A Taste of Freedom? (Flash Fiction)

I mentioned in my last post that many of the exercises I did for my Creative Writing course turned into stories in their own right. A lot of them are short pieces – spot on for flash fiction.

The following piece was written for this exercise:
Write a 500 word scene in which a character feels trapped in his or her surroundings with no immediate prospect of escape.
Of course, that prompt lends itself to my slightly dark style. ;-) Hope you enjoy it.

 

A Taste of Freedom?

She felt the accusation of the books all around her. We’ve never been read, they seemed to shout. We’re trapped here behind these glass doors. Surely you can understand that? We want somebody to free us, dust us off, see what’s inside. There are wonders in here, if only someone would look.

She didn’t know why she kept coming back to the library. Maybe because it was the only part of the house where she could still feel her mother. In this room, she still raged silently at her, just as she had when mum was alive. Mum, who had shackled her here, even more so now that she was gone. Mum, who had wanted everyone to see that she owned this house, this library, and these books. Reading them wasn’t the point. Appearance was what mattered, not what was on the inside.

The fuchsia tapped on the window, stirred by the rising wind. She should do something about that. But she daren’t tackle it herself, and there was no money to hire a gardener. The overgrown garden meant that the room was dark even on the sunniest of days. She should clean the windows, as well – that would help. She snorted. Help with what? Having a clear view of the world outside that she was never going to be a part of? Even the journey to the gate to collect the post was an ordeal.

The bookshelves dominated the room. Their mahogany did nothing to lighten the atmosphere, being a serious, oppressive kind of wood. Of course, it had been chosen because it was expensive. It was too dark for the room, even when the windows had been clean and unobstructed by branches. Now, the unpolished cabinets just added to the gloom.

She sat down in the old chair by the fire (unlit, of course), and stared at the shelves. The ones nearest to her held travel books. She was staring at faraway places, journeys by land and sea, unusual foods and exotic drinks. Dare she slide back the glass doors; take out a volume and read of these things? Would she sense her prison even more keenly? Or would she be transported to another world in the only way she could, feeling sand between her toes, smelling spices, hearing snatches of conversation in a foreign tongue and trying to work out what was being said? She imagined her mother, checking that the staff had dusted and polished, that the glass doors were clean so everyone who visited was able to read the titles. She had never seen her mum read a book in her life. What a waste of time, when there were neighbours to impress, social gatherings to attend, and her less-than-perfect daughter to worry about.

She threw back the door, freed the first book she put her hand on, and sat back in the chair, trembling. On an impulse, she jumped back up, opened every case, and took a title from each one. She left the doors open. Curling up in the chair, she piled the books on the table beside her, and set the first one on her knee. ‘Travels in Egypt’, the cover said, above a symbol of an eye surrounded by curly lines and strange markings.

She opened the book and began to read.

101 Blog Posts!

Okay, blog posts aren’t as cute as Dalmatians, but hey… ;-)

I’m celebrating this 101st post with some news. I passed my Open University Creative Writing course! Furthermore, I scored in the highest band for the fiction I used for my end-of-module assessment. I’m particularly pleased with this, as the piece I submitted was the opening chapter of my work in progress. Language, structure and ideas were all described as ‘excellent’. So now my face looks like this:

Cheshire Cat from Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland

Cheshire Cat from Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland

Just to bring me down a peg (before you all start shouting ‘bighead!’), my overall pass was a Grade 2. A couple of my continuous assessment pieces let me down, namely my poetry (no surprise there), and my life writing. My fiction pieces gained the highest marks, which I’m chuffed with, as fiction is what I intend to concentrate on writing. It’s what I most enjoy writing. As well as this blog that I’m chattering at you from, of course. :-)

So everybody please partake of virtual champagne and cake with me. Who knows, I may go back and do Advanced Creative Writing next year. Or maybe not. For now, encouraged by the tutors’ comments, I’m going to concentrate on my work in progress, and my short fiction.

