This is my 100-word contribution to Friday Fictioneers. The prompt for this week is the photo below by ©Kent Bonham. To take part in this weekly challenge or to link to other contributions, click here
For those of you who enjoyed reading about Kristina and her difficult plight, I am developing her story but have stepped back a little in order to do some research. Your comments and feedback have been very encouraging.
The new studios took shape and government money for indigenous television shows poured in.
As people took their seats for the first recording at Porter’s Productions, the presenter thought she heard a screech overhead. She glanced up nervously.
Afterwards, accident investigators failed to establish how the heavy light fell onto the victim without breaking its fixtures or the steel bar from which it hung.
Developer Bob Porter wished he had fulfilled his promise to demolish the 18th century schoolhouse instead of converting it. He should never have dismissed lore about a die-hard spirit that did not believe women should have careers.
This story is a follow-on from last week’s Friday Fictioneers contribution, Shattered. If you missed it or want a reminder, you can read it by clicking here and then this week’s story will make a lot more sense.
This week’s prompt is a photo by ©John Nixon
“I saw what you did”
As dawn filtered through the forest Kristina cursed her stupidity.
Her father had come home yesterday evening wearing a black jacket that she had seen somewhere else that day. Was he among the men who murdered the American?
When everyone was asleep she checked his pockets and found the balaclava. He hadn’t even tried to hide it. Maybe he planned on using it again.
Kristina left quietly, walking all night. But now she was lost, and terrified of going back instead of forward.
And because of a note she had written to her father in anger, she could never go back.
© Siobhán McNamara
Below is my first contribution to Velvet Verbosity. The prompt for 100 words #371 is Mill.
And So The Wheel Turns
‘We could restore it,’ said Pete.
Emily looked at the huge, dilapidated mill-wheel and crumbling stone walls.
‘I want a home,’ she said. ‘Not a project.’
‘You won’t have to worry about the work. I’ll do that,’ he said.
She bit her tongue, knowing how he never got round to fixing anything. Their home was full of things that didn’t work. He would huff for days if she said anything.
‘Picture it,’ he said, taking her hand.
He reeked of pot. Emily pictured it all too clearly.
She shook off his hand, wondering what she had ever seen in him.
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This is my contribution to the weekly 100-word story group Friday Fictioneers. This week’s photo prompt comes courtesy of the group’s host Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. To find out how to get involved or to link to other contributions, click here
Kristina loved the abandoned railway station’s peeling paint and ornate metalwork. She traced her finger along a star-shape in the balcony mesh … and froze. A man was standing in the foyer below.
Four balaclava-clad men crashed in, spread a tarpaulin on the floor and threw the man down.
Within minutes they were gone but their gunshots had shattered Kristina’s only sanctuary. She eventually found the courage to leave by a back window.
The evening news showed an American diplomat missing from Germany. It was a face Kristina would never forget, but she was puzzled. What was he doing in this provincial Ukranian city?
© Siobhán McNamara
Painting the Fence
This is my 100-word story for the Friday Fictioneers group, run by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. This week’s prompt is the photo below by © Adam Ickes
I was originally going to go in a completely different direction with this, linking it to last week’s story. That was until the gardener in me noticed the fence needed painting …
Painting the Fence
Thomas read about Tom Sawyer in school and was full of admiration for his wily namesake. So when he and the other care home residents ‘volunteered’ for the City Park Renewal Scheme during school holidays, he raised his hand at a request for someone to paint the fence.
It’ll be fun,’ he said persuasively.
The others stared. Even the co-ordinator looked surprised.
‘Whatever you’re into dude,’ an older boy said.
When Thomas saw the fence he was horrified. He couldn’t even see where it ended, but laughter carried from the distant community centre where the others were busy working on the new murals.
© Siobhán McNamara
This story was written in response to this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge on the theme of age and changing perspectives at the Daily Post on WordPress
People said a paved walkway would spoil the natural beauty.
Others said too many people would walk along the river if they opened the banks up with a path.
