The Deadline

WRITING EXERCISE #2

  • Your story must include, word for word, ALL of the following SIX descriptions (describing whatever you want):
    • SHINY, SILVER
    • COLD AND GREASY
    • SCRATCHED AND WEATHER-WORN
    • SWEET AND PUNGENT
    • INK-STAINED
    • SHRILL, PIERCING
  • One of these six descriptions MUST appear in the first sentence of your story. (The rest, wherever you like.)

The Author closed his manuscript, running ink-stained fingers over the scratched and weather-worn leather sleeve. The pages came together with a slight huffing sound, a sighed communion of secrets. The Author painfully straightened his hunched shoulders, feeling the bones crack as they shifted into an unfamiliar position. The Author’s ageing dog fixed him with a baleful stare as he stood and edged around the enormous grandfather clock that was currently taking up most of his small one-bedroom house. “Don’t give me that look, Scribe” he grumbled, as he squeezed himself into the kitchen and started to make himself a peanut butter and jam sandwich. “Sustenance is required if I’m to save the world”. Scribe, unimpressed, turned his stare to the uncurtained window which rose over the Author’s desk.

Outside, the world was in turmoil. Clouds boiled an angry red in the sky, accompanied by ominous snarls of thunder and illuminated with spider veins of quicksilver lightning. People were running about haphazardly in the streets, breaking shop windows and looting with abandon and without purpose. Others stood, mouths open, taking photographs on their phones and uploading them onto social media #endoftheworld (currently trending). Yet others were attempting to make every moment count: cradling babies, hugging grandmothers, falling into vats of previously off-limits ice cream, feverishly copulating, or whatever else people who had only minutes to live, did. Every now and then, police and ambulance sirens emitted shrill, piercing whines and it was to this soundtrack that the Author resumed his seat and re-opened his manuscript.

The wooden floors of his house groaned under the weight of their unexpected guest. The enormous clock had appeared out of the blue, in tandem with all hell breaking loose outside. Just another augury of the end of the world, albeit one seemingly just for the Author alone. The oddest thing about the clock apart from its presence in the first place was that it was going backwards. The time on its clock face was utterly inaccurate – it had started with both hands on 12 (even though it was 9 am on Sunday morning) and since then the hands had steadily moved backwards. The clock’s shiny, silver pendulum swung ponderously to and fro and boomed out chimes counting down the hours. The Author wouldn’t have had any idea how much time he had unless someone hadn’t helpfully stuck a post-it note on the pendulum with the number “72” written on it in thick black marker. He’d taken that to assume he had 72 hours to… do something. And he had decided that thing was to finish his book, because it was the one thing the Author had failed to do in his long and literary life. A bestseller multiple times over, he had retired in a funk of gloom because he knew that he had one final book inside of him, but, like a stubborn tooth, it refused to budge. Instead of pouring out onto the page like all his other books had, this one had stayed resolutely inside of him, clogging him up like a blocked drain. Continue reading The Deadline

The Ring

Just thought I’d try a little writing exercise, taken from an online monthly writing competition. I didn’t made the deadline to submit but enjoyed the process and story enough to continue. The only rule I didn’t keep was the 500-word limit – I think I’m roundabout 530. Close enough, I figure.

RULES:
Your story must take place at a PARTY of some kind.
Your story must include a BUTTON.
Your story must include the following sentence (which you will complete with one or more words): THE AIR WAS THICK WITH _______.

THE RING
The opulence was overwhelming. His stolen tux fit him like a second skin, and he could tell from the appreciative glances he was getting from other masked partygoers that he wore it well. Still, he had never before moved in such proximity to people like this, and found it unnerving.

Gorgeous women tossed manes of perfumed hair as they danced in a riot of impossible colours and fabrics. Men executed expert footwork as naturally as walking, slick as panthers. The air was thick with different scents, flowered perfumes and spiced colognes, mingling with dizzying potency.

The thief swallowed. He could throw an arm out into this flurry of wealth, quick as a fox, and walk away with something, anything, that could feed him for a week or more. The thought of meat for every meal made his stomach roar.

*

All of a sudden: his mark. The thief forced his coiled muscles to relax, and leaned into the pillar with an exaggerated nonchalance, gazing out into the rain-soaked night as if he were bored and wishing to get away. Sure enough…

“Drink?”

His mark held a shimmering glass to him. Beyond the mask, the green eyes were alight with merriment and a touch too much alcohol. The hand that offered the drink bore an ornate ring crusted with tiny precious jewels. They threw light into the champagne, greens, reds, blues glimmering in the liquid like restless fish. But the thief knew his craft well – it was not to the ring he looked, but into the eyes of its bearer. An opportunity like this was rare, months in the planning. He would not allow his desire, his hunger to betray him.

