Friday Fictioneers – A room upstairs

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 - A room upstairs 180227

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

A room upstairs

Hank ran his boxing gym with tight discipline. His coach had been a successful professional. His volunteers were all trained in safeguarding; he wanted no scandal. The club was a happy place, “an asset to our town, and a great place for our kids to learn values,” as the mayor put it.

Few people knew, and nobody cared, that Hank kept a room upstairs where he occasionally entertained a young woman. She was never one of the townsfolk. After a while, nobody even noticed the comings and goings.

Nobody cared.

Until the police came.

It was too late by then.

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The Greater Good – long version

The Greater Good – long version

Sometimes I find that a flash fiction prompt leads me to a story that needs to be expanded. This is one of those occasions. Including the notes, this story weighs in at about 1000 words.

Notes

In 1968, the communist regime in Czechoslovakia was steadily liberalising. The leaders of the Soviet Union saw this as a serious threat and on 21 August 1968 200,000 troops, mostly Russian, invaded Czechoslovakia.

There was considerable non-violent resistance. On 16 January 1969 Jan Palach went to Wenceslas Square and burned himself alive in protest at the Soviet occupation. On 25 February 1969 Jan Zajic did likewise. It is believed that there were others whose deaths were concealed by the Soviet authorities.

It is likely that Jan Palach’s sacrifice was a catalyst contributing to the eventual fall of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989.

WPS - The Greater Good long version jan-palach 180226

Photo is of the Jan Palach memorial in Wenceslas Square, Prague, courtesy of Pixabay

The Greater Good – long version

April 1969, Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

The audience arrived in ones and twos at the Restaurace u Tomáše, as though they were merely passing a casual Friday evening. They bought coffee or beer and slipped discreetly into the back room, a room whose wooden panels were stained with nicotine.

You never knew who was watching, who was taking notes.

Andrej knew everyone in the smoke-filled room and shook hands with each as he led his lover Irena to the last vacant seat.

The speaker for the evening mounted an improvised rostrum. He spoke of Russian aggression, the dismissal of academics and the imprisonment of those who protested. He spoke of torture. His audience started to murmur. Then the speaker pulled out a pistol. He held it high.

“This is what the Russians will listen to! When we, the Czech people, take up arms, we will never be defeated! The free peoples of the world will march to stand with us.”

There was a growl of approval. The speaker placed his forefinger on his lips. “Ssshh! Who knows who is listening?” He allowed indignation to flood his face. “Should we Czechs have to creep and hide in terror for being patriots? I say – NEVER! Who is with me?”

Irena held tightly on to Andrej’s hand as a dozen young men scrambled forward to pledge themselves to the armed struggle.

“No, Andrej, no! He’s wrong! Fighting them won’t work.” She grasped him roughly by his jacket, and stared earnestly into his face. “Jan Palach knew killing Russians was no good. That’s why he burned himself in Wenceslas Square. I beg you, don’t dishonour the beacon of hope he gave us.”

“Irena, dearest. I must join the struggle.”

“Andrej! No! You mustn’t kill!”

“How can I do otherwise? I‘m not a coward.”

They stared at each other. Andrej made a move to shake off Irena’s grasp, but she held firm.

“If you take up arms, I shall follow Jan Palach.”

Andrej froze.

“No!” His horror rapidly changed to anger. “That’s emotional blackmail!”

“I am not a coward either, Andrej.”

Slowly she unwound her fingers from his jacket. He stood still, looking intently at her. For fully thirty heartbeats they were motionless, then Andrej turned and walked to the rostrum.

Irena crossed herself. “Mary, Mother of God, guide me,” she murmured.

A match flared as the man in front of her lit a cigarette, and Irena’s face went ashen.

*       *       *

The next week was busy for both of them. They both had preparations to make.

They saw each other, of course; they were, after all, lovers. They fought over the choices they’d made at the meeting. Bitter words were spoken. Eventually they talked no longer of what was to come, only of their shared past, hugging the twilight of memory since the dawn of the future was denied them.

