Stunner

Prompt image for the Fandango's Flash Fiction prompt

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #141, where we write about the image below from Natalya Vaitkevich @ Pexels.com.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, nature, smoke

Description automatically generated

Late, late, late!

Cerys snatched one last gulp of her now-tepid instant coffee, as she searched for her missing car keys. Spying the glint of silver on the kitchen counter she hastily snatched the keyring and kissed the dozing Mandu goodbye, as she hurried through the freshly-painted door. Bumping swiftly along a narrow hallway, she stooped to collect the small bundle of mail, freshly delivered. Without paying the letters any further attention, she dashed from the house.

Stuffing the mail into the inside pocket of her smart, leather jacket, she maintained her pace until she was safely in her car.

Late, late, late!

And she could ill afford it, not today. Assignments – any assignments – were hard enough to come by, so when that catalogue work had come through, how could she possibly refuse? She knew vaguely where this guy’s studio was, but at that time of day, she’d be pushing it.

Why was she so disorganised? She had never been like this before Gary had gone, but she was left with no choice but to kick him out, after she found out about the affair. And overnight, Cerys had become a singleton once again. At first, loneliness was the biggest problem, and so she’d sought a rescue cat. She had renamed him, rather wittily, she thought. But Mandu didn’t care what she called him, so long as Cerys provided him with bed and board.

The decision to redecorate had taken longer, but Cerys was happy to have made up her mind. This was now her space, not their’s, and after six years of sharing, it was time to stamp her own identity on the place.

As it happened, the traffic was good that day, and Cerys just about arrived in time. Crossing a quaint courtyard, she ascended a spartan staircase. On the wall were various framed photographs, and Cerys recognised some of the faces among them.

Crossing a landing covered in carpet tiles – no expense spared – a white door stood in front of her. To it’s right was a smart plastic sign, “J. Lloyd, Photographic Studio”. She knocked, and the door was answered by a grey-haired, fifty-something man carrying a spotlight.

“Hi there. I’m looking for John?”

“Cerys? Come in, my dear. I was expecting you”, as he beckoned her in and turned away. Over his shoulder, he nodded at two sofas in what must have been the “reception” area, adding, “Make yourself comfortable. Let me just finish setting this light and I’ll be right with you.”

He’s nice enough, thought Cerys as she waited. Better than a lot of photographers I’ve worked with.

True to form, a coffee to start, along with a polite man behind the camera, Cerys relaxed and the session went smoothly.

They concluded the shoot shortly before lunch, and John made the pair another coffee.

“Here, the photographs will already have uploaded to the server, so if you give me ten minutes, I’ll have a quick look through them and pick out a few of the best. And, as the shoot had finished early, Cerys agreed. Though the catalogues themselves made the final decisions, they often placed a lot of faith in photographers’ recommendations. As John turned to leave Cerys for the moment, he caught her admiring some artwork hanging on the wall, and explained, “my partner. We both share this studio space”.

Leaving Cerys nursing her coffee, John suggested that she could look through some of his portfolio, wafting at a large bookcase with a shelf full of binders.

Feeling pleased with a job well done, Cerys flicked through one of the binders, although she still wanted to preserve as much of her day as possible, and if she could get out of here soon, she might be on time to meet girlfriend Suzanne for that coffee and catch up, after all. Cerys took her jacket from the ornate coat rack, and as she was putting it on, she felt the bundle of letters in the pocket. She might as well read them, while she waited.

Nothing remarkable, until she came to a white envelope franked Baldwin, Clark and Spencer. Huh? Who on earth were they? But it was definitely her name and address peeping through the window and she peeled the letter from its envelope.

As Cerys read, the shock of the letter forced her to sit back down as her head began to spin. Lawyers… instructed by Gary Hooper… divorce proceedings…

Spooked

This is my response to this week’s Flashback Track Friday prompt, where they asked us to:

Share a piece inspired by witches, real or imagined.

