photo prompt

Beyond #writephoto

Everything alive here, now and before, is the favour of the sun; its light and warmth. In the cold of late winter, before the spring, before the earth has warmed and, in its turn, warmed the air which remains chill to our senses, our sun can give its warmth directly: the wonderful experience of feeling its heat on your body as you walk outdoors, or through a sunlit window as you sit.

To think of all the sentient creatures of the world which have sensed this too. From the time of insects energising their gossamer wings for flight, and upon the scales of giant lizards, the dinosaurs, and the feathers and down of early birds, then the mammals and us.

It is believed, with the irreversible stresses we have placed on the Earth, that the next life forms will not be organic but cybernetic, in order to survive the heat and extremes of the environment. What will a cognitive machine make of the sun’s radiant energy, if it analyses it through an electronic sensor chip, with artificial intelligence; or even senses it at all? What meaning will such an experience have for the soulless beyond?


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto challenge – “Beyond”.

Advertisements

The Sign Writer’s Decision | #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

The carpenter had done his job: a sturdy monument to his trade; the fencer had brought it directly to the site and sunk it firmly in the ground; the surveyor, having previously measured out the respective distances, had paid the sign writer a florin to finish the work. And so the painter walked the mile up from the village of Long Standing and stood before the unfinished post with the coin jangling in his pocket, a brush behind one ear and, amongst the few possessions in his knapsack, a can of fresh white paint.

The surveyor had instructed him thus: the post being a mile from the village, two miles to “Great Risingham”, and two and one half to “Little Risingham”. He would be along shortly to oversee the work.

The painter, satisfied to be at the right place, sat resting his back against the post and waited on the surveyor. Over time, not being of those parts, he wondered idly which way the two villages of Great and Little might be set. As he saw things, either way could boast the same. He plucked a stem of tall grass from the side and sucked on its sweet fractured end for inspiration, though nothing came.

Not even any sign of the Surveyor by the time the sun was at its zenith. An hour later, he took a quarter of game pie, an apple and a water bottle from his sack and began his lunch. When he had gnawed the fruit to its core, the Surveyor still hadn’t shown. He threw the core into the hedgerow and sighed. His paint was thickening in the heat; his patience was running thin. He stood to look at the post and, thrusting his hands into his pockets, felt the hardness of the coin within. Taking it out, he played with it in his agile fingers and, wanting to go home, an idea came to him. Little and Great Risinghams? He would toss the coin.

And this he did and just before dusk he had completed the work, packed his sack and was on his way, back towards Long Standing. He would, of course, give half the fee back to the Surveyor, if he met him; it was only right and fair. And any traveller wanting to know the way, and coming upon the sign, would have to do what he had done: toss a coin, or simply choose, being forewarned, for the painter’s coin had chosen “Little Risington”, and this is what he had placed upon both markers, his contract fulfilled for precisely half the bargain.


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Decisions”

Private Detective

a flash-fiction piece

“Three guineas per day, and any expenses.”

“And what would constitute ‘expenses’?”

“A fare for a hansom cab, in pursuit; information bought; …possibly a bribe.”

“Illicit?”

“Not necessarily, though probably. It’s also likely we’d need an eye-witness statement…”

“And that would need to be bought?”

“Yes, but only after it’s submitted to the magistrate or judge. I would require some payment in advance; shall we say… for three days? Nine guineas?”

Removing a glove, Lady Ergmount reached into her bag and brought out a silk purse from which she extracted five five-pound notes.

“We ought not to risk any… slip-ups,” she said.

She handed them to the detective, furtively, even though they were the only two in the room, and as if to impress clearly that the exchange was normally beneath her. The detective, having no such inhibitions, inspected each note separately before collecting them up again and folding them into her own purse.

“Let me assure you, Lady Ergmount, I execute my service with the utmost professional diligence. There will not be any mistakes, indiscretions or errors,” the detective said, “You have the photograph I requested?”