Irena spent many hours with her mother.

“You seem sad, kočička.”

“I’m alright, mami.” Irena tried to smile, but only succeeded in looking sadder. Her mother raised an eyebrow. Irena sighed.

“I missed a period; well, two actually.”

Irena’s mother laid a sympathetic hand on her daughter’s shoulder. She’d heard Irena retching in the morning for several days now.

“Things have been difficult with Andrej, haven’t they?”

Irena nodded, and a tear trickled down her left cheek.

“I’m so afraid for him, mami.”

Her mother was silent for a few seconds; she had guessed something of Andrej’s purpose. Then she said, “Sometimes men have to fight, Irena. Your dad fought the Germans before you were born. And I’m glad he did; he was a hero.”

“But this is different, mami.”

Irena’s mother resumed her work in the kitchen.

“We’ll take you to the doctor this afternoon and make sure everything’s going well. In the meantime, you could peel some potatoes rather than moping.”

*       *       *

The doorbell rang while Andrej was squashing the last of his kit into a rucksack. He wanted everything as ready as possible for his departure next day.

“Andrej! Irena’s here!” His mother’s voice held a sharp note of concern. Andrej ran down the stairs.

Irena stood pasty-faced and swaying in the dimly lit hall. Andrej moved to embrace her but she edged away.

A great fear swept through Andrej.

“No! You mustn’t do it!”

Irena shook her head.

“No, it’s not that. I’ve just come from the doctor.”

She swallowed hard.

“I’m carrying your child.”

Andrej reeled.

“What?”

“I’m pregnant. The baby’s yours.”

Andrej crossed himself. He sat down abruptly on the stairs.

“I’m sorry, Andrej. Now I know about the baby, I can’t – do what I said I would. Can you forgive me for being weak?”

“Forgive you? There’s nothing to forgive. Of course you must put our child first.”

“Andrej? If you think it’s right, you must fight.”

“Do you think I should put the baby first?”

“I know you’re not a coward, Andrej.” She slipped her hand into his.

“Oh, God, I love you so much, Irena. I hated the idea of leaving you. I won’t leave my child without a father.”

“We’ll still protest, Andrej?”

“Yes, but without violence.”

They kissed gently. The first smile for days blossomed on Irena’s face.

“Shall we go and tell my mother?” asked Andrej, beaming.

What Pegman Saw – The Greater Good

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using 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. This week’s prompt is Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic.

This story refers to events and a person who may not be known to many of you. The story will make more sense if you read the notes first!

Notes

In 1968, the communist regime in Czechoslovakia was steadily liberalising. The leaders of the Soviet Union saw this as a serious threat and on 21 August 1968 200,000 troops, mostly Russian, invaded Czechoslovakia.

There was considerable non-violent resistance. On 16 January 1969 Jan Palach went to Wenceslas Square and burned himself alive in protest at the Soviet occupation. On 25 February 1969 Jan Zajic did likewise. It is believed that there were others whose deaths were concealed by the Soviet authorities.

It is likely that Jan Palach’s sacrifice was a catalyst contributing to the eventual fall of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989.

WPS - The greater good 180224

The Greater Good

Andrej knew everyone in the smoke-filled room. Irena, his lover, twisted her handkerchief into knots as speaker after speaker called them to fight the Russian invaders.

“Irena, dearest, I must join them.”

“Andrej! No! You mustn’t kill!”

“How can I do otherwise? I‘m not a coward.”

“Then I shall follow Jan Palach.”

Andrej froze.

“No!” His horror rapidly changed to anger. “That’s emotional blackmail!”

“I am not a coward either, Andrej.”

*       *       *

Andrej was packing when the doorbell rang. Irena stood, ashen-faced, on the doorstep.

“What’s happened?”

“I’m carrying your child.”

Andrej reeled.

“What?”

“I’m pregnant. The baby’s yours. I can’t – do what I said I would.”

Andrej crossed himself, then softly took Irena’s hands.

“You will need me as he grows up. I shan’t leave you.”

