cheeks still glittering
with last night’s sand
and your head
so heavy in my palms
that I thought it a moon
caught up in my orbit,
the rings about us singing
that all dreams must end.
‘How can you forget where you left it?’ Samantha demanded, shooting Michael a withering look before closing her eyes and counting to ten. In a moment she would let out a deep sighing breath and give Michael her best, why do you insist on embarrassing me stare before ordering another drink from the bar and forgetting the subject altogether.
‘I mean really Michael!’
Michael blinked, confused as to where the last 6 seconds had gone and why she hadn’t ordered a large glass of red wine. She wasn’t following the natural order.
‘It’s a bench!’ Samantha spluttered. ‘You cannot misplace a bench! Especially not one of yours! They’re massive and made of wood. WOOD MICHAEL! WOOD!’
Everyone else in the pub had fallen silent now, the hum of conversation dying as all eyes turned to stare at the couple having the argument. Or rather, Samantha yelling at her bemused husband since Michael rarely said two words to anyone about anything.
‘I could understand a nail or two, perhaps even your level metre, but misplacing a bench is on a whole other level.’
Michael fixed his stare on what was left of his pint as Samantha continued to berate him for losing the garden bench he had made on commission, for Miss Appleway’s new patio. He really didn’t understand why she was so concerned; he would remember where it was and then collect it. Forgetting the rest of his pint he stood up from the table and headed for the door, leaving his wife purple faced and furious.
Hailing a cab he climbed in, sat down, and nodded when appropriate to the driver’s chatter. He didn’t notice the manila folder sticking out from beneath the front seats until he was almost home. Ignoring the driver’s comments on the weather Michael ducked down, and yanked the folder out.
There were three sheets of paper inside, all gibberish and slightly crumpled. There was nothing to say who they belonged to, or what they were about, just block text and narrow margins.
Rolling the folder up, Michael stuck it into his jacket pocket. I didn’t fit of course, but it stayed where he’d put it. In the morning he’d ask around the town and see if anyone had lost three sheets of nonsense.
‘Here we are mate!’ The driver said cheerfully, throwing a grin back over his shoulder as Michael clambered out of the taxi. ‘Nice looking place!’
Pulling out his wallet Michael paid him, watching him drive off before diving into his trouser pocket to search for keys. His house was one of row of terrace building, set back in tiny manicured gardens with box-hedges and gravel paths. What set his and Samantha’s apart from the rest was the array of strange wooden carving dotting the lawn and perching in the hedge.
‘Excuse me Sir?’ The voice came from an older gentleman stood beside the garden gate.
Michael acknowledged sadly that his house keys were not in his pocket and turned to face the man approaching him instead.
‘May I ask where you found that document?’ The man pointed at the folder sticking out of Michael’s pocket.
‘Taxi.’ Michael responded, gazing up at the front of his house and wondering how long it would be before Samantha got back. She’d probably be late home, thinking that it would punish him for abandoning her.
‘Did you read the content?’ The man asked, glancing at the folder in a way that would seem to suggest he was about dash in and snatch it.
‘Utter nonsense.’ he told the man.
The man in the suit sighed. ‘I’ll take that as a yes then. I am terrible sorry for this, but you never can be too careful in these situations.’
Michael nodded, assuming that whatever the man had said required his agreement, he had been more occupied with the splintered window ledge on the second floor.
It would take Samantha another three months before she noticed it, and then another five before it was fixed.
Died 17th September 2012
Has anyone seen his bench?
Written for the writing challenge on http://outwherethebusesdontrun.com/2012/09/14/prompt-this/
My prompt was “The absent-minded carpenter found the top secret document in the taxi to avoid the argument.”
The heating has been on since six and the kitchen is warm.
Beyond the windows trees are grey skeletons, the lawn knotted with weeds. Three fence panels slump away from their posts, and the sun is out.
Through the glass it pretends that the heat in the kitchen is its doing.
