First off, a HUGE thank you to everyone who read and commented on last week’s stories, either via this blog, on social media or in person – I’ve been overwhelmed by how kind you guys have been and I’m not at all sure I deserve it.
Just to recap, I set myself a challenge to write a piece of micro fiction (i.e. 250 words or less) every day for a month, inspired by something experienced on the day of writing, and post a few of these stories at the end of each week. For anyone wanting to find out more about the background to this challenge or to read the stories from week one, check out my first blog post.
I’ve now reached the end of week two, and I’ve more or less kept to the every day thing, although I’ll confess to having cheated a little by having written no stories on some days and two stories on others. And I’ve mostly kept within the bounds of micro fiction, but a few stories have ended up significantly shorter. For example, ‘Fifteen’, one of this week’s selections, is only 71 words, putting it somewhere between a dribble (50 words) and a drabble (100 words). And yes, those are Actual Proper Writing Terms (I learnt them last week and have just been awaiting my opportunity to show off).
So, preliminaries over, let’s press on with this week’s offerings. Make yourself a cuppa, put the dog out, stick the kids in front of YouTube, relax and enjoy.
And remember, all comments, criticisms and general musings will be gratefully received!
Week 2 stories
One day I wrote a story, and the next day the things I had written about actually took place. I put it down to coincidence and wrote another story, and again the events of the story came to pass. By the third or fourth time, I accepted that I had been given a gift.
For a while I was tentative. I wrote frothy, inconsequential stories. Old friendships rekindled, lost items found. Then I took it up a gear. I had myself win the lottery so I could quit my day job. I made good things happen for friends and family – illnesses cured, children conceived, ambitions fulfilled.
But I told myself I needed to think bigger still. I had not yet tested this gift to its limits.
I started with ending homelessness, poverty and hunger. Then cancer, and in turn all life-threatening diseases. Natural disasters. Climate change. Wars, violence, crimes of any nature. I didn’t eat, didn’t sleep. I didn’t stop writing until I had tackled every issue I could think of.
Then I stepped out of my house to admire the world I had shaped with my stories.
And what I found was this – people cowering in the streets, their faces covered with their hands. Then I too was cowering, a blinding pain in my head, a sensation of heat building behind my eyeballs. The world I had shaped was so perfect we could no longer bear to look at it.
We are fifteen, and we are sitting near the river, passing a bottle of cheap cider between us. We talk about homework, teachers, boys, bands – the usual stuff, nothing earth-shattering. The future is a silvery haze, and we are in no hurry to approach it. We have all the time in the world. This moment is perfect, and we, too, are perfect, though we will only come to realise it later.
A Belfast nativity
It is a Saturday night in Belfast city centre, and Mary and Joseph are trying to find a place to rest. They have been walking for ever, and although Mary’s contractions are still quite far apart, they need a seat, and preferably something to eat.
But it is not proving so easy.
All the restaurants require a reservation, and the bars are jammed, the overspill snaking through the streets like a high-heeled, smart-jacketed, many-headed monster.
Eventually, Mary and Joseph find a quiet-looking pub, but a bouncer is blocking the doorway.
‘Sorry, love,’ he says, when they explain their predicament. ‘These are new floors, so they are. Can’t risk your waters breaking all over them.’
He takes out his phone and tries to get them a taxi to the Royal, but every taxi firm in the city is booked up for hours.
They keep on walking.
By the time they reach the Dublin Road, Mary’s contractions are closing in and she is bent double with pain, so when a homeless man gestures to them and offers up his sleeping bag, they gladly accept.
Not long after, Mary’s baby is born. And there, lying in his mother’s arms, surrounded by his father, the homeless man, and three volunteers from the SOS Bus who have arrived bearing blankets, soup and a flask of tea, the baby learns very quickly that the world is a place at once marvellous and strange.
Robert has not thrown anything away in thirty years. He gets rid of his food waste, of course, diligently transferring it from the kitchen caddy to the brown bin every few days – he is a good citizen, and he has no wish to encourage rodents – but everything else he keeps. Empty bottles, plastic bags, newspapers, greeting cards, menus for takeaways that closed a decade ago, receipts, ticket stubs, odd socks, worn out clothes and underwear, broken appliances. Robert has recently stopped inviting people into the house. In practical terms, there is nowhere for them to sit, and in any case Robert now finds himself unable to stomach their sideways glances and thin concern. He has no appetite for explaining himself, and even if he had it’s unlikely his visitors would understand. Because it isn’t that Robert is sentimental, or depressed, or even especially lonely. It’s just that many years ago he discarded something important, the loss of which he came to regret, and he vowed never to make the same mistake again. As to the nature of that discarded something, Robert can no longer recall – it might have been a lover, or just a particularly nice pen – and so he is taking no chances.
The Faery Bell
See that, my pet? That big bell hanging in the middle of the park? It’s called a Faery Bell. Why, don’t tell me you’ve never heard of a Faery Bell! If you ring it, the faeries will hear it and will come when you are sleeping and carry you off to their land, and who knows what will become of you then. Dear me, there’s no need to cry! You don’t have to ring it, after all. Nobody will make you. But perhaps some day, when you are older, you will come back here and you’ll spot the bell, and you’ll laugh when you remember the story you once heard about it. And then you will ring the bell. Because you are all grown up now and don’t believe in such nonsense. But you will be sorry you did, my pet, because the faeries don’t care whether or not you are all grown up, or whether or not you still believe in them. They will find you just as tasty either way.
The lesser lie
When I see you coming, a little way down the street, my heart sinks. It’s not that I don’t want to see you. It’s just that we ran into each other recently (this being the kind of city where you might not see someone for years and then bump into them twice in a matter of days) and made all sorts of promises to arrange a proper catch-up. I even think we both believed we would.
But we didn’t.
And if we acknowledge each other today we will have to pretend to ignore this fact, along with the possibility that, despite our best intentions, we may never get around to arranging that catch-up.
As you draw closer, I watch you from the corner of my eye, and wonder whether I should pretend not to have seen you. It would be easy to do.
Perhaps you have spotted me too, and are wondering the exact same thing.
When we are almost level, I make my decision. I look you full in the face, a smile at the ready. But you are not looking at me. You have pulled out your phone and are punching at the screen.
Now we have passed each other, and are moving in different directions.
I chose our friendship; you chose the lesser lie.