RAF, 1941

Anxiously glancing at the wing-tip of the Hawker Hurricane, rattling and exposed, as it slices through air currents that tug the plane off course; he tries to navigate a safe flight-path through the Battle of Athens.  That wing’s been trouble for days: mechanical failure, off and on.  And, in the endless blur of enemy fighters whizzing towards him from every side, Roald Dahl spies the Gremlin who’s sat grinning on that wing, merrily tearing cables loose with its teeth.  It’s clear as day, an inspiration; though now isn’t really the time for creative writing, as the plane starts randomly spiralling.

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This piece of flash fiction was written for Friday Fictioneers: a story in 100 words prompted by a picture that Rochelle Wisoff-Fields posts every Wednesday. Here’s the link to the stories and this week’s picture is below, copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.

view-from-the-plane

Dance Partners

Perched and waiting for my chance to cut in.  I have the patience of a saint when I’m eyeing a potential dance partner, angling for a chance to appear on the scene.  Ah, I love to see their limbs glide and circle.  They glide and circle so easily, almost weightless, like they’re in rhythm with the prompting of the fluttering breezes.  Their bodies sway back and forth, and they tempt me.  How they tempt me!  Oh, the pleasures of the flesh –

That sumptuous promise of skin that’s so revealing; then the head-first slide into delight; that tingling moreishness… It still makes the creaky bones of this old buzzard sing out!

True, when I was younger I chased after it more.  But then it’s also true that we had more of these dances back then than we do today.  They went a bit out of fashion, I can’t say why.  Luckily, they never disappear entirely.  Oh, no.  They go on at random, here and there, dotted about.  New dancers still get the chance to go and haul themselves up into the limelight, demanding attention.  And I always still give them my best.

What else would I do?  The constant whirr of the buzzing music, ah, I love it!  This is what life’s all about!  You’ll never convince me otherwise.  No, sir.  So, I perch and I carefully weigh-up this latest spinning dancer I’ve had my eye on for a while.  It’s so grand a spectacle to watch that same old dance happen, again and again.  Maybe it’s not strictly elegant, true.  And it’s not as if there’s a long queue of eager partners all rushing to get an invite.  But it’s what makes the world go round.  And so I gather up my energies, my appetites and instincts.  I feel my heart race about and I’m even drooling, I don’t deny it.  All this waiting’s made me frantic, I want to have it done and dusted.  So, I preen myself a bit and I’m all set to start making my move.

And yet…

On the hilltop yonder there’s another black branch where I could just as easily perch.  And underneath that black branch I see there’s another lynch mob getting busy.  Bless their little hearts, they’re arranging another dance!  And the specimen they’re stringing up, who’s soon to go cavorting about in mid-air, looks altogether plumper than this other dancing partner I’ve earmarked here.

So, should I flap over in that direction and stake my claim to cutting in?  Or should I start tucking in where I am?  Slurp up the burst eyes before the buzzing flies spoil the juiciest bits completely?

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This story was written in response to the yeah write challenge #172 – This week’s optional prompt is: Should I Stay or Should I Go?  The Clash reference brought to mind the band’s record covers, particularly Give Em Enough Rope, which directed the story.  The other stories in the link-up can be read by clicking on the image below.

summer172

You Gotta Make Way for the Homo Superior

In the ghetto the F/O/R/K people shuffle along, grey heads bowed, orange jumpsuits stained with the muck and mire of persisting.  I wonder how they persist?  I wonder why?  Once your assessment comes back and it places you in the Feasible-Online-Risk-Klass, national security takes over and it’s cut and dried – you get tagged and all bets are off.  Finito.  The ghetto’s the only option.  It’s a fascinating spectacle to come by and watch if you want to get a break from the office.  I have lunch here sometimes, watch them salivate and go round and round.  Superiority makes me happy.

