June 1, 2020 at 6:21 pm #8350
It is June and we are approaching Midsummer, so I have chosen the lighthearted theme/title MIDSUMMER MAGIC for the competition to lift our spirits in these difficult times. I feel you should have a choice too and so you may use MIDSUMMER MADNESS as your theme/title instead. Interpret in any way you wish. What is important is to let your imaginations run wild and have fun writing your entry. 🙂 Maximum word count 400 as per usual.June 11, 2020 at 9:14 am #8396SandraParticipant
The ambush had been crueller for the glory of a wiped-clean sky, slowly coloured in by a northeast Scotland, half-four sunrise, just three days past the solstice. and side-swiping the pleasures of his journey down, dulling the pearly greyness of the North Sea which had sheened pink then gold as it prepared itself for day. The road empty before him; only supermarket wagons heading in the opposite direction, aiming to arrive in Edinburgh before the rush.
They drove down the narrow track to the pier soon after he did. Parked behind him. Not unusual. Sensible, in fact, because the later one arrived the better, less reversing round the corkscrew bends. (Despite knowing that, he was almost always the first to arrive.) Two of them, behind tinted windows, and not thinking to remove the shades which must’ve been necessary, travelling north. For discretion’s sake, Theo kept his eyes on the yacht, watching its ever-slowing progress, from sunshine to cool shadow beneath the cliff, its hull the colour of the flower the boat named for: Marigold III. Not exactly surreptitious.
First to step out, he ambled down to the jetty, gulls raucous above his head, and the tang of salt-wet wood telling him he should’ve thought to open his window while he waited. He caught the rope from the skipper and looped it. Accepted the invitation to step aboard, recalling Dougie’s comment on his first trip: ’No need to act illegal, is there? Even though that’s what we’re up to.’
Three others followed; the pair indicating the last-arrived board before them.
They must’ve then suggested he be dealt with first. Not a problem; Theo couldn’t leave until they did and, judging from the size of the bag produced, this man the bigger customer. All he himself was doing was a favour for a friend. A minor rebellion, escaping the weight of family expectation.
To demonstrate ease and good manners, Theo in turn nodded to Dougie to serve the pair. Only then did he notice Dougie’s eyes. Trying to warn him what his mouth was not allowed to say. At the same time as he stepped outside, temporarily relinquishing his captaincy.
They had been precise in their explanation. Clever in their calculation of a tempting profit. At his similarly polite, pseudo-apologetic refusal, they racked up the level of their persuasion. To something beyond thumbscrews.
He had, with reluctance, said yes.
[400 words excluding title]June 15, 2020 at 9:58 am #8416Andrew BrutonParticipant
The queue was going nowhere. He gave up wiping the sweat; it poured in carefree torrents down his forehead, around his nose and dripped from his lips and chin onto the white, cotton shirt his wife had bought him for his birthday back in November.
‘It will look great on you in the summer when we’re in Greece!’ she had said. I thought I’d get something I could use now he had thought as he smiled back and kissed her hard on the lips.
The rotating fan at the till sparked and died, dutifully finishing its arc before hanging its head in shame. The five people in front of him tutted in unison, but that was the full extent of their rebellion and the air got ever-so-slightly hotter, hanging heavily and flatly around them. He glanced at his watch. Thirty-five degrees.
A summer spent in Florida as a student had taught him something about the heat, but there, air-conditioning was everywhere and when customer service fell below outstanding, people started reaching for their handguns. He had wanted to order everything online, but this had been violently opposed and had brought into question his commitment to their situation.
His armpit started to itch. It was an itch that had no chance of being satisfied. The delicate balance of commodities he had jammed under his arms was a mix of soft fabrics and breakable electronic goods he barely recognised but which had been on the list. His fingers tingled, they had turned blue with the weight of the two large bags cutting off their circulation and his bent neck held the top of the stack with just enough pressure to prevent the boxes from slipping out between the fabrics. He was sure his face suggested he was suffering from extreme IBS, but everyone else looked like he did and he was ten minutes past caring. The banner above the till read Midsummer Madness – everything 50% off! Well, they had it half right.
