Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Challenge 23: She lives here (R)

Challenge 24

Ways of Seeing

Imagine a person with an idiosyncratic way of seeing the world (for instance, an occasional drug dealer who is prone to seeing danger where there is none; an entomologist who tends to categorize the world dryly, as if seeing it through a microscope etc). Have this character witness a traumatic even that does not directly involve her. Narrate the event from a first-person POV, making sure that the perspective is carefully built around the idiosyncrasies of this personality.

Wordcount: 600 (+/- 10%)

Challenge 23: Closet Secrets

Darren couldn't believe his luck when the lock clicked open. How many times had he come here? Never before as an intruder.
The wooden 'A' on her bedroom door was a little crooked. He reached out to straighten it, out of habit, but then pulled back.
A small pile of dirty washing sat on the chair, awaiting her attention. The thin silver laptop on her desk hummed and he flipped the lid up, hoping to find a clue to her decision. The desktop was dark with inky swirls. Like Sara's artwork, full of questions.
“I can't believe he did that!”
Darren's heart plummeted. Amber was home and not alone. He scanned the room. There was only one window, behind the desk on a security latch. The only one other option was the closet.
The sliding door clicked shut as Amber's rich laugh filled the room.
Darren's breath caught as he recognized the second giggle. His sister Sara. “Yeah, he used to be such a prat, but then we both were as kids.”
The closet door creaked open. Darren flinched. Amber shoved a coat inside as she said, “He isn't such a bad guy... maybe you should try talking to him again.”
The footfalls moved away from the closet again and the bed squeaked some more.
Someone sniffed.
“Oh hon, I'm sorry. You haven't told him yet, have you?”
“No,” Sara squealed. “He can't ever, ever know.”
“How do you plan to keep it a secret?”
Darren felt like he was suffocating on the pong of camphor. He thought only old grandmothers still used camphor in their wardrobes.
“Do we have to talk about this now?” Sara sighed heavily. “I missed you...”
A lump grew in Darren's throat as the bed springs echoed a new flurry of disturbingly familiar sounds. Amber would always moan, just like that, a little groan in the back of her throat, when he kissed her. He was powerless to block them out as the moans grew louder, interspersed with indecipherable whispers. His fist clenched around the hem of Amber's summer dress, head leaned back against the cool smooth wood of the closet.
Darren had no idea how much time passed, filled with creaks and squeaks and groans. His entire body had cramped up, but still, he dared not make any noise. His imagination ran wild with thoughts of the two young woman entwined, fingers tracing skin. His stomach heaved and his dick hardened in turn. Amber had never let him touch her below the waist, claiming she was saving herself for marriage. As for Sara, she lost her voice completely around boys. He thought she was just shy.
Eventually, the sounds crescendoed, then faded to puppy-like whimpers.
“I'm here, hon,” Amber whispered. “It's okay. You're safe.”
Safe? Darren almost jolted at the word. What could Sara possibly be afraid of.
“I get so close,” she sobbed, “but then that face rears up and I freeze. I'm sorry. I just can't do it.”
“Healing takes time... I would know.”
Darren's hand slipped from her summer dress and banged onto his knee, hard. He bit his lip to keep from crying out. They had both been drunk that night and she had looked so beautiful, his Amber. All he wanted was to feel those gorgeous tits, but then one thing led to another. Her dress slid so easily up her thigh. Her knickers were white and so thin. He could feel the heat of her butt through the fabric. God, he had wanted to much to touch her, he couldn't hear her crying for him to stop. Why wouldn't she let him.
His nose still ached from where she had punched him. Darren woke up the next day with the worst hangover and an even worse message on his cellphone. It was over.
Snores made him think he was safe, but then the closet inched open, silently, and Amber looked down at him, wearing only her pink fluffy bathrobe.
“You can come out now.”
Darren winced at the thought, as much as being discovered. It hurt too much to move. Amber grabbed his wrist and helped him to his feet. He stumbled out of the closet and into her waiting arms.
“I'm so sorry,” he murmured into her neck. He wasn't sure if he was apologizing to her, or Sara.
“I know.” Amber patted the back of his head. “I know...”
The scent of her made him want to cry. He glanced up to see his little sister sprawled on his ex-girlfriend's bed, her messy black hair sprawled around her pale face. Cotton sheets discreetly covered her naked body.
“We need each other, Darren,” she sighed. “Maybe one day, she will tell you.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

Challenge 23

The Closet

Write a story in which the narrator is snooping around an ex-boyfriend (or Girlfriend's) apartment because he or she still has a key. They whole story takes place in a closet in the bedroom that the narrator retreats to when said ex comes home with the narrator's best briend. The narrator must endure whatever this couple gets up to. Describe only what the narrator can see and smell inside the closet and what he/she can hear or guess is going on outside. Don't rub salt in the wounds, but rather focus on as much detail as possible of the outside world. You can present the narrators deep anger or sadness without having to describe it.

