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.

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.

Monster? (Part 3)

(contd. from Part 2)

-3- My Weapon

I have been a soldier from the time I was barely out of toddler-hood. I was one of those lucky few who survived early training during which we were given a gun, taught hurriedly how to point and shoot and then shoved forward into the thick of battle. So I was one of those few terrified children who ran in the jungles, shot their too-heavy guns every which way through tear flooded eyes and managed by some miraculous chance to pass the days and months alive and largely unhurt.

I will boast no skill – I had none. All I remember of those days are my tearing gasps, my heart in my ears, a sick sort of adrenalin in my legs and stomach, my wild, haphazard shooting. I ran until my shoes wore out at the bottom. I killed and killed until the sound of the gunshot didn’t scare me, till the recoil didn’t send me flying backwards, till the smell of blood stopped making me want to vomit, till each killing became a triumph of my own survival. Continue reading Monster? (Part 3)

Monster? (Part 2)

(contd. from Part 1)

-2- The Cell.

I don’t quite know how, but it is at once hot and cold in my cell. The walls are grimy and moist with mold and offer no semblance of heat. But still I sweat, sitting here with nothing to do and nowhere to go but into my own mind. I am well used to sweat – from battle or exercise or just traveling over rough terrain on a hot day. This is different – this sweat of maddening stillness. Even now I can feel drops faltering down my spine to lose themselves in the uncomfortable weave of my prison attire.

Sometimes I have an urge to take off my clothes and lie naked on the wet, slimy ground, trading in that constant sweat for filth. I refrain though, knowing the sight would be an invitation too difficult for my frustrated guards to resist. Continue reading Monster? (Part 2)

Monster? (Part 1)

-1- The Verdict

When they read out the verdict, I wasn’t listening. Can you believe it? My entire future hung on one word by that jury and when they uttered it, I simply didn’t hear.

I stood up mechanically at “will the defendant please rise”, like a robot, long unused, creaking to attention. I had been sitting for days and it hurt to stand up. In a starched cotton dress suit and unaccustomed to civilian clothing, I was longing for the familiarity of my uniform. It was that kind of mundane thought that was running through my head at that moment. That and how thin strands of the judge’s grey hair poked out from under his wig, straight out as if electrocuted, making him look vaguely foolish. So preoccupied was I with this caricature before me that when the rest of the courtroom searched by face at the word “guilty”, I only wore a smug smirk. Continue reading Monster? (Part 1)

Santa

Santa stares at himself in the mirror, gathering his resolve. He feels strange, dressed as he is all in black. But these are strange times. His customary red suit hangs dry cleaned, ironed and smart in his cupboard which he has left open – a habit his wife hates. Santa shoots a slightly rueful look at the suit, turns back to his reflection and wonders for the umpteenth whether this is a good idea after all.

Then his gaze drops to a lengthy crumpled list on his dresser and, also for the umpteenth time, he realizes that it is. He picks up the list and sits down for a moment to scan it, his free hand automatically dipping into the packet of chocolate chip cookies he always keeps nearby. The rustling of the packet makes his wife stir in her sleep but he keeps munching, albeit a little guiltily. He knows he needs to keep the weight down, especially considering the taxing nature of tonight’s assignment, but he also needs energy. Sugar’s good for energy, he’s heard.

First on the list: Sri Lanka. Santa sits back in his chair, his brows drawing together as he tries to remember where that is. The reindeer always seem to know where they are going but he likes to have some idea as well. After so many years of doing what he does, he guesses he should know the world like the back of his hand. As loathe as he is to admit it, though, his memory isn’t as good as it used to be. He rummages around his person and finally unearths an ancient dog-eared world map from the depths of one of his pockets. Smoothing it out on his lap, he hunches over it, groping absently for his glasses while he squints in the dim light, trying to find the place. Continue reading Santa