Posts Tagged ‘flash fiction’

wreckersAs part of Book Week Scotland, the Aberdeen Library Special Collections Centre runs a Flash Fiction competition where authors are invited to submit a story based on one of four images from their collection. This is the third year in a row I’ve entered …and the third year in a row I’ve come away empty handed! You can read the winners and all the other entries on the Special Collections page. In the meantime here is my not quite good enough effort.
Wreckers
Andrew picked his way over the rocks towards his grandfather. The morning mist had cleared with the rising sun and he could taste the salt in the air as the sharp rocks and shells pressed hard into the soles of his feet.
‘Let’s see what the tide has brought us today then lad,’ his grandfather said over the hiss of the waves.
They walked together along the shoreline. Andrew held his hand, enjoying the rough feel of his skin on his. The old man had taken him in after his had died when he was just a toddler and now Andrew could barely even remember his real father.
It was not long before they started to see the first debris. Scraps of splintered wood tumbled onto the beach atop the briny foam along with a man’s shirt and a solitary brown leather shoe washed up at the high water mark. His grandfather spared them no more than a cursory glance.
The first body was just a little farther along, arms splayed like a man-size rag doll as the tide nudged it ashore. The old man knelt and began a thorough inspection of the corpse. Andrew watched as his grandfather dipped his hands in and out of pockets. He was amazed as always at how quickly he worked. A rolled up sleeve revealed a gold wristwatch which he deftly removed. He held it to his ear to check it still worked before slipping it into his pocket. A quick tug on a finger also relieved the man of his wedding ring. The dead man’s head rolled from side to side as he worked as if he was objecting to his treatment. Finally, his grandfather’s long bony fingers plucked a cracked leather wallet out from an inside pocket. He flipped it open and carefully withdrew some sodden banknotes before tossing the empty billfold onto the sand at Andrew’s feet. The boy stooped to pick it up and opened it. A picture of a smiling woman and a little baby looked out at him.
‘Leave it be lad,’ his grandfather said. ‘It does no good to know too much about what washes up on the beach.’
‘Yes grandfather.’
Andrew dropped the wallet back onto the sand. The faces still stared up at him as the water washed over them making their features blur.
‘Let’s move on,’ his grandfather said wiping his hands on his trousers as he stood up. ‘Plenty more where this one came from I’ll wager, cargo too if we’re lucky.’
When they were done they would go home and count the day’s take and his grandfather would give him a share for helping. After the sun went down they would light their lantern and go for another walk along the beach. There were always plenty of ships plying their trade along the rocky coast and there were always a few that would be fooled by the light and founder on the reefs before spilling their holds into the waves.

 

ImageAt the tail end of last year I once again entered the Aberdeen University Special Collections Flash Fiction competition. Once again I didn’t win anything but hey-ho…

Anyway, since I haven’t posted anything for a while I thought I may as well share it here. The story was inspired by the picture.

Strictly Business

‘How was Bogota?’

They were standing in front of the model globe. Anderson could feel the slight chill of air-conditioning through his suit. Outside the muggy New York streets waited for him.

‘The arrangements were excellent as usual.’

‘And Señor Mendoza?’ Philips let the question hang in the cool air. He was close enough that Anderson caught a faint whiff of his cologne. He remembered the heat from the car bomb washing over him even from a safe distance. The plume of black smoke had stretched above the city streets like a crooked exclamation point confirming that Carlos Mendoza had ceased to exist.

‘Will no longer be a problem.’

‘And the authorities?’

‘Mendoza frequently criticised the drug lords so everyone assumes the Cartel did it.  So far the press hasn’t made the connection to his campaign against foreign investment.’

‘Excellent,’ Philips turned to the younger man. ‘I believe there was some collateral damage?’

Anderson nodded.

‘Senor Mendoza’s wife and his daughter were also in the car.’ Ana Maria Mendoza had been just six years old.  Her smiling, gap-toothed school picture had stared out at him from the front pages of the newspaper while he waited for his flight.

‘Unfortunate,’ Philips shrugged. ‘However, these things happen in our line of work.’ He smiled. ‘You’ve done well Jimmy. Your name is going to be heard by a lot of important people after this, you mark my words.’

‘It’s good to know that my work is appreciated.’

‘That’s the spirit Jimmy,’ Philips clapped him on the shoulder. ‘I have another assignment coming up if you’re interested.’

Anderson hesitated. He was exhausted after the Mendoza mission but perhaps keeping busy would be for the best under the circumstances.

‘What’s the job?’

‘Bit of a change from the last one,’ he rotated the globe. ‘How’s your Russian?’

‘Pretty good. I have a slight southern accent but not enough to make me stand out.’

‘Perfect.’ He reached into his inside pocket and handed over a small black box. It looked just like a regular Smartphone.

‘You can download more information via this once you leave here.’

‘Any other special instructions?’

‘You’ll need to pay a quick visit to the Lab before you go.’

‘The Lab? What for?’

‘This job needs to be a little less …public shall we say, than your last one. The political situation is more delicate. We need this to look like natural causes. From what I gather the eggheads downstairs have concocted something using polonium to do the trick.’

‘Polonium?’

‘It’s a radioactive isotope. The effects won’t be immediate but they should be fatal in the long run. You’ll be completely safe of course.’

‘I see. Well, I’d best be get down there and make a start.’ He made as if to leave.

‘Jimmy?’ Philips called after him. Anderson turned back.

‘Mendoza’s family – I trust you aren’t being troubled by any pangs of conscience.’

