*Sigh*

Carriage in the dark woodsLeopold sat alone in the dark, stark carriage. His body shivered from the biting cold as the potholes and rocks strewn across the road sent judders through the entire vehicle. He glanced out of the open window.

“Why do they build roads through such foreboding woods?” He thought idly to himself. “The trees call, ‘danger’ to any and all who venture in. It’s almost as if those who build these roads are in cahoots with the highway men.”

The steady pace of the carriage abruptly changed. From comfortable canter to a jarring stop in the blink of an eye.

A crash.

Leopold craned his head through the window to ascertain what was happening. All he saw was the body of his driver slumped on the leaf strewn ground beside the bedraggled carriage. Slowly Leopold took his position back in the centre of the bench seat and sighed.

“I should have listened to the trees; now I’m being robbed.”

Leopold didn’t like being robbed because he didn’t like where it was destined to lead. He straightened out his over-jacket and waited for the inevitable intrusion into his carriage.

“Ya money or yer life!” Came the snarled threat accompanied by a slender blade protruding through the window.

“What an odd request. I hardly imagine that if I offer you my life that you’d leave my money with my corpse. Excuse me for saying but you don’t seem a very reputable chap.”

There was a short, confused silence before an identical threat was made, “I said ya money or yer life!”

“My dear sir, what makes you think I have sufficient funds to guarantee my own life or indeed the life of anyone else? I have no great riches in my life, least of all about my present person. The only thing of value I posses is my man servant who I am now quite sure is dead.” None of this was a bluff. Leopold’s nature was to be as direct and truthful as possible in such situations.

“Stop ya messin’ with me ya pompous windbag and fetch yer wallet out before I run you through like yer mate over there.”

Leopold sighed once more. His hand reaching gently for the door of his carriage, coming to rest a mere inch from the threatening blade. He gave a small push and the door swung open. The thief took a step backward. As Leopold alighted his carriage he grasped inside his under-jacket and produced a tired old brown wallet. Confused, the thief simply stood motionless, his jaws ajar.

Leopold decided to rain the contents of his wallet in the thief’s face; it was mainly coins.

What followed was a series of expertly delivered blows and strikes that left the thief collapsed, gasping for air and motioning for clemency on the heavily trodden floor. Leopold gathered himself and once again straightened out his over-jacket.

“As I informed you, my personal wealth at present amounts to little more than a few coppers. Not nearly the value of a life like mine.”
Taking the thief’s blade he ran it through his own wallet before skewering it through the thief’s hand and into the ground. “People with sufficient wealth normally pay people such as me, with sufficient skills, to protect them from people such as you.”

Leopold leapt up to the drivers seat of the carriage and continued his journey, leaving the thief with his poultry ransom and a scare he wouldn’t soon forget.

Boom

From little acorns do mighty oaks grow. That was an adage that Leopold knew all too well. On numerous occasions he’d been in taverns and bars and witnessed seemingly innocuous disagreements alchemy into all out mass brawls. But he was a cool head. Often surrounded by such chaos part of his skill was to not be enveloped by it. Leopold had long ago lost the ability to flinch.

Flaking paint textureThen he heard it. A small, insignificant scratching sound. Repeating in beats of three.

*Tink* *Tink* *Tink*

He turned his head to face the wall he thought the sound was coming from and he felt the corse fibres of his uncomfortable scarf pull at his three-day old stubble.

“What on earth is that?” He thought. “It’s too percussive to be a mouse gnawing at the skirting board; couldn’t be tap dripping either.”

When Leopold had rented the room he’d expressly asked that the two rooms either side remain unoccupied for the duration of his stay. Slowly he rose from the chair which furnished the otherwise bare space and silently made his way towards the wall.

*Tink* *Tink* *Tink*

“What ever is it!?”

Leopold pressed his ear against the flaking paintwork and listened. The noise stopped. All that remained was his breathing and the slamming of a door out on the landing.

“Flint!” Suddenly he realised what the sound had been; two flint stones crashing together in the hope of igniting a spark. Leopold instantly understood that they’d found him yet again. He also understood that as he stood there with cheek resting against the partition wall that a short powder fuse was burning its way towards a makeshift bomb. He surmised that he hadn’t the time to supposed so instead he readied himself. Sat down and braced for the blunt force that was about to strike him.

How things often escalate! A disagreement in a bar; or even a small scratching sound, ‘tink, tink, tink.’

*Boom*

– Image courtesy oDietmar Down Under –

Bump

Preamble: The following short story was written as part of the Trifecta Writing Challenge. Dan, the main character  is the protagonist in a super hero novel I’m writing called, “The Specials.” In it he develops his ability of seeing the future and together with friends takes on a criminal mastermind, €A$Y. Enjoy 🙂

***

Bumper Car

Dan was rushing. If he had any chance of seeing her today he had to make the bus. “Why is the future so dark, so cold?” He wondered.

