для читателей старше 18 лет
Short Stories to Read on a Bus, a Car, a Train, a Plane, (or a comfy chair anywhere)
One of the groups I write for is called Authors’ Tale, a Facebook Group open to all and sundry who write or aspire to be writers. It is not a big group, not a small group, just about right, but what it does have is a core of people who care about each other, who offer encouragement and critique when asked and who support each other in their endeavour to become an artist of the pen (or pencil, or keyboard).
All the stories in this book have resulted from weekly writing prompts delivered through one of Authors’ Tale’s weekly events. Within a relatively short period of time, I found myself anticipating these prompts and doing my damndest to write for whatever the topic was that particular week. They are raw stories, as published via Authors’ Tale, without the gloss and glamour that time and editing provides and are a reflection of the impromptu response to a sudden trigger, the trigger, of course, being the actual prompt.
The stories contained herein have received a little polish, they needed it! But without Authors’ Tale, probably none of them would have surfaced, even in my over-imaginative mind. I have prefaced each story with the actual writing prompt so that you, the reader, can see where the story originates. You can also be the judge of where I’ve taken it. I make no apology for where my mind takes a story, for that is something beyond my control, creative or otherwise. I enjoy the surprise as much as anybody else, except I get the luxury of seeing it first. Yes, this is the process of how I write – an idea festers and takes hold, then kaboom, story!
Thank you Authors’ Tale, you’re an amazing group of people. Thank you too, for anybody reading this, for it means you must have bought this book. If you have any aspirations to put pen to paper, get onto Facebook, search for Authors’ Tale, and tell them Colin sent you. That way they’ll know who to blame! And you never know, the inspiration you receive from being a member might just lead you along the path to discovering your own latent talent. Good luck, and happy reading.
W152 – He thought there was no such thing as true love, until that moment their eyes met
Four! Life wasn’t meant to be this way. Four! It was supposed to be better than this, it should be better.
The first one he understood, and should have learnt from the experience, thought he had – he was young back then, heck, they were both young – childhood sweethearts through high school that everybody said were the perfect couple. Both parents were resigned to and accepting of the fact that the two were inseparable, bound together for life. It seemed the natural thing to do but he knew they’d only done what everybody had expected of them. He’d never mentioned marriage. She hadn’t either, well not directly but there had been a few occasions where she’d hinted, like one of the many times they wandered along the main street, hand-in-hand, she pointing out a ring in the window of the local jewellers, you know, nothing obvious to the manboy he was then! He knew better now.
So why did he do it? Expectation, peer pressure, parental pressure – all of those, after all, it was what everybody else wanted. Oh, and of course there was the sex. It had been the first for both; messy and awkward to begin with then settling into a seeming never-ending series of quickies wherever and whenever the desire was mutually demanding, and the surroundings suitably discreet. It provided no real reason to get married. Ah, but it was the first – short and sweet and full of lessons he would go on to relearn over and over again.
Number two was a surprise. He was still young but on the rebound, and not over the embarrassment of the first short-lived union, so he should have known better but there were extenuating circumstances, or so he told himself. It was payday, and with a full wallet he’d gone out on the town with a group of friends. Like many young people, alcohol fuelled desire, and there she had been on the dance floor, gyrating and swiveling her hips in a suggestive motion he believed was only for him. He woke up beside her the next morning, in her bed, in her bedroom, in her parent’s house. They swapped numbers, he gave his work number and not his home phone, and they passed like anonymous ships in the night.
Four months later, yes four, she rang him at work and asked if they could meet. Her voice seemed bright and there was no hint of reproach that they hadn’t seen or spoken to each other since that one and only night. He vaguely remembered her, and was startled when she walked into the coffee shop a few hours later at the appointed time. She was beautiful, and that came as a surprise to him because he hadn’t even been able to recall the colour of her hair. They exchanged a brief uncomfortable hug and he looked at her over the table with a question fixed firmly across his face. He didn’t have to wait long – she was pregnant! More of life’s lessons learnt the hard way.
He did the right thing, they married. When the baby comes, everything will get better they told themselves and each other. Her parent’s disapproved, his parent’s disapproved, friends – his and hers – disapproved, and he strongly felt it would turn out perfect because they were starting off almost exactly the opposite to his first marriage.
