Friday Fictioneers – The offering

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF The offering 170830

Photoprompt (c) Roger Bulltot

The Offering

“Dad, may I go into the ruin?”

Russell smiled at his eight-year-old son, John.

“OK. No climbing, mind.”

In the cool shadows, John could feel the holiness of the place. There was a special silence that was full of voices chanting. He took out a trowel from his backpack, and the silver teaspoon that his mum had bought him at the seaside because he had wanted it so much. There, amid the echo of centuries of prayer, he buried the spoon, and wished with all his might.

In her hospital bed, John’s mum peacefully abandoned her struggle against cancer.

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What Pegman saw – The boy who asked questions

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the 360 degree view of the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code.

Hyo worried about her only son, twelve-year-old Chin-Mae. He didn’t fit in; and in North Korea that could lead to…well, she didn’t like to think about it. She fretted as she queued for food. She fretted as she mended the family’s clothes.

Chin-Mae was in trouble again.

“I don’t understand,” he said in his class. “Aren’t Americans human like us?”

“No! They are mad dogs who want to destroy us.”

Chin-Mae was flogged.

Hyo wept over his bruises, her poor child. But how could she help him not to shame the family?

“Some things you must never say,” she told him.

Later, his school visited Samjiyon, and he saw the Great Leader rallying the patriotic troops of the republic.

At home again, “I do not believe it is right to go to war,” he whispered to Hyo.

“Oh, my son, my son!” she sobbed. “How can you be a coward?”

 

 

Short story – Judgement Day (full-length)

This story was first conceived as a ‘Drabble’ – a piece of flash fiction in 100 words. The 100 word version was blogged as part of the Friday Fictioneers challenge. Several people were kind enough to say that they would like more – so here it is! It’s about 1200 words long and will take about 10 minutes to read. I hope you enjoy it!

Judgment Day - rocket-launch 170826

Judgement Day

It was dark when Bob and Frank pitched their tent at Sturgis, and they were both weary. They’d ridden over three hundred miles from the previous campsite.

“Tired?” Frank, the driver, was used to long rides. Bob, who’d ridden pillion, was not.

“Exhausted.” Bob peeled the leathers off his slight form and gazed at the engagement ring Frank had given him. The large, rectangular garnet smouldered in its thick gold band. “I love this ring.”

Frank smiled.

“And I love you,” he replied. “Only a hundred miles tomorrow.”

“What will your dad say when we tell him we’re going to marry?”

Frank came over to Bob and put an arm round him.

“He’ll be okay, Bob. I know he’s a colonel, but not everybody in the military is prejudiced.” He took out a Marlboro. “Shall we look at the stars?”

As he unzipped the tent door, a dazzling point of light exploded on the horizon, growing rapidly into a fiery pillar thundering into the heavens.

“Holy shit! I thought they’d scrapped those! That’s a Minuteman!”

“Wow! I never thought I’d see one of those birds fly. It’s beautiful, isn’t it”

Frank was scrabbling with his money belt.

“Phone? Phone? Where did I put it?”

He pulled it out.

“No signal. No signal? There’s always been a strong signal here. What in hell’s going on?”

He paced back and forth, his face anxious, almost panicky.

“I need to ring Dad, let him know what we’ve seen, and then we need to ride south as fast as possible. There’ll be massive retaliation against the airbase in a maximum of thirty minutes.” He fiddled with the phone a few more seconds. Bob dived into the tent and came out with leathers and helmets.

They were gunning the bike within two minutes.

Frank stayed on back roads but traffic gradually increased. People were driving erratically. A sedan flew out of a side-turning, right in front of them. Frank swerved, almost lost control.

Bob clutched him tightly. He felt the sharp visceral fear of narrowly averted extinction, additional to and overlying the nightmare vision of nuclear Armageddon. He knew he mustn’t try to steer the bike himself; instead, he made himself just an extension of his lover’s body. And as he relaxed his body to merge with Frank’s, the fear left him.

They hit a long straight, with few vehicles, all travelling south as they were. Frank opened the throttle. The speed climbed. Eighty miles an hour, ninety, one hundred, one hundred and twenty. Frank started to sing ‘Bat out of Hell’ under his breath; Bob felt the vibrations in Frank’s body even above the vibrations of the bike as he held fast.

There were lights ahead, many lights, a whole sea of light.

