Friday Fiction: Short Fiction

Crown Land

It was an old hat, but only just, held together by sweat and sheer determination. It was hardworking and weather-beaten, just like its owner. Fitting perfectly, it moulded itself to George’s head, so well in fact, it would stay on in a strong wind or on a fast moving motor bike. Not a belonging or an item of apparel, but an extension of him. He never looked himself without that old hat.

It once was beige with a brown band, but now was brown all over. The brown of years of perspiration stains, dirt and dust. Of crop sprays and animal dips, milk, blood and dung. There were holes in the crown, the band was only just holding together and bits of the wide brim were gone altogether, but still it did its job. It was impossible to tell how old it was. That old hat looked ancient, but hard work can do that to the young.

It worked seven days a week and in all weather. Drenched by pouring rain and baked by blistering sun. Working at all hours, from early morning when it was still dark and full udders had to be milked, and all through the night, when the irrigation gates had to be opened and closed around the clock. It never got a day off, a holiday or even a sick day. It had seen drought and flood. That old hat had endured hard times and in good times had worked extra hours planning and stockpiling for the next rough patch. Present when new life came into the world, and when life faded away. And sometimes it had to sight down the barrel of a gun, when a life and death decision had to be made.

Of course, there were other hats. The one that was only worn with a suit, to church, to weddings and funerals. There was the blinding white hat that lived on the shelf in the back of the car and was worn at lawn bowls tournaments. And there was the good hat, a younger version of the old hat that was worn into town when there was business to be done. It would one day become the old hat. But not yet. There was still life in the old hat. Life and plenty of soul. Soul that it had absorbed from its owner. And soul that it had absorbed from his land.

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Friday Fiction/creative

Her

                The house felt cold, not just because it was autumn and the sun lost its warmth by three in the afternoon, it was more than that. It was the cold of emptiness, the lack of human spirit. There was no talking or laughing now, no mess, no annoying little habits to silently curse at as he went about his day. Just quiet and stillness and the cold.

He had packed up Her clothes and personal belongings, but hadn’t had the heart to get rid of them yet. It helped not being able to see them, to come across little pieces of Her as he went through his daily routines. Made it feel more real, Her not being there anymore.

He hadn’t made any changes to the house. People kept telling him he should, make it his own instead of theirs. But he couldn’t, and anyway, he liked it the way it was. It suited his needs and they had decorated it together. It was as much his choices as Hers.

He sat in his study unable to work. He missed Her, everything about Her. He decided he must work. He turned to his desk, looking for his pen. It was nowhere to be found. ‘Blast! Where the bloody hell is it,’ he said under his breath. A breeze shifted a pile of papers even though there was no window, no source for the moving air. There was his pen. That was one of Her talents. Knowing where he had left things. Always there with just what he needed, just when he needed it. He helped himself to a cup of tea and smiled.

****************************************

                She’d watched the car slam into the back of the truck. It had all happened so quickly, but now going over it again, it all seemed to happen in slow motion. She thought of fleeing, of driving away as fast as she could, but then she realised there was no need to. There was no one to know she had been following Her, no one to make the connection between them. She’d be just another witness with no idea why the car had been going so fast, so frantically, so erratically.

It was a coincidence, a happy accident (bad choice of words, huh?), that she had been following Her. She had seen Her by chance and was curious as to Her life and what made Her better, what made him want Her. She knew he was the love of a lifetime the first time she had met him and she thought they had been happy. They were happy, until he met Her. Then everything changed, life was shattered. She was shattered. Why did he suddenly want Her, plain and seemingly ordinary?

Following Her to the hairdressers, she had waited and watched. She followed Her to the supermarket, the shops, post office, everywhere. Boring, ordinary tasks, what was so special about Her? At some point she’d been noticed and it occurred to Her that she was following. Then the panic, the speeding and the crash.

She hadn’t intended that, or any harm at all, but she wasn’t sorry either. She could now bump into him somewhere, accidentally (oops, there’s that word again) of course, and now could play the supportive old friend. Perhaps he would see what he gave up, what he threw away for Her. Maybe now, she could be happy again.

****************************************

                It is always assumed that ghosts haunt houses, places, but they don’t. They attach to people, those who loved them, those they loved. Her attachment was to him and it was Her intention to protect him wherever he went. Now, here she was in Her house, playing the understanding counsellor. Helping him through the hardest time in his life. Surely she hadn’t planned it, an accident that was no accident? She hadn’t coped well with the break up, but surely she wasn’t driven to murder? Still, she couldn’t have him, especially now, when he was so vulnerable, so lonely and grief stricken. Surely he knew he wasn’t alone, that he still had Her. It seemed to Her that he did feel Her presence, notice Her helping him out when possible and it appeared to Her that he needed Her help again now. If she could drive Her to Her death, what would she do to him, especially if she were rejected – again.