His birthday came to mind once more, the wine, the fire in the tiny rental cottage and that kiss. Midwinter madness had been utterly wonderful, and on return to work and with the build-up to Christmas, that little white stick with blue lines had changed everything. The queue moved a pace forwards. He rubbed himself against the display cabinet and dropped the bottle-steriliser, which smashed noisily on the concrete floor.
[400 words excluding title]June 23, 2020 at 9:09 am #8456
Gentle reminder – only one week left if you are thinking of entering the June competition. 🙂 Would love to read more of your creations on the theme of Midsummer Magic or Midsummer Madness.June 24, 2020 at 7:48 am #8459John S AltyParticipant
There was no current and there was no wind. I moved across a vast, gently undulating sea of quicksilver and, to the south a ship was eerily suspended on the shimmering horizon. Would the watchkeeper see me? Unlikely, I thought, the ship was heading across my course not towards me and he was several miles away. I checked the water bottle again. Half full. I wouldn’t allow myself another drink for an hour. I lifted my straw hat and used it to fan my face. My shirt was stuck to my back where it touched the helm seat. The sun was directly overhead, the sky bleached white.
When I’d set off it had been with a great sense of adventure. I’d explore the many callas with their sandy beaches. The boat seemed up to the job, I had a buoyancy aid and I took a bottle of Evian water with me. What could go wrong?
Well, I’ll tell you. In my life I have come to recognise the existence of a gremlin in all things mechanical. If anything could go wrong, it would. It only required that I would somehow be hurt or imperilled by the consequences and the gremlin would swing into action. In this case it attacked the mechanical connection between driving force and propeller. I was rendered propulsion less.
My attempts at repair were fruitless and I drifted out to sea with the retreating tide. I hoped the turn of the tide would propel me back to the place from whence I had come. I knew this would take several hours, perhaps all day. I was in serious trouble. I’d miss the set dinner. She’d be furious.
“You must be the only person in the world who could get into trouble on a hired bloody pedalo” she screamed when I found her at Reception where she’d been trying to get the clerk to phone the Spanish coastguard.
“It wasn’t my fault; the damn thing was deficient. The chain came off. I could have drifted off to America if a bloke on a jet ski hadn’t towed me back in.”
She rolled her eyes and stormed off towards the dining room. We’d have to eat a la carte, probably.June 24, 2020 at 10:17 am #8460LibbyParticipant
Mia and Danny’s cottage had a petite living-room. Mia was tall with long limbs. She stood with her arms open wide.
Danny asked, ‘Why are you being so theatrical?’
She realised there was a martyr-ish aspect to the pose and perhaps a hint of upcoming transformation. This was good; it could mean something. She must tell Danny about the yearning, about the intangible need to find something, to be someone – .
In front of the window she held one hand floating above the TV and the other not far from the door. Blocking her own light, she saw her shadow blur the hearth rug. That was it! Her life wasn’t fully engaged; it had more potential. Danny, as usual, sat there staring, and it was clear he didn’t even begin to understand.
She must visualise a psychic space, an inner wide horizon, work out how to explain it all to him.
The effort of thought made her arms wave up and down. And in the cottage it was like standing in a small lift, the kind with no mirrors. Blank beige walls on all sides.
Danny, silent, was ignored in this groping for meaning. Mia sensed some kind of path. She wouldn’t mention to him the word “journey”. It would only make him groan.
‘By the way,’ said Danny, ‘next door are going camping while the days are at their longest.’
The following evening she walked into next door’s back garden and found her neighbour lugging a couple of folded canvas chairs from the shed.
‘I’m just loading the car,’ said the woman, a strand of hair getting in her eyes.
‘Shall I keep an eye on things while you’re gone?’ said Mia. ‘You never know.’
But never know what?
The woman squinted at the unmown lawn and the tall weeds climbing up the roses. ‘If you want to.’
Mia felt an odd vibration.
The next evening, alone, she returned to the garden. The roses were pink, yellow and orange, all large and double flowered. Their petals were a psychedelic swirl. The long stems clambered up the house and the fence and hung over the garden. Mia, feeling dizzy, buzzing slightly, lay down, a starfish on the grass.
