For my 50th birthday my wife Julie bought me a wonderful book called 642 Things to write about. In it 642 authors give the reader a prompt and they must write accordingly, fiction or fact. Here are some of my responses. I hope you enjoy!
Prompt/ What Can Happen In a Second;
A lot and then then some. A doctor could make the decision to pull the plug. Or he may make the decision to be brave enough to operate and save your life, changing the course of your family’s lives forever. It may take more than a second, possibly many agonising hours to arrive at that decision but there will be only one atom of a second when he draws his final conclusion. His word is final, you better hope he concludes in your favour.
Prompt/ A Houseplant is Dying. Tell It Why It Needs to Live;
“Come on man you are giving up to easy! All your ancestors and all your future siblings as well as you are important. Didn’t I read somewhere you guys make oxygen? If they all gave up just like you are doing what the hell are we going to breath? Dust? Plus you keep my wife occupied. What is she supposed to care for now the children have gone? What is she going to water? The oven? Don’t do this to me man, don’t make me breath dust and live with a cranky broad. Get better!”
Prompt/ The Worst Thanksgiving Dish You Ever Had;
Jeez an easy one. Ma and Pa were at it again. The old man drinking too much watching the game before the bird is even out of the oven. Ma sees red and pulls the plug… The bird freezes to death. No point even setting the table as we hear mum in the kitchen yank out the corkscrew on her third bottle of Blue Nun. Before we move to the next level I spare my kid brother the blushes of hearing her curse under her breath. With that kind of language Blue is the only Nun she will ever be acquainted with. I steel a glance at my snoring, farting pop. He is out for a least another three hours. Turning to my baby bro (huh, ‘baby’. He is ten and has seen enough for a fifty year old).
“Come on kid, I’m buying.” He doesn’t reply, just zips up his parka and we hit the cold city streets in search of nutrition.
Zip, zilch, nada…nothing. Every food outlet crammed, all bars closed to a 16 year old and his snot nosed kid. The retardants downtown? Give me a break! I can’t even afford to look at the menu. Soup kitchens are out down to sheer pride. Pride in the face that despite our rumbling tummies growing into angry bears I wouldn’t be seen dead in one and that is what I would be if I tried to share with the clientele. Dead. They don’t take kindly to a couple of wise ass kids trying the break bread with them, not even on this great American holiday.
“Come in short stop. Home before we freeze. If we are lucky we will fall asleep before the hunger starts to hurt.”
But short stop does indeed stop and points at a donut house closing up. In the alley a worn out employee empties trays of hard,cold but jam filled treats. We wait him out. It’s an age as we watch for the lockup. If we are caught stealing from the bins a beating is what we will get, not a frosty filled treat.
Eventually the door locks and we scuttle like rats to our treasure. Jeez it is pitiful. Too kids better off orphans sitting in a piss filled alley eating stale dough but it fills a gap. We eat our fill of chocolate cakes, vanilla slices and other unidentifiable goodies. Short stop then fills his pockets. He has a bigger heart than me.
The warmth of the house, however meagre is welcome and before I head for the sanctuary of my dimly lit room I watch Short stop empty his pockets and share his leftovers with his two passed out, down ‘n dirty drunk role models. He finds two reasonably clean plates, wipes them with his sleeve and fills ‘em up, placing them on the arm rest of mom n pop’s chairs. Like a say, a bigger heart than me.
Prompt/ Tell a story that begins with a ransom note;
“You know who we have, you know exactly what we want so make it happen. The choice is yours not ours. Don’t take your time over this.”
I turned to my wife and handed her the note that had just dropped ominously through our letterbox.
“What do you think love? It’s your call really.”
My wife looks angry and I immediately regret putting that kind of pressure on her but she stands tall.
“If we give in now they will just demand more.”
I nodded thoughtfully. “But I know how much you love…”
“Don’t,” she scolds interrupting. “That just adds to the misery.”
We sit and sip our, by now, cold coffee. I hate being put in a dilemma but what could we do? We knew we were up against three of the best and it would take some work to undo what had been done.