As if they owned it, and would not tolerate trespassers.
Shaunie Mac had fished the river as a boy, darting effortlessly through hedges, clambering over banks without a thought.
But as he aged, hedges became barbed defences and banks were treacherous mud piles where no boot could find a grip. There were days he wondered if he had ever run along the river’s edge at all, with eyes peeled for the spotted back of a brown trout motionless in the gentle flow.
The doctor was talking to him but Shaunie’s mind had wandered. His daughter’s tears told him all he needed to know. He could live without the details.
‘Did they ever finish that river path that all the fuss was about?’ he asked her.
The doctor cleared his throat. Shaunie’s daughter – so like her late mother – held his hand.
‘Daddy, did you understand the doctor?’ she asked.
‘Och, never mind that. I’m going to die, but sure that’s hardly news, is it?’ he said. ‘Now tell me, did they finish the path?’
The doctor wasn’t happy, but that evening Shaunie’s daughter wheeled him along the new path. It was mild and he could have done without the blanket tucked around his legs but it was a concession that made his daughter feel better about taking him from the hospital.
The few other walkers all seemed to know him, saying things like ‘Hello Shaunie, how’re ya keepin? Isn’t a grand evening?’
He didn’t know many names but their faces told him who their parents were, or maybe their grandparents.
They rounded a corner and came upon a man who was bent low, staring into the river. Shaunie smiled.
‘A wee brownie, is it?’ he asked.
‘I’m sorry, I do not understand,’ the man replied. ‘My English is poor.’
‘Fish,’ Shaunie said, nodding towards the river.
The man smiled and pointed. Shaunie’s daughter pushed the wheelchair closer. Shaunie knew he hadn’t a hope of distinguishing the fish in the brown water but the light in the other man’s eyes told him it was there. It was enough.
As his daughter pushed him further along the path more and more memories flooded back, as if the river had been keeping them safe while waiting for his return.
‘You should teach that boy of yours to fish,’ he told his daughter.
‘He’s a man these days, Daddy,’ she said. ‘We’ll not find till he has boys of his own.’
‘All the more reason to make sure he learns,’ said Shaunie. ‘All the more reason.’
© Siobhán McNamara
My contribution to the weekly 100-word story group Friday Fictioneers run by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields
The current prompt is this photograph by © Danny Bowman
Diary of a cameraman
Imagine the tiger’s rippling beauty; the majesty of elephants crossing vast plains in trunk-to-tail formation; birds filling the sky with colour and music.
What I would give to travel back in time.
Nature has no place in fortified townships where the sea steadily corrodes defences built by quarrying whole mountain ranges.
But I feel in my every fibre the presence of wild creatures here on this Himalayan island. Seeing such a rarity has been my lifelong ambition. Getting here has been arduous.
I activate my eye-cam and creep towards the mound, hoping my thumping heart will not give me away.
This week’s contribution to Friday Fictioneers, a photo-prompt flash fiction group
The Last Straw
Last spring Jean-Jacques heard of a looming fodder crisis over in Ireland and immediately offered French farmers a price above the going rate for straw. They sold willingly.
The crisis continued and Jean-Jacques turned over a decent profit, gleefully buying and selling more as prices soared.
That summer he stocked up. But Ireland had a boom summer with great growth.
Unlike France. Jean-Jacques watched and waited while prices rose.
With animals dying, his angry neighbours descended in force.
Jean-Jacques tried to defend his investment but a pig farmer bundled him into a trailer of bales, thinking of the fine hams he would have come Christmas.
My first contribution to the Friday Fictioneers group on WordPress
‘Why are you going?’ asked her best friend Lynn. ‘The woman’s dead. Isn’t that enough?’
But Ellen went, though she felt uncomfortable intruding on a family’s grief.
The nun who was their form teacher had come to see her in the hospital, back when Ellen’s pain was fresh and raw.
‘God works in mysterious ways, my child,’ she said piously. ‘Better that the innocent little infant did not live to be branded by your mortal sin.’