Pic courtesy of theinchef.com

Pic courtesy of theinchef.com

If any of you are thinking of doing Creative Writing with the OU, I can highly recommend it. Go in with an open mind, embrace the techniques that work for you, and make good use of your tutorial and workbook exercises. Many of mine have turned into stories in their own right, or are little story seeds just waiting to be planted. I’ve learned so much, and that was my main aim. I admit I was quite experimental with a couple of my pieces of assessed work, trying out different things. Believe it or not, I decided it was worth possibly forfeiting high marks, in order to get feedback on my ideas. My tutor has been very helpful and really identified my strengths and weaknesses. (By the way, I’m sure many other Creative Writing courses are equally good – I’m just speaking from my own experience of the OU.)

Well, I better go and get on with this novel, since apparently I’m on the right track and not writing complete drivel. Have a great week all!

Insect Aerobics

I love this drawing!

I love this drawing!

 

Insect aerobics
Is a cat’s fitness routine
(And a diet plan)

**********

Had this haiku and pic floating around, thought I’d share for a bit of fun. The haiku was prompted by a conversation with a friend, about our cats’ lovely eating habits. :-)

Testing, testing… *taps cauldron suspiciously*

Got this pic from Facebook - credits to whoever created it!

Got this pic from Facebook – credits to whoever created it!

Sharing this picture, because I like it.

And…although it’s Vampire Month at Mari Wells‘s blog, my story about vampires has a witch in it as well. Check out Mari’s blog for all things vampire, and my lot will make an appearance starting on the 25th July. ;-)

In the meantime, here’s a little teaser:

**********

The Blood and the Cauldron

 The heavy door swung inwards without a sound. That was good; he had half-expected it to creak. He stepped inside, hugging the wall and scanning the hallway for any movement. There was none. He left the door open, hoping that a little light would follow him. It was risky being here this late. The sun was almost down. Then they would rise, and he had no way of knowing how many there were. He had only ever seen the two, but he couldn’t save Cara if there were many more. He would be too outnumbered.

 

He had asked Mark to go with him, but his friend had refused.

‘It’s a trap,’ Mark had stated, ‘And we’re not going. They’ve been after you since they got your sister. Now you’ve given them bait.’

‘I can’t just leave Cara!’ Ewan had protested.

‘You know why we don’t get involved in relationships. Innocent people get hurt.’ At the expression on his friend’s face, Mark softened a little. ‘Look…why don’t you ask the Witch to help you?’

‘And be beholden to her? No thanks.’

 

So he found himself alone, back at the house where Cara had been dragged away. The memory of her cries made him shiver. She had wanted him to explore with her, saying it would be an adventure. In vain he had tried to tell her what lived there. She hadn’t believed him. Not being brought up in the town, she scoffed at the idea that there were any such things as – vampires.

**********

 Oohh…find out more at the end of July! :-)

The Spicier, The Better

I wrote this flash fiction for a friend’s blog a few weeks ago. For those that missed it, here is a cheeky tale featuring food and a frisson of the supernatural… ;-)

**********

 

She watched him as dexterous hands chopped the vegetables. He hummed under his breath, one of the rock songs they both favoured. Onion, peppers…then he was reaching for the chillies. Her breathing quickened.

‘Hope you like it spicy,’ he said, slicing off stalks and removing seeds. If only he knew.

She stood behind him; slid her arms round his waist. ‘How lucky I am’, she teased, ‘To find a man who can cook.’

He turned in her embrace and kissed her. She tasted Corona, and the nachos they’d munched earlier. She tasted desire, and struggled for control. No, no…there would be plenty of time for that later.

They pulled away from each other, panting.

She broke the silence. ‘Get chopping, you.’ She poked him playfully in the ribs. ‘We’ll both need the energy for…afterwards.’

His eyes widened. ‘Couldn’t we just..?’ His voice was husky.

‘Nope. Food first.’ Well, one kind of food, for her.

