What Pegman Saw – The rains have come

“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 Gurara Waterfalls, Nigeria.

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Gurara Waterfalls © Samson Rohan Google Maps

The rains have come

When the storm clouds mass, when the rains come, the river rises. The pure, clear water that chuckles between the rocks becomes a milky brown torrent, sweeping boulders out of its path.

It’s been twelve months since terrorists snatched our daughters. The government has done nothing. We have waited long enough.

“Come, Numilekunoluwa! We must arm the villages. We must find our children and bring them back before it is too late!”

“There are many terrorists. We wouldn’t stand a chance.”

“There are many? We could be more! We must at least try.”

And Numilekunoluwa spoke to Abidugun, and Abidugun spoke to Mobo, and Mobo went to the next village and spoke to them.

And the villages armed themselves, for defence, and to seek for our girls.

Two hundred of us are going into the forest tomorrow.

The storm clouds have massed. The rains have come. The river is rising.

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Friday Fictioneers – Times Change

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 - Times change 180328

PHOTO PROMPT © Fatima Fakier Deria

Times change

Gladys Carpenter, proprietor of “The Copper Kettle”, reserved the table under the tree for her best customers.

For twenty summers, every Friday afternoon from 3 o’clock, the vicar’s wife, the librarian, the doctor’s wife, the dentist’s mistress, and Chloe Butt occupied the table and sipped tea, nibbled cake.

Until one Friday at 2:30 two limousines pulled up, and six elegant passengers disembarked.

“We’ll have that table,” declared Lady Antonia, pointing at the tree.

Chloe Butt was furious. She never came back.

Shortly afterwards, Gladys sold the café.

Nowadays coach parties scoff burgers there, and gleeful children shriek under the tree.

Maureen

This short story started life as a writing exercise – those of you who have read Stephen King’s “On Writing; a memoir of the craft” may recognise it. It’s a little over 4,000 words long, and takes 10 – 15 minutes to read. It’s pretty dark, so if dark isn’t your thing, look away now!

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Maureen

Rob sipped bourbon as he sat in the bar revising his quarterly sales report. Every so often he was distracted by shrieks of laughter from across the room and he glanced over. ‘Girls’ night out,” he murmured to himself.

One girl in particular, a quiet girl, caught his attention. She had placed herself in the corner, under a light fitting. She smiled rather than laughed, and she was attractive rather than beautiful. Her sleek brown hair shone; her blue eyes sparkled like sapphires displayed in a jeweller’s window.

Rob was packing up his laptop as the girls started to leave. The quiet girl went to the bar. Rob saw the barman frown and ask her something. She responded merrily, and the barman served her a measure of spirits, but the frown didn’t leave his face.

Rob went to the bar, ordered bourbon. He jerked his head in the direction of the quiet girl. The barman shrugged.

“That’s her last. She’s had enough. Don’t want her getting into trouble on the way home.”

Rob nodded. “Should I offer her a lift do you think, Sam?”

“Wouldn’t hurt. Takes a while to get a cab this time of night.”

“Ah, another night owl,” exclaimed the girl as Rob approached. He smiled.

“Not really. But I felt like some company. My name’s Rob, by the way, Rob Carter.”

“Nice to meet you, Rob.” She offered her hand. Her cheeks dimpled as she smiled. “I’m Maureen.”

They didn’t date often before Rob proposed marriage. Maureen had caught her man.

Rob’s family and friends were delighted.

When he told his mom, she squeezed his arm hard and her eyes moistened.

“She’ll take good care of you, I can tell. I’ve worried about you, Rob, trying to look after yourself all on your own in that house.”

“I don’t do that bad, Ma! Besides, I’m hardly expecting Maureen to have my slippers warming and my dinner on the table; it doesn’t work like that these days.”

His dad winked.

“Good looking girl you got, son. Well done!” He leered at Rob, took another six-pack out the fridge and handed a can to him. “Cheers!”

Maureen told her mother in the kitchen of their pokey apartment.

“He seems nice enough, I s’pose. So did your father when I married him. Ha! Men!” Her mouth hardened. “Move over, gal, I wanna mop that bit o’ floor.”

Maureen bit her lip. Dad had vanished when she was fourteen. Her mom had never explained where he’d gone, or why.

Rob and Maureen were happy during the first few months of their marriage. Rob enjoyed being cosseted; Maureen enjoyed their affluence. They went to plays and concerts, and they dined in good restaurants. Maureen always left the choice to Rob.

