writing challenge

The Treasure Chest

Clearing the attic, I came across an old wooden barrel-lidded chest. Its hasp had been broken, the rusted padlock still attached and hanging useless, but everything else about it looked oddly pristine. A mix of trepidation and curiosity beheld me as I gripped the sides of the lid and inched it open.

Inside was a hand drawn map, a brass key and nothing more. The map had aged badly but beneath the stains of time I could just about make out the circumference of an island made apparent by the draughtsman’s inclusion of groups of tiny waves surrounding its enclosed shape. In a space between the waves was a scaled line noting a measure of half a mile. Within the island were groupings of palm trees, a dwelling which looked a lot like a shed, a large letter X, and an incongruous but perfectly recognisable standard door, the sort you normally see on the outside of any ordinary house.

It was then that I looked inside the empty chest and discovered that its base was in fact a door, with panels, a knob, and a keyhole, just like the one drawn on the island of the map.

Looking at the map again, I calculated that the door was easily within distance of the large X. I then held the key up to examine it in the half light; could it, I wondered, fit the lock in the chest door?

There was only one thing for it. Exhaling long and deeply, I put the key into the lock at the base of the chest and turned. There was some resistance, then a definite click. I grasped the knob of the door, holding my breath at this point. My palm was moist with perspiration and I couldn’t turn it sufficiently. Wiping my hand across the front of my shirt, I took hold for a second time, gripped tightly and, exhaling as before, turned the knob successfully. I sensed a lightness in the door and pulled it upwards, towards me. Suddenly, a huge gush of salt water poured forth from the chest, flooding the attic and washing its contents and me down the ceiling hatch and into the floor beneath. I fought for breath and control of my senses, the plume of water was unabating, my possessions cascaded down the stairs and into the street; I followed them, helplessly, soon after. Eventually, I managed to reach for the safety of a lamppost and pulled my fatigued body to the side, watching the torrent of water resemble a river in flood, or a tsunami, rolling down the street and through the town.

“What happened, Bud?”, a voice asked over me.

I looked up into the face of a policeman looking down.

“I guess someone drew the door in the wrong place”, was all I could think of answering.

The river is still flowing to this day, but as for the chest, I never set eyes on it again.

(493 words)


written for Peregrine Arc’s Creativity Contest writing prompt – “Treasure Chest”

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Smorgasbord Me

Blogger BeetleyPete is currently showcasing some of his favourite followed blogs. It’s interesting to see what ideas bloggers have and I am inspired to give this one a go as it could be fun. (As I think it may be to promote authors, and as I am not one, I will just keep it to this place.)

The request is to write 100+ word responses to five of the 52 prompts listed. For an extra challenge, I dialled the Random Number Generator 1-52 to select the five questions from the list.

12. What is the one ambition that you still have not achieved?

I know the permanent answer to this is a peaceful departure. The old joke which tickled me on hearing went,

“When I die, I want to go like Grandfather, dying quietly in his sleep – and not like his passengers, terrified and screaming behind him on the bus.”

I wonder how we would be if we all knew precisely how and when we would die, whether it would be worse or better, psychologically. Of course, we don’t until near the very end and so we convince ourselves it’s best not to know, and so there’s hope. It’s difficult to view it any other way.

45. What is your favourite vegetable and how do you like it prepared?

I love veggies, and don’t really go in for favourites, but I will say Asparagus. They have to be fresh, and they cannot possibly be too fresh, which means growing your own. Once they’re cut, the sugars begin to starch up and they lose that desired sweetness. The season is quite short in England though, about six weeks, and then the plants need to revive and replenish. Fortunately, we used to grow them and will try to do so again soon.

We’ve tried all kinds of ways to prepare asparagus, and all sorts of dressings, but we always liked simple steaming, and a dollop of yellow butter and freshly ground black pepper over to serve.

They make your pee smell funny, that’s about the only downside.

3. Tell us about your craziest experience.

Looking down the list of prompts, I see this could also be the answer to question 14 because my craziest experience has to be a recurring dream. We all dream but the idea is that we shouldn’t remember them upon waking; this, I’m told, is the healthy option. As a rule, I can’t recall my dreams but during two, separate periods of my life, I have experienced troubling recurring dreams. The latter one in adult life, I can probably explain was triggered by stress. It’s the earlier one that’s a puzzle.

I had it from before I can properly remember much else of my life and came often up until the age of about seven when it completely disappeared. It was a very intense and abstract dream, beginning with just a long sensation of passing blindly along a passage or tunnel. Then suddenly, I’m aware of being in a room full of regular geometric shapes: pyramids, cuboids, cones and cylinders. I am perfectly still in this space though not calm. Then the dream ends. That I can remember this vividly after so many years adds to the mystery. I wonder if it has anything to do with the naturally forgotten experience of being born.