Wordcount: 500 (+/- 10%)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Challenge 22: Dreams of Ducks

The little yellow duckling perches on the edge of the river bank, wanting to follow his siblings into the water, but too scared to make the leap. I know how he feels.

It's funny how, when you're little, people think you don't understand anything. They have to tell you what to do. That little duck's mother is chirping at him, telling him to hurry up and do as he's told. It's very naughty to hesitate. My papa says that if I hesitate to follow his commands, it might kill me.

Twittering, the duckling pleads with mama to help him, he can't push himself over the edge. He backs up and tries to take a running jump, but at the edge, he stops. Mama turns around and paddles away, the line of ducklings following, not looking back. That is all the encouragement he needs. He can stand the thought of being left behind. He jumps. A splash, a surprised cheep and he's swimming furiously to catch up. Tough love.

When I close my eyes, I can still see Sonja, my big sister, paying for her disobedience. She has fat tears sticking to her cheeks as she leans over me to kiss my hair, then they drag her away and toss her through the blue wall of safety to the wilderness beyond. She is engulfed by the clouds of ash. A big hole opens up in my heart, but I can't let on, or papa my throw me out with her. I'm perched at the edge of a huge gulf and I'm too scared to jump.

The siren wakes me and I sit up straight away. I'm really good at pulling my boots on, then my jacket. I'm standing outside the door before my mind starts wondering what's wrong this time. The next thing, Simon comes running up the corridor. That's pretty normal, actually. Papa is too busy to come get me in emergencies. Simon scoops me up without saying anything. His face is really white, except for the huge bruise under his right eye. I don't struggle, not me.

We go down the stairs, through all the busy corridors. Everyone is scrambling about. No one notices me and Simon. Out through the mechanical-engineering wing and up the road past the big building people call Erskine. I asked Jack why once. She said some old guy gave the University a lot of money, but Jack makes up answers when she doesn't know them, so maybe she's lying.

There is a motorbike in the stand which looks like it hasn't been used for a very long time. Simon heaves me onto the front and revs it up. I am really surprised that it has any fuel. Things like that are rationed these days. I can't hold back a squeal of joy as we zoom off down the empty streets. I have no idea where we are going, but this is the funnest adventure in a long time.

There is a big supermarket about half way to the edge of the blue bubble. It's always under guard, but it's where papa keeps all the supplies organized. It has more than just food there now. Jack goes shopping for computer bits in the underground carpark, since no one drives these days. Simon grabs me off the bike and goes over to the grate. She's in there, arguing with some dude with floppy brown hair. The guy by the switch stares Simon down. “Whatcha want.”

“I need Jack,” he replies simply, not reacting to the hatred I can see in the man's face.

The guy grimaces and the turns on his heel.

“Oi, Jack,” he yells. “Michael's whore wants to talk to you.”

Jack's head snaps up and her eyes lock onto Simon's face through the grate. Slowly, she crosses the carpark to stand on the other side, but she doesn't open the grate. She looks at me in Simon's arms and says, “Aren't you old enough to walk, kiddo?”

“I need to talk to you,” Simon whispers. He lets me down and I crouch, pulling at my jacket. It's really cold.

Jack folds her arms, but doesn't walk away. In grown up's talk, that means she's listening.

“I need you to take James for a couple of days.”

I stand up at that, looking between Simon and Jack.

“You need me to, or Michael does?” She is pretty pissed off. “You're the one that's practically married to the bastard. I don't intend to be his pawn much longer.”

“Good,” Simon hisses. “Then take the kid with you for God's sake. I don't trust Michael around him anymore.”

“Oh merde.” She shoves her hands in her pockets. “You should come too, Simon. Just walk away.”

“I can't, Jack.” His voice is barely a whisper. He and Jack used to be about to get married but then Simon started working for my dad and Jack threw her ring in the trash compacter. “He depends on me.”

