The Iron Writer Challenge #12

Roman GaleaThe Iron Writer Challenge #12

2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #12

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Diana SpringerJ Conrad GuestJeremy PumaM. D. Pitman

The Elements:

A Roman Galea

A Rotary Dial Phone

A Pole Vaulting Pole

Black Lipstick

Carnival FeverDiana Springer

Diana Springer

There is a ruckus on the highway.  Curious onlookers line the streets, releasing oohs and whistles as I shimmy by wearing nothing but a gold leotard with an extravagant plumage of blood-red feathers across my back. The afternoon sunrays ricochet off my gold Roman galea as I swing my hips seductively to the hypnotic calypso beat.

“Aren’t you glad you did it after all?” asks Charlene.  I was supposed to be celebrating my big track and field win. Things hadn’t gone according to schedule. The crowd on the sidewalk is swelling and Charlene is on what appears to be her fourth mix of Red Bull and rum, clearly enjoying the buzz of energy. I have to admit that my team mate was right. This is exactly what I needed.

“It’s great out here,” I shout over the music. God knows I needed cheering up, after my pole vaulting pole snapped in half as I ascended on my second attempt.  Now here I am two weeks later, trying to make myself feel better in this ridiculous get-up.

Charlene raises her plastic cup in a toast, and I do the same with my bottled water, its rim coated with traces of my black lipstick.  Ordinarily I wouldn’t be caught in such a gothic lip color without a shroud, but today was anything but ordinary. A quick survey of the party animals reveals that we are all in various stages of nudity; bare chests, severe cut-outs, thong-bottoms and Charlene swears that she saw a man wearing a loin cloth.

A photographer leaps out of nowhere, blinding me with a series of rapid flashes. Wait until Aunt Flora catches sight of me and Charlene in the newspapers.  It will be one more thing for her to gossip about on her vintage rotary dial phone.

“Looking good Nelly,” says a familiar voice.  My ex-boyfriend Gavin does a choreographed shuffle.  Ahead the giant music truck inches along the stretch of the highway, flanked on both sides by enthusiastic revelers.

“Thanks,” I say to his mud-painted face.  His paper thin lips are coated with black lipstick as well. My gaze drifts downwards to his bare torso and to my amusement, I see that Gavin’s ever-growing beer belly has been air-brushed with an immaculate set of abs.

“Finally got that six pack,” I say coyly, gesturing at the neon green and brown abdominals.  He laughs while rubbing his Buddha belly suggestively.  The music truck cranks out one of the season’s biggest hits, inducing a roar from the suddenly reenergized crowd.

“This is our song!” screams Charlene.  She jumps around, her arms encircling the waist of the stranger in the loin cloth whose lack of coordination sends all four of us into a riptide of laughter.  Carnival is the theatre of life. I am in the Spartacus section of the band so I adjust my galea, raise my fiber glass, glitter-coated sword and release a warrior cry, before surging forward towards the carnival judges.

The Crabs IncidentJ. Conrad Guest

J. Conrad Guest

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I drove a stretch of tarmac dark and weary, I chanced upon a damsel in distress. I braked hard and pulled over onto the shoulder. A moment later, I heard the crunch of boots on gravel as she approached the passenger door I’d opened.

“Thanks,” she said, sliding in beside me. She was what her generation called Goth: hair dyed shoe polish black, pale makeup, black lipstick, and facial hardware—silver rings through left eyebrow, nose and lip, an array around the inner lip of her right ear, while a skull dangled from her left lobe. When she spoke, a tongue stud glittered in the headlights of an oncoming pickup truck. I wondered what other hardware she might have, in other, more secluded places.

“What are you doing out alone so late on a Saturday?” I asked.

“My dawg and me had a fight. He dumped me at North Territorial. Fucker. Where you headed?”

It took me a moment to figure she was referencing the boyfriend as “fucker” and not addressing me, as in, “Fucker, where you headed?” I grinned. “South Lyon.”

“Me, too. I’m Melody.”