My story is 100% real. There’s no way I can do it justice by anything other than a straight journalistic account. Even then, there’s no way I can write this so it has the same effect on you, but I hope I have come close to describing the effect it had on me.


Can I state, right up front, that I’m a scientist? Seriously. I studied physics to a high level. That’s how I trained. My first job was in the Atomic Energy Authority. Experiment, observe, draw conclusions, and try to build empirical laws. That’s how my world works.

There is an explanation for everything, that everything is understandable. If we don’t understand why something happens, it just means that we haven’t discovered the reason yet.

There are many examples to cite. We go out, and the sky above us is blue. For millennia, it just “was”. But now, we understand why. It gets dark, and we see specks of light in the curtain of night. And we understand, now, that they are stars. And we know how stars work, the method they use to create the light we see. And we know how they orbit, and can predict their paths hundreds of years in advance.

Or, in the field of medicine. I had my COVID booster yesterday, and, think about the miracle of it. That we understand how vaccines work, that giving ourselves a small dose of something, we trigger our bodies to protect themselves against it.

My point is, that humans learn. We start off without a clue, and we find things out. There is a reason for everything, even if we don’t know what it is yet. The sky is blue because other wavelengths are scattered by the atmosphere, not because God happened to have some paint left over.

I want to get that out of the way, because there is no way I can convey the absolute terror that I felt after I met someone who claimed to be a witch, and I couldn’t process it. All I can really do is recount how I felt, what I saw, how shook up I was afterwards.

I was at university – the height of my science training.

This woman was my then-girlfriend’s best friend. She was great company and, to tell the truth, I had the wrong girlfriend. But we were all young once.

We were talking one night, just the pair of us. No booze, no drugs. The subject turned to my grandfather, who had died four years before, and who this woman could not have met. She told me various things about him that I don’t think she could have known otherwise. And in the process of the evening, she disclosed to me that she was a witch. Really, no shit! That’s what she told me.

I know, I know. That’s exactly what I thought, at first. That she must have found out these things somehow. I just didn’t know how.

All these years later, following deliberate attempts to put it out of my mind, I can remember few specifics of the conversation. I can, however, remember my emotion.

The most uncomfortable part was when she talked about my smoking habit. “He doesn’t like you doing it, you know.” Like as though he was sitting there, in the corner of the room. Maybe, to her, he was. In fact, my grandad smoked like a proverbial chimney and this was likely what caused the heart attack which killed him.

But, at that part, I was merely uncomfortable. Lots of people smoked, but the health risks were becoming increasingly clear. Lucky guess?

She told me that the “powers” were stronger in me than in most people. I know. Total flannel. I’m replaying Star Wars in my head. She spins everyone this line, right?

There was one other specific that I remember. This woman was into her crystals. Magical powers and whatnot. Hocus Pocus bollocks. But she had a crystal pendant. It fell nine or ten inches when you dangled it.

And, do you know what happens when you dangle a pendant? It does little figures of eight, almost, gradually losing its energy. Ever decreasing circles, kind of thing.

Well, I held this pendant – let’s be clear there was no physical contact with this woman – and this pendant swung around in small circles as any momentum dissipated because of the friction in the chain.

Then the woman warned me what she was about to do. She just looked at the crystal on the end of the pendant. And it stopped dead. Did not move a millimetre.

No touching, remember?

Like I said, I can’t possibly do this story justice. For one, many of the details of this night, over thirty years ago, are gone. I can’t expect you to feel any of what I felt, so I’m not even going to try. But I can at least tell you how freaked out I was. A diehard sceptic, I hate not understanding things. I racked my brains for explanations but found none.

And my only conclusion was simply that some things, we just don’t understand – call them supernatural if you wish. And how, even if we are 99% certain that something is bullshit, there is still that 1%.

This account is totally honest. I have lost details over the years, and I’m not making any attempt to conceal this. But I remember that sinking feeling, as my neat scientific world dissolved around me – like it was yesterday.  I bet you’re all better at remembering moods than details, too.

This woman’s name was Noreen, and this took place in the Halls of Residence during my first year at university in Cardiff, UK. I was nineteen and she was no more than a couple of years older.

