Flash Fiction Foray – The Reaper in Love

Every week, The Book Blogger nominates a song to stir the imaginations of his blog’s followers, and those of us who feel so inclined submit a Flash Fiction story inspired by the song. This week the song is ‘I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You’.

However, having reread the rules, I find that the Flash Fiction entry has to be fewer than 100 words. That’s Flash indeed, and rather disqualifies my entry. What the heck, though, I’ve decided to publish and be damned, then work on the word count before next week’s foray.

In the last few days I’ve been saddened to learn that two heroes of mine have died: the immensely talented musician David Bowie and the equally talented actor Alan Rickman, so in a bid to drag myself out of the doldrums, let’s take a little sideswipe at death.

*****

The Reaper in Love

Death arrived on Murderous Maureen’s doorstep, a bunch of withered flowers plucked from a nearby graveyard in one bony hand, an solitaire diamond ring (still attached to a rotting finger) in the other.

“Don’t you ever give up?” asked Murderous Maureen with a sigh, opening her door to a skeletal grin.

“I love you, Maureen,” replied Death. “I can’t help it. You’re the woman of my nightmares – that’s a compliment, by the way.”

Maureen picked up a nearby dagger and started sharpening it, Death’s appreciative eye sockets reflecting in its gleaming blade.

“You’ve already given me so many children…”

“Adults too,” added Maureen with a wicked grin.

“Ahh, plenty of adults, which saves me having to get up in the night to change nappies.” Death’s laugh sounded like nails dragging across a blackboard. The neighbourhood dogs howled.

“Death, please don’t laugh. It doesn’t suit you. And anyway, the dead don’t fill nappies.”

Death had to check himself before he laughed again.

“Murderous Maureen, will you marry me?” he said instead, holding out the diamond ring (and the finger). “I can’t help falling in love with you.”

“Marry you?” Maureen threw back her head and barked with laughter. The neighbourhood dogs ran whimpering behind sofas. “I can just imagine the wedding day. What will happen when we get to the ‘till Death us do part’ bit?”

“I promise I won’t. Part us, I mean. You’ll be with me for eternity, giving me ever more babies. And children. And adolescents…”

“Yes, yes, Death, I get the picture.”

“I’m famous, you know. Who hasn’t heard of Death?”

“Who hasn’t heard of Murderous Maureen?” she replied, waving a machete in Death’s face. “Since that bountiful spree I had last week, I’m all anyone can talk about.”

Death visibly sagged, the flowers drooping by his side and shedding their few remaining petals.

“So the answer’s no?”

“I didn’t say that. Actually, Death, I’ve been dreaming of this moment since my first killing at the age of seven. We’ll make an indomitable pair, won’t we? So although you’re the riskiest bridegroom since Henry VIII, the answer’s yes.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. How can I help falling in love with you too?”

Smiling his skeletal smile, Death took her hand. And took her whole life too.

Grim-Reaper[1] www.mirror.co.uk

Picture courtesy of http://www.mirror.co.uk

We Could Be Heroes

DavidBowie www.beigeUK.com

Picture courtesy of http://www.beigeUK.com

This is not the blog post I intended for today. A tribute isn’t something I would normally write. I’m not a dedicated follower of celebrity, not the sort of person who lays flowers and weeps and wails over the passing of footballers’ wives and reality TV stars, but I didn’t feel I could let the death of a true genius go by unmentioned.

I am referring, of course, to the news that David Bowie has passed away. Talk about the day the music died! David has provided a soundtrack to every decade of my life (and there’ve been a few), so I’m a little bit shocked to learn he will do so no more. I’m not grieving – I’m not crass enough to believe that how I feel can compare in any way to the feelings of David’s family and friends, but I do have a sense of loss. The last time I felt this way was when the world of comedy was shocked by the early death of the late great Rik Mayall, and like Rik, David Bowie was one of my heroes. I think we all need heroes.

So, Mr David Bowie, there’s no ‘could’ about it. You were. And not just for one day.