Frank throttled back, pulled over a hundred yards short of the gridlocked traffic. A pick-up shot past them, skidded, side-swiped a wagon. Frank parked the bike, grabbed Bob and pulled him over to the ditch. Debris from the pick-up showered down.

“In. Now.”

They jumped into the ditch. It was wet. Frank had already pulled out his phone.

“There’s no signal here either!”

He looked at his watch.

“It’s forty minutes since the launch. If the Russkies were going to retaliate it would have happened by now.”

“North Korea, perhaps?”

Frank shrugged.

“Who knows?”

“We only saw one launch. Wouldn’t there have been more if it had been targeted on Russia?”

“I guess.”

They stayed in the ditch for an hour. More vehicles joined the congestion, but there were no more smashes. There was a constant cacophony of horns, and occasional gun shots.

“Phone’s back!” Frank waved it aloft in triumph, then called his dad. The call was diverted to an answering machine.

“Twenty past three. Do you want to go back to the campsite, or straight up to my parents?”

“Is there any news about the Minuteman?”

“Good point.” Frank opened the news app. “Just a report of traffic chaos, and a UFO sighting. Nothing about a missile launch.”

The two men looked at each other.

“I suppose it was a Minuteman?” suggested Bob.

“No doubt at all. Dad had access to all the videos on public release and I watched the lot.”

They trudged across to the bike and made their way back to the campsite. It took two hours through the obstructions, and there was a faint grey light in the sky by the time they arrived. They fell asleep immediately, and didn’t wake until noon.

They said little as they drank strong black coffee and munched cookies.

“You rode well yesterday after the missile launch,” said Frank, as they mounted the big bike. Bob said nothing, just slipped his arm around Frank’s waist.

They rode north. Traffic was light, but there were cops everywhere. There were still the remnants of smashed vehicles. Recovery trucks were working overtime. It was mid-afternoon before they reached Frank’s parents’ house.

“Hi, Dad! Hi, Mom!” Frank embraced them both. “This is Bob”

Frank’s dad was grey with fatigue, grim-faced and unsmiling. “Call me Jim,” he growled.

“I’m Esther.” Frank’s mom smiled. She gave Bob a hug, and a peck on the cheek. “I’ll show you your room, Bob.”

Bob glanced at Frank. ‘Go with the flow for now,’ he read from his expression.

“That’s very gracious, Esther. Thank you.” He followed the bird-like figure upstairs.

“In here”

Esther pulled the door closed behind them, and her face became earnest..

“I’m not sure how to say this,” she began, then, taking her courage in both hands, “I hope you’re not going to upset Jim.”

“Me too. Why would I?”

“You and Frank are lovers, aren’t you?”

“Did Frank tell you?”

“No, but I saw how it was as soon as you came in. Anyway, Frank’s spoken about you every time he rang us. Sometimes I felt I heard more about you than about what my boy was doing.”

“Then you’ll know how we feel about each other. We can’t deny that. I won’t deny that.”

“Just be tactful, Bob. Don’t push it on him. He’s not comfortable about having a gay son. I’ll help you talk him round.” Esther fluttered her hands. “I’d hoped for grandchildren, but I want my boy to be happy too.” She looked sad.

The sound of raised voices came up the stairs.

“Oh dear,” sighed Esther, hurrying from the room, Bob right behind her.

“Dad, I know it was a Minuteman. You showed me all those videos, remember?”

Jim’s neck was purple.

“Would I tell you lies? My own flesh and blood? I was on duty last night and there was no Minuteman launch. There are no Minutemen any more. They’ve been scrapped.”

“Okay, I believe you. It was not a Minuteman. But it was some sort of missile. I’m absolutely certain.”

Jim lowered his voice to a whisper. It sounded malevolent, serpent-like.

“I can’t talk about what happens in the airbase. You know that. Just get this clear. You did not see a missile launched. You would be in grave danger if you had. There was a meteorological phenomenon that misled people into believing they’d seen a UFO, and panicking. That’s all. Now. No more.”

Frank and Bob stared at him in silence, as he glowered at them.

“Okay,” said Frank at last. “Okay.”

 

Friday Fictioneers – Judgement Day

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF lights-of-sturgis 170823

PHOTO PROMPT© Jan Wayne Fields

Judgement Day

It was dark when Bob and Frank pitched their tent. Bob took off his leathers and gazed at the engagement ring Frank had given him.