It would be Her biggest task yet. It had taken Her ages to master the small things. The breezes, moving little things, suggesting ideas so that he could never quite decide if they had occurred to him naturally or come to him from somewhere else. This would take practice, timing and all of Her tricks. It was up to Her to do something so that she would leave him alone.

He was going through their wedding album, when she had turned up. He made tea while she sat scowling at the open pages. The pages were heavy, it took Her such effort to turn them, but it had the desired effect. She screamed.

‘Are you ok?’ he said rushing into the room.

‘The page turned by itself,’ she said shakily, standing staring down at the album on the coffee table.

He laughed. ‘Don’t worry about it. Her presence won’t hurt you.’

‘What are you talking about?’ she said, eyes wide.

‘It’s just Her way, being helpful,’ he said returning to the kitchen for the mugs of tea.

‘You mean it’s Her?’ she said pointing at the album.

‘Well who else would it be?’ he said smiling down at the photos as he placed the mugs on the table.

‘You’re mad,’ she said sitting down once more. ‘You need me more than I thought. Your grief has driven you mad.’

It was too much for Her, it was time for something drastic. Using all Her might, the mug of hot tea flew off the table and she cried out in pain as the scalding liquid soaked into jeans, jumper and shoes. She jumped up, eyes wild. ‘It is Her!’ she cried. ‘I didn’t mean it, this is Her revenge,’ and she ran from the house. He didn’t know what she meant. Revenge for what? Anyway, he knew revenge wasn’t Her thing, nor jealousy, but he knew there would be a reason for Her actions.

Her work was done, she wouldn’t be back, she wouldn’t dare, knowing she would be at Her mercy. One day he would meet someone who would be right for him, and it would give Her pleasure to see him move on. Until then, he had Her to watch over him.

Friday Fiction/Creative

The Instructions (Pantoum)

Be brave, keep fear at bay,

It will want to consume you, do not let it.

Keep moving, forward or back,

There is no shame in a wise retreat.

 

It will want to consume you, don’t let it.

Follow your heart, listen to your gut,

Keep moving, forward or back,

Do not overthink your decisions.

 

Follow your heart, listen to your gut,

Be true to yourself and your beliefs,

Do not overthink your decisions.

Be sure to keep an open mind.

 

Be true to yourself and your beliefs,

Keep moving, forward or back,

Be sure to keep an open mind,

Be brave, keep fear at bay.

 

Bad Feminist

The producers of the TV show Doctor Who recently revealed that the next incarnation of The Doctor would be female. This led some to make comments such as ‘about time,’ as if this is some great leap forward in the feminist cause, the next step in equality for women. Some are suggesting that the next James Bond movie should also star a female in the title role – Jane Bond – and for the same reasons. Call me a bad feminist, but I don’t see this as necessarily good for gender equality.

Other movie franchises have recently been rebooted with female characters in the lead – Ghostbusters and Ocean’s Eight both take an old format in a new direction by using a predominantly female cast. However, they don’t take male characters and make them female.   From a writer’s point of view, I can see the allure of writing a character in a completely new way, from a completely different perspective or perhaps trying to find the old character within that new context. However, it can’t be ignored that often a character and their behaviour is governed by their gender. In the case of James Bond, his being a slightly misogynistic lothario is part of his charm. And take the character Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise. The line ‘get away from her you bitch’ is so much more powerful having a female protagonist take on a female alien menacing a small girl. The fight is not just human vs alien but taps into deep primal maternal instincts.

Agatha Christie’s characters Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple are both excellent sleuths, Poirot using psychology and ‘the little grey cells’ and Miss Marple using her experience of human nature as observed in the tiny village of St Mary Mead to solve crimes. One could argue that Poirot, as a character and detective could work equally well if portrayed by a female. There is nothing about the character that makes it essential that it be male. However, Miss Marple only works as a female character. An innocuous old person, quietly observing, gleaning information from parlour maids and butcher’s boys and being let into secrets and gossip, would never work if portrayed by a male. Her insights are gathered from the female world, from the female perspective, even from female intuition. And here lies the answer to equality. Creating female characters that work only as female characters.

There would surely be outrage if Ellen Ripley from the Alien movie franchise became Alan Ripley, if Mary Poppins became Martin Poppins, if Dane Prince were Wonder Man and Nathan Romanov became the Black Widower, but changing male characters to female seems to be acceptable, and all in the cause of gender equality.