He groaned, but resumed his action with the knife. She stepped back and studied him. He was pretty perfect: young, healthy, well-muscled but not too pumped up. Every so often a lock of hair fell forward into his eyes, and he pushed it away with an impatient gesture of those long, slender fingers.

‘So, don’t you like cooking?’ he asked over his shoulder, as he threw ingredients into a pot.

She shrugged. ‘Not really. I’ve never got good at it.’

‘I thought you said earlier that you were on some special diet? Don’t you have to make stuff for that?’ A thought occurred to him. ‘Oh…are you sure you’ll be all right to eat this? It’s my speciality, but it’s pretty hot…’

She worked to keep the smirk from her face. ‘It’ll be fine. It’s more like I need…supplements…rather than a special diet.’

‘Oh, right. So there’s something you can take for it?’

She eyed him greedily. ‘Oh yes.’

He had chopped five chillies by now, and was holding up a sixth, questioningly.

‘Go for it.’ She licked her lips. ‘In fact, use another two.’

‘You sure?’ At her emphatic nod, he chuckled. ‘A girl after my own heart!’

Oh yes, she thought, your heart, your soul…everything you’ve got to offer.

He tipped the vegetables into the pot and stirred. Her mouth watered, at the scent of the chilli con carne, and the scent of him. A sheen of sweat glowed on his skin as steam rose from the hob. As he put the knife in the sink, he winced and dropped it, raising his hand to his mouth.

She couldn’t help herself. ‘Let me see!’

He sucked his finger and held it out for her inspection. ‘It’s just a nick; it’s fine.’

She chewed her lip to stop herself from jumping on him. She kissed the bloody spot on his hand, licking a tiny bit as she did so. Mmm…delicious. Even better with some seasoning.

‘So,’ she said, letting go of him. ‘How are we doing?’

He stared at her for a moment, then ‘Oh!’ He faced the hob. Tasting the chilli, he looked pleased. ‘About five minutes, I reckon. Only…it could be a bit hotter, if you’re up for it?’ He held out the spoon.

She tasted. Yes, it was good – very good. She imagined his blood laced with all that spice, that hotness. Putting the spoon aside, she wrapped her arms round him and kissed his neck. His pulse throbbed just below the skin, inviting her fangs to descend and taste. No – not yet. Not until after the main course. Even with the chilli in his system, his blood would be sweet. A fitting dessert.

‘Go on then,’ she agreed, letting go of her dazed chef/ lover/dinner.

‘The spicier, the better.’

Dusk and Summer Blog Tour – please welcome my friend Joseph Pinto

DuskAndSummer_JosephAPinto_PostCard

Joseph Pinto has been touring the internet, supporting his novella Dusk and Summer. Dusk and Summer was written as a tribute to his father, who he lost to cancer in 2007. Joseph was one of the first fellow writers I met online, and he has been wonderfully helpful and supportive of my writing. So please help me in welcoming Joseph as he shares his post…

A Rare Tribute

Joseph A. Pinto

Dusk and Summer is unlike anything I’ve ever written before. Once I read my draft over for the first time, I realized it was also unlike anything I’d ever read before. I’d managed to share something very rare and special…

Dusk and Summer is based on my father’s life; a tribute written for him over six years ago after he passed away from a fifteen month battle with pancreatic cancer. I’d never experienced a loss of such magnitude before, and it tore a huge hole in my very being. I’d stayed strong for my father as he waged his war, but watching him struggle, his suffering… it eroded me. Little choice existed but to keep it all inside; I could not let him see me suffering as well. He was fighting the monster known as pancreatic cancer, and I was fighting it with him – all the while fully aware of the eventual outcome. Once he passed, a dam broke loose inside me and the pain nearly swept me away.

Eventually, after six months of being grief stricken and not knowing how to process my loss, I came to the realization that I had to do something to make sense of it all, if such a thing even existed. I sat down to write what I’d initially believed to be a vessel of sorts for my emotions, but it unexpectedly transformed into a fantasy story. Inspired by my father’s passion for the sea, Dusk and Summer was born.

