Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy what you find here. Whilst you may not agree with everything I post, if you respect my right to my opinion I'll respect your right to disagree with it and we should get along just fine. :)

Disclaimer: the views expressed by the characters in these works may not necessarily represent the views of the author. Got that? Good.

Right then, on with the blog...

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

#FridayFlash: First Foot

In the village where I grew up there is a custom associated with New Year, the custom of the First Foot.

This custom at least partially explains why I’m ruining a £300 pair of hand-stitched brogues wading through the ankle-deep snow in the lane outside my parents’ cottage. It also partially explains the lump of coal and packet of salt in the pockets of my Armani overcoat, and why I’m clutching a £50 bottle of Glenfarclas 105 cask strength single malt whisky in my calfskin-gloved hands.

It does not however, explain why this is the first time I’ve been home in five years. That part of my story is best illustrated by the circumstances of my ignominious departure when I found I could no longer stand the regular beatings metered out to me by my loving father for any little misdemeanour, real or imagined.

At the age of sixteen I left, or more accurately, I threw a few things in a bag and ran, fled all the way to the bright lights of London where, as I soon discovered, the streets are not paved with gold.

Living rough in a big city must be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, even when you’ve learned a few of the tricks it’s still neither an easy nor a pleasant experience.

I spent the next two years living mostly on my wits and managed somehow to keep body and soul largely intact. I’m not saying there weren’t occasions when I resorted to less than legal methods of self-preservation, which was how I came to meet Lucien as I attempted to rob him behind the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

My story could well have been a short one had Lucien not seen something more than desperation in my eyes. He took me in, fed and clothed me and, as the saying goes, turned my life around. Soon I was to all intents and purposes a member of his family with a steady job and, for the first time in my life, money in my pocket. Within a year I was working behind the bar of one of his clubs, the same club I have been managing for the past six months, and managing it well, even if I do say so myself.

So that explains the clothes, the Rolex watch on which I have just checked that it is in fact two minutes past midnight – officially New Year’s Day, and the Aston Martin parked at the end of the narrow lane to my parent’s cottage.

It does not however, explain what I’m doing here, but I’ll get to that shortly.

My parent’s cottage is in darkness apart from a welcoming glow coming from the living room window. My parents are creatures of habit at New Year’s I think as I gently push open the garden gate - see the New Year in with a drink, whisky for my father and a gin and tonic for my mother, then off to bed at half past twelve. The lack of footprints in the virgin snow lying deep, and crisp and even I laugh to myself, on the path reassures me that I will be their first caller of the New Year – their First Foot.

It takes my arthritic mother a few moments to reach the front door after I ring the bell. I use the time to run over in my head the script I’ve been practicing all the way up from London, and then the door is open and there’s my mother, peering out into the darkness, looking right at me.

I take a tentative step forward into the light and hear my mother gasp as the hall light illuminates my dark hair, blue eyes, the same youthfully chiselled, I like to think, features that she last laid eyes on five years ago.

I hold out the coal, salt and the whisky, which my mother takes with shaking hands and a tear in her eye, the reverie of the moment broken only when my father yells through from the living room to ask who’s at the door at this time of night.

The sound of his voice brings it all rushing back as though the past five years never existed. My mother steps back and beckons me inside, but I remain rooted to the spot until finally, a note of exasperation in her voice, she says, ‘Well, come on in then. I’m sure your father will be pleased to see you.’

With that I step over the threshold, pushing the door closed with my foot. As I hang my coat on the end of the banister and my fangs slide into place, I think that I don’t really know whether my father will be pleased to see me, but that I am very much looking forward to seeing him again.


Wednesday, 23 December 2009

#FridayFlash: Little Johnny's Bike

It seems to me there's something about the festive season which brings out the worst in people, at least as far as shopping is concerned. I do wonder whether Scrooge might not have had the right idea!

The sight of a very large man at our local supermarket doing his level best to sell an equally huge Christmas tree to a very small man (with no transport) for whom it was obviously too large, and not taking no for an answer, provided the initial inspiration for my #fridayflash for this week, which I'm posting early as I'm not sure how much time I'm going to have over the next few days as the juggernaut that is a family Christmas rolls inexorably towards me.