Lady Ergmount had brought a gilt-framed daguerreotype she kept in her dressing room drawer. It showed a well-groomed man dressed in military uniform, with a waxed moustache and Van Dyke beard. He looked between thirty and forty years of age. The detective studied it for the briefest moment then slipped it into her outer coat pocket. She then took up her parasol, and checked the secureness of her hat.

“Allow me a minute to descend the stairs before you follow on, Lady Ergmount, if you will. We cannot be too sure if you were followed. I will contact you in code, by telegram, within three days. We shall meet here again, I think. Good day to you, Lady Ergmount.”

As she descended the stairs to the library’s main hall, the detective smiled broadly to herself. In one coat pocket she had a picture of the man, and in the other she had a picture of Lady Ergmount herself, collected earlier that morning from the gentleman in a tea room in Chapel Street, along with a further three guineas. Life was looking up, at last.

(370 words)


written for The Haunted Wordsmith’s photo prompt and genre writing challenge April 11 – “Private Detective”.

image provided by The Haunted Wordsmith (click to enlarge)

The Stories Stones Tell

When out walking the countryside and coming through a village, I like to visit both the pub and the church, if there are ones. Sadly, public houses are closing down and being converted into private houses leaving a village “dry”, but there’s always a church.

Outside of Sundays, I find the church is usually deserted. Inside, there is something serene and timeless about the experience of having a church to myself. I’m not a believer so whatever it is I feel must be beyond belief. Of course, I’m open to an idea that it may be the legacy of some cultural meme.


I remembered I had this photo, taken on my mobile on a walk last Summer to the village of Withington. As you can see, it’s the gravestone of Richard Gegg who lived for 79 years and died in 1908. It doesn’t say when he was born but as he died fairly early in the year, let’s assume it was before his birthday that year when he should have seen his 80th year. Therefore, he was likely born in 1828.

In the year master Richard came into view, King George IV was on the throne, the Duke of Wellington – of Waterloo and rubber gardening boot fame – became the UK’s Prime Minister, the World’s first science zoo opened in London, Catholics were finally permitted in law to hold public office, and two Williams, Burke and Hare, were doing steady business illicitly providing the physician, Robert Knox, with human bodies for his anatomy lectures. But, of course, towards the end of the year, they’d both be tried and hung for multiple murders.

However, what took my interest was the story within the stone’s inscription. Not only did our Richard survive two wives but they both were named Elizabeth and they both died on a 9th December, just eight years apart. I’d be curious to know what he thought about that, whether he believed there was something significant in the name and the date. They were also nearly the same age, within twelve months. They might have been acquainted for all I know. Maybe the second one had her eye on Richard whilst he was married. You can make your own story up if you wish.

Though the stone looks pristine, the grassy plot is indiscrete and I can only assume it’s a grave marker where the three remains are buried. The inscription doesn’t give any other clues to who these people were.

I did a little googling and I think I found our man. At age 22, a man with the same name, but born 1829 (okay, I was wrong), is recorded in Withington as a journeyman. This is a worker who plies his trade or skill from place to place. Ten years later, in a subsequent census, he is recorded as a grocer and ten years on, a grocer and baker, and again, ten years after this, a grocer and baker.

There is also a record for an Elizabeth Gegg, born 1828, recorded as a baker and grocer’s wife. As his second wife died between censuses, there’s no indication of a woman with an occupation matching the surname yet there is a certified death of an Elizabeth Gegg for both years 1886 and 1894.

I could try further and pay for the genealogy service and get full documents from the national census archive but I won’t: the reality might be mundane or unsatisfactory. I’m letting this go in favour of a little fictional imagining.

If you wish to write your own short story, please do. It would be fun to read.

click on either image to enlarge.

Threshold #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

“It’s a bit big.”

“What is, woman?”, said Mr. Neanderthal regarding Mrs. Neanderthal with despair.

“The door”, she replied. Mr. Neanderthal turned to take in the enormity of the threshold to the world outside as if for the first time. It was a bit big, he thought.