*****

Fellow authors, please join me next Monday for the first of my ‘Writing Tips’ series. This isn’t an idle promise, like the Christmas Eve love story which took a fatal tumble at the editing stage (hangs head in shame); this time the post is already written, edited and ready to go.

Festive Flash Fiction – The Many-Eyed Alien

Yes I know, my ‘write a short story every week’ project did rather grind to a halt after the…ahem…second week. Best intentions and all that jazz! To make up for the lack of fictional entertainment on my blog over the last few weeks (or any entertainment whatsoever if I’m to be brutally honest), this week I will present you with not one, but two Christmassy short stories to get you in the mood for the festive season. Ho ho ho!

The first story is a little gem (not a turkey, I hope) that came to me while watching telly last night.

*****

The Many-Eyed Alien

Alien www.wired.com

Picture courtesy of http://www.wired.com

Bored with watching television, the human glanced around the room from her place on the sofa. Staring back from the computer table opposite was a many-eyed alien.

Raising her eyebrows in surprise, the human looked again. A row of large unblinking eyes was definitely returning her gaze.

More curious than disturbed, the human crossed over the room and investigated the alien at close range.

It wasn’t a many-eyed alien at all. It was a roll of shiny Christmas ribbon reflecting the tree lights across the room.

“Duh!” said the human out loud, laughing. “And that reminds me…”

As the human went off in search of paper and scissors to make a start on the Christmas wrapping, the many-eyed alien blessed his chameleon-like disguise and settled back into planning world domination, blissfully unaware that he was about to be cut into pieces and used to decorate a pile of presents.

Ribbon www.ebay.co.uk

Photo courtesy of http://www.ebay.co.uk

*****

Having neither the level of courage nor curiosity of the human in this story, I never did find out what was staring unblinkingly at me from behind my computer last night. Perhaps it was a many-eyed alien planning world domination. I guess we’ll never know for sure, unless he succeeds…

Please join me again tomorrow for a heart-warming romance for Christmas Eve. Yes, you did read that correctly – I’ve written a love story!

Holly www.iconarchive.com-

Photo courtesy of http://www.iconarchive.com

Short Story – The Race

Following my first attempt at short story writing last week, I received plenty of feedback. Some was favourable, some not so, but it was all constructive, so thank you for that.

One comment that got me thinking was that I’d hardly stretched my imagination. OK, hands up – I admit I went for the tried and tested short-story-with-a-twist formula, and I don’t do formulaic. I’m a confirmed panster, for heaven’s sake!

For short story number two I’m going back to what I know. I have a title, a thought or two for the start (which may well change), and not a clue how it will end.

So here goes – roll up, roll up, it’s time for ‘The Race’…

*****

The Race

“The Race is the stuff of myth and legend.”

Walking up a steep grassy slope in the company of the slimiest man I’ve ever met, I find myself wishing the stuff of myth and legend would confine itself to myth and legend.

“You are our honoured guest,” Slimeball continues. He sounds as though his mouth is full of – er – slime, I guess.

Then he smiles.

I wish he wouldn’t do that.

“Or should I say, Competitor?”

That’s got my attention.

“Oh no. I’m not competing in anything, mythical and legendary or otherwise.”

Slimeball looks baffled. One of his chins disappears into the sweaty pulp masquerading as his shirt collar.

“But it’s the Race,” he says as if that explains everything.

We crest the brow of the hill and I stare about in astonishment. There are crowds and crowds of people gathered either side of a deep canyon, mouths agape in anticipation. A collective “Ahh” goes up as we appear.

Slimeball spreads his fleshy hands wide and booms, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Competitor!”

In perfect unison, the crowd cheers. I crane my neck to see into the canyon. There’s a fast moving river at its base. With rocks. And…crocodiles? Not sure, but there are certainly teeth down there.

If that’s the Race Track, I want no part of it.

“No way.”

I turn on my heel and walk back down the hill.

Up the hill.