“I love going out with you,” she said once to Rob, “but these places are so different from anything I’m used to. Please – you choose for me. Look after me, Rob.” And she clung on his arm and looked at him with glowing eyes.

Rob liked to finish these evenings with love-making, but to his surprise it was anti-climactic. It wasn’t that Maureen was unwilling; far from it, she was eager and she tried hard. And Rob could tell that she was trying. If he held back for long enough, she would ‘climax’; she was faking.

Still, there’s more to marriage than four bare legs in a bed. Rob may have worked a little later in the evening; Maureen may have started drinking a little earlier in the day; but they would have said they were happy together.

It was shortly after their anniversary that they had their first real row.

“Why are you late?”

It had been a brutal day in the office. Rob had faced criticism from his boss and moaning from his subordinates.

“Why are you drunk?” he countered.

They had shouted. Half concealed resentments spilled out, and, as the quarrel escalated, disappointments became vocal.

“And you’re frigid!”

Everything went quiet.

Then Maureen picked up the bottle of wine with which she’d been entertaining herself, and lashed out.

Fortunately for Rob – and for Maureen, come to that – he was quick, and took the bottle on his shoulder rather than his temple.

What followed was technically rape, in that it was non-consensual.

Afterwards, they sat amid torn clothing, arms around each other, kissing, touching tenderly.

“You climaxed.”

Maureen shuddered.

“I did,” she said. Tears oozed from under bruised lids. “Do it again.”

They went to bed. Rob soon fell asleep. As Maureen lay on her back, listening to his breathing become regular and gentle, images of her father drifted into her mind. She shook as she remembered his whisky-breath, the way he punched and kicked her mother. She sought sanctuary in earlier memories. Holding his hand, sitting on his lap. She remembered his voice telling her stories. She slept.

Maureen couldn’t believe it when she missed a period. She didn’t know what she wanted to do. Should she use the ‘morning after’ pill, or welcome the child? She’d never thought of having children, and Rob had never said anything.

When Maureen missed a second period, she told Rob. He was thrilled. Within a fortnight the spare bedroom had been transformed by a design consultancy. The walls were delicate cream, with a frieze of animals. The carpet was soft green. The Moses basket was natural varnished wood, hanging from an elegant stand.

“I know you’ll want to breastfeed,” Rob said, “but I hope you’ll let me join in and bottle-feed sometimes. Perhaps we could share the night shift?”

“I’m not dead set on breastfeeding. Of course you can join in.”

Together they chose a chair for the nursery, a high-backed wooden chair with upholstered arms and seat, and they stood it in the corner, close to the cot. Rob imagined himself sitting there with the baby crooked in his arm, enjoying the closeness of this new life that he had helped to create.

“Should we be spending all this money on the house?” Maureen spoke sharply.

Rob raised an eyebrow.

“It’s not a problem, you know. This quarter’s bonus will cover it.”

“Will we still be able to afford the Bahamas in May? You know how much I want to go.”

Rob did some rapid mental arithmetic.

“Don’t worry, Maureen. Your vacation’s safe!”

“It had better be.”

After dinner, Rob retired to his study. Perhaps he should get out his trade directories and look for some new prospects?

As the weeks passed, Maureen’s moods swung wildly between tenderness and violence. At home Rob spoke less often, for fear of saying the wrong thing and prompting an outburst. At work, though, the prospect of becoming a father had energised him. He’d identified several possible large accounts and was chasing them enthusiastically.

“I’m going to be late this evening, darling,” he said to Maureen. “That company – Harrisons, you know, the one I told you about?”

“Mm-hm?”

“I’m entertaining their Purchasing VP to dinner.”

Maureen had thinned her lips.

“What’s his name?”

“The VP’s a woman, darling. I told you, remember? Jenny Lightfoot. She’s fifty, with a cast-iron permanent wave and she uses her handbag like an offensive weapon.” He chuckled. Maureen did not.

Jenny had proved to have a formidable head for bourbon, but by eleven o’clock the deal was done. A contract for a full year with an option on two more years, a total of three million bucks. Rob was humming as he climbed into the cab.

The lights were off in his house.

“Better be quiet,” he muttered, even as he wondered whether Maureen would be awake. He would love to tell her the good news. A deal like this would enable them to travel somewhere really exciting once the baby was a little older. He fumbled cheerfully with the key and stumbled inside.

He didn’t know it was a rolling pin that hit him, just that it hurt. He lunged forwards, taking two more blows, the second and more painful on his collarbone.

