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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Prompt 7: The Club |  Word Count: 750 (EXACTLY as per Google Docs) | Genre: So Ancient, it’s almost Fantasy

 

Chosen

The warm wood feels smooth in his grip. He weighs the club in both hands. The handle is not for comfort, but for effect. The bulbous head sparkles as sunlight catches the obsidian blade inlays. He swings it with precision.

At last he can handle the treasure – Macuahuitl.

Tomorrow is The Gods’ Day, when The Sun meets The Moon.

Preparation for this time began long ago. When he thrashed his peers on Quecha stair-tracks. When he out-scaled the hunters in pursuit of Condor nests. When he stunned the elders with his understanding of the Stars.

He was chosen.

Training was relentless. Physical, mental and spiritual rituals and challenges increased in intensity. Each victory meant greater isolation. Until the past many moons where he could only interact with his Master.

Macuahuitl perfects him.   Together they will serve well tomorrow.

He returns the heavy club. It fits in the ornate rack next to a fashioned and blemished stone – a green jaguar with a flattened spine. In front of it stands a deep wooden bowl; decorated with intricate carvings. He recognizes phrases of worship, but before he can decipher the rest, Master bids.

One last night of solitude before the ultimate show for the Gods.

He is ready.

—————–

She is ready.

Maidens and Mother were her attendants and tutors since the day of her birth. Attached to her mother’s breast they arrived at the Temple. The Elders fetched them, her mother told her. The Stars guided the wise Ones to their humble home.

She was chosen.

For many equinoxes she was readied.

First by Mother then by handmaidens.  The preceding few moons by the High Priestessherself. Her preparation was intense and absolute.  Tonight, the moon shines in almostfull glory and tomorrow comes the fulfillment of her destiny.

The Gods’ Day, when The Sun meets The Moon.

She is pure.

———-

In the West the Sun spreads his bright colors, chasing the shadows to the deepest corners. In the East the Moon bids farewell in soft pastels of promise.

The Gods’ Day is here.

The drone of voices filters through the window. He is glad he did his meditations earlier. The crowds’ excitement is palpable. It takes focus to shut that out – as he is trained.

Solitary, he repeats the familiar steps and the rules.  Wavering with the clothes to wear for the ceremony. That is new.

The hushed chatter of the handmaidens doesn’t interfere with the soothing pan-flute. She turns as instructed; to be dressed, anointed, coiffured and bejeweled by fluttering hands.

Going through the ritual with her eyes closed and her mind focused.  She knows what to do.  Except about the crowds, they tried to immune her against these hordes. She doesn’t know crowds.

————————

The ball-court fills with peasants. The temple groans with nobility. Still the streets writhe like captured snakes. Nobody wants to miss the festivities after the holiest of ceremonies.

He stands next to the jade jaguar, in the right position opposite the club. Back proud. His hands in calm anticipation behind his back. He beholds the Sun with closed eyes as coached. He hears the crowds but can’t see. Specks of The Light of all Lights dances in front of him. This doesn’t hinder his confidence.

He waits.

She walks through unfamiliar passages, surrounded by handmaidens. She looks at the delicate offering in her hands – fresh flowers from the Sacred Garden. Steadying her elbows either side, she won’t stumble. They help her through the crowds into the Light. Her eyes averted as trained. They guide her to her destiny. Proud and feminine.

She trusts.

He strains his ears. There’s the change in the beating drums. Next the trumpet. He shifts.

She hears the clear notes from a single trumpet. She expects and recognises the High Priestess’ voice, announcing the start of the ceremony.

He faces The Sun. He knows what to do. The moment the High Priestess speaks, he opens his eyes. His blindness is swift. His hands secure around Macuahuitl.  He takes the measured step.

He senses the altar.  His back arches as he lifts the magnificent weapon above his head. Five counts…

He is The Sun.

She can’t see, she is surrounded. When the maiden-circle opens in front of her, she sees the Jaguar. That’s where her destiny awaits. She offers the posy as the maidens help her to kneel. She looks towards the sky.  The Sun summons thousands of lights from Macuahuitl, so high and so blinding in its final blow….

She is The Moon.

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Prompt 6 : Coming Undone | Word Count : 1200 (exactly!) | Genre : Travel Memoir

I should have listened to that little voice.

I squint into the setting sun. They’re true; those movies depicting deserts as a golden blended haze of sun and sand. My reveling evaporates with the hollow sound of my water bottle. Empty.
“Have you guys got water?”

