Why I Find Blog Posts Hard to Write

1430928da07380d6bf49769a38be0013I love blogging as a medium. The written word is kind of my thing, and blogging fits nicely in that little gap between a well written book and a spontaneous, insightful tweet. Blogs are a place to share knowledge and personal stories. A place to formulate your ideas and take them public, while always remaining your space.

So why do I find blog posts so hard to write?

Part of the problem is non-fiction in general. I’m like most people, I have a lot of opinions on a lot of different subjects, but they’re not really developed. A few good ideas bubble to the surface when prompted, but if I had to discuss them at length, I would soon run out of steam. I’d start trailing off and before you know it, I’m thinking about to have in supper instead. There’s that bag of sausages in the freezer, of course, but then they’ll keep whereas the quiche in the fridge will probably only last a week. Sorry, what was I talking about?

Oh yeah, blogging.

This is one of the age old problems with writing, of course. It’s all well and good when you’re writing about the dragon swooping down into town and snatching villagers up with its claws, but when you need a good protagonist to go and slay the beast, and they need a name and a backstory, character motivations, a family, the plot needs to be well paced… well it all starts to feel a lot like work.

I don’t really like work.

Nobody does. Which is sort of a problem, but it shouldn’t be. I’m not one to suddenly start rambling about the problem with society today but if I were, I would probably say that we live in a time where it’s more important to be entertained and distracted than it is to be satisfied with finishing a task that was difficult. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I want to be amused through the bad bits, I want to find a way of writing that is always fun, and always easy. I want to be swept along as much when writing a piece as I am when reading one.

But writing isn’t like that. Writing is more like baking. Sometimes you’re whisking, or kneading. Nice automatic jobs that are satisfying for the fingers and time passes like it’s supposed to. Other jobs are more like measuring ingredients, checking temperatures and getting the crust right. Harder still if it’s puff pastry, I wonder what the pastry is on that quiche? I should definitely eat that tonight and… Oh sorry. It won’t happen again.

And then there’s the failures.

Another reason I find writing blog posts so tricky is that I’m unpracticed. Writing is like any skill, it builds up over time, and in the early days you need to force yourself to do it. You need to learn basic skills like just getting a target amount of words on to the damned page, to more complicated skills like making some of those words good, and forming sentences that people understand and contribute to your overall point. I can’t count the times I’ve written a post entirely off the cuff and posted it, only to go back and few weeks later and find that it is utterly incomprehensible. (In the art world, we call it abstract.)

So how do we get around it?

How do you continue blogging if you find it a chore? The same way you learn to do anything else that is difficult. You force yourself to do until it feels natural. There’ll be days when you want to pull out your hair, and there’ll be days when you don’t know what you want to write about, but then there’ll be the good days. There’ll be days when you find ideas you never knew you had, and communicate something you always felt but could never quite say.

And then one day it will be easy.

Introducing Timeshare – A Webcomic

Hey guys,

timeshare7
Probably my favourite so far.

As you know, I’ve been getting back into art lately. Part of that has been relearning to use a wacom tablet and finally teaching myself some decent graphics software. As part of that, I’ve been producing a weekly webcomic for the last five weeks now. I’ve mostly kept it on the quiet because it has been quite a learning experience, but the next few weeks of comics scheduled have been work I’m really happy with so it’s time to start sharing it around. The comic is available here, and updates Saturdays. Read on for a bit of a taster.

 

Timeshare is about a guy whose roommate is a time traveller. At the moment it’s a simple self contained gag-strip but I’ve got a few cool ideas for running storylines.

 

The art is a little clunky in these early strips, but by around strip 9 or 10 (already drawn and queued up) I start to settle in a little more and get comfortable with the characters.

Feel free to leave me any feedback, I’d love to know how you think I could improve. Thanks

Green About the Gills – A Micro Story

This is a very little story so I’m not going to spend much time introducing it, but I’ve been deep in writers block for weeks now and so this was the result of really pushing myself to just write from the cuff and see what happened. Let me know what you think. 


Sit down. No, not there. The chair by the fire is much more comfortable. I’ll put the kettle on and join you in a moment. When we’ve had chance to enjoy the tea, I’ll tell you about my little murder. Don’t look so surprised. How else would you find me here. Of course, I knew it was a risk, sending the box to the papers, but I’m older than I look. I’m starting to feel it you know. There, the kettle’s on the hob. It’ll be whistling in no time. What was I saying?