“You bastard! I can smell her perfume on you. You low-life scum, you’re no better than the rest of them!”

He struggled with her, trying not to hurt their unborn child, and eventually pulled the rolling pin from her.

“It’s bourbon you can smell, you stupid bitch.”

The slap to his cheek made him cry out and clutch his face.

“Never, ever call me that again!”

He slumped against the wall, struggling to clear the whisky fog, listening to her footsteps steadily climbing the stairs. He felt too exhausted to follow. The bedroom door slammed. After a while, carefully and quietly he went to the nursery and sat in the new chair.

What the hell was he going to do?

Next day, Maureen refused to discuss the fight. She talked brightly through breakfast. Rob would have wondered whether he’d dreamed it, if it weren’t for the large bruises on his arms and collarbone, and the gash on his cheek from Maureen’s ring.

For the next few months, until the baby was born, Rob was extremely careful. He scheduled no evening meetings, and he showed Maureen the email from his boss that confirmed the dates when he would be away for the sales conference. Indeed, he gave her details of the hotel so she could ring them and check that he was there, and not with another woman.

And when their daughter was born, Rob suggested they named her Irene. He didn’t care whether Maureen got the point or not.

Perhaps she did. At all events, there were no more fights for a few months. There was no more sex, either.

Irene was four months old when Rob met Charlene. It was just a physical thing. No commitment either way. The relief was tremendous.

They took to meeting once a week, on Tuesday afternoons, in a hotel. It was fun. Rob didn’t dare imagine the consequences if Charlene ever demanded more than fun; or if Maureen were to find out.

But Maureen didn’t feel any need for proof. Suspicion was justification. One Tuesday Rob came back cheerful and relaxed.

“Did you pick up those holiday brochures? We might plan our European trip tonight if you like. It’s going to be a great bonus this quarter!”

“No. Sorry. I’ll look on line – there’s more choice there anyway.” She wandered across to him. “What’s that odd sweet smell?”

“I can’t smell anything. Perhaps it’s the chemical plant I went to this morning?” Rob was surprised Maureen could smell anything above the eau de parfum that she always wore.

Maureen wrinkled her nose but said no more while Rob prepared a bottle of formula for Irene. As he sat down, cradling Irene in the crook of his left arm, and offering her the bottle with his right, Maureen said, “You’ve been with another woman, haven’t you?”

Without waiting for an answer, she picked up a half-full bottle of wine, stamped across the room and swung it viciously at Rob’s head. It caught him a glancing blow, stunning him briefly. Irene released the teat from her mouth and wailed. Panic-stricken, Rob looked around for somewhere he could safely place her.

As Rob tried to stand, Maureen hit him on the left shin. The bottle broke. The pain was intense, disabling. Rob cradled Irene in his lap and curled his body over her. He cringed at the thought that the next blow would be to his head, and then Irene would be defenceless.

“Look at you!” exclaimed Maureen. “You’re pathetic!” She slammed the jagged end of the broken bottle hard onto Rob’s right hand, and left him to whimper, to look after himself and Irene as best he could.

The next day, limping and with his hand bandaged, he consulted a lawyer.

“Hm. You want a divorce with custody of the child. That’s not common, you know. Has your wife been unfaithful?”

“No. At least I don’t think so.”

“Have you been unfaithful to her?”

Rob coloured and kept silent. The lawyer shook his head.

“You’d have a mountain to climb, an absolute mountain. We could try, but it would be very expensive and the chance of success – what, one percent maybe?”

As Rob left the office, the lawyer tutted to himself. ‘You meet some selfish bastards,’ he thought. ‘Wants to have his floozy and keep the baby too. I don’t know.’

Rob was frightened as he opened his front door that evening, but Maureen greeted him tenderly. She took his coat, poured him a bourbon, gave him a quarter hour to relax, and then suggested he might enjoy feeding Irene.

Irene was in her sweetest mood. After drinking half the bottle of formula, she was much more interested in playing. She reached out her little arms to Rob and smiled and dribbled and blew milky bubbles.

Maureen came and stood behind Rob. He tensed, expecting a blow, but Maureen massaged his neck.

At last she said, “I’m sorry about yesterday. It won’t happen again.”

Of course, she wasn’t telling the truth.

Of course, Rob believed her.

He and Charlene continued to meet for sex on Tuesdays but it was becoming less frenetic. Increasingly there was gentleness, even tenderness. One afternoon, as Rob left the bed to get dressed, Charlene said “Would you mind talking for a bit? I know you’ve got to get back to work; I won’t take long. Promise!”