“Fine,” she says, turning her back on him so he can't see how sad she is. “Leave him with me. Sonja and Robbie will be glad to have him back.”

My breath catches. My brother and sister are out there, waiting for me, but I still have to jump. I won't let anyone just drag me over that ledge.

Simon walks away without saying anything and I run after him, crying. “Why are you sending me away. Papa will be so angry.”

Simon turns and kneels in front of me, putting his hands on my shoulders. “I'm sorry James, but it's not right, what your daddy does. I am going to try and make him stop, but if I don't succeed, I need to know you are safe.”

Simon got on the bike again and drove away. He didn't even look back. Tough love. I sat down on the pavement in the cold and cried. There was no choice now. I didn't want to be alone. I couldn't go back and get Simon in trouble. I would go with Jack into the unknown and maybe there would be a family of Collins out there to snuggle up to and make me feel a little bit braver.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Challenge 22: The day after the bubble

Jack was running up the stairs, but they just kept going. Michael and his team were in the room at the top, and that they had less than thirty-seven minutes to activate Project Genesis and pull the bubbles down over Christchurch and Lincoln before the missile hit. Her parents were at home, they didn't know. It didn't matter if the bubble didn't work.

When she finally got to the top, no one was in the office. She was alone with several computers, which should’ve been okay, and several other machines which made no sense to her. But when she turned to the first computer, it had no keyboard and all the monitor showed was a big red dot flashing on a black screen.

She dug her cellphone out of her large canvas bag and called Michael, but it was Simon who answered. "I’m just out of Lincoln – I’ll handle things here," he said. "You've got to work out what to do in Christchurch. It’ll be okay!" He was saying something about power sources but his mobile cut out and there was an engaged tone. Jack knew the missile must’ve hit, and the bubbles weren’t up. The beeping got louder, and Jack wondered if it was the interference from the missile.

She panicked for a moment when she woke up, but figured Simon must’ve messed with her alarm clock again. Jack never had crazy dreams when she woke up to Shaun and Geoff.

“Shit, Simon, I had the most awful dream you were dead,” she mumbled, rolling over, before she realised Simon wasn’t in bed and remembered she’d changed from the radio alarm last night because Shaun and Geoff and Radio New Zealand had probably blown up along with everything else. The bubbles didn’t connect, and most of the Lincoln team didn’t make it, and she hadn’t had parents for seventeen years.

Moaning a little, because it sometimes made her feel better, she extricated herself from the bed and stumbled into the living room, where Simon was sitting on the sofa with his arms around his knees. “You could’ve come to bed,” she said very quietly, so he wouldn’t hear, and perched on the other end of the sofa, watching him carefully. Simon unwound himself and stretched his neck. “I don’t mean to make it difficult – I know you want to help, but it’ll come right by itself.”
“Don’t you want to talk?” she settled back a bit.
“Not yet. Look, we’d better eat all the stuff in the fridge first. I think there’s a bottle of milk left – is that okay for breakfast?”
She ran after him, into the kitchen.

Word count: 440

Challenge 22

Alarm Clock Dream

Write a short story in which an alarm clock going off in the middle of the story plays some kind of crucial role. Half of the story will be dream and half reality.Try to construct a mirror image on either side of this alarm clock sound.

Wordcount: 400 (+/- 10%)

Challenge 21: Butterfly Shoes

July 17th was the day I fell in love. Opening the box and peeling back those layers of paper, I caught my first glimpse of the soft velvety crimson, lined in black and topped with delicate little butterflies. Jimmy Choos spring collection had never been so heartbreakingly adorable. That entire day, I gushed to co-workers and customers alike. I sold fifteen pairs before closing time, which was a personal record, especially given their three hundred and seventy five dollar price tag. The next day was the same. Of course, people wanted them in different colors – blue, green, black and pink – but my heart belonged to the red ones. There was a box in my size sitting on the bottom shelf of our stock room and I had put an angel face on the label. Saving ten dollars a week from my pay, I would own those beautiful shoes in only thirty seven weeks.

The days went by and my love turned to a quiet obsession. I began to covet the display model. My smile was still wide and my enthusiasm genuine, but I found myself wondering what force of fate had given those doll-like girls such rich and handsome benefactors when I was all alone. My cheeks would heat at the thoughtless swipe of plastic, as if three hundred and seventy five dollars were as inconsequential as a three dollar bagel from Bagelman's across the street.