Oh that’s right. I don’t notice quite where you’d expect. I was chopping wood for the fire yesterday. My husband, he used to take care of that but… well we’re getting to him. Anyway, I went all morning and didn’t feel it, but when I got up to answer the door just then. Oh you’d think I’d been buried already. There we go. That’s the water boiled. Now, where did I put that towel. I like the old kettles, but you you’ve to be careful. The handles get hot like you wouldn’t believe. It was tea you wanted, wasn’t it dear? I have some coffee somewhere but I couldn’t tell you how good it was. We don’t drink it, Bertie and I. There. I’ll give you the good mug. We got that shortly after we moved in, from Burrows, on the high street. Do you remember it? No, you probably wouldn’t. It didn’t close all that long ago, but the standards had been slipping since to rules on selling baccy changed. You don’t smoke, do you dear? No. It’s a nasty habit. Stains your fingers. I used to tell him off, but he never listened. Now isn’t that good? I only buy the best teabags, y’know.

Alright, don’t look at me like that. I’m getting to it. You saw the box I suppose? Letter, newspaper clippings and all that. I don’t know why I kept them. Why does anyone do anything. I suppose I just wanted someone to know, I never thought there’d be spotty boys from the newspaper at my door. Truth is, I thought if anyone pieced to together it would be the police. Young people are so ambitious today though, aren’t they. Anyway, I put in my little notes and all those thoughtful missing person articles they ran in the local paper for me. I suppose a photo was a little too much but I got carried away. I didn’t even say how I did it.

“Well.”

Oh, it speaks at last, does it.

“Maybe I could tell your side of the story, before it all comes out. You know? Make things go a bit easier for you.”

That sounds a little too good to be true, if you don’t mind me saying. What is it with young people today. So detached from reality.

“I could try. Why don’t you tell me what happened and we’ll go from there.”

Oh it’s not very complicated. You can be doing the same thing your whole life, and then one day you don’t want to do it anymore. Haven’t you ever felt like that?

“No, not really.”

Pity. It’s quite enlightening. You know, they say guns are so dangerous not because they’re so lethal, but because it’s so easy to pull the trigger.

“You shot him?”

Oh no, what do you take me for. But I’ve had a long time to think about it, guns are so quick aren’t they, but it didn’t take much more thought for me. I just slipped a spoonful of rat poison into his tea and… Oh what’s the matter dear? You look positively green about the gills.

A Quick Round Up

Hey guys, I know updates have been a little thin on the ground lately but with me leaving my job and setting off in bold new directions (TBA) it has been a bit of a hectic few weeks. I just wanted to stop in to give you a quick update on how things have been going and what you can expect in the upcoming weeks and months.

Firstly, I’m changing up how I get my writing out there. For a while now I’ve been writing short stories, Novels during NaNoWriMo and little bit of flash fiction, and I’ve generally taken the approach of posting the Flash Fiction in the blog and hoarding everything else while I find time to edit it. I want to get in the habit of producing a little bit more and really working my reluctant Rewriting bones. With that in mind, I’m going to move on from the flash fiction for a bit and try to really produce longer, 5000 word-ish stories and post those up straight to the blog too. I’m also considering leaving them there permanently rather than pulling them when I publish to Amazon. In the past, I’ve enrolled books in KDP select but the benefits for that programme are a little thin on the ground these days. Even free book days have declined, barely generating the spikes in the graph they used to. So, all things considered, I think I have more to gain by leaving stuff here to draw in readers. Anyway, we’ll see how it goes.

Secondly, I’ve been trying to get back into art and cartooning. For years I was interested in webcomics but I’ve never really had the time I want to devote to it. I’m hoping to get back into it shortly, but I’ll give you more info about that later. With that in mind, I’ve been digging out some of the more recommended books on developing one’s artistry. My first stop was the highly recommended Drawing of the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I have never been that great at drawing from sight, but after a couple of exercises I was producing pictures like these!

Superman SketchGarfield Sketch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Superman’s donning a bit of an afro, but I was still very impressed. The book is still in print and I really recommend it if you’re interested in upping your drawing skills. I’m hoping to keep it up, as well as branching out into painting, so expect to see a lot more art posted here among the writing.

Lastly, I’ve been trying to make a little out of my free time. I’m usually spending my downtime playing games, and I’ve been branching out into youtube. So, if you want to see me do a really bad job playing The Elder Scrolls: Arena, or do a slightly better job at Sim City 4, then check out my Youtube channel and let me know what you think .

