early days of Spring

The days were getting longer now, the snow receding up the rugged mountain slopes, but still a chill of winter in the air.  Green shoots springing up in the garden, tight buds exploding in the trees.  Tania my little sister playing with her monster puppet that she got from Father Christmas.  A Kermit coloured pterodactyl with bulging red eyes; how she loved that puppet.  Mother was scouring the store cupboard for fresh produce, virtually all our autumn vegetables had gone.  The only basket of carrots that was left smelt like a compost heap, so much for a warming stew!   
‘What can we have for supper?’ she pleaded.
‘How about a salad,’ I suggested.
‘Where am I going to get a fresh lettuce from at this time of year?’
‘I’m sure I saw some in old Mr Bumbles general store last week,’ I recalled.
‘If you want a salad to happen tonight, I suggest you get your boots on and trek into town.’
Two miles into town and no bus service silenced me.
‘Well,’ she said.
‘Not today I guess.’

‘In that case I’ll have to subject you to another of my special Spanish omelettes!’

Arrivals and Departures

Yesterday's Non Linear story.  I started with a random paragraph and then followed it up with three more.  All seem to be separate stories, leaving the reader to work out what lies behind them.  The title is the link that binds them together.  They could be read in any order.

Arrivals and Departures

White fluffy clouds floated by, the rich blue sky dipped between the Alpine valleys.  White caps of snow on the highest peaks and north facing slopes.  The plane wheeled over Lake Geneva on its final approach to the airport.  Twenty minutes later Philippe reclaimed his large red rucksack from the carousel, and headed out to train station for the short ride into the city centre.  Rather than take a taxi, he walked through the newer part of town with tobacconist’s shops, chocolate shops, souvenir shops and cafes to the bridge across the lake to the old town that he loved so much.

Martha was busy in the kitchen of her apartment.  The neatly stacked cupboards, labels all facing outwards, nothing awkwardly balanced.  She pulled out the jar of coffee beans to feed the percolator sat tidily on the worktop.  Richard would be home soon, everything must be ready for his arrival.  The smell of the lamb moussaka gently simmering in the oven filled the kitchen.  It was Thursday and Richard always liked lamb on Thursdays, Fish on Friday.

Stephanie sat in her comfortable armchair by the window, looking out of the window.  The pristine white lace curtains preserved her identity from her neighbours.  Whinstanley Crescent was a busy road, as its name implied it ran round in a half moon shape from the even busier London Road.  Mornings were especially busy, people getting up early and rushing to work; to the station to catch a train to the metropolis or going on holiday.  Later in the morning, delivery men, sometimes delivery women in an assortment of different coloured and sized vans.  The growth of the internet had seen an upsurge in deliveries; people ordered everything online these days.  An endless source of amusement and intrigue for the interested observer.
‘I wonder what that could be.  A microwave? A DVD player? A coffee machine?’ An endless fascination for Stephanie.

The empty cardboard box sat open on Anthony’s desk.  He deleted the remainder of this afternoon’s emails, closed Outlook and switched his off laptop.  It remained locked to the desk.  The friendliness of the staff when he’d joined five years ago; the evenings spent in the pub; interminable team meetings; the raucous team building events and the office affairs.   Good times, bad times, it had all been his life.  Too much now he realised.  Carol, Lucy and Virginia; all good time girls, no responsibilities, no attachments … no morals.  They had one thing in common, they were all bitches.  Take a man for what they wanted and dump him when it’s no longer fun.  Francesca was different though, such a sweet innocent girl, a breath of fresh air in the office and Anthony’s bed.  He picked the up last off his pens, the stapler belonged to the office, better leave that.  Closed the lid, a length of sticky tape, picked up the box and turned to walk away.  No one spoke, no one looked, no one cared. 

Monday 19 May 2014


Today's prompt 'write a story from multiple perspectives.  Taking Julie's advice 'This doesn't have to be a long story. You can do this in a series of verbal exchanges' I've come up with a very short story, with many participants.   


Bing bong.
‘This is the last call for boarding flight BA217 to New York JFK, at gate 37.’
‘Have you got the tickets, Marvin?’
‘I thought you gave them to Celia.’
‘I’ve not got them, Marie.  I’m sure I saw you give them to James.’
‘Where’s James?’
‘He was with us when we were in Starbucks,’ remembered Jane.
‘Oh my god, where is he now?
‘I think I saw him looking at the magazines over there a few minutes ago,’ said Trevor.
‘I saw him going into the toilets a minute ago,’ Josephine recalled.
‘Marvin, go and get him out of the toilet.’
‘Here comes James now.’
‘James have you got the tickets?  The gate will be closing in a minute.’
‘I gave them to Stephanie.’
Bing bong.
‘Gate 37, flight BA217 for New York JFK, has now closed.’