Kara knows it’s lying and pads barefoot across the tiles.
The kettle has boiled but she leaves it, takes the jar beside instead, twists a slip of paper free.
‘Live,’ it reads.
She folds it and places it back, rooting it towards the bottom.
Tomorrow she may pull different.
‘There be giants in these parts,’ Gavin muttered, hiking the pack higher onto his shoulder as they trudged through the snow drifts at the bottom of the monument. In front of him Eddie huffed, his breath turning to ice and smoke. As the sun sunk towards the frozen horizon the temperature would continue to fall, and in the fading light Gavin had to squint to see the humped silhouettes of the outpost. There would be traders there they hoped. A chance to refill their supplies before moving deeper into the wastelands.
‘You believe all that, really?’ asked Eddie. ‘Damn Gav, you’re worse than those priests back at the temple, always trying to tell us that we’re only here by the mercy of the gods.’ He scratched his chin and tipped his head back. They were right beneath the right hand of the statue, the lines of its palm a shadowy black web in the dust. In full light it would seem almost human. The same shape to its face, its arms, its legs. The only thing that set it apart was the size. One thumb was almost three times the size of a full-grown man, and the monument was more than just one thumb.
‘There were no giants, just stupid men with nothing better to do with their lives but make up stories and build ridiculous statues.’ Dropping his head Eddie threw his hand over his shoulder and flipped off the monument. ‘They can shove their giants where the sun don’t shine for all I care. Now shut your trap and move your feet. I’m not letting stories get me stuck out here for the night.’
Night proper was close on their heels by the time the outpost grew into something more than shapes. At the gates they were stopped by two men swaddled in seal skins, pelts mottled with age and patched in places with something cheaper. Eddie spoke to them and Gavin kept back, watching the empty tundra they’d just crossed until the quiet clink of silver was done with and the men stood by to let them through. Turning, Gavin caught sight of the purse before Eddie could slip it inside his jacket and felt the shock register on his face before he had chance to school it.
‘We’re fine,’ Eddie hissed, and hooked his hand around Gavin’s arm. ‘We have enough to buy supplies still. We just need to be smart about it.’
There was no official market place so to speak of. Instead the houses had been built in three circles, one around another, all of them surrounding an area of hardpacked earth perhaps ten yards in radius. Pressed into the space were five battered wagons, one off its wheels and two others half dismantled to create lean-tos where the owners sheltered from the elements.
Eddie paced towards one of the remaining wagons where the horses nosed at the frozen ground, steam rising from their backs. The owner, a flat faced woman with a wide smile, stepped out to meet him.
‘You lookin’ to buy?’ she asked.
‘Aye. We need dried food, enough for three weeks at least.’
The woman nodded and sucked her teeth. ‘Ah, three weeks, you be travelling inwards then? Don’t see many people round here but those you do are always headin’ inwards. Can’t say I understand it but madness is madness and I ain’t ‘ere to judge.’ She returned to her wagon and rustled around in the back before popping her head out of the door. ‘You got silver?’
Eddie patted his breast and her smile widened.
‘You gotta ask,’ she said. ‘Some people, they think they can take advantage of little old women like me.’ She brought out three boxes and placed them on the ground. ‘That’ll be five and twenty.’
‘Five and twenty!’ Eddie scoffed. ‘I’m not sure what supplies you’ve got in those boxes but they sure ain’t worth five and twenty. I’ll give you eight at most and that’s me being generous.’
The woman sucked her teeth again and crouched beside the boxes. The pen knife she produced was good and clean, the blade catching the watery light from the lanterns hanging above. She wedged it under the lid of the top box and prided it open, grimacing as the iron nails squealed free.
Eddie caught the silver packet she tossed him.
‘It’s small,’ he conceded, ‘and light.’ He tossed the packet from hand to hand and strained to read the tight black type printed on the back of it. ‘Spaghetti Bolognaise?’ he read. ‘What’s that supposed to be?’