There was a bang on the door making us both jump. I opened the door to nothing. Whoever had startled us had gone. I got a feeling I knew where to.
“Let’s just do it. Give them what they want and we can bring her home. “
My wife looked as if she was trying to suppress an emotion. I couldn’t tell what. She nodded. “You know where we keep the goods.” I nodded. She continued “And you know where they will be?”
I went to collect the prize our tormentors demanded and we both left the house together, one destination in mind.
As we approached we could hear them. Three of them in total. Not good odds for us.
I called up to them. “We have what you want. Let her go and it’s yours.”
The sound of giggling was deafening as our three children smelt victory again. In return for three early Easter eggs we had her back in our arms (fourth catnap this month) Tabitha may only be a cat but she was our cat. As for the kids? They can live in the bloody treehouse for all I care.
Prompt/ Tell a complete stranger about a beloved family tradition.
“It started with my Gran. Long before these fancy first class carriages.” The girl opposite me smiles and decides to concede her book, closing it and putting it in her bag. For an hour I have tried to engage her attention and it finally seems to be working. It’s not a chat up line. I am just desperate to share our family’s tradition with someone as the train covers distance to the Scottish village.
“My Ma wasn’t too keen at first but eventually she caved in, gave in and joined in. Gran could be persuasive like that.”
“The same journey all the while?” she asks.
I sip my cold tea and nod. “No other way. Scotland is where it was best suited. The same train, the same day every year. Bolton to Scotland. Same time, same lunch, same location we eventually arrive in.”
“It sounds fascinating, “she says all teeth and smiles. But I can see she is losing interest and I know I have to pick up my pitch.
“The best thing is the food and drink. Nothing like a secluded cabin in the woods to enhance the smell of cooking. Wash it down with a fine wine. Can’t beat it.” I could tell by her bloodshot eyes and slight odour that the mention of wine would do the trick. “We finish off with a lovely malt from the local distillery. 12 years of age. Mind you the one bottle doesn’t last long and is usually followed by many more.”
“Sounds like fun,” she admits. “Many people attend?”
I shake my head and reach for my bag, topping up my cup from the flask of whiskey. I offer it to her already knowing the answer. “No, family traditions are for family only, maybe one or two friends. This year it is just Ma, one sister and me. We will meet at the cabin. Plenty more booze for us since my eldest sister disappeared. We haven’t seen her for years.”
“Wow! That’s a shame,no sign of her?
Again I shake my head. “Too bad,” she offers, knocking back her slug of Scotch. I quickly top it up and add another pinch for good measure. We are just ten minutes away and I so want to share our family tradition with this kindred spirit with my taste for booze.
“Say, you could take her place. You wouldn’t have to do anything, they are already there preparing and there is a spare seat now sis has gone. It’s a ten minute taxi but then a twenty minute hike.” I rattle the booze. “This will make the walk a little easier.”
She considered it and nods. “How about the food? Is it good?” I surpress a smile knowing how well Ma cooks.
“Oh it’s good.” And the deal is done. Half an hour later we are off the map and she is starting to get off her face as the Scotch is flowing. I am a generous host.
She starts to fade a little.”Jeez I need food real quick. This Scotch has gone to my head. How much further? We seem to be in the middle of nowhere.”
I don’t want my new friend upset, far from it. I want her happy and smiling when she meets Ma.
“Two minutes, no more. Look, you can see the smoke from the burner. Foods coming soon!”
She smiles a sickly smile. “Okay, but no more Scotch. Gotta have food,” she says surpassing a burp.And true enough just 120 seconds later we reach a cabin. There in her glory, with subdued young sister stood behind her, is Ma. Large caving knives in hand. “Ma!” I shout as I rush to hug her. She smiles a cold smile which warms when I introduce my ever weakening guest. “Look who I bought for dinner!”
My friend smiles a grim smile. “Thank you for having me,” she says burping again. “Sorry too much Scotch courtesy of your son.Such a long walk to such a lovely isolated place. We haven’t seen a soul for a long time. I am dying to be a part of your family tradition. Listen, thanks for having me.”
