Submissions are NOW CLOSED
Below is a selection of 2014 writing, presented in a random order.
Here is a full list of published pieces. To jump to that piece, click on the name.Sandy Wilkie - Dumfries
Clarissa Carim - West St
Christine Brand - Midhurst
David Jones - Carden
Helen Smith - Whitechapel
Sonya - Whitechapel
Suzanne Lively - Coombe Road
Rebecca Kemp - Dover
Roger Noble - Brunswick Square
Ashelle - Royal Sussex County Hospital
Roger Noble - Seven Dials
Clarissa Carim - West St
LJ Smith - Lincoln
Beatrice Charles - Sunderland
Amanda Quinn - Sunderland
Foomandoonian - West Pier
Sam - Old Steine
Zena Hagger - Cambridge
Victoria Kio - George St
Pam Plumb - Leeds
Colette Watson - Hamilton
Wayne Cook - Sunderland
Fhaedra - Nelson, B.C
Suzanne Lively - Eastbourne
Damon Rollinson - Peacehaven
F Kaori - Exeter
Liz Hedgecock - Northwich
Sam - George St, Hove
Cara Long - New York
Rebecca Kemp - Limerick
Clarissa Carim - Brighton Station
Denise Sparrowhawk - Sunderland
Sam - Jubilee Library
Gavin Parish - Tottenham
Marc Nash - Chelsea
Brighton Station Piano - Western Road
Carin Marais - Johannesburg
Fhaedra - Ottawa
Carrie Briffett - Paris
Emily Hopkins - Manchester
Liz Hedgecock - Manchester
Marj - Southampton
Roger Noble - Seven Dials 2
Astrid Sutton Sharkey - Camden Market
Cara Long - Toronoto
Hannah Piekarz - Reading
Sandy Wilkie - Oban
Marc Nash - Edgware Road
Sandy Wilkie - Kelvingrove
Roger Noble - Trafalgar Sqaure
Sandy Wilkie - Paisley
Cara Long - New York
Suchi Chatterjee - Stanmer Park
Plus three authors, who were inspired to write their own mini collection, have their own page here: Sandy Wilkie,Sam Smith,and Clarissa Carim.
Although submissions are now closed, there are still some stories submitted which are still to be published below. Follow Geo-Writing on twitter or Facebook for updates.
Plus some authors, who have had three or more stories submitted, may get their own additional page...
Thank you to all the authors who have got involved, whether published or not. This year has been a particularly strong selection of writing, and I've been overwhelmed with both the quantity and quality of the response. Geo-Writing WILL Return!
Like these stories? Please mention them on twitter, Facebook, use the 'share this buttons' (on the right on a PC, below on mobile) and get in touch with the authors via twitter. And sign up for the newsletter for further updates on future and related events.
I stand in silence, watching two oranges roll slowly down the gentle slope. The taxi is stopped diagonally across the road. In the crowd people are talking loudly but I can't hear anything coherent amongst the chatter. A young lady is crying. I recognise Michaela from the post office and a wave of sadness engulfs me. It is her pushchair lying abandoned in the middle of the road. There is a small patchwork bear on the tarmac a few feet away, looking up at me with an anxious expression.
I hear the ambulance sirens as the vehicle turns into the street. The crowd parts as the ambulance crew come forward. I can see the taxi driver now, he has blood on his face and someone holding his head still. Michaela's husband pushes his way through the crowd. I am relieved to see their son, Gordon, cling to his fathers hand, running to keep up. Michaela kneels and embraces Gordon, sobbing.
Her husband pulls her up roughly by her hair.
"I don't have money to throw around because you can't look where you're going; you can replace the pushchair with your own money. I'm going to the Crown; I'll be in at seven. Make sure dinner's ready." He pushes Gordon towards his mother and walks down the hill without looking back.
I turn my attention to the broken pushchair which I had so far avoided looking at. The front left wheel is missing and the frame bent beyond repair. There's a ripped carrier bag in the seat, with broken eggs oozing over cheap sausages lying on the ground.
I take forty pounds from my wallet and approach Michaela. I hold it out and as she shakes her head to refuse my donation her hair falls back and I see the bruising around her face, her left eye swollen almost shut, the make up unable to conceal the extent of his anger.
"Come home with me," I say on impulse.
She smiles slightly and shakes her head again but takes the money from me.
"You're kind," she says and turns away. She stands up the pushchair and I watch her walk to the bus stop, carrying Gordon on her hip and dragging the pushchair behind with the other hand.
Blog - Christine Brand Author
On twitter - C_Brand_Author
PROMPT LOCATION: Midhurst, UK
The doll drops on the leg I've got propped up to re-tie my shoelace. It lands on my knee, in balance for a second, then topples over and lands head first on the pavement. For a moment, I think it's a real child. I can feel the panic rise in my stomach. A child, I can't handle a child. Then I realise it's not real. Good thing I got distracted by the thought I've not been able to think through for days, otherwise the doll would have hit me square on the head. I look around, but I can't see where it would have come from. There are no stroppy children screaming for their baby doll nearby. None of the passers-by give it a second look. I, however, can't take my eyes away. The doll's huge, the size of a toddler, I think. I don't know the first thing about children. I don't know what to do. Do I pick it up, make it sit against the wall? Do I take it with me? Nobody's coming to claim it. I might as well. May come in useful.
I return to the thought the sky-diving doll's interrupted. I think the doll is a sign. I am scared but relieved that I've made up my mind. I'll have to learn how to handle a child. I'll start with my baby doll.
On twitter - _Supersonya
PROMPT LOCATION: Whitechapel, London
I put so much into this. All my time. All my effort and nearly all my savings. But I'm too cheap in the end.
Went on web to look up the family tree. Alone in the evenings when she was not there. Heritage made me feel important again; a family of coachbuilders! Then I had my idea.
More people walk past to the corner shop pointing. "Ha ha. No, I'm not late". It's already too late. I'm not getting out again for their photo.
With all that time on my hands I set about it. Got what I needed. Some things borrowed, new and old. And blue (well not after the respray). I was building my own limousine for the wedding.
It was going to take time but I had it now after the court decision. Cutting the Capri in half was easy. Hiding bits of new framework not. She came home early one night from her Mum's. I lied (not for the first time) it was for scrap. When she does not trust you it is easy.
Every day a little bit more. I saw her less and less. I had to keep the surprise. This was going to make up for everything. I was so proud and she was going to love it.
On the big day? For the sake of a penny on the fuel I went up Carden Avenue and ran out trying to get up that hill. So I've missed my daughter's wedding. Big surprise.
PROMPT LOCATION: Carden Avenue
Tracy awoke on her bed, head thumping and a shooting pain in her left arm. Was she having a heart attack? No, but she was hung over!
She could remember going out in Aberdeen with Mags and Elaine, hitting the poser pub next to The Premier Inn and downing cheap shots. Had they gone on to the dancing or something more biblical? She couldnt remember.
Saturday binging had been a regular occurrence since splitting with Alec a year ago. She would get plastered back then and start annoying her pals by sobbing, I love Alec! I love Alec!
"No you don't. He's a bastard and would hump a fur coat" Mags had advised. "Start saying 'I hate Alec' instead Trace".
"But I dinnae hate him! I love him, the bastard!" Tracy would sob.
But then more recently, Diane the sensible one, had advised Tracy that she should be more realistic and say, "I loved Alec!". In that way it acknowledging the past tense and the fact that it was time to move on. "Just keep saying that over and over, babes!"
Tracy could faintly recall that she had started this mantra the previous night after much drink but then - Oblivion.
Then she felt the sharp pain in her arm again and in panic pulled her sleeve up. "Aw naw! I feckin' hate tattoos!" she shrieked.
It was the ugliest tattoo she had ever seen. The banner declared boldly, "I luv Dalek", and below it was a picture of Davros.
Kenneth on Facebook
PROMPT LOCATION: Aberdeen
I am running, late as usual, speeding down the pavement on my way to work, pulling a blouse on over my tee-shirt to cover the stain from the coffee I just spilled in my rush and dash. One of my laces is flapping, and my knees are feeling the thump of my weight on them as I hurtle along.
As I sprint past the shops a young boy in a yellow polo shirt is coming out of the newsagents, he has a can of drink in his hand, and his battered bike is propped up against the wall. He smiles as I dodge round him, I should store that smile for later, it is a bright moment. I am thinking about what my day holds, the endless queues, the argumentative customers, my bloody boss. My heart squeezes and I have a stitch, my breath is ragged - in and out, like sawing fresh timber, it keeps snagging. I'm too old for this nonsense. Yet I don't learn. Everyday for the past forty-odd years I have been late for this damn hateful job.