So, that’s that. I’m going to be more diligent about updates from this point on, and I’ll be keeping you up to date with more outside the writing, but I today I just wanted to remind you I’m alive, and still creating wherever I can!

Free Short Story Collection on Kindle Today!

twocephalopods3Hey guys,

My collection of Flash Fiction, Two Cephalopods Walk Into A Bar is free on kindle today!

If you’ve enjoyed the fiction I’ve posted here in the past, then I really think you’ll enjoy this book. It contains sixteen short works in a range of genres, thriller, horror, sci-fi, and the occasional comedy.

So, if you have a kindle or the kindle app on your iOS/Android device then pop along to Amazon and give it a go!

Writers Block and Music

 

Writer's Blocks
Writer’s Blocks

I never really suffered from writer’s block.

That’s not me gloating or anything, it’s just something that never really hit me. I think part of that is because I’m a little bit of a sloppy first drafter. I really don’t worry about quality until I rewrite. I hate editing, but when it comes down it, well sometimes you can polish a turd.

Lately I’m starting to feel for all those troubled authors, because whatever writer’s block is, I have it. It started slowly. I was a little unhappy with the way my writing career has progressed, I let myself dwell on it and soon after I’d ended up in a full blown funk. From then on, whenever I’d sit to write, the words just wouldn’t turn up. It was if my mind had just given up and carried the sentiment right down to my fingers. I couldn’t write, and on some days, I couldn’t even figure out why I wanted to write. It was depressing.

Like I said, this isn’t a problem I’ve really faced before, so I had to figure out how to deal with it.

So I started learning to play the keyboard. Two weeks later, I know a few songs, and today I started writing a story that I really want to write. I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to fix your own writers block, but I can tell you that just getting some distance from writing, while keeping my mind working on something creative was just what I needed. I found myself reverting back to my long haired, pale-skinned teenage self who would hide away in his bedroom learning to play Stairway to Heaven on an old classical guitar I fished out of a skip.

And I know why I’d developed writer’s block. I’d let myself lose my love for writing and focus so much on a daily routine and good habits that it had become like a fiction factory line for me. I didn’t know why I was going forward or how I wanted to develop as a writer.

I still don’t, but at least I have a little to think about.

If you guys ever suffer from the dreaded block, I’d love to hear how you get past it.

Uncle Frank

Hey guys, this is only a quick piece but I liked how it turned out so I wanted to share it anyway. Let me know what you think.


I don’t remember a lot about Uncle Frank. He was old. Probably not that old. I’m nearly thirty now, nobody seems as old as they used to, but he was older than my Dad. I was still in plaid skirts and pigtails when he moved out. I don’t even remember much about him as, y’know, a guy, even though he lived here. My mum found him funny, I know that. Dad? I guess to dad he was more of a burden. Dad was younger than me when Frank moved out, but I don’t think I’ll ever be the same age as my Dad really. The man was born with a pipe and slippers in his hand, y’know what I mean?

Its just a lot of little images about Uncle Frank. Like the way he’d start the day with a glass of whiskey cut with gripe water. “Good for the digestion.” Dad would roll his eyes like Captain 50s, and puff away behind his paper. Uncle Frank would roll his eyes right back at him and drink his breakfast. That’s about it. That, and the scar. It ran from his forehead to beneath his eye and still makes me shudder.

Frank had to move out when I was seven and things get a lot fuzzier after that. I know we went to visit him at his home, because I remember Dad sitting me down and explaining in no uncertain terms that I was not to smuggle a bottle a gripe water to him. I did anyway. I did stuff like that back then. If he hadn’t warned me, I’d probably have forgotten. And that’s my last memory of Frank. Pale faced, staring out of the window while strangers goggled at him. Even his scar looked faded and ageing away with the rest of him.

When I think of Frank, I end up at an earlier memory. It couldn’t have been long before, it was the summer Uncle Frank gave me his gun. Everything else from those days is hazy, but this comes through clear. Like a big-screen TV, y’know? We’re stood in the garden. There’s a high fence that my Dad replaced with little wall years later. Uncle Frank was babysitting, but I didn’t mind. I’d spent most of the day with my friends. Then something had upset me, I’d gone home in tears and Frank had tried to comfort me. He was useless at it, so he tried distracting me instead. Silently, he lined up five glass coke bottles on my Dad’s old workbench. Then he disappeared inside and returned with a small wooden box. He pried the lid apart and retrieved the gun. I’d seen guns on TV and in books, but I’d never seen a real one before. It had been in the house of the whole time and I never knew.

