The Merriment of Summer

Written by Rob


Pebbles click and rattle as each restless wave retreats. The gentlest of sea breezes wafts the drying seaweed, over-salted spinach, on the groyne. Gulls wheel and squawk, searching the next titbit to squabble over. Only mid-morning, but the glare and heat-haze from the white sand is already intense. Almost low tide, the beach is vast; this town barely qualifies as “sea-side”. The awkward merriment of the fun-fair seems miles away. All is calm, azure, bright.

This place, this “here and now”, what can it mean? Decades and millions of holiday-makers passed this way. Two weeks escape from the daily grind, the blood and bullets of economic activity, the boss and his targets. Plump wives and sticky children, string vests and ingrowing toenails, shown to sun, sea and sand. Gritty butties and cherryade, ice creams and squeals of delight; the summer was made for these. Aspire for nothing more: these are the times of our lives.


Rob’s flash fiction was written as part of a previous Half Hour Challenge. Though it’s one of his older HHC works now, it’s a great way for us to kick off our content for August. We rarely think about what’s on the surface during the summer, usually we’re just hoping we don’t recognise anyone from back home when we go on vacation. Tan lines and bulgy bits are a constant worry but they rarely keep us from having fun in the summer. If you enjoyed Rob’s work, you can also view some of his recent published fiction such as “Heidi”, parts one and two

Featured Image CC // J Lippold

 

Man’s Salvation

Written by Rob


Popular wisdom says one should never discuss religion or politics with a friend. Jed and Mark were definitely not friends and threw insults at each other, across the office, all day, every day. It had all started as a theological discussion but no one could remember when. Little Mark was a devout Catholic, and incapable of allowing any opportunity to profess his faith pass unfulfilled. Jed Smith, built like a brick house, loathed all things religious with a burning passion. These were two minds that could never meet, nor indeed agree to disagree. So the status quo was protracted jibes at each other’s beliefs, whilst their colleagues laughed and pointed. No one seemed to mind as this sideshow eased the dreary days of accounting practice.

When Arthur – the company secretary – retired, they all went out for a beer. A dozen employees commandeered an alcove of the pub and swapped anecdotes of Arthur’s peccadilloes from forty years’ service; all good-natured banter. It was getting late when Mark overheard two lads outside their circle discussing crucifixion in a not too reverent manner. Off like a lurcher, Mark was out of his chair, citing blasphemy laws, quoting gospel chapter and verse, wagging his finger. The lads were clearly taken aback. Mark returned to the group, looking smug, but saying it was probably time to “call it a night”.

Mark said his goodbyes, shook Arthur’s hand and ambled out of the front door. Jed noticed one of the lads nudge the other and follow. Jed couldn’t have told you why, but something in their demeanour had the hairs on his neck erect. On instinct, he followed, too.

Outside, Jed looked up and down the High Street: no sign of Mark or the lads. Then a noise, maybe a muffled voice, drew him to the alley at the side of the pub. Pinned against the wall, little Mark looked up terrified into the faces of his tormentors.
It was all over in seconds. The lads looked up at Jed’s challenge, saw his huge frame nigh-on blocking the light from the High Street, and took to their heels.

Monday morning, to an outsider in the accounts office, nothing had changed. Jed and Mark still belittled each other’s beliefs at every opportunity. But the passion and hurtful edge had gone, replaced by a “this is just a game” undercurrent, a performance for the benefit of the onlookers.


Inspired and written on behalf of May’s half hour challenge theme ‘Salvation’, Rob’s flash fiction hits the point hard. Though religion may come between many people, sometimes it’s refreshing to get a different opinion and have an open mind. And sometimes it can make the difference between a friend and a foe. If you enjoyed Rob’s HHC, make sure to view his other great pieces such as, “Ending at the Start” and “Coach”. 

Featured Image CC // Fusky

Fraction

Written by Silver

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Sometimes it only takes one moment for life to spring into action. Image // Andre Thiel

The summer haze was thick within the forest; drops of dew hung languidly from leaves the size of a small bird, while the hot mist clung to boughs of giant foliage, leaving it gasping for cool air. Even for the animals in the Congo it was a warm day, and many tried to find shade under a canopy of leaves, overhanging rocks, or their dens in the cool dirt. The promise of rain was still several days away, but you could feel it in the air. If you were lucky enough to see through a gap in the fence of foliage, the clouds were dense and ready to burst, and the Congo’s inhabitants were ready.

