The red-headed writer, aka the Raconteuse, was sitting outside on the small flat-roofed section of the old mill building, leaning her against the wall of the long-defunct elevator machine room; the upper floors of the large, storied building were derelict too, but the ground floor and basement were the busy hub of the thriving Six Sentence Café & Bistro, or at least they had been up until the outbreak of a small kitchen fire earlier that day.
It could have been worse; due to Tom’s rapid reaction and the prompt attendance of the fire department, the fire had been mostly confined to the sauté station, although the accompanying damage from the fire hoses had left the kitchen a soggy sooty mess; thankfully the rest of the Café had remained unscathed.
There was something else bothering her even more: the sudden disappearance of the Café’s doorman, the Gatekeeper, who’d subsequently been found dead in his apartment building, and despite communications from some female attorney, improbably called Finley Leana something-or-other, the Raconteuse was having difficulty accepting her fellow Proprietor’s demise; she sighed, if only she could rewrite that particular chapter in the SSC&B’s history.
She felt the reassuring solidity of the object she was holding, once described as a ‘non-functioning prop’, a purely fictional item, the silver cigarette lighter was now tangible, although granted, it didn’t actually work, which was probably just as well, since the lack of ignition fluid absolved her from any suspicion as to the cause of the fire, should there be an inquiry.
The point was, she had brought an item from one of her stories into her own actuality; maybe this newly-found phenomenon, where imagination and reality had collided to produce a tangible object, could be harnessed; as she slipped the lighter into her pocket her thoughts drifted to Jenne’s Time Travelling Tomahawk, still stowed on a shelf behind the bar, Jenne had said that she could borrow it.
She took out her notebook and pencil and started to write.
This has been my second offering this week for Denise’s Six Sentence Story Challenge where this week’s prompt word was fluid.
Stealing a glance around a tatty blue van, Joey observed the man he knew as Patterson drawing on a cigarette and obviously awaiting his return; the man’s head turned to face him and Joey saw the hunger in his piercing blue-grey eyes for object he was carrying in the pocket of his parka.
With one nod from Patterson to his little crew of small squat men lurking in the driveway, the chase was on.
Joey spun around and sprinted back down the road; hearing a vehicle’s doors slamming behind him and a voice calling out his name, he ducked into the grounds of the nearest building.
In one fluid movement, he cleared the back boundary wall, landing heavily on the grass at the edge of Princes Park; he dove down the leafy corridor between the bushes, feeling like a fox with a pack of hounds at his heels threatening to devour him.
Joey was almost level with his own building; grabbing for the top of the wall, his feet fought for purchase on the shiny brick, then he swung himself over and stumbled towards the slightly open window.
Minutes later, Joey was knocking softly on the door to Ceridwen’s flat.
‘It’s about your Six Sentence Story serial, Ms Hall’, says Gina, plonking a steaming mug of coffee in front of me; she takes a little detour around the perimeter of the cramped kitchen, peers into the sitting room, then closes the door and sits down next to me, ‘I think you should let your readers know exactly what the Jade Camel can do: show them that scene in our book with Gary and me, you know the one,’ she glances meaningfully at the kitchen wall, ‘make them understand the danger it poses.’
‘You really want to go through that again? – all those readers picturing that scene at once… and what about Gary, wouldn’t it be better to use the later scene when you show the camel to Cynthia?’
‘That’s not nearly so powerful,’ Gina huffs.
‘It wouldn’t involve Gary though; he said he didn’t want to relive it all again,’ I feel my face flushing with a mixture of annoyance and guilt, ‘does he even know we’re having this conversation?’
‘But don’t you get it, Ms Hall?’ says Gina, ignoring my question, ‘if enough people read the scene and feel empathy for Gary, which I’m sure they will, Gary will finally stop blaming himself; I forgive him every time, but I hasn’t got the same impact as having readers involved in the scene… please Ms Hall?’
‘All right, Gina, just so long as you’re sure.’
This has been my second offering this week for Denise’s Six Sentence Story Challenge where this week’s prompt word was detour. It also serves to show that certain characters of mine are more than happy to offer their opinions outside the confines of their book.
You can find this week’s #SixSentenceStories here.
Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone – [trigger warning: domestic violence, sexual assault]
All was quiet in the flat when Gina and Gary headed upstairs having explained the events of the past few hours as best they could to a sceptical Connor and an incredulous Cynthia, who sat stroking Asmar while he regarded them both with bright golden eyes.