No, I’m sure I should be walking down it…

Why am I not surprised when I end up back at the canyon? The crowd cheers as if my walkout is all part of the fun.

Slimeball is waiting for me. I really wish he wouldn’t smile.

“My name is Slimeball,” he says.

“Yeah, I guessed that.”

“Now, the Race…”

“Look, Slimeball, what part of ‘no’ do you not understand? I. Am. Not. Your. Competitor.”

“Of course you are,” replies Slimeball complacently. “Oh, you’re worried about racing. You won’t race the Race…”

By George, I think he’s got it.

My relief is short lived.

“…The Race races you.”

“Slimeball, I really don’t want to do this…”

“Ms Competitor, may I ask you to go and stand on the bridge.”

My eyes follow the line of his fat pointing finger to a flimsy bridge spanning the canyon, groaning and quivering under the mass of sheep – I mean, spectators jostling for a prime spot.

No, I do mean sheep. They’ve all turned into sheep.

“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather watch from here,” I say. “In fact, I’d rather go home, but as you seem determined I’m to stay for this poxy race…”

“Poxy race! Poxy race!” chorus the sheep on the bridge. They’re ever so loud all of a sudden. Oh, that’ll be because I’m on the bridge with them.

“The Competitor has taken her place.” Slimeball’s voice echoes around the canyon. A greenish drool rolls down his chin. “Let the Race begin!”

I have a split second to realise the bridge is going to collapse before the bridge does just that.

There’s no sensation of falling. It’s more that the river races up to greet me, but by now nothing is surprising me in this topsy-turvy world. As the water and I meet, I realise the railing onto which I’m clinging so desperately still has a plank from the bridge attached to it. I have my very own water scooter. Woohoo!

OK, I can do this. Gripping the railing firmly with both hands, I successfully negotiate my way past the first of the rocks. Lean left to bear left, lean right to bear right. Easy peasy.

The river carries me at a speed I don’t even want to consider, but at least I am moving forward – something in Topsy-Turvy Land is actually doing what I expected it to do.

Relaxing into my race, I allow myself some time for reflection. The Race races me? Yeah, right! Watch and learn, Slimeball, watch and learn.

Hang on a minute, though, weren’t there teeth involved too? Glancing over my shoulder, I notice I’m the only competitor left in the Race. The starting line is clear – flotsam litters the water marking the exact point at which the bridge collapsed – but there’s no sign of the sheep. The teeth are there, though. Grinning.

Looks like the teeth consider lamb more of a delicacy than human.

I don’t have time to grieve for the sheep. Turning to face forward again, I see a colossal rock looming in front of me. Right in front, that is. In fact, I’m riding up the side of the wretched thing.

A jumble of instructions races through my brain.

Lower your centre of gravity.

Do what?

Crouch down, you dolt! Hold on tight. Do not, I repeat, do NOT fall off…

Scream!

I shoot up into the air, hollering my lungs out, then hit the water on the other side of the rock with perfect balance.

Cool!

The sheep on the banks go wild. I raise a hand in triumph. At this moment in time, I’ll take any encouragement.

Hold on, rewind a little. The sheep on the banks? Sure enough, the forbidding rocky canyon has given way to grassy banks on either side of the river. Flowers are swaying in a gentle breeze. Sunshine sparkles on the water. Birds are tweeting. Sheep are tweeting (#competitorskijump).

I steer my water scooter to the left and drag it on to the bank with me. Slimeball is there, and he’s not smiling any more. (Small mercies, eh?)

“What are you doing?” he yells. “The Race has to carry on until it’s won.”

“Fine,” I reply, posing for a selfie with a group of young sheep (#competitorretires), “I’m withdrawing my entry.”

“You can’t withdraw your entry! The race has to carry on until it’s won.”

“Yeah, you said. So I must be the winner, being as everyone else has been eaten.”

“Tell her.”

A woman (or is it a vulture?) with shoulders hunched up to her ears and thin hooked nose is perching at the side of the river. I wonder if any carrion has managed to evade the teeth.

“I will, Ms Vulture.”