Growing Pains

Pete did not mind that the October flurries seemed to be funneled straight into the bare breeze blocks of his garage, turning the cold, grey space even chillier. And besides, the rust-brown fleece he wore was good for Arctic conditions, or so the sales assistant had assured. He was enjoying working with this delicate piece of beech. It would make a good sideboard, when he was done.

Continue reading “Growing Pains”

Chocks Away

For Fandango’s Story Starter #16, where we build something around the following phrase:

It was in the spring of 2010 when I first realized that I could…

I remember going to Stevie’s house. It pays to be “in” with him, seeing as how he’s a starting linebacker for the school team. And all those cheerleaders… wow!

Plus, his buddy Zak. What a guy! He told me that those red tabs would give me superpowers, and boy, did he deliver!

Continue reading “Chocks Away”

Consequences

Yesterday afternoon I wrote some flash around the photo below. I left the story at an early juncture, but even as I hit “Publish”, it was obvious that there was a second part, and I began writing it straight away.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, nature, smoke

Description automatically generated

“Now, are we clear?”, gloated Billy, taking a triumphant swig from his half-full bottle of Corona, then slowly wiping his mouth.

From staring at my own bottle, which we’d knocked onto the floor during the contest, I looked up at him. “You know I ain’t gonna stop seeing your sister, Billy.”

“I beat you fair’n’square, Nate. I want you to call her up tomorrow and cancel your date.”

“I can’t do that, buddy. If she wants to cancel, that’s up to her, But I’m planning on turning up Friday.”

Billy was becoming frustrated, “I told you, Nate, I don’t want you horsin’ around with my sister. Am I gonna have to explain that to the both of you?”

“I guess so. Let’s ask Mary Beth and see what she thinks.

Fired up, Billy wasted no time careering us the seven blocks over to Mary Beth’s place in his beat-up, cream Yaris. He was already hammering on the door as I was climbing out of the car. I recognised the plum door that Mary Beth had described to me last night, as she’d delivered a blow-by-blow account of her disastrous exploits decorating her new house. I was still in the front garden as her diminutive auburn frame opened the door.

“Mary Beth? I’ve told Nate, we wrestled for it, and now I’m telling you. I don’t want you two seeing each other. Okay?”

Poor Mary Beth was caught completely unawares – I would have been, too – and I watched on helplessly as Billy was forced to elaborate. Finally, she leaned in toward Billy, lifted her arms around his neck, and uttered a consoling “Come here” as the pair hugged. She then brought her right knee up hard into his groin.

Despite Billy now being doubled up, Mary Beth was not yet finished her scolding. “And let that be a lesson to you! Ain’t nobody tells me who I can and can’t go out with. You got that?”

I was about to run as she turned her attention on me.

“And you!” She was about to come after me, too. “You think you can play your stupid games over me?” She moved towards me and instinctively I ran out to the safety of Billy’s Toyota.

But Mary Beth had stopped dead in her tracks, possibly sensing the futility of a cartoon chase around the car. Still in her front garden, she sighed and took a deep breath. “Well, leastways you know where I live, for when you come by Friday.” And with that, she turned back toward her house, for good measure kicking Billy lightly up the ass as she passed his still-doubled figure.

“You got that?”, she chided as he groaned. “I decide.” And without waiting for an answer, she re-entered her house and slammed the door behind her. That wouldn’t help her new paintwork!

When Billy finally staggered back to the car. I thought I did quite well. As best I could, I suppressed my grin and just asked, “Would you like me to drive you home?”

Two Little Boys

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #140, where we write about the image below from Gratisography @ Pexels.com.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, nature, smoke

Description automatically generated

One last joist, before I take my lunch break.

There. Quick as a brown fox, I tightened the three outsize stainless screws into the pine. But it was easy enough; these things come naturally, with fifteen years’ practise. That frame would be secure enough now, at least until I fixed it properly after lunch. I loosened the buckle of the worn harness and waved the crane away.