Rob smiled at her and climbed back into bed.

“I can’t help noticing the bruises – and sometimes the cuts – on your body, Rob. I know you don’t play sports, so what’s going on?”

Rob’s pulse beat loudly in his ears. He felt chilled. He sat silent.

“I don’t want to hurt you, Rob. I want to help you.”

“You can’t. Nobody can.” Tears squeezed from Rob’s eyes, and he started to sob. Charlene gentled him.

“It’s alright to cry, Rob. It’s okay, everything’s okay. You can tell me.”

So he did. He told her everything, and she was okay with that. There was no horror, no emotional storm – no violence – just calm, lucid acceptance. And when he’d finished he wept again, this time for relief.

It took twelve difficult months for the divorce to come through. Rob found it almost impossible to testify about Maureen’s violence, but Charlene and the lawyer made it clear that he had no choice. If he didn’t testify, he would not get custody of Irene. He testified.

Maureen denied it. Perhaps she was too shrill, or perhaps Charlene’s testimony about the injuries on Rob’s body swung it, but he was awarded custody.

For the first time in a year, Rob entered his own house. Maureen had packed. Irene sat in her pushchair in the hall.

“I’ll give you one last chance,” said Maureen. “You let me stay, and I’ll say no more about all this.”

Rob gestured at the door.

“Get out of my house.”

“You’ll regret this.” She hissed the words, then spat at him. Irene started to cry.

An old black pick-up juddered round the corner, Maureen’s mother at the wheel. Stony-faced, she climbed out. She was holding a shotgun, pointing it at Rob.

“I oughter blow your brains out, runnin’ out on my Maureen. And if you ever come near her again, that’s just what I’ll do.”

The two women threw suitcases into the trunk, and zigzagged away in the pick-up.

The letters started soon afterwards.

The first was a single word.

“Adulterer”

Rob gazed at it. Should he do anything about it? Was there, indeed, anything he could do about it? After a momentary hesitation, he screwed it up and threw it in the bin.

“Wife-beater,” said the next, and, “Child-stealer” the third.

The fourth read “You’ll burn”. Rob frowned as he pulled out the accompanying newspaper cutting. It was a photograph of a recent fatal fire. He took it to the police. They weren’t helpful. Rob pulled strings in City Hall, and the police ‘investigated’ which is to say they dusted the fourth letter for prints. There were none. Surprise, surprise, the sender had worn gloves.

Perhaps the police were right not to be concerned because there were no more letters.

“Is something the matter, Rob?” asked Charlene, as they enjoyed spring sunshine in Central Park one Saturday afternoon.

“No. That is, did you notice that woman over by Bow Bridge?”

“The one in the head-scarf? Can’t say I did. Do you know her?”

“No.” He pulled a face. “Did you think she was a bit like Maureen?”

“Same height and build, I suppose, but she was a much older woman, Rob.” She slipped her arm in his. “That’s all over, Rob. You’re free now. You can focus on your lovely little girl, and I shall stand by you for as long as you want me.”

“I think I want you beside me forever,” said Rob.

“I don’t think you know that yet, Rob. There’s no rush.” She seemed about to kiss him, when Irene, in her buggy, blew a raspberry.

They laughed and strolled on, content.

Spring passed inexorably to the heat of summer. The day was breathless. Rob was collecting Irene from Seedlings Academic Playschool, fastening her into her car seat. He heard running feet approaching, just as he latched her harness, and then he felt a shattering pain in his hip.

Half in, half out of the car he fought to climb out, to slam the door, to protect Irene. Another blow struck the same leg as he made it outside. He scarcely recognised Maureen, snarling, malevolent, wielding a baseball bat. The next blow was aimed at his head. He flung himself sideways. The bat struck the car, denting the roof.

“I’m going to get you!” Maureen was gleeful. She twirled the bat like a drum major’s mace. Rob hobbled to place himself between Maureen and the car door. Maureen swung viciously, and the bat smashed into Rob’s chest. He dropped.

He couldn’t say how long the blackness lasted. Later he remembered a few seconds where the sound of a siren drowned his efforts to tell the paramedic about Irene in the car, before the blackness again.

He opened his eyes to sunlight. A monitor beeped rhythmically beside him. Saline solution dripped into a cannula in his wrist. His chest felt tight, but he realised he was breathing okay. His left leg felt numb. The door opened softly.