The woman shrugged. ‘Old world recipe. Very rare. Hence the twenty-five silver. Just melt some snow and mix it in, boom, ‘unger pangs gone. Since I like you boys, and you’re likely to be dead as doornails soon enough, I can do you twenty maybe. I’m feelin’ kind today.’
Eddie weighed the packet in his hands.
‘How about twelve,’ he offered. ‘You were just saying how few people come through this way, what’s the chances you’ll find someone else to sell this to before you move on.’
‘I can sell it after,’ she countered. ‘There’ll be people on the roads wan’in feedin’.’
‘No one on the roads wants to buy, they all come to outposts, its safer. Besides, the only reason traders come this way is to get past the wall and to do that you need silver. You’re not going to find it past here so unless you’ve got enough already to pay your way, you’ll be wanting whatever I can give you.’
Her smile dropped. ‘You’re clever boys. Fifteen and I don’t show you want your insides looks like.’
‘Thirteen,’ growled Eddie, ‘and I don’t show you yours.’
Snapping her pen knife closed the old woman shoved it back into her pocket.
‘Fine, you take ‘em then. Let the giants ‘ave you both.’ She held her hand out for the silver and counted it meticulously when Eddie handed it over. Gavin picked up the boxes, careful to keep her in the corner of her eye at all times. Eddie took the top two from him, dropping the sachet in his hands in the first.
‘Let find somewhere to sleep,’ he said, watching the women past Gavin’s shoulder. ‘Preferably somewhere that has a lock on the door.’
There weren’t many people willing to take in strangers for the night and Eddie was forced to use the last of their silver to pay their way into a cramp cupboard at the back of a home close to the edge of the outpost. The wind whistled between the wood slats and the blankets beneath them did little to block the cold from the floor, but Gavin did his best to ignore his discomfort. He pressed his head into the hollow between Eddie’s shoulder and cheek and pretended they were somewhere far away and warm. Eddie’s voice brought him back.
‘We might not find it, the maps might be wrong you know.’
Gavin breathed in the smell of him and squeezed his eyes shut.
‘I just want you to be prepared in case this doesn’t work out the way you want it, in case we-’
‘In case we die?’ asked Gavin. ‘I don’t think either one of us will care much then.’ He felt the tendons in Eddie’s neck tense.
‘It’s a possibility. We’re putting a lot of faith in what might turn out to be a story.’
‘You mean like the giants? I know you don’t believe in them either, but it doesn’t mean that nothing we’ve been told is true. We have to have some faith at some point or what else do we have?’
‘We have each other,’ said Eddie quietly. ‘That could have been enough.’
‘Now who’s the one believing fairy-tales?’
‘It’s your fault, you’re rubbing off on me.’
The both laughed, the rumble of it rising through Eddie’s chest into Gavin’s fingers. When they stopped, they could hear the wind again. The sound of it unbroken across the empty planes.
‘We’re going to find it,’ Gavin promised. ‘It will be out there, and we’ll find it together.’
Eddie’s arm tightened around him.
‘I hope you’re right,’ he said. ‘I really, really hope you’re right.’
For those of you who can’t tell, I’m going my happy dance. That is because I’ve found a new writing prompt, and it focuses on Speculative Fiction! Yay, yay, yay!!! I’m very excited to take part and I’m looking forward to see what pictures are going to be used in the following months to inspire and motivate those joining in.
If you want to know more then head over to mythsofthemirror.com for the full details.
Thanks for reading.
‘There’s never much green out here is there?’ said Bobby, reaching out to pinch the thorn end of a twig. The bush had rooted into one of the fissures running along the face of the valley and Bobby could see its thin, grey roots spidering outwards in tendrils.
He twisted his hand and the twig crumbled.
‘Sorry,’ he muttered and dusted the debris away.
He turned and walked the fifty yards back to his car.
The boot was still open, the spade inside.
‘I should have found somewhere nicer,’ he muttered, gripping the handle. ‘You would have preferred somewhere green.’