“We can still protest, Andrej?”

“Yes, but without violence.”

They kissed gently, then Andrej said, beaming, “Let’s go and tell my parents!”

Friday Fictioneers – In Memoriam – Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

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. This week’s prompt was a beautiful photograph, but it took me to a place of sadness. No matter how hard I tried to go elsewhere, this was the story that I had to write.

FF - In Memoriam 180221

PHOTO PROMPT © Marie Gail Stratford

In Memoriam – Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

The gardeners worked hard. They mulched the soil, banished pests, fought diseases and pruned; pruned so gently and so carefully, shaping the rose bushes to produce beautiful and healthy flowers.

Fourteen bushes stood in an oval bed surrounded by immaculate lawn. The blooms were red, orange, pink, and yellow, teasing the eye with vibrant potential. Their sweet perfume delighted.

What was in the young man’s mind? Pain begets pain – but he knew what he was doing. He stripped those blooms, slew the gardeners, with a hail of lead.

He ended their potential.

Rest in peace, beautiful blooms and faithful gardeners.

Behind closed doors

This story is about 1600 words long, and will take about ten minutes to read.

Behind closed doors

Making a break for it 180220

Milly enjoyed housework, even ironing. She especially liked cooking. It was how she nurtured her husband and her daughter. The thought that she was providing what they needed was almost as good as the cuddles that she longed for so much. Still, she was luckier than some of the women she used to know, who were divorced, or never married. No man to take care of them. She looked at her rings: the engagement ring with its large sapphire set between two diamonds – “Each diamond is a whole carat,” Gideon had boasted, “You’re a lucky woman” – and the thick band of twenty-two carat gold that was her wedding ring.

She polished the dining table first, so that Gideon wouldn’t notice the smell of lavender and beeswax at dinner; he was fussy about that. She gazed at the mirror finish with satisfaction. Even Gideon would struggle to find fault, she thought.

Before going into the lounge to dust it, she trotted upstairs, and rummaged in the chest where she kept spare pillows. There, at the bottom, was a photograph of Abigail in last year’s school play. Milly’s breath came fast, and her face flushed as she took the photo into the living room.

She hesitated a moment at the door, looking at the picture currently in pride of place at the centre of the mantelpiece. It was a professional portrait of Gideon standing very tall between Abigail and Milly. She slid it to one side, and set the battered frame holding Abigail’s picture in its place. It would have to be hidden away again before Gideon returned, of course.

Over her bread and cheese lunch, she pulled out a much-folded letter from the school, an invitation for Abigail to visit Italy in the summer. They planned to rehearse a play for performance in Milan. Milly looked again at how much it would cost.

“£750,” she murmured.

She had no idea how much Gideon earned, but she thought they could probably afford to send Abi. So why had Gideon been so much against the trip?

Milly had quaked when she had rung the school and made an appointment for a meeting with the Head of Drama. She had known Gideon wouldn’t be happy.

He hadn’t been.

“You stupid woman. Of course she can’t go. She’s far too young. That teacher probably wants to take advantage of her when she’s vulnerable, and we won’t be able to do anything to stop him.”

Greatly daring, she had ventured, “Is that really likely, dear?”

Gideon’s eyes had narrowed.

“I hope you’re not questioning my judgement, Milly. You know where that leads.”

He frowned.

“We’ll have to go, of course, now you’ve made the appointment. It would be discourteous if we didn’t. But you must tell him that we’re concerned that she’s too young, and we’ve decided that she would be better not going.”

“The Head of Drama’s a lady teacher, dear.”

Gideon raised his hand. Milly flinched.

“Just do as you’re told. And try not to get tongue-tied. I know you’re not the sharpest knife in the box, but there’s no need to show us both up.”

As Milly turned the school’s letter over and over, she thought carefully about what she would say. Gideon was right; she did stumble over her words; she got all worried and flustered, and somehow what she wanted to say just wouldn’t come out. She blushed as she remembered one occasion when all she’d been able to manage was “Er…er…er.” How scathing Gideon had been! This time, she had to be clear – for Abi’s sake if not for her own.