Weeks turned to months. Our supplies of the butterfly spring sandal dwindled to one pair of black size tens, a blue size eight and my red size seven. The supervisor came to me the morning before my birthday and said, “Emma, we can't hold these for you any longer. They have to go out on display.”

I nodded automatically, then hurried to the staff bathroom, still holding my breath. I stared at my face in the mirror, pale, eyes wide. Breathe, I thought. It's okay. I breathed, then a tear slipped out the corner of my eye. I brushed it away fiercely, hating myself for being so immature. I was twenty-four for God's sake! They were only shoes. Who cared if I had saved three hundred and twelve dollars, including interest? What did it matter if the shoes ended up on the feet of yet another faceless blonde bimbo with a rich sugar daddy? When would I ever wear such stupid impractical shoes anyway?

I dried my eyes and forced myself back out onto the floor. I smiled and nodded at all the right moments, even summoning appropriate enthusiasm when ladies eyed the last butterfly sandals. I couldn't stop the flood of relief, however, when the shop closed and the red ones were still sitting there, at the top of the plastic pyramid.

At home that night, I made myself a hot cup of peppermint tea. My cellphone went off just as I sat down on the couch to watch the news. My hand jerked in surprise and half a cup of scalding water ended up on my jeans.

“Hello?” I half-yelped into the phone as I searched for something to mop up the mess.


“Jassie? I thought you were in the Himalayas. Do they have cell phone reception up there?”

“Oh god, Emma,” she sobbed. “I am in so much shit. The border guys in China caught me with coke in my bags. I swear I was set up, but if I don't pay them a lot of money, I don't know what they're going to do.”

“How much do you need?” I didn't even contemplate the possibility that Jassie was lying. My sister was a crazy thrill seeker, but she would never do anything to put herself or her friends in real danger.

“Two thousand, maybe more...”

“Do they take pay pal?” My joke sounded pathetic, even to me. “Look, I'll send a bank cheque or something. Let me check it out tomorrow morning and I'll have you out of there as soon as I can.”

Morning came and I realized I hadn't slept all night. My cellphone reminded me it was my birthday. I rolled out of bed and called my workmate Karla to tell her what had happened. About half an hour later, I trudged down the road in a zombie-like stupor to catch the eight a.m. bus.

“Two thousand yuan?” the lady behind the counter raised an eyebrow. “And this is to be sent to the China State penitentiary? Very well. That will be three hundred and five dollars including exchange fees.”

I just nodded.

At work that day, the red butterfly shoes seemed to taunt me. I knew I had done the right thing. I was even glad for my long obsession, because it had caused me to save some money, money that may well have saved Jassie's life. When I came back from my fifteen minute afternoon break, the shoes were gone. I figured it was better if I didn't know who had bought them.

My till balanced perfectly at the end of that day, though it had an unusual amount of small change. Seventy five five dollar notes, in fact.

The yell of 'surprise' startled me as I entered the staff room to collect my satchel. So many faces staring eagerly into mine. Birthday streamers and balloons lined the walls. Karla, my best friend, stood in the middle, grinning at me. The crowd parted then, and I could see the box sitting on the coffee table. It was wrapped with lacy red ribbons, but I could still see the angel face I had drawn on the label. Fresh tears came to my eyes as I pulled Karla into a fierce hug.

“It's from all of us,” she whispered.


I could feel their hands on my arms and shoulders. Suddenly I didn't feel so alone.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Challenge 21: Her shawl

This is how a girl wraps her shawl: Draped over her head. One end next to her face. Once end around her neck and flung over the same shoulder.

A girl can't make do without a shawl. Particularly when it's raining, or when she’s walking at night and the boys lounging against a wall on the street might stare at her. When she’s wearing a shawl, they can't tell if she’s a ninety-year old grandma or a sixteen-year old girl.

What she didn't realise was that they can mug a ninety-year old grandma or rape a sixteen-year old girl, and it doesn't make much difference to them either way.

Her shawl was silky and blue on one side, and silky and pale purple on the other, and elegant and rectangular, (without frilly bits, because she insisted) and she bought it at the shop right across town when I gave her the money I'd been saving for weeks as her birthday present.