The pale drapes in the crematorium reach towards each other.
Closure, thought Ellen. That’s why I came.
That, and to know the witch burned.
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Honoured and excited to hear today that my story Property Trap was awarded second place in the Short Writes short story competition :)))
by Siobhan McNamara
You could cope with everything else were it not for the rats.
It is because of them that you shout at Luke all the time:
‘Don’t touch that!’
‘Wash your hands.’
‘Don’t take those toys outside!’
‘Please, Luke. Please, please, wash your hands!’
You chose this house because the kitchen window gave a clear view of where the playground would be built. It was a perfect vision, a safe and colourful space where Luke would make friends with other children on the new estate.
You remember saying, ‘This one is perfect. I love it.’
‘We’ll need to get things moving immediately,’ the estate agent had said, looking at his watch. ‘I have another viewing straight after lunch. This is a highly desirable property.’
You had thanked him, appreciative of his efficiency and honesty.
With a glance at the clock you start to prepare dinner, remembering the flutter of anticipation in your stomach when the kitchen was first fitted and ready for use, how the smell of fresh scones and apple pie mingled with the smell of new wood and wafted throughout the house.
Now cooking makes you sick. The rats are constantly moving at the edge of your vision. There are dozens of them, hunched brown bodies with beady eyes and serpentine tails, claiming as their territory the abandoned portacabins, the mounds of building material, algae-covered potholes and the unfinished sewer.
And the dream of growing fruit trees and having a vegetable garden is gone too. The smell of sewerage clings to everything and the thought of those foul beasts transporting disease onto ripe raspberries and contaminating your carefully tended beds would be unbearable.
Things were better when the house next door was occupied. Mary’s bottomless teapot and easy company made for a warm friendship and Sean’s Jack Russell kept the rats at bay. You had often sat in their kitchen and laughed at how proudly the scruffy little dog saw off any creature that dared wander too close to the house.
Now there is no enthusiastic terrier and no invitation to come over for a cuppa, only another over-sized, vacant house crushing you with its emptiness. There are times when you feel like the last human left alive in the aftermath of an immense disaster.
Keith is a good husband but he has no idea what it’s like to stand here alone day after day looking out through these windows. He works all week. By the time he and Luke get home it is late and the street lights don’t work, so he doesn’t see how bad the problem has become.
It isn’t much of a life for a 5 year old boy, commuting to the city every day, but the local school was full to capacity when he was due to start. They hadn’t been prepared for the influx of families that the ever expanding commuter belt brought to the area. Luke was enrolled instead in a school near Keith’s office. Keith collects him and takes him to work for the afternoons.
There is room in the local school now but no-one else knows about the phone call from the principal offering Luke a place in the Junior Infants class. Better that he spends as little time here as possible.
At weekends you try to come up with cost-free ideas to get the family off the estate. Keith goes along with it, assuming that you are fed up being in the house all week.
You’re fed up all right. Fed up beyond belief.
With dinner on and your stomach in a tightening knot, you lift the pile of folded clothes from the table and climb the polished wooden staircase to Luke’s room. The rats are even more visible from up here. You want to tell Keith about them but are afraid that if you try, words will fail you and you will start to scream and never stop.
Standing at Luke’s window you close one eye and like a sniper, look down the length of a pointed index finger, select a victim and squeeze an imaginary trigger. Splat – one dead rat, two dead rats. You could do it, because you have reached a level of hatred that you didn’t know was possible.
As you are about to turn away a car and a truck pull into the street, passing the weather-beaten ‘Chestnut Grove’ placard. Pictured beneath the words ‘Chestnut Grove’ is a row of luxury homes against a leafy rural backdrop, promising an idyllic lifestyle for the new, more discerning generation of Irish parents.
The chestnut trees were chopped down to make way for the properties.
A man gets out of a Mercedes and stops to open a padlock. The truck driver gets out too and lifts a section of chain-link fence out of his way. He drives the truck into the area that couldn’t be less like a playground.