He accepted the drink, bestowing upon his mark a lazy half smile of thanks. The deception had begun.

*

Three hours later – long past the time the thief had allowed himself to be done with the trickery and away with his treasure – found the two of them sitting in one of the quieter rooms of the mansion. Partygoers swirled in and out from time to time, but largely they were left alone. Their glasses never emptied, topped up by waitstaff, silent and invisible as any thief.

As the hours waned, the masks had come off, the bowties and jacket buttons had come undone. They laughed easily and often and the conversation, like their glasses, never ran dry. If the thief felt any disappointment, it was only as if from a great distance: there would be no theft tonight.

*

Dawn had just started to thin the night when they parted ways. Plans to reconnect were made but the thief was all too aware of the lie that made those plans impossible to keep. There was a kiss goodbye, sweet and lingering, and a tight embrace.

And then he was alone.

Suddenly chilled, the thief thrust his hands into his pockets and felt his fingers close around something small, heavy and cold. The ring, catching even the nascent morning light, shone like a thing of magic against his palm.

Hunched against the cold, the thief began the long, slow walk home, wondering at what he had gained that night, and all he had lost.

Rebirth

Originally published on Groundviews.

Floods in Batticaloa (http://airforce.lk)

I haven’t been reading the news much lately. I heard about the floods in the East and North Central Province and thought abstractly to myself, ‘how awful’. I watched the downpour in Colombo itself and complained about the shivering cold of that one day during which temperatures fell to 18 degrees – the lowest in over 60 years.

I never really fathomed the extent of the destruction until I happened across a 3-line post on a blog, linking to some footage by the airforce of the flooding in Batticaloa. I didn’t pay much attention to the article on the airforce site, but those pictures stunned me. Water up to treetops. Acre upon acre of paddy land totally destroyed. All I could think was, ‘haven’t they been through enough?’

War. Tsunami. Floods. Would it ever stop? Would they ever have the luxury of having normal lives again? Would there ever come a time when they would stop having to start over? I felt an immense tiredness for them as well as an odd admiration for their unending resilience and ability to survive disaster upon disaster. This post was a result of those feelings – a grossly inadequate but well-meant tribute to their struggle.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

When the skies rumbled, angry and blistered with grey clouds, we were happy. Rain has mostly been our friend – a welcome drink for thirsty fields; a muddy playground for restless babies.

I myself have always loved the rain. As a child I would run out whenever my mother’s back was turned and spin like a runaway firework in the moving, liquid soil. Brown would squelch up between my toes and ooze onto my feet and the cooling sensation would make me swoon. My country is often hot and in those days, rain meant relief.  I would open my mouth to it, my mother’s distant scoldings unheeded, and drink with an eagerness than frightened me. As if I was trying to drink in the secrets of all of nature. And the water would not only quench my thirst; it somehow made me stronger. My feet always stomped harder after that first drink; mud would explode outwards, all around me, and I would feel invincible.

Even as I grew up and learned that explosions were not always joyous, I never stopped loving that rain. In the most bitter times, it would still taste sweet, and remind me of younger, happier days, when nothing ugly seemed to exist. When my world was solely and selfishly my own. I had no real worries then. If I cried I would be fed; if I couldn’t sleep my mother would stroke my back until the feel of her fingertips on my skin numbed me into unconsciousness. And if I was thirsty, I always had the rain.

My father was a farmer and so we lived by the rain. When it didn’t come, we, along with our crops, were devastated. Money was short, food scarce, tempers dark with hunger. Rain for us meant green, growth, abundance, food in our stomachs. As I grew older, when I ran out into the rain, it was to give thanks.

“You love the rain more than me” my lover accused once when my eyes were drawn one too many times to the streaming water outside and away from his dry, smooth skin. “No” I had replied, forcing my gaze away; but I was lying. Continue reading Rebirth

ICE

(Written a while ago but probably just as – if not more – relevant today…)

Ice Heart, by Happy Tea

The block of ice was determined.

It could survive – even in this heat. If it just gathered its resolve and stayed frigid, things would be alright. The sun would be a forgotten enemy, and maybe they could one day even be friends, laughing at silly conflicts frozen in the past.

The block of ice was determined. …But it really was a hot day.

The sun smiled and the ice block started to perspire. There was no need to smile back. Frigid it would stay. …But what a gorgeous smile. So full of warmth and light and happiness.

The ice block was fighting now, feeling itself start to drip shamefully. This was no good.

And the sun continued to smile that heated, loving smile. Please stay, it seemed to say.