I knew about the boys lounging against the walls on the streets, because they stared at me too, and called out (though more often they threw rocks and old bottles). But I didn't realise either. I go out to work at six in the morning, and stack things at a warehouse all day. I used to come home just after dark, except when we were short of money and I had to find some. In the meantime she took care of herself, visit the neighbours, make up stories to tell me - and when she got a job at the grocer's she worked some days too. She was always home before me. The oil lamp would be lit, and we'd cook over the small gas stove, or eat some bread if I'd bought any, and laugh about her stories, the grocer, and the other guys at my work.

Except one day, when she wasn't home and I went looking for her, and saw a flash of silky pale purple trampled into the ground.

I saw her after she made her statement. She found her way to the station, after I’d already been there. I was at home, curled up in a corner of the room we shared, when they all knocked on my door and my heart started pounding so hard I didn’t think I could reach to open the door. She came in first, her shawl limp between two fingers in her left hand, and they went away. I wanted to give her food, and comfort, but I didn’t have either.

I didn’t go to work the next day, but I had to buy bread, and when I came back she wasn’t there. It’s my fault, because I didn’t ask her what happened or tell her she was always my sister and that I loved her and all of the other things I should’ve said. I still don’t know what I should’ve said.

I looked for her, but it was a long time before I saw her next.

I’m four years older than my little sister. She doesn’t know some of the things I did to feed her when I was sixteen. I learned how to call out and how to answer when the boys on the street call (and really mean it), so that she wouldn’t ever have to. I wish I’d told her about it though, because maybe that last night, when we each huddled in our corners and I pleaded with her, she saw herself through my eyes without knowing what my eyes saw.

Now she makes me see her through her eyes. Because I’ve seen her on the sidewalks too, with a short skirt and red on her cheeks, and a slinky bit of blue hanging around her hips. I’ve tried to talk to her, but she doesn’t recognise me any more – I know, because she called out to me once or twice.


Word count: 649

Challenge 20: My wedding

The sun shone out of the clear sky onto my yellow dress.

Everyone thinks their wedding should've been perfect. I've actually been to a couple that 'ere perfect, so I know they're real.

I even told 'im he could just turn up in nice pants and a shirt. Something that matched. The problem with Johnny is, he's too laid-back, and he took this as meaning blue jeans and a denim jacket.

I'm pretty pissed off at whoever said the bride and groom shouldn't see each other before the wedding. I'm even more pissed off at Johnny. And tha's quite something, because most people say I'm a cheery sorta gal.

I chucked me bouquet at him, ya know. After I walked up the aisle and managed to get me veil outta my face, and saw what my Johnny was wearing. All those daffodils and daisies raining on his head, and him standing there not knowing what he done wrong. Then off I stormed out of the church and nearly fell in the stream, crossing the bridge. Flopped down on the pebbles on the stream bank and stared at the sky.

Me mam came after me, and then Johnny. I threw Ma's hat at 'im and all them canary feathers or whatever she had in there rained on his head too, and serve him right. Then it was his turn to storm off, and mam after him scowling like anything at me - at me, when he's the one that turns up in jeans to 'is own wedding.

Ah, but me poor Johnny's just a sailor lad, and I guess he don't know any better.

So I'm lyin' there staring at the sky, and then at the church where I can see in the stained glass, th' Virgin Mary with her halo is lookin' at me reproachfully. Aw, ok, she's lookin' at Baby Jesus in her arms, but I don't mind admitting I felt kinda bad then. Mebbe the Virgin Mary brought out all my motherly instincts, like, and I felt sorry for 'im and 'is little sister - she was there too, standing on the other side of the bridge in her little baby blue dress lookin' after me and lookin' away when she knew I was lookin' - growing up without a mam. Who's to tell Johnny he oughtn't wear jeans to 'is wedding? Poor thing. If 'nything, this shows jest why 'e needs to be married to a good sens'ble wife.

That's when I ran after him - up to his car that he'd painted royal for the occasion, and jumped in the front seat and ripped me garter off and chucked it at 'im too - well why not, after I'd chucked flowers an' feathers? An' that's how we scandalised the whole church.

I don' think the Virgin Mary gives a toss though, or she wouldn'a thought of it.


Word count: 481

I'm not sure what the colours contribute to the story - the original idea was that blue was more laid back and calm, while yellow was cheerful and exciteable. I think I gave up on that in favour of getting something written :P

Challenge 19: IN FILM - Fifty years ago today

The following excerpt is from an early review of the film Can-can, published in this magazine exactly fifty years ago.

“Pol and his fellow Coca-Cola Canians have an accommodation problem.

