2020 Week Two Poetry: Springs Eternal

This has been a REALLY good week, not gonna lie, even if the pace of content is still not at a level I’d like. Things have been completed, undoubted progress. I’ve applied for a course, submitted two lots of poetry, and finally got the episodic fiction running again. Then I discovered the header image on that static page needed a change, so tomorrow we’ll pull everything up to date.

In poetic terms, this is another decent effort, in the model of what’s become the ‘five day stanza’ method. Next week it is time to open things up a bit: not as structured, a little more free-flowing. I don’t wanna keep sounding like a Dr Who episode every time a new verse is produced, after all. The only way to gain maximum potential out of this exercise is to push my creative boundaries.

Suffice it to say, this is just didactic enough.


Springs Eternal

Understand, one possibility
all that’s required, turn
darkness outward, reconstruct
positivity, second chance
third time, no harm.

Embrace, each outcome’s
myriad possibilities, place
optimism foremost; hope
springs, eternal font,
creative disposition.

Ignore naysayers, melt
snowflakes, dismiss
anger-fuelled petulance;
no-one asked for this,
cry babies, reject.

Finally, dust settles:
survey wastelands, start
greenest recovery plants
expectation; reclamation
shoots, then scores.

All these species
collective utopia,
rescue together, great
scientific progression:
save planet for peace.


December Short Story: Stardust

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during December 2019 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Stardust



The biggest mistake I ever made was thinking the little things don’t matter. You see, one small mistake you can forget, hiding it away for no-one else to see… but after a while, all those small stupidities become a larger mess. When all of those come together you’re in trouble. How do you deal with decades of your own failings? I ran away for a long time, avoided responsibilities… making this the end of the story, not a beginning. Redemption will serve someone else well before it’s my turn. My time, however, is almost done… but not quite yet. Almost.

I get one more chance, then it’s done.

This time, I promise to not fuck anything up.


For him it was Tuesday, a double shift. Everybody else was celebrating Christmas Eve. On occasions such as these Joseph’s glad dance music is his only religion, no one else waiting at home. He’ll work straight through, taking breaks when it’s quiet: 10-ish, 2-ish and 6-ish, if previous experience is an indicator. It allows Jay to not be here and at the airport, Chrissie to drive north to see her family. Joseph’s Christmas gifts to his colleagues covers their arses.

Ruben’s waiting, night shift about to take their one day off this week. He’ll go eat Christmas Meatloaf with his mum across town: Joseph’s bought them some Jim Beam, as requested. The kid’s still too young to be as good as he is, deserves a better gig than the middle of nowhere. It’s easier not to think about being nearly a decade older than a stick-thin, tattoo-covered boy. He’s the closest thing to a decent friend Joseph possesses in this town, mirror to his own ambitions and failures. Maybe one day they will get the cash to open a restaurant together.

This year, the boy’s made him a gift, and it’s a genuine surprise. The notebook’s full of recipes they’ve created together, cuttings from the press… printouts of their growing online fan base’s support and encouragement. The T&C Diner is edging ever closer to greatness, success. There’s that familiar ache too as he walks away, out the back exit, into falling snow. How do you tell someone that you want to be more than friends? How do relationships work, exactly… Joseph requires a Christmas Miracle, probably several bottles of Jim Beam to make it happen.

That can be tonight’s thought before sleep: right now the diner’s beginning to fill. Andy’s out front, all hands and teeth as usual taking Trudii Richards’ order. Will she stick to tradition, bacon and egg hash on brown or will their special Festive Menu alter creature of habit? He catches older woman’s eye, pulls out his best kilowatt smile and knows she’ll drop everything for turkey bacon with sage and onion biscuits. Today started special, will only get better if he believes the hype everyone else seems increasingly willing to generate on his behalf.

That’s how the day goes too: smiles as connection, fuel for preparation. Elise and May Ann’s voices, harmonising through Christmas songs that sound fresh, joyous in the throats of young women. Customers tipping far more than is sensible when everyone’s cloth is cut to the bone. The serving window slowly begins to fill, gifts from hardcore clientele who know him only too well: hand-knitted jumpers and socks, chutneys and preserves plus a couple of bottles of decent red wine. Rhonda’s kids made him multicoloured Christmas cookies, each one hand decorated.