George Miller could easily have made a Mad Maxine movie in Fury Road but didn’t. He kept his male lead and added a female, Furiosa, who was easily his equal and could only have worked as a female character. And surely that’s the key to gender equality. It’s not just about taking male characters and roles and making them female, but creating female characters that can only work as female and are every bit as engaging and interesting as their male counterparts.

Mirror of Society

I recently heard a commentator describe Social Media as a mirror of society. I don’t think any comment could be further from the truth. Rather than reflecting society, social media is a glass that magnifies the very worst of society and human nature, and worryingly, the kind of behaviours and attitudes that now are commonplace on social media platforms, are slowly seeping into the real world and changing society for the worse.

The fact that most social media platforms allow members to remain anonymous by using fictitious screen names means that many will say things and behave in ways that they would never have the courage to in a real world situation. Aggression, hate, bigotry, misogyny and more is all delivered on a regular basis. Even if not using a veil of anonymity to spew their vitriol, the perceived distance that cyberspace provides, often emboldens some to behave in ways they would not in any other setting. Sitting, typing at a keyboard, words to an unknown, unseen person who they may never encounter in any other environment provokes behaviour they would not have the courage to display anywhere else. Often when these people’s actions are exposed and called into question in the offline world, they respond by saying their behaviour was out of character. That’s not strictly true, it was just a small aspect of their character never normally seen, made large by the social media bubble.

Bullying has run rampant since the rise of social media. No longer is it confined to school yards and workplaces, now you can bully and harass twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and once more that distance, that perceived disconnect that cyberspace allows, means that it is more prevalent and severe than it would be in other situations. It is also made public, given an audience and often that audience is encouraged to join in without the real effects of their actions being seen. To see someone harassed in the real world, one may have sympathy for the victim. In cyberspace it’s easy to perceive it as a victimless act. It’s just words on a computer screen after all.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion – a right in any society that values free speech – but again, the rise of social media has led to a lot of people believing they are entitled to impose that opinion at every opportunity and often in the worst possible terms. It’s also easier to find like-minded people meaning that hateful, intolerant and bigoted opinions often garner more weight and validity, and groups and organisations have a means of growing, publicising and politicising their views. It’s also easier for those with evil intentions to find their victims, all without leaving the comfort of their own home. Social media can be a hunting ground for many – from scammers and criminals using information gleaned from profiles, to paedophiles using it to groom their prey.

Social media is responsible for the rise of the selfie. In the past, people mostly took photos of other people and places as a memento, a reminder of a certain time, but now we photograph ourselves to share online. Activities, holidays and outings are no longer to be simply experienced or enjoyed, now they must be photographed and shared online. Concerts and performances must be filmed and uploaded. We no longer just enjoy the moment or savour the now, it seems everything is about the photo opportunity.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that there is a rise in vanity and narcissism. The perfect selfie now seems to be a life goal for some, posing and pouting their way through their days in pursuit of the perfect photograph. Many use filters and editing programs to airbrush their perceived flaws before posting their photos. Rather than just posting as a means of sharing who they really are with friends and family, many seem to use social media as a way to project a perfect image of themselves, a perfect life. Photos and activities are posted as means of almost skiting or bragging, of exaggerating their contentment and happiness. This of course has flow on effects with rates of depression increasing with social media use for some. Low self-esteem and body image issues are also increasing. It’s hard to live up to a perfect profile in real life.

Most people know that if they use the internet they are sacrificing some of their privacy, but by using social media, we are sacrificing almost all of it. Even if keeping profile settings on private and providing very little in the way of information about yourself – even if using a fictitious screen name – vast quantities of information is tracked and collated and often shared with other sites. Information enough to be able to paint a clear picture of who and where you are, personal relationships, likes and dislikes and almost everything else. Information is power and is highly sought after. Advertising can now be targeted to each user increasing its effectiveness. This is why social media is incredibly profitable for some and social media companies are now some of the heavy-weights of the corporate world.

Social media, of course, is not all bad. There are many useful and positive aspects, but like the internet itself it is a double edged sword and the negative edge often appears to be the sharpest on the blade. Far from merely reflecting society, social media is playing an active hand in shaping it, having created, distorted or exaggerated many behaviours which are now starting to become prevalent in real world interactions. Many people appear to be more aggressive, intolerant, rude, less caring, more superficial and vain. So, perhaps we should think twice before we share every thought in 140 characters, should focus on being a better person rather than having the perfect profile pic and eat our food rather than photograph it. And don’t get me started on the cats.

Music and Words

I once went to the home of an acquaintance and it really surprised me to find that they didn’t own any books or music. No radio, record player, cassette deck, CD player, MP3 player. Nothing. There was no bookshelf. No fiction, non-fiction or even reference books. It freaked me out a bit and I realised I don’t understand people who don’t have books or music.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand and appreciate that we are all different. We all have different passions and pastimes. We all have our own hobbies and interests that are sometimes hard for others to understand and usually I celebrate that. But I don’t understand people who don’t have books or music.