My croaky question sends a few lizards scrambling. I stare at my two silent friends, realizing the meaning of their non-commitment. Shit!
“We have to turn around,” I say as casually as I can, “we cannot spend the night with no water.”

The rising panic is palpable. But we know. There is only one way, and that is back to the river.

*****

A few hours before, we were reminiscing under a tamarisk tree. The river was close enough to crawl to, I noticed absently as I listened to the chatter. Our grateful limbs settled into the sparse shadows as we tried to remember how we ended up there.

“Humph,” said Rene, “they said we must make sure we have proper maps.”
“And we said ‘it’s a canyon, surely one just follows the river?’”  Both Rene and Dina nodded, remembering. The concerned ‘they’ wanted to know why we were not packing tents.
“You are so exposed out there!”  they said. And we were brazen in reply.
“Why? It only rains two days a year. It IS a desert, remember?”

Regardless of our arrogant responses to the well-intended advice, we decided to play it safe and prepared.
We researched.
We trained.
We anticipated difficulties.
We provided for survival.
We repacked.

Then we shut out fear. And we turned a deaf ear to the little voice.
We were ready and the monster was coiled in silent waiting.

The descent sported chains to hang on to, while adjusting our balance with loaded backpacks – as we were warned in the many blogs we read. Slow, step-by-step downwards to protect toes – as experience taught us. Regular stops to oxygenate thighs – as demanded by failing lungs and muscles. Every stop an excuse to inhale the arid river-scape, but also to swallow the angst. Hours on our feet downhill, trembling legs and the smallest distance covered before calling it a day.

Too tired to cook, we settled down with snacks and water and a shy moon, hiding behind clouds that quickly assembled into a noisy storm. Our first night out, under a sky filled with thunder and lightning and no tents. Surrounded by storm-echoes rollerblading off fearsome cliffs we huddled together. We shimmered, in the unabating show of lightning like Christmas lights, on-and-off. Hoping to stay dry, we sat on our hastily repacked backpacks and used flimsy space blankets as partial cover. And much later for warmth. As the groans of the canyon became distant we fell into exhausted sleep, not noticing the milky way gliding along its path.

The next morning all was washed clean. Even the trail. The faint proof of human activity was not there anymore. There was a sea of boulders and mile-high walls hugging the gurgling river.
We lost the trail.
We lost the canyon.
We lost spirit.
We lost track of distance and time.
We became profoundly tired – bordering on dangerous. A previously unknown sense of hopelessness stalked us.

THAT’s how we ended up under the Tamarisk tree.

For the umpteenth time we studied our maps. And finally we agreed. There was an emergency exit, close by. We were going out. We quit. We were leaving this canyon with blind corners and dead ends and no contact or signal and we were going to phone whoever to fetch us.

“My toes are like marshmallows, rolled in honey,” Dina said.
“That sweet?” Rene tried some light-heartedness, which we all felt with the certainty that came with the abandonment agreement.
“No! That fat and sticky!” Dina moaned. “And I can do with a shower and pampering.”

We found the dirt track snaking up, over a manageable cliff. We marched on and for the first time in days, felt the return of hope. Walking with new vigor and lighter packs we checked for phone signal.

Much later, guided by a thin two-track disappearing into a flat desert, we finally register. There was no connection to the outside world; no end to the road, no rescuers awaiting us with luxuries, and no water.

*****

There is only one way, and that is back to the river. All the chirpiness is gone. The way back is further. Harder. Heavier. It has no sound.

Darkness infiltrates everywhere. And gains weight. It fabricates an unfamiliar edge. It smothers the senses.  Once again the Milky Way shows its magic, but we are too busy listening to darkness and despair, to notice.

After lifetimes of stumbling, I stop. Suddenly. Dina walks straight into me and Rene into her.
“Dominoes!” I say, but not without affection. “I think I can see the Tamarisk. Am I hallucinating? Please tell me you see it?”
Dina tries to speak, she coughs and her hoarse reply coincides with Rene’s yelp which disturbs owls on-the-hunt.
“That’s where we rested this morning!”
“The river is close, some stupid thing I remember noticing when we looked at the maps.” My relief shrill in my ears.

With the splash of water in our bottles and our heads on our backpacks, we agree there is only one way out of this canyon. Walk to its end.
“Another three days?” Rene asks.
“Who knows.” I say.
“We take each day as it comes. Goodnight,” Dina says and a soft rumble soon plays in the back of her throat.

The next day we see the morning star for the first time. There is a lightness around. I know the canyon is conquered.

The mind-shift is astounding – it defines the rest of our hike.