To travel through the Congo is a bid to lose all sense of time; a perpetual twilight. Daylight would come but once every so often and, when it did, it seared through the trees, settling into a patch of chalked dirt, where maybe a snake or beetle would bask and snooze. Soon enough, the light disperses and fades into the half-light the forest knows so intimately, and the animals shrink back into their comfortable abodes. When darkness arrives, a wonderful silence emanates from the Congo, only to be replaced by the night-lovers chirping moments later. Under a cloak of indigo and black, a hubbub of activity takes place. Insomniacs add to the noise with their shuffling and pacing, elephant calves disturb bushes with their fights and tantrums, while chimpanzees look for trouble and play games of ‘spot the forest insect’. Other restless sleepers toss and turn, while those that need shut-eye will snore and breathe deeply, ignoring the blend of nature’s sounds.

A new day dawns and, with it, the same pattern: a circle of time. But it is a day closer to the storms; they can feel it in the air. It ripples through the forest, hitting some more than others, depending on their fashion of habits. Newly born animals risk dehydration, the elders too are at risk but they are wiser to the Congo’s ways, finding dew drops hidden in the highest canopies or broadest bushes. The most intelligent – or, perhaps, luckiest – find a remote stream, where the soil is softer and the sustenance richer. But as the heat cripples the hearts of many animals, it also weakens the heart of the Congo.

For a fraction, time stands still. And in that moment, numerous events occur. The dense mist shrivels into the undergrowth, awaiting its execution. The languid dew drops quiver and shrink, pushing themselves off their veined homes, to explode into the cracked mud below. And the animals scatter. Elder birds urge their youngest to spread their wings and fly, while small apes cling to their mother’s fur as she runs through the thicket at remarkable speed. Elephant calves send out sharp chirps to their kin, making sure they don’t get left behind in the frenzy. Snakes slide out of their small dens with their babies, coolly taking their time, while insects crawl over their bodies in a hurry. With most animals gone, only the weakest are left behind, bearing the same fate as the colossal boughs and trunks.

The cries of the smallest are ousted by the roaring crackle of the heat. A fury, a blaze, a rainbow of different shades of orange and red join together and take the Congo minute by minute. It spreads quickly and consumes foliage, fruit, and those that are young or frail – condemning them to a brutal end. But not all are taken by the orange blaze. The grey clouds begin to crowd together, their anger evident through the grumbling in throats and their flashes of migraines, coming and going as the pain pleases. Grumpy and exhausted by the smoke, the clouds crack their knuckles and jab at the fire with yellow bolts, unleashing their biggest weapon: rain.

It flows freely and harshly into the centre of the blaze, extinguishing the licking flames at the clouds’ feet. The orange fury begins to abate but then a last stab of war comes forth from its raging heart, whipping at the foliage with all its might. But it is no match for the grey clouds and drowns in a sea of murky water.

With the fire extinguished, the floods arrive, and the animals flit back to their homes. Only a fraction of time exists in the Congo, but only when it is the most critical does life notice.

Written on behalf of a Fiction Frenzy challenge last year, Silver’s aptly named ‘Fraction’ takes us into the heart of the Congo, where the animals mostly live in peace. Inspired by a BBC documentary series which followed a number of animals, Silver’s piece works to re-enact what happens when the forest fires are imminent. It’s a perfect piece to reflect the very nature of our ‘Light’ theme this month. To check out more of her work, click the links for poetry such as ‘Fudge‘ and ‘ Spirit‘. 

Shot Blast

Written by Rob

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It may not be to Emily’s taste, but it’s still a neat victory. Image // ABC Studios

Folk speak of watershed, a turning point, epoch, or pivotal moments. Of course, I understand that all of these could apply, but I think they are descriptions to “grab the headlines”. Viewed from my side, the events and trends that came before, made the moment inevitable, and everything that came after “business as usual”.

People like to moan. And there is little people like to moan about more than “the boss”. Derek Peterson’s staff had more excuse for moaning than most. He was moody, ill-tempered, badly organised, erratic, unsympathetic, aggressive and, not surprisingly, a piss-poor manager. But moaning, much as we like to do it, is wasted effort. If you want change, you need to make change. Moaning doesn’t make change.