“Then I guess I’m heading your way, Melody. I’m Malcolm.” I glanced in the rearview mirror and pulled back onto Pontiac Trail, running up through the six-speed transmission of my Mazda3. Once I got it into high gear, I ventured, “Don’t you have a cell phone you could’ve used to call a friend?”

“I don’t own one. I hate the things.”

“Truly? That’s surprising, for someone of your generation. When I was your age, making a phone call meant dialing a rotary dial phone and talking to someone while attached to a wall by an eight-foot curly cord.”

“Oh, for the good old days,” Melody said. “For all the connectivity cells boast, I think we’re more disconnected than ever.”

“You know, in Denmark there’s a marked incidence of brain tumors they link to cell phone technology.”

“I’m not surprised. Which reminds me, my ex-boyfriend—he who abandoned me tonight—gave me a case of the crabs last week.”

I chuckled.

“Crabs is no laughing matter.”

“Sorry. I wasn’t laughing at you, Melody. I was just reminded of a sign I once saw above the urinal in a public men’s room: “Don’t throw toothpicks into the urinal; crabs can pole vault.” I chuckled again, but Melody didn’t join me.

“You see,” I explained to fill the silence, “the crabs were using toothpicks as a pole vaulting pole.”

“I get it,” she said. “I just didn’t think it was funny. You obviously never had crabs.”

“No.” I dimmed my high beams in deference to an oncoming car, but not before he flashed his at me to remind me mine were on. “How come you didn’t give him the boot after the crabs?”

“I should’ve. But I’ve got a real hard head sometimes.”

I nodded. “Me, too. Been accused of having a real Roman galea for a skull.”

“What’s that, a Galea?”

“A sort of helmet thing, with a faceplate. The ancient Romans wore them when they fought. Russell Crowe wore one in the movie, Gladiator.”

We finished the rest of the drive in silence. Maybe it was a generational thing. But then again, as I drove home after dropping off Melody, I couldn’t help but think it had something to do with the crabs incident.

CombatJeremy Puma

Jeremy Puma

K’von the Barbarian stared into the seething, sweat-covered face of the gladiator across from him, panting under the open-faced galea he’d torn from his previous opponent’s body. The helmet, heavy and bronze, pressed painfully against his scalp, but offered him an advantage over his enemy. His own body dripped, his muscular figure decorated with the blood of two combatants who had already fallen. K’von ran his hand across his face, wiping a mixture of red and his ritual black paint out of his stinging eyes.

How’d he end up in this situation, locked in mortal combat with an unknown opponent in the Roman Coliseum? He remembered dialing the code for Time Sector 8-B into his ChronoMate; he’d expected to land somewhere in ancient Scotland, where he’d be able to study the Pictish people first-hand. In preparation, he’d painted his face in the traditional style of the warrior’s tattoos he’d seen in the books he’d read on the ancient barbarian tribes.

Unfortunately, after the fall through hyperspace, he found himself surrounded by a crowd of Roman soldiers and unceremoniously dumped into the dungeons under the Coliseum. The timeframe seemed right, but the location? Off by over a thousand miles. Had he entered incorrect coordinates? He hadn’t thought to bring his Latin electrotranslator, either. Before he could escape, they stripped him and took everything—even his ChronoMate.

Now, his only recourse was battle. Thankfully, he’d used a series of biostims prior to his ChronoJump in preparation for combat within the war-like Pictish society. Maybe, just maybe, if he survived until the end, he could figure out a way to retrieve his ChronoMate and get back to his own time. However, after two rounds of combat, he was beginning to tire. Looking around for some kind of advantage, he glimpsed an hasta—a long, battle-worn spear—just a few feet away. As his opponent charged, he lunged, grabbed the spear, rolled to the side and lifted the weapon just as the other man fell upon him, impaling his enemy through the stomach.

He pushed the man away and stood. As the crowd hurrahed, he looked to the door which led to the staging area, which had begun to swing open. Sighing, he lowered the spear, wondering who his next opponent would be, and if this interminable battle would ever end. A figure appeared, and he lifted the spear.

“Kevin, it’s time for lunch!”