Slimeball turns to me, his expression grim. “The winner is the last competitor to die.”

“So that’s me then.”

Ms Vulture glares at me. I’m clearly far too alive for her taste. In fact, I seem to be far too alive for Slimeball’s taste too.

“No,” he spits. Literally. “You are not the winner until you die.”

“So as long as I’m alive, the Race is still going on.” I start to laugh. “Well unlucky, Slimeball, because I have no intention of dying in the foreseeable future.”

Slimeball turns to Ms Vulture for help, but she’s too busy scooping something unmentionable from the water.

“Have you ever thought of having a live winner?” I ask.

“#livewinner, #livewinner,” tweet the sheep.

Ms Vulture’s disgust is palpable.

“A live winner,” she hisses, “is against the rules.”

“And who makes the rules?”

“The Winner, of course.”

Slimeball looks at me as if I’m simple.

“So how can the Winner make the rules if the Winner’s dead?”

Back at ya, Slimeball.

“A live winner is unprecedented…”

“#livewinner.” The sheep aren’t giving up.

“Shut up,” roars Slimeball.

“Livewinnerlivewinnerlivewinner…”

I love the fact the sheep are defying Slimeball, but it’s getting a little difficult to hold a conversation.

“Could you perhaps drop the volume a touch?” I ask them. #livewinner continues on a loop, but whispered.

The significance isn’t lost on me.

“Looks like the sheep are doing as I ask now, Slimeball.”

“Impossible.” Fat a-rippling, sweat pouring, Slimeball again looks to Ms Vulture for inspiration. Personally, I’d rather not risk seeing whatever it is she’s chewing on. “They only obey the Race Winner.”

“So how come they were obeying you…ah, you sneaky sod! A live winner isn’t unprecedented at all, is it.”

I beam round at the sheep.

“OK, back to full volume, guys. What do we want?”

“LIVE WINNER!”

“And who is that Live Winner?”

“YOU AAAAAAAAARE!”

All of a sudden, Ms Vulture’s very interested in proceedings.

“Race rule,” she caws, waddling over from the riverbank and licking her lips at Slimeball, “number 5,048, as set by Slimeball in 1755: should the occasion arise that a new Live Winner is crowned, the previous Live Winner shall pay the forfeit…

“Forfeitforfeitforfeit…”

“And the forfeit is?”

“His life.”

Did I really need to ask? “Careless, Slimeball,” I murmur.

“Din-dins,” says Ms Vulture, whipping a large napkin from her bag and eying Slimeball hungrily. Revolting though he is, I don’t actually want to see Slimeball die, and I certainly don’t want to witness what Ms Vulture has in mind.

“Hold on a minute. I’m the new Live Winner, so I make the rules. Scrub number 5,048. In fact, scrub the bloody lot of them. Two rules from now on. One, no one dies!”

Ms Vulture looks furious. A few teeth who have drifted over to listen in are clacking their dismay too. I fervently hope they stay in the river.

“Two, only willing competitors compete.”

Slimeball can’t contain himself any longer.

“That’s preposterous! No one will compete voluntarily. The Race will never be run again!”

“Jolly good, that means my rules will stay in place forever. The last Race has been won.”

Immediately #lastrace trends on Twitter.

Slimeball’s shoulders sag in defeat. Ms Vulture I’m sure would have voiced an opinion, but she’s foolishly trying to wrestle a piece of carrion from the teeth. There’s only likely to be one winner in that particular contest.

“Can I go home now?” I ask.

“Not until you’ve chosen your prize,” replies Slimeball with a sigh.

“Anything?”

“Anything.”

“Simple,” I reply with feeling, “I never, ever want to see this place again.”

As Topsy-Turvy Land plunges into darkness and the slurping, chomping sounds coming from the riverbank take sinister to a whole new level, I wish I’d thought a little more carefully about wording my request.

The Race sheep image twitter.motifake.com-

Photo courtesy of twitter.motifake.com

Short Story – Innocence Lost?