He thought again of the photographs and shook his head. Conscience was a luxury.

‘Strictly business, Mr Philips.’

A wee slice of flash fiction…Image

The Outer Limits

 The press of bodies moves with its own secret rhythm as music blares into the warm summer air from a dozen different sources. Pounding drumbeats and throbbing bass notes blend with ringing bells and peals of laughter to create a joyous cacophony.

The air is thick with odours too – sticky toffee apples, hot buttery popcorn, the sweet smell of spun sugar slowly fluffing into puffs of candy floss drifting through the night. Lights semaphore secret messages in gold, green and yellow flashes.

There are people everywhere, forming in knots along the strip of stalls lining the promenade. Children tug on their parent’s arms, pointing at the rides and making pleading faces. Hands dig deep into pockets searching for silver.

I stand in the middle of all this chaos and confusion, staring at the painted faces on the side of one of the rides. A thick-set, unshaven man with a worn leather pouch full of change jangling around his waist looks at me with mild disinterest. A smouldering cigarette is pinched between two yellowed fingers.

‘You just going to stand there gawping all night or do you want to go on?’

‘I’m trying to make up my mind. What is it exactly?’

The man drops his cigarette to the pavement and grinds it out with one scuffed work boot. He points to the sign above the entrance which promises “family fun for everyone!” It looks like a giant mouth ready to swallow the unwary.

I look at the pictures again – giant cartoon grotesques with bulging eyes stare back at me, daring me to join them in their day-glow purgatory.

I decide that I’d rather try and win a goldfish.

Updated: after contacting the University I have been given permission to include the picture prompt that I used to come up with my competition entry. Many thanks to Scott Byrne from the Special Collections Centre for allowing me to use the image.

from Robert Ker Porter's Travelling sketched in Russia and Sweden during 1805, 1806, 1807, 1808, published in 1813. Copyright, University of Aberdeen.

from Robert Ker Porter’s Travelling sketched in Russia and Sweden during 1805, 1806, 1807, 1808, published in 1813. Copyright, University of Aberdeen.

Earlier this month I spotted a sign advertising a flash fiction competition organised by Aberdeen University. The entries had to be based on one of four pictures taken from the University’s Special Collections Centre’s rare books and archives. Figuring there was nothing to lose I went home,  found the pictures (I chose number 2) and had bashed out a 500 word effort in a couple of days. I was quite pleased with it as I normally hate “writing to order” as so many competitions seem to insist upon these days. I also rather enjoyed the period feel of the story that developed which was a bit of departure from my usual style.

The winners were announced today and sadly I did not feature in the top slot or even get a special commendation. However, the story is published along with many others on the University’s website. There you will find the overall winner and links to all the other stories and, most important of all, the pictures which started it all.

I’ve included the story below for you.

The Pit

‘This way Sir,’ Drummond said as Porteous stepped out of the basket.

Porteous followed the younger man through the tunnel. The stifling heat of the jungle lay over a hundred feet above and the walls sweated and ran with constant moisture. A cool draft teased his exposed skin. There were no mosquitoes this far down either which he supposed was a blessing. He detested the bitter taste of the quinine pills the Professor insisted the men take daily.

‘How is the dig progressing?’

‘We seem to be back on schedule now.’ The locals Drummond had hired had strong backs and toiled night and day for their few pennies.

‘Just as well – London is becoming impatient. Several telegrams have arrived insisting that we make haste.’

‘Yes Sir I realise that but…’ Drummond hesitated.

‘Well? What is it? Out with it man.’

‘With all due respect Sir, I don’t think they appreciate our difficulties. The locals say this place is haunted.  It took a lot of persuading to get them to overcome their reluctance to dig here.’

‘Stuff and nonsense lad,’ Porteous snorted. ‘Let me tell you, I have travelled far and wide and I’ve yet to encounter anything that can’t be seen off with a taste of cold steel.’

‘If you say so Sir.’

The tunnel broadened out into a wider cavern. Porteous could hear the scrape of shovels from up ahead.

‘Are you sure the map is correct?’

‘Positive Sir. It took us a while to translate all the information on it but this is the place all right.’

The map had passed through several sets of hands before coming into the possession of Porteous’ employer. It purported to show an ancient burial site hidden deep in the jungle where untold riches were said to lie.  Porteous had been hired to lead the expedition – a task which he had gladly accepted. Civilian life was far too mundane for his tastes although the heat made his old wounds throb.

There was a sudden clamour of voices raised in agitation. One of the workers, his face streaked with dirt ran up to the two men jabbering excitedly.

‘He says they’ve found something,’ Drummond translated once he got the man to calm down.

The diggers stood at the edge of the shallow pit as if unsure what to do next, a few shifted from foot to foot nervously. A stone casket lay at the bottom of the hole. Porteous could see the intricate carvings decorating its surface even through the dirt.

‘Out of my way,’ Porteous said, shoving them aside. He grabbed a pick from one of the men and jumped into the hole. He grunted as he hefted it over his head and brought it down to strike the stone.

A flash of light burst from the shattered casket, consuming all of the men. It burst through the tunnels and shot up to the surface. When it subsided the excavation had been erased and only the sounds of the living jungle remained.

Flashmaster!

Bit of a plug today. Brendan Gisby, publisher of the McStorytellers site has accepted three of my short flash pieces to showcase. McStorytellers is the place to find quality examples of short fiction from writers with a Scottish connection and well worth a visit if you enjoy dipping your toes outside the bestseller lists and celebrity autobiographies. Click on the link above to go to the site.

Enjoy!