The Christmas tree seller got me thinking, and I began to wonder what would happen if Santa had a complaints department...

Sent: Friday, December 25, 2009 8:32 AM

From: IamJohn1
Subject: Listen up Santa Claus,
I wanted a bike, not something with paws

Hey Santa Claus, you arsehole,
where's my flamin' bike?
I've been extra good this whole year long
and I told you what I'd like.

The puppy's very nice an' all
but it's shitting on the rug,
and Mum's just shouted, 'Bugger it!'
'cos it's drinking from her mug.

I hope this message reaches you.
It really, really must,
'cos as far as little me's concerned,
There's been a serious breach of trust.

So get your fat red arse in gear,
those bloody reindeers too,
and swap this puppy for my bike,
Really Santa, do!

It's not quite all doom and gloom however, I'm leaving you with my favourite Christmas song of all time, 'Santa's a Scotsman.'

If you enjoy it, please consider buying the MP3, which is available here.

And finally, for those of my readers with young children, don't forget to check out Norad Tracks Santa on Christmas Eve for real time tracking of Santa's progress around the globe.

Merry Christmas!


Friday, 18 December 2009

#FridayFlash: Christmas Spirit Parts 1 & 2

As it's nearly Christmas I'm going to do something slightly different with my #fridayflash this week, as a one-off I'm posting an extra story. Consider it an early Christmas present, or a buy-one-get-one-free offer if you like, either way get 'em while they're hot!

The two stories are designed to stand alone, but they are linked. If you fancy something light and fluffy, please have a read of part 1. On the other hand, if you'd like something darker, part 2 will probably be more to your liking. On the other, other hand (what, three hands?!) if you have the time, I'd love you to read both parts; go on, indulge yourself, it is (nearly) Christmas after all!

Christmas Spirit Part 1: The Perfect Tree.

Tom trailed after his father, hands stuffed deep in his pockets and collar pulled well up against the cold and flakes of blown snow, which somehow kept falling down the back of his neck. Nevertheless, Tom was excited. This was going to be the best Christmas ever.

Tom and his father had spent hours trudging through the Pick-Your-Own Christmas tree plantation, but none of the trees his father had selected had met with Tom’s approval – too tall, too short, too crooked. For the first time it was Tom’s job to choose the tree and he was taking it very seriously, the tree had to be perfect.

Finding the perfect Christmas tree was so important to Tom, the tree would be the symbol of their family Christmas, and he was determined things would be different this year. Dad was off the booze, Mum had got a promotion at work and for the first time in as long as Tom could remember, his parents weren’t fighting and he was actually looking forward to Christmas. A perfect tree would be the crowning achievement.

Tom became aware his father had stopped on the path up ahead and was stamping his feet and blowing into his hands in a vain attempt to ward off the biting cold.

‘Why don’t we split up, Dad?’ Tom said, ‘we can cover more ground that way. I know the perfect tree’s here somewhere.’

Dave regarded the look of determination on his ten-year old son’s face, ‘OK Tom, just don’t go too far. And shout if you find one. I’ll go this way,’ he indicated a path to the right.

‘And I’ll try over here,’ replied Tom, a knot of excitement building in the pit of his stomach. They had tried pretty much everywhere, the area to Tom’s left was the only place he thought they had not yet looked; Dad’s path lead back towards the warmth of their car.

Racing off into the nearest stand of Christmas trees, drawn up in their dark green ranks like a winter army on parade, Tom soon came to the end of the rows and noticed there was another path leading off past the last few stragglers, deeper into the older, mature forest, which surrounded the plantation. Glancing back over his shoulder for a sign of his father and finding none, Tom thought he would just have a quick look along the path, only for a few minutes. Maybe there was a tree there that no one else had noticed.