From above, roses looked down at her.
Danny’s voice came over the fence. ‘Mia?’
She didn’t answer. The rose scent was a gateway. She could be someone else.
400 words including titleJune 29, 2020 at 12:08 pm #8474SquidgeParticipant
The Midsummer Madness
“Are ye well prepared?”
Aliz nods, her eyes wide and dark in her face. “I soaked the rope in rosemary water like ye said, an’ the pegs were whittled fresh from holly.”
“Good. And the other?”
“I have it.”
No tremor in her voice. Will she remain as unaffected if she is forced to use it?
“Good.” I tap my finger on my top lip and glance around the clearing. Have I missed anything? The symbol is marked on the floor with white flour, thick black candles stand at each of its points, the jug is filled with rosewater… “Let’s get on, then.”
Aliz sprinkles the rosewater and the scent of summer blooms hang heavy in the air, masking the rancid stench of fear.
The earth is warm through my shirt when I lay within the floured sign. I keep silent as the still-damp ropes bite into my wrists and ankles, their aroma sharp and cutting against that of the roses. The ground vibrates under me as the pegs are hammered in and the other ends of the ropes secured.
Curtains of black hair frame her face when she leans over me.
“Is all done?”
“Ye will stay by me, and watch to see if the madness descends?”
“Aye, my love.” She brushes my lips with her own.
“And if it does, ye will end me?”
Her eyes close then, shutting me out. But she nods. Again.
“Then move to yon trees and wait. Keep the blade near.”
I turn my face away so I will not see her leave. So little time we’ve had, Aliz and I, but if the madness descends on me, as it does on some men on the Midsummer of their twenty-fifth year, she will at least have something to remember me by.
Pray hope the babe in her belly is a girl, for I would not wish this uncertainty on any son. And I doubt I have Aliz’s strength to end a life if, by some miracle, I survive this night.
339 wordsJune 30, 2020 at 7:53 pm #8481AthelstoneModerator
Frankie wiggles his shoulders in a figure of eight and exhales. He flicks his hat back and mops his brow with a handkerchief. Then he loosens his tie another quarter inch and Matzo slaps his hand down on the table, making all three of us jump.
“For Christ’s sake, Frankie. Yeah – it’s hot. I’m hot. Eddie’s hot. It’s the longest day of the year. More sun, d’ya geddit!”
“I geddit,” Frankie mutters, “but I don’t see why we’s gotta wait. He aint comin’.”
“We stay coz I say we stay. And he will come. Aint that the case, Eddie?”
“Reckon so,” I say.
But I aint so sure. He came last year when we was in Naples, and the year before in London. Same date, every year for the last twenty years. But he aint never been as late as this. Frankie was always the whiner, the glass half empty guy, but I’m starting to think he has a point. Five hours is a long time and it feels longer in this heat.
“Why don’t we get to meet the guy somewheres, I dunno, not so hot?” says Frankie. He tosses back a shot of bourbon, and tips the bottle for another. It’s empty. “Jeez! I mean, if we met him some place like Alaska…”
“He likes it hot.” I say, “He said he comes from somewhere real hot.”
Matzo’s sour expression gives nothing away, but he leans over the side of the bar and grabs another bottle. He tops up all our glasses and raises his own.
“Here’s to Mr Nicholas Old, who has been giving us one more year of life since way back.”
We all drink to this and at that exact moment, the door opens. Three heads swing round. There he stands, a figure so familiar and yet so strange: Mr Old. He’s wearing a clown’s costume, complete with oversized shoes.
“Gentlemen. Sincere apologies for my lateness. But better that than your lateness – no?” He laughs. “How have you enjoyed your year as mobsters? Good, bad?”
His eyes swivel around. There is no laughter in them in spite of his tone. They rest on me and I want to puke.
“You may guess what you will be for the next twelve months from my attire.”
Utter silence. We are thinking. Working it through.
I blurt out, “Please. Make me young. And a girl again.”