Two more men get out and lift an orange cement mixer, some oil drums and a pile of scaffolding poles into the back. They are not wearing gloves.
‘Wash your hands!’ you want to shout.
The man with the Mercedes is the developer. He keeps his distance from the workmen.
The truck driver pulls a wad of money from his pocket and starts peeling off €50 notes and handing them to the developer, who takes a black, leather wallet from the inside pocket of his suit jacket.
‘I’ll see you about the other stuff when I get back from Turkey,’ he shouts, ignoring the calloused hand that the truck driver holds out in acknowledgement.
It is not the rats you should despise. They are animals, oblivious to the revulsion they invoke, unaware of their harmful potential.
People, on the other hand, know about consequences.
When the call centre relocated to India, leaving you to join the rising numbers of unemployed, you blamed yourself for ignoring your reservations. Nobody had forced you to follow the flock into a lifestyle that needed two good salaries to sustain it.
You had felt sorry for the builders and developers, because they had lost so much.
Then Mary showed you the developer’s house, dwarfing its neighbours, and said that he also owned a villa in Turkey and a holiday home in Donegal, and there were rumours of offshore accounts and favours to politicians.
‘Save your sympathy, Nuala,’ she had said, ‘because we’ll get no sympathy from him.’
If you could stand here and shoot a rat, what about a person?
The developer, who won’t even finish the sewer and get the streetlights on so that the house can go on the market?
The bank manager, who dismissed your concerns about high repayments with a condescending flourish?
And the estate agent, smugly clocking up his commission on another sucker suckered?
Keith and Luke arrive home, and over dinner they talk about a funny incident on the train. You envy the easy bond that has developed between them since they started travelling together.
You remember holding Luke close as he fed from your breast and fixed his beautiful, adoring eyes on yours, and how your heart filled with love every time you looked at him.
You long for that bond once more but could not contemplate bringing a baby into this world.
When night comes the rats that occupy your waking thoughts follow into a restless sleep where fears take shape in unpleasant dreams.
At the base of your neck where Luke likes to lay his head when he falls asleep in your arms, a rat lies. If you move it will waken and gnaw through your flesh and poison your heart.
You are in a strange place now. The grass is green but not as green as it seems. Beneath the surface it is rotting and there are snakes. You take your eye off one and it bites. You feel it but you can’t see it and as you look for it, another strikes and another and you can’t shake them off and they won’t let you go and you don’t know where home is so you can’t escape to its sanctuary.
A noise wakens you. Luke is going downstairs to get a drink. You follow quickly in case the rats have come into the house. It is only a matter of time. Every creak could be the scratching of claws.
With a forced smile you take Luke back to bed and tuck him in.
Being in his room reawakens the thoughts from earlier, of shooting rats, and shooting people, and you wonder how you could get a gun, and how the selected targets could be brought together.
Could they be tricked into a meeting? Called to one of the empty houses? Could it be that easy?
Of course not. How would you know how to use a gun? You would miss. You would never do it anyway, nor ever want to be the sort of person who could. And yet images of the cold metal and the finality of its purpose ripple your imagination in a way that both sickens and exhilarates.
You know you cannot go on like this.
Perhaps things will be clearer in the morning.
In the morning you kiss your husband and son goodbye. As you make your bed, remnants of the latest nightmare gnaw at your mind. If only Mary was still next door, but she and Sean moved into a mobile home at the farm owned by Sean’s father.
Movement in the garden below catches your eye. A rat runs along the garden wall and jumps onto Luke’s Fireman Sam scooter. You shriek furiously and bang at the window. The rat disappears from view without leaving the garden.
The clink-clink of your rings against the window pane reminds you of the shamefully high price you paid for your wedding jewellery and for your engagement and eternity rings. What are they worth now?
Your mother’s wedding ring is in the jewellery box. You hesitate guiltily before picking it up, but think of the saying ‘you can’t take it with you.’ It is only a piece of metal after all.
You go downstairs, lift the car keys and go out the front door without looking back.