“Only a hundred miles tomorrow,” said Frank.

“What will your dad say when we tell him we’re going to marry?”

“It’s okay, Bob. Not everybody in the military is prejudiced.” He took out a Marlboro. “Shall we look at the stars?”

As he unzipped the tent door, a dazzling point of light exploded on the horizon, growing rapidly into a fiery pillar thundering into the heavens.

“Shit! I thought they’d scrapped those! That’s a Minuteman!”

The photo is entitled ‘Lights of Sturgis’. Sturgis is a small town in South Dakota, and its main claim to fame is an annual motorcycle rally, one of the biggest in the world. Sturgis is close to the Ellsworth Air Base, where fifty Minuteman missiles (long range missiles with nuclear warheads) were sited. The missiles were said to have been scrapped in 1994. I have no reason to believe that this is not the case, other than general paranoia and a belief in conspiracy theories…

Mother love

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story with a beginning, middle and end in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. This story complements the one I published last Wednesday

FF - A strange place for a theophany 170816

Photoprompt © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Mother love

“I’m worried about Deborah. I want to visit her today.” Jennifer tugged the silken peignoir tighter around her bony shoulders.

Charles sighed.

“She has to grow up sometime, darling.”

“You know she doesn’t always eat properly.”

It was only a fifty mile drive.

The lift was broken, so they had four flights of stairs to climb. Jennifer wrinkled her nose at the smell outside her daughter’s flat.

Deborah, stick-thin, in crumpled clothes and with matted hair, opened the door and peered out. She had a look of exaltation, which swiftly faded.

“Mum! You know I don’t like you coming here!”

A strange place for a theophany

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story with a beginning, middle and end in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - A strange place for a theophany 170816

Photoprompt © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

She had been in her bedsit for days, reading, thinking, praying. What did it mean to live a good life? Why did she feel love? Above all, who was she?

The questions consumed her. She never noticed the gathering dust. The clothes in her wardrobe, her pretty things no longer interested her. She hardly ate, and drank only water.

Then, abruptly, she shook her matted hair, stretched, thought, ‘I must wash’.

As she moved towards the shower cubicle, she saw a great light, and felt a holy awe.

She knelt, and deep joy overwhelmed her.

“It’s true then,” she gasped.

A long shadow

We are all shaped by joy and sadness. We all experience tragedy at some point in our life. Sometimes events echo down generations. Sometimes healing takes many years to accomplish. How we deal with tragedy makes a difference to its effect on us. If we can accept it, we can find healing. It’s a different matter if we rail against it, and curse…

A long shadow Khao Lak 170815

A long shadow

The ocean at Khao Lak was pellucid aquamarine, and it glittered with a million shards of reflected light. Throughout the rehearsal for his son’s betrothal, Narong seemed uneasy, glancing repeatedly at the water, swallowing, clenching his fists. Rehearsal over, the other participants drifted away, laughing and chattering; Narong began to weep.

Seeing a grown man cry was horrible. Narong had always shown iron self-control and yet suddenly he was broken. He no longer seemed to care what other people would think of him. The tears flooded, the nose streamed, the mouth drooled, the body heaved in great sobs. It was disgusting. No son should ever feel disgusted by his father.

“Dad! Wipe your face. Duangkamol will see you. She’ll think you’re mad!”

I urged my father across the hotel lobby towards the lift. Please let it come soon, and be empty!

In the lift, I handed my father my handkerchief.

“Here, clean yourself up. This is my betrothal, for goodness sake.”

I kept my finger on the button to keep the doors closed until he was presentable, then I pushed him onwards until he was safely out of sight in our suite.

“Now, pull yourself together. You must be over this by eight o’clock, ready for the banquet.” He nodded, then his eyes filled again and he curled into a ball on the bed, sobbing as though his heart was broken.

I headed for the bar. I needed a whisky.

“Somchair!”

I turned.

“Aunt Lamai! It’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you, too!” She gave me a beaming smile, and held out her arms for a hug. I embraced her heartily, engulfed by the brightly patterned silk of her clothing.

“I’m sorry, I need a drink, Auntie. Would you like to join me? I’m going to the bar.”

After a glance at me, she said, “I would love a glass of iced tea, Somchair. Is the bar the best place for that? I’m not used to luxury like this hotel.”

