Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Red Sky at Night

This is a short-short story from Welsh Cakes: Book of Short Stories based on a border town conflict between the Welsh on one side of the border and the English on the other. Stories of strange goings-on in the area had reached the newspaper The Daily Rumor and Geoff Gordon, a newspaper correspondent, had been sent to cover the story. He is the narrator of this story, which begins:

“Middletown, England: On March 1st 2000, St. David’s Day I arrived at this border town in response to a tip, sent to our Fleet Street Office, about strange goings on in this area. The border I’m speaking about is the one between England and Wales. St. David is the patron saint of Wales and much celebrated across the border from here and mostly ignored in this English town.
"The strange goings on, aforementioned, have been taking place since January 1st 2000, the first day of the new millennium and have escalated to mammoth proportions over the last few weeks. They were building up, according to our source, to a one night stand of terror to be laid upon the English on St. David’s Day.
"This was no man’s doing, we were told, but that of the Welsh Dragon, protector of Wales. Long ago thought to be slain by some power hungry duke or prince, he appears to have risen up to come to the aid of the Celtic people. Whether this is the slain dragon risen like a phoenix from the ashes, or her offspring recently come to maturity, our source did not know. But that the border town of Middletown was in the grip of fear he could attest and the town’s people wanted some witness of the promised wrath to come upon the community this first night of March 2000. ...
"I stayed inside till morning with the rest of the men. They held their weapons at the ready while they slept in discomfort on the upright wooden chairs. At dawn, before coffee, before breakfast, before putting our artillery away, we went outside into the still acrid air. Devastation had come in the night. A field of winter wheat was burnt to ashes; the trees stood blackened and charred, a couple of thatched cottages were gutted.
"I took photographs of the destruction because the familiar action kept me from moaning in despair. I saw one tree with a human face like a church gargoyle burned into its trunk. The locals said it looked like Murdoch the town mayor and he’s certainly nowhere to be found. He’d been giving the Welsh across the border a hard time about coming into Middletown and shooting the rabbits and he’d pooh-poohed all this talk of the Welsh Dragon returning to the land. Late at night, the Dragon Wheel’s patrons told me, if he got drunk enough and there was a Welshman in the pub he would sing the old ditty, “Taffy was a Welshman, 'Taffy was a thief, Taffy came to our house and stole a leg of beef.' ...”

The moral of this story, I suppose, is that one should never put down another country even if it is only in fun. The spirits, gods, or dragons of that country might well take umbrage and take revenge.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Summers and Summers

This short-short story in Welsh Cakes: Book of Short Stories, is in two parts and was written, originally, as a writing exercise of how to tell the same story from two different points of view for a Novel Writing Course. It is longer than my normal post for this blog, but in order for you to get the gist of it, you need to see the whole thing.

"Part One: The Man
Archibald Summers wriggled his toes in a useless effort to rid himself of the gritty sand that had found its way into his open sandals. The slight breeze off the sea whispered through the thick hairs on his arms and legs but did little to cool his sun-scorched bald head. Trickles of sweat ran down his back and settled in the waistband of his shorts in a tight soggy band.
None of this discomfort swayed him from his steady gaze out to sea. He knew the ocean liner would appear on the horizon at any moment and then his body could go into the action its aching muscles craved.
Archie’s sea-doo was on the deserted beach ready to transport him and his package to his rendezvous with the ship’s captain. He had secreted the government papers, wrapped in their protective oilskin covering, in a rock cleft.
He was sure he had not been followed but his years of training and experience caused him to be cautious. His employer did not pay him these large sums of money to make mistakes.
At the appearance of the vessel in the distance, Archie dropped the binoculars to his chest and wiped the circles of sweat from his eyes. Steadying the glasses with a light hand he prepared to move toward the beach.
He hesitated as some sixth sense caused the hairs on the nape of his neck to stand up. Goose flesh rose on his skin with a cold prickling sensation. He whirled round and his eyes took in the person before him in a glance: the army fatigues, the eyes hidden behind dark glasses, the camouflaging scarf around the nose and mouth.
He estimated the size and strength of his opponent and moved to grasp the hand that held the knife, rendering it useless. Archie swung the lithe body around with little effort and clasped his would-be attacker in a strangle hold. Pathetic animal sounds came from his stalker’s throat.
Archie steeled himself for a counter attack as his captive’s left hand rose up in slow determination. Then, recognizing the distinctive family ring, he released his hold on his daughter, turned her round to face him and embraced her.
Archie hardly felt the knife as Josephine plunged it through his cotton shirt, under his rib cage and into his heart. He fell to the ground and attempted a smile to reassure her. He knew she’d done what she’d been sent to do and was proud of her.
In his last conscious moments Archie wondered whether she would be skilled enough to find the hidden package. He wanted her to succeed but not her mission; though he was well aware that, in the espionage business, she could not have one without the other.