Kevin’s mother opened the screen door to the backyard and emerged into the afternoon wiping her hands on her apron. “Kevin, I—what are you doing with your brother’s pole-vaulting pole? If you break that, he’ll kill you—he has a meet next week! Did you use my black lipstick to color your face? Get inside and wash that off of your face, mister.”

“Aw, Mom! I was playing Time Travel!” Kevin, age ten, looked back down at the dial on the old rotary phone he’d labeled “ChronoMate 3000,” turned around, and followed her inside for bologna sandwiches.

WillieMichael Pitman

M.D. Pitman

Joey and Willie were the best of best friends. Whatever Joey did, Willie did.

Usually they played hide-and-seek, but Joey wanted to use his new Wiffle ball and bat. Joey ran outside wearing his plastic Roman soldier’s helmet – he didn’t have a baseball helmet – and two thick lines of his mom’s black lipstick under his eyes.

“Willie, let’s play.” Joey raised his arms displaying his bat and ball.

Joey took off his helmet and tossed it and the bat by the bush – which was home – and walked to the “mound.”

“You may want to put that on in case I come high and hard.” Joey winked. He held the ball at his waist before a high kick wind-up like Steve Carlton, only right-handed. He hurled the ball over the plate.

Joey jerked his head up to the sky and turned looking over the neighbor’s house. He hung his head. “There’s no way you took Steve Carlton deep. Let’s see how you handle Mike Schmidt.”

Joey marched to home plate and picked up the bat and looked back at the mound as he swung it in a circle.

“Joey! Time to come in.”

Joey whipped his head around and dropped the bat. “DAD!”

“Sorry, Willie. My dad’s home. I’ll come get you later.” Joey ran up to his dad and leaped into his arms.

“Are we going to Montreal, Dad?” Joey buried his head into his father’s chest.

“No. I didn’t qualify. My pole broke on my final pole vault. But we’ll try again in four years.” He knew that won’t happen. Thirty-eight would be just too old for the 1980 Olympic trials. “What were you doing outside?”

“Willie and me were playing ball. Can you believe he took Steve Carlton deep?”

“What? No! Carlton’ll get him next time.” His father mussed Joey’s hair. “Go cleanup for dinner, champ.”

Nancy hung up the phone sitting on a table in the kitchen. She called for Dan.

“What did the doc say about Joey still ‘playing’ with Willie?”

Nancy traced her hands over the rotary dial. “They want to either give him more medicine or take him to a specialist.” She exhaled deeply. “I’m so worried, Dan.” Nancy rubbed her already red eyes.

“Why can’t we just handle this ourselves? Just take Joey to Willie’s grave and tell him he’s dead, and hold him tight until he stops crying?”

“You know why, Dan. The doctor said it may scar even deeper. He’s fragile.”

“It’s been a year and nothing has helped. I’m just … just … ”

“Frustrated,” Nancy said finishing his thought.

Dan pinched the bridge of his nose. “Ya.”

Joey stomped down the stairs and nearly toppled his chair at the dinner table. Nancy and Dan helplessly watched. The excitement on Joey’s face faded into a somber stare at his empty plate. “Mom, Dad. Can I tell you something?”

They quickly sat on either side of Joey at the table.

“Ya, anything, champ,” Dan said.

“I really miss Willie.”

The Iron Writer Challenge #11

EdSmPapyrusPlateVandVIThe Iron Writer Challenge #11

2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #11

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Curtis Lee CancinoDani J CaileEric DontigneyKaren Vaughn

The Elements:

The Edward Smith Papyrus

A manhole cover

Clogging shoes

A water buffalo

Medicinal BuffaloCurtis Lee Cancino

Curtis Lee Cancino

I was in the middle of the street as usual, playing Frisbee with a manhole cover. Closing my eyes, I spun around and tossed the metal discus in a random direction. They opened to the sound of a window shattering.

Damned it, not again! Hopefully nobody saw….

Looking around for accusers, all was calm and quite. It was mid-day. All the kids were in school, their parents hard at work.

Good. Nobody will see me sneak into the Saggy House either. I’d hate for somebody to drive into that manhole again.

The manhole cover flew, true as a sparrow, straight through the picture window of the Sagacious House. Dilapidated from disuse, it sat catty-corner from my own prim home.