42. What is your favourite music genre and why?

I’ve had so many, I might have had them all. My most recent habit is Jazz though it’s a big field and I can’t say I love all Jazz. The thing I like most about it isn’t so much the composition as the instrumentation. I got into Jazz as an antidote to electric guitar bands, in particular Indie rock/pop which was indistinguishable from any other rock/pop to me. The sound of Miles Davis exquisitely soloing a muted horn was instantly attractive, as was a Joe Morello drum solo, an Oscar Peterson-Count Basie piano duet, and a Dan Berglund augmented double bass intro.

I’ve always loved Jazz, to be fair. I was brought up in the period when Jazz was the go to sound for incidental music on movies and dramas. It was in the air, as much as pop music is now – but it had no longer been youth music and so I had to get youth out of the way first and become educated. Now I like to hear lots of different music but I’d probably put Jazz top of the list.

5. If you were to become invisible for a day what is the one thing you would do?

I have a mischievous character and a healthy amount of curiosity – and I also live in a town which boasts about the excellence of its cctv security below its welcome signs – so such a thing could be like all the Christmases and birthdays happening at once. My immediate thoughts, however, are overwhelmed as to what I could do.

As a foodie, I may find myself in some unaffordable restaurant – unaffordable to me but not them – sampling my way through the menu. Maybe get into a West End show gratis.

I feel a lot of obvious things might actually be disappointing. Peeping into any person’s private life, for instance. I’ll probably stick with a bit of free grub.


inspired by and borrowed from Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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.

Looking Back: The Hour Glass

The longer he lived, the more his life took on the metaphor of an hour glass, its sand slipping away, quickening, now greater below than above. Unlike the glass, there’s no way of resetting life.

He saw his moments, those grains, as equal, not one larger than another. The highs and lows, the same now: irrelevant. Somewhere beneath the pile lay his childhood, a happy time only he knew. He imagined that when the last grain had dropped, the family would pack it away amongst his other miscellanies. Until a time when it’s rediscovered and its meaning completely forgotten.

(99 words)


Written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge Prompt.

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who looks back. It can be a metaphorical reflection or a glance in the rear-view mirror. Who is looking back, and why? Go where the prompt leads.”

An hour glass can be considered in different ways. Someone may see it as a metaphor for life, another may see it objectively, a device to measure an hour by utilising gravity, some may see it as just an anachronistic curiosity.

Similarly it could be said for a fictional story, I suppose. An element of autobiography, an observation of another’s view, a simple play around with a common trope. Perhaps all of these and more.

There isn’t a glass large enough to hold all the grains of our imagination. Still, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Write it all down.

Back to Normal

“We just want to go back to some semblance of a normal life that everyone else has”
(Eric Van Balen)

Humans are conservative by nature; they love normal, they desire normal whenever life seems… abnormal. An excess of normal is often seen as being boring.

Normal is the rock on which we build successfully. Normal is the level base upon which we grow, from which we develop. Normal is sane. Normal is rational. Normal produces a healthy intellect, encourages imagination and innovation.

Normal is the calm before a storm, and the calm following a storm (unless on Jupiter where the storms have been raging for thousands of years. For a Jovian, that’s normal).

Normal is peacefulness, a time free of trouble and conflict, unless you’re a child born in Yemen or Syria where war is continuing. Fear is normal.

Normal is routine. A morning begins with fresh coffee, from a pot which has already been cleaned from the previous day’s use, the coffee jar not yet empty, fresh water in the jug, sugar in the sugar pot and clean mugs.

It’s getting ready for work at the right hour. It’s regular work. When I explained to my father-in-law that I worked freelance for short contracts, he was aghast. He’d told me, with some pride, how he’d been with the same firm for forty years. I have known people who started work after university and are still at that same company, the same commute to the same office, the same lunchtime routine, the same time going home. The way the company works, the way it likes to do business, has become second nature. That’s normal. Though in that time, they say they have seen changes. That’s normal.

Normal. Even the sound of the word appears to grind to a standstill.

If you’re an adventurer, if you’re a party goer, if you grab life by the balls, carpe diem, and all that, and you do all this, then that’s normal for you.

Normal is what we want unless that’s all there is, and then we want something else. And that’s normal too.


Written for Reena Saxena’s Exploration Challenge #68 – “Back to Normal”

It’s a train of thought piece which is how posts normally start though it’s not normally how I publish them.

#writephoto: Before The Flood

Removing themselves from the tent, the three of them sat cross-legged on the sheet of tarpaulin, and looked skywards.