Lucy’s door was closed and no light was showing under the door. “She must be exhausted,” said Gina. “And what about you, Gary Marshall?” She took his hands and examined the bruised knuckles. “That was quite a fight.” She let go of his hands and walked into the kitchen to switch the kettle on. Gary followed her. She turned to him. “Do you want some toast or something?”
Gary grasped her around the waist, pulling her towards him. “I want you,” he said kissing her hard on the mouth and pressing her up against the wall. Gina struggled, but Gary didn’t stop. He pinned her wrists above her head her with his left hand while his right hand pulled up her skirt and clawed at her tights. Gina wrenched her face away. “Stop it Gary, you’re hurting me.”
“Come on G, you didn’t say no last night.” He nudged her face back towards his and covered her mouth with his, kissing her roughly and pulling at her underwear. Gina heaved herself forward, knocking Gary off balance. Arms now free, Gina pulled his hand away and fled into the living room.
Gary pursued her, grabbing her by the shoulder before she reached the bedroom. They fell to the floor. Gary pulled her around to face him and rolled on top of her, pinning her to the carpet. “What’s wrong? Don’t you want me now?” He grasped her by the wrists again and started to undo his jeans.
“Stop it! Stop it, Gary. Not like this!” Gina fought against him, trying to lever him up with her hips, but he was too strong. Gary wrenched her blouse open and tore at her bra; buttons popped across the carpet. “No, Gary!”
Lucy’s door flew open. She stood there, her golden hair like a halo around her head, staring at them in horror. “What are you doing?” Her voice rose to a scream. “Gary!” Startled, Gary let go of Gina’s wrists. She shoved him away and wriggled from underneath him. Gary sat up and turned his back on her. As he did so the little jade camel rolled out of his pocket and across the carpet.
No one spoke. Gina pulled her torn blouse together and looked up at Lucy, who crouched down beside her putting her arms around her. Gary had his head in his hands; he started to shake. His shoulders convulsed as he let out a loud sob.
Gary’s shoulders continued to shudder. Gina nodded at Lucy who tiptoed away to her room. She crawled across the carpet and put her arms around him. Gary turned to her, wiping his hand across his eyes. “I’m sorry babe; I don’t know what came over me. You know I’d never…”
“Shush,” she said holding him against her. “It’s all right.” Her eyes fell on the jade camel. It wasn’t winking at her this time.
Gary paced the floor in front of his girlfriend, Gina, struggling to regain his composure after speaking to Joey – the moment the interview had ended he’d grabbed his jacket and sprinted back to their flat, ‘I have to get the camel off Joey!’
‘Aye, aye, what’s the shouting about?’ Bob entered the sitting room breathing heavily, having taken the stairs two at a time, followed by Fingers, his pet monkey, ‘we only took a little detour to fetch that paper for me Nan.’
‘Bob, mate, I need your help… it’s about the camel,’ Gary grabbed his friend’s arm, ‘we have to hurry!’
A moment later, Gary and Gina piled into Bob’s van, ‘assuming we get the camel back, we need to make a plan to get rid of it, we can’t dump something like that in the trash,’ she shouted, gripping an agitated Fingers as they sped off.
Bob pulled in behind a large midnight-blue car; the man who was leaning against its glossy bonnet calmly lit a cigarette with an elegant silver lighter and turned towards them, a malevolent glint in his blue-grey eyes.
‘One thing at a time,’ said Bob, ‘we have to get past him first.’
This little pendant was given to me by Emma, my lovely mother-in-law, many years ago. It’s a pretty piece, which might have originally been a broach. I’ve worn it on a chain a few times but the loop which it hangs from is so worn that I’m scared of losing it.
It’s about the size of my thumbnail, very light and it tarnishes ever so quickly. There is no hallmark, so it’s probably not actually silver. It looks like a locket, but it doesn’t open, although it looks as if it might. Don’t you think that one, or maybe a particular combination, of those decorative pins around the edge might spring it open? But sadly, no.
However, it did spark my imagination.
Spool on a couple of decades and my little pendant was transformed. Now a fully functioning locket with a strange little face engraved inside, it became the eponymous star of my debut novel, The Silver Locket which I wrote under the pen name, Holly Atkins. My pendant even took pride of place on the cover, flanked by photos of family members on Emma’s side, whose identity has disappeared in the mists of time.
I often say, ‘never let a good character go to waste’, and followers of my most recent micro-fiction series, The Jade Camel, will discover a bit of backstory to two of its characters who first entered my literary world in the scene below.
Excerpt from ‘The Silver Locket’
“So,” said Ceridwen, pushing back her long red hair, “you have something to show me.”