I have considered alternatives, I could have been a nurse, but I don't like blood. Maybe a teacher if I were cleverer. I love gardening, and wish that garden centres had existed when I first went out to work. That would have done me just fine, the chance to touch fresh earth, to plant seedlings, watch them grow. You probably get a different type of person in a garden centre, people with a bit of pride in themselves and their homes, who like things to look nice. Not like the lot I get in the supermarket with their constant whining, endless complaints, and bloody noisy kids.
I turn to smile back at the boy, but he has gone.
PROMPT LOCATION: Coombe Road
My dad told me to run but it's dark and I can't see and something we're running on scratches my legs. There's a noise in the sky like an engine. That's when we started to run, when the noise got nearer. My dad is holding my hand really tight and it hurts when he pulls my arm. I dropped my teddy but dad wouldn't let me go back for him, he just kept pulling my arm. My tummy rumbles and I do a bit of a wee which I wipe on my skirt. My brother Emir is in front of us and falls down. A light comes down on him from the sky and then a far away voice we can't understand. I ask dad if it's God. He puts his hand over my mouth and pushes me down on the earth. We can hear loud talking from the light in the sky and from the dark. Men appear under the light with guns and point them at Emir. I do a proper wee then and start to cry through my dad's hand. It smells of the onion and bread the lorry man gave us. The men look in our direction but we're hidden in the dark. They have white faces and the same uniforms.
They shout but we can't understand.
The noise from the light in the sky gets louder. One of the men walks away from under the light so we can't see him. Dad takes his arm from me and whispers in my ear to run. When I don't he pushes me. The steps of the man with a gun get nearer. Dad pushes me again. I start to run and my legs get scratched again. There's a bang. I look back and the light from the sky is on Dad and my brother and the men with guns, so I keep running into the dark. When I'm tired I'll stop and wait for Dad to come and find me.
One sunny Friday afternoon, my owner left me outside a cafe near Aldgate East tube station, I decided to go for a little wander. You know, make her worry a little that I had been stolen, maybe she would give me some biscuit later.
The street was very busy just outside Whitechapel Gallery, I greeted my friend Freddie who told me the exhibition was very good inside.
I tried sneaking in behind a man; I got as far as the book shop when the invigilator ran out, smacked me on the nose and shooed me away. I did a little howl and galloped outside.
Sitting by the main entry, I saw a well-to-do family on their way in, pushing one of those snazzy double decker prams. The mother took the baby out from the lower deck, the dummy the kid was suckling on fell out Seizing my moment I ran and caught the dummy in my mouth then jumped into the lower deck of the pram in the most discreet way a dog could.
Lying there like a dog-baby I was smuggled into the gallery and at the first opportunity leaped out of the pram. Intending to cause as much chaos as possible, I knocked over a plinth with a pretentious looking sculpture, then did a poo in the hallway and was eating something off the floor when the security guard caught up with me. Well it was worth it, I managed to loose him and sneaked out through the restaurant side door.
I went back and took up my original position. Owner came out just in time. My ear pep up, she didn't notice I was gone, although she did wonder who had given me the dummy.
PROMPT LOCATION: Whitechapel
It is dark and the moon is round and bright. She is about to give birth and I am late! Her mum has called me in emergency so that I can join the hospital as soon as possible. "Billy will wait for you outside" she said, to lead you to the delivery room. The brother has come from the other part of the world. It is hard to think he is there before me but at least he is there and not under the projectors but in the shadow, waiting for the future dad of his future niece.
In the Kemptown area, at the angle of Egremont Place I open my window to get some fresh hair. I don't pay attention to a bicycle when I put my arm outside of the window waiting for the traffic light to pass to green. A scream. The rider falls just on my right at the very moment he is arriving to the traffic light trying to pass over my car. No! I cant leave him like that. I rush to the young man. Are you ok? I bend over him. He is on one knee and raises his arm a bit briskly while putting back his bike on its wheel. Surprised by the speed of his gesture I can't avoid the shock of his hand against my glasses that are projected few meters away. No time to stay "My baby is coming and I have to be there." The man seems OK. I have to rush now.
The moon in the sky is like a big flower with lots of petals around. So many cars for this time of the night! So many lights in the front window. The radio is playing Mickael Jackson. Near the car park entrance three men in white coats raise their arms in a coordinated way in front of spectators, arms crossed, watching calmly. So it seemed. I slow down No no, three doctors are speaking to three men in suits with dark glasses. One of them suddenly looks at me, followed by the others: "Hey! Mourad! Come on! She can't wait" Through the open window, I recognize Billy in front of a man in white coat. "By the way, I present you Gary, we were at the same school. He is a surgeon here. I couldn't recognize you without your glasses! On the pavement of the entrance, there is only two men, one in suit and one in white coat.
A moment later, under the neon lights of the delivery room, I see the head of the baby. I hear the cry of my daughter. But even if Mickael Jackson's music resounds in my head, even if the room is filled with a joy melted to the hardwork of my wife, even if I remember men in suits with dark glasses dancing in front of doctors in white coat, I can't help but ask to lower the light as I feel it's too much for the little being, too much for a new born coming from such a warm dark place. No wonder her eyes are closed so tight! It is too much to receive all this light, this cold bright light, showering directly her eyes.
PROMPT LOCATION: Royal Sussex County Hospital
If only, if only. The list was endless. If only Warren had not had the extra whisky that night. If only he had set the alarm for a.m. instead of p.m. If only the yellow cab had not been caught in the snarl up on the way to JFK. If only the airline clerks had let him board. But then she wouldn't have met Brad. If only Brad had been more honest. If only he hadnt gone out with the Stanley twins that night. If only the window at number 26 had been locked. If only he hadn't got caught. But then she wouldn't have met Dexter. And if only Dexter hadn't been on the 8.39 from Victoria when the 8.05 had been cancelled. If only Dexter hadn't been so beautiful. If only Dexter hadn't been a fucking liar, then she wouldn't have been sitting here on the bench, in her wedding dress, endlessly dialling his number.
PROMPT LOCATION: Brunswick Square
"It's a Mr. Shem," said the receptionist with an unpleasant sneer. He hands the receiver over to Agnieszka McFarlane. She looks startled. Julio Shem, who is the toy boy of the literary critic, Melanie Grintclaw, is fronting the 'Better a Part' campaign, and is phoning to get Agnieszka's support. The demure librarian however is a strong opponent of the referendum, and gives him short shrift. Then after further consideration she gives him long shrift. Predictably, in a place as claustrophobically constipated as Gwair, the emotional febrility of the local independence referendum campaign raises shackles everywhere, and as the day proceeds the temperature soars. When in the late afternoon there is a screech of brakes and a car crashes violently in the Back Room Bookshop, the inebriated drivers, from the 'We're Really Init' campaign are seen staggering through the High Street singing literary songs.
PROMPT LOCATION: Seven Dials
"A mile and a half on a bus takes a long time. The odour of old prison food takes a long time to pass you by, When you've been inside.."*
Whit the actual? Pauline had no long been out of that Cornton Vale place. She was now back in the grey town, trying to make her life mean something again in Heathhall. She'd been a good girl mind, no stealing from shops or injecting again. She had wanted to get fit; like she was when her pal Martha and her shared a student flat in Bridgeton. Those wur the days.
Still, whit the fuck had just happened there? She remembered trying to avoid some stupid sign flying across the A75 in the wind. Then bam, fucking BAM. She had hit a guy on some kinda fancy mountain bike; name doubt wan of they Seven Stanes trail nutters that used to nearly mow her doon in Dalbeattie Town Woods when she hud Tyson off his lead and hunting squirrels.
But here she was, lying on the flair looking at some stupid dick in Tour de France Lycra clutching his leg. Whit the actual? It wisnae as if yon Lance Armstrong rode a feckin mountain bike. The guy squealed in pain, she felt a wee laugh build in her belly. But jeez her ribs suddenly hurt.
Aw heck, they'd both soon be relaxing at their local Infirmary on the Crichton; delighted to be guests in A&E. Still, she checked her scratched-face watch. 6.53am. At least her lovely hoosemate Ruthie would still be on her night shift. So a welcome cup of tea and a few belly laughs awaited then. Feck, that hurt just thinking aboot laughing.