Soon Tom was pushing his way through thick, overhanging branches as the path narrowed. He was on the point of turning back when at last he broke through a thicket of undergrowth into the light of a small clearing. Roughly circular in shape and dusted with only a light covering of snow, the clearing was washed by a watery, winter sunlight.

Tom’s eyes took in the heavily snow-laden trees surrounding the clearing’s edge, and the old stones, half hidden under drifts of snow, which marked the perimeter, and then he saw it.

Standing quite alone in the centre of the clearing was simply the best, most perfect Christmas tree Tom had ever seen – tall, green, a strong, straight trunk and, when Tom buried his nose in the branches, the most wonderful scent of pine.

‘Dad!’ Tom bellowed, ‘Dad! I’ve found it! Come quick!’

Brushing the snow off one of the perimeter stones, not noticing in his excitement the strange, angular symbols carved into its rough, weather beaten surface, Tom sat down impatiently to wait.

A few moments later, Tom’s father appeared, puffing and blowing as he jogged up to his son.

Tom simply pointed. And grinned.

‘There,’ he whispered after a moment, ‘There it is. That one. The most perfect Christmas tree ever.’

Dave ruffled his son’s hair affectionately.

‘OK Tom, that one it is,’ he said and, walking over to the tree, Dave pulled a folding tree saw from his daypack and began to cut.


Christmas Spirit Part 2: Fate is Relentless.

The digital clock on the DVD player under the TV read 03: 09 as Tom crept silently into the living room on Christmas morning. Had He been?

He had!

Tom nearly whooped with delight at the sight of the gleaming red bike propped up on its stand in front of the fireplace, a matching cycling helmet dangling from its handlebars, but he knew he mustn’t. His parents were still asleep, and Christmas would only begin officially when his mother got up to make their traditional bacon sandwiches for breakfast, woe betide him if he woke her.

Inhaling, Tom revelled in the icy clean pine fragrance that filled the room. The Christmas tree stood by the window, its perfect branches festooned with ornaments and twinkling lights.

Gazing at his new bike, Tom jumped at a sudden rustling sound behind him. He swung round but there was nothing to see, just the tree twinkling away next to the window. Tom moved slowly closer to it. The sound had definitely come from over here, he was sure of it. He stopped to listen. Silence. Turning back to the bike Tom jumped as the rustling sound came again. It sounded like a small animal running around in the branches.

Tom could just imagine his mother’s reaction at finding something small and furry loose in the living room. Nothing is going to spoil Christmas this year, he thought, and thrust his head deep into the branches.

The breath froze in Tom’s throat, a cold knot of terror turning his insides to ice water as he came face to face with a pair of piercing blue eyes. He barely had time to register the man’s grimy face, the twigs and pine needles in the bushy hair and long beard, before two immensely strong arms shot forward, grabbed his wrists, and heaved Tom bodily off his feet into the tree. Tom did not even have time to scream.

The Christmas tree swayed slightly, a light shower of pine needles falling onto Tom’s discarded red slipper.

* * *

‘Where’s Tom? Where’s my big lad?’ the smile in Suzi’s voice carried to the hallway where Dave had just reached the bottom of the stairs.

‘He’s not in his room,’ Dave replied with mock concern as he walked into the living room, ‘I can’t find him anywhere.’

Suzi winked and pointed to Tom’s slipper in front of the Christmas tree.

‘He’s hiding,’ she whispered, ‘I bet he’s behind the tree.’

But Tom wasn’t hiding. He sat snivelling in the darkness, knees drawn tight up to his chest, hands clasped in front, his knuckles white. Tom’s eyes were clamped tight shut in the fervent hope that when he opened them again it would all have been just a terrible nightmare. A few paces away, a grimy figure, unkempt and dressing in filthy rough clothes of mainly squirrel and fox fur, stood hidden in the shadow of the branches, peering intently out of the tree at Dave and Suzi.

‘Shhh,’ whispered Dave, pantomiming his finger to his lips as he crept over to the tree.

As he leant over to look behind the Christmas tree, Dave’s hand brushed its branches. Instantly a small ripple of breeze went through the tree as Aerdwold’s spirit rushed into Dave’s body, shredding Dave’s soul into oblivion in a heartbeat.