Charlene walked across to the bed and put her hand on his. “Thank God,” she said, and then “Irene’s okay, she’s fine.”  Rob did his best to smile as the blackness took him again.

In fact, the actual damage could have been worse. A half dozen broken ribs, a punctured lung and some dramatic bruising to his left leg was the extent of the injuries. He had been lucky. The security guard at the playschool had restrained Maureen, and the school’s administrator had re-started Rob’s heart before the paramedics arrived.

Rob was discharged from hospital five days later, two days after Maureen was committed to Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center. The news of her incarceration was a profound relief.

Irene had become very clingy after the attack on Rob; “Goodness knows how much she saw and understood,” said Rob to his mother. She shuddered.

“I nearly lost my boy. I always said Maureen was a nasty piece of work. I hope Irene doesn’t inherit her viciousness.”

“Of course she won’t, Mom. She’ll inherit your sweetness of nature through me.”

Rob’s mom smiled at him. “You must stay with us until you’re properly better.”

Gradually the pain of the injuries eased.

“You should get out and take some exercise, son.”

Rob felt his pulse skip a beat. He hadn’t been outside on his own since the attack. OK, so Maureen was under lock and key, but there was still her mom and that shotgun. He felt cowardly, but he couldn’t face it, not yet, not now. Perhaps if he weren’t on his own?

“How about you join me, Dad? Walk off some of that beer belly.”

Rob’s dad caught the hesitation, and the look of apprehension.

“Yeah! Great idea! Shall we do it straight away?”

Rob was pre-occupied throughout the walk. He felt as though somebody had tied a target on his back. He ached between his shoulder blades.

“Could we go back to the car now? I’m feeling tired. First time out; big day! But not much energy, I’m afraid.”

“Do it again tomorrow, son?”

“You gotta date, mate.”

As his dad drove them home, Rob kept looking in the door mirror. Was that Maureen’s mother’s old black pick-up he could see? It was lurching and weaving through the traffic. He flinched and stared straight ahead as it pulled level with them at some traffic lights. When the lights changed, the pick-up turned right.

Gradually the fear eased, but it didn’t disappear. Still, after a few more days he found he could go outside on his own.

Three weeks after the attack, he returned to work. “Just half-days for the first week,” instructed his boss, “and if you’re finding it too tough, take another week. We can’t afford to have you keel over. You’re the only person Harrisons are really happy to deal with.”

At noon he took a cab back to his house. As he put the key into the lock, he noticed that the door knocker was tarnished. “I’ll have a coffee then come and clean that,” he thought. He didn’t have the energy to tackle even such a small task without a sit-down first.

The house felt dirty; everything was covered with dust. He was going to have to find a cleaner. Maureen had organised that during their marriage. It was odd. Despite the divorce and the attack, she still felt present in the house. She’d arranged the pictures. She’d chosen the wallpaper for the living room. Rob sighed. Her touch was on everything. Perhaps he should just have the house deep-cleaned, the decoration refreshed and then sell it. Buy somewhere else. Start again with Charlene.

He picked up the bourbon, then put it down again, instead making a black coffee, and sitting down in front of the TV. He flicked channels and was just in time to catch the local news.

“Breaking news from the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center!” The journalist stood outside the secure hospital. “Fire broke out in the wing holding the most dangerous patients. Twelve appliances and eighty crew are fighting the blaze, and more are on their way. There is an unconfirmed report that some patients escaped in the confusion. The Center have refused to confirm or deny this report.”

A roiling plume of smoke could be seen in the background.

“The Center have, however, told us that the evacuation of staff and patients proceeded in an orderly fashion with only minor injuries. A further bulletin will be issued at one thirty this afternoon, and we will be covering that. In the meantime, it’s back to Arnold in the studio.”

Rob switched off the TV. His skin crawled. It wasn’t the pictures or the wallpaper. It wasn’t the evidence of her choices in the furniture. They weren’t what had made him feel she was present. It was her perfume. Subtle, understated, elegant. He could smell it. He could smell it right now. Surely it wouldn’t have clung to the furniture over a period of months?

But she was in Kirby Forensic. Unless the report was right, and she’d escaped.

No. That would be too unlikely. The TV company were probably misinformed. Besides, even if she’d escaped, how the hell would she have laid her hands on that perfume in the Center? Unless…

Had there been a bottle of it on her dressing table? He hadn’t been sleeping in the main bedroom since returning to his house after the divorce.

He thought, “I should go and look. Set my mind at rest” but he didn’t move. His legs felt drained of strength. He looked at the fire-irons; he could take the poker. And yet he didn’t move, he couldn’t move. His breathing came fast, his pulse raced. He was shaking too much to stand.