She inched her way across the tarmac towards her twisted bike-frame. Trapped in the spokes was that stupid big plasticy-cardboard sign which hud brought carnage. She flipped it over. It wus a Glasgow Uni sign fae the Crichton Campus. It read 'Be Aware of Bike Theft. Police are watching You'.
She roared like a drain; hurt like buggery mind, but she didnae care.
[*lyrics from The Boy With The Arab Strap, Belle & Sebastian (1998)]
Lizard Vanilla Blog
PROMPT LOCATION: Annan Road Roundabout, Dumfries
Crouched behind a shuttered window at the old Travelodge, our makeshift base on West Street, I clutch my weapon as I peer through a gap in the boards. Dark smoke can be seen drifting over the buildings from the direction of the beach, where some of the Blighters have set up camp. Tom should have been back half an hour ago. I fret. We urgently need the medical supplies if we don't want to lose more people. We need Tom, too. He's a fast runner, a good shot, he knows the city. I also like him a lot.
I try to ignore the knot in my stomach. For the umpteenth time today I reel off the friends I've had to give up over the past three months. Thirty-four. A thought for each of them. Not a single one changed sides though! We're proud of the pact we made and we never break it, no matter how heart wrenching it is. Shooting your friends in the face never gets easier. Even when they beg you to, with terror in their eyes.
I have to go out and find him! I could never forgive myself if I didn't try. He may be holed up somewhere and need backup. We shouldn't have let him go alone. I know the others will try to talk me out of it, so I don't give them the chance. Hopefully we'll both be back before they even notice.
I shoulder my crossbow and step out onto the street.
PROMPT LOCATION: West street
"A lorry has overturned, spilling lego on the the motorway. The Police are advising people to stay away from the area and not to panic. The A46 is closed on both carriageways, diversions are in place. Significant delays to be expected." Trevor clicked off the radio and surveyed the room. 12 pale and clammy faces stared back at him. He cleared his throat and shakily wiped the sweat from his brow. "Right lads, this is it, no longer a drill. Get your grade three boots on. I want everyone going home safe today."
The room rose to their feet and began jostling into the changing rooms, subdued, the usual banter between them non-existent. They all knew this day was to come, thought they were ready. But the doubts began to creep in. A grade three emergency? Was the training comprehensive enough? What if a member of the public got onto the carriageway? They all knew there was nothing more lethal than stepping on lego.
PROMPT LOCATION: Lincoln
"Lost. Black cat. Answers to the name of Tiddles."
Hmmph. Ridiculous. What self respecting cat would ever answer to a name like that? 'Slayer of Rodents' perhaps, or 'He Who Luxuriates in Hedonistic Bliss', but never, not, no-way would I ever respond to 'Tiddles'!
And I am so definitely not lost. Never have I been so sure of myself or where I am going or of my place in this universe. Nearby there is a place where those who seek enlightenment gather. I shall go there to share my secret knowledge with the curious, the anxious, the needy.
For I alone know the sacred word. Tonight at the Stadium of Light, I the purry one, I the furry one, shall on a mat of perfectly brushed pashmina onomatopoeia!
PROMPT LOCATION: Sunderland
When I see the photo, I'm surprised. I thought she'd choose the one from our first Christmas but, no, it's a blurry phone shot from before phones were up to that sort of thing. Few pounds heavier on it too. That's good though, I guess. Lose a bit of weight, stop answering to 'Ginger', and they'll never find me. But is that what I want? Or - I read past LOST CAT and see my name's spelt wrong - is that what she wants?
PROMPT LOCATION: Sunderland
TWO TAKEN TO HOSPITAL AFTER SPEEDBOAT RUNS ASHORE
The Argus, Monday 1 September 2014
TWO MEN have been taken to hospital after their speedboat ran ashore on the beach in front of the West Pier.
Emergency services were called to the scene shortly after 5am by Brenda Cobb, 48, who witnessed the incident. Mrs Cobb said that the boat appeared to be out of control as it ran onto the shore at high speed.
"When I went down to help I thought they were both dead at first. They weren't moving and looked like they'd been out there a while" said Mrs Cobb. "So I called an ambulance. I didn't think I could possibly help them."
While it is unknown what caused the accident, it is possible that the occupants were in difficulty before they ran ashore. Mrs Cobb said that they looked unwell, but wasn't sure if they were sick or simply injured and confused. She said:"One of the blighters bit me! While I was on the phone I heard one of them moving about so I went over to to tell him that help was on the way. He just looked at me funny for a moment, then suddenly lunged forward and bit me on the arm. He broke the skin, but it's fine. It gave me quite a shock though."
The men have not yet been identified. The Argus has discovered that their vessel, an Oceanmaster 660 named 'Calamity', is not currently on the UK Ship Register.
Both men were taken to the Royal Sussex County Hospital.
More as we know it.
PROMPT LOCATION: West Pier
She was lost.
It had seemed like a good idea, to get up high to get her bearings, but it had made things worse. The obvious landmarks were easier to spot, but the all-important details, the names and signs, were missing. So she swooped down for a better look. Who knows, someone might take pity, notice she was in trouble, offer assistance.
She'd heard, among the other students, that they were friendly here, it was a good place to come study. But while some of them were smiling at her, they weren't coming to her aid. Some of them looked downright dangerous, grabby and snappy. The smaller ones gurgled and reached sticky paws in her direction, and the... gulls, that's it, gulls swooped towards her with thoses terrifying squawks, creating disturbances in the air that buffeted and bounced her further.
Did they not see the sign? No one seemed to be paying attention to it. Maybe that was for the best, she sighed as another current caught her and wafted her back up. How could they possibly understand her anyway?
Next time she came to Earth, she'd pick something more practical. Ballons were unthreatening and fun, but they made for a most impractical disguise.
On twitter - scsmith4
PROMPT LOCATION: Old Steine
Of course, it was over a girl.
It was one of those tedious dinners for Trinity undergrads. Reid was sitting opposite Jessica. A perfect opportunity for footsie under the table, which he indulged in vigorously. In return, he received a kick which missed its intended target as Jess's legs were stumpy and more suited to a penguin. Nevertheless, Tyron took exception. Jessica was his for footsie and other, higher, things.
"What are you going to do about it?" Merlot + Reid = Aggression. (He was reading pure maths.)
"Call you out." Tyron was a history student. He leaned across the table and slapped his friend's face, hard enough to hurt and leave a red mark. Not that it could be seen against Reid's rosy flush.
Someone started banging his cutlery on the table, chanting, "Duel! Duel! Duel!" It infected its way through the tables like a uproarious Mexican wave. Reid swayed to his feet and flapped his arms until the racket died away.
"Cupcakes at dawn!" He belched and crashed back into his chair.
The exact centre of Parker's Piece, that huge open park in the centre of Cambridge was designated as the venue. In the early morning mist, each pushed a trolley full of cupcakes, one from the North, the other from the South. Reid and Tyron wore their dinner jackets, black capes and top hats.
In the silver light, the combatants shook hands and took their positions, back to back. For ten paces, they pushed their trolleys and on the last number, turned. Cupcakes flew like demented butterflies, landing with soft squelches. The first top hat fell.
The victor was declared.
Alas, the fickle Jessica had been swept off her feet by the sous-chef and never did find out who had won her hand.
PROMPT LOCATION: Trinity Hall, Cambridge
You wouldn't know what to bring, he murmured softly, but then you can't go wrong with flowers. At least it was a start, it was him taking the first step, been proactive, fixing the mess that had just happened so to say. Jane was just around the corner, she seemed cool and collected, she was even wearing that dress he use to like. Hmm ... maybe we could work on this, become friends, put it all behind us. A grin spread across his face as he approached her, she matched his with an even wider grin, and reached into her purse. John turned to ash. "Your gonna be seeing these in the news, come tomorrow". Almost surreal George street exploded in a kaleidoscope of colours from the print out pictures she flinged into the air. It was him and Kitty doing everything a couple shouldn't do with Jesse his 2 year old in some of these pictures cheering on the side.
PROMPT LOCATION: Top of George St, Hove
Once more Jane glanced up from her phone to the cafe entrance. At last, he had arrived. He was late, but she was pleased to see his silhouette in the doorway. He was wearing a hat.
Jane put her phone away and began chewing her fingers. Her nervousness surprised her; he was her dad after all. But it had been six months since they'd last met. Wondering if he'd seen her, Jane looked up again and saw her father tip his large hat at a woman with a pram. He helped the young mum negotiate the last table before holding the door for her as she left. Then her father caught Jane's eye, raised his hand in acknowledgement and picked his way towards her.