Uncle Frank dropped to his knees behind me and with his giant hairy arms he reached over my shoulders and planted the gun in my hands. Adjusted my fingers, tiny next to his, until they held the gun like it was made for me. Slowly he pointed me towards one of the coke bottles, and I squeezed the trigger.

Have you ever had a sensation you can’t explain? It’s hard to put into words, until one day you find someone else who felt the same way? I’m not much of a reader, but when I was in college I learned a bit about a lot of things. Y’know that book by Proust? Where the smell of a cake takes him back to moment years before? Well, I still know exactly what happened the second I pulled that trigger, because every time I see fireworks, or pull a party popper, or ride the dodgems. Anything that leaves that acrid taste in the air, and I’m there again. I could count the hairs on Frank’s arm, smell the booze on his breath. I’m in the moment.

My shoulders shake a little. Frank is hurting my hand a little, but I don’t think he knows. I squeeze the trigger, it feels different to my expectations. I feel the gun jolt a little in my hands, and I realise this is why Frank is gripping so tight. I expect to be able to see the bullet, but I’m not even sure where to look. Before I have time to process my thoughts, the coke bottle shatters. Then the moments ends, Uncle Frank stands and ruffles my hair,

He walks back inside, but he leaves me holding the gun. Without him to take the weight, my hand drops and it feels like it ways a thousand pounds. When my parents get back, that’s how they find me. Stood in the middle of the grass holding the gun. I don’t know what happened to it after that.

Joshua’s Gift – A Short Story

Manor in WatercolourHey guys, it’s time for another story. I suppose you could call this a horror, but it’s a lot gentler than the last one. This is more of an old fashioned cobwebs and crypts tale. I’ve wanted to write something like this for a while, but I wanted to get away from full moons and thunderstorms so I recast it upon a hot summer’s day. Let me know what you think. 


Beckett pushed open the old oak door. The house was old, and large. Rumour was it had once been larger, the surviving wing of a Tudor manor that had been burned to the ground nearly two hundred years before. What remained had been patched up, but had the feel or a diseased stump, soaking up the life around it and refusing to die. He stood now, facing the open door. The sun was hot and choking, but he was still reluctant to enter the shadows inside. There was a smell, like cobwebs and rotten fruit, but he was here for a reason. He could not go back and face his family until the job was done.

He stepped across the threshold and gave his eyes a moment to adjust. If he was right, there’d be nothing to worry about until sunset. It was hardly modern in there. He was stood in a small hall with an ornate staircase in the centre, three doors led off from each wall. He picked a direction and set off deeper into the building. The first door led him to the dining room. A thick layer of dust coated everything. A place was set on the table, but the plate was filthy. He peered through the grime and saw a cluster of maggot shells as rotten and ancient as everything else. He would not find Joshua in here.

The next room was a long conservatory, and someone had been there recently to clean. The glass sparkled and sunlight warmed a set of comfortable looking chairs. Beckett could see out into the garden, a mess of weeds and vines that he couldn’t get to from the front. Behind him, something smashed.

Beckett swung around to see the old man. He was tall and clearly frail, the remains on a small teacup were shattered at his feet, and he could see the man’s hand shook involuntarily. He stared at him with wet, whitened eyes and his sagging mouth trembled when he spoke.

“I don’t know you.”

“No.” Beckett stepped towards him, but the fright was too much and the old man collapsed into a chair. “I’m here for Joshua.”

The man cradled his skull with shaking hands. “The master is resting.”

“I won’t disturb him.”

The old man didn’t seem to hear him. “The master is resting. Come back later.” He clutched at thin air as if he still held the cup and then lost focus altogether. Beckett turned away. The old man’s mind was gone. Taken. He would not be the last. But he could still mange a lie. Joshua had to be there, he couldn’t be anywhere else.

Beckett opened the warped glass door and stepped out into the garden. He might as well be in the jungle, vines and reeds escaping from the pond clogged the path, but it didn’t take him long to spot it. Another relic from the Tudor days, no doubt. The entrance to the crypt was twice his height, but had long since been consumed by climbing ivy. A statue he guessed had been an angel stood on top, but was covered in green except for the tips of its wings. All the remained free was the gate, which looked as new as the day it was fitted.