It’s already lunchtime and suddenly there’s real singing to replace Joseph’s battered Christmas CD: the local band made good are back home for their holidays. Hearing he’s serving Turkey Meatloaf and Cornbread the Diner’s broadcasting live via phone to fans as they eat then play. These guys will be opening for the electronic duo Joseph’s followed since his teens next March, 60 date US and European tour. If that’s not the definition of success, it’s hard to know what is. Yet here they are selling his praises without the need to ask, enjoying Christmas Eve.

Within an hour, there are dozens of people at the Diner. Joseph excels at improvisation: main meals evolve into snacks. Plates are piled with finger-food, Andy drafted in as extra help in preparation. Without needing to make a call Rhonda appears, plastic boxes laden with treats.

‘Boy, I KNEW you’d want my help without getting the call: don’t you worry, Momma R’s gonna make sure all these people are happy before they pay for our hard work…’

If Joseph didn’t already grasp he needs Rhonda on board making sweet dessert magic full time, this was the sign.

That afternoon he teaches the band to sling hash. May Ann’s brother and Elise’s aunt come help out too, more than enough cash to pay them full rate at day’s end. As sun goes down the band pack up to leave, yet diner’s at capacity. Only then does Joseph realise he’s being watched. The guy with Santa’s beard, in red shirt and black trousers, at the back by the jukebox, single table that’s reserved for locals who struggle paying. He’s been there, off and on, across the last few weeks; never saying much but always grateful. Today however, he looks different.

Joseph knows he’s unable to afford palliative care, lucky to have made it to Christmas at all. Over the last few months he’s struggled but refused any assistance. Weighing a fraction of what he was, huge frame is no longer tense, uncomfortable. This old man is finally at peace. Rhonda’s asking about wine glasses, dessert options: distraction pulls him away pointing, sudden concern: when he turns back the man’s gone. Instead, on his chair, there’s a bag. Red suitcase sits, distinctly out of place; Elise retrieves it, carrying carefully to kitchen door.

There’s heaviness in his heart, sudden realisation what symbolism means: Santa won’t be coming back. This is his last delivery, walking away from the Diner one final time, into the snow. They’d talked about it, he’d tried to change the old man’s mind. No dice, son. I’m through. Joseph had promised: when the time came, no fuss or bother. The things in that suitcase were his now, gift from one man to another. He’d let him go, and not call the cops, because there were things he’d done that would make life difficult this late in the game. Accept this gift.


Then, you let me go.

He’s always been a good boy. Looked after his momma well after I was long gone, plus when this broken body’s just dust and memory he’ll finally understand why it was the fool could never stay. Maybe I should have told the truth. Maybe. It’s better this way. By the time things work out, I’ll be a memory, like it was all those times before. It was his momma who got mad, never him. That boy always understood what it was to be different. He’s the man I could never become.

I’m proud of chef who remains steadfast, always true to his own self, producing baby back ribs so tender Angels themselves will openly weep when tasting his special barbecue sauce: never overly sweet, exactly spicy enough.

I’ll miss them both in God’s eternal embrace.

Bye, son.


The suitcase remains unopened, propping open back door until last customer left her booth. Joseph could open it here but is compelled to do the deed away from staff. It’s surprisingly heavy, carried up stairs to apartment above his workplace, laid on kitchen table with care. The man thinks of dad, dumb enough to believe son had no idea who he was, that he’d just let the guy spend last days alone with terminal illness. The woman who’s looking after him right now’s being paid for thanks to medical insurance, so she’ll call him later with an update.

One moment represents an entire life, livelihood kept and nurtured away from him growing up. Except Joseph remembers this case brand new: open on the couch one Christmas Eve, decades past. Dad’s saxophone, propped beside: a musician was always on the road. His house, another gig. He may have singularly failed as a father, but Moses as a musician had played with countless greats across the decades: saxophone solos littered within the spectrum of modern music. If there were memories of those times within this case, Joseph would find means to preserve them.

It takes longer than expected to open: both locks are stiff, one initially refusing to open. Frightened contents might be damaged if entry’s forced, Joseph is slow, cautious.