“I don’t know about the best place, Auntie, but they’ll certainly serve it, and I’m afraid I need something stronger.”

I made her comfortable in a corner, and ordered the iced tea and a double scotch.

“Nerves?”

I shook my head.

“Well you don’t have to tell me, of course.”

Aunt Lamai looked disappointed. I loved my aunt. After my mum died, she’d given me the same love she’d given her own children. I felt like her child.

“It’s Dad. We’d just finished a rehearsal for tomorrow’s ceremony when he broke down. I mean, totally broke down. I had to rush him back to the suite.”

Aunt Lamai thought for a moment. “Could you see the sea?” she asked.

I was surprised by her question.

“Yes, we could. Why do you ask?”

“Well, this is where it happened, isn’t it, Somchair? Have you forgotten the wave?”

It had all been so quick. One moment I had been happily playing at the water’s edge, the next Dad had seized me, picked me up. He was yelling, “Achara! Run! Run!”

I remembered my mother’s face, stiff with shock, staring out to sea. With a last despairing shout of “Run, Achara!” my father had started to race shorewards.

The wave struck.

My memory thereafter is of a wild, brown confusion, of being now under the water, now on my father’s chest as he held me above him; of pain, as the water scrubbed me against obstacles; and, finally, of darkness that ended with agonising retching as I coughed brine and mud out of my lungs and came back into the light.

And then the blankness of learning that Achara, my beloved mama, was dead.

“Why do you think your Dad never remarried, Somchair?” asked Lamai, softly.

“I should never have come here again. I should have guessed.”

Lamai shook her head.

“No. You were right to come. These are your roots, yours and Duangkamol’s too. You were born here, and you were reborn here when your father saved you.”

“What do I do, Lamai? How can I help him? What a burden he must have carried!”

“I always wished he’d married again. Achara and I were very close. After she had died, I could feel her longing for him to find someone else. But Narong is a strong man. He once said to me, ‘I saved my dear son, but I should have been able to save them both. I left her to die.’”

Lamai sighed.

“Go and talk to him, Somchair. No, go and listen to him. Make him tell you what it has been like. Help him to feel he hasn’t failed. Help him to lay her to rest.”

She patted my hand. “I must join my family. Thank you for the drink.”

Her smile was as soft as goosedown, her eyes filled with a wistful hope.

My father rarely drank, but when he did it was cognac that he chose. I bought a large one, and went up to our suite. Narong was lying on the bed, rigid, eyes staring at the ceiling.

“Dad. Dad!”

Slowly he turned his face to me.

“I’ve brought you a cognac. Would you like to sit up?”

I thought he wasn’t going to answer. He looked at me, wooden-faced. At last he cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You are a good son, and I shamed you.”

“Here, let me help you up.”

He glared at me and sat up, then rose to his feet and moved towards the balcony. I followed, shaking with agitation. My father opened the door and stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the sea. He walked to the rail. I stood beside him. Together we gazed at the ilne where sky and water met. I saw beauty; but what nightmares was my father confronting?

“I couldn’t save you both,” he said at last. “I don’t really know if I saved you. It was sheer dumb luck that we weren’t washed against concrete, or…” He stopped, swallowed. “Or a tree. I never told you. That was how your mother…” he paused again, “how Achara, my beloved Achara, died. She had escaped drowning, only to be broken against a tree.”

There was a depth of sorrow in his eyes that I had never noticed before; I had seen only the fierceness of the thin, straight mouth in his domineering face; and yet, now that I had perceived the sorrow, I knew it had always been there.

I put my arm around him. He stiffened, but then relaxed.

“I cursed that tree, Somchair. I cursed the sea. I cursed this town. They took my beloved from me, and I hated them all. But here they are; and I have been the one living under a curse.

Achara is at peace now, Somchair. I am at peace. Will you come with me to her grave? We will take flowers, lotus, her favourite.”

For a few minutes longer we gazed into the infinite. I poured out the cognac as an offering; to whom I could not say, but it seemed right; and my father and I left arm in arm to find flowers.

 

Thai names, and their meanings

Lamai – a woman of soft skin, a caring person

Narong – one who creates war, or is always ready for war

Somchair – one who is macho or manly

Duangkamol – right from the heart

Achara – an angel, who is very pretty or beautiful

Khao Lak – a small town devastated by the tsunami in 2004. Somchair is 21, nearly 22, so he was 9 at the time.