It swung open easily. He had expected it to be locked, but it made sense. Nobody from the town outside the walls was going to attempt to make it this far. Too superstitious. After all, they had a good reason to be. Hell, he was terrified himself, but he was here now. The old man had seen him. If he didn’t see it through, he was as good as dead anyway.

The steps down were uneven stone, worn through years of heavy use. It was dark at first but shafts leading up to the surface were placed at regular intervals, until he reached the floor. They were only just below the ground, but here two large grates let light and air through, making it less claustrophobic than he had feared.

Beckett knew he was safe. Until night fell, he had nothing to worry about, but still he noticed he could feel his heartbeat somewhere his own head. His chest pounded so much it started to hurt. If anything, it was even hotter down her, and the filtering light caught every speck of dust and dirt, turning the air into a hot, musty fog that seemed to clog his throat.

There was only one coffin in the crypt. It sat on the far wall, where the light barely reached. He walked to it and placed his hands on the lid. It was varnished wood, cherry if he was not mistaken. It felt cold to the touch, and expensive. A brass plate was screwed in to the top, but the letters had worn away years ago. He dropped his battered old surgical bag down and lifted out the crowbar.

“Stop!”

That single world must have taken the last of the old man’s strength because he dropped to his hands and knees at the foot of the stairs.

“I’m sorry,” said Beckett. And he was. “I don’t have a choice.”

He jammed the crowbar into the side of the coffin and with a single application of force, the lid popped off. He laughed when he saw the nails. Barely a centimetre into the wood.

The body inside was not a body at all, but he’d been expecting that. He finally came face to face with Joshua, a man who was, by all accounts, nearly a thousand years old, and yet had the face of a seventeen year old boy. Its hair was plaited and tied and its face was red and flushed. It had fed recently. It had to be tonight.

“You cannot kill him.” The old man coughed through the choking air.

Beckett laughed. “I thought you’d be happy to see him go.”

“No,” the old man shook his head. Then he lowered himself to the ground and lay on his chest. His face was wet with tears.

“He really has broken you.” Beckett felt guilt for the old man then remembered why he was there. “Relax, my friend. I’m not here to kill him.”

He opened the surgical bag again and removed his equipment. A length of surgical tubing and a set of needles. In a few moments he’d set it up, and gently inserted a needle into the creatures arm. Beckett hissed as he inserted a needle into his own arm. He pulled back a syringe connected between the two of them. The vampire’s eyes opened, flickered from side to side and then closed again. When its blood began to flow down the tube it was dark and thick. When it entered his veins it made him feel cold to his shoulder.

He could not be sure when he had taken enough and so he kept the transfusion going until Joshua lost the blush from his cheeks. Too much, he supposed, could be dangerous, but no worse than everything else he had done today. When he was done, he pulled the needle out and left without bothering to clear up the rest. He passed the old man and still lay in the dirt, but whatever pity he had was gone. When he stepped back out into the garden, something felt different. The light felt cold without any of its colour, and it started to sting his skin already. It was time to find shelter.

Hungry – A Horror Story

SmWell, it has been a while since I put some fiction of my blog, but I’ve been trying to get away from Flash Fiction and start writing longer stuff which takes a fair bit more time, so I’m spreading the work out more. This isn’t much longer than an old Fiction Friday post at around 2,500 words, but it’s an idea I’ve been meaning to write for a while and I think it turned out pretty well. 

A word of warning, however. I don’t write much outright horror, I’m usually more of a suspense and thriller guy, but this is a genuine gruesome tale so if that’s not your thing, then you might want to give it a miss. If you feel brave, read on. 


Hungry

Jessie hesitated for a second before launching herself after it. At a hump on the grass, all four paws left the ground as she launched into a mess of weeds and brambles, before emerging triumphantly with the battered old tennis ball. She trotted back with it firmly between her jaws and then dropped it at Sam’s feet. At least he was wearing gloves today, the ball was sodden with dew and drool, and was one good bite away from tennis-ball heaven. A good reward for five years long service. Sam lobbed the ball again and Jessie was gone, over the hill and through a net of thorn bushes. Sam walked on.

It was good to get out early. The new house was big and bright, just the sort of house Claire wanted. He bought more out of spite than anything else, but it was empty, imposing and judgemental. He hated every moment he spent in it, but it was his now and he needed at least ten years of pretending to like it before he could move on. The isolation was nice, at least. He had a good walk to the next house, and a patch of scrubland behind him for walking the dog. One afternoon he’d brought his notes out with him and got a good but of work done between pitching long throws for Jessie. That almost made it worthwhile.