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This piece of flash fiction was written for Friday Fictioneers: a story in 100 words prompted by a picture that Rochelle Wisoff-Fields posts every Wednesday. Here’s the link to the stories and this week’s picture is below, copyright Marie Gail Stratford.

chopsticks

Alack

The war was unstoppable. It had raged back and forth for so long that the combatants had lost any conception of its meaning. Only the endless, bloody skirmishes remained, only the hourly struggle against fatigue. It had taken on a logic of its own, which would grind on to its conclusion, no matter the cost. It was grinding up everyone who fell under its influence. Numbers dwindled as countless lives were grabbed up and made to vanish from the scene.  It felt abrupt and meaningless to those who were left behind, who waited their turn.

Arthur Hotspur and Kenneth Lilywhite were foot soldiers in the militia. Humble men, and dogged, they marched where they were told to march, pikestaffs gleaming in the rain or in the sunshine. Heading towards this enemy or that, they grumbled as much as they fought and they fought as hard as they grumbled. Once proud of their station, of their service to flag and throne, they’d come to see their only duty as being to each other and their common preference for survival.

“Forsooth, Kenneth,” sayeth Arthur one day, as another cold dawn bit into his bones. “Dying’s a fool’s errand.”

“Tis, tis true,” sayeth Kenneth, and spat. “And war’s the cruellest mistress the likes of us’ll ever see. Damned expensive mistress, at that. Cost me kith and kin and all that ever was mine.”

“Aye,” nodded Arthur. “I even wonder how it is the likes of us get invited to sample such expensive fare. Tis more to your noble’s taste, surely. Am I right?”

“Surely. As right as this here hand of mine that’s been my only bedfellow since last I saw the inside of my wife’s goodly chamber.”

“Well, there was that whore in Cheapside, Ken…”

“Aye,” Kenneth spat, fondly. “But my point still stands. And what I do say is this: since all this warring is mite too rich an indulgence for such fellows as you and me, tis best we bow out. Let yon monarchs have all the guts’n’glory they can stand. They can afford it, so let them and them alone battle it out.”

Arthur gazed through the morning mist to where the royal encampment was erected on the hill. Soon the True King would step out to survey the remnants of his troops, and at his side would stand the Free Queen. Arthur was disillusioned and he had a marked preference for not dying, yet he still loved his queen. He loved both his queens.

Indeed, Hotspur and Lilywhite were the loyal servants and protectors of two noble queens now, since, in the madness and confusion of wartime, two queens had been crowned. “Aye, maybe it was madness,” Arthur reasoned with Kenneth one day, “yet maybe there was method in the seeming madness, too.”

“How’s that?” Kenneth sayeth.

“Forsooth, another crowned head serves to protect the rightful line of succession,” Arthur nodded.

“Line of succession my arse,” Kenneth spat. “You’ve been talking to the bishop again. Warned you about that more than once, I have. ‘Sides, these fair queens of ours give you the horn is all.” Arthur chuckled and didn’t deny it.

Be that as it may, as the vagaries of war raged, one of these beauteous queens had been captured and set in chains, to Arthur’s dismay. She was henceforth called the Trapped Queen while the other, by contrast, became the Free Queen. And it was she, the Free Queen, appearing like an apparition through the dawn mist on that day, who would rally the shattered forces to her standard. They would follow her to hell and back if only she gave the sign; if, from her vantage point, she surveyed the enemy lines, saw them buckle and yield, and ordered the rout.

The sun rose higher and musket shot and cannon balls clouded the sky as they rained down. Waiting for the order to engage, Kenneth grumbled all the louder and Arthur squinted through the missiles to where his queen stood, imperious. Short-sighted at the best of times, the constant need to duck for cover hindered Arthur’s vision all the more, as he tried his damnedest to interpret all the frantic comings and goings atop the royal hill.