“Give over, missus!”, he said at length, “This is what you’ve said you’ve always wanted.”

He turned imploringly towards the woman, gesturing with his arms outstretched.

“Look at all this space; you wanted new open plan living, a nice sea view, cold running water, five minutes walk to the gathering bushes… and now you’ve got it. So stop your whining.”

“Neighbourhood’s not all that though, is it?”

The wife’s mother had an annoying habit of saying the wrong thing at the worst times. She sat in a dark corner of the cave, sucking on a tusk. He felt the blood rise to his cheeks at the same time his heart seemed to fall into his aurochs-skin boots. It was something he might have considered ironic had he any notion of human physiology, but he hadn’t. He had only raw gut instinct and a few things his father taught him about flints and never to approach any wild animal downwind.

“What are you saying, mother?”, he said after a lengthy sigh.

She took the tusk from her mouth and spat something onto the floor before jabbing the tusk’s sharp end vaguely towards the scene outside.

“Place is full of them bloody Homo Sapiens, isn’t it? Coming over here, diluting the gene pool…”, she began. He’d heard it all before and he wasn’t having any more.

“Look, mum, there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re good people. I’ve hunted with them and they’re okay, very cooperative, very generous too, with their skills, give you their last…”

“Bah!”, the woman interrupted, “Well, the Great Elder has called us to have a vote and we say an end to it. We want tighter control on who comes in, and we don’t want them telling us what to do: the size and shape of the berries we should be picking and how many fish…”

“Don’t talk daft, woman!” Mr. Neanderthal’s dander was up. “You’ve been reading the wrong cave paintings again. You don’t want to believe what Boris drew on the side of the cliff – Many More Mammoths = Neanderthal Health Service. What is a Neanderthal Health Service anyway? Look, it’s our kids future; you’ll be dead soon, that’s all I’m saying.”

“Charming, I’m sure”, the old woman said quietly. He regretted mentioning the D word to her now. After a while, she spoke more,

“So you reckon our kids will have a future then?”, she said.

If he was honest, he’d say he wasn’t sure. The world seemed to be forever shrinking and the last ice age seemed generations ago. He’d like to trust there’d be Neanderthals while there were still flints to knap and elephants roaming the south downs, but who knows really?

“How about I fetch some skins and you and mum can make some curtains?”, he said, “Might give us a little privacy, at night, when we light a fire.”

He got no answer. The older woman was breaking the tusk open with a lump of granite while Mrs. Neanderthal busied herself with some ironing. He shrugged his shoulders and turning to the mouth of the cave, walked out into the evening light.

(567 words)


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Threshold”.

apologies to one of my favourite authors, William Golding, who wrote “The Inheritors”. This is more a reflection on Brexit, its probable causes and the aftermath, the sorriest mess I hope ever to see in this country of mine.

50 Word Thursday #13 – Descending

a flash-fiction piece.

There was something wrong with performing The Lark Ascending in the smoke. The bird took on a melancholy attitude not in keeping with Vaughan-Williams’ intent. Not the joyful, high-flyer, chirruping in the early light, over remote fields of tall grass. Then here’s me, stuck amongst the second violins.

“How could anyone be tired of London?”, asked a principal cornetist. The majority of the brass section seemed to concur. You’d think they’d prefer their air fresher, wouldn’t you, what with all that puffing? I mean, the percussionist I could understand, what with the clatter and thump in the streets.

I am a country girl. I had the opportunity to play fiddle in a small folk group; the mandolin player, I recall, had a beautiful voice and looked like an Adonis; we could have played sweet music together, beneath the starlit skies. Instead of the obscuring haze of city lights.

A tutor convinced my parents that my talent was too good to fritter away in rural pubs and village halls, to literally scrape a living on a secondhand, mass-produced instrument. So I was packed off to an exclusive conservatoire in Paris and, five years later, here I am.