“Red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning”, said Japheth.

“Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight”, added Shem.

“Baked potatoes on lamb, shepherds’ pie!”, said Ham.

Shem plucked a sod of grass and threw it at Ham. It struck the top of his head and bounced away; they all laughed at that.

Outside of the city, the sky appeared vast and overwhelming, its shocking redness increasing its imposingness; the broken plane of cloud resembled a sheet of bloody tripe.

“I imagine it’s like being inside the belly of a dragon”, said Japheth.

“Like a belly of fire?”, asked Shem.

“Do you think the dragon’s fire starts in its belly?”, said Ham, “wouldn’t it more likely start from its lungs?”

“Don’t be daft. If we were inside its lungs, it’d have a coughing fit. It’d cough us to the other side of this field!”, cried Shem.

“It’s commonly held that the dragon makes fire from its pyrotid glands, situated at the back of its throat”, said Japheth.

“Are they very big, these pyro whatsit glands?”, asked Ham.

Japheth shrugged in ignorance and said, “Dunno. Why?”

“Well, they’d have to be to get us, this tarp’, the tent, the field and all these trees inside…”

Shem plucked up another sod to throw at Ham and caught him squarely on the side of his face. Pieces of grit flew into his ear. Just then, the dragon coughed and expelled all three across the field and over the trees in a plume of flame. They screamed but Ham screamed the loudest.

He woke in the dim half-light of new day with Shem barking hotly into his left ear. A rasping, congested voice, something about his turn to light the fire, put the water on, and make breakfast. He’d been dreaming again. Outside it was raining; he could hear it softly pattering on the canvas overhead. It looked like another wet day ahead, like the six before; and how many more?

Removing himself from the tent, he crouched down and lifted a corner of the tarpaulin which covered the fire pit and the wood. The wood seemed dry but the pit was waterlogged. He looked skywards and cursed until the rain burned his eyes and he had to turn again to the ground. It was a good job they weren’t shepherds, he thought, because they sure hadn’t heeded the warning.

(415 words)


Inspired by and written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Renewal”.

image by Sue Vincent.

The Name Of The Cloud That Ate The Sun

In the ages of yore, a sky ogre, becoming jealous of the day, transformed himself into a great cloud and, gliding stealthily through the high air, swallowed the sun whole. As he slowly digested the heavenly orb, the Earth below became dark and dismal until nighttime seemed to reign the hours in perpetuity.

The men of Earth, fearing for their futures, sent an emissary to appease the cloud and plead that he might release the sun, if only for part of the time.

“And what shall I receive in return?”, demanded the cloud.

The emissary thought hard for a while until a notion occurred to him and he said,

“If you allow the sun’s release for part of the day, we will honour your name in a great book made exclusively for this purpose.”

The cloud considered the offer for a moment and then asked, curiously, “What name?”

The question shocked the emissary as he hadn’t an answer to hand, but he wasn’t anything if not quick of mind, and so he explained,

“Is any name enough for one as eminent as yourself, sir? Surely, we would honour you with many names, each befitting your many natures: there shall be high Cirrus, and broad Altostratus, and elegant Cumulus, and bold Cumulonimbus, and…”

“Wait!”, screamed the cloud, “What are you suggesting? Those…names!”

“Do they not please, sir?”, asked the emissary growing nervous. “Are they not honourable enough”

The cloud curled itself around, self-consciously, and grew slightly redder.

“Well,”, it said, “I was thinking…. of some names…. a bit like Sith, or Neff, or Porr. Something like those. Memorable names; simple ones as the sun, the sky, and the moon have!”

The emissary thought hard and fast.

“But, your honour, are you not greater than the sun you’ve consumed? And as for the moon, well… An eminence as yourself, my lord, deserves the greatest of names, the longest of names, and, clearly, the most obtuse of names, to be both scholarly and divine.”

The cloud considered this and, growing increasingly flattered, finally agreed and spat out the sun into a clear portion of blue sky. It then regarded the emissary below,

“Go on then, man, go and write the book!,” he insisted.

And so the great book was bound and the many names inscribed therein and that is why few men remember, or even know, the names of clouds now, whereas even a child knows the sun, the sky and the moon. Yet a deal has been made and is appropriately honoured, and the sun is set free for some of the day, or until the cloud deems it is time enough and devours it some more.

(448 words)


Written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt.

photo provided by Sue Vincent.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;” said Shakespeare through Juliette.

I am, it seems, still stuck on the issue of the naming of things. If, I wonder, a rose was called a pig, would it smell as sweet? The subjectiveness of taste, the prejudice of association, the scepticism in the face of a simple truth – who knows? Maybe the pig would become the ideal house pet.