Even though nobody was outside, I crept over to the Sagacious House, and peered in through its broken picture window. Its empty front room was a familiar sight, yet, it looked different.

Curious….

Breaking out the leftover shards of windowpane, I looked over the block again. It was as lonely as a cemetery night. I dove through the broken picture window, landing in the spacious front room.

Standing up and dusting myself off, I spotted the manhole cover lodged firmly in the wooden flooring.  Humph! It figures. Between its splintered beams, and the manhole cover’s smooth edges, I saw a wavering glow in the basement.

The subtle movement drew me away from the manhole cover, out of the empty front room, through a hallway of faded peeling paint, past an abandoned kitchen, and down a set of squeaky stairs. From the far wall of the basement, the efflorescent glow was emanating. It drowned out any light trying to stream in through the dirty windows.

I feared what might happen next since I wasn’t wearing a pair of clogging shoes. In a dream I had this morning, a great white water buffalo led me into a glowing basement that started flooding! The clogging shoes helped me to walk on water to escape the flood.

Wait, rewind….

At the start of my dream, I was standing in the untamed wilderness that was the middle of my street; in front of my house. As I stood there in my clogging shoes, staring at the great white water buffalo who materialized before me, it placidly stared back. Its big black watery eyes implored me to follow it. When I agreed, it turned around and shambled off, the street parting like the Red Sea before it.

The great albino beast led me between earthen walls into a glowing basement. This glowing basement, I presume.

When I escaped the flood, I awoke. Then I came outside to play manhole Frisbee.

But what should it matter now, if I’m wearing any clogging shoes or not, as this basement isn’t flooding! If anything, I found the Edward Smith Papyrus that had vanished last millennium! It was hidden here all along; in the basement of the Sagacious House, behind the glowing wall I smashed down with the non-glowing sledge hammer I tripped over. But, that’s all good, since the Papyrus’s medicinal knowledge will come in handy to help whoever just crashed into the manhole outside.

DungDani-J-Caile

Dani J Caile

Flinging his wife’s gift on the desk, Detective Brad Shaw noticed the same old folder back on the top of his mountain of paperwork.

“What’s this?” Brad caught his subordinate’s attention with a crumpled up pizza receipt across the face.

“We’ve got another spate of manhole cover thefts on the riverside.”

“Anything new?” He knew this one, a complete waste of time and manpower. What was it about that case? Something strange…that was it, cowshit.

“The same as before. Forensics say the only thing they found was some water buffalo dung.”

“Water buffalo? How..?” Not cow, water buffalo. Same difference. “Who has a water buffalo in Downtown Pittsburgh?”

“You tell me, you’re the boss.”

This was all Brad needed now, another miserable, crummy case to solve. He thought he’d shelved this one months ago, and now it was back. Great timing, what with his marriage on the rocks. More overtime.

“What’s that, boss? You getting into ancient history?” Brad’s subordinate had come over and was handling the new book.

“This?” His wife’s gift. Brad took it back.

“Yeah, didn’t know you were into Egyptian stuff.”

“I’m not. She is.” Brad turned over the book and read from the spiel on the back. “Written by James P. Allen. Among other things it’s got ‘the first color reproduction of the Edward Smith Papyrus in its entirety, accompanied by a full translation.’”

“Sounds like a winner.” His subordinate went back to his own desk.

“She loves this stuff. It might also get me out of the doghouse. Too many late nights.” Brad looked at the clock on the wall, realising the time. “Oh shit, I’m meant to be meeting her! She forgot her dance shoes this morning and her group’s doing a performance at the Irish Center at 8!”

“You better hurry. It’s getting on to half-past.”

Brad grabbed the bag with his wife’s clogging shoes, pocketed the Egyptian book and ran out of the door. Taxi or run? Run, you can’t trust the traffic at this time. Two hundred yards down the almost empty street and he stepped in something large and wet. Either this stinking mound was made by the largest dog in Pittsburgh or there was a cow lose in the streets. A cow? There was movement in the shadows two corners away, large and slow, accompanied by a slight metallic scrapping noise on the road. No, it couldn’t be. Not now. His watch said 20 minutes to the hour. Should he? He wouldn’t make it to the performance if…surely she could wear someone else’s shoes, and when he’d give the book, all would be forgiven. He gave chase and the noise of his running along the sidewalk alerted whoever it was as the scrapping noise became more frantic. Brad turned the corner to see what looked like a man with a large horned cow pulling a manhole cover on a rope.