He heard footsteps, her footsteps steadily descending the stairs. Still he sat. He heard splashing. Maureen’s perfume became overlaid with the stench of gasoline.

Her footsteps were quiet on the living room carpet.

At last he moved. He sprang to his feet and turned towards her. She dripped gasoline from her sodden clothes. She splashed gasoline from the five gallon jerrycan she carried.

She put down the can, and she smiled at Rob.

“Time to burn, Rob,” she said.

The click of her lighter was the loudest noise Rob had ever heard.

 

 

 

 

 

What Pegman Saw – Winter Took Him

This is my second story for this week’s “What Pegman Saw”. I’m sorry if that’s greedy, but this story kept recurring in my thoughts until I was forced to go and write it!

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Winter took him

Fall was ending and there were few leaves on the trees, barely an echo of their fiery September glory. Robert entered the park on foot, his life on his back – camping gear, food, and a precious plastic container.

He bivouacked overnight. His nostrils prickled with the pungent smoke of the fire he lit for warmth, for company and for protection. He heard wolves howl as they welcomed the winter. Memories gnawed him.

Next day he walked one last time between the forest and the plain. He felt Jenny very close to him as he visited their special places. Then, as the day fled, he went to the foot of the cliff where she’d fallen. He took out the plastic container holding her ashes, scattered them and lay down. Beautiful flakes of snow began to fall, more and more heavily, a pure white blanket to comfort his grief.

Winter took him.

What Pegman Saw – A Wrong Turning

“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 Yellowstone Park.

WPS - A Wrong Turning 180324

A Wrong Turning

Dave opened the first monitoring point, which was wreathed in acrid steam from the ground.

“See, Chuck, just put the big steel key in the slot and turn clockwise until it clicks. There! Hear it?”

Chuck nodded.

“That’s reset the gauge. We do that every day; the magma’s moving and so is the ground.”

They picked their way between hot springs and geysers to a dozen gauges.

“You can do it yourself tomorrow, if you like.”

“Cool!”

Next day Chuck had reset the first gauge before he realised he’d forgotten both map and walkie-talkie.

Oh.

Which way to the next gauge? Right – or left?

“Dave, where’s Chuck?” Dave’s boss was anxious. “It’s two o’clock.”

“Shit. I’ll send the drone out to look.”

Chuck was relieved to hear Dave’s voice from the drone’s loudspeaker.

“Follow the drone.”

Chuck followed.

“This isn’t the laboratory!”

Dave chuckled.

“You’ve still got gauges to reset!”

Friday Fictioneers – Edge Play

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 - Edge Play 180321

PHOTO PROMPT © Björn Rudberg

Friday Fictioneers – Edge Play 180321

Katarina stopped at the ‘Keep out’ sign.

“What a shame!”

“Come on!” Nils laughed at her hesitation. “Is this the woman who abseiled down the Kista Science Tower?”

The rough track climbed steadily. A riffle of tiny pebbles trickled down the precipitous slope above them.

Nils felt surreptitiously in his pocket and concealed something in his right hand.

“Let’s sit for a moment.”

They sat side by side on the edge of the path, feet dangling over one thousand metres of clear air.

“I love you,” said Nils, opening his hand – and the sun woke fire from the diamond ring.

Pillars of the Community – back story

Last Wednesday I wrote a piece of flash fiction for Friday Fictioneers that I titled “Pillars of the Community”. People were kind enough to show an interest in what had happened to cause three very respectable women to keep a secret for fifty years, surrounding it with ritual and a dread oath. I promised to publish the back story – and here it is!

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Pillars of the Community – back story

Diane. Abigail. Susan.

They were inseparable.

When Diane was four, she had insisted on going to see Abigail and Susan to show them her Christmas present – on Christmas day – before lunch.

When Susan was five, she had demanded that Diane and Abigail should come on holiday with her family and had thrown multiple tantrums when this didn’t happen.

And Abigail always had to have the same things as Diane; if Diane had a pink hair-slide, then so must Abigail; if Diane read ‘Bunty’ then so must Abigail.

They all joined the Brownies on the same day. They moved up to the guides on the same day. They went to the same school, and when Diane had said “I want to do Ten Tors,” the other two had said “Great!” and “What a good idea!” even though Susan normally shunned strenuous activity, and Abigail was scared to death if she was ever alone outside after dark.