As he got closer she saw he was wearing a dark denim shirt studded with rhine stones in the shape of an eagle that flew across his chest. He stepped around a woman's walking stick and flashed his black Cuban-heeled boots at her, displaying their silver studs and intricate stitching.Jane stifled a giggle. "Hi, dad. How are you?"
He sat down and took off his hat. "Howdy, darlin'. How are ya?"
Jane smiled, "Getting into character for something?"
He didn't return her smile. Instead he pulled out a red spotted handkerchief from his shirt pocket and wiped his brow. "Call, me Curly, darling."
Jane giggled. "Stop it. What are you on about?"
"I've been out West for so long, thought I'd get me a new name."
"Don't be silly, dad. You've been on holiday, that's all."
"It weren't no holiday, sweetheart. I got me a new life out there. I'm not Malcolm no more. No sir. My name is Curly. Curly Macaroni."
Jane waited. He looked so serious. "Well, then. Call me Calamity. Calamity Jane."
Over my head there's a whisper of leaves
A patter of paws like a cat in the eaves.
A child gazes down face as pale as the moon
From one skinny wrist bobs a tethered balloon.
Veined and withered the hand she extends in a plea
Like a shrivelling leaf she is whirled from me.
Relentless the breeze takes her far out of sight
To dangle aloft like the tail of a kite.
PROMPT LOCATION: Hamilton, Scotland
It was a beautiful summer afternoon in North East England, which was rare. The sun was sharing its warm radiance, while the sky had erased the clouds from its bright blue canvas. In the park young men lay on the grass, their bare chests soaking up the rays. Mum's wandered around with babies in pushchairs, older children running at their heels. Couples walked hand in hand through a path that went through an avenue of weeping willow trees.
The chattering and laughing noises filled the air, punctuated with a thudding sound playing a four beat rhythm, boom, click, boom, click, boom, click, boom, click. On the trunks of trees, a middle aged woman was stapling sheets of A4 paper.
In bright red text were the words "Missing cat, answers to the name of Pebbles, went missing on Saturday in the park area." In large capital letters, under a photo of a fat tortoise shell cat, were the words "REWARD FOR SAFE RETURN
As the afternoon wore on, kids of all ages came and went, some drew rude images or words on the missing cat posters, before ripping some from the trees and throwing them to the ground.
Street cleaners moved into the park, pushing their carts and picking up sweet wrappers, cans of fizzy drinks, cigarette ends, torn up posters of missing cats as well as the disgusting rubbish in the more secluded areas of the park, such as condoms and used hypodermic needles.
When they had finished their round, they headed for the gates, where a fat cat sat, without a care in the world, looking up curiously at a poster that had been stapled to a tree. As they closed and locked the gates behind them, the cat, jumped through a gap in the fence and ran into a garden opposite where a saucer of milk lay waiting outside the back door. The home owners had no intention of claiming any reward, they were happy having "Tinker" for themselves.
PROMPT LOCATION: Sunderland
Cora-Lee spat. Nothing much to it, but the two flogs in ill-fitting uniforms got the point. The bald one curled his upper lip and ground his teeth as he tightened the cuffs around her wrists, but neither of them spoke to her. They were just the braun. Someone else dictated instructions into some invisible ear piece implanted deeply amidst their wax build up while they listened and then did what they were told, approximately.
Bushah's Petals would get her out of this, she knew, but feigned the appropriate balance of fear and defiance anyway. Only a few earth things could fathom the power of an alien tattoo and these thuggish buffoons were not among that elite group. She stumbled when Baldy pushed her toward the idling panel van, but inside she was already humming the melody that would summon Bushah's wrath when the moment called for it.
PROMPT LOCATION: Nelson, BC, Canada
A pair of twins, both with an alien tattoo on their arm, hug in a car park. Twin 'A' (Amanda) has a toddler in a pushchair that she moves backwards and forwards with her left foot. Twin 'B' (Bertha) has a yappy Yorkshire terrier on a blue lead that runs round them in circles tangling their legs together. Amanda has a red Mohican and a toothy smile; she hugs her sister hard and stands back to look at her properly.
"You haven't changed," she says, squinting her eyes as the low autumn sun catches the chrome frame of the pushchair and dazzles her. "Your hair looks better green than blue though!"
Bertha runs her fingers through her newly dyed hair and grimaces. "It was supposed to be turquoise ..." she looks carefully at her sister. "You look thinner." It sounds accusatory.
Amanda stiffens, pulls herself up to a full five feet three inches. "Not my choice," she snaps, "apparently I 'blend in' better if I am an 'appropriate' size". They both touch their hair, consider the dog and toddler. "At least you got the dog, not nearly as much work as this" she indicates the baby with a sharp nod of the head, "why they procreate like this I can't imagine. They have the technology to clone, yet they still go on reproducing individually - mental!}"
"This whole planet is insane," agrees Bertha, "and talking of being mad, you think I got the better deal! This thing empties itself out all over the pavements and I have to collect it in these little bag" - she waves a handful of sandwich bags at her sister, nudges the dog with the toe of her shoe, "odd what they consider normal isn't it?"
They laugh as they touch hands, palm to palm, and dematerialise instantly.
PROMPT LOCATION: Eastbourne
What just happened?
I'm no longer on my feet. My cheek is resting on the cold slab of a paving stone. I feel the vibrations of panic as people swarm this way and that. There are muffled cries and screams as if I am underwater.
I can't move my head, but in my line of vision I see that a girl in a yellow polo shirt is being comforted by her mum. Red has begun to make an unwanted slow-spreading appearance on the shirt. The mother's comfort turns to hysteria.
I now notice she is staring back at me. I feel terrible that as she lays there dying, I am not in pain and death will spare me. Her eyes show neither fear or resignation, but, strangely, a sympathetic glance towards my direction.
It takes all my strength to muster the tiniest movement. I can't lift my arm, but my hand lifts into the smallest of waves. She instantly responds as if we are controlled by some grand puppet master.
I feel wet upon my cheek. With a still head, my eyes turn to the source and I see the girl's mother above me. Why is she with me? She should be with her own daughter.
And then I glimpse it.
Yellow. And Red.
I turn back and no longer see the girl; just a reflection of one in the shop window next to where she fell.
And then I see white.
PROMPT LOCATION: Peacehaven
'They call me Calamity.' She leaned towards his table, all lipsticked, frizzy, fifteen stone of her, and he resisted the urge to lean back. 'The name's Jane, of course. But I can't seem to stop them.' She laughed. 'You can't really blame them. I've been in the paper half a dozen times. It was a journalist who coined it. My parents sent me up in a balloon when I was ten, and the operator had to crash-land on a car. There was no doubt that it wasn't our fault, but it's got so that my family won't get on a plane with me. 'Mom,' they say, 'we're not getting on a plane with you. You know what happened last time.'' For a moment she seemed to look, briefly, sad, but then she laughed again. 'We had to take separate flights over here. Just in case. But wouldn't you know it, it was their luggage that exploded. Not mine.'
'Oh -- exploded?'
'Oh, there was some accident with chemicals. And hairspray or something. Still, no bones broken, right?' She beamed at him, then looked around the cafe. 'Nice little place here. I was just on my way to the cathedral. Is it worth seeing?'
'If you're interested in medieval architecture...'
'If it's old, it's good enough for me. So long as there aren't a lot of stairs. I was in Bruges once, and...'
'I'm sorry,' the man said. 'I've just seen someone outside. Very nice to meet you.' He ran out the door.
The woman took a sip of her coffee and then heard the crash and screams from the street. She stood up.
'Oh my God. That poor man. I was just talking to him.'
PROMPT LOCATION: Exeter
I wait while parents gather their children from the swings.
I wait while youths lounge on the benches and share a bottle of cider.
Finally night falls, and the park belongs to me.
Well, it does have my name on it. Robert Verdin MP. Born 1836. Died 1887. That's what my plinth will tell you.
You'll also gather that I was a public figure, a businessman, a benefactor. Too busy to marry, to have children and watch them grow, and play with them. Too busy for fun. I never saw this park until I was put here on a pedestal.
I climb down. I'm getting stiff, and I warm up on the fitness equipment. Then I go to my special hiding place, and draw out from under the leaves something which I believe is called a skate board.
Off we go! I start off slowly, then pick up speed as the path curves downhill. It is truly exhilarating. I sail down the hill, and enjoy the smell of the flowers, wet with dew, before I stroll back uphill for another go.