For me, music is as vital as breathing, eating or sleeping. It’s a natural part of life. It’s birdsong, the breeze rustling leaves or a babbling stream. It’s a part of me and I couldn’t live without it. There is always a tune going around and around in my head. I am constantly humming, whistling or singing to myself, even I find – by the looks I sometimes get from strangers – in public. At the supermarket, walking down the street, even in the library. I have never studied music, I can’t read it, I don’t play an instrument, and neither did my parents or siblings, but music has always been in my life. Always a song being sung or whistled, a radio playing, a record going around or a music show on TV. All types of music, everything from classical, to jazz, pop, hard rock, heavy metal, hip hop and rap. My life has a soundtrack. I can hear a song and it will bring back memories of people, places, a time or event. Music has the power to move, to uplift, to soothe and to hurt.

To me the best kind of music is a song that combines music and meaningful words. Lyrics that are as powerful as the music they are set to, that move as much as the music. Words that are poetry, that tell a story. Words can be like music too. Words can form melodies and words can have rhythms. Every culture in the world has developed music and stories and often the two are combined. Stories allow us to explore, explain and express. To examine our world and ourselves and to share our thoughts and emotions.

And that’s why I couldn’t live without books. Be it fiction or non-fiction, books, to me, are little papery worlds – real or imagined – that broaden our minds and take us out of ourselves. Reading a good book is sometimes like connecting with another mind. There are other ways to enjoy stories – movies, theatre or television – but books require us to use our own imagination. To fill the gaps between word and vision. To interpret and to feel for ourselves. A new book can be a scary and daunting thing; just what is contained within those pages? How will it make me feel? And I often experience a sense of sadness or loss when I finish reading a book, knowing that a wonderful experience has come to an end, and even though I can re-read that book, it will never be the same as that first reading.  But a good book is like an old friend, one that we can visit when we need to.

Music and words are food for the soul. There are other things that nourish the soul – the natural world, gardening, hiking, other forms of art, teaching or spending time with a child, for example – but music and books are portable. You can have access to them almost anywhere, anytime, even if it’s just remembering a tune, a poem or story. They connect us to others and teach us about ourselves. I couldn’t live without them. And I really don’t understand people who don’t have books or music.

Down the Lane

Laneways aren’t like other paths. They’re special. Magical.

I have always lived in an older area, so there are lots of laneways around. I used to walk past them on the way to school, on the way to the shops or friend’s houses. And of course, sometimes I would walk down them, or up them. They are gaps between properties, between buildings. But they always feel like more than that. Like gaps between worlds. Or even other worlds themselves. They are always different from the streets at the top or bottom of them. They are always darker, colder and quieter. And some are always windy, even on a still day. They feel different, like you could be in another world. And they are dangerous. We were always warned about them. Watch for strangers lurking near the lane, and if you see a stranger walking towards you, turn around and walk back to the street. And never play in the lanes (though we did).

And so, with these warnings echoing in your head (even now), you’d walk down (or up) the lane with a feeling of anxious anticipation. What would be waiting at the end? Would you even reach the end? And what would you come across on the way? Fairies, pixies and elves? Wolves in girl’s clothing? Would the path change, become other and lead you into another world? Anything seemed possible. So much so, that we used to dare each other to walk down (or up) the lane alone. Sometimes we’d dare ourselves. A lane was an adventure, waiting to be had.

There are laneways in the city too and most of these are fairly ordinary, just like smaller streets, but there are a few, tucked away, off the main streets that carry that magical feeling. Well there were anyway. Ones that I’d visit as a child and once you’d stepped into them, you could feel it. The sights, sounds and smells of the city seemed duller somehow. The shops that populated these lanes felt different too. They were small, dark, specialty shops, run by interesting people, selling interesting things. We used to go to a café in one of these lanes. It was called Mr Gordon’s. It was tiny, and dark and every wall was covered in art, which was for sale. It felt otherworldly. I loved it. Even when I was older and worked in the city, some of the lanes that led to the alleys that led to the backs of the buildings where I worked had that magical feeling. The alleys didn’t. The alleys were just dirty and dangerous for a completely different reason. But the lanes… I don’t know if they still exist or if they do, are still magical. I hope so.

The lanes where I live are still there, and even now when I walk past them I can still feel their magic. I still hear myself daring me to go into them. The lanes are still an adventure. Where the gaps between worlds are blurred. Where anything is possible.

I think I need to go for a walk.

Lanes 7 (600x800) (2)