The nearest Cash for Gold outlet is at the shopping centre. Buying the gun will be harder.
As you reach towards the car’s ignition, the keys fall to the floor. The face of Luke, aged 3 months is smiling up at you with infinite trust and innocence from behind the key-ring’s scratched, plastic photo frame. The photograph was taken before your mother died, when she took Luke to a photo studio for a portrait sitting. It was her gift to celebrate the birth of her only grandchild.
The gun was never intended for the developer, or the estate agent, or the bank manager, nor was it for the rats. There is only one person you plan to shoot, though you wouldn’t call it suicide. That’s what other people do.
Could you really betray Luke and his unshakeable faith that you would always be there, worthy of that trusting smile?
You lay your head on the steering wheel and shake and cry, horrified by what you have contemplated. You tell yourself that you would never have seen it through, would not have dared drive into that part of the city where criminal gangs ruled the streets. Thinking of the gun makes you feel weak and nauseous.
The car kicks into life. Without realising, you have turned the key.
Instead of driving towards the city you go right, towards Mary. You will tell her how bad things have become, and if you shout and sob and babble incoherently, it won’t matter. She will listen, and make uncontaminated tea. Then you might be ready to talk calmly to Keith, and set about sorting this mess out, and staying sane.
Facing an unknown future is daunting but one thing has been determined. Your days of standing alone while the rats close in are over.
Her eyes twinkle as she takes the apple pie from the oven. It’s a surprise for her handsome new husband. He tells all his friends about how well she bakes.
She can see the beach through the kitchen window and knows by the rising tide that the harbour will soon be full enough for him to take the boat in. Some days the tide rises so much that she is afraid it will come right into the kitchen and carry her away.
The back door slams shut. She smoothes out her apron and smiles shyly. But instead of her young spouse, an old man stands facing her, an old man who hasn’t fished the bay for nearly twenty years.
Her smile falters as he reaches out to her.
‘Margaret,’ he says quietly. ‘Do you know that’s the third apple pie you’ve made today?’
Their frightened eyes lock and the pie dish slips from her trembling fingers and shatters.
I was fortunate enough to have had this piece accepted in Scraps – the National Flash Fiction Day 2013 anthology. I was delighted when my author’s copy arrived, and very honoured to have my story included.
Daggerville Games Writing Competition
I was delighted to get an email saying I had won the May flash fiction competition on the theme of ‘The Locked Room.’ https://www.facebook.com/notes/daggerville-games/competition-winner-may-2013/478672575544313
Theme: The Locked Room
Word limit: 300
Winner: Siobhan Mc Namara
When the kid next door with the incessantly bouncing basketball went missing, we searched along with everybody else.
As the weeks went by, the number of searchers dwindled. There was no trace. Not of the boy, not of the basketball.
We remembered the boing, boing, boing early in the day, but no-one could say exactly when it had stopped. It was part of the background noise of our street. Like traffic, it came and went but didn’t exactly grab your attention either way.
The police visited all thehouses. Asked all the same questions. Got all the same answers. Nothing unusual, no strange vehicles, no strange people.
Then one day I found Dad staring at the key holder in the back hall.
‘The brass key,’ he said ‘Did you take it?’
I shook my head. I had no idea what key he was talking about.
‘You must understand,’ he said. ‘That bloody ball was driving me mad.’
The world stopped.
Then it began to spin again, too fast. Part of me tried to grasp what Dad was saying. But I knew that something had been wrong with him for ages.
‘I forgot,’ he said. ‘But now I remember. I told him to come along with me, and make sure to bring his basketball.’
‘Dad, where did you take him? And what brass key are you talking about?’
‘In here,’ he said, tapping the side of his head with a finger.
‘Dad, you need to see a doctor.’
He looked at me with disdain.
‘ A doctor? What kind of doctor can get a boy with an incessant freakin’ basketball out of a locked room in a batty old man’s head?’ he shouted. ‘Especially when no-one knows anything about the key.’