Part Two: The Woman
Josephine Summers had committed the details of her assignment to memory. She turned with confidence onto the dirt road, pulled into the bush and concealed her motorcycle. She hiked along the trail, ignoring the sweat that ran down her chest and settled in the elastic of her bra. Her camouflage fatigues and combat boots were good protection from the rough terrain.
As she neared the sea, bush gave way to sparse grasses and Jo dropped to her knees at the foot of the incline. She sneered at the sight of her target standing in full view at the top of the rise, his back toward her. His holiday shirt and shorts in their bright Hawaiian colors made him an easy mark.
Josephine made her way up the bank. She was sure that any sound she made would be attributed to the breeze that played in gentleness through the sedge grass. Her knife was ready in her hand and she stood upright prepared to strike. In an instant her intended victim whirled round to face her and she lost her advantage.
He grasped her right wrist with such strength that she was helpless to wield her weapon. He twisted her round and imprisoned her in a choke-hold so that she was unable to speak. Her heart pounded in her ears.
Jo raised her left hand in a slow motion and felt her captor tense as he prepared himself for a counter attack. Then he released his grip and turned her round to embrace her. He must have seen the family ring on her finger.
Josephine took full advantage of her opportunity. She plunged the knife under Archie’s rib cage and into his heart. She ignored the chill that ran through her as she saw the look of pride and forgiveness pass across the face of the one person in her life who had shown her love.
Archibald lay helpless on the ground. For a moment Jo’s feet noticed the weight of the combat boots she wore and the irritating itch of the prickly heat on her body. She had experienced this before, and been trained to disregard it and concentrate only on the job at hand.
She turned away and saw the sea-doo waiting at the end of the deserted beach. To complete her mission she had only to find and retrieve the package of classified documents and return them to her employer.
Josephine walked down to the shoreline, looked around as her father had taught her and walked forward to a rock cleft. She felt the oilskin covered package under her hand and removed it from its hiding place. She walked away without looking back at her father’s lifeless body."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Writer

This is another postcard story from Welsh Cakes: Book of Short Stories. It is written in the voice of the author's cat. It begins as follows:
"My name is Jack. I am a brown tabby, male. Well, I used to be male. I am six years old and I’ve been with my mistress for six months. She adopted me from the humane society. She says that on the whole I’m a good cat; the only thing I do that she doesn’t like is scratch the furniture. But, what’s a cat to do? You’ve got to keep your claws sharpened up for those mice.
My mistress is a writer. She likes playing with words almost as much as I like playing with mice, but she doesn’t need long claws for typing so it’s hard for her to understand my situation.
She has many names for me. Jack in the Box, Jack O’lantern, Jack of all trades, Jackpot, Natterjack, Hijack, Jack be nimble, Jackson, Mr. Jackson (when you’re this big they call you mister), Jack in the pulpit. She says my name 'lends itself', whatever that means, and she plans to write some stories about me under my different titles.
The name 'Natterjack' is the one she likes best. She found it quite by accident when she was looking up 'nattier blue' in the dictionary. Natterjack is a species of small toad with a yellow stripe down its back; it runs instead of hops. Well, I do run a lot and I rarely hop, and I do have stripes down my back though they’re not yellow, and I do talk a lot, so I think this name is quite appropriate for me."