Friday Fictioneers – Well Done

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 on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

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PHOTO PROMPT © DAWN MILLER

Well Done

The farmer’s son drove the tractor, and the blades of the plough turned the clods like a sexton’s shovel. The empty grain silo coursed with rain.

Winter came, harsh and unyielding. The farmer’s son stayed home, just the whisky bottle for company. Icicles like swords hung from the silo.

Milder weather came. The farmer’s son rose, sighed, and sowed the summer wheat. Day by day the land greened under the gentle sun.

Then the harvest.

The farmer’s son confronted the silo. With an effort of will, he filled it with grain.

“Well done, son,” said the memory of his father.

Inlinkz – click here and join the fun!

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…

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…

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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.

At first sight – part IV

What do you do when you first meet your true love the day before she flies back to Australia? For Jon, the answer was simple; you follow her as soon as possible. One small problem – PhD students like Jon have very little money. For Vikki, his beloved, the answer was more difficult; handsome, clever, surf-hero Dan has carried a torch for her for years…

Jon rang his mum and chatted; about his work, her work, and the latest news from his dad’s parish; before raising the subject that was uppermost in his thoughts.

“Mum, I need to borrow some money. It’s rather a lot, I’m afraid.”

Carolyn Hall thought for a moment. It wasn’t like Jon to ask for money. He’d managed on his own since his first term at university.

“How much do you need, love?”

“About two thousand pounds, I’m afraid.”

“You’re not in any trouble, are you?”

“No, and I should be able to pay you back quite soon; within about six months, I think.”

“I’ll have to talk to Dad first.” She hesitated for a moment, and then added, “I know it’s none of my business, but Dad will want to know why you need it.”

She waited for the explosion. Jon had always made it very clear that he needed to be independent; that he was going to live his life without interference from his parents. She sighed. It must be difficult for him, being James’s son.

“It’s a bit tricky. And it sounds as though I’m going bonkers. All I can say is that it’s very real to me. I’ve met this girl.”

“Oh, Jon, I am pleased for you!”

“The trouble is, she lives in Australia. I met her just before she went home, and now she’s there and I’m here.”

“What’s her name? What’s she like?”

“Vikki; that’s with two kays and an i. She’s beautiful, Mum, just beautiful. And clever; she’s just finished a master’s degree in education at Cambridge. I knew the instant I saw her that she was the right girl…” His voice trailed away as he relived the moment.

“Oh, Jon, you’ve got it bad, haven’t you?”

Jon tensed, and then relaxed. He laughed.

“Yes, I suppose I have! But that doesn’t make the feeling less real, you know?”

“I know, Jon, I know. That was how I felt about Dad when we first met. It’s worked for us so far! I still feel the same about him. But it wasn’t the way he fell in love with me, if you follow me?”

“Thank you, Mum. For telling me about you and Dad, I mean. Do you think it would be better for me to ring him and ask about a loan?”

“I think Dad would appreciate that, yes. Man to man, you know.”

“Okay, I’ll do that. Thanks for the advice.”

Dressing table 170617 (2)

Vikki scooped up the letter from the mat, and raced to her room. The sun struck obliquely through the window, making the wall at her bedhead dazzlingly white. The petals of the posy on her dressing table glowed translucent in the reflected light.

Vikki looked at Jon’s handwriting, with its firm downstrokes, its well-formed letters, its fluidity. Her heart sang. His voice was vivid in her memory, and she imagined him sitting beside her on the bed reading the letter to her.

“Dear Vikki,

Thank you so much for writing. You made me really happy when I read that you had ‘danced with delight’ because I planned to visit!

You’re right; we don’t know each other very well. You say that matters to you, and that you guess it matters to me. Be reassured; it does. I want to know everything about you, the big things and the little things, the essential and the trivial. It will be such a joy learning about all these from you!

Or do you mean that you have doubts about whether what we felt that magical night will prove ephemeral? Is that why you say, “We mustn’t be carried away”?

Let me tell you how I feel. I love you. You have changed me. In the past, I’ve always thought carefully before doing anything, but you make me feel so certain that we belong together that I don’t need to think about it, I just know it.

I want you to know this, Vikki. The thing I want more than anything in the world is that you should be happy. If, in the future, my love for you becomes an obstacle to your happiness, I shall let you go. It would break my heart – I can hardly bear even thinking about it – but I would do it.

By the way, there is something more practical that I need to tell you. I had another run-in with Guy. He was after your address in Australia. I didn’t tell him, of course, but yesterday somebody broke into my flat. They didn’t take anything – and there was quite an expensive laptop on the desk in full view – so I suppose Guy might have been the burglar. Take care, my dearest.

I hope so much that I shall soon see you in Australia; I should be able to suggest some dates next time I write in a few days. How I wish I was with you now!

With all my love

Jon”

Vikki held the letter against her lips, smiling.

At first sight - letter and phone 170617

“Jonathan! This is an unexpected pleasure. How are you?”

“I’m fine, Dad. How are you? And the parish, of course?”

“We’re doing nicely, thank you. The occasional hiccup. If you want the latest news, the organist has just quit. I don’t suppose you want to hear about that, though?”

They chatted casually for a few minutes, until Jon said, “Actually, Dad, I had an ulterior motive in ringing you.”

“I thought you might have.”

Jon winced. That accomplished, cultured, know-it-all, self-satisfied tone of voice had haunted his childhood.

“Would you lend me two thousand pounds, please.”

There was a short silence. James Hall waited for the explanation to be offered. Jon struggled with his pride.

“I’m in love with a woman who lives in Australia. I need to go and see her.”

There was a longer silence.

“That’s a fair sum, Jon.”

“I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think I needed it.”

“There may be a difference between what you think you need and what you actually need.”

Jon struggled to relax, to remain calm, to remain courteous. This constant assumption that he didn’t know what he was doing, that he would screw up if left to himself…

“Dad, if you hang on a minute, I’ll explain. I met Vikki the day before she was due to fly home. It was – astonishing – stunning. I just knew immediately that she’s the one. She seems to feel the same way. I want to go to Australia to confirm what we feel.

You may think it’s a gamble. Maybe you’re right. But it’s my gamble. Your money will be safe, whatever the outcome.”

“Oh, for goodness sake, Jonathan, it’s not the safety of my money that concerns me. It’s your future, your studies, putting all that at risk just because you’ve met an attractive girl who’s bowled you over. What about your studies, anyway?”

“My professor is happy. In fact, he’s asked me to go into the University of Melbourne to establish personal links with the staff there. It’s a great chance to network.”

“I just don’t want to see you hurt, Jon.”

“Not going to Australia and losing her would hurt me more than anything I can imagine.”

“Mm. Yes, I can see that might be so.”

Jon waited.

“All right. You may have the money. I’ll transfer it to your account this afternoon. Would you be happy to repay it in twelve months?”

“I’m taking on some more tutoring. Can I pay it back monthly over six months starting in October, please?”

“Yes, that’ll be okay. Take care of yourself, Jon. I’m proud of you, son. You’re growing up into a fine man.”

Jon almost dropped the phone. He stammered goodbye.

James Hall replaced his receiver. Two thousand pounds was almost his entire savings. He would just have to hope that there was no emergency in the next ten months.

After the call, Jon put his phone on the desk and stared out of the window.

Right. Time to check availability of those cheap flights he’d found!