Laura reached into her handbag and drew out the locket. She slipped it out of its wrapper and held it out to her.
“I found it…” began Laura.
Ceridwen held up her hand. “No, don’t tell me anything about it yet. May I hold it please?”
Ceridwen took the locket, as she did so she avoided touching Laura’s hand. She drew in a sharp breath and closed her eyes, running her thumb gently over the face of the locket. She sat there, motionless for several minutes, then clasping the locket in her fist, she opened her eyes, leant over and switched on the lamp which stood on the table beside her.
“Now Laura, I’d like you to tell me all you can about the locket. Where you found it, what you’ve observed about it, what it means to you.”
Laura paused. “It’s complicated.”
“Take you time, my dear. Start with the facts. Don’t worry if your story seems strange or fanciful. That’s why you’re here with me now.”
Laura recounted all she could from finding the locket to the most recent dream in which the little face had been different from the one Laura knew. While she was speaking, Ceridwen was carefully examining the locket. As Laura finished speaking, she was studying the oval mark inside intently.
On the window sill, Cullen uttered a low, menacing sound. Laura could see his silhouette through the blind, his back arched, head erect.
“Would you mind going to see what he’s growling about? It must be something in the park outside.”
Laura went to the window and raised the edge of the blind. A solitary figure in a brown coat was looking up at the window. The figure was too far away for Laura to make out her face, but it looked awfully like the old woman from the churchyard; the same woman who had appeared outside the jewellers and whom Laura had seen hurrying away from the station.
Cullen continued to growl. The woman turned and hurried away. Cullen sat back down on the window sill and was quiet again, his fur settling back into place.
Laura returned to her seat. “It’s strange, I keep seeing this woman in a brown coat. It’s as if she’s following me. But when she sees I’ve seen her, she rushes off. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I’m sure that was her again, just standing there looking up at the window. I couldn’t see anything else which might have disturbed your cat.”
“She could be following this.” Ceridwen held up the locket.
“Why? What is it?” Laura looked at Ceridwen. “The little face inside… it’s starting to scare me.”
“Well, let me tell you a little about the charm within the locket. Please don’t worry. I’m quite certain that there is no need for you to be afraid of the locket or its ‘little face’, as you call it.”
“You say it’s a charm of some kind. That’s what the jeweller told me yesterday. A charm or a talisman, he said. What does that mean exactly?”
“These little pieces are very rare, although long ago they used to be quite widely made and circulated amongst the Roma peoples of Eastern Europe. It is said that charms or amulets of this kind actually originated in Ancient Egypt and were part of their magical rituals or heka. The oval shape certainly does resemble the cartouches from Egyptian hieroglyphs.” Ceridwen paused.
“But that need not concern us. Your locket with its hidden amulet doesn’t date back quite that far, although it could be as much as two hundred years old. Who knows where a young gardener would have obtained such a precious object. He can’t have known what it was, or paid the true value.”
Ceridwen went on: “An amulet is essentially something which is designed to bring good luck or to offer protection to the wearer. It need not be made specifically for the wearer, but the wearer will benefit from the powers imbued in the amulet. From what you’ve told me, and what I can feel from holding it, his amulet is a special one, known as a ‘reflector’. A reflector amulet not only gives the wearer protection, it also mirrors emotions, usually from its wearer, but also from people around her, particularly if they are antagonistic or threatening towards her. This amplifies the power of the amulet, offering the wearer even greater protection. It is said that the expression on the amulet’s face will change according to the prevailing emotion. I’ve never seen a one before, but I believe that is what you have here.”
“Oh,” exclaimed Laura, “do you think I have upset the amulet by finding it?”
“I doubt it, but tell me, Laura, have you been wearing the locket.”
“Only for a few days. I started wearing it after I first found it, because it kept disappearing. It fell behind the dresser and then between the cushions of an armchair. But I haven’t worn it since I took it to the jeweller’s and he opened it. I guess I’ve been a bit wary of the expression on the little face. I’ve kept it close to me though, either in my bag, or on my bedside table.”
“May I take your hand now, Laura? Please, come and sit by me.” Ceridwen patted the seat beside her.
Laura perched on the chaise-longue and Ceridwen took her hand in hers. She closed her eyes, gently massaging Laura’s hand, much as she had done with the locket.
Opening her eyes she said gently: “I sense that there is some turmoil in your life.” Ceridwen smiled. “I detect that you doubt someone close to you. You also have some important choices to make. Am I correct my dear?”
“How you would know that?” Laura pulled her hand away.