When I was a boy, my father was an avid diver. He belonged to a New Jersey diving association and took to the water as often as he could. For a man who worked so hard to provide a good life for his family, this was his release; his place of freedom and transformation. After a day out at sea, he would return home with trinkets and baubles he’d found while diving; they kept me mesmerized. The thought that my father, who was already a hero in my eyes, could conquer the bottom of the ocean and bring back its treasures made him larger than life – greater than Poseidon; a Zeus in his own right. The diving association had presented him with a sweatshirt covered in patches from the wrecks he’d dived; it became a magical and mystical thing to me, the stuff legends were made of. Little did I know that as a man, while chasing my own transformation and dream, I’d be immortalizing him in the legend he himself inspired within me.

Dusk and Summer is a book of love and loss; it’s a tribute to a man that lived his life larger than any man has a right to.I It’s the raw inspiration that grants me that same right, one that I hope to pass on to my daughter. It is also a book of hope, of dreams made real, and a fantasy world beneath the waves that is my gift to the man who did one simple thing – inspire me to fight for my own dream and never quit – no matter how bad the odds may look.

If you decide to read Dusk and Summer, you’ll experience a blend of fantasy and reality that allows a son to realize the man he knew as his father was indeed larger than life. A realization that not only did his father belong to this world, but another as well; one found in the soft, fading light between Dusk and Summer.

Thank you Joseph. Now let’s take a closer look at Dusk and Summer… And there will be an excerpt too!

DuskAndSummer_JosephAPinto_FrontCoverOnlyDoes Heaven await beneath the waves? One man needs to know.

When his dying father whispers a cryptic message to him, he has no choice but to summon his courage and begin the quest of a lifetime. It’s a race against time to realize his father’s wish and fulfill his own destiny; it’s a discovery of the unbreakable bond between father and son. It’s a journey of the heart that unfolds where only the Chosen exist – in the moments between Dusk and Summer.

“A poignant, metaphoric conversation between son and father. A story that will warm your heart.”

–Yvonne S. Thornton, M.D., bestselling author of The Ditchdigger’s Daughters

The author will be donating a portion of the proceeds from this book to the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.

***

Purchase Links:

Amazon:

US |UK | Canada | Australia | Germany | France | Spain | Italy | Japan | Mexico | India | Brazil

CreateSpace

Smashwords

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

iTunes (Apple)

***

JosephAPinto_HeadShot_3x4_9702_SeaLightAqua_5contrast_borderABOUT THE AUTHOR – Joseph A. Pinto is the horror author of two published books and numerous short stories; he is a member of the Horror Writers Association as well the founder of Pen of the Damned, a collective of angst and horror driven writers. Indulge in his unique voice on his personal blog josephpinto.com and PenofTheDamned.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephAPinto. Joseph hails from New Jersey where he lives with his wife and young daughter.

Twitter | Facebook | Blog | Goodreads

***

There’s a Giveaway too!!

Sirens Call Publications will be giving away digital copies of Dusk and Summer by Joseph A. Pinto to 5 (five) lucky winners! Follow the link to enter for your chance to win!

Win 1 of 5(five) copies of Dusk and Summer by Joseph A. Pinto!

***

And now an excerpt from Joseph Pinto’s Dusk and Summer…

The Good Fight

I lost my father between dusk and summer.

Perhaps he left me long before I care to admit, long before he refused his last meals, long before his spent eyes flickered like candles behind cracked panes of some forlorn, abandoned house. Before his neglected muscles jellied into the folds of his stark white hospital sheet, and the rise of his chest grew shallow and weak. Maybe it was plain selfishness on my behalf; sitting at his bedside all those times, soothing his ears with encouragement as I squeezed his hand, desperate to impart the very courage and determination he had infused into me over my years. Even as he relied on me to raise a flimsy plastic cup of ice water to his parched lips. Had I become too scared to realize or just too blinded to ask: whose fight did this now become?