Stumbling slightly then, straightening up, he looked Suzi right in the eye, fixing her with a piercing gaze, which made her feel suddenly uncomfortable.

‘Come on Dave,’ she laughed nervously, ‘stop mucking about. Is Tom behind there or not?’

Aerdwold tried to speak, but it had been so long, his head was spinning, he felt sick, and his new body’s vocal chords were still unfamiliar. All he could manage was a weak, slurred whisper.

‘Wyrd bid ful araed.’

Suzi’s face darkened immediately.

‘I knew it,’ she yelled, ‘I bloody knew it!’ Her voice had taken on that edge which would have told Aerdwold, had he but known, that the flimsy dam of Suzi’s temper, kept in check for so long living with an alcoholic husband, was about to break. Suddenly, the words came gushing out.

‘You’re pissed!’ Suzi shrieked, ‘I should have known you couldn’t lay off the sauce for more than a week. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic! And all that bollocks about letting Tom choose the Christmas tree - I bet that was only an excuse so you could go to the fucking pub!’

‘Well, I warned you, didn’t I?’ she screamed, grabbing him by the arm, ‘warned you what would happen the next time I caught you drinking. Didn’t I? Didn’t I?’

Propelling him roughly towards the front door, Suzi opened it and shoved him across the threshold.

‘Get out! Get out, get out, get out!’ and with that Suzi slammed the door in his face, leaving Aerdwold standing bewildered, dressed only in a pair of Dave’s pyjamas, in the ankle-deep snow on the front step. After a moment, and without bothering to look around him, Aerdwold stumbled down the garden path and shuffled out into the Christmas morning snowstorm.

‘Noooooooo!’ wailed Tom as his mother grabbed the Christmas tree and began dragging it towards the door. She didn’t appear to hear him.

‘And this bastard thing can go too,’ Suzi grunted, heaving the tree, lights, ornaments and all, into the front garden.

Tom sat alone in the darkness sobbing as he heard his mother slam the door again.

* * *

From his place of darkness, Tom occasionally caught a glimpse of his mother through the branches. He saw her regularly for the few weeks after Christmas while the police investigated his disappearance. He saw her when the “For Sale” sign went up outside the house, and again when she left, lugging two heavy suitcases down the garden path to the waiting taxi. Each time Tom called out to her, but couldn’t make her hear him.

Tom was still calling for his mother when the council workmen arrived during the first week of February to dispose of the street’s unwanted Christmas trees which, by now, had turned brown and brittle and had shed most of their needles. As his tree died, Tom grew weaker, only able to manage a whisper of protest as a workman loaded the tree into the jaws of the shredder.

‘Looks like this one was perfect,’ the workman remarked as the machine’s steel teeth began to tear the tree apart.


Saturday, 12 December 2009

#Fridayflash: That Damned Cat!

First off, apologies if the adult language offends, and for this being late. BTW, I am not a poet, so please be gentle!

That Damned Cat!

That cat just tried to kill me,
the damned, flamin' furry thing.
I swear he stuck his foot out,
just to prove that he was king.

And off I went - went flying
down the length of our damned stairs.
He really takes the piss sometimes,
I don't know how he dares.

So here I lie, a' wincing
in a twisted, painfull heap.
But, should I be able to get up,
to make it to my feet...

I'll kill that ruddy cat of mine.
Yes, yes, that's what I'll do.
I'll be wearing catskin slippers,
And I bet you would do, too!


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Fifth Carnival of Pen, Pencil and Paper

It's that time again - the Fifth Carnival of Pen, Pencil and Paper is now on over at Goldspot Pens. Make sure you check it out!


Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Christmas, Cats and #Fridayflash

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@FutureNostalgic) will no doubt be familiar with the Christmas preparations here at Pen-thusiast Towers, namely the fun and games we've had putting up our Christmas tree. I swear, it was only out of its box for 30 seconds before No. 4 Cat took up residence...