Pol lives on a Coca-Cola can. A very, very large Coca-Cola can, which orbits around a star, much in the same way as our own planet Earth.

Unfortunately, a key industry in Pol's home planet involves drilling through the soft metal of the planet's crust to obtain and export the ever-popular fizzy drink. The redistribution of the Coca-Cola is resulting in a gradual loss of mass, a slowing of planetary rotation - and, eventually, the planet begins to drift away from its sun, cooling and becoming uninhabitable.

Follow Pol and his companions on their journey as they leave their solar system in a search for a new home.”

Can-can is an unusual exploration of outer space, with a hint of a late 20th- early 21st century environmental or social message hidden somewhere. The relatively understated acting and special effects, and the educational tone adopted, are particularly notable. Sadly, this film missed its own boat – released at a time when 3D movies and melodramatic science fiction were more popular than ever, Can-can was passed over by critics and moviegoers alike.

Much of the science in this film has now been disproven, and whatever environmental or social messages it hints at (far too vaguely, in this critic’s opinion) are of course far from topical now. However, Can-can’s failure is a valuable lesson – released a decade earlier, it could have been very successful, if not recognised as a classic.

While there is little use, or market, for such a film in the present day, Can-can should be included, as a counterbalance, in any study of 1990s – 2020s films, in order to better understand the mentality of filmgoers of the day.
Word count: 307
'Can-can' is a story I planned to write back in my second year of high school. I even wrote two pages of it. My response to this challenge originally started off as just a synopsis, but tearing it to pieces seemed like more fun.

Challenge 18: Nursery rhymes

Piggy on a railway, picking up stones
Along came a little train and broke Piggy’s nose.
“The news is going to start,” snaps the young man, throwing his cellphone down and fumbling for the remote.
Oh! said Piggy, That’s not fair!
“Oh, let her watch!” His wife turns from the stove and sighs as the toddler on the couch began to cry.
Well, said the little train, I Don’t Care.
The man puts an arm around his daughter, who ignores him, and watches the cartoon pig bending over again.
Piggy on a railway, picking up stones
“Just this one, and then Dad has to watch the news.”
Along came a little train and broke Piggy’s nose.
“This is a cartoon for children, and it has pigs getting their noses bloodied by evil trains?” he grumbles.
Oh! said Piggy, That’s not fair! - “It’s a cartoon for children that you brought from Singapore, and she likes it. Don’t ask me!”
Well, said the little train, I Don’t Care.

Without waiting for the train to disappear from the screen, he stops the DVD player and switches channels.
show has been a particular success this year, with over seventy dogs participating.
“It’s almost six-thirty, we’ve probably missed it,” he says, standing and stretching, turning to see what his wife’s up to in the kitchen. Then he hurriedly returns to his place.
results have caused widespread rioting in the capital. All flights in and out of the country have been cancelled. Travellers are asked
“Dinner’s ready! Come on, honey, shall we get into the high chair?”
The man grabs his wife’s wrist as she goes to pick up the child. “Wait a minute. Watch this.” They’re showing some fancy looking building.
High Commission. The travel advisory risk level is extreme.
“What’s happened?” she asks, sitting next to him, pulling their daughter closer. Now there are images of smoke and screaming people.
Fighting in the west of the country has also intensified, with bomb blasts in two towns causing an estimated one hundred deaths, and unverified reports of civilians being shot at checkpoints. The UN has
The woman jumps up, hugging the toddler tightly, and snatches the cordless phone from its cradle. “What’s the card number?”
“I don’t know, don’t worry about it, just call,” says the man, dialling a number on his cellphone. “Hey, have you seen the news?”
She dials too, puts on speaker phone so she can hear over the volume of the television. A loud, empty beeping noise is followed by a woman’s voice. Sorry, this connection is not presently available. Please try again later.
Beeeep, beeeep, beeeep, beeeep, beeeep. Sorry, this connection is not presently available. Please try again later.

“I expect everyone’s trying to get through now. Let’s have dinner, and then you can try again.” He pats her on the shoulder and goes to the kitchen, opening and closing the dishes, finding cutlery. She stares at the phone for a few more seconds, then reaches for the remote and turns off the television.