We make peace with our smell.
We adapt a casualness towards sand in our ears, our beds and in the coffee.
We accept dirt and survival are companions.
We treasure the clean wash of whiskey through a sandy mouth and down a dusty throat. And we stop purifying our drinking water.
We settle at the end of each day under an expanse too majestic to grasp.
And we learn to turn our backs to the wind when it takes us by surprise in the middle of the night.
We dance (albeit with a limp) with joy when we encounter a flat hard piece of track.
We make good use of the puddles to splash salt-peter off our toning bodies.
We lick our fingers after we polish our bowls of rehydrated meals.
We sleep in shoes and clothes.

The granite walls start tapering down and the flow of the river becomes wider. Human presence is evident. We are reaching the end of this formidable natural phenomena. We walk into a subdued camp. We know where to go; exactly the same place where we were picked up a week (or more?) before.

“We did it!” Dina sobs. I turn to laugh away her silliness and then see Rene’s face. Contorted with a primal emotion, I see the deep borne force of survival powered by hope. Proud and tired I spread my arms around them.
“We did it!” I whisper into the group-hug.

And then I become undone …

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SS#5

Prompt : Going Home     Word count : 500     Genre : Drama/Memoir

“I’m going home” I say, slightly irritated with the young woman standing in my way.
“Look at the time already.”

She says something, then calls back into the house. I see the gap and slip out. I wish I knew why I fumble so much these days? Just then the padlock bolts the gate shut. There. That will sort them out. I smile.

Suddenly I feel lost. Everything looks different.
But it is time.
I have to go.
I pretend I don’t hear them calling after me.
I don’t understand them most of the time anyway.
I wonder if they are from another country?

I choose the sidewalk where the sun is not in my face.
It’s bright.
I touch my head; then nod.
Good thing I remembered to bring my hat; I forget it; often.

The trees are changing color.
Is it already that reason… um treason… er, season?
What is that word again?
I lift my head and breathe the musty leaves.
Oh, the very lightness of being.
I try to remember the line.
Was it from a book or a movie?
Whatever it was, it still is a good one.
And it doesn’t matter that I can’t recall it now.
It will come to me later, when I’m home.
It usually does.
But now I must get going.
Otherwise I will be late getting home.

I turn the next corner.
Then I see her.
The old girl is going for a swim.
My, my she is brave.
There’s a chill in the air.
I hope she has a towel close by.
If not, she can borrow mine.
Gentleman, me.
I giggle. Yes, I will wait, she can use mine.

I find a nice spot on a rock. I sit down where I can see her splashing in the waves. She doesn’t mind the cold then? There are more people gathering on the beach now; putting their towels out. What if she finds someone else with a towel? I better get to her first.

I wave at her.
She sees me.
It’s so exciting.
Here she comes towards me.
There is concern on her face.
But I smile to reassure her.
I’m here to rescue her.

She splashes through the shallow water.
She likes me.
She is with me now.
I take my towel and hold it out to her.
“I’m going home. Here, you use my towel now. Don’t be cold”.
She folds the towel around me instead.
I don’t understand.
She hug-pulls me away from the sea.

“Come,” my girlfriend says. “I will take you home, then we can
put some clothes on. Both of us. And then we won’t be cold”.

“Dad!” a young woman calls. My girlfriend walks me towards a car.
She helps me in. “Thank you again Mrs Morris and sorry, we are changing medication” says the young one. “At least yesterday he had clothes on,” my girl says.

“Am I going home?” I ask. “Is it time?”

They nod.

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Cobblestone & Door

NOT ISTANBUL

Prompt :– A White Lie    Genre :- Sultry (?)     Word count :– 2500

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NOT ISTANBUL                      by Annalie Kleinloog

 

“Your turn, Ali.”

Dan’s light touch brings me back to reality with a jolt. I gasp. Good wine turns bad. I cough and splutter. Grateful for the excuse to fetch a glass of water and to gather myself and to remember what my turn is about?

“You OK?” he peeps around the kitchen door. Gorgeous, loving and besotted, Dan.

“Fine.” I smile and wave him back betwixt hoarse breaths.

I can hear the cheerful nattering continue outside. Our group of friends’ typical Sunday pastime – lunch on the open verandah, chilled wine especially with this balmy afternoon breeze, and a topic of interest that sometimes pushes boundaries.

Earlier talk around the table, inevitably steered towards travel and favourite places. Everyone has a story to tell. I leaned back in my chair and into Dan’s protective arm, absorbed in their stories. Laughing when necessary and drifting off dreamily. It must have been the balminess that reminded me so much of that time in Istanbul. Before I met Dan.