Bump

Dan was no longer moving in the right direction to catch his bus. Instead he was spinning round, drowning in a cascade of papers as he recoiled from clashing shoulders with a stranger heading in the opposite direction.

It was in many senses a lucky bump. Instantly Dan saw a whole set of different futures unfurl in his mind. Where before all he could see was darkness, this lucky bump was beginning to shine a brighter light on things. Before the bump he’d been destined to catch the 9:43 bus at the end of the road; but the bump and subsequent tidying of strewn papers from the floor meant that he was sure to miss it and so miss the impending explosion.

Of course Dan would have foreseen the explosion from his favourite seat near the back of the lower deck and would no doubt done something to stop it or at least raised the alarm and rallied innocent victims off the bus. Now, while he stood leaning against the cold metal frame of the shelter he heard the distant boom of the bus exploding into flames.

€A$Y had struck again. This time closer to Dan’s home, his family and loved ones than ever before.

The bump was lucky for him, but luck is really just a relative term.

***

Image from Digiray CC by 2.0

Borrowed Time

Time was running out. Hell, I didn’t even know how much I had to begin with. I was sure by now my hourglass was empty.

It’s funny how we’re content to let time tick by, hour by hour, day by day. We’re careful with money, which comes and goes, but our precious time we treat far too loosely.

Now my time was gone, my hourglass empty. I was on borrowed time and just waiting for someone to come collect.

Another car drove by and I twitched at the curtains again. Not this time.

If I knew what it would cost I never would have gotten in so deep. But that’s how some people make a living and how some people end up dead, we forget to count the cost.

I heard the car door slam, and immediately looked at the clock. My time had come.

I heard the ponderous footsteps on the asphalt. I heard the condescendingly polite knock at the door.

Time’s up.

The Life You Haven’t Lived

Claire tentatively walked through her professor’s office door.

“Take a seat.” The old man spoke coldly.

His office was as cold as his words. Devoid of life. It was the office of a man who’d lost touch with the outside world, the struggles that constantly bite and snarl. Inside he was safe in his academia, outside ‘real life’ was constantly on the attack.

“Sir, if I…” She was cut off.

“Young lady I must say that in recent months I’ve been very disappointed by your contributions. Mediocre essays, rushing in an out of class; I’ve yet to receive a single submission for extra credit! Do you not care about bettering your own mind?” His question was little more than a statement.

“I couldn’t care less,” thought Claire, “If I cared about me at all I wouldn’t be here, trying to juggle university and the relentless demands of raising two children all alone. All I care about is bettering a future for them.”

She said nothing. Why waste breath on a man who’d clearly never experienced the hardships life throws at you? She simply sat and stared at her hands, folded gently in her lap.

“I thought as much,” the professor continued, “In which case I shan’t require anymore of your efforts. We are obviously here for two very different reasons. You’ll receive a B- but you needn’t bother with any further assessment.”

Claire sat speechless.

“Learn what you’re here to learn but don’t sacrifice family in the pursuit of knowledge. Ideas and thoughts disappear the moment you’re gone. I wish I were as courageous as you.”

The professor’s gaze lay squarely on a photograph on his desk. Claire saw a much younger professor, a woman and a boy. The professor’s eyes were different, full of the joy that accompanies surviving life with loved ones. Those young eyes flickered now in the old. In a breath they were gone.

The professor gestured toward the open door.

“That’s one less thing to juggle.” Claire smiled.

A Professor's Office, 1876

Murphy and Associates

Gregory sat alone in the offices of ‘Murphy and Associates’. A dilapidated building in as great a ruin as the law firm it housed. Gregory Murphy had no associates. Nor did he have any clients. Someone had once tried to console him, “You may not be the best lawyer, but if they were handing out prizes for the worst you’d defiantly win!”

“I wish,” Gregory thought to himself, “if they did hand out prizes at least I’d have something to show for 20 years in the legal game.”

Gregory had been a lawyer for little over 20 years and in that time had never won a case. He was without a doubt the greatest bungler in legal history. Once in a cross examination of a confessed thief he managed to instil such doubt in the juries mind that the criminal was released! He’d lost count of the number of times he’d arrived at the wrong court room or brought the wrong papers with him. He knew it himself, he simply wasn’t cut out for law. It was time to give up.

Gregory stood up from behind his clumsily organised desk and walked towards the door. The sign which was to welcome folks in read ‘closed’ from his side of the door. He took it in order to turn it but it came off in his hand. The suction cup which kept it attached to the glass had come unstuck. Dejected, Gregory simply tossed it aside towards a near by waste paper basket. He missed.