The training was tough. For their first outing on Dartmoor, Mr Johnson took them six miles on a rough track, allowed them thirty minutes to eat lunch and then marched them the six miles back on the same track. “A nice gentle stroll” was his description of the day. Susan slept in the minibus all the way back to school.

“What do you think of Mr Johnson?” Abigail asked Diane the next day.

“He’s okay.” Diane thought for a minute or two. “What did you think of him?”

“I think he’s creepy.” She looked at the ground. “Didn’t you mind when he put his arm around you?”

Diane flushed.

“Not really.” She studied the expression on her friend’s face. “I suppose I was a bit surprised.”

A few weeks later, they were practising packing their kit properly when Diane noticed that Abigail had disappeared – and so had Mr Johnson. A few moments later Abigail was back, scarlet and breathing heavily.

“Are you alright?”

Abigail nodded, but Diane could see the tracks of tears on her face.

“Here, let me help you,” she said.

Abigail sniffled; she never had a handkerchief. Diane passed over her own.

During the lunch-break, Diane said to Abigail, “Do you want to tell us about it?” Abigail’s face puckered, and she shook her head.

“I can’t,” she said.

“One for all, and all for one,” said Susan.

“No, I really can’t.”

“Was it Johnson?”

“He told me not to tell anybody,” wept Abigail.

“Yeah, well we’re your friends. You know you can trust us.”

“He kissed me. I said not to but he did anyway.”

Diane and Susan looked at each other. Susan put an arm round Abigail.

Diane was indignant. “I’ll find him after school and tell him he’s out of order.”

“No! No, please don’t, Di, or he’ll know I’ve told.”

“Somebody ought to say something, Abi, otherwise he’ll think he’s got away with it, and can try again.”

“You said I could trust you…” wailed Abigail.

“Yes, you can, of course you can, pet. Di won’t say anything, will you, Di?”

“Not if Abi doesn’t want it, of course I won’t. But Abi, I really think we should say something.”

Abigail’s tears were slowing. She shook her head.

“I’d much rather not,” she said.

A week or so later, Diane and Susan were waiting at the school gate for Abigail, who was coming from the private study classroom.

Diane glanced at her watch. “Where on earth can she be? She’s usually here before us. Shall we look for her, Sue?”

“We might miss her. She’s probably had to run an errand for the Head Mistress or something.”

Just then, they saw Abigail, trudging, dragging her feet. As she approached, they could see she was ashen.

Susan hugged her and held her close.

“Was it Johnson again?” demanded Diane. “What did he do?”

“I don’t want to say,” muttered Abigail.

Susan looked at Diane, and held her finger to her lips.

“You don’t need to say anything, Abi, dear. We understand. You’re alright now, you’re with us. We’ll take care of you.” She looked at Diane, who was fidgeting in her anxiety to say something. “Shut up, Di! Now is not the time.”

They set off home in silence. When they came to the bridge over the river, they stopped. They often did, for the river was beautiful in all seasons and at all times of the day.

Abigail leant over the parapet. Her feet left the pavement. Diane took hold of her arm.

“Don’t do that,” she said. Abigail sighed and put her feet back on the ground.

“He kissed me again. Then he tried to…to feel me, you know. I pushed his hand away but he’s so strong.” Her face was no longer pallid, but fiery red with shame. “It felt…it felt…” She couldn’t finish.

“What a bastard!”

“Really, Diane! You don’t need to swear!” Susan was indignant.

Diane took hold of Abigail’s shoulders. “Abi. Listen to me. We’ve got to tell someone now. Will you let us all go and talk to the Head Mistress tomorrow morning?”

Abigail pondered for a long moment, then, “Alright,” she said.

Next day it was Diane who took the lead, Diane who made an appointment with the Head Mistress, Diane who cajoled Abigail to speak.

The Head Mistress listened carefully. These were trustworthy girls. She would have believed them about almost anything. Why, she was hoping that Abigail would win a scholarship to Cambridge in a few years time!

And yet, Mr Johnson was a highly respected teacher. There had never been a hint of scandal about him. He was highly qualified and his pupils did well. Surely he would have shown signs of this sort of weakness before?

“Did he leave any marks on you, Abigail?”

“No, Miss Carter.”

“Did he expose himself to you?”

“No, Miss Carter.”

Miss Carter folded her hands on the desk. Any hint of this would end Mr Johnson’s career. There wasn’t enough evidence to report to the police. She couldn’t, she really couldn’t take action. She cleared her throat.