My Ma grins.”Our pleasure. We love having strangers for dinner, have done since my Ma, his Gran started this shindig.”
My friend smiles again, brightening. “So what is to eat?” she asks expectingly.
Ma grins even wider and rubs the knives together. Could cut right through you they could. “Why you are my dear,” she says.
Prompt/ You have just swallowed your pride and done something you didn’t want to do. Your friend wants to know why. The two of you are driving around an almost full parking garage looking for a space for the friend’s oversize pickup. Write the scene.
Although full the underground lot is eerily quite, only the sound of screeching tyres breaks to silence until Joe speaks.
“Thanks man. Thanks for the ride.”
Piloting the oversized beast truck Joe smiles, “C’mon Charlie Brown. Friends for thirty years, I’m not going to give you a ride.”
Charles smiles and says, “You don’t want to know why?” Joe shrugs, “I figure you will tell me if you want to. Whatever you decide it’s good with me…shit missed a space.”
Charlie looks back incredulous. “You think this is a skateboard? You think you can plop this beast into a space the size of your seat?”
Joes laughs. “Who ‘da king brother?”
Charlie frowns and responds with “It is ‘Who is the King?’ you degenerate piece of work.”
“Woah, don’t go breaking my heart there man!” Joe says laughing. “Shit, missed another one. Listen tell me why or shut up. You are messing my concentration.”
“No! Does today end in a ‘y’?” They both laugh but then fall silent. Another screech of tyres on cold Tarmac and Charlie retreats. Up one level and he starts to come out of himself.
“Because I had too. Because maybe it wasn’t all one way street. Because fifteen years is too long brother, too long.”
Joe considers his response, “Yeah but all those beatings, all those cold words, all those…sorry man. My bad, your call. I’m here either way.”
“Wasn’t all bad you know.” Charlie speaks but in reverie.
“I didn’t say it was. I know it wasn’t. I was there remember?”
Charlie turns to him, his eyes moist with emotion. “Of course I remember.” He playfully punches Joe in the arm, “I love you man.”
“You love my truck is what you love.” He then struggles with what he has to say next. “Maybe I wouldn’t have played it like you, making that call. Maybe we are different. Maybe I would have held on to the bad too much, but you? You are different.” He slams on the brakes as he sees I spot and reverse into it. “ To swallow your pride like that and wear your heart on your sleeve.”
The car comes to a standstill and Joe chills the engine. They sit in silence until Joe stirs. “Come on man, let’s go see your Pop.”
Charlie nods. “But what if I am too late. What if can’t get in or he won’t see me?”
Joe gives it consideration. “Only one way to find out,” he says giving Charlie a hug.
They exit to now extremely silent parking lot, walk to the entrance and past the sign that quite simply says;
“Intensive Care. Close Relatives Only.”
Prompt/ Write a scene in which a woman is fired after only a week on her job. Just a week earlier, the same person who is now firing her was very persuasive in convincing her to take the job.
“But you were so sure! How can you do this to me? After such a short time as well!”
A cough and a splutter delay the response of the disbelieving lady sitting at the side of the water. “Well you weren’t exactly honest were you? It is only now we find out you…”
The angry redhead interrupts, “Find out what? That you didn’t do your home work properly? That you persuaded me to give up my old post and take this…this crappy job!!!”
Trying to remain calm the supervisor continues, “If you had just been honest…”
Red interrupts again, “Honest? How dare you talk about honesty! Oh you were all ‘we provide all the equipment, all the work clothing you need, think of the perks! Oh how your children will love you having this job!’ You are full of crap mam!”
“We asked certain questions but we assumed…”
“Never assume! It makes an ass out of you and me!” She is clearly agitated beyond the calming down process so the supervisor allows her to rant and she does. “You asked me if I had a criminal record, check! Could I drive to work, check! Was a flexible with hours, check! Did I like working with children, check! Oh but now, now day one of the job after six days going through your process…now you say I don’t qualify like you thought I did. You should have asked your bloody important question last week before I took the job! I would have answered honestly.” She starts to calm down but is now on the verge of tears.