She wasn’t back yet. He walked a long arc round the corner of the bank, before the fence lining the furthest reaches of the old farm started to box him in, until he was pointing in the direction Jessie had gone, and started off in that direction. She’d be distracted by a squirrel or a rat or something. She was only a mongrel but she had the nose of a bloodhound, and the attention span of a sparrow. As he neared the patches of thorns, he whistled, but there was no response.

“Jess!” He yelled, he thought he heard something, but it was faint. He walked on, circling the worst of the bushes and finding the old patch. “Come on, girl.” He heard it again, a whimper. She’d probably run through the thorns and lodged something in her paw. He followed the noise until he found the gap in the soil. It was a small opening, just big enough to climb down. Halfway between a cave and burrow, with a large rock embedded in the soil above the entrance. The whimpering came from inside.

“Come on, Jess.” He whistled again. Either something in the bushes had scared her down or she’d chased something in and become stuck. He slipped off his jacket and crouched down. It would be a tight squeeze, but he could probably make it. He pulled out his phone and pointed the light from the screen down the burrow. Jessie still whimpered somewhere inside, but he couldn’t see her. He would have to go in.

There was just enough room to crawl down, holding the phone in front of him for light. The soil at the entrance was dry, but got a little muddier as he went. He’d crawled about half the length of his body when he saw her. She’d become tangled in a mess of roots. He reached out a hand, and started unwrapping them from her back leg, but she was panicky and pulled about. “Easy, calm down.” It didn’t do much good. “We’ll be out of here soon.” He freed the last of the roots from her leg, he couldn’t make out much from the light of the phone, but he could see her turning. He started to inch back the way he had come.

Jessie was facing him now. He could see she was panicked, but it still caught him off guard when she bolted. Laid down in the burrow like this, she didn’t see, much smaller than he was. They were almost out now, but as she tried to force her way past him, something shifted. He felt soil crumbling over his feet and then pain. Sam could only guess, but the weight that now squeezed his right leg felt a lot like the stone that had been lodged in the soil. The burrow was completely dark now, he tried to move his leg but couldn’t, he couldn’t even feel his foot. He tried to shout for help, but that set something off again. Jessie was still in the burrow with him, and the more she moved, the more she pushed his body away from his leg. It felt like it would wrench his foot off. He tried to lift but it was no good.

Sam was trapped.

His first response was to struggle, but it was a waste of time. He couldn’t shift his leg in such a way as to free it from the stone, he couldn’t push the stone with his other leg without driving it further into his leg. Besides, the more he struggled, the more his fellow prisoner pushed up and down the tunnel. She barked. She was only a small dog, in the tight space it was deafening, and he reached a hand to stroke her. She was still distraught, but calmed at his touch.

The pain in his leg had been bad, but was easing now. His leg bled. He could feel it, but the wound could be treated if he could just get out. At last, he remembered his phone. He’d been using it for light, but hadn’t tried to make a call. His heart sank as he peered at the harsh, bright screen. No signal. It was rough out there at the best of times, now he was beneath a layer of soil. He felt his heartbeat pick up a little faster, his breath got away from him. He couldn’t seem to get enough air in his lungs, and when he breathed deep, he filled his nose with the smell of dirt and rotting leaves. It made him want to gag. Jessie picked up on his fear too, the light from the phone caught her eyes. They were wide and flicked about the place.

Sam told himself to stay calm. The way back was trapped, but the stone had not covered the entrance completely. On his bare ankles, he could still feel a trace of wind and on the air was the smell from the old brewery at the edge of town. He would not suffocate. That was something. Getting help would be a little harder, he thought about digging with his hands, getting enough space to let the dog squeeze through, and then hope for the best. She was hardly Lassie, but his options were limited. He started to pull clumps of soil out, but the weaving roots that had tangled her up in the first place were threaded through the top of the burrow. One hard pull and he’d bring the whole lot down on himself. He would have to wait. If she got desperate enough, she might just tunnel back the way they came and free some room for his leg.

Sam watched time pass on the phone. He turned down the brightness of the screen as far as it would go, and felt a little more nervous every time the battery indicator dropped a percent. He alternated between leaving it off for as long as he dare, and watching it intently hoping to see the phone pick up a signal, but it was no good. Jessie was still nervous, squeezing from one end of the tunnel to the other. Occasionally she would stop and sniff the air, but he couldn’t smell much beyond the damp soil now. His leg itched and tingled now.