“Now, girls. You’ve come to me and made a most serious accusation against a senior member of my staff. If I believed for one moment that you were motivated by malice, I would punish you all; you would be facing expulsion from the school.”

She paused.

“Diane and Susan, neither of you witnessed any impropriety. Your testimony is that you saw your friend badly upset, and she told you about an assault that she said had been made on her. Abigail. You tell me that you have been assaulted, but there is no physical evidence of an assault having been made. Is that a fair summary of the situation?”

“Yes, Miss Carter,” they mumbled. Even Diane didn’t dare to contradict.

“I believe that all three of you are truthful girls. I can only conclude that you, Abigail, must have misunderstood an ambiguous situation. The matter must stop here. All of you understand, please, that you must say nothing about this outside this office. I will treat any slander against Mr Johnson with great severity.”

She looked at each of them in turn. One by one they dropped their eyes.

“You are dismissed.”

The three girls slunk out. As they walked down the corridor, Diane whispered, “I’m sorry, Abi. You were right. We shouldn’t have said anything.”

In her office, the Head Mistress worried for the entire morning as to what she should do.

Abigail became very quiet. As far as possible she avoided being anywhere near Johnson. She changed her private study group on the pretext that she needed to work in the library to be able to use reference books. Susan and Diane became expert at spotting when something had happened. Without questioning, they just offered support, love and encouragement.

“Are you sure you want to come on the overnight camp, Abigail?” said Susan.

“I can’t do the Ten Tors if I don’t, and then the rest of you in the Patrol would miss the event too.”

“You’re very brave,” said Susan, hugging her tightly.

“We’ll look after you,” said Diane, fiercely. “He’d jolly well better not try anything.”

They camped near the Mires.

“Don’t stray out of your tents tonight! One false step into the Mires, and it’s down you go, never to be seen again!” Johnson laughed ghoulishly and rubbed his hands.

He took Abigail with him to fetch water for the evening meal. When they returned she was shivering.

“Are you alright, Abi?”

“Yes. Just a bit cold.”

The six girls of the Patrol bedded down in two three-person tents. Susan and Diane slept in sleeping bags either side of Abigail, whose head was by the entrance to the tent. She lay there, stiff with fright.

Minutes passed. Diane fell asleep first. Susan turned over several times, but then her breathing became regular. She snored, gently but noticeably. Abigail waited a few minutes longer, and then, as quietly as she could, wriggled out of her sleeping bag. As though hypnotised she undid the tent flaps and walked into the night.

Diane stirred. Something was wrong. Her eyes opened. She felt the chill air of the moor. She saw the open flaps of the tent. Abigail was missing.

“Quick, Sue! Abi’s gone!”

Susan stretched, then sat up abruptly.

“What do you mean, gone?”

Diane pointed to the empty sleeping bag and the open tent. Susan scrambled out of her bag and started scrabbling for her trousers.

“Come on! We haven’t got time for that!”

Diane led the way outside. There was torchlight in Johnson’s tent, and noises. They could hear Abigail, sobbing, protesting.

Diane picked up a heavy stone.

The two girls ran to the tent and tore open the door. Johnson was lying on Abigail, who was struggling, weeping, trying to push him away. Her legs were spread, and Johnson, trousers around ankles, lay between them. He looked up – and Diane hit him with the stone, hard. He slumped.

There was quiet.

There was silence.

“He’s not breathing,” whispered Susan.

“You’ve killed him,” whispered Abigail.

“It’s my fault. I’ll have to take the consequences.” Diane breathed heavily as she thought of the implications. Prison, not university. Disgrace. Shame for her parents.

“One for all, and all for one.” Susan and Abigail spoke simultaneously.

“No. I can’t let you,” began Diane.

“Let’s put the body in the Mires,” said Susan.

They looked at each other.

One for all and all for one.

They hauled the body out of the tent, tidied the interior and tied back the entrance, so it would look as though Johnson had walked out.

“Lucky there’s no blood,” said Susan.

They lifted the body as best they could, and carried it to the edge of the path.

“We’ll swing it like we were giving him the bumps,” declared Susan.

The body splashed into the water about five feet from the path and started to sink immediately. The girls watched. Was the corpse going to disappear entirely? It was submerged to the waist, then to the chest, then to the neck.

And then the eyes flickered open. A look of terror flashed across Johnson’s face, and the girls recoiled. A whispered “Help me” came from his mouth. Susan seized a stone and threw it at the distorted face. There was silence once again, and then bubbles as the head went under.

“Good riddance,” said Susan.