Soon I am hungry. I get an apple from the allotments, and as I munch, I walk down the path towards the church. Some houses still have lights on, and I glimpse modern life through their windows. A woman cooking. A family watching a box with pictures, like an electric puppet theatre. They seem to be popular; this one shows a gun which turns into little bricks. Does it work, I wonder?
I throw my apple core into the hedge, and realise my mistake too late. The man looks up at the rustle and thud, and sees me. He stares.
I raise a hand in acknowledgement and move on. Back to the plinth, I think. Tonight's fun is over.
PROMPT LOCATION: Verdin Park, Northwich
It was possible he'd overdone it. He'd been told the rendezvous was a place near George Street, a bar, and he'd gone all Bond. Sharp tailoring and a bunch of assorted fancy things he was pretty sure included a few carnivorous plants - not entirely inconspicuous, but he'd wanted to appear in control, smooth and unintimidated.
But all the way here he'd been noticing things. There were always bad suits in this part of town - no one could afford anything decent - but on numerous slabs of sunglassed muscle, too focused to fit in outside the Post Office and the cafes. His trendy, slim-cut suit was a delight to the eye, but it betrayed his growing nerves, the sweat on his back starting to soak through the lining.
The bar came into sight. Thank god! Oh no. A big black beast of a car, tinted windows, six doors, the sort of thing the US President sprang from in the news reports, was outside on double yellows. The illegal parking was the only normal thing about it all.
He glanced around. The nearest clump of suits was some way off, but no doubt they'd be much quicker off the mark than their bulk suggested. Then, out of the corner of his eye, something yellow. A balloon, scudding along avoiding the traffic and lampposts and buildings like it was aware of its path. He clocked the label - "help me!" - hanging from it on a scrappy piece of string. Could he? He affected what he hoped was a curious, delighted air and approached the balloon, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling as he realised the suits were moving his way. Reaching his free hand inside his suit jacket for his prized pen, then for the balloon's label.
PROMPT LOCATION: George St Hove
Mr. Burgess is a rotten creep so I'm not surprised when, as I'm coming home from school, I see cops standing outside his apartment in the hallway, murmuring to each other. Then I see the police. Burgess is a drunk - and a violent one. He's got a nice enough wife, but she seems afraid of him. I've seen her with a black eye more than once. Once, I saw her in the laundry room and her lip was split open. She told me she fell on the ice when she caught me staring.
My mom called the cops a bunch of times when we could hear him screaming at her. She used to tell me to go to my room when it happened, but eventually she just told me that Mr. Burgess was a criminal who belonged in jail. I saw her try and talk to Mrs. Burgess once, but the woman was so afraid she practically ran away from my mother.
Now, as I walk past the cops, straining my ears to try and hear what they're saying, they grow quiet. I muster up the nerve to ask them what's going on - I tell them I live in the apartment next door - but they just tell me to go inside. My mom is at the door when I walk in. I ask if she knows what happened. She says, "You already know what happened." I grab her hand, and hope that I can comfort her.
PROMPT LOCATION: New York
On twitter - @very_very_red
I can see them, shrinking into the distance. Three boys with my passport, snatched from my hand in a heartbeat, bumping their way through the shoppers on Clancy's Strand. They look back and laugh. They wave the passport at me. My little book, where tomorrow I was going to document my flights to far away places, smell orange spices and eat red food.
Who's got it? Who's got it? Ciaran's got it, in his hand. He's waving it and he shouldn't do that. The Guards will see us and take us in. She was pretty that lady. My throat hurts from running. Sean's laughing at her picture. How much will we get for it? Stop and hold my side. I've stitch. Ciaran puts it in his mouth and bends down to tie his shoelace. I look back and I see her, and I think of the red Arsenal shirt I'm going to buy on Saturday with the money.
Finally! She took a deep breath as she sat down on the low wall outside Brighton Station and dug for her phone in her overstuffed backpack. She could smell the sea air mixed with exhaust fumes from the buses and taxis picking up passengers outside the station and a faint whiff of coffee from the stall behind her.
Allowing herself a few minutes, she looked at the people milling about. Some suits heading inside, most likely catching a late train to London for work. A few tourists consulting the signs and figuring out the way to their B&B along the seafront. And all around her, a lively, colourful mess of Brightonians: turquoise hair and 50's polka dot dress here, hipster beard and skinny jeans there, some young guys swishing about on their skateboards and a few elderly ladies in hiking gear waiting for the bus to Devil's Dyke.
She'd had to travel halfway around the world to realise this was where she belonged. Brighton was hers, and she was Brighton's. "There you are," the town seemed to say, "I've been missing you!" Even the screeching seagulls seemed unusually friendly, though she was probably imagining this.
She gathered her bags and set off down Queens Road, towards home.
"Excuse me, Miss?"
She turned around to face a man in a suit waving her passport at her.
"You left this on the wall!"
"Oh, throw it away. I don't need it anymore."
PROMPT LOCATION: Brighton Station
I made my way from the station. Keeping to the narrow back lanes and side streets. Off the beaten tracks, away from prying eyes. I couldn't risk being spotted. That would raise too many questions, too many puzzled looks, the risk of discovery and repatriation. The last thing I wanted!
A movement at the end of the alley caught my attention.
A sudden breeze lifted the rubbish causing a mini maelstrom of old newspapers and Pizza Place fliers. I squinted against the tornado of dust and grit and saw beyond it, a small human crouching by the bins. He seemed as keen as I not to be spotted, and I couldn't help feeling that a less glaring choice of shirt might have helped him.We looked at each other, warily.
Separated for an instant by the storm of paper until, as suddenly as it had begun, the wind dropped and the papers fluttered to the ground. One sheet came to rest in front of me. I looked down and saw my own face staring back. And underneath, the hideous human name.I shuddered in disgust and shame. By the bins the boy stared at me. His eyes flickered to the paper at my feet and back up to meet my gaze. He nodded, the slightest, barely perceptable movement of his head and then stood and jogged quietly past.
Thankful of his understanding, I continued my journey leaving behind the poster offering a reward for my safe return. I hoped the human boy was as successful in his own bid for freedom.
PROMPT LOCATION: Sunderland
That was too close, the balloon thought as she drifted back above the buildings and slowly regained her composure. Whatever had been going on with those humans, she knew she'd been lucky not to get any more caught up. The scrawny one's scribble on her label - a string of numbers squeezed around her request for help - was more than enough thankyouverymuch. Could they be coordinates? If so, how was she supposed to find them? She was a balloon! She didn't think they were, though; that human had been far too preoccupied to be helping her. She was starting to get her bearings, she realised, as she scudded along above one of the main roads. The streets were gradually slotting into a vague mental map - being a balloon, she was truly air-headed - and she bobbed happily as she saw she was heading back towards the centre of the settlement. There should be signs now, she thought, and altered her course so she could look better. Okay, up here... down this road... it should be around here somewhere...
There it was! The big glassy building from the pictures, the library! This was where she'd find what she needed to know.
"Mum! A balloon!"
A small human, accompanied by a bigger human, reached up towards her excitedly.
"Oh yes," said the bigger human, catching hold of the label and glancing at it curiously before passing it to the smaller one. "'Help me' and a phone number. That's interesting. I thought the scavenger hunt was next week. Come on, we can ask inside."
The balloon sighed in relief. Now if only she could get her string free of the smaller one's grasp...
PROMPT LOCATION: Jubilee Library
I was crossing the road when the text came through with the usual buzz and shake in my trouser pocket. I dug it out, fast as a gunslinger, and saw it was a message from Paul.
It was a photograph, which was unusual I thought as he didn't usually send me images. He had an arm out and there was a ruddy great owl sitting on it and he was pulling a funny face. Paul, that is. I couldn't speak for the owl. It looked like he was standing on the centre-line of the Amex Stadium.
Okay, interest piqued, I rang him up. "Why are you holding an owl?" I said.
"I'm not. The owl's holding me. It's gripping my arm really hard and won't let go."
"Is there anyone there who can help you? What about the person who took the picture?"
An awkward pause. "It's a selfie. There's just me and the owl."
"So would you care to explain what happened?" I prompted him.
"You won't believe this," he began. "I was crossing the road, and then-"
I couldn't hear the rest for the heavy beating of wings, and then a shadow came over me. I felt sharp talons gripping my shoulders and I was suddenly lifted skyward.