Gregory slouched so heavily that his head was almost lost inside his chest. He opened the door and walked out, never to return.

***

Murphy’s Law says, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Write about a time everything did — fiction encouraged here, too!

Daily Prompt: In defence of Clichés!

Clichés become clichés for a reason. Tell us about the last time a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush for you.

I think people give clichés a hard time. Seriously, lighten up. We love to say, “Oh that’s such a cliché.” without realising that in complaining about clichés we are becoming the monster we bemoan.

But that’s not my point. My point is this:

Clichés are clichés for a reason.

Generally clichés have become clichés for one of two reasons; both are reason enough to stop giving them such a hard time.

Man holding Tower of Pisa up.

This is a cliché. It’s still fun to do though!

Reason numero uno: Because they are true. Take the cliché that comes in the prompt. Is a bird in hand worth two in the bush? Well, yes. It’s great advice because it carries a weight of truth.

Raison d’être part de second: Over usage. Is this really a reason to run a cliché down? For starters, clichés that are over used tend to be overused because the work well. Aside from that, when can we really say too much is too much? Perhaps for someone it isn’t overused. Is it still a cliché for them?

So stop complaining about clichés, let them slide, perhaps learn from their ability to withstand the test of time.

People who use clichés on the other hand, now that’s a different story.

Daily Bread: Seconds

Describe the most satisfying meal you’ve ever eaten in glorious detail.

sgt pepper millAnything with Jalapeños in it. Seriously. I’m contemplating finely chopping them and drizzling them over my cornflakes of a morning. Is there anything they can’t improve?

Perhaps I’m on to something here…we seem to have developed a taste for salt and pepper to such an extent that we assume they should be on the table to accompany every meal, why not a little ‘Jalapeño Pepper Mill’?

Here are two suggested recipes for using Jalapeños in meals you might not think:

Cheese and Jalapeños on toast – Simply intersperse your usual ‘grilled cheese’ with delicious Jalapeños. My favourite is mature cheddar on white bread. Toast the bread lightly before applying the cheese evenly. Grill until the cheese begins to melt then add the Jalapeños. When the cheese begins to brown you’re good to go!

Spicy Bolognese – Simply make (or purchase) your standard bolognese and add truck loads of Jalapeños from a jar. I suggest using jar Jalapeños for this recipe as the water they are stored in adds a little something to the recipe too. Perhaps make it for a friend who doesn’t like spice in their food but don’t tell them! It will at least give you something to laugh about later.

Does anyone else use Jalapeños in everything they cook? What’s the weirdest place you’ve used (and enjoyed!) them?

Daily Prompt: InstaScam [Undo]

If you could un-invent something, what would it be? Discuss why, potential repercussions, or a possible alternative.

This is an easy one, an opportunity to wax lyrical about a pet hate of mine. Instagram.

First, a few things I do like…

  • Sharing photos – anyone who is friends with me on Facebook or follows me on Twitter will know that I’m constantly posting pictures of my family, events I attend or things that amuse me.
  • Twitter – yep, it’s my favourite social network, it’s where I interact with people I care most about, find news items that might interest me and generally spend my social networking time. Facebook is more a place for me to store photos and organise events.
  • Filters – I’m no idiot. I know your toast looks more delicious with a bit of vintage grunge applied.

So why do I hate Instagram? Why do I wish that it was un-invented? Well there’s a historic reason and there’s a more up-to-date reason too…

Toast

Toast captured in an Instagram Square Filter of Doom – from katiedeaves

Historic – I’ve never been able to figure out why Instagram insists on squaring off all your photos? What’s the deal? Who’s ever heard of square photographs? Certainly not the good people who print photographs in 6×4 or alike. Certainly not the people who developed the portrait vs. landscape screen I view the pictures on. Why, oh why must all Instagram pictures be squared off!?!

This is even more mind-boggling when you consider that for quite some time it was a iPhone only app. Are there people walking around with square iPhones I don’t know about?

Up-to-date – One of the features I love about Twitter is when links (such as WordPress blog posts or YouTube videos) preview at the bottom of the tweet. It helps to decide whether you’re going to click-through or not. In the case of pictures displayed using something like pic.twitter.com url’s it negates having to click-through at all! So when a service like Instagram decides to rescind that function I get, “like totz annoyed.”

So what would happen if it got ‘un-invented’? Well, to pay Instagram it’s dues, it did pave the way for the photo filter craze. Some may see that as a bad thing but as I’ve already said I quite like it. If Instagram hadn’t taken off as it did I doubt Twitter would have filter integration and the Facebook camera app wouldn’t exist. Both those things would be a real shame.

But as an alternative here’s what I’d recommend. Firstly, if you use an iPhone and Facebook, get the Facebook camera app. It’s as good as all the actual Facebook apps have been bad. In my book it’s the best designed app on the iPhone. If I then want to post those pictures on Twitter to then they are right there in my camera roll (in their original aspect ratio!) for me to post. Simple.