Twenty-four years old, married twice already and this time with a baby on the way. The learning curve was fast – it had to be because they knew virtually nothing about each other. It remained a marriage of strangers however, and when the baby did come, there followed a short period of elation that did bring them closer, even disapproving family and friends appeared to soften. In an instant his perspective of everything in the world had changed because now he had a daughter – but he was still married to a stranger. Then the real father, the biological father came onto the scene, returned from overseas deployment. The baby, his baby, was one year old and no longer his.
Number three happened ten years later and resulted from a blind date of all things! He never thought it would happen again … the bitterness of losing a family, the distrust, the lack of loyalty and honesty had honed a keen edge of self-protection which he believed would never be breeched. He was older and wiser now and so was she, having a failed marriage herself. They took it slow, the show of becoming familiar with one another had no apparent time limit but as the clock ticked, so did she begin to share the desire for a family, something she didn’t have a chance to begin in her first marriage. She explained her fear of menopause and he listened intently with complete awareness of the painful loss of his daughter fresh again in his mind.
After four years, uhuh, four, of dancing around it and in the complete belief they were doing the right thing for each other, they married. He was forty. Four years later, of course four, after trying desperately and unsuccessfully for a baby, they divorced, a mutual decision after numerous visits to doctors, specialists and even IVF clinics.
He thought he was scarred for life but then his best friend brought home an overseas bride. He observed how hard that little lady made the marriage work, always doting on her husband and even when the kids began to come, she still made sure her man was never feeling left out or forgotten. On the birth of their third child, her youngest sister came from the home country to visit. She appeared to be a more beautiful version of her older sibling with the same attention and focus to what was important – her family.
On his fiftieth birthday, they married in the backyard of his friends’ home. This time it will work … he was positive and he was happy – positive that she would have the same inane desire as her sister and happy that this, his fourth, would be the last. What a disaster! How was he to know that she’d grown up totally dependent on her older sister? She didn’t know how to cook or care for him and she spent all her time helping her sister at her place, which was okay to begin with but then she began staying overnight, saying she had to help with the kids, then finally, after protracted arguments, admitting she had only married him to stay in the country with her sister.
Alone again. Alone but not lonely, he had his thoughts, his many and varied thoughts to occupy his time. Those very thought processes became self-assessment periods where he tried desperately hard to discover how he could have been so wrong four times.
His father passed away after a short illness and he became occupied for some months helping his mum to sort out the family home. He saw the sadness, and more importantly, the loneliness his mother displayed after the grief began to slide away. The grief disappeared first, the sadness took much longer but the loneliness never seemed to leave her. Amongst many questions he’d broached during this time, he asked one he wished he’d asked forty years earlier. How did she and his father manage to stay married together all those years? Sprinkled amongst her many responses was a recurring theme to which he scoffed, but never forgot.
Love. Such a fallacy, a fairy tale perpetuated by books and movies. Novelists were full of crap and movie makers were driven by the almighty dollar and none of what they produced had anything to do with reality. Love, ha!
Four times he’d tried it and apart from the emotional blackmail of the second, he thought he’d been in love. Even that second failure he’d been willing to try and when the baby arrived, he felt he had fallen in love – but with somebody that wasn’t his to love.
Seventy years old, retired and living in his old family home now after his mum died a few years ago having never got over her loneliness. He spent his days doing odd chores around the home, occasionally visiting or being visited by old friends, doing the necessary shopping but always, always occupied with his thoughts.
The walk to the shops wasn’t far – there was a big mall only a block away but he usually chose to walk in the opposite direction, to the corner store his family had patronised ever since he could remember. It had changed hands many times over the years but successive owners had stayed true to the spirit of what a neighbourhood store should be, except malted milks were replaced by slurpees and redskin lollies by chup-a-chups, plus the large windows and entry door were sealed after hours behind roll down steel shutters these days.
On this particular day, his walk to the store was like many before it, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the traffic on the relatively quiet suburban road hummed slowly by. The sounds were natural and normal and unheard as he walked, until a loud screech of tyres prompted attention. His eyesight wasn’t as good as it used to be of course, and he had to squint against bright sunlight and the halation off the windscreen of a car now stalled in the street.
He heard rather than saw a woman loudly shrieking, and he hurried toward the sound as he made out her silhouette in front of the vehicle, evidently hers. As he approached, only a few meters from her now, he saw the body of large dog lying on the road in the shadow at the front of the vehicle. The woman continued to shriek and he was aware of other people coming out, looking over fences or through windows but he was the closest. He glanced quickly at the dog which hadn’t appeared to move so he grabbed the woman to draw her away from the scene, and as he did, realised she had her back to him surveying the relatively minor damage to her car and not looking at the dog at all! She let him drag her off to one side before she turned to look at him.