Finally successful –

the case is stuffed full to capacity, countless neat stacks of used $100 bills…


 

November Short Story: Beneath

This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during November 2019 (using a half finished story in July due to illness) via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Beneath

You have one last chance to abort this mission: close that door behind you, pass point of no return. Beyond their capsule, one grimy piece of glass still remains left uncovered, view out to utter desolation: what is left of your world, close to oblivion. You are never going back. This plan has to work. You have to die. It is only means by which everything is saved. Nobody will remember you. This one-way ticket to assured destruction will not ensure a school gets named after you, and right now, anonymity is by far the best result for everybody concerned.

There’s only enough power left for one more try: whatever happens, this will be the last day alone. A possible future lies waiting, a million miles away from here. Now it’s apparent where everything went wrong, you owe it to everyone else who lost their lives to try once more…

Exit sequence is primed.

Press the button.


It’s a little after dawn: Molly’s almost done with errands. Edwin’s churn of milk isn’t alone, next to it sit a dozen goose eggs, two baskets of windfall apples. It won’t be long before dense clusters of blackberries have ripened… Mercy has stopped: grey mare stands silent, unusually still. The valley’s damp warmth, in moments after first light is normally reassurance, but not now. Something is terribly wrong. Molly’s skin is crawling, undeniable comprehension she knows exactly what is about to transpire.

From Beneath springs purple destruction: dividing the road, swallowing you whole… before life returns to this point, reset within same moment, all renewed. Except, if whip she made you bring today is soundly cracked, Mercy will outrun death, both surviving oncoming onslaught… Whip’s dropped, her own hands clasping reins: Mercy bolts, as if Molly is watching herself from distance, understanding why ground beneath them begins to rumble with an unnatural fervour. If she looks back, rolling eruption of evil has already begun, speeding towards them both…

She can’t look back: Molly must never dwell on the past, it has crumbled to dust and no longer exists. All that matters is reaching the Church bridge; cross that, they survive. The whole valley shakes, noise a banshee wail, song of destruction so loud and insistent it overwhelms. Quiet calm inside is a surprise: this is the first Friday in June. Yesterday was months ago, sense of repetition oddly unexpected reassurance. Over countless days Molly has lost her life on this road, perished as the purple lava erupted from rich, red clay beneath…but not today.

The gig almost floats across dark stone bridge, church a blur as there’s no time to stop until finally they’re at town’s barricades. Once just random piles of wood and broken barrels, much has changed in the last few months. Fellow villagers have adapted; now alert and prepared. Everything has altered in a year: Edwin and his family are one of only a few families prepared to live outside this cordon, risking their existence to keep food growing. A population of thousands, decimated; less than a hundred souls remain, determined never to succumb to evil.

Once this sight would have frightened Molly beyond belief. Not any more. Wartime existence has become surprisingly comforting, mostly due to the woman who stands waiting for her to return unharmed whilst houses shake. Looking down, not one of the dozen white eggs has been broken.

“Do this right, I swear not one egg will break: if you can, I promise purple horror will be destroyed for good.”

Molly knows that Amelia speaks an absolute, irrevocable truth. Once that was as frightening as purple lava: except, with time, presence became unexpected reassurance.

Amelia Knox arrived in their village a month ago dressed far too formally for country life. Since then no-one has died: her knowledge has slowly altered perception of the most cynical of elders. Ways and means exist to avoid destruction, plus medical skills have saved many lives. Knox’s arrival confirmed to the Elders an entire valley was indeed under a planned, organised bombardment: the village knew this wasn’t the work of some angry god, but something far more insidious. Disaster on this scale came only from the hands of men. Or in this case, a woman.

The Sorceress, cruel beyond measure, attacked without warning. For months there had seemingly been no reason or order to this cruelty, until the arrival of the village’s new saviour. She was the one to point out that in chaos, there was placed a very particular order of business. The systematic targeting and elimination of a particular mining family had not mattered amongst dozens of casualties, until it was pointed out how resilient the Evergreens had become at avoiding an often ceaseless torrent of destruction: repercussions transformed understanding.

All the bitter, callous destruction was focused on one, inescapable end. Every single member of this family must die. Except, with Amelia’s unexpected arrival, two of their number had seemly returned from the afterlife considerably more unharmed than they had departed the valley. Time itself had become… malleable, fluid in ways Molly knows should not be possible. Some days, the sun had risen multiple times and only set once. Her brother’s unexpected arrival from landslide that had previously been his tomb, south of here a moment she’s unlikely to forget.