The Ends

“What shall I do with all the end pieces, sir?”

Said the new Apprentice Meat Pasty Pastry Case End Trimmer brandishing his snippers aloft in a rather careless way.

“Are there that many, boy?”

Questioned the Chief Meat Pasty Pastry Chef in reply from the farther end of the conveyor.

“Did thee cut off too thickly? Did thee waste a lot a pastry?”, he added.

The boy assessed the damage and wondered if he’d done wrong.

“Ney, lad, don’t fret. We’ll cover them bits in cheese and ground black pepper and bake ‘em with the rest, then we’ll have a nibble while we wait on turkey to roast. Ma’s bought a bird big as an ostrich this year, and we won’t be eating him before teatime, I reckon.”

Relieved, the boy grinned, put down his snippers and skipped off to the fridge to get the round of cheddar.

(148 words)


Written for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers Photo Prompt – Week #197.

This week’s Flash Fiction story was inspired by the picture kindly provided by Yarnspinnerr.

Thanks Yarnspinnerr!

Happy Christmas, Everyone.

The rules for FFFAW are all explained HERE or click on the black box right, or on the blue FROG button below to read other stories submitted.

Santa’s Secret

“Well, Rudolph, my old red-nosed buddy”, said Santa, “I won’t be doing this for much longer.”

“Really?”, said Rudolph.

“Kids today have it all; they’re not fussed about some random fat man coming around once a year.”

Rudolph’s nose began to glow. Santa continued,

“When I first started out, a kid would be thrilled to get an orange or a balloon. I once turned up at one house having forgotten the present. So I just painted a great big lump of coal red and he was over the moon. Kids today? You can’t satisfy them.”

They stood in silence for a bit.

“What about Christmas?”, asked Rudolph.

“What of it?”, replied Santa.

“Well, I mean, the true spirit, apart from the cynical commercialism and all that”, said Rudolph

“Well, it’s a funny thing, Rudolph. It wasn’t mentioned when I applied for this job but I’ll let you into a secret. I’m a Buddhist.”

“How strange”, said Rudolph, becoming that excited, his nose seemed on the verge of meltdown, “me too!”

(171 words)


Written for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers Photo Prompt – Week #196.

This week’s Flash Fiction story was inspired by the picture kindly provided by Akshata Ram.

Thanks Akshata!

In fact, I’m all for Christmas and have no issue with Santa being Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Sikh, Jain or whatever. I’m not religious but I’m not anti-religious. It’s all a fascinating aspect of being human.

The rules for FFFAW are all explained HERE or click on the black box right, or on the blue FROG button below to read other stories submitted.

Bridge In Time

Why was there not a bridge over the river Styx? A bridge could imply an ease of passage both ways, which wouldn’t be a bad thing: Death and an afterlife in Hades seems so absolute. As for Charon, the ferryman, did he not become too weary of the job as he himself approached his end of days? I can imagine him one day setting off and not coming back, his fare paying passengers, their mouths full of drachma, having to roam the shore, with all the penniless souls, for eternity.

There are many rivers to cross, as the old song says, and the metaphor of a bridge aids the idea of linear time. As opposed to an idea of circular time, giving a sense of continuous renewal. Each is a reasonable assumption were it not for modern science leading us to the ideas of entropy and time’s arrow. Yet, are we not more than physical things? Then there comes quantum theory which includes the idea of particles being in more than one place at any time. Maybe we got time wrong; maybe we’re in the top half of the universe’s hour glass and it’s all we can possibly see and understand.

I was in Sydney at the end of 1984, a year we celebrated Christmas on the beach with barbecue steaks and prawns, and on New Year’s eve, drank chilled beers on the grass overlooking the fireworks in the harbour. It was mid-Summer and it seemed odd. I wondered how the Aboriginal people celebrated the year’s passing. I’m left wondering. They have the tradition of Dreamtime, a timeless existence encompassing all their ancestors lives back to the originals. Though it seems paradoxical to have originals in a timeless place, I feel I know what it means. The innate human desire to return.

Reality and dreams, that’s what it’s all about as we cross another bridge, hoping there are many more ahead. Regrets and aspirations, death and rebirth. I heard old Charon has been given a toll booth now, on the bridge. He collects the coins from passing souls and has a nice electric heater to keep him warm (the gods have promised air-conditioning in the refit for the Summer months). Now he’s not going anywhere that he might not be coming back from, and everyone’s happy.

(382 words)


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #67 – “Bridge In Time

This is the last of Reena’s enjoyable challenges for this year. Hopefully, more to follow in January 2019.

image: painting of “Psyche Crossing The Styx” by John Armstrong (Victoria Art Gallery, Bath)