Mrs. Future; Nostalgic called in a feline relocation expert (yours truly!) and once No. 4 Cat had been raked out of the branches, and I went to staunch the bleeding, she managed to get the decorations on the tree. Just in time...

It's worse now there are toys to play with - the poor Christmas Robin decoration will never be the same again - I'm sure it's having nightmares!

I have however, noticed how No. 4 Cat shares an ability with small children of a similar age - and if you've ever tried to get a recalcitrant toddler into a pushchair (stroller) you'll know exactly what I mean. As soon as she feels me apply that lifting-out-of-the-tree grip, No. 4 Cat goes all stiff and heavy. It's not as though she actively hangs on for grim death, it's more like extremely effective passive resistance; I wouldn't be surprised if she's out doing sit-ins and campaigning for mice's rights or some such when she's older!

I suppose there is an upside to having a cat with so much personality (did someone say too much personality?), and that is she does provide some inspiration for writing, which brings me neatly on to #fridayflash.

Friday what?!


Err...isn't that...

No! Nothing at all to do with hanging around in a public place on a Friday, wearing nothing but a dirty raincoat! #Fridayflash is all about writing. Let me explain...

Created by J. M. Strother, #fridayflash is, in a nutshell, short fiction of 1000 words or less, posted on the author's blog on a Friday, with the title and URL Tweeted on Twitter along with the #fridayflash hashtag; it is also possible to post the URL on the #fridayflash group page on Facebook.

Last Friday's list of #fridayflash stories can be found here.

I was (so they tell me) quite good at English Language at school and used to enjoy creative writing essays, in fact it was about the only part of school I did enjoy, but what with one thing and another (work, life, family, etc.) it's been years since I've done anything like that, and I wasn't sure I still could.

Last month was NaNoWriMo, and a few of my friends on Twitter took part. I, on the other hand, took one look at the idea of writing a 50 000 word novel in a month and was last seen driving a (metaphorical) fast pair of feet in the opposite direction! 50 000 words in a month? Me? Yeah, right!

Enter #fridayflash. Hang on a minute, 1000 words maximum and no time limit? Hmmm. Surely I can crank out 500 words or so? How hard could it be? Well, it wasn't easy, but I did it - then I checked my word processor’s word count feature. 1014 words! Hold on, how did that happen?! Out with the red pen, and a couple of days later I'd managed to get it under the 1000, so I posted it in the hope maybe a couple of people might possibly stop by and read it.

Wow! I was truly humbled by all the wonderfully constructive and supportive comments. What a great bunch of people the #fridayflash authors and readers are.

Maybe I should have another go...

I've now written a couple of #fridayflash stories, which (shameless plug!) can be found here, and here, but I'm already coming to see what a great medium #fridayflash is. If you have access to Twitter, do search the #fridayflash hashtag, you will not be disappointed!


Friday, 4 December 2009

#FridayFlash: Twist in the Tale

Sophie danced from foot to foot, wringing her clammy hands with excitement. Mum was home. She’d arrived home late last night, and now here she was, standing in the drawing room, carefully unwrapping something. Sophie didn’t know what was more exciting, Mum finally being home from the dig in Egypt, or the package she cradled in her hands.

It must be my present, Sophie thought, Mum always brings me a present.

Sophie glanced around. She hated this room with its antiques, old furniture and paintings, all arranged “just so” to show her aunt’s things off at their best. Sophie was only allowed in the drawing room on special occasions, and even then she was always under the austere gaze of her aunt, lest she be tempted to touch something. Sophie hated her aunt too, but since her father died, there was nowhere else to go when her mother was away.

When Mum was home, the house seemed lighter, full of fun and laughter as they raced each other through its rooms and corridors, making mischief which, under normal circumstances, would have Sophie’s aunt apoplectic with rage.

The last of the wrappings fell away to reveal a small, painted clay statue of a cat cradled in Mum’s hands. Surely it must be for her, Sophie thought.

As if sensing her daughter’s thoughts, Millie turned to face her.