The toddler starts crying again.
“It’s time to eat,” the mother coaxes her, but she shakes her head violently and snatches the remote. She kicks when her mother tries to pick her up.
“Let her watch her DVD then,” says the man, piling up his plate. The woman frowns, and watches while the child presses several different buttons, eventually finding the one she wants. A small cartoon mouse appears next to a towering grandfather clock.
Hickory dickory dock,
Word count: 585

Monday, April 12, 2010

Challenge 17: The midnight visitors

The soldier’s hands look like loud banging on the door, his boots the shaking of the ground when you’re lying on your mat on the floor and can smell blood on the inside of your nose, and footsteps on the outside staircase. He stands in the doorway, glaring at you as you clutch the baby and whisper aside to let him in, handing over your ID card and then your sister’s. Your voice is gravelly and bitter; his is sometimes soft like ochre, and sometimes disgusting, like faeces, sometimes it’s hard like a big block of wood, and sometimes it’s darker and far, far, scarier, like the rifle he swings forward, almost delicately, in a low glissando.

You switch on the lights for him and he opens the pantry cupboards first. Then the fridge. The fan’s going in the living room, where you were sleeping, but the kitchen has the uncomfortable heat of a rotten melon. It’s almost nice to let your sweat cool, but he doesn’t look at the fridge for more than a few seconds before moving on – the bathroom, the wardrobes. You’ve given up being embarrassed about underwear when he checks the drawers, although it’d be nice if your husband were home, because you don’t speak the language of the soldier, which is just as curly as yours but in a different way, and your English is as boxy and gap-toothed as his. Your sister is still standing in a corner of the living room in her quiet cotton nightdress – she’s not brave enough to follow him around but you know you’re lucky they haven’t kicked you out, that you can make sure he doesn’t steal anything. You’re lucky that the other three are standing outside the front door and not herding you into a corner with their screaming guns and army fatigues.

Looking more closely, you can tell the soldier is sweating too – little wonder, in that outfit. He didn’t take his boots off, and he doesn’t when he gets to the room where your fragrant statues of Gods and sticks of incense live next to the computer, though that would have been a bit much to hope for.

Looking more closely, you can tell he’s old enough to be out of school, which makes an improvement on the last time. His cap’s falling off a bit, and his hair is greasy like a priest’s.

You wonder if he’ll blare into next door with his little troupe and wake up the grandma with two legs and the grandpa with one leg. (He has a walking frame, though, and that makes up for a missing leg as far as all the kids in the apartment block are concerned).

Your sister wonders if he saw her underwear, and is terrified at the thought. She takes her ID card back without meeting his eyes, and she’s cocooned in her shawl, wrapped twice around her torso and her arms crossed over her breasts just in case. You never bothered telling her that her nightdress is see-through in the light, and edge in front of her before she (or the soldier) notices.

You see him out with an acrid look, one foot holding the door open, baby in your left arm and right palm open for your ID card. He studies it again, very, very closely, and then studies your face. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick.

The soldier flings your ID card into your hand and takes his groundshaking, door-banging crocodiles next door.
Word count: 582

Challenge 16: More than you think

You think I’m just a statue on the wall, one of hundreds, but I know things too. Not just the temple. Oh, I know the other girls, the jink of silver belled-anklets echoing the thudding of heels on the beaten earth floor. The clunk of gold and glass bangles on our arms, the oddianam shifting around my waist, glittering ornaments gliding and catching on the silk below my hips. Hands, with tracings of red, blossoming out to draw you pictures in the air, pictures of my devotion and my God and his stories.

If you lean back far enough when you’re dancing, you can see the beautiful colours on the temple ceiling. When you straighten up, you can glimpse the image of God, there behind his gates. There out of the corner of your eye, and thakka thim, and there right in front of yo
u - as your plait swings around and a bit of jasmine falls out of your hair, and a little round bead off your heavy anklet - and thakkida and there again. There’s a whiff of camphor burning, slightly rotten fruit, cows, bananas, sweat, wet soil and flowers.

Oh no, it’s not much of a life for a girl like you, if you want to live in a house and have a bit of land and children and a husband. All I want is my God.

I heard a story once.

It was about a young priest, young like me.

He was born to
a not particularly well-off farming family, the fourth child among three sons and two daughters. He worked on the farm and looked after his little sister. He loved his family, and he loved his country, but he far more loved his God.

He may have become a priest anyway, because he was the third son and there wasn’t much other use for him. Perhaps for this reason, or perhaps because he loved his God even before he was a priest, he never thought twice about his vocation.