On the ground, I beckoned to the crane – did Billy realise the time? – before turning back to the skeleton to admire my handiwork. The timber frame was almost complete now, and the downstairs walls of the new house were already taking shape.

Unscrewing the lid of my thermos, I poured the still-steaming coffee into my enamel mug. As I took my first sip, Billy appeared from his cab.

My best buddy, since forever, he’d joined the construction company with me, straight out of school. I still saw in him that shy, gangly nine-year-old, complete with braces, that I’d first met all those years ago. How the fuck does he do it? It’s still so effortless for him, while I’m losing hair by the fistful and will soon need to wear a corset.

But we’ve been through a lot, Billy and me. We’d gotten closer since our respective divorces a couple of years back, eerily within a year of each other. But we’d both gotten through, and Billy seemed okay now. We’d both been through our first marriages and were enjoying the single life once again.

Billy poured from his own Thermos, and we settled into silence as we began to eat from our respective lunch boxes.

The eating done, Billy broke the silence.

“Pa says he saw you out last night with Mary Beth.” He phrased it as a statement, not a question. Mary Beth. Billy’s sister, younger by three years. I’d known her almost as long as I’d known Billy himself. Now with a divorce under her own belt. So, she’d been right, it was her Pa. Mary Beth had thought she recognised the car when they were out walking together.

“Yeah, we went out last night for a beer. She’s a good listener. I like her. We cried on each other’s shoulders.”

“I don’t think you should see her again.”

I hadn’t thought Billy would be so protective. “But…”.

“No buts, Nate. I don’t want you going out with my sister, and that’s that.” Billy had a way of telling people when the discussion was over.

With clear unease between us, Billy soon made his excuses to return to his cab.

However, I spent the afternoon preoccupied, and at the end of the day, I cornered Billy.

“Can we talk about what you said at lunchtime?”

“Ain’t nuthin’ to say, Nate. I don’t want you seeing my sister. That’s all.”

“But Billy, I liked her. We sat and talked for hours. And I think she liked me. We’re going out for a meal, Friday night.”

“The hell you are.”

“It’s arranged, Billy. I wanted to see her again, she wanted to see me. We’re not young kids, for chrissake, we’re all grown adults.”

“Hmmm… Nate. We need to sort this. Meet me at the tavern at nine o’clock tonight, and we’ll settle this.”

“Settle? Whaddya mean, settle?”

“You know, the way we always used to settle things.”

The Devil’s Chariot

This is my response to this week’s Flashback Track Friday prompt, where they asked us to:

Tell us about your favourite music video.

I just fancied writing some flash for this one, and I’ll post one of my favourite videos at the end.


Vito was relieved. Just this one fare before the night shift finished. Not a run-of-the-mill pickup, but these jobs happened from time to time. After a busy shift, Vito simply wanted his bed. Just this one last fare.

He’d been hired by a law firm, Imbroglion, Frode e Truffa. Vito had heard of them. From the TV News, mostly. Their name seemed to crop up with every high-profile hoodlum who was ever arrested. But to Vito, their money was as good as anybody else’s.

Shortly before six o’clock, he pulled his spotless black Mercedes into the prison’s car park. He was to take his ride, a man called Barucci, back into the city, and then, Vito’s long shift was done. At this time of the morning, he thought, he should be back in twenty minutes. In forty, hopefully, he’d finally be snoring. He glanced at his watch, before pulling a marker pen from the glovebox, taking a sniff, then writing the name on a piece of white Perspex. The car park opposite the drab, grey building was empty, and Vito probably did not need the sign, but just in case… He adjusted his sweat-stained Hawaiian shirt, as he settled in to wait, and from the corner of his eye saw a guard emerge from the Reception Block and set about raising a flag. At this time of the morning, the prison was quiet, except for dogs barking in the distance. Even before the day had begun, they sounded angry. Soon, the officer returned into the building, leaving the flag blowing gently in the summer breeze.

Inside the prison, two more guards walked along the otherwise-empty balcony. They passed cell after cell, until they reached their goal.