“…find me… from Tolten…”

I could have dismissed the words from his cracked lips as merely disoriented chatter, but his mouth pursed them too purposely, his tone too firm. Still, my father’s words jolted me from my bedside vigil. I bent over his thinning form, promptly taking his hand into mine.

“…go… now,” he croaked, his strength fading.

I held my breath, dared not speak. Gently, I massaged his fingers, marveling how thick and calloused they remained; my own always a child’s within their clasp. Typical blue collar hands, fearless of toil and grime. My father squeezed back, eyes widening. His candlelight flared, sparked brilliantly a moment before blinking away. I knew then I had been wrong. Someone remained home inside that deteriorating body after all. My father hung on, refusing to surrender. But what little had spilled from his lips now hung heavy between us. The message became clear. My father would not leave me.

Not until I finished his business.

My throat constricted as a terrible heat swelled within my chest. I gritted my teeth, blinked furiously and choked back the tears best as I could. Eventually, I eased him into continuing. A corner of his mouth curled. It gained momentum, spreading across his lips, his smile warming me. From within his cocoon of pillows, my father nodded his approval.

I leaned close, carefully straightening the air tube dangling from his nose. Caressed his cheek, returning his smile as his short, white stubble tickled my palm. Swallowed another blistering lump deeper into my throat. “Tell me what you want me to do, Pops,” I whispered.

***

I listened very intently to the scarce words my father pushed from his lips. Go. 141 Sea Cargo Drive. Manasquan. You’ll know. Go now. He did not tell me what I would find or even what I needed to do. He held the obvious trust that I would just as soon figure it out, and I was not about to question or let him down. I kissed his forehead, told him I would leave, that I would see him later. From the moment my father became sick, goodbyes no longer existed. Only see you laters. As I forced myself from his sallow room, he cleared his throat. Must find me… she… come back from Tolten. I froze, deluged with fear and for the very first time a sense of hopelessness as I questioned, but for a moment, the sanity of his words, the tenuous grip he maintained upon his own reality. No; I would have none of that. I squared my jaw, turned and measured my father. I did not see a sick and dying man. The matted wisps of white hair that returned after his last bout of chemotherapy were gone, transformed into thick, luxurious curls of chestnut locks brushed back in heaps. The sagging skin of his arms now tight, bulging with muscle, the tattoos acquired while stationed in the Air Force as crisp and fresh as the day they were etched. Shoulders squared, again capable of carrying the world as he had done so many times before. Chest, wide and broad—within, the power of a Titan, the pride of a lion. Skin so vibrant and pure. His sickness did not diminish his stature. My father grew before my eyes, every day becoming more the man I had known. I nodded, determined to accomplish what he needed of me.

I nearly collided with the nurse as I left his room. “Oh, I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed.

“No, it was me. I should’ve watched where I was going.”

Her thoughtful eyes washed over me. “How are you holding up?”

My father’s nurse was one of the better ones and tended to him with sincere compassion. Painfully, I had encountered too many who believed my father was just another room number. I regarded her nameplate, my gaze lingering. Dawn. Normally I would have little difficulty remembering. I had seen enough of her—every day for the past week, too many, many times over the past months. All that while, I found it easier to address her with simple hellos, with downcast, fleeting glances. I disassociated myself from the moment she entered his room. For my own self-preservation, I could not bear to voice her name. I had no choice. To do so would have thrown me under the remorseless incandescent glare of reality and I liked it where I was, alone, lost within ignorant shadows. There I could disguise life; the curtained obscurity made things not so real. It took all I could do from dropping my head upon her shoulder and weep. The shrug I managed in response drained all that remained of me.

Hesitantly, Dawn lifted her hand, carefully rested it along my arm. Gave me a soft but reassuring stroke, then slowly pulled away. “The morphine drip you requested is working as well as it could right now. Your dad has been unbelievable, you know. Joking nonstop, up until…”

My features shifted. She read it well. No luxury of morphine existed to mask my own pain. Dawn stole a look down the hall. No one approached. “Has the doctor seen you recently?”