A while back I read a blog post advising authors to improve their skills by writing a short story every week. To paraphrase the post, it didn’t matter whether the story was a literary classic or a pile of poo as long as it got written.

Interesting, I thought. My fiction writing to date has been very much character driven, meaning the readers need to get to know the characters in order to take an interest in whatever happens to them. And that, of course, takes time. Not conducive at all to short story writing, so here was my chance to give my work a new dimension.

Having read the post shortly before Christmas, I had a ready-made New Year’s resolution. However, I’m not talking about last New Year – it was the year before. Keeping New Year’s resolutions isn’t my strong suit!

For some reason the blog post’s idea came back to me at three o’clock this morning. Oh the joys of being creative – not that I’d want to be anything else, but why do alpha waves love the early hours so much? By four o’clock my mind was working feverishly on the following short story. By five I was editing and fine tuning it. By six I was still awake and heartily fed up.

Later, after an appalling night’s sleep, I got up and wrote ‘Innocence Lost?’. So here it is: my first attempt at short story writing.

*****

Innocence Lost?

How did this happen? Jenny thought miserably, watching the summer sun sink behind pretty suburban houses. The scent of barbecues filtered into the car, and cheerful groups of people wandered here and there, enjoying the balmy evening. How happy they all looked. How safe.

How Jenny wished she could join them.

Risking a glance at the man beside her, Jenny felt her insides recoil with fear. Even through her drunken haze she realised she was in trouble – deep trouble – and she only had herself to blame. Hadn’t her dad warned her about the company she kept? Hadn’t he repeatedly told her about predatory men who wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of a pretty fourteen-year-old? Especially one full of a potent cocktail of cheap alcohol.

As the car passed under a street light, Jenny caught sight of her reflection in the wing mirror. An hour ago she’d felt so grown up, drinking in the park with her older friends – ‘friends’ too drunk to notice (or care) when the man beside her had persuaded her away.

Now she looked like a frightened little girl caked in makeup.

Wriggling in her seat, Jenny pulled her skirt down as low as it would go, but still it barely covered her knickers. The man glanced at her legs and made a sound somewhere between a growl and a sigh. Cold terror coursed through her booze-laden body.

Oh God, what’s on his mind? As if I don’t know. But I’m so young, and he looks so old. I didn’t realise he looked that old

The lights of the town were now behind them, and even Jenny’s fuzzy brain didn’t take long to register that ‘showtime’ was approaching. She pressed her hands over her mouth, vainly hoping to stem the rising tide of panic that threatened to burst out of her.

The man pulled into a layby. It was classic – a deserted country road; no one around for miles; spooky woodland on either side. All the horror cliché was missing was a ground mist.

‘Showtime’ had arrived.

The car was at a standstill, but the man continued to grip the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles were white with the effort. His jaw was clenched; his breathing was ragged.

“It’s no good,” he muttered, looking at Jenny’s bare legs again, his expression hard and determined. “I can’t drive in this state. We’ll have to do it here, in the car.”

“Please…” whispered Jenny, immediately clapping her hands over her mouth again as panic overwhelmed her. No, no, no! her mind shouted. Not here, not in the car.

Her mouth, however, had lost the ability to utter a word.

Jenny fumbled with the door handle, but the man grabbed both her wrists, restraining the inebriated teenager with ease.

“Not so fast, young lady. I’ve not even started with you yet.”

Oh God, no! Why did I drink so much? Why didn’t I listen? No matter what, I’ve got to get out of this car. Now. I’ve got to do whatever it takes

“Whatever were you thinking, you stupid child? I could have been anyone.”

“I know, Dad,” Jenny mumbled eventually. “I know you’re waiting to read me the riot act, but I’m about to be sick in your car.”

*****

What do you think? Is the twist a little too obvious? If you’d be so good as to add comments or constructive criticisms below, I’d love to read your thoughts. Then I can take them on board for short story #2, which may appear next week, or may appear in two years’ time.

You never can tell with my resolutions.

*****

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