“You! Stop! In the name of the…!” His last words were lost as he fell into the hole.

Contingency JonesEric Dontigney

Eric Dontigney

Click.

“In other news, the mysterious appearance of a water buffalo backed up traffic for two hours today on Interstate…”

Click.

“The FBI continues to be stymied in its investigation into the theft of the Edward Smith Papyrus…”

Click.

“A child survived a fall into a sewer with only bumps and bruises. City officials are still at a loss to explain the missing manhole cover…”

Click.

I put the remote down and stared at the dark TV screen, my mind moving with all the speed of a sloth in clogging shoes. Even without enough coffee to fuel coherent thought, I recognized the warning signs. Someone was trying to manipulate reality with magic and succeeding. The warped probabilities and appearance of non-domestic animals was the world working to rectify the imbalances.

It was that damned Smith Papyrus, again. These fools thought it was an Egyptian medical text. It wasn’t. I should know. I was there when they wrote it. I hadn’t understood the code at the time and I’d been banished to the temporal backwater of 21st Century America because of it. The thing was a spell to summon Apep, the personification of evil. Someone was using it and I had an idea who.

*****

I looked down at the display and then back up at the shoddy warehouse. The device in my hand insisted this was the place. I shrugged and slid the device into the pocket of my work coat. I pulled up the hood and moved toward the building. The coat wasn’t really a coat. It was a tool that let me survive the shear forces that potent magic creates. Thank you 28th century technology. I kicked open the door to warehouse and felt the coat shed off waves of dark power.

I pushed forward and pulled out a fine piece of 20th century tech: a Smith & Wesson, Model 27 revolver. Sure, it wasn’t regulation, but practicality matters. The shear forces intensified the closer I got, making it harder to walk, but the coat held up and before long, I saw him standing there, papyrus in hand. His body cloaked in a coat like mine. He heard or sensed my approach and looked up.

“Contingency Jones. So, they really did send you here,” he said.

“Endgame Smith. You’re two centuries out of your zone,” I answered, cocking the pistol and pointing it at his right eye. “Also, you’re breaking the law. Summoning of deities is strictly forbidden. You know that. ”

“Oh please, you’re not going to shoot me,” he said, looking back down at the papyrus.

“No?”

“You’ve never had the stomach for bloodshed.”

I pulled the device from my pocket and spoke into it.

“I need an extraction team.”

*****

I plucked the papyrus out of Endgame’s hand. I set the stupid thing on fire and dropped it, closing the door on my biggest failure. The firelight danced in Endgame’s pristine, left eye.

The Weirdest Dig EverKaren Vaughn

Karen Vaughn

My name is Wilhelmina Van Dyke and I am a forensic anthropologist for the Society of the ancient Bones.  You can call me Willie as everyone else does. My day started out as any other until of course I received the call to report to a site just south of London.  I am stationed here for a year to study under Professor Alwyn Rossiter. The good professor is the foremost authority on anthropology and paleontology at the institute and I feel honored to be mentored by the great man.

“Willie, he shouted into the cell phone. I need you at the site for an important discovery. You do not want to miss this one.”

“Name the place Alwyn and I am so there.”

“Go to Victoria station and get on the train. Take the tube to the end of the line and meet up with Pang-Shao.”

“Ok then what?”

“I hope to death that you’re not allergic to water-buffalo. That’s your ride to the site. Sith might bite so be nice to him.”

“Sith?”

“The water buffalo’s name is Sith. Pang is a Star wars fan.”

It’s a strange request but I have no choice. I ran around my flat looking for my rubber boots but all I could find were my great grandfathers clogging shoes. They would have to do.  I hoped the dig site won’t be muddy.  I have street shoes but I love the feel of these on my feet.