‘Sorry Pumpkin,’ she said, ‘not this time. They made us leave early and there wasn’t time to go shopping before we left.’

Sophie’s face fell, a knot of disappointment in the pit of her stomach as tears blurred her vision. So that was what “deported” must mean, she had heard Mum and Aunt Sarah arguing about it the night before.

‘I’ll take you up to London next week,’ Mum continued, ‘and we can pick something out for you then.’

Sophie cried. She bawled and screamed and nothing her mother did could mollify her. No present. There was always a present. For the first time in her whole eight years of life, Sophie felt rage. White-hot, all-consuming, rage. There was no present. Turning on her heel, Sophie fled from the room leaving her mother calling after her in vain.

* * *

It was just after midnight when Sophie pushed open the heavy oak door and crept silently into the drawing room. Shafts of silvery moonlight shone through the leaded windows casting pools of cool light across the floor like ethereal searchlights.

Hefting the toffee hammer she’d stolen earlier from the kitchen when cook’s back was turned, Sophie stole towards where the statue stood on top of Aunt Sarah’s grand piano.

Dragging a richly upholstered stool from its place next to the fireplace, Sophie winced as the metal feet scratched across the highly polished oak floorboards. Soon though, she had positioned the stool next to the piano and scrambled up, coming eye to eye with the Egyptian cat statue.

Sophie smiled at the cat, the metal of the toffee hammer cool in her small hands. She was just calming the last of her scruples when a large, moth-eaten grey cat appeared suddenly next to the statue.

‘Major!’ Sophie hissed, her heart hammering in her chest – she hadn’t seen her aunt’s cat follow her into the room, hadn’t heard him jump onto the piano. She was sure she’d nearly swallowed her tongue in shock.

Major purred and rubbed his face on the statue, making it sway dangerously on its narrow plinth. Major looked squarely at Sophie and meowed.

‘Shhh!’ she hissed.

Sophie began to raise the hammer.

‘Sophie, what are you doing in here at this time of night?’

Sophie jumped. Swinging round she caught sight of Jennings, her aunt’s butler standing in the doorway, his thin frame wrapped in a threadbare tartan dressing gown two sizes too big for him, his wispy grey hair sticking up at various jaunty angles.

‘I, err…,’ Sophie stammered, sliding the toffee hammer behind her back. Had Jennings seen it?

‘Come on, back to bed with you,’ Jennings said, walking towards her. ‘And as for you mister,’ he said, turning his attention to Major, ‘you know you’re not allowed in here.’

Jennings swatted his hand at the cat. Major hissed and, skidding on the polished wood, spun round, his bushy tail catching the statue just the lightest of glancing blows as he slithered off the top of the piano. It was enough. Almost in slow motion, the statue rocked first this way then that before finally falling onto its side, shattering into tiny pieces amid a great cloud of dust.

‘Quick!’ spluttered Jennings through the dust cloud, ‘Bed! Now!’

Sophie, coughing through a mouthful of dust, sprinted for the door. Scooping Major up as she went, Sophie ran all the way to her room and dived under the covers with the old cat as the enormity of what had just happened descended on her like a huge, cold, dead weight.

* * *

The police had already been called by the time Sophie awoke, wreathed in sweat, from an unsettling dream about pyramids and strange cats. Major was nowhere to be seen.

A policewoman tried to explain to Sophie about Aunt Sarah’s accident – she’d tripped and fallen the full length of the main staircase, breaking her neck in the process. How Sophie’s mother had died the same night, apparently from suffocation but without a mark on her, she could not explain and so did not try. There were trained professionals for that sort of thing.

* * *

In the cool shade of the old Summer House Major lay curled up on an old cushion. He was still a bit sore where he’d miscalculated his leap and Aunt Sarah had trodden on him as he’d tripped her down the stairs. It had been easier with Millie, she’d been drunk when he’d curled up on her face.

Major sneezed, the smell of ancient statue dust still tickling his nostrils. She would be pleased, he thought.

[edit: to improve change in POV towards the end of the story. Thanks to jdanetyler for mentioning it.]

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