399 wordsJuly 1, 2020 at 7:25 am #8482
Six great entries and difficult to choose a winner, as although all but one use the theme of Midsummer Madness, each also encompasses Midsummer Magic in the quality of the writing. Diverse interpretations; equal merit.
First, Sandra’s contribution. This promised drama and menace from its opening and I loved the way Sandra’s unique descriptive style in her first paragraph manages to intensify that by the inclusion of natural beauty (glory of a wiped-clean sky) and everyday life (supermarket wagons). The intrigue and drama are skilfully built up as the plot unfolds until we reach the shiver-inducing ending.
Andrew’s story immediately evoked empathy for the MC sweltering in that queue, which I could easily picture from his descriptions – particularly liked the rotating fan ‘dutifully finishing its arc before hanging its head in shame.’ The back story here is equally important and I loved the idea of the ‘wonderful Midwinter madness’ leading him to the Midsummer Madness sale queue, preparing for the arrival of a baby when he might otherwise have been holidaying in Greece. The image of the breaking sterilizer seemed somehow to emphasise how quickly life can change.
John conjured up an idyllic scene (gently undulating sea of quicksilver…) but immediately the serious plight of the hapless MC was revealed. He considered he’d taken sufficient precautions for his little adventure but was let down by the ‘gremlin’. Wry humour came with the realisation that he was more fearful of his wife’s reaction than the actual severity of his situation stranded at sea. I took to this character and was relieved when he made it to shore!
There is a lightness of touch and humour in Libby’s writing and yet she takes us deep into the inner life of Mia, a character who at first seems self-assured. I love the image of her own shadow giving her a Eureka moment as to what is wrong in her life and the way that the story changes from the everyday to the seemingly mystical (Mia felt an odd vibration). ‘Starfish on the grass’ subtly reflected the pose Mia had struck as the piece opened. I also loved the images of psychedelic roses and the rose scent gateway and I imagined travelling with Mia through to ‘the someone else’ she longed to be.
Squidge takes us back in time with her literal interpretation of Midsummer Madness. The dialogue provides a strong sense of the characters’ relationship and their courage in the face of a daunting situation and through it we are given a vivid image of the ritual in the woods. I ‘felt’ the emotion and tension and was definitely left hoping for a happy ending for this couple and their unborn baby.
Athelstone’s somewhat surreal story at first seemed like a typical ‘mobster’ tale in the way the characters are described and the dialogue used, but the ‘magic’ of their situation was revealed with the mention of Mr Nicholas Old ‘giving us one more year of life since way back’. Who? How? Why? What hold had he got on the men? I put these questions aside as I read on and smiled at the idea of them spending a year as clowns. Then the pleading ‘make me young. And a girl again.’ introduces yet another dimension!
Thank you all for your contributions and the very enjoyable reads. As I said previously, it has been difficult to choose a winner but I am going to give the honour to Squidge, as I feel her story gets to the heart of true madness and the mystique that has surrounded Midsummer throughout the ages.July 1, 2020 at 7:31 am #8483SandraParticipant
Well done Squidge and thanks to all participants for the chance to read so many varied interpretations of Jill’s challenge – and to Jill for the comments.July 1, 2020 at 8:17 am #8484SquidgeParticipant
Wowser – thanks, Jill! There were some great interpretations of the theme, so well done to everyone who entered…especially as I think it was Andrew’s first time?
I’ll have a think about a theme and post a bit later this morning…July 1, 2020 at 9:19 am #8485LibbyParticipant
Congratulations, Squidge! I really enjoyed your story and everyone else’s too. Thank you, Jill, for the themes and the comments.July 1, 2020 at 2:57 pm #8489AthelstoneModerator
Congratulations, Squidge. Great story.July 17, 2020 at 9:24 pm #8559Andrew BrutonParticipant
I’m a bit late for the response to all this but I totally agree Squidge nailed the theme. I still get a thrill when an idea is taken in a direction I would never have imagined myself; it constantly reminds me of the infinite variety of perspectives and possibilities that this writing lark affords us.
I enjoyed reading them all.
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