Within the hour I reached my destination and Pang-Shao was waiting with Sith. I could smell the beast from where I stood and nothing in my vocabulary could describe the stench.

After my smelly and uncomfortable ride we reached the dig site.

I approached Alwyn. He looked at my feet and shook his head.  “No weillies?”

“Long story, couldn’t find them. So why are we here? Where’s the skeleton?”

“In the hole.” The professor was holding an ancient parchment in his hand by his finger and his thumb.

“What is that? What was that in the hole with the body?”

“It is the Edward Smith Papyrus, Ancient Egyptian medical text and the oldest known surgical treatiseon trauma which dates back to 1500 BCE.  I have been looking for this for God knows how long.” Alwyn was jumping up and down in paroxysms of joy.  Anyway there is a body there that does need our attention. Let’s go down and have a look shall we.”

“Lead the way.”  Alwyn grabbed my hand and we got to work taking pictures as the anthropology students dug and sifted earth.  Some one hit something hard and the digging stopped.  The students brushed off what appeared to be an ordinary manhole cover.

Two of the students tried to lift the heavy disk but Pang-shao started to yell in indiscernible Chinese.

“What’s he saying Alwyn?” I looked at my mentor.

“It’s the third gate to hell. Leave it alone!”

The Iron Writer Challenge #10

stove top hat

The Iron Writer Challenge #10

2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #10

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Dellani OakesGlenn TrustMoira McArthurSamantha Sargent

The Elements:

A Stove Top Hat

A Tse Tse Fly

A Gyroscope

A Half Dozen Eggs

WhirligigDellani Oakes

Dellani Oakes

Lawrence Chatterly clapped his stovetop hat on his head with one hand as he faced the wind off the river. He set a brisk pace, his impossibly long legs gobbling the distance from his flat to his office. The wind followed him through the outer door, along with a swirl of street litter. Closing it with a bang,  he leaned against it, catching his breath.

His clerk, Perry Lyndon peered at him over his spectacles. “Late as usual, milord,” he droned.

Chatterly grinned and swept his hat off his head. He hung that and his overcoat on the rack near the door. “No worse than usual, Perry. Messages?”

His clerk gave him a handful of crumpled, ink spattered papers. He was just deciphering Perry’s cramped handwriting when the clerk tapped on his door.

“Lady to see you, sir.”

Lawrence came around the desk as she entered, beaming.

“Charlotte, darling!”

Theirs was a chaste kiss as Perry had left the door ajar. He took his role as clerk, and now chaperone, seriously.

“Hello, darling. I’m off to see Uncle’s new gyroscope at the museum. He’s invited you along.”

“I’ll grab my hat! I shall return subsequently, Perry.”

The new gyroscope hung suspended from the roof by a series of ropes and pullies. An impressive device, it glittered and gleamed as the light touched its burnished bronze surface. Nearly six feet in diameter, it filled the spacious, vaulted room. Even in its frozen state, it was a feat of mechanical genius. Lawrence could hardly wait to see it begin its movement.

Charlotte was greeted by her uncle, Boniface Pascal. The French scientist also greeted Lawrence enthusiastically. A photographer grouped Pascal and his team with the young couple, taking a formal photograph to commemorate the occasion.

Once the formalities of speeches and such were dispensed with, Pascal proceeded to the platform erected beneath the gyroscope. He pulled a tasseled cord and the gigantic pieces began to move. Faster and faster the pieces spun, humming with the buzz of thousands of tse tse flies.

The contraption shuddered, jittered and groaned. The path of the whirling hoops collided with the spinning rotor. With a disaster impending clang, the giant machine slipped free from its tresses and fell to the ground. Rolling wildly out of control, it continued spinning, the pieces clanging into one another with such force, sparks flew.

Lawrence swooped Charlotte out of the gyroscope’s erratic path. Chaos ensued as the metal monster writhed on the floor, crushing furniture and heavy equipment as easily as a child would crush a half dozen eggs.

“It could whirl indefinitely,” Lawrence gasped. “We must stop it, Sir Boniface.”

“Have you an idea, milord?”