Her eyes were twin, dancing, blue flames, full of venom and anger that he didn’t understand, until he managed to interpret her muted threats at the stupid mutt that had spoilt her day and damaged her car. He released her and stepped back away from this thing full of her hate, shaking his head to clear the vision she’d imprinted on him, an image he was sure he’d seen somewhere before.
He turned his attention to the dog which was now feebly attempting to lift its head. He quickly knelt by her, cradling her head for support and to stop her from trying to stand. She was a large breed, Newfoundland or something similar, and knew it would be impossible to lift her on his own. Her big head lay still on his forearm and he thankfully saw no blood but never having owned a pet of any kind before, he had no idea what other damage she might have sustained. The weight of just her head was considerable on his old arm so he slid one leg underneath to provide more support. As he did this, her long tongue slid out and licked his hand, her way of showing appreciation. He gently patted her with his other hand and she moved a little to tilt her head, then opened her eyes and looked up at him. Her gratitude was evident but there was something else as well, something beyond pain, something he thought he’d never seen before but recognised nonetheless.
He closed his eyes as his mind wandered to the hate, loathing and disgust of the woman who stood nearby, now screeching loudly to others who had come to either help or from curiosity – heard her heinous and scathing comments about dogs roaming loosely and how it had received its just desserts, and he could feel her eyes again, those horrible eyes which twigged a memory, the memory of seeing his own eyes many times over the years, peering back from a mirror as he questioned himself about the sad choices he’d made. The answer had always been there but he’d been too selfish to recognise it, too self-centered to understand but this graphic and tragic demonstration had finally shown him, after seventy years, seventy long years, how wrong his own perspectives had always been.
He opened his eyes and the dog still looked at him, patiently waiting as if it knew his internal suffering – he sobbed and did his best to change what seventy wasted years had mistaught him … looking back with all the love he could generate from his old but inexperienced heart. She licked his hand one more time, a gentle slow tickle against his skin … and then was still.
========= THE END ========
W153 – I saw it before it was broken
They moved along the neat aisles stopping briefly at each casket to punch a code into individual panels on the clear canopies. They made no discernible noise, every movement was silent. The great hall was silent too except now, as the caskets activated, a soft hiss of gas could be heard from where the silent drones had begun their task. The drones ignored or were oblivious to the sound, hovering onward to their next assigned casket.
The great hall was seven hundred meters long and four hundred meters across, from floor to the centre of the domed ceiling, a distant ninety-nine meters. The brochures stated the ceiling height was exactly one hundred meters but budget manufacturing had saved some time, money and a massive amount of material, massive because the great hall was only one of sixteen such halls in this, the greatest cruise ship ever designed and built.
The caskets themselves also hovered like the drones, their neat lines perfectly symmetrical vertically and horizontally, for they were stacked twenty deep up to the soaring ceiling – their magnetic fields secured them to an exact position. In total, there were five hundred thousand caskets in this great hall and in each of the others for a grand total of eight million … and each and every casket was occupied, nearly two million being crew members of the ship but the majority, paying customers for the maiden voyage.
The designers, marketers and owners had been overwhelmed with the public interest shown in the project. There had been over three hundred million initial applications for a berth on the first voyage, the lucky customers selected by random lottery. The vision of the creator had been clearly justified.
Sadly, the creator himself had not made the journey because he had died some months before the project completion. His name however, was evident inside and outside the ship, on the drones, every piece of equipment, each casket and the uniforms presently hanging in a myriad of personnel lockers. His name was etched everywhere, on cutlery and utensils, on crystal glassware in public and staff bars, even embroidered into every chair, lounge, napkin and towel. The name was less numerous from the outside but what was there was visible for tens of kilometers because of their size, the largest situated on each flank of the huge ship. Each of these letters was fifty meters high and the name stretched almost two hundred meters along the sleek elegant hull.
There was a time in human history that this name was synonymous with hate, greed, social and race discrimination, and some historians remained convinced the ancestors were responsible for the end of human habitation on planet earth due to pollution of the atmosphere. General consensus was that over population was more to blame, however successive Trump administrations had certainly contributed to the demise. In recent centuries, the Trump name was seen more as saviour, responsible for deep space exploration and the creation of alternative “living planets” that allowed the migration of humanity to more sanitary locations in the galaxy. At present there were only two such planets but a further four were in development, all thanks to the Trump dynasty.