It was just before Jane was getting married and it was to be our last girly holiday together. As always, when we travelled, it was an explosion of senses. Cultural, historical and gastronomical. Jane and I didn’t miss a mosque or a museum or an authentic experience. Istanbul was so much more, but it was that humid afternoon in a typical steamy Hammam that interfered with my focus at present.

“The oldest and most reasonable hotel, in the old town,” Jane emphasised the last bit as I queried the weird name she gave to the Taxi driver.   “It’s near the Grand Bazaar and walking distance to the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia” she added, but I knew she always did her research well. I smiled in appreciation. “Cobblestone streets around the shopping areas, good exercise”, she continued the animated itinerary, “then we can drop the bags off before heading to the Bospherous to just chill on a ferry”.

“What about a bit of authentic?” I curbed her fast-forward babbling. “I heard a Turkish Bath is quite different.”

“But we can bath in the hotel, Ali! And I am clean anyway, aren’t you?” She quipped, unenthusiastically. She also understood the secret of amiable traveling. So, we agreed on an authentic Turkish Bath experience by the time we arrived. The historical hotel’s ancient concierge obliged while the aged clerk sorted out the antique keys to our medieval chamber.

“Ahh Ma’am, the original Hammam of all time and in all of Turkey is just around the corner. And there is but one person that can arrange that for you. And that is ME.”

The white gloved, big-grinned concierge puffed his buttoned chest in response to our enquiry and then paused to create the necessary impact of his importance. With us now open-mouthed and big-eyed, he continued to explain: “Yes, this is the ONE Hammam that was used by Sultans. Persian rulers traveled months to see it. Tsars would risk storms, not to miss this.” He swallowed a smoky cough, folded his busy hands behind his back and peered at us from underneath bushy eyebrows.

A dramatic silence crept past. “And important people through the ages from ALL over the world came to have this ONE experience. You see? Ya, only important people like you can go there.”  He ended with a deep bow. We smiled in acceptance of the over-obvious compliment and nodded as was expected, but the look we shared was loaded with suppressed humour.

“I will make reservation now, yes?” Some serious phoning and negotiating accompanied by unfamiliar gesticulating finally resulted in The Bath being secured.  “Please meet here in foyer exactly five o’clock, Ma’am”.   Five o’clock brought us face-to- face with a visibly excited concierge and his on-the-other-side-of-the-phone-friend; the chauffeur of an ominous black car.

As it was late afternoon and a Sunday, there was an eerie stillness around the winding and obscure route we followed. “Like a kidnap scene in a thriller …” Jane mumbled. And glared at me. “You and the authentic thing!” I shrugged the accusation away with a sigh of anticipation. The car’s black polished nose pushed through a gap in an ancient wall. “Wall of Constantinople”, the uniformed and oily-haired driver said. We nodded and pretended to stare in awe. Then we were swallowed by a narrow street on the other side of the gap. Dark alleys combed off to both sides. The driver slowed down, partly to negotiate the uneven width of the road and partly because of visibility. At this snail’s pace I sensed Jane’s impatience and her irritation with my excitement.

“Nobody would know where to find us”, she whispered urgently. And I too noticed that buildings were closer and side streets fewer. In the last rays of the day I could make out a huge door, totally covered by ornate shields, weird patterns and ancient frescoes. Nowhere else to go, this door also indicated the end of the road.

“See where your exploring got us? In the heart of the mafia part of the city … you know these Turks can be cruel and…” Jane swallowed as she was interrupted by a commotion outside. Our doors opened and curious, but friendly faces helped us out. The wave of wigwagging hands and faces carried us through the ancient door. I could just make out Jane’s nervous giggle.

We were led into a cavernous space. Unexpected big and open, but filled with foreign, mesmerising music and chanting in the background. Filled with old smells mixed with clean ones; confusing our chemically conditioned olfactory pathways. Filled with dark spaces; blindingly interspersed with splashes of brightness.

The moment I stepped into the space my thought processes and analytical responses were numbed by the incense, or the dim light, or the strangeness, or all of it.  Different levels in the ancient marble floor made me stumble, my reactions were busy somewhere else.

Jane bumped into me and cursed softly.

Then we came to an abrupt halt in a dimly lit change room. Hushed, but hasty sign language indicated a suspiciously small bundle of clothing. Two bundles with two pieces for each of us. Our hosts disappeared for a moment. As we changed into the scant outfits; the purpose of which still escapes my logic as I was soon to discover that the ‘bath’ had no need for any kind of covering; I could hear the rolling of a foreign tongue giving instructions on the other side of our door. Followed by the friendly hands and faces reappearing to lead us into a different passage. Squeaky and warm wood under our bare feet now. Smooth marble under my naked palms as I tried to stabilise myself against the walls. Muted voices drowned by sounds of what…water? Pattering – feet or hands?