“I have!”

With the help of a few brave souls, Lawrence surrounded the whirling gyroscope with tall bookshelves and metal cabinets. Together, they heaved the heavy objects onto the gyroscope, smashing it to smithereens.

The disaster averted, Charlotte threw herself into Lawrence’s arms. “My love, how brave you are!”

“For you, my sweet.” 

SpinningGlenn Trust

Glenn Trust

“Why do things die?

Holding the small glass bottle to his eye, he squinted through it expectantly, waiting. Flashing with strobe-like intensity, lightning lit the porch and the boy’s face. He smiled and shook the little bottle in front of his eye.

“Look! The pee pee fly!”

The wicker creaked as he shifted in his chair and looked down. “It’s a tse tse fly, Bud.”

Grinning, the boy looked up. “I know. Mom doesn’t like it when I say pee pee.” He shrugged as if that were explanation enough. “Where did you get it?”

“You know where. Dad gave it to me. He brought it back from the navy.”

“Tell me again.”

And so he did, sitting on the porch in the dark, illuminated by the flashings of the gathering storm. Bright, yellow-green light intermittently showed them each other and the world, followed by the blackness.

The story told for the thousandth time, he settled back in the wicker, waiting for the next flash.

“Papa, why do things die?”

“Damn good question, Bud.” His eyes stared into the black night. “I don’t know. Everything just does.”

“Me too? Like the fly?”

Turning his head, he smiled gently at the boy. “Not for a long time, Bud.” He looked back into the night.

“You too, Papa?”

The light flickered, dim, then brighter until it lit the towering cloud from the inside, rising in the dark like a tall, puffy stove top hat. He waited, letting the question drift away in the night.

Carefully selecting from the bowl on the porch, the boy took one of the half dozen eggs he had gathered. He held it up, squinting, waiting. The lightning flashed.

“What about this, Papa? Is it dead?”

He looked down at the boy seated cross-legged on the gray porch planks. A sad smile crossed his face.

“It was never alive, Bud. Not really, anyway.”

“Never? Doesn’t it make chickens?”

He smiled again. The boy always made him smile. “Yes, it does. It’s kind of in between I guess.”

Multiple, rapid flashes lit the boy’s puzzled face. He wanted a better answer. The old man had none.

The clouds scudded and swirled, piling up on the horizon. The storm was close. The flashes showed them racing along, churning and whirling. He was like the clouds. Living, whirling fast at first, then wobbling, losing his spin, like a toy gyroscope about to topple over.

He looked at the boy. How could he be so young? They had grown up together. They were brothers. His brow furrowed. No, not brother…grandson. What was his name again?

The spring on the screen door creaked behind them.

“Storm’s coming. You boys need to come inside now.”

Standing, the boy cradled the bowl of eggs against his chest. Rain misted across the porch, dampening their hair. Thunder rumbled nearby.

Turning in the wicker chair, a question crossed the wrinkled face. Lightning flashed. She looked familiar.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Becky. Come inside, Dad.”

Holiday RamblingMoira McAtrthur

Moria McArthur

My usual thing, first day, is to walk alone around the largest oak tree three times and hug it at every circumnavigation – why, I don’t know. It’s certainly not a local custom and I do make sure that there are no people around while I’m doing it. And then having committed what is probably a Druid act, I go quickly through the Abbey to the Lady Chapel and light a candle for whoever I think needs guidance. Sometimes I fill in a slip of paper if there is someone I want a prayer said for.

I’ve never gone to a service in the Abbey. Maybe because it is the English church and I was brought up to think that crosses and candles in churches was ‘just not quite right’.

I feel guilty and said so to my Mum one day, and she said our Calvinist upbringing had a lot to answer for. She said it in the voice that usually said “I don’t like animals.”  Which is why the only pets, my brother and I ever had was 2 goldfish and Dad was the one who brought them into the house. When they died, their replacement was won by me on brother’s behalf at a School Sports Day and Fete. Lived for ages. That’s probably why our girls had five rabbits, several goldfish and three cats. As a small protest.