But the ice block got the goodbye it wanted. The sun was fading from view; they would soon be parted forever.

But the sun had its victory too. Because as it winked out of sight, all that it left behind was a slight chill and puddle of forgiving water.

Meat

The pigs wait. Fat pink hides slap against one another as they jostle in the heated shadow of their pen. There is no sound outside but death stagnates the air in their nostrils. And when the door opens, panic aids their capture.

Out front, a woman wrinkles her nose at a smell no one but she picks up. The unbearable stench pulls bile into the back of her throat. The Ashram owner welcomes her to his home of tranquility and tells her there will be pork for lunch.

She runs out to vomit as another throat is slit.

And the Ashram sits, bathed in a constant cooling breeze, pretending to be at peace.

An affair to remember

She aches for me, and I for her.

The day passes in a haze of impatience for light to leave the world to darkness. For as soon as the shadows fall, my little girl runs to take me to her bed.

And under crisp, rustling sheets we watch each other: she, as I dance for her within my glass confine, in all the glory of my fluttering illumination; and I, as her entranced eyes grow heavy with sleep and finally close on the day.

It is a love unlike any other that I have ever known.

Rufus

My sometime imaginary lover, he rocks me on the violin. He calls me baby for hours, drawing out the word endlessly; playing on a libido already aching for lazy summertime lovemaking. And he makes poetry of chocolate, of little sisters, of circus magic and cigarettes while I only half-listen, and smile.

* Written while listening to Baby by Rufus Wainwright

The Wedding Day: an imagined portrait of an unusual occasion.

Originally published on Groundviews.

Image by Indi

He was a filmstar, they said. But she had never much cared for films. She had heard of schoolgirls hoarding dog-eared posters; giggling over provocative poses; singing the songs the stars sang; dancing the dances the stars danced; wishing for the same clothes and hair styles. She had heard stories of the glitz and glamour of that faraway world. But they meant nothing to her. Her school days hadn’t lasted long. She hadn’t the time to grow up, watching films and singing songs.

Time was snatched from her and replaced by a gun in her hands. A gun could stop time, she was told. And it had. She knows it has been years since she’d pulled a trigger for the first time, but she can’t tell how many. She can’t measure time by days or weeks or months anymore. None of that makes sense. She can’t measure them by bullets either – there have been too many fired at her and fired by her.

Only her body hints at her that time has passed. She was short and stout when they took her away but now she has grown taller, slimmer. The puppy fat of her teenage years has given way to smooth, hard muscle from constant training, constant moving. Her hair, which she wore cropped short in her younger days, now snakes over her shoulder in a long plait that tickles her bare hip. Her then non-existent breasts have bloomed out over the years despite the tight, limiting uniform. She remembers blushing this morning as she put on her sari jacket, noticing almost for the first time how much her body had changed. In the past, it had been almost easy to forget she was a woman. The sudden reconnection with that essence of herself as she wore her crimson wedding sari that morning made her feel self-conscious and almost uncomfortable. Continue reading The Wedding Day: an imagined portrait of an unusual occasion.

…for The Missing.

Originally published on Groundviews.

A solitary lamp perched on a desk top lights a room. A man scribbles feverishly on paper, hunched over the light as if he’s jealously guarding what little he has. His desk is cluttered with cartoons and drawings – some of a President, others of two small children. He holds down his paper with one hand and writes with the other, so violently that other loose papers and articles shuffle with his movements.

He is breathing hard, as if he’s run to his desk from sleep, taken by wild inspiration. He has forgotten to switch on the fan, and the heat of that December night hangs in the air, thickening like spoiling milk. Small explosions of sweat begin to burst from the pores of his forehead, drip darkly onto his fast-moving hand, and trickle onto the paper, blotting the ink. This frustrates him but he doesn’t stop to soak up the liquid, just writes on, faster.

His wife lies in bed in the next room. She is awake, some inexplicable worry vaulting the sleep away from her eyes whenever it threatens to close them. She watches the empty space next to her, willing her husband to come back to bed but knows he won’t. She wonders what he felt the need to write about in the middle of the night, leaping out of bed as if possessed. She was afraid he’d knock something over in the dark and wake the children, but that walk from bedroom to desk is so familiar that he doesn’t.

It is only when he feels that familiar cramping in his fingers that he pauses. He looks around the room, fighting to make out familiar shapes in the blackness outside his little circle of light. His house is modest and unadorned for the most part – the only exceptions are the sketches of his children that he has been drawing since they were born. Some have been framed; others lie strewn around the house – on bits of furniture, stuffed carelessly into vases by the children, folded within the pockets of well-worn wallets, dog-eared between the pages of story books. Continue reading …for The Missing.