He must have fallen asleep, because he was woken by the sound of a motorbike. Only a little engine, some off-road scrambler. Kids from town sometimes brought them on to the hill and bounced over the banking. This was his chance. He screamed at the top of his voice, he saw Jess get nervous by the noise. “Come on.” He shouted at her, his voice was tired and cracking, he needed her to make some noise. He felt a rumble in the earth just as Jessie started barking. The noise was almost deafening, but it was no good. The sound of the bike became more distant. They must have passed right over. Sam shouted for what felt like an hour after, but nobody came.

He was too scared to look at the phone now. The battery indicator had gone red. He didn’t know how long he’d been down there, and he was starting to get thirsty. Night must have fallen outside, because the tunnel seemed darker than ever and he started to get cold. He tried to keep Jessie sat by him, to borrow some of her warmth, but she was twitchy and couldn’t stay still. He heard her attempt to nibble a root and give in quickly. Though the space was tight, he was glad he was not trapped alone. He started to fall asleep again, but some glimmer of hope nibbled at the corners of his brain. It had been Monday when he walked the dog, if it was night now, in the morning it would be Tuesday, and on Tuesday the local Wildlife Spotters were usually out on the hills.

Jessie whimpered, walked in a little circle before sitting again and he placed a hand on her back. If they could just hold on a little longer, if he could just stay conscious until tomorrow morning, they might make it.

Sam’s head shot up. At some point he had fallen asleep. It was dark, his throat was sore and he was in pain. He knew he was not supposed to fall asleep, but he could not remember why. He tried to look around, but it was pitch black, and he remembered where he was. Why he could not sleep. Wait for people. He had to be awake when they passed or he wouldn’t have a hope. He doubted he could last another week down there. And yet he was exhausted. It was still night, he hadn’t slept for long, he could tell.

But why had he woken up. In he dreams, he had felt a sensation in his leg. That old pain from the rock, he worried it was becoming infected, and he hadn’t felt anything in his foot for too long now, but there was something. A sensation; a noise.

“Jess?” The noise stopped. He tried to reach down to his leg, but he could just touch his shin with the tips of his fingers. The skin that had been tacky with blood and grit was wet and smooth. The dog pushed past him and sniffed around his face. He heard her lick her lips. The fear took a while to set in, but when it did, it consumed him. His leg was still trapped, and the sickening smell that now filled the tunnel was clearly coming from him, but it was having a different effect on Jessie. He tried to count up the hours they had been trapped their, and while he counted, he heard her whimper and fuss. Even in the pitch black, he thought he caught a glint of white teeth hiding in her mouth. He was cold, and wet, and hungry, but so was she.

He shifted his weight to the side, tried to block her from getting to his feet. He told himself he had nothing to be scared of, that the two of them had only to wait until morning. She couldn’t be that desperate yet, but the smell of his festering wound seemed to be filling the air and the more he tried to keep her back, the more she struggled.

He lost focus again, the tiredness a constant threat, like the dog and went he came to, he could feel her sniffing at his leg again. The leg was numb to the pain, but he was still aware of her nose and tongue poking at the wound. With his other leg and kicked out at her, hoping to put her off the idea, but he caught he harder than he meant to. She snarled and barked in response before pushed past his ribs again and curling up in front of his head. There his listened to hear breathing, near his fast. The sound was not soothing, but its repetition became like a trance and the heat of her body rocked him closer and closer to sleep. He tried to fight it, but it was no good. Sam slept again.

In Sam’s dream, he was not in the burrow. He told himself to stay awake, to fight until morning, but it was no good. There was no need anyway, he told himself he was at home, in his own bed. Back in his old house and Claire was beside him. No, she was moving now. Sam slept until the pain hit his leg, for a split second he was awake and understood completely, but the old numbness soon returned. The smell of rot and decay still hung around, but there was a new smell. Something fresh, something clean. In the pit of his stomach he felt hunger again, but he was getting dizzy now. He would sleep for a few more hours, and then see what they were having for breakfast.

Prey – A Short Story

Tavern SceneIt has been a while since I published a flash fiction story to the blog, but I’ve been a bit lax lately and they’re good for getting back in the habit. The setting for this story was Paris in 1719, during the Mississippi Bubble, one of the first major economic collapses in modern times. Parisian society was caught in a fever, trading shares in The Mississippi Company, which had a monopoly on French trade to Louisiana. A great account of this can be found in Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which is a must read book exploring dramatic examples of mob behaviour. 