Decide what you want, find your allies and understand them; recognise your enemies and understand them too; recognise what you can and can’t influence; take a conservative view of your effectiveness; make a plan and stick to it. Remember, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; it’s not where you start but where you finish that matters; a drip of water will reduce a mountain to sand eventually.

The good news was that Derek’s peers didn’t like him much either. Asking around, probing and prompting, I found thinly veiled resentment amongst the management team of Derek’s access to the M.D., Jeremy Argyle. Just why Jeremy thought so highly of Derek was not only unclear to me but also to his peers in the management team. So potentially, all the managers were my allies. Derek’s relationship with Jeremy was both his strength and his weak spot: break that and he would be lost.

Derek had long been a champion of shot blasting. As business development manager, he liked to boast in all company literature that every piece of steel that left our factory had been thoroughly shot blasted before painting. He was right: it was a quality feature, and our finished cranes always looked better than our competitors’. But it also added to our costs, which made the sales manager’s task more difficult in winning work at a reasonable profit margin, and the production manager’s life more fraught, as shot blasting is very time-consuming. The quality manager didn’t like all the extra paperwork generated by every piece of steel needing a certificate. The plant manager didn’t like trying to keep our shot blast machine operational 24 x 7 x 52. Naturally, the finance manager didn’t like the cost. Maybe, I thought, just maybe, this is the issue that could be used to scupper Derek. But how to get Jeremy to both share the opinion of his managers and blame Derek for its adoption?

So I set about a system of sabotage. Continue reading →

Hunter And Prey

Written by OrdDiff

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In the vast world of Skyrim, only the Dragonborn can slay dragons. Image // Bethesda

The hunter breathed in.

Kale crept through the undergrowth as quietly as he could. He knew his prey was near, and the slightest disturbance would alert it to his presence. The midday heat was stifling, making every action ten times harder than it should be. Flying insects harassed the woodsman sneaking by their homes. Kale did his best to ignore them.

Passing a spectacular oak tree, the large hunter spotted the gleaming scales of his quarry. It was seated over a waterfall, looking over the lands it thought of as its own. “Such arrogance,” thought Kale. He strung the massive bow he’d been carrying on his back, the bowstring resembling more of a rope than the twine of traditional limbs. He nocked the great arrow, almost as thick as his arm, and braced the weapon in the ground. The beast had still not noticed. Kale drew the string back…

“Stupid hornets”, thought Kale. “What a place to build a nest.”

The determined hunter ascended the rocky face of Heaven’s Key mountain. Frost coated the light beard he had grown in his travels, and he could barely feel his fingers. The hornet’s sting had cost him one of them, impairing his abilities and causing pain with every handhold. The thick coat he had bartered from the villagers down below did little to protect him against the bitter mountain winds, and he worried that the chattering of his teeth alone would alert the beast. Wiping his goggles clear of white snow once again, he crested the ridge and gained footing on solid ground.

Over a chasm, Kale spotted crimson scales. He could barely make out the beast’s details through the blizzard, but he couldn’t waste this shot. Fumbling with numb appendages, he strung his bow and nocked an arrow. Just a single shot…

“Damn winds,” thought Kale.

The weary hunter trudged across the plains, longing for home. When he had taken it upon himself to down the monster, he had underestimated the sheer scale of his task. The dragon could cross immeasurable distances in a day, leaving a hunter with weeks of travel. Kale’s supplies were running low, and he had been forced to ration harshly. As long grass brushed against his thick leather boots, he drank the last of his water. His beard scratched his neck as he forced himself to continue, knowing that stopping now meant certain death.

The hunter’s ears twitched. “No,” thought Kale, “it couldn’t be.”

Now alert, he strung his massive bow. The great limbs groaned in protest at the lack of maintenance, but submitted to the will of the hunter. Kale’s ears twitched again; he’d heard the flapping of giant wings. He dropped his pack, the travelling pots clanging and sounding throughout the valley. It didn’t matter if the beast heard him now.

From behind a peak, Kale spotted the dragon. There was fire building in its maw, and it was circling the hunter. With resolve, Kale drew his bow for the last time. The dragon dived at the man, and then hunter and prey locked eyes.

The hunter breathed out.

“Sir!” The squire burst into the warlord’s tent. All eyes fell on the young boy, just twelve years of age.