She was thinking about Abi and the meeting all afternoon, as she washed clothes, scrubbed floors and prepared dinner. She didn’t forget to remove Abi’s photo and hide it, but before returning it to its place in the chest she kissed it and hugged it to her bosom.

“Whatever’s best for you, my darling,” she whispered, “no matter what.”

The Head of Drama was tall. Her hair was dark and cut long, with a fringe. Mid-thirties, she looked somehow anachronistic, a hippy from the sixties perhaps.

“Good evening, Mr and Mrs Sharpe. I’m Cathy Thomson, the Head of Drama. I’m glad you were able to come in to talk about Abigail. She’s so very talented! I hope she’ll be able to come on the trip – it would be so good for her.” She looked from Gideon to Milly and back again.

Milly cleared her throat. “We, that is, I, um.” She slithered to a halt, clenched her fists, and tried again.

“Could you tell us a little more about the trip, please?”

Gideon looked at Milly with hard eyes.

Cathy was only too happy to share details of the trip; it was her initiative, and she felt that Abi would benefit enormously.

“What are you…are you doing…to make sure the children are safe?”

Gideon gave a tiny nod of approval. A few more minutes, and he could draw matters to a close. The teacher would know that Abi’s absence from the course was down to her parents’ natural concern for her welfare.

Cathy carefully explained the safeguarding procedures.

“Well, that sounds fine,” said Milly. Somehow the words came out clear and positive. “I think Abigail should go, don’t you dear?”

Gideon jerked in his seat, and glowered at Milly.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he began.

“It’s not as if we can’t afford it, after all. And the safeguarding sounds fine to me.”

“You’ve no idea what you’re talking about!”

Gideon turned to Cathy.

“I’m sorry. I’m afraid Milly has let herself be carried away. We won’t be allowing Abigail on the trip. That’s settled. I’m sorry.”

Cathy stared at him, and then turned to Milly.

“Is everything alright, Mrs Sharpe?”

“Yes, yes. F…fine.” Her lower lip trembled, but she held her head high.

There was silence in the car on the way home.

Later that night, when Abigail was sound asleep, Gideon thrashed Milly. Tight-lipped with fury he struck her over and over again. Desperately she fought to stay silent. This time she was in the right; Abi should go on the trip. She wasn’t going to cry out, or beg. She bit the pillow. Her fingers clawed at the bed covers.

“Don’t you ever disobey me like that again!” snarled Gideon, eventually. He slammed the door of the spare bedroom behind him.

Eventually, stifling a groan, Milly pushed herself up from the bed. She turned on the light on the bedside table, and looked at herself. Her clothes were bloody; they’d have to be soaked straight away or they’d stain. She stripped, took them into the en-suite bathroom and dumped them in cold water. She sponged herself with warm water. It stung.

Reaction had set in. She was shaking. She swallowed two paracetamol tablets and huddled under the duvet.

She woke early next morning, and crept down to the kitchen in her dressing gown. She made a cup of tea and took it up to Gideon.

“Don’t let Abigail see you like that,” was all he said. Her wounds stung as though with acid as he watched her dress.

She cooked him breakfast, and sat with him while he ate it, and then, by seven o’clock, he had left the house.

Milly sat at the kitchen table. She felt exhausted. The door creaked.

“Mum, can I have a cup of tea, please?”

Milly stood up. Her legs buckled, and she sat down with a bump.

“Are you alright, Mum?”

As Milly slumped back in the chair, Abigail ran over to her.

“Mum!”

Milly opened her eyes with difficulty. “I’m alright, love. Just a bit under the weather.”

“I’ll make us both that cup of tea shall I, Mum?”

Abigail put a mug of tea in front of Milly. It was the mug with a picture of a giraffe on it; her favourite. She smiled, and took a sip. A few more sips and she was starting to feel stronger.

Suddenly, Abigail said, “There’s dark red marks on your blouse, Mum. What are they?” Then she leaned forward and pulled up Milly’s sleeve. There was a gash and a long purple-black bruise right up her forearm. Abigail looked up at her mother, concern and horror mixed on her face.