A tall, mean-looking guard hammered on the door, as if to rouse its occupants, an act which might have been convincing, were their quarry not already fully dressed. ready and waiting for them. He had been anticipating this day for the last seventeen years. The guard’s shorter, sweating accomplice fumbled with a long chain of silver keys, before making his selection and pushing it smoothly into the lock. Turning the key, he pushed the door open and, in the same movement, stepped backwards. The mean guard read from a clipboard.

“Prisoner KJ4503 Barucci, step out.”

An elderly, greying man emerged from the cell, a plastic carrier bag tucked under his arm. Despite his age, he carried no extra weight, and he stared at the mean guard with malevolent blue eyes.

Undaunted, the officer continued. “Follow me”, he instructed, leaving his partner to relock the cell. The men marched, side by side, toward the Admin block. At the end of the corridor, the shorter guard again selected a key from his chain, and swung open the heavy door. The three advanced along a second balcony, exactly the same as the first. Looking through the floor and ceiling grilles, they could see more identical balconies, above and below. At last, the men passed a manned station which marked the entrance to the block, and they were released into a courtyard.

Outside, even at that hour, it was clear that this would be another sticky day, as the three walked the length of a football pitch towards an identical, concrete building. They passed the kennels; the dogs were quieter now, enjoying their breakfast.

The mean guard referred to his clipboard once again, as the three were admitted into the Admin Block. Instructed to stand behind a line until called forward. The prisoner showed a bewildered expression, as he realised that the block was otherwise empty. An adjutant appeared at a counter, behind another grille.

“Next”, the man commanded. The prisoner glanced around, but just confirmed his solitude. He stepped forward.

“Name”, barked the man once more, and the prisoner, sensing his closeness, complied.

The adjutant, in turn, disappeared, returning minutes later with a shoebox containing items which had been confiscated on arrival. First issuing the prisoner with a khaki-green kitbag, the adjutant navigated an itemised list, returning the items to the prisoner, one by one. In one final act of bureaucracy, the prisoner was instructed to sign a receipt. Placing each item into the kitbag, in a final show of defiance, the prisoner jerked the drawstring to close the bag.

This final stage complete, the three men exited the block. But this time, they turned right, and walked the short distance to the prison’s main gate. One last time, the guard read from his clipboard, and another guard exited a gatehouse. He opened a regular-sized door, set into the larger gate, and beckoned the prisoner to step outside.

Hearing the door click shut behind him, Carlo Barucci set his kitbag down, stretched, then took an enormous breath as he closed his eyes and sniffed the air as he realised that his name had finally been returned. After forever, he exhaled, opened his eyes once again, and began scanning for a limo. Had his associates delivered?

Formative nostalgia again. I was in my first year at college when the movie Running Scared came out. Two Chicago cops, on vacation about as far away in the US as possible, down in Key West, where of course they fall in love with the different lifestyle. There’s a good montage in the movie, set to Sweet Freedom and it truly does look beautiful down there.

The Keys was one of those places I never quite got to. When I first met Mrs Bump, we talked about a holiday down there, and I had just the place in mind. Little Palm Island. But this place was so luxurious, and presumably pricey, it was honeymoon territory. Once in a lifetime stuff.

As it happened, when we did actually get married, we only had three weeks between the decision and the registry office. So a holiday we had already booked, in the Carcasonne area in the deep south of France, became our honeymoon. Everything to do with our wedding was low-key, which was what we both wanted. Only two witnesses knew about it beforehand. Her close friend, and mine.

To be honest, I think I’d have been bored on LittlePalm Island anyway.

A Charged Atmosphere

For Fandango’s Story Starter #15, where we build something around the following phrase:

She was shocked when she opened the envelope and saw that it was…

For the shy introvert Phoebe, the new job was the first rung on the ladder. She had finished school with a well-developed set of ideals, and a first job at the charity Pro-Choice had made her feel that she might start to make a difference.

Continue reading “A Charged Atmosphere”