A little while later, I was deposited on the centre-line of the Amex Stadium in Brighton. A large owl pecked at my ear until I reluctantly held an arm out and it sidled along to perch there quite happily. I hung up my mobile, which seemed a little surplus to requirements under the circumstances.
"Yeah, I can see what happened now," I said to Paul through gritted teeth.
"Any bright ideas?" His face was going slightly purple. It was at around this point that I called you.
PROMPT LOCATION: White Hart Lane, Tottenham
The pavement was wide enough to accommodate them five abreast. The lone woman among them was dwarfed by the burly men, her shoulders pinned by theirs, her feet almost lifted from the ground as if she were in a sedan chair.
The woman shot out her dainty arm and the men all stopped short like a concertina. They entered the door of a leather goods shop in single file, the woman at the head.
She picked up a green handbag from the display and held it against the stomach of one of the men. She took his hand to clasp the bag to himself as she moved on to the next formation of handbags.
She repeated the procedure with the others in turn, arraying one with a red bag, another with a yellow bag and the final with a black one. She paid for them but declined the offer of having them gift wrapped.
She addressed her coterie. "Right my little male harem. I will not see you all day, but in the evening I will appear dressed in a gown. Whichever of you has the matching coloured bag will be my chosen one for the evening. On awakening each morning, you can choose who has which colour according to his mood and then carry it around with you all day. None of you will know what mood takes my fancy until I appear."
"But mistress, what shall we carry in our bags?"
"Why, my tricks and toys of course."
PROMPT LOCATION: Kings Road, Chelsea
"Plink plonk! Excuse me, do you sell furniture polish?"
The lady at the customer service desk did not believe what she saw. Was there really a brightly striped piano standing in front of her? And had it really just SPOKEN OUT LOUD? She rubbed her eyes. The piano was still there, waiting patiently. She stepped around the desk. She pinched herself. Yes, there was definitely what looked like a piano. But - had it really spoken human words? Was it even REAL? She rapped the top of it with her knuckles.
"Ow! No need to be rude! I just wanted to buy some polish. I get awfully grimy from all those random people hitting my keys all day long."
Definitely human words. Definitely coming from the piano. Okay, just roll with it Gladys, she thought. It's clearly a dream.
"We should have polish in the cleaning section, yes. Would you like to wait here while I get you a can?"
"Oh, that would be kind! It is a bit tricky for me to navigate the aisles as a piano."
Gladys hurried off to get the polish, as well as her colleague Paula. She had to make sure someone else saw this. HEARD this! It was clearly a dream, but just in case...
A piano in a supermarket, who had ever heard of such a thing. What was next, a piano at a train station?
PROMPT LOCATION: Waitrose, Western Road
My parents told me that I was a soul they found floating above a stretch of grass next to the highway on their way to Johannesburg. My mom said I looked like a red balloon, and that she caught me before I could snag on a wiry tree or float down into the prickly winter-brown grass.
I never quite understood how I went from a balloon-shaped soul to human, but I knew I was different. In time the balloon became a silly bedtime story to grow out of. I acted like balloons didn't scare me. I carried balloons around because other children did. Balloons would slip from their fingers and disappear into the sky, but I could never let one go.
When I turned thirteen my parents told me that I was given up by my biological parents. Parents who, like so many others, had left the country. As if leaving me wasn't enough. As if I wasn't enough reason to stay.
It took a lot of time to find her name. On Facebook was a story of her new coffee table book set in Brighton - a far-away world of strangers. Snapshots of her, a red balloon and two toddlers. A photo of a lone red balloon above Brighton.
I choked as my soul spilled onto the floor with my tears. Mom caught me and snapped the laptop shut.
If only I were a balloon. Then I could float away. Then I could disappear.
MHer dress isn't shrink proof, the bride realizes now, submerged as she is in unflushed toilet water. Through heaves and mascara diluted tears, she thinks she sees a fly smirking at her from the lip of the scarred and dented toilet lid. She should have worn her glasses.
Darla tugs at one of her silver shoes and flings it upward toward the fly that is actually a cigarette burn.
She is grateful---only the second time in her life that she can recall feeling so---for having grown up the daughter of a rancher. Disregarding the wrinkly ruin of her bridal hands now as she fashions a kind of lasso from what was a unique and ultra feminine lace veil, she envisions all the havoc she will let loose upon those who betrayed her and thought, in their puny limited imaginations that such a bizarre and sinister plan would succeed.
Refusing to consider the nature of recent events having occurred in this vessel, Darla holds her breath, tosses the French veil lasso, exhaling only when she's certain it's securely anchored to the toilet paper dispenser. Then she hoists herself up, not bothering even once to gaze back at the shreds of drenched wedding gown pieces now mingling lazily with remnant of toilet tissue below. Just for a heart skip, she gulps at the thought of the automated flush mechanism. The moment passes, and soon she is free. Diminished in stature.
Still not wed. Wet. But alive, so very much alive.
PROMPT LOCATION: Ottawa, Canada
As he struggled up the Champs-Elysees, it seemed everyone else was coming the opposite direction. He kept looking at the Arc de Triomphe, wondering if he was actually getting any closer, unable to shake the sensation that he was battling his way upstream.
Celine was going to meet him soon and he wanted to get there early. Perhaps they could work things out this time. Maybe this miserable, on-again, off-again situation would finally ease into something smoother, more permanent. He tightened his grip on the bunch of flowers he was carrying, gritted his teeth, and was forced to stop just moments later at a crossing as traffic surged past. A weary-looking mother beside him snapped at her children, "Just stop it, stop, it will only end in tears again."
Then the traffic stopped. The family moved on. He looked down at flowers he was clinging to, walked over to a bin and stuffed them inside. Walking back down the street, he felt like he was moving in the right direction.
PROMPT LOCATION: Arc De Triomphe, Paris
She found her mind wandering - the cursor's steady, mocking flash highlighting vast white page below it. She stared at the droplets of rain on the window and listened to the splashing and squelching outside. An innocuous little chime came from her phone on the other side of the room. A secret sense of relief for the distraction made her open the browser on the computer and go to her Facebook notifications to see Andy (with: all their names except hers, location: Brighton - even Facebook post details are mocking me now, she thought) had tagged her in the comment on his video: "missing you Vicky!"
The tiny, grainy video burst into life, sunshine flashing across the picture, obscuring the first few seconds in a blaze of white light as Andy swung the phone around, only half looking at what he was recording. She could hear the chatter and noise of a crowd, punctuated by the roar of the hot air burners, with blurry faces looking up at the sky. The video focused in for a second on the red balloon as it sailed up towards the bright sun, and wobbled around to reveal more brightly coloured balloons making a disjointed rainbow in the sky.
There, on the edge of the picture she saw them both, his arm around her like it was the most natural, obvious thing in the world. She felt her stomach thud. So it was true - she'd feared that they were growing closer. She'd always known he didn't even know about her affections for him let alone return them, but somehow this was too much, because she was so stupid to have ever thought it could be any different. But to have it confirmed like this...
She clicked the 'close' button on the browser and gulped.
PROMPT LOCATION: Manchester
Becca's feet were killing her. Up and down the stairs to the stockroom all morning. "Do you have them in a five?"
Up, and down.
"Only in blue, madam."
"Oh. Oh well."
Becca half-watched her walk away, half-watched the red needle move round the clock.
Down, then up.
"Ten minutes, Becca."
At last. Becca pushed open the fire door and took a deep breath of fresh air. What a waste of a beautiful day.
No texts, but a tag on Facebook from Linzi: "Up up and away!"
She clicked and watched a video of a red balloon gliding lazily over Brighton Pavilion. It floated gently upwards until it was a tiny speck against the blue sky. Becca smiled, shared Linzi's post, and tagged ten of her friends.
Suddenly, her feet didn't hurt. She looked down, and found that she was hovering just above the broken concrete.
Ping! Becca rose a little higher. She giggled, nervously, and put her phone away.
Becca ascended gradually above the Arndale, and let the breeze carry her west towards Selfridges. Her manager, waving and shouting, was far below.
Becca spread her arms wide and leaned into the wind. The Hilton was calling her. It gleamed in the sunshine like a giant mobile phone. She'd always wanted to go to Cloud 23.
Around her, the sky was filling. People in suits, jeans, tie-dye, leather trousers, corduroy, bright wool coats, print dresses, all heading upwards as fast as their phones pinged. Some were running on air like cartoon characters, some swam serenely, at home in their new element.
Becca raised her face to the sun and the infinite sky, and floated gently upwards.