Milly looked back, half defiant, half relieved.

“Your dad didn’t like what I said at the school last night.”

“What?”

“Your dad hit me last night.”

“No. He can’t have! I mean, he’s Dad, he doesn’t hit people.”

Milly pointed to the bruise on her arm.

“He did that, and more on my back.”

Abigail gazed in silence at Milly. Great tears welled up.

“That’s awful!”

Milly held her close and let her weep for several minutes. Then Abigail pulled away.

“What are we going to do, Mum?”

“What can we do, dearest? This is just how things are. It’s not like this most of the time.”

“Well, I don’t think we should stay here. He shouldn’t hurt you like that.”

They stared at each. Slowly resolution crystallised between them.

“I want you to go to the same school.”

“Mum, I don’t need to if we have to go far away so he…” Abigail stumbled over the words, but pressed on, “so he can’t find us.”

“We could go and stay with my brother for a few days.”

Abigail nodded.

“Good idea. And we’ll go to the police.”

“The police?”

“Yes. Look what he’s done to you. That must be against the law.”

“Well, I suppose so, but he’s your dad, Abigail.”

“He shouldn’t have hurt you like that. It’s alright, Mum, I’ll come with you and give you moral support.”

Milly looked at her left hand. She pulled off her rings and looked at Abigail. Abigail looked back. Tentatively, tremulously, they smiled at each other, the first smiles of their new life of freedom.

“I shall sell the engagement ring,” declared Milly.

 

 

 

 

What Pegman Saw – A change of perspective

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. This week’s prompt is the Palisade Rim/Ute Petroglyph trail in Colorado. This is the same story as I originally posted but with crucial details changed that will, I hope, change the balance of sympathy between the two characters.

WPS - The end of an adventure 180217

A change of perspective

Alan blew smoke towards the end of the bed.

“Why do you always do that?” pouted Ruth. “I like to smell you, not cigarettes.”

Alan shrugged.

“Dunno. Habit? Anyway, it’s time we moved. We’re visiting the Ute petroglyphs today.”

He wanted a lie-in, but Ruth had been keen to see the rock paintings. He rolled out of bed.

Ruth parked at the trailhead and demanded water. She popped a couple of Tylenol. “Bloody period’s started,” she moaned.

“It won’t kill you. Let’s hit the trail!”

As they saw the view, Alan grinned. “Glad you came now?”

Ruth stumbled.

“Ow-ow-ow! Turned my ankle!”

Alan looked at her with concern; he knew she hated seeming weak. “Do you want to wait here, while I finish the hike?”

Ruth nodded.

Later she called his phone.

“The petroglyphs are fantastic! I’ll be a bit longer…”

“I’m going back to the car. Hurry – or you’re hitching!”

What Pegman Saw – The end of an adventure

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using 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. This week’s prompt is the Palisade Rim/Ute Petroglyph trail in Colorado.

WPS - The end of an adventure 180217

The end of an adventure

Alan blew smoke towards the end of the bed.

“Why do you always do that?” Ruth snuggled more closely against his midriff. “I like to smell you, not cigarettes.”

Alan shrugged.

“Dunno. Habit?” He scratched. “Anyway, it’s time we moved. We’re visiting the Ute petroglyphs today.”

He rolled out of bed and pulled on his pants.

It was hot as Ruth parked at the trailhead.

“Give me the water, will you?” She popped a couple of Tylenol. “Bloody period’s started.”

“It won’t kill you. Let’s hit the trail!”

The views from the trail were spectacular. Alan grinned. “Glad you came now?”

Ruth stumbled.

“Ow-ow-ow! Turned my ankle!”

“Do you want to wait here, while I finish the hike?”

Ruth nodded.

An hour later she called his phone.

“The petroglyphs are fantastic! I’ll be a bit longer…”

Ruth cut across him.

“I’m going back to the car. Hurry – or you’re hitching!”