“I am sensitive to people’s emotions. I can feel things just from a touch…”
Ceridwen gazed out of the open window watching the pink May blossom float like confetti over the path outside her flat and inhaling the yeasty smell from Cain’s Brewery, which was carried on the same soft breeze; Cullen, purring on her lap, stretched out his front paws, kneaded her thigh for a moment, then curled up again, his purr drifting to silence, only to be replaced by a louder, throatier purr as a sleek, midnight-blue Silver Shadow glided to a halt outside; a vehicle which was definitely out of place in the neighbourhood.
The driver’s door opened and an immaculately dressed silver-haired man got out, carefully adjusting his white shirt cuffs a precise half-inch beyond his grey-wool sleeves as he watched four strange squat little men descend from the car.
Ceridwen craned forward and Cullen sprung from her lap, jumping onto the window sill to observe the scene below.
As the four little men gathered around him, the silver-haired man stared upwards, his gaze meeting Ceridwen’s; Cullen’s tail began to twitch.
The first of the strange little men advanced to the front door and applied a doughy finger to the bell labelled five.
We called it the lightning tree. Stunted and blackened it stood resolute, stark against the moon-bright night, while shooting stars circled wildly over the soft, velvet plain. Here we farmed, here cattle roamed over long-stemmed grass and here we were happy.
but drought-stricken land thirsted for seven summers: grass withered, we fled.
The lightning tree still stands, its final branch fallen, the stars the only witnesses. Finally, the rains return, falling softly, pattering on the parched land, washing over sun-bleached rocks and the desolate dried-up plain.
the ground drinks deeply yellow and pink flowers bloom but no-one will see.
The lightning tree still stands, but no-one sees but the stars.
Image credit: Tasos Mansour @ Unsplash The image shows a crooked tree with bare branches. In the background stars in the sky can be seen forming streaks in a circular fashion.
‘Home cooking? eh mate, you kept that talent quiet,’ says Gary, inhaling appreciatively as he peers around the kitchen door.
‘It’s me Nan’s recipe*,’ Bob squints at the temperature control on the oven and turns it down a notch, ‘this my way of thanking you and Gina for letting me and Fingers move in, now that Lucy’s off with that Pierre on a cruise ship,’ he wheels around, not an easy task for a man of his build within the confines of a cramped kitchen, ‘whoa, Fingers, gimme that!’ he addresses the mischievous-looking monkey who’s edging closer to the stove top, waving a wooden spoon in the air.
Then Bob catches the changing expression on his friend’s face, ‘is it the story?’ he’s referring to the latest episode in their author’s Six Sentence Story serial, ‘I said to be careful what you wish for, didn’t I?’
Gary shrugs, ‘yeah, it’s brought it all back, beating up that guy, then afterwards with Gina… you know,’ he stares at the kitchen wall, remembering.
‘But it was me who really wanted a part in her new little story, babe, not you,’ Gina, who’s just appeared on the landing, wraps her arms around Gary’s waist, ‘remember, that’s all in the past; what you did was all the fault of the camel, all you have to do is go with the flow of her story, okay?’
‘And get rid of that camel,’ Cynthia’s voice drifts up from the hallway.
This has been my second offering this week for Denise’s Six Sentence Story Challenge where this week’s prompt word was control. It’s also another window on the world that some my lead characters inhabit. As some of you have already discovered, they lead lives beyond the confines of their book.
*Nan’s recipe for scouse, a fine old Liverpool tradition (as described by Bob):
You take a couple of large onions, some nice big spuds, a tray of stewing steak and a couple of fat carrots, maybe a bit of swede, and a beef Oxo cube – make up about a pint. If your minted, you can use more meat. If you’re feeling adventurous, add a bay leaf.
Peel the veg, slice the onions, chop the spuds into big chunks, same with the carrots and swede. Trim the steak and chop into chunks.
Get a large casserole dish that’ll go on the hob and in the oven, lob in a lump of lard, or a splodge of oil. Brown the meat in batches and put on the side. Now fry the onions until they’re going brown, but don’t let them burn. Throw the meat back in. Add the carrots and the stock. Stir, put the lid on and slide into the oven at about 300F / 150C / Gas Mark 2. Check each hour to make sure it doesn’t try out. Top up from the kettle if you need to. It’ll probably take about 3 hours for everything to go nice and soft.
Nan serves with beetroot or pickled red cabbage. I prefer thick-sliced white bread with butter.
I cooked this last weekend. Maybe a dish to add to the chalkboard at the SSC&B?