I live in London, though mostly it’s living from a suitcase. If I’m not performing, I teach kids of aspirational parents in Kensington. Sometimes I’m asked to play behind some famous pop artist, but don’t ask, who? One is like any other to me. Like every day, living in this city.

(5 x 50 words)


written for 50 Word Thursday #13 – a weekly challenge.

This week’s prompt phrase from “Bizarre London”, by David Long,

“How could anyone be tired of London?”

This week’s photo prompt,

The rules (copied from the host)

  1. The completed piece must be in multiples of 50 words – a maximum of 250 words. Anything is acceptable – poetry, story, anecdote.
  2. There will be a photo and a random phrase that I will take from the current book I am reading – you can use either or both.
  3. Please pingback and tag 50WordThurs so I can do a summary.

Rift #writephoto

a flash-fiction story.

There were once rivers of rock, oozing, bubbling, living, white hot streams, rumbling rivulets flowing under dense, murderous skies. Then, during the cooling, they’d set, contract and fracture. The fractures would often tear along the site of an anomaly, something in the mixture of stone which ought not to be there, a weakness.

In this rent, the anomaly was an empty scotch bottle, a large, plaid neckerchief, and a child’s shoe: size 3, blue leather, with a buckle strap. This anomaly, it goes without saying, is not the cause of the geological fracture but it might be the reason for its presence. For what use is a thing without a purpose? The bottle held the liquor, the neckerchief held something we have yet to determine, and the shoe held the left foot of a boy, identity unknown.

He placed the items in a row along the rent’s edge. Then he opened a tape measure to about thirty centimetres, locked it and placed it in front of the row before sitting down on the opposite side. He took photos with his mobile phone but, to be safe, he opened his notebook and with a pencil began sketching the items in turn, along with some dimensions and relevant notes. He spent a little more time on the shoe, not because it was difficult but he felt somehow it was the most important. He wondered what had happened to its other; he hoped there was a good explanation; he didn’t want to imagine anything sinister.

Just then, he heard his name called. He was some way off from the rest and Miss James was crouching low and doing something with Tim’s leg. Tim was crying. Tim always found something to wail about on school field trips. Miss James called his name again. Don’t wander too far, or something like that, caught on the wind. He’d just about done anyway. Picking himself up, he closed the book, put the tape in his pocket and then he nudged the objects back into the cleft. He wondered again about the shoe, whether it belonged to Tim, and whether it was why he was crying.

He looked across at the class and saw they were heading back to the bus. Only Miss James stood still, waiting, and looking very stern. Next year, he would drop geography and concentrate on art.

(393 words)


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Rift”

The Battered Hat #writephoto

a flash-fiction story.

The tradition dates back to yore, when a common man had no eye for words as written on a page, nor either a hand to make them. A symbol, an object he would recognise, was more helpful to him and so, in towns and cities, and any village large enough to accommodate them in number, the inns put up a sign by which they might be differentiated from another.

And so it was that Egfred Wattles, a person of nefarious means, instructed his companion, Gwent, to meet him in a certain named public house, three evenings following the second Sabbath of a month.

“I shall be at The Heart in Hand, Gwent”, he might say. To which Gwent might respond,

“The Heart in Hand. Oh. Right, right you are, Sir.”

Or,

“Gwent, we will try The Leaping Cow next.” To which Gwent would say,

“The Leaping Cow. Oh. Right, right you are, Sir.”

Or,

“It’s The Cat and The Custard Pot this time. Remember that if you will.”

“The Cat and The Custard Pot. Oh. Right, right you are, Sir.”

And so it was on a chill Wednesday night that Gwent found himself in an unfamiliar village, at The Battered Hat Tavern, cradling the sorry remains of half a pint of best ale and doing his utmost to avoid the suspicious glances of its overlarge landlord.