PROMPT LOCATION: Manchester
A balloon rests on the pavement with the ticket saying Help Me and an address on Edward St. The balloon, pink and quite deflated looks very sad as it lies on the ground. It is the ticket that intrigues me: a mystery! A mystery of my very own! As for Edward Street, I think really hard where it is. No, no luck, I can't remember where I have seen that name before.
Reaching into my pocket for my phone, I suddenly realise that it isnt there. Things blur at this point, I feel very faint, my legs give way beneath me.
'Are you alright miss?' an anxious voice says.
Looking up I see a policeman. For a moment, I don't understand why I am lying on the ground and why my head hurts so much.
'Yes, I think so,' I murmur - I think I passed out.
'Don't you move miss, I'm going to call for an ambulance'
My head is still spinning. Even trying to sit up is an effort. I don't feel at all well.
'Excuse me' I ask, 'Do you know where Edward Street is?'
The policeman looks at me and smiles, then turns away. I hear him talking into his radio.
'Sarge. Looks like we've got another one. She's just asked me if I know where Edward Street is.'
PROMPT LOCATION: Southampton
The figure on the roof was not silhouetted against the sky, but almost lost in the gloom, the fading autumn light. Moira watched anxiously. Only once, 60 years ago, had she seen anyone actually die. And she quickly pushed away the memory. She had done what she could. The police would be here soon. It was no good calling out to him - her voice was too weak to bridge the distance. When he called out, the wind blew his words away. Were they intended for her?
She knew him. He was the young man from the middle floor. His name? The police would want to know his name. Jamie, was it? Jamie or Tommy. She watched and waited. Then she shut her eyes and prayed. Prayed that he wouldn't.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a screech of brakes. Thank god, she thought. The police. But the squeal ended in a sickening crash. She looked down. Not the police. The car had been speeding too fast. Too fast to miss the body that was now crushed under the wheels.
She looked over to the rooftop and gasped. The figure was still there. Like her it had watched the scene below. A pale face looked across at her for a moment. He wasn't thanking her, but somehow acknowledging her presence.
Then slowly the young man turned and climbed back over the ledge to safety.
PROMPT LOCATION: Seven Dials
I was feeling hungry, the rumbling in my stomach starting to drown the noise of the traffic in Chalk Farm Road and the chatter of excited wannabe half term hipsters. Drawn by the smell of Mexican food I studied the offerings on the food stall near the bridge and opted for a chicken and avocado fajita.
The guy smiled at me as he handed it over oozing green, with a gangling chilli protruding at the side. I followed a gang of schoolgirls in their torn tights and Doc Martens as they walked down the steps. An avocado coated chicken nugget fell out on to the floor, narrowly missing the back of a leather jacket belonging to a girl metal head, hair shaved at one side and bobbing tubes at the other that looked like drinking straws. Her pierced nose had three rings and some snot at the edge. My attention was drawn to an ordinary looking guy in skinny jeans and Converse. He smiled at me. Quite handsome, with fair hair and a broad smile.
"Is this your usual patch? Miguel makes a mean fajita."
I wasn't sure why he decided to talk to me. I wanted to be on my own.
"Yeah. Sometimes you could just murder some Mexican. And it's good."
I walked on. I felt his gaze on my back as I walked past the clothing stalls and stopped by one selling leather jackets. He wasn't far away. He was talking to a skinny guy with black greasy hair selling boots. I looked again. From underneath the stall, greasy guy produced something, a long packet. The man who spoke to me appeared to be buying knives and they weren't for cooking.
PROMPT LOCATION: Camden Market, London
It is one hour before he is to be married. They, he and Tom, have waited - and fought for - this day for years and years. The thing about fighting for something is you can't be sure how you'll feel if and when you finally win. But Garrett is sure. He loves Tom, they are in love, and they have been for nine years. The night the state passed the marriage equality act they were at the Capitol, holding signs, holding each other. That was their night, and today will be their day.
Garrett tries to imagine Tom now, what he may be doing. He imagines that he is pressing his shirt - Tom is impeccable, trusting no one but himself with details. Garrett smiles and pays for his baguette, leaving his change in the tip jar. He knows that Tom will not be surprised to see him show up to the ceremony with crumbs on his tie.
PROMPT LOCATION: Toronto
The tag swung proud as the brazen balloon floated past his head. He lobbed a spanner into the air, and it landed in the gravel with a painful thud. He'd always been atrocious at athletics at school, and now here, when his javelin-throwing skill was of vital importance, he flunked it.
He jumped and swiped, his fingertips a sparrow's breath away from the tag. The brown paper twirled with a tease as he bounced like a weighted astronaut from the gravity of the Earth.
'Curses' he muttered, 'of all the bleedin' days, they 'ave to go lettin' them off on a Tuesday.'
Tuesday was the day when the Lord liked to come down to casually keep an eye on his little babies, housed in the coaching stables away from her Ladyship's drowning complaints. The seven Silver Ghosts and three Mercedes were a full time occupation, which he insisted on making clear to Lord Melksham.
He bent down and picked up the spanner as the balloon swung over above the Disneyland lawn.
'KEEP OFF THE GRASS.'
He held his breath, pummelling his oily pink forehead. It couldn't get much worse. The details written in curly turquoise longhand were his ticket out of here. It wouldn't matter if he lost his job in the process. But it would be a very serious matter if he lost the balloon in the madness of the process. His brainstorming became sillier and sillier.
The wonderful plan he raised involved shotguns, picnic hampers, hosepipes and blowtorches. In fact, anything that he could think of. And all that thought of, he had to hand.
He felt the breeze on his sweaty face change from one cheek to the other, and saw the balloon make a swing back towards him from its distant position across the grass. It was coming back towards him; all was not lost.
He felt in his overall pocket for the keys to the gun room, picking out the distinct shape of the barrel with his thumb tip. He could be there in an instant.
His focus trained on the cherry sailing over the sea of grenadine, steady now, he calculated how long he had before it went over the other side of this wing of the house. He thought of cocktails in Rio. He licked his lips. He was off.
PROMPT LOCATION: Reading
White Heather IV (OB266)
"Birches clustered in sprays where the dried-up burns dipped into the streams....Flickers were coming off the loch and the massive sky seemed filled with a sparkling dust above those hot summer hills, fattened with plants and trees."*
Luke coughed. He hudnae slept well up amongst the bracken-flecked sheep. It was chilly, pale-eggshell-sky morning. Mist rose above the railway pass. He shivered.
In the awning of his tent he started up the Coleman gas. Warmth at last, tea water on the go. He needed a slash. Shuffling out the tent he found his favourite birch to have a piss behind. Steam rose to echo the clearing mist.
You see, life had no been easy since he had left HER. Her name was too painful to say out loud. Ma, Mar. Mar. Mmmm, Martha. God, it still hurt over 3 years later. His ribs ached as he cackled with phlegm. Still, his own fuckin fault.
What was he gonna do today? Aw ya dancer, it was Thursday. Best day of the week. You see it was the Foodbank at St Francis In The East. He loved that place; hot tea, custard creams, a wee chat with that helper Tara. And bags of food to bring back to his tent; beans, sugar, toilet roll and tinned anchovies. Fuckin treats.
He'd manage a lunchtime hauf 'n hauf in the Lorne with that wee skinny barmaid. And he'd go for a wander down the pier to watch the island ferries come and go. He'd take a seat near the green-walled seafood shack and watch the gulls fight over scraps. He'd look for Jimmy's boat White Heather IV. Aye, and mind that time he and his pal saw the two drunk fishermen at Halloween unloading langoustines then hitching their dinghy to a battered white van. Weird stuff happens in Argyll.
He bloody loved Oban, so he did. His ex father-in-law, with his tales of fishing at Loch Awe would have been proud; if he didnae still hate his guts for that Martha thing.
Luke muttered and walked out in the Argyll sunshine to seek a kind of redemption of sorts.
[*quote from Alan Warner, Morvern Callar (1995)]
Lizard Vanilla Blog
PROMPT LOCATION: Oban, Scotland
Balefires were lit all along the South coast when the advent of the Armada was first sighted.
The letters on the railway station destination board flickered like a thousand butterflies in a greenhouse behind glass as the train pulled into the platform.
The runway twinkled with the fire of gemstones as the plane came in to land and thread the glittering pearls either side of its streamlined shape.
The boy sent up fireworks by the side of the shelter to alert the world to the fact that no bus had been sighted in three hours now.