“Well?” The grizzled old general demanded. “Spit it out!”

“He grounded the dragon!”

OrdDiff’s Half Hour Challenge was submitted as part of last month’s theme, Chase. He’s done a remarkable job in building the tension in such a short piece, and we love it. Given the 12-year-old boy’s impressive performance – hunting a dragon, of all things – it was a sure shoe-in for this month’s content. If you enjoyed OrdDiff’s piece, you can check out his first published work for Inkblots, “Bronze Regrets“, at the link. 

The Bells of Campden

Written by Miss Smiley

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Living, breathing bells? That’s horror, for sure. Image // Vladimer Shioshvili

Campden was a small province. It was peaceful. It was a sweet place – a place you’d want to raise your children. It was practically crime-free. A place you’d want to retire to and live out your life in. It was alive. It felt alive. There was none of this dead metal people tend to surround themselves in. The land breathed and danced. And then there were the bells.

To say that they rang would be an understatement. These bells didn’t just ring – they lived, they sang, each note a clear, precise, and weirdly organic sound. Their range spanned further than a normal church bell’s, their notes singing out whole provinces, calling them into church and court in the morning, ringing out long after they’d been struck.

If you believed the myths, the bells were alive. In back streets and behind closed doors, they whispered about them.

If a man was tried in court, he was tried before the bells. Mostly it was formality, they said. But every now and then, a bell would ring by itself during a trial. And that man was guilty – guilty as sin. The lawyers knew better than to speak for their client then. Once, a lawyer had protested and no one liked to talk about his story. That wasn’t the kind of thing you wanted your children to accidentally overhear, and who knew when they were listening?

It was worse to whisper about what happened to the guilty man, though. It was a story that each child heard, just once, when they were old enough. No one ever wanted to be told twice. No one ever needed to be told twice.

You see, the bells were alive. And everything that lives needs to eat.

Miss Smiley’s short story was submitted as part of a past HHC entry, with a Horror theme. It’s possibly more suited to October’s upcoming theme “fear”, but we liked it too much to consider leaving for too long. Besides the performance from the bells is particularly enthralling. If you liked Miss Smiley’s piece, and are utterly terrified of those bells, make sure you check out some of her other tales of sneaky horror, such as “Fetish” and “Rosebed“. 

Mirror, Mirror

Written by Rob

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“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” Image // Walt Disney Studios

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
“Depends what you mean by “fairest”, love. Some folk mean ‘blonde’ when they say ‘fair’. Others mean ‘just’ or ‘sporting’ or ‘egalitarian’.”
“You’re a magic mirror: I’m consulting you about beauty. Am I not the most gorgeous creature in the world?”
“I think ‘creature’ is a mistake, to be honest, love. This is difficult enough without getting non-species specific.”
“All right! Am I the most beautiful woman in the world then?”
“Of course you are.”
“Why ‘of course’?”
“You own me. I’ve made a judgement that you want to be the most beautiful. Therefore, you are the most beautiful.”
“But am I really the most beautiful?”
“Well, I think so, of course, but these things are very subjective.”
“That’s not good enough. I want you to tell me that I’m really the most beautiful.”
“You’re really the most beautiful.”
“But would you still say that if I didn’t own you?”
“Of course.”
“But would you still say that if someone else owned you?”
“Yes.”
“But wouldn’t she, your new owner, I mean, wouldn’t she want you to say that she was the most beautiful?”
“Possibly.”
“So what would you say then?”
“Look love, I’m doing my best here. My job is to please. I don’t know what my new owner looks like. Isn’t it enough that you’re the most beautiful owner I know?”
“Am I not the only owner you know?”
“Well, strictly speaking, yes, but I think you’re beautiful.”
“What’s the point in having a magic mirror, if I can’t get a straight answer?”
“With respect love, you don’t want a straight answer.”

Armed with a half hour challenge, Rob penned this one in last year’s previous writing challenges. However, the sharp wit and comedic tone of the fairytale-inspired piece is certainly a great flash fiction story that had us in hysterics. And what a better way to conclude our month of dedication with a mirror that really only speaks one language – you really are the most beautiful woman (or man, we can’t be gender specific here!) in the world, love. If you enjoyed Rob’s HHC, why not check out some of his other writing with ‘Partridge‘ and ‘Angela’s Touch‘.