Every time the inn door opened and closed, Gwent would start and lurch across the table in hope of seeing his comrade. All too often it was just a local man, a stranger, and more times than he thought he could bear any more, just the wind rattling its timbers in the frame. In time he grew more afraid to cast his eyes down again, to take in the dwindling remnants of his drink, the tan brew slowly coming to resemble nothing more than a stain across its bottom.

“Can I restore that jug, matey?”

Gwent looked up and swallowed in surprise at the towering figure beside him. He had no coin for another, nor any sweet words of persuasion as was his associate’s trade, so he remained silent. It was the landlord who spoke again,

“I see you looking intently upon our door. Would you be waiting on someone?”

“Aye. If this be The Battered Hat for sure, then I am expecting to find my fellow traveller soon”, said Gwent.

“And who be this fellow traveller?”, asked the landlord with curiosity.

“A goodly gentleman, finely suited, and by the name of Mr. Egfred Wattles, esquire.” said Gwent with a sounding of pride.

The landlord crouched low so as to rest his knuckles firmly on the table, his great head coming close to one side of Gwent’s face.

“We hang that swindler on the morning of six days past”, he said in a low tone.

Gwent’s blood ran to ice and he felt the need to put down his empty pot for fear his trembling hands would betray his condition.

“Last week. Oh. Right you are”, he said at length. “Pray, how many weeks has this month seen?”

The landlord, rather confused, rose up at this apparent diversion, but he answered all the same,

“Well, almost four now, I reckon”, he said.

Gwent eased himself up from his seat. Smiling wanly, he offered the empty pot to the landlord who took it, but did not reciprocate the smile. Gwent left through the door he had entered three hours before and which he had watched keenly in all that time. Out in the cold night, the wind rocked the battered hat on its gibbet, to and fro, and the full moon, peeking out from the cloud, glinted off its many imperfections. The right place, the wrong time, he thought, and, turning up the collar of his coat, he set his feet for home.

(636 words)


inspired and written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Sign”

The Standing Stone #writephoto

a flash fiction

For a billion revolutions since its birth, itself not a fleeting moment, the rock communed deep within the soul of the Earth, amongst kith and kin. Suddenly, there came the violent, shifting erosion of glaciers, three, or possibly four, moments in succession. What had been concealed was revealed thereafter; a bleaker experience, the dual wearing punishments of air and water in motion. Still throughout, it reposed in quiet submissiveness beside the mountain’s feet.

When the animated ones first arrived, they showed little interest. The stones watched them skitter and slide, grow and alter: larger, quicker, smaller, taller, slower, and all multiplying until the stones began to discern subtle differences between them; in particular the thin upright ones which took an interest in them as not before.

No sooner had the stones noticed them when a number came with woods and vines, and attacked the ground upon which the greater stones rested. Brutally, they felt themselves being hacked away from their brethren and dragged indignantly to a foreign place. There, these thin creatures hoisted each stone arbitrarily, and without regard to the stone’s sensibility, onto one end and shoved it down into a hole.

No great time has passed yet for a great stone to quell its anger; it burns hot and the energy is immense; it calls out yet the creatures who did this thing appear, in the main, oblivious to its cry. The stone, against hopelessness, must learn patience. As quickly as they came, the thin ones will be gone and the ground will continue to shift and break, and be unable to restrain the great stones. They will find rest again and their dignity will be restored.

In time.

(279 words)


Written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo Photo Prompt Challenge – “Timeless”.

Honour #writephoto

A rose plucked and laid
red across a pallid stone
for love enduring,
memories of adonis’ wounds
mingled with a turmoiled earth
which, amongst the remains,
bore blossoms of a different kind
though red, not of a rose,
though dead, not for love
but honour.


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo Photo Prompt Challenge – “Honour”

Up against Quintus Horatius Flaccus and Wilfred Owen, I ought not to try for a poem this time but I simply didn’t have a story.

I then wondered, in my ignorance, whether poetry was a higher form of literature and should therefore be truthful. From the heart, so to speak. I don’t think I believe in the sentiment of “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”.

Amour sans frontières.