PROMPT LOCATION: Edgware Road, London
Bella licked her lips as the warm meat entered her mouth. She chewed enthusiastically and swallowed hard. Homemade burgers were the best that was for sure and the first of the batch as her mum said was always the best.
It didn't matter it was drizzling, the bench they were sitting on at the bus stop was protected from the elements and they were both quite warm in their brown trouser suites and matching jackets over pale silk blouses.
"We look like twins" Bella mused as she glanced covertly at her mother who was at that moment adding a dollop of ketchup to her own meaty burger.
"Always use Heinz Bella" her mother said as she raised the bread encased meat patty to her waiting lips "It's quality over quantity"
"I like Levi Roots hot sauce" Bella said and she laughed when her mother made a face.
"Too much flavour" her mother said "Heinz ketchup lets you taste the meat"
Bella looked at her half eaten burger, she licked a dribble of her chosen hot sauce that was leaking from the edge of the bread and sighed contentedly.
"Don't let it stain your top" her mother said, "Tussore silk is a bitch to clean"
"We need to ditch the Tussore mother" Bella said as she took another bite of her meal, "It's too 1930s, we need to get with it"
"Nothing wrong with the 1930's" her mother said placidly "We have had some of the best food ever in the 1930's, the 21st century could learn a thing or two from the 1930's you know"
Bella smiled. She finished off her burger and licked her fingers one by one.
"He was a bit lean wasn't he?" She said "I would have liked a bit more fat but he tasted very nice once I added my sauce"
"Just like your father" her mother said with a disapproving shake of her head "That's how he got caught, wanted his meat to have more fat, I told him, Hannibal, don't keep your meat hanging around, but he did, and it escaped and the Spanish Inquisition found him, silly man!"
Bella smiled, she touched the large blue insulated storage box between them with her foot, let out a small delicate belch, looked quickly around, let her front teeth elongate for a second so she could pull a bit of sinew free and flick it away into the bushes behind the shelter.
Her mother looked disapproving for a second time but she didn't say anything as the number 25 was bearing down on them.
Time to go home and put the rest of their meat in the freezer, but her mum was right about one thing, there was nothing quite like the first burger of a freshly made batch.
PROMPT LOCATION: Stanmer Park
"Things will quickly change; we have grown up, we will improve our world...there will be days and days and days like this"*
The camera rolls.
Robert McArthur of Lochawe looked straight into the glass eyes of the pale taxidermic Cheetah. Above him lay not sky, but the imposing outline of the City of Glasgow Squadron LA198 Mark 21 Spitfire. He had not flown one like that since he crash-landed near Poitiers in October 1944. Now he had celebrated his 90th birthday, the memories of that misty-morning dawn were like a 70 year-old opaque bottle of local Petite Champagne Cognac.
He shivered fleetingly as he glanced up at the Moose (Alces alces) over his right-shoulder. Nietzsche was a little late. A habit of a life-time for him. Robert remembered how he took ages to arrive to apprehend him after his Spitfire was downed by the farm. That day, captor and captive developed a strange respect. Over the days that followed in the journey east to Germany, they struck up an embryonic friendship. He was glad of that; they had swapped wartime passports on the evening Robert was removed to Buchenwald.
He glanced right at the painted figure through the stone archway. He had loved that painting of Archibald McLellan since he had visited Kelvingrove Galleries as a boy. A crumpled old man sat down beside him on the seat, his wispy hair and moustache matching the stuffed Swan behind the Cheetah. Nietzsche smiled and the years fell away; there they were again, back in wartime France. The aroma of farm-baked bread, cheap cigarette smoke and the stench of farmyard manure, warm livestock and cold corpses.
They exchanged faded and creased passports. He embraced Nietsche under LA198 and the tears came easily. Buchenwald had broken his spirit for years. Here he was now, feeling relief and forgiveness with his captor. As he opened his tear-stained eyes, he noticed the document in Archibald McLellans outstretched hand in the adjacent gallery and he smiled. An olive-branch, an exchange of contracts, returned friendship. He remembered Vera Lynn and hugged Nietzsche tighter.
The camera pulls back, framing LA198 as it presided over the scene. Two old men, an impassive Cheetah. A swan with outstretched wings.
True forgiveness for the dark days is indeed an act of love. ___________
[*spoken dialogue by Meryl Streep from the film 'Plenty', 1985)
(With acknowledgement to puffinbrae for locating the prompt)PROMPT LOCATION: Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow
Lizard Vanilla Blog
The mosquitoes had woken me, and the heat stopped me returning to pounding dreams. But it was the phone that forced me out of bed. "Mr Gantmacher? Kolya Gantmacher?"
I grunted a reply.
"This is the Interior Police. We have found your passport."
"You may collect it at the Divisional Bureau. Liyas Steet. You'll need ID."
I heard the click, and squinted at my watch. It was late, and Liyas Street was on the wrong side of town. My plane left at one thirty.
I scurried around, throwing everything into my backpack. I picked up a jacket and my passport fell out. I stared at it, and relaxed. A puzzle, but no longer my problem. I could go straight to the airport.
As the bus rumbled through the outskirts of the town, the phonecall nagged at me. It was odd. Some admin error no doubt. But how come they had my contact details? I guessed that information would have been on the visa.
The queue shuffled forwards till it was my turn. The passport official looked at the passport carefully, then pressed a button. Two border guards appeared, and headed through the line towards me.
In the tiny cell the policeman peered at the two passports. They were identical.
"No," I said. I couldn't explain.
The second cell was even smaller. And I was alone. Just me and the mosquitos.
I turned over and opened my eyes. I had finally fallen asleep. I wanted to just lie there but I had to get up. I was leaving today. I always had nightmares before I travelled.
The phone rang. I struggle over to the table.
"Mr Gantmacher? Kolya Gantmacher?"
I grunted a reply.
"This is the Interior Police. We have found your passport."
PROMPT LOCATION: Trafalgar Square
About Holes And Things*
She was in the kitchen preparing vegetables for a slow-cooked Coq Au Vin when the radio mentioned about Brighton, about holes and things. She'd been tasting some Rioja so wasn't sure if she had picked up the news item correctly. Using her chicken-floured fingers, she turned up the radio.
"....and reports from passers-by describe how the strange sink hole that has opened up in Pavilion Gardens looks like something from Dantes Inferno. We'll have more on this as the story develops"
Her fingers snaked round the volume dial again and returned the newsreader to background levels. Sipping her wine she tried to remember the first part of the Divine Comedy poem by Dante. What were the 9 circles of Hell, again? Limbo was the first, then Lust. As she browned the chicken thighs in Brittany butter, and tasted the deep red wine, she remembered the third circle, Gluttony. She laughed inside momentarily, then bit her lip.
Her life had been in limbo since she had left her partner. Over four years of just getting by, not feeling confident enough to look for love. Then 3 months ago it happened. She met Him.
Out of the blue, he had walked into her life in July. They met at Glasgow Central station. Both of them 50 yet suddenly feeling like 17 again.
She added all the ingredients back into the pan, then poured the reduced Rioja back in. As the dish waited to start bubbling, she gazed out to the autumn sunshine. Soon they would be together again, walking near Ambleside or cooking dinner after a pint in the Golden Rule. She thought of these simple pleasures. She thought of future possibilities. She thought of happiness. And love and things.
Then her mind flicked back to the Brighton radio item. She felt the Rioja-warmth in her cheeks, as she metaphorically advanced to Dantes second circle. Lust.
[*chapter title from the novel 'Waterland' by Graham Swift, 1983]
Lizard Vanilla Blog
PROMPT LOCATION: Paisley, Scotland
The police stand in the street, talking about Mr. Burgess. I peek at them through the blinds and listen through the open window. An officer walks toward my house, rings my bell. I put on my best surprised face and open the door.
Good morning, Miss, he says. Your neighbor over there had a break-in last night. Did you see or hear anything unusual?
I shrug, shake my head. Where is he now, I ask, looking past the officer to Mr. Burgess' house.
Did you see anything, he asks again, trying to attract my eyes.
I look at him and shake my head 'no.'
Alright Miss, he says, let me take down your information in case you do remember anything later.
He has a daughter, I say. She lives nearby.
Do you have her information, he asks.
No, I say, but she lives just a few streets over.
He tells me to hang tight, and he jogs back over to the other officers. I can't hear what he says, but I'm sure Mr. Burgess is dead. The flowers in his window boxes need watering.
On twitter - @very_very_red
PROMPT LOCATION: New York