“No more than he needs to, I guess.”

She offered a sad smile. “You should know your father’s kidneys are failing. His… the truth is his entire body will eventually shut down. That’s why his arms… they flop when he tries to raise them. His speech—”

“Incoherent,” I interrupted. Tolten. Tolten. Come back from Tolten. “That is, when he can speak.”

An uncomfortable moment passed. An eternity gutted my soul. “We’ve done all we can. But this is… you need to know this is the last stage. We’re keeping him as comfortable as we can right now.”

She must have believed I was strong enough to handle it. Wise enough to see the writing upon the wall. She knew little of my father’s resolve however, nor of the spirit I lent him all these months, and I was not about to quit.

Eventually, even a fool must realize when one’s own hand cannot bend fate. No matter how hard you try. “I appreciate all you’ve done. I really do.” I gritted my teeth. “That’s a tough sonofabitch in there.”

She nodded. “And a good son out here.”

Tolten. Come back from Tolten. My father’s words haunted me. It was time for me to go. “Can I ask a favor of you?” I said.

“Yes, anything.”

“You have my cell phone number in your contact list. Call me first should… should you need to. But not my mother. Please, spare my mother.”

“Of course,” she answered slowly.

Shuffling away, I whispered, “Thank you, Dawn.” It was at that moment I was dragged from the shadows. Things suddenly became all too real.

An Arresting Weekend (yes, that’s a really bad pun)

Some people think my day job consists of me careering around on two wheels, shouting at unfortunate learner drivers. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Being a driver trainer is not as exciting/terrifying as folk believe. And sometimes I get to do different stuff. Last weekend I was privileged to be part of the Road Safety Scotland Village at the Royal Highland Show. My colleagues and I spent the weekend:

Promoting Road Safety in all sorts of ways

Engaging with and educating the public

Having fun

Taking silly photos of each other

Oh dear...

Oh dear…


So what is a Road Safety Village? Well, ours consisted of:

Police Scotland, with a variety of cars, a ‘seatbelt convincer’, and the mobile speed camera van

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents

The Fire Service, with their cutting tools

AA Driving School (that’s me!)

…and many more organisations dedicated to making our roads safer for all users.

We spent the weekend talking with people about such things as:

The importance of driving at an appropriate speed

The effects of drink driving

What to do if you’re first upon the scene of an accident

Why it’s important to use seatbelts, and VERY important to make sure child seats are correctly fitted and secured

All extremely serious stuff, which can be very dry. If a little bit of light-heartedness can be introduced here and there, it actually benefits the message, as people just switch off if you’re preachy. Hopefully we gave people some valuable information, as well as lots of useful freebies such as tyre tread checkers, reflective stickers (kids loved those), and all kinds of pens, keyrings, posters and whatnot.

The kids had their own Safety Mascot, Ziggy. (There’s a pic of me with him, below). This meant some unfortunate person had to wear the Ziggy suit over what was a VERY hot weekend. On Saturday, we had some lovely young helpful Police Volunteers. Guess who got bundled into the suit?

We grown ups love playing with police cars as much as the kids. I was told by a colleague to get in the back of the car and look sad. This didn’t work very well, as I was having too much fun. We also had a look in the speed camera van, sat on the quad bikes (quad bike safety was being promoted, giving that the Highland Show is primarily a farming event), and in my case, chatted up some firemen. My penchant for firemen has become a standing joke among my Road Safety colleagues. ;-)

The event lasted for four days, and at the end I was tired, with sore feet, but pleased it had gone well. However, tiredness got me last Monday, and I had to have an extra nap after work. Then I had a busy week – hence no blog post last week, and not much other writing got done either. I’m catching up now, though!

Next, on 2nd July, I have the amazing writer Joseph Pinto on my blog, with his new book, Dusk and Summer. And keep an eye on Mari Wells‘s blog during July, as it’s Vampire Month! I’ll have a serial story featuring over there.

In the meantime, drive safely – or I’ll come and get you! *evil cackle*