Well, that’s not entirely true. He prayed about it once when he was unsure, when he was fifteen. This didn’t cause earthquakes or apparitions – it didn’t cause candles to light up or even to go out – so he decided to go ahead and become a priest anyway. After that he never thought twice about his vocation. He went to a seminary and, when he was twenty-three, he became a priest. By then, both of his brothers were married. The first had one child; the second had two.

He wore a black coat and a little white square in his collar. On Sundays, and quite often on other days too, he stood up and talked to people

He made an excellent priest. He stood by his God and his people, but he never condemned someone else who stood by their religion or their people. This is,
perhaps, what I admire most about him.

One day he was killed by some people who didn’t believe in people (and they probably didn’t believe in God either).

I forget what his name was, so that’s not much of a story, is it?

When I was fifteen, I went to live in the temple. I married my God. We girls didn’t stand up and talk to people on Sundays or on other days, at least not very often, but we danced.

You see a lot of things when you’re a statue on the wall. I know things beyond the temple, and dancing. I know things beyond the images behind the gates being thrown into the wells, and beyond the temple dancers being called prostitutes and thrown out into the streets. I know my God, and I know the priest with the little white square in his collar, who also knew his God.

Word count: 632

This piece of writing is meant with the utmost respect to the photos, their subjects, and the photographers.

The first photograph is from www.kamat.com/kalranga/art/sculptures/19071.htm. I am not sure whether the woman in the sculpture is a devadasi, as I have described her.

I'd also like to refer you to this article about Father Jerzy, the subject of the second photograph (who 'the priest' is loosely based on): http://stjeromeparish.ca/fr_jerzy.asp.

Challenge 21: The Jacket with Wings

Just got my very first 'yes' from a publisher ever!! The Jacket with Wings will be appearing in the Summer edition of Black Lantern (http://blacklanternpublishing3.blogspot.com/2009/12/jacket-with-wings.html). For that reason, it is no longer available here.

*hugs and grins all round*

- Love Ani

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Challenge 15: The carving

The dark patches of shadow have retreated and the dusty street is lit up. The carver shifts on her green plastic chair and moves closer to the dirty plaster wall, out of the sun. In one hand is a damp grey rag; in the other, a square piece of wood. The shopfront across the street is dangling wood and coconut-shell cutlery, wooden statues, and little wooden pencil holders or key holders or sets of hooks meant for holding something (no one knows what) or sets of holes meant for holding something (no one knows what), with images of palm trees and boats, and thick, gleaming varnish. It is nearly identical to the shopfronts on either side of it. In fact, if one were to wander down the street (the only street that is apparent in this village) it would be clear that all of the shopfronts are nearly identical - apart from one which sells everything else; that is, packages of biscuits and fizzy drink, jandals, bulbs - even though no one has electric lights, batteries, matchboxes, plastic toy cars, metal boxes, figurines of gods (and that's just the front of the shop). Fruit and vegetable stalls have sprung up this morning just outside of the village.

The carver has made a knot across the front of her skirt, so it hangs just above her knees. The soles of her bare feet rub indulgently against the soft, pale grey dirt on the ground. Tiny dark wood chips are scattered where her chair was before. The wood in her hand is a proud but warm brown, the brown in a cuckoo's feathers. Out of the wood comes a bird with tiny carved feathers- not a cuckoo - a bird with alluring, womanly eyes; elegantly curved tail; a beak like parted lips from which emerge swirls (water, or flame, or ribbon).


Sunrise has revealed a strong blue sky and a warm day. It's still early - there's no one else about on the wooden walkway as a girl in boots, tartan blanket under arm, strolls beside the wide river, gazing into water that doesn't seem to be flowing, but must be because the ducks are moving fast and they aren't paddling. Trees droop into the leaden water, and around the boardwalk is a little forest of ferns and vines.

She stops at an embayment where the walkway juts out close to the river. Angular letters are scratched into the weathered handrail, forming names or initials or swearwords. There are trees next to her: one tree with small white flowers and small green leaves. Another tree with bigger purple flowers and no leaves. A third tree with no flowers and shiny, dark green leaves the size of her hand. The spiralled head of a fern is growing through a gap between the boards. There are fantails and sparrows flitting amongst the trees. Across the river is a paddock on a hill, with horses and grass and a faint smell of manure. There is a vague rumble of a jetboat which doesn't appear. The girl runs her foot between two nails, back and forth, switches the blanket to her other arm.

A flowing brown bird with swirls in its mouth swims through the air in the distance.


Word count: 543