And now, for the very first time, the opportunity existed to return to where it had all begun, the evolution of man, Earth.
In sixteen different great halls, almost two million staff and crew were the first awakened, their intensive training automatically sending them to assigned stations. Hosts moved amongst the lower level of caskets as the lucky paying clients slowly roused. Families, couples, individuals were assisted from their caskets and escorted to preparatory cabins for ablutions and refreshment. As the lower levels of caskets were vacated, they slid seamlessly into the walls of the great halls, and the next level of caskets lowered automatically to floor level. Every customer was bursting with excitement – they would be the first to see where it all began.
Finally, the lower levels cleared and only the highest caskets remained, on their final descent to floor level, thousands of canopies opened synchronously across all the great halls – except one casket. This one remained sealed and as programmed, the drones had not initiated the opening procedure. A young family had alighted from neighbouring caskets and the two children pointed and stared excitedly, first as their own caskets resealed and disappeared into the walls, then as the pulsing air of expectation invaded from the multitude of people surrounding them. Many glanced at the sole casket that remained, the curiosity a short interruption to the anticipation of this new adventure. The children allowed their curious nature to voice a question to their parents and escorting host. “I don’t know” was the unsatisfactory response but it was a short-lived disappointment as they moved out of the great hall and onto the next amazing discovery. The sealed casket was soon the only thing gracing the great hall.
The massive ship slid into position and halted briefly before beginning a geo-stationary orbit. None of the occupants inside felt the different movement, shielded and oblivious to what waited below, their only knowledge from documentaries and the sales brochures that accompanied their tickets to this historic tour. Every customer took their assigned seats in the great halls from whence they had awoken not an hour previously. The magnetic drives positioned each chair into an arena like position of tiers so that all would have an unobstructed view, the occupants firmly secured so that it was impossible to fall, nearly ninety meters for those in the highest tier.
The two children with their parents had returned to the great hall, curiosity aroused once more as they noted the unopened casket still present. Again the casket was forgotten as their chair whisked them from the floor but only to a height of two meters as they were, ostensibly, the front row. Surround sound modules built into the individual chairs gave instructions and announced forgoing proceedings, the excitement of the audience building with each passing second and word. The little boy and girl reached out and held hands – and then a loud collective gasp and more than a few screams resounded through the great halls as the walls and floor diminished then disappeared entirely. The audience was left suspended in seemingly mid-space, looking down at views of a planet nobody present thought they would ever see. Planet Earth.
Swirling clouds, a strange mix of surface colours, the occasional burst of light energy through the atmosphere itself was all explained in the running commentary. A warning was posted that the viewing window would now zoom, bringing the planet and the continent immediately below into clearer perspective, and that each client had the choice to zoom closer should they so desire. Maximum zoom was recommended so that any life forms, animals, plants, would become identifiable, and most people chose this option. However, as their views broke through the ever-present cloud, it soon became obvious that there was no life. The commentary announced they were over a once grand city named New York, though no mention was made of where the Old York had gone. The assumption was made the new was constructed over the top of the old.
The view was amazing, gasps of astonishment at every grid pattern evident in the red dust (the grid pattern believed to be a road system explained the ongoing commentary) or a crumbled dust laden hulk of what were once enormous vertical buildings. A constant strong, gusty wind kept the red dust flying and sometimes restricted the view until special filters cleared the viewing zone again. A particularly strong gust almost blanketed the screen for several seconds, the inherent lull afterward creating the greatest view of all. A giant arm reached up out of the red dust with an enormous torch in its grip, panicked screams now ricocheted the lengths and breaths of all the great halls until the commentary allayed their fears by describing the Statue of Liberty.
Whilst the millions were absorbed with the Statue and unseen by any except the two small children, a drone and several attendants approached the heretofore unopened, and forgotten by the masses anyway, casket. The drone did it’s duty and retreated, the attendants waited, the canopy opened but instead of a person dismounting from the casket, the casket itself tilted toward the view. The casket went on to occupy the space where a seat would normally have been, right beside the children who were watching now with real interest. To them, this was much more interesting than all that red dust blowing around down on that dirty old planet below!
Not a little unlike the arm of the Statue had done but just as surprising, and to the two watching children, just as old, an arm extended from the casket pointing to the scene below. The kids heard a sotto voice, too low to discern the question but an attendant immediately replied, “yes Sir, New York.” The children clearly heard the sounds of crying, broken sobs rare in their world now. The attendants did their best fussing over the occupant, his ancient arm still hanging out of casket … the braver of the two children, the girl, reached out and grasped the paper dry skin, the hand startled by the touch and instinctively withdrawing before slowly unfolding and returning to where the girl could again curl her little hand around some of the fingers. The face of a man leaned forward and over the top of the casket, his eyes roaming between the view below and that of the little girl holding his proffered hand. Tears streamed down both sides of his weathered old face, and if the little girl felt fear, she did not betray it.
“Why do you cry?”
The old man closed his eyes for brief seconds, brief because he had waited so long for this chance and was not going to waste it crying and dreaming. Though short in duration, he had enough time to think, go back, the thousand years or so since he’d been in cryogenic suspension waiting for this very opportunity, to see his home one more time. He saw, the animals at the zoo, giraffes and lions, hippos and zebras and those ever funny penguins, he saw them all now as they flashed before his eyes. He saw people climbing mountains, mountains covered in snow, deserts of white fine sand, the beaches, the oceans and streams teeming with fish, the green earth teeming with life. He opened his eyes and saw the redness of the planet below him, the hostility, the loss, and a few more tears escaped. The little voice urged his attention again.
“Why do you cry?”
He took a deep breath, aware it was one of his first for a very long time, aware it was close to his last, meaning the longest time. He looked directly at the little girl, looked into her eyes, saw the mirror image of another pair of eyes as her less than brave brother peered across her shoulder and he surveyed his young guests with as much dignity and respect as he could tiredly muster. Before she could voice her question again he answered while delicately squeezing her little hand.
“That was my home,” he nodded at the red dust swirling across the bare planet below them, then went on. “It didn’t used to look like that you know. Once it was very beautiful,” and a choking sob erupted from his chest forcing him back into his casket and releasing, slowly, reluctantly, the hand of the little girl.
She shrugged her shoulders and looked at her brother who returned her shoulder shrug and they both switched their eyes to the view of horrible planet below. They forgot about the old man. They forgot about the casket. And when the tour was over and the walls of the great hall solidified, the casket was no longer there.
Later, as the huge ship prepared for the long return journey, caskets replacing seats, the great halls filling again, a small dot was ejected from a service port, accelerating away toward the hostile atmosphere of Earth. A casket, but a special casket carrying a special client, a customer who had paid to return home. His casket bored the Trump logo, everything from the ship did, but this casket also carried an inscription;
…I REMEMBER BEFORE …
============= THE END ============
W155 – The mind replays what the heart can’t delete
Luigi was the last in a long, long, line of master craftsmen. Their skills, precision, and traditions were handed down from father to son over many generations. They made blades, cutting implements, not just battle weapons like swords, daggers, long knives or scythes but anything for any purpose that required the keenest edge available. He’d heard many times in hushed tones that his family was responsible for the mythical sword wielded by Arthyr himself, and closer to home the dagger Brutus used to betray his Emperor, though Luigi scoffed at the idea of either!
In recent centuries of course, most of their products were sold to overseas buyers – Kings, Dictators, Pharaohs, Despots, any warlord willing to pay the exorbitant price for the best. Their wares were all custom designed and made, and in keeping with expectations and desires of the purchaser, as plain as a cheap market trinket or elaborately scrolled with the best metals and jewels money could buy. Each buyer knew their item was unique, one of a kind, and regardless of decoration, capable of cutting through almost anything without losing its edge.
The modern world however, was taking its toll on Luigi – his Grandfather and Father had passed decades earlier and he had no son to pass on the skills he had painstakingly learnt under their watchful paternal supervision and guidance. Then came the day that changed his life, not that Luigi would live to see the final result of his labours. He would instead become the first victim, a first of many.
The little bell over the shop door heralded a new customer, the custom tinkle something his great grandfather had worked very hard to achieve using left-over material from a large order of katana blades bound for a Japanese samurai clan. The bell design would be viewed by most as a windchime, however the blades were wafer thin and, in accordance with their heritage, sharpened to an edge of infinite keenness. The tiny weighted blades hung from individual fine chains – the shop door’s upper edge sheathed in protective alloy to stop the blades from slicing through the timber frame and contributing to the fine tinkle produced by the bell. The tinkling was a rare occurrence nowadays, customers almost always ordering online or through an anonymous middleman. The very occasional tourist or windowshopper sometimes activated the tinkle but as the shop bore no sign or displayed any wares, these were usually wayward accidents. Oh how Luigi would wish this time had been one of those instead of the vision who now stood before him.