This morning, however, Amelia looks different… more tired than she can ever remember. Molly leaves the gig with Alfred Cooper, happily surveying its contents, and goes over to hug this stranger who has now become close friend. Undoubtedly, something has altered in her overnight. In each other’s arms there is a strange, compelling calm Molly finds difficult to grasp or remember with anyone else; except parents, who passed away long before this chaos began. It is not just grateful respect, built from so many instances of selflessness, but something deeper.

“Today… will be the last that we see each other.”

“This is always a possibility, my friend. I am grateful for each victory you’ve provided -”

“… but as that’s true, you need to know. I’m so sorry for all of this.”

“What would you have to be sorry for?”

Amelia unexpectedly begins to shake.

“All I ever wanted… was to understand how time worked. This was never meant to happen, any of this. Now I grasp the truth, it’s the easiest thing in the world to fix.”

Molly steps back, aware she knows what is about to transpire, because that too has repeated many times in memory.

The Sorceress is coming, walking up the road: moments later she will unleash purple death upon the village itself… yet Amelia is running away from safety behind the barricades, heading straight for her. In her hand is an object stolen from the local Infantry’s meagre stockpile. Molly stares at a makeshift grenade and grasps this moment is new. In all the previous times she has stood here, on this day, Amelia had not once sacrificed herself in order to save the village from its destruction. Attacking the Sorceress had never been considered, until now…

Looking at this woman approaching there is amazement: all those times before, never time or thought to properly grasp evil responsible for the town’s destruction. Molly understands Amelia’s apology: she’s sorry, because this is her fault.

She’s destroyer and saviour, combined.


You run towards yourself stuck in a time paradox of your own creation: relief on both of your faces is palpable. All that effort, trying to hide this identity from those people, caused far more issues than you ever thought would be possible; arrogance almost destroying existence. The simple tin can filled with gunpowder and nails will be enough to kill you both, when it ignites causality field surrounding joint presences. The purple death that destroyed this village, over and again in the same paradox, deadly by-product of a failed time travel experiment.

Einstein never experienced the true matter-destroying consequences of going back to meet your relatives, didn’t see first-hand fatal consequence of overlapping timelines. Travelling opened portals to parallel universes where Planet Earth had been created very differently indeed. You take one last look back at your great, great, great grandmother and hope her life after your death will be quiet, long and stress free. All you ever wanted to do was understand the past, not destroy the future. To save both, it is time to sacrifice yourself.

Press the button.

So, You Win Again

At time of writing this, not only have I won but there’s no real signs of stopping.

251119nano

The longer this has gone on, the more I realise this is was never about doing the job in 30 days. Writing this story has become the means by which everything else that’s currently fucked up in my life is exposed and sorted. Of course, it was never the intention for that to take place, but it has. As I expose holes in my plot, more significant pits are uncovered. More importantly as I’ve hit 50k, there’s time now to go back and do some much-needed editing.

That will mean the word count will be minimally updated for the next few days, until I’m ready to push forward again. Getting the ‘win’ early means that part of the pressure’s off: so much needs to be addressed that was summarily left at the wayside to get the main thrust of the narrative sorted and strong. As I’m about to switch to a location in which an awful lot of significant action transpires, I want to leave everything that’s passed in as decent a state as possible.

nano_badges

The redesign of the NaNo site, to be honest, was long overdue but needs a fair bit of work. The only part of the process that really matters is having the habit forming repetition of updating that count until 50k registers. Now that’s done I don’t need to be reminded, it just happens automatically. With five Winners wristbands on my right wrist but nothing as yet to show for those attempts, it is time for a change.

For the first time in five years, coming away with nothing is not an option. I need to not only make this work, but in a manner that makes me happy and comfortable that the maximum amount of effort was spent for the most reward. In that regard alone this is undoubtedly the happiest I have ever been about a NaNo attempt.

This one will be finished, oh yes.

Change

I don’t believe anybody who tells you there’s nothing they could do to improve what they are. I also find it increasingly difficult to aspire to anybody’s else’s level of what constitutes competent. Each of us is so different, it seems utterly ridiculous to want to be like anybody else, and yet that’s what happens. Dress like your idol, use their skincare routine, borrow their working practices for a better lifestyle… nope.