The supervisor composes her own self and puts a comforting arm around Red. “But we thought it was just assumed that you could swim when applying for a life guard position.”
Red flares up again and with an almighty push sends the horrified supervisor into the pool…splash.
Prompt/ What could have happened to you in high school that would have altered the course of your life?
My response to this prompt is based what would have happened if true events had not occurred.
You see I was very badly bullied to the point agoraphobia took over. The bullying started in ‘little school’ and had, or so I thought reached it’s peak at high school when I was terrorised on separate occasions by violent youths. My salvation arrived in the form of martial arts and the love of my life Julie, who pushed me when pushing was needed and carried me when I needed to be carried. Both karate and Julie undoubtedly saved me but if neither had arrived? Well here is a work of fiction that I hope shows the bullies in life what misery they cause and what an absolute catastrophe they create. And it s that, an absolute work of fiction by the Grace of God.
Sorry, we don’t take your type.”
Type? What type was I? And so I dared to ask. “May I ask Sir what I am that excludes me from your club? I only want to learn self defence. I am tired of being bullied and just need some help.”
“Well maybe that is your problem. Maybe being a cheeky little bastard with a big mouth is not working out for you.” With a hefty crack around the ear I was sent on my way, his last words hitting me hard.”Now fuck off you skinny little prick!”
Wow! This wasn’t on the poster. The poster hanging from the wall of the grimes little sweet shop. The poster inviting one and all to ‘Come and learn the devastating art of Shotokan Karate and banish those bullies forever!’ The photo of the instructor wasn’t exactly on the money either. The flattering picture (obviously photoshopped) showed our hero in a gleaming white, crispy karate uniform, muscle bound and striking a pose. The reality was a balding, short fat man, grubby in hygiene and stinking of cigarettes. What the hell, what could he teach me anyway. Still a chance would have been nice but martial arts and I won’t cross paths again.
Still, another golden chance glistened and I hoped with all my heart I would bump into her on the way home. I had my lines all prepared, absolute no way she could resist my charms!
Except it wasn’t Julie I came across. It was Jimmy. Jimmy in all his glory and dangerous snarl.
“What the fuck are you doing here? This isn’t for a Nancy boy like you.” His eyes catch the piece of paper still in my hand. Damn! I forgot to bin the poster!
Jimmy moves with stealth like speed and snatches it from my mitts, now trembling with fear.
“Jesus H Christ on a stick! Fucking karate? You think you can put on white pajamas and take me on? Let us see what you have my fine man!”
His cronies laugh as he dishes out yet another beating, this one the worse ever as he is fuelled by my broken dream of learning to look after myself. A full five minutes of kicking and punching produce bruises that would make a peach proud and cuts that send blood streaming down my face.
“That’s enough Jimmy. Let him go. Go on son fuck off before he goes again.”
Grateful for the intervention of his friend I scramble over a wall and head for home. God knows what my dad will make of this one.
Trudging along I see her. I see Julie and a brief hope fills my heart until she sees me. Her horrified face reminds me of the blood running down my own. She doesn’t even try to hide her disgust.
“When the hell are you going to stand up for yourself?” She admonishes. I start to reply but she cuts me off. “Save it loser. Save it for someone who cares.”
Her friends laugh as she beats a hasty retreat. Beaten, now humiliated with only the prospect of facing an angry, drunk and bitter dad at home. Defeated beyond reasonable defeat I weigh up my options.
“I’ll take door number two please John!” I say to myself out aloud. And number two it is. I found the deserted barn some weeks ago and it has been my hiding hole ever since. Filled with football magazines, spare sweets and a bottle of pop I have spent many an afternoon there in my own world. No one even noticed was gone. A couple of hours in there was my heaven before I returned to the real world. This time there would be no returning.
Pushing open the rusty door I find what I am looking for…salvation. Throwing up high and wide it finds it’s target first time. A rafter. Easy throw, easy way out. The only thing I ever got right. It is after all only a rope…