“Why should I be quiet, old man?”
Braker had watched the boy for an hour now, the more he drank the more foolish he became.
“I’m a patron like anyone else?” He slapped money down on the bar and then went back to boasting among his friends. Braker watched the landlord slip the coins into his pocket, shake his head and then leave the boy to his folly.
“Carry on, Jean!” Shouted one of his friends.
“Well it was as easy as all that. I’ve only been in Paris a few weeks, and I tell you I’m going to leave this city a rich man.”
He wished the young fool would keep his mouth shut, but if he didn’t listen to the landlord, he wouldn’t listen to some interfering Englishman. Now the word was out, Braker didn’t want the other patrons getting any ideas, but the lad continued.
“A drink to John Law, I say.” His friends raised their glasses. “I tell you, three days ago I bought and handful of shares in this Mississippi company of his and they’ve doubled in value since then. At this rate…”
“Aye, at this rate.” Muttered the landlord. “Half of Paris stood at the door of M. Law day and night, and for what? Paper?”
Braker watched the boy’s face fall, he was clearly stewed in ale now and the rest of the bar seemed uninterested. The fever that had gripped most of Paris hadn’t yet reached the houses of the poor yet, and whatever the boy was doing in a place like this, he had certainly never been poor. Neither had Braker, he’d taken a walk to the house of John Law himself. He felt his breast pocket nervously, but his stash was there safe and sound. He would not leave his home without his shares, but he knew better than to loudmouth about it like the child he saw before him.

“Paper!?” The boy sounded aghast. “I shouldn’t expect you to understand,” he sniffed and peered around the tavern. “Grotty little place like this, what do you know about economics?” The landlord waved him away and went back to cleaning glasses. “After all,” he said to nobody in particular. “Was it not M. Law and his bank that saved the country from the last disaster?” The crowd that followed the rich boy was dissipating, and Braker almost felt sorry for the lad. Up among the toffs he’d start a frenzy just mentioning the Mississippi company.

He watched the boy until he could see he was reaching his fill. When he started to button his cloak, Braker got to his feet too. He reached inside his jacket and felt for his old sword. It was tarnished and bent out of shape, but it would do the job. Brake patted down the pocket with his shares and smiled to himself. The boy was right, wealth made overnight, but the more shares the better, and Braker had put all the money he had on the little he now possessed. Rumour was Law would stop selling soon, unless the Regent intervened, and Braker couldn’t wait for that.

Soon the boy pushed his way through the drunks by the door and stumbled into the night air. Braker wasn’t far behind. He stepped slowly and carefully. The boy was too merry to notice him, but Braker didn’t believe in taking chances. He’d need a quiet spot to slip the sword in and unless the boy lived in the same slum he drank in, Braker knew he might need to walk for some time.

He’d followed the boy nearly twenty minutes when he turned a corner into an alleyway between two houses with dark windows. Nobody would see them there, but when he turned the corner too, the boy was nowhere to be seen. He stepped forward into the alley, covered his eyes and peered through the fog of the gas lamps. Had the steamed young gentleman collapsed into the gutter? Perhaps he could be off with the shares without bloodshed, that was as good an option as any, Braker supposed. He leaned down to see better through the mirk, but it was no good. The boy was lost to him.

Unfortunately, the boy found him first. The sensation was new, but Braker had seen enough of war to know the sound of a knife through the back. It had missed his heart, but as he struggled to breath, he knew it had pierced his lung. The knife was removed, and Braker fell onto his face. The wet street soaked into his jacket, and even now he panicked for the papers in his jacket. Firm hands turned him onto his back, and under the lamplight, Braker saw the boy clearly. He smiled back at Braker and started to search his jacket.

“Sorry for that, my friend.” Said the boy, Braker spat curses and blood in return. “You’re English? How are you finding Paris?” The boy found Braker’s papers and his eyes gleamed. “I really am sorry, but I see from your sword you had the same in mind for me.”
Braker tried to speak but his wind was gone.
“No need to apologise.” The boy closed up Braker’s jacket and then got to his feet. “It was a cruel trick, I know. Beneath me really, but I really would like to leave Paris a rich man.” Braker felt his strength leaving him.
“Anyway…” The boy pulled Braker’s eyelids closed, he tried to open them but he had nothing left. “…they’re all doing it.”