If you don’t use Facebook, then why not just stick to the filters bundled with the Twitter app? Okay, they aren’t the best, but neither is your photography. Seriously, it just isn’t that good. The benefit is I can recognize that without having to click-through some links.

If you do either of these things I’ll be eternally grateful 🙂

Nightmare, singular.

Describe the last nightmare you remember having. What do you think it meant?

I think I’m odd. In my entire life I’ve only ever had one nightmare. I think there are a number of possible explanations:

Firstly, my brain likes me. We’re close you know. I help it out by not getting squashed by a falling piano, it helps me out by not terrifying me at my most vulnerable, in my sleep.

Secondly, I quite enjoy my ‘horror’ dreams. Perhaps I do have nightmares but don’t categories them as such because they don’t scare me. I went through a period where Each night of the week I was a different secret agent. Sometimes defeating the bad guys sometimes not. But as a big James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer (and even Sydney Bristow) fan I never found these frightening. Exciting and entertaining is probably a better description!

Thirdly, I do have nightmares but I simply don’t remember them. Perhaps this is the case, who knows, not even on some seriously cheese fuelled Christmas nights can I remember having any nightmares. I’ve always assumed that if you have a nightmare you remember it.

skeleton sat on a chair

from Power House Museum on flickr

Which ever of the above is the case though, I have had one nightmare and it was truly terrifying. In it I travelled to a parallel dimension (don’t worry about the physics) through a gateway that people in our dimension shouldn’t have been able to use. The amazing thing about the parallel dimension was that it was impossible to die there. Sounds great, no?

Here’s the catch. Because I wasn’t from that dimension, when the powers that be found this out I was sentenced to be shackled forever at the bottom of the sea. So I drowned for eternity because remember, you can’t actually die.

Now to the question, “What do I think it meant?”

Well that’s easy, I think it was my brain telling me, ‘Please Sammy do us both a favour, don’t just dodge falling pianos, try and avoid drowning too.’

To Be

What would make to absolute strangers embrace? To stare into another’s eyes is intimacy enough, but to touch? To linger in touching? To embrace?

Touching another person is a peculiar boundary; after all it can happen so carelessly, clumsily even. Brushing past on a busy street, reaching for a common object, squeezing tightly into an overcrowded train carriage. All of these we’ll happily endure because somehow a touch can communicate intent.

Even the briefest touch from an unwanted source can send a person recoiling as if stung by a wasp. But a touch we long for, contact we crave, it never seems quite long enough…

And so to our couple. What shared experience; what mutual, impulsive urge could lead to complete strangers holding one another in such a way? How long would they have to share the moment, a second, a minute, an hour, before they are willing to cross that boundary? Perhaps it depends on the experience. Alone on New Years eve with the 4 seconds left on the countdown would you hold a stranger if you’d caught their eye? Perhaps. What if each of you had witnessed something so beautiful, so once in a lifetime…would that break the barrier down?

Maybe it is a thankful embrace. Maybe one has just rescued the other from certain death as the tram hurtled by. That embrace no doubt would linger. First resisting, as an unknown individual forcefully takes hold of you. Then accepting, as you realise there’s nothing to be done. Next willingly, as you become aware of the danger that is being removed. Finally thankfully, pausing in the overwhelming debt of gratitude you feel. That should do it.

Of course this couple are not celebrating New Years; they haven’t just dived out-of-the-way of a runaway rail carriage. They appear relaxed, at ease in one another’s arms.

Consider the numbers. With nearly 7 billion of us treading our pale blue dot and the growing pandemic of loneliness and isolation even in a crowd, how many at any one moment are thinking about holding close a loved one or a friend? How many are thinking about holding tight a stranger?

And with so many desperate to simply be acknowledged, how many would be willing to act if they knew that the other, the stranger, felt likewise? What of the odds of two such strangers passing on this modest street?

And so we return to our initial touch, the touch that can communicate. Here we have our happy couple who spoke so much without using words. Our contented duo who exchanged no glances but who called out loudly at one another as the softly rubbed shoulders, as they lightly clasped hands.

“Hold me.” He said. “I will.” She replied.

The odds are not important because here they stand before our very eyes; immortalized in pixels. Arms draped over each other as a sweater hangs off the shoulders on a fine autumnal evening. Their touch has said it all.

What could make absolute strangers embrace? A shared humanity! “It is not good for man to be alone.” The circumstances might require fine tuning, the courage may need stirring, but at its simplest all that is required is to be. We are made to be; to be held, to be loved, to be together, to be accepted. Perhaps our couple were brave enough to admit this at the exact right moment.

*Part of the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge*