Thursday, 24 December 2009

#Fridayflash - A Christmas Truce

My #fridayflash this week is also a Christmas gift for a very dear friend, whom I have to credit and thank, among countless other things, for the character of Captain Nefarious Deeds. I swore to him a long time ago that one day I would release Capt. N.D. and P.J.R on the world and make us a fortune...well, here goes nothing!

'A Christmas Truce' -
From The Chronicles of Capt. N.D. & P.J.R.

When she felt the first missile explode behind her on the deck of The Golden Cutlass, Princess Jolly-Rogered of the Isle of the Seventh Sea was truly livid. It was almost Christmas! He had promised her, faithfully, given his word! There would be a truce over the festive period, and from a man of such reputation and standing as the great Captain Nefarious Deeds, one had a right to expect that his word would be kept! There was such a thing as honour, even among pirates!

She turned on deck, a look like death in her eyes, and met his, mocking her from the balustrade of his own vessel, The Grinning Skull, as he drew it alongside The Golden Cutlass.

“Captain,” she said, feigning sweetness, as she tipped the three-cornered hat she was accustomed to wearing, politely, in his direction. “I warn you now, I will spare no effort in returning fire if you do not desist. Your actions are in clear breach of the Christmas Truce.”

The Captain threw back his head and laughed deeply at her bravado, his hands set on his narrow hips and one, booted foot resting high on the ship’s railings.

“Oh, but my dear Princess, I disagree.” He smirked, cocking his head patronizingly, as though he pitied her impending fate. “We agreed a truce, purely to allow our men below decks to make merry! I made no promise of my own engagement in such base customs.”

With that, he reached down beside himself and came up with another missile. Grunting with effort, the Captain hurled it on to the deck of the Golden Cutlass, where an explosion shattered it into a thousand pieces, several of which narrowly missed the Princess.

With a little squeal, Princess Jolly-Rogered dove behind the nearest barrel of rum, taking a moment to catch her breath. That was close! There was no denying it; the Captain had a good aim. She stretched her hand around the side of the barrel behind which she sheltered, felt for her own missile, and drew it to close to her chest. But so do I!

Squeezing the projectile in her hands, she stood swiftly and unleashed it, sending it crashing across the deck of the Grinning Skull. The Captain had to move promptly to avoid its path, but hopped away, unscathed, with all the grace of a galley cat.

Annoyed, the Princess retreated behind the barrel again, as a tirade of missiles flew back in return, smashing into her makeshift shield. They came so thick and fast that she was sure the Captain must have had hours to prepare them. Pieces exploded continuously over the top of the barrel and showered down on her head, or skittered around it, spraying at her feet. She gathered her own missiles as quickly as she could, reaching around the barrel, and stood periodically, when she dared risk unleashing them on the opposing ship!

The Princess’s strategy, she told herself, was quality, not quantity. Her missiles were bigger than the Captain’s. She only had to hit him once, squarely, and she was sure he would give up.

This in mind, she hurled another huge projectile at the Grinning Skull, with every ounce of strength she could muster, and dove back behind her barrel to listen for its heavy explosion. A yelp told her it had skimmed its target, but the Captain was undeterred, and her action was met with a second wave of frequent, smaller missiles.

Princess Jolly-Rogered felt her blood boil as the Captain’s assault showered her with shrapnel again. Mustering courage from her irritation, she lobbed a few small pellets of her own, to occupy the Captain as she prepared a gigantic missile. Should it hit him, it would surely put an end to the skirmish.

And then it stopped. There were no more missiles from the Grinning Skull for at least a minute and a half. Did I hit him? The Princess smirked wickedly at the thought. With one of those little things?! Her heart soared. Of course I bloody hit him! I’m not captain of this ship for nothing! In her excitement, she forgot herself and stood, prepared to gloat gleefully at the Captain’s fate. She scanned the deck of the Grinning Skull, but he was nowhere to be seen. Her eyes narrowed, the trick dawning on her, and she turned, panicked, but it was too late. The Captain stood up at the opposite side of her barrel-shield. She moved, but his arm shot out, grabbing a handful of the front of her shirt.

The Princess squealed as Captain Nefarious Deeds pushed her back against the tall mast of her own ship, his knuckles pressing on her collarbone, and a menacing look in his eyes.

“Captain, please!” She protested. “Our truce?! Tomorrow is Christmas Day!”

Grinning, he raised his arm with what was surely another missile in his leather-gloved hand, and poised it, just above her head. The Princess cringed, making herself small in his grip, waiting for the cold, hard force of the blow. He leaned closer, smirking. The Princess closed her eyes and…the Captain kissed her, firmly, right on the mouth!

Princess Jolly-Rogered was incensed! Her mouth fell open and she raised her chin, meaning to quip something scathing…and then she spotted what he had been holding above her head. If it was possible, her temper flared hotter. Fucking mistletoe?! The Captain smirked.

“Where, my dear,” he said, “would be the fun in a Christmas Truce?”

She shoved him hard then, raising her back off the cold rugby post, and making sure her friend landed squarely on his back in the snow. Payback! Nice and wet and cold!

He lay there a moment, and the university pals stared at one another, unsure if the game was over. She wiped the mock anger and defiance from her face, along with the remnants of countless snowballs.

“Well, at least it wasn’t mud this time?” He grinned, raising an eyebrow. She laughed.

“True,” she said. “But I’m just as cold and wet!”

“Enough pirates for today?” He asked, holding out a hand for her to help him up. She took it, pulled, and swung an arm around his waist as they began to walk across the snow-covered sports pitch.

“Enough pirates!” She agreed. “I’m not in the mood for rum! How about a pint instead?”

Happy Christmas, Captain! With love, as always, P.J.R. x x x

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Call of the Wild Inside

This poem was written for an exercise, entitled 'The Feast', for a meeting of the Leeds Writers' Group. The Muse was lacking that week and so I found myself drawing on my library for inspiration!

I had been re-reading Jack London's The Call of the Wild (1903), a story written from the point of view of Buck, a wild dog who is taken from his home and forced to become an Alaskian sled dog. The dog subsequently becomes vicious from mistreatment and is saved by the love of a human. However, upon his master's death, Buck gives in to his inner wildness and joins a wolf pack.

I had also been reminded that week, of a German fairytale I'd heard as a child. I cannot quite remember the name of the tale, but seem to think it might have been something like 'The Elfreig' or 'The Elf King'? This is a story in which young women who catch sight of elves in the woods are compelled to dance themselves to the point of exhaustion, and eventual death, in a fairy-ring. They know of the dangers, yet curiosity ensures, the girls cannot help but look!

These two influences seemingly left a mixture of thoughts and feelings behind, concerning things that try to condition us out of being who and what we really are, and the very human temptations of our inner animal...its wildness, its curiosity, and its innate penchant for knowing what is 'wrong', and wanting to do it anyway!

Call of the Wild Inside

“The hunger,” he said,
as he walked in robes beside me,
“is a thing never sated.
One may learn to abate it, or
ignore it,
but never to escape it
for want, nor war, nor lovers.
One may walk a thousand steps with others
or swim alone a thousand seas
and still, he,
will hunger,
ever after,
for the feast.”

“What feast is this?” I asked,
as we passed through trees and woods and by the gentle brooks
of the fairytales of my youth.
“Of food,” he said, “Of nourishment,
of tender flesh,
of truth,
of lips and heaven scent…
A man may spend each penny earned,
all gold over
to childhood pixies
and the elfin folk of yore,
eat of fairy-rings and sugar-lace wings a day or two or more,
and still,
he will hunger.”

We reached a pool, a clearing then,
and the elf king -
He fell to his knees.
I cowered there beside him, beneath the canopy of leaves,
and he showed to me in the mirror of the water
a chained wolf who longed for the slaughter,
who howled with the depths of ravenous pangs,
whose ribs stood out and fangs dripped,
as he cried,
with pitiful longing,
at the palest of silver moons.

“For she…”
He said, to my eyes. “For you…he
will always hunger.”

Forbidden Fruit - Born of 'The Feast'

I've been having a bit of a dry spell regarding poetry of late (the last three posts to this blog are all...*checks birth certifcate to confirm own identity* ...prose of the flash fiction variety!). I was beginning to worry...

However, my hand was finally forced last week, out of the need to compose something on the topic of 'The Feast' for a meeting of the Leeds Writers' Group. I duly sat down and composed, somewhere during the act of which, The Muse suddenly recalled he had a home in my head! And it seems now, that The Muse will be staying for Christmas, as ever since he arrived home, he has been spring-cleaning the back-log of poetry from my's what he chose to throw out this week:

Forbidden Fruit

If time could be eaten and moonlight drunk,
from the lucid waters of springs and fire,
with such lonely implements
as the lapping tongues of roe deer,
then you, and I, my love, might appear
to feast upon
many strange and wonderful fruits.

But time is not
like that at all. It halts, stalls,
as you do when you seek to lay
hands and eyes and words upon me.
And no fruit is found here, but for fear
of rot and horror and loss
of all things yet
uncovered and cast
into life’s sweet bank as payment.

So keep your hands
and eyes, my friend,
to their ready-made
and seek only to become accustomed
to the pathway lain before you.
For as much as I may want, my dear,
as you want,
and may be the fuel of your furnace,
these words will not be spoken,
nor touches exchanged,
nor kisses,
for neither you nor I, sweet coward,
are brave enough to risk this.

Friday, 18 December 2009

#Fridayflash - Night Feeds

The shrill sound pierced the night air, dragging him, reluctantly, from the kind of thick, black sleep, one could only enjoy after working a double shift. Aidan lingered a moment in twilight, before layered veils of consciousness fell away, and he awoke to find his wife’s arm still draped limply across his chest. Sarah’s breath was deep and even beside him, her body heavy and still, and he wondered, as she slept peacefully on, if perhaps he had dreamed the noise. When seconds passed without the high-pitched assault taxing his tired brain further, he willingly accepted this analysis.

Turning his head, Aidan breathed Sarah’s warm scent deep into his lungs, and was immediately soothed by it, welcoming the return of rest. His eyes closed contentedly…and bounced open again when the pitiful howls recommenced…this time, persisting. He sighed, the most animated and exasperated sigh he could muster, but despite her close proximity to him, Sarah didn’t flinch. It was no use…she hadn’t heard it. The baby was crying, and once again, she had slept right through it.

He rolled from under Sarah’s arm and the blanket of quiet and warmth offered by their bed, trying hard not to be angry. It wasn’t like they hadn’t talked about the baby before she arrived…well, mostly Sarah had talked about the baby. It had been Sarah who really wanted one, but still, they had agreed beforehand that all responsibilities would be shared. They had tried to be sensible about it; planned the baby’s arrival, timed it, been sure they were both ready… But now that Bella was here, there was no getting away from it, Sarah just wasn’t pulling her weight. Apparently, Aidan’s wife wasn’t nearly as maternal as she’d thought!

He scowled resentfully as the tiled kitchen floor chilled his bare feet, but the sound of helpless, hungry, cries emanating from the smallest bedroom, forced him to the fridge to retrieve the milk. He was cold, he realised. He’d been reluctant to leave the warmth of his bed. Perhaps the baby was cold too? On his way to the bedroom, he took a warm blanket from the shelf above the hot water tank in the airing cupboard.

Bella’s big green eyes met his as he pushed open the bedroom door, her howls immediately ceasing at the sight of him, and the sight of her melting his heart.

“Were you lonely?” he whispered, bending over and reaching to stroke the baby’s head as she trilled and cooed contentedly in her bed. “Were you cold?” Putting his fingers to the baby’s neck, just under her chin, he tested her temperature. She felt warm, but another blanket couldn’t hurt. Reaching into her bed, he retrieved the ticking clock Bella liked to sleep with and made sure it was still wrapped and padded, before tucking the extra blanket up around her shoulders. Finally, he poured a little milk into the bowl beside her bed.

Bella stretched her neck out from under her new, warm blanket and lapped at the creamy liquid. Aidan smiled ruefully and massaged the tiny kitten with the flat of his thumb, just behind her left ear.

“There’s no way Sarah and I are ever having kids,” he told her, as Bella pushed her soft head against his hand. “If you’re anything to judge by, I’d be on permanent night-feeding duty!”

Thursday, 10 December 2009

#Fridayflash - Window Shopping

“I like that one,” Jennifer said shyly, almost ashamed of herself for acknowledging it. It definitely wasn’t the sort of thing she’d normally go for. She pointed discreetly, keeping her hand close to her body, so her friend Abigail would become aware of the target, but the rest of the world wouldn’t see. Jennifer flushed just thinking about the possibility of someone else seeing her interest in it. She would be so embarrassed if a stranger noticed her pointing…what would they think?! Would they assume she’d usually be drawn to something like that? Heaven forbid!

“That one?!” Abigail squinted at it, rather too obviously. “I don’t know, Jen…it’s not your usual sort of thing, is it? It’s got a bit of a dishevelled look about it. But then again, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with something different…a bit of variety is always healthy! It is a tad untidy looking…but I think that’s kind of…well…interesting!”

“You don’t like it, do you?” Jennifer said, eyeing her friend with mock sadness and just a smidge of genuine shame. “You think I’ve got weird taste!”

“Honey, I’ve known you a long time, I’ve seen your previous choices. I saw what you finally chose for the wedding last autumn! I know you’ve got weird taste!”

“Hey!” Jennifer nudged her friend playfully. “I happen to think I chose very well for the wedding! Alright then, which one do you like?” Abigail looked around the room, narrowing her eyes again as she scouted for, then settled upon, her prey. Naturally, it was the brightest, most feral-looking thing in sight. Neatly cut, but almost offensively present, it matched her somewhat predatory personality…it was a wild-looking thing indeed!

“That one!” She declared, much too loudly and eagerly for Jennifer’s liking, bouncing up and down a couple of times on her kitten heels with excitement. “That would look so good on me!” Jennifer grabbed Abigail’s hand and yanked her friend’s pointing finger back to her side.


“What?! Oh, look Jen…I know this isn’t the sort of place we’d usually come to. But this is a special event! We’re celebrating still being who we are…despite recent…um… ‘changes of circumstance’. We can still have fun, you know?! It is allowed! Tonight we get to pick out anything we like! Any price bracket, any size, any colour combination! We’re not buying, remember? We’re just window shopping!” Abby flashed her wicked smile. “Maybe we’ll even hold a few items up against us! See how they look when we dance?” She spotted Jennifer’s worried look. “But we’re not going to try any on, I swear!”

Jennifer smiled, and felt herself succumbing to her friend’s enthusiasm. Abby was right, there was no harm in looking, even if you could no longer afford to buy. Locking eyes, the women smirked devilishly and wriggled their still-shiny wedding rings from their fingers, dropping them into tiny handbags. Abigail took a deep breath, straightened her short, black dress and grabbed Jennifer’s hand, tugging her across the bar.

“C’mon!” She encouraged, making a beeline for the group of guys containing ‘Wild Thing’. “Let’s go talk to that one!”

Friday, 4 December 2009

#Fridayflash - A Tale of the Future

I don't usually like rhyming poetry all that much, and I rarely write it, but since I'm travelling back from The Netherlands to the UK today and haven't found much time in the second week of my holiday for #fridayflash, I decided to dig this one out! I wrote this about ten years ago, whilst I was still at school, and sent it off to be considered for a publisher's anthology. I didn't expect to hear anything...but to my surprise, it was, in fact, selected! Since it tells a tale of the future, I thought it might be suitable for today's #fridayflash... enjoy!

Control Tower Broadcast: Houston; Plutonic Colony - 2340AD

"Houston, we have a problem,
Request permission to land."
"Negative, Number Thirty-two
The station is unmanned."
"Houston, this is Captain Black,
The ship was hit on the left
At the back."
"Thirty-two, this is Houston Tower,
There's a gap in the pattern in
About an hour."
"Negative, Houston! Our missiles are low
We are taking fire and can only fly slow!"
"This is Houston, Thirty-two,
There are other ships worse off than you.
For as long as you're able, hold them back
Landing permission denied, Captain Black!
Defend our planet; it's the only one left;
Our species has destroyed the rest!"
"Houston, we read you, loud and clear,
We just can't save them all -
Only those who've paid their way,
This planet is too small."
"That's the spirit, Thirty-two,
Only the best on Pluto will do,
If we are to survive this time
I'm afraid we have to draw the line."
"Affirmative, Houston,
Pluto is ours! We are using back-up power."
"Commendable bravery, Thirty-two,
See you in about an hour."

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Nothing Important Happened Today

Below is my offering for the exercise leading up to this week's meeting of the Leeds Writers' Group. The set task was to write a character interaction without using dialogue...or any other form of speech. The characters could not make a sound, yet the audience must understand what has happened.

I decided to use the following poem as my exemplar, but wondered if writing one character's thought process as an unspoken monologue might just be cheating a little?! I concluded it probably was, but then, I didn't really care...because I wanted to write this piece!

The Inspiration

On 4th July 1776, King George III added one line to his personal diary. That line read: 'Nothing important happened today.'  This has since been quoted by many historians, novelists and screen writers, in order to illustrate how 'out of touch' the king must have been with current affairs...The 4th July 1776 was, after all, the day that the US Declaration of Independence was signed.

However, it occurred to me that King George III had not, as is often thought, failed to notice the events of that day. He had simply decided to find them unimportant... Or he had not yet received word of the development. Either way, it didn't really matter... at that stage of the American Revolution, there was little King George could do to influence its outcome... As far as he was concerned, nothing had changed that day...nothing important anyway...

The Poem

Here is my interpretation of King George III's famous diary entry; and of something akin to the helpless situation he must have found himself in when he wrote it:

Nothing Important Happened Today

I have nothing important to say.
Though I've plenty of words.
You see, I can say nothing to stop what's coming;
To halt the drowning,
Keep us running, and so,
I've nothing important to say.

You're not listening anyway,
Not really.
You're unimportantly packing a box
With CDs and socks and teacups
And no words could make you stop
So I've nothing important to say.

You're at the door now,
You...and the box...
And you don't look back.
You pause, and breathe,
But you don't stop.
You don't turn back and fix it with kisses
Or smiling, promise by tomorrow to miss me
And come home.
So there's nothing important to say.

The door closes behind you.
Nothing important happened today.