Anyway, we’d normally walk down past the Abbey and past the Bell Hotel where there is a scrap of William Morris wallpaper on the wall in situ (behind glass now) and where there was an old settle that was reputed to be haunted and no-one sat on it without feeling a chill but has now been apparently turfed out by the new owners and replaced with one of those quiz machines!

Then down along the Mill Avon, where there’s a side road leading to an antique emporium filled with odd things like stovepipe hats and tse tse flies encased in amber, before stopping off at the Britannia Inn for a drink (opens around 10am) then into Somerfield’s for the shopping. Half a dozen eggs, milk and something for tea. Then its along the road to the Tudor Hotel for lunch and a wander around the town possibly stopping at JT’s tea shop for a cuppa before going back down the road and into the Berkeley Arms with its table legs all at different lengths to accommodate the Elizabethan flooring – its quite funny watching folk get up and stagger around like a gyroscope, only having had one drink because the floor slants and the roofline has to be seen to be believed. Its a bit curvy.

Anyway, because we’ve been coming down to Tewks for some number of years now, its our local and we are recognised and so we stop for another drink or possibly dinner if its a night when the kitchen’s open, and then several more drinks taking us to closing time and then, trying to remember if we’d bought any frozen or chilled items, we take our shopping back home.  Its a nice life but somebody’s got to do it. And this year, getting there a few weeks later than usual and with our colds – it wasn’t us.  But we did get to the Berkeley for drinks on one night. But mostly we went to the Bell which is easier to get a seat in and if one has a cold in the head it is sometimes nicer to walk across a floor that has been relaid since Elizabethan times and is flat.

Spinning WheelsSamantha Sargent

Samantha Sargent

Her world ended when the gyroscope stopped. Once, it had balanced on her string like an acrobat of the most delicate kind, despite its rounded shape. Only teetering when the world stopped spinning, unlike any other story she had ever heard of, and so it was her favourite toy.

She lived in the embracing warmth of the kitchen with all its windows flung open. It felt like freedom to her in her girlish ways, but there was always some figure of authority or other watching her, making sure her that her petticoats didn’t fly out of place, that her ankles never saw the blazing sun of this part of the world.

That particular day though, a man walked in from the backdoor. Emily was playing with her gyroscope and watching the cook whip half a dozen eggs into meringue for dinner. Entering from the back meant that he must have gotten lost and was not from Africa. Indeed, he was decked up like what they termed a ‘proper gentleman’, all tailcoats completed with a gleaming stove top hat. It seemed as though the world could not touch him.

Her mother was quickly called by the cook. Emily quickly stopped her gyroscope spinning as her mother entered. Her mother strode purposefully into the kitchen, skirts a swishing and regal as any queen, though she smiled when she saw the man.

“Oh Charles! You’ve come at last,” she said, looking quickly to Emily.

“I have indeed Martha, there’s business to be done, after all. Is your husband home?” he asked, then paused for a second, noticing Emily sitting at the counter. “Is this your… daughter, in the kitchen?” he interrupted himself, a note of disgust in his voice.

“Oh, erm, yes,” Emily’s mother stuttered a bit, “she’s a perfect little lady though, aren’t you Emily?”

“Yes,” Emily uttered, prim and proper as she could muster.

“Well, then,” the man in the top hat sniffed, “though, I suppose, there’s still some time.”

“Indeed,” Martha agreed, then turned to Emily, “you’re to be Charles’ bride once you come of age. You must always treat him with respect.” She looked for a nod from the girl, and Emily obliged, “Good. We’re going to the parlour now. Run along and stay out of trouble.”

The two left the room, though Emily could hear Charles muttering to her mother, “You give the child too much freedom, she should already be learning how to be a proper wife.” Emily knew her days were numbered.

Still, she set the gyroscope spinning with the string in her hands once again and balanced it on the tip of her finger. What she hadn’t noticed was that on its tip rested a tse tse fly, flown in through the window; the kind all the locals said carried disease. As it bit her she felt fatigued, but knew that as she fell off the stool and the gyroscope crashed to the floor, that it was perhaps better that princes didn’t truly wake princesses, for she could never call Charles that.

Toys were better than boys, after all.