When writing, especially, I’m beginning to realise the folly in trying to sound like anybody else except yourself. Sure, it is easy to imitate a style, or a fashion, but these things are so fleeting and often fickle. How do I get better as a writer, regardless of the genre being practiced, without compromising the essence of what I am? Being ‘better’ is clearly the intention, but how does it happen?

extensivereading

The internet is overflowing with guides, authors happy to offer their ‘advice’ whenever possible. Reading these, it becomes apparent that there are perilously few real answers to be found once one moves past ‘spell check, write to the word count, don’t waffle.’ It is as much a game of persistence as anything else: if you can’t hack being rejected, your career won’t last long. The rarity of hitting your target first try is just that.

For me, therefore, the process of self-improvement was at first daunting, until the sheer repetition of writing every single day began to expose flaws I’d not previously grasped. My sentence structure needed work, there were too many personal pronouns. Explaining how things went from A to B was consistently skipped or skimped on. Telling the story required a narrative pathway that often only existed in my head, not on the page.

Only by practice do we finally grasp what it is that is lacking within our work.

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Most importantly, however, it’s being hard on ourselves for not moving at a speed we consider ‘progress’ that can ruin so much achievement in the first place. If you know your rate of change is glacial, expecting to be an expert overnight really is an unrealistic ask. I’m in that camp,  only now understanding this journey’s being hamstrung by the past. Once that’s sorted properly, so much more should flow freely.

Therefore in December it’s time to see if freedom of expression can be wrought from some new materials. Processes are already being planned, and if I can look past what has previously managed to derail both confidence and ability… is anything possible? Could EVERYTHING be possible?

There’s only one way to find out.

Monster

Yup, I’m definitely gonna need more than a month.

nano19th

It’s not like this story is writing itself, anything but. At times it has been a tough job, slogging through the numbers: with the first crescendo of action about to happen, I reckon I’m probably about a third of the way in. However, there is an awful lot of exposition in here, most of it warranted. After we hit the end of this section, things can pick up a bit.

I reckon 100k is probably nearer the mark for completion.

There’s nothing stopping me going back and editing stuff out at a later date, of course: for now, the priority is to tell the story as it stands, and that’s proving surprisingly simple. I’m really, REALLY glad that time was taken to plan this in advance, because there are several points where if it hadn’t been, giving up and walking away would have been a really easy thing to do.

This time however, I have something to prove.

I am not getting any younger, as the hand will attest. The reason I started doing this challenge, so many years ago, was to write a novel. In all the times when the month was over and I looked at what had been produced, there was never really satisfaction with the end product. This time around, this is a piece of work to be already immensely proud of. Whatever may transpire, this will be pushed beyond a first draft.

Creating a monster will come with a new set of responsibilities, but until the story is done, size really will not matter. I’m already organising December’s content around this, so that there is no interruption to my writing processes. It is perhaps most satisfying all that this is a narrative not only to get lost in, but which also is throwing up some genuinely interesting new directions from the original pitch.

Speaking of which, I need to write a new summary to post on the NaNo website…

Oops, I Did It Again

Having hit 25k on NaNo this morning, there MIGHT be a bit of a problem going forward…

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This isn’t like last year when I decided to stop because other things were more important. Nope, this time around has come the revelation that I do not want to stop. There is too much fun being had living and breathing this new narrative. In fact, considering where I am along my timeline, this 50k could at least double by the time I’m done. It is entirely possible we have a full blown epic tale on our hands.

Planning has presented this as possibility, and because there is understanding of what else needs to happen around the words, it’s probably the right moment for a rethink. This time however, instead of panicking and tossing the whole idea because it won’t fit into my current lifestyle choices… let’s do this differently. Let’s rearrange everything else around what has become most important and work from there.

For a change, personal happiness can take centre stage.

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This decision has produced an unexpected, knock-on effect. A couple of issues that I’ve been struggling to resolve are now sorted, complete without issue. My exercise regime’s taking an impressive upward turn. Willpower, instead of crumbling when it became apparent I’d not finish to time, has strengthened, which makes the desire to eat bad stuff that I’m having to ignore considerably easier.

I’m quite a binary being, when all is said and done. To realise that this enjoyment factor has been missing in my life is important: knowing why has been something of a revelation. Relaxing into this process has provided a key to a door that’s been locked since before counselling was started earlier this year. Here, it seems, is an important space not only to be explored, but inhabited.

I’m really looking forward to where this new journey takes me.