In desperation Arthur turned, as always, to his brother-in-arms. “Are we to charge then, man? Speak up! Was that her signal that we’re set fair? Well? What’s the Free Queen see, Kenneth? Ken?! Oh alack…” Arthur groaned, as his friend split asunder. “They killed Kenneth!”

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This story was written in response to the yeah write challenge #171 – This week’s optional prompt is: What’s the frequency, Kenneth?, which I managed to include, phonetically, at least.

summer171

“Death Is No Bad Friend” – short film

William Blake is one of my favourite authors, creator of some of the wildest, weirdest, most spirited and beautiful writing in the English language. He was also talented enough, and cool enough, to add startling illustrations to his work, laying the foundations for the idea of graphic novels hundreds of years ahead of schedule.  For example –

Ghost of a Flea by William Blake

Ghost of a Flea by William Blake


 
G. E. Gallas is a screenwriter and graphic novelist whose blog, The Poet and The Flea, is an illustrated imagining of the life and times of William Blake.  It’s a great way of bringing Blake online, with dramatic drawings that weave around quotes from his poems, and I’ve enjoyed reading through its pages ever since I started my own blog, back in May.

It was by virtue of following The Poet and The Flea that I read a recent post by G. E. Gallas in which she asked fellow bloggers with a love of R L Stevenson to write a positive/insightful blurb in support of a projected film of his life, called “Death Is No Bad Friend.”  For me, the magic of Stevenson’s writing can be summed up by the fact that on my bookshelf I have a copy of Treasure Island that I first read, as an adult, not too many years ago.  It’s a hardback book, with the spine hanging off; the pages are wonderfully mottled and darkened around the edges (so it almost looks like a manuscript that was lost at sea); its original owner was a schoolgirl, and on the inside cover it bears the legend “angela mannell, class 7” in studiously neat, joined-up writing.  The book has been in my family since the 1950s.  It’s a fantastic story that was loved when it was first read in Stevenson’s time and loved in the 1950s; and, if I started re-reading it today, its effect would still be the same.

1950s edition of Treasure Island

1950s edition of Treasure Island


 
And so this explains why I wrote the following in support of the fundraising drive for “Death Is No Bad Friend” –

R L Stevenson is one of the well-springs of modern fantasy, a genre and mode of thinking that increasingly influences the mainstream of both literature and cinema. Besides this, he remains one of the major proponents of Scottish culture worldwide. On both counts, it is fitting that we take this opportunity to celebrate his achievements.

This script captures Stevenson as he balances precariously between the competing demands of life and death – his genius and joy of life pulling him back into the world, while his sickness ushers him out. Feeling himself “unable to go on farther with that rough horseplay of human life,” he yet struggles on. Why? The script answers that question in two ways.

Firstly, Stevenson remains energised by the great literature he feels still latent within him: “Thence, as my strength returns, you may expect works of genius […] And when is it more likely to come off, than just after I have paid a visit to Styx and go thence to the eternal mountains?” It would be unbearable for him to let that promise go to waste, especially after the nightmare of illness and suffering he endured in order to retain his grip on it.

Secondly, when speaking with his fiancé, planning a honeymoon on Mount Saint Helena, Stevenson assures her: “We are to fish, hunt, sketch, study Spanish, French, Latin, Euclid, and History. And, if possible, not quarrel.” This is a moving portrait of a man seeking to hold onto life by summoning to mind its most simple pleasures. The attempt to keep his wishes small and within the bounds of realism (“if possible, not quarrel”) lends it a pathos that most people will recognise and relate to from their own lives.

Equally, I’m sure Stevenson speaks for almost everyone when he announces, with knowing irony: “Lost? Not lost at all! We only cannot find our way.” This script honours the achievement of a man and a writer who fought hard to find his way and, in doing so, provided the world with classic stories that still enthral and entertain people today. It promises to produce a film that will be an insightful and moving tribute.

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Anybody who shares our enthusiasm for R L Stevenson is encouraged to visit G. E. Gallas to find out how to send their own message of support.