The clean smell of soap became more distinct. So did the sound of water; and then the pattering of, yes, hands. I glanced over my shoulder, caught a glimpse of Jane’s worried expression while passing an old-world wall torch, the only flickering sign of light, and felt a tingle of expectation down my spine.

“Jane,” I motioned and she eagerly caught up with me. “Imagine, to go where the ancients went – to experience what the gods invented. You do know that to explore is to live?” She managed a quivering smile and I giggled.

Steam bubbled from all available gaps as our chaperone opened a door quietly. I could make out the dull sound of a gong; indicating the end of the preceding session. From our side of the door I could just make out the glistening bodies moving to the opposite side of the room.

“Wait here” I translated from the gesture, and knew it wasn’t the steam when I heard Jane breathe hard behind me. Noiseless, our chaperone materialised again from the mist. He guided us into a round room with side passages. Following his wordless instructions, we stretched out on the central marble slab, surprised by its warmth. Jane curled up in protective stance, face-down and foetal. But I found myself in sacrificial position, face up, DaVinci-man, not to miss anything. My view filled with the marble dome adorned with ancient windows; most probably to let the sun in to warm up the slabs. I stretched and waited for the next step in this adventure.

More guests arrived. The round slab filled up with bodies. I realised then that it was Bath night for women. “See?” I said to Jane, “we are not alone.” Secure in the presence of others, she succumbed to the experience. I could tell by her sigh and then turning on her back. And we both observed the ritual starting to whirl around us. Lean, loin-clothed masseurs fell into a rhythmic movement – alternating between filling buckets from hidden taps on the far sides of the room and swooshing the contents over the central marble slab where we reclined.

Group chatter slowly drowned in the symphony created by the hissing of cotton soap-bags filled under ancient taps, accompanied by the pattering of hands. Swirling and twirling; the macabre dance between human, bag and foam was slow enough to be mesmerising, but fast enough to create a luscious lather. The dancers’ shared gestures and expressions indicated the onset of the ‘bath’.

Anticipation was rewarded with the masseur’s firm hands positioning me face-down on the communal slab. He took in his place next to me with his trophy of a foam factory tugged into a loincloth of sort. The only garment of sort on these young men. There was no time to muse over fashion. The first layer of foam was applied as part of a twirling dance movement. I felt the silky flow of the foam over ticklish places. Goosebumps crawled in all directions.

Alternating his foam-dance and lather-layering, the young, but experienced masseur morphed my body into anonymity with the rest of the foam covered group. After an eternity of foam packing, the foam-ritual came to an end.

The sudden stillness enhanced the general hypnotic state as I battled to lift my head, curious. Was the haziness from the group’s heavy breathing or the warm water and foam on cool marble? The calm before the stormy massage phase?

Before reason could take over, strong hands found my back through the layers of foam. Initial surprise caused me to gulp. The masseur took it as a sign of pleasure and proceeded with added vigour making sure not a single fibre of muscle was missed by his probing fingers.

Smooth, rhythmic movements relaxed tense bodies on hard tables. Weariness foamed down the marble slab, onto the marble floor, flowed away into marble canals to join troubles of others across the ages.

“We are unique in our sameness…” I heard Jane groan next to me.

Too soon, the wordless request to turn over was gestured. Barely aware of being human, I obliged. Stretched out, with eyes closed, legs slightly spread and arms floppy with palms facing up, I refused to take control of my senses. Brief irritation with the nervous giggles from around me was replaced by blissful surrender as the foam-dance continued to enchant, albeit from the more sensitive anterior perspective.

Some distant concern about my nakedness and my masseur’s maleness dissipated with the confident manner in his approach. Starting with my left foot and leg, with ever-widening circles he rippled across western restrictions. Anatomical definitions blurred into oblivion as I let myself spin, mesmerised and paralysed.

Slick movements of almost touch – too fast to be grasped – too obscure to be noticed – too subtle to differentiate – too confident to judge. From afar I listened to the heavy breathing and I felt the rhythmic power as he followed this ancient routine. All obtuseness cleared with the sudden conclusion of the ‘bath’. The rhythmic movement stopped abruptly and the atmosphere uncharged in seconds. There was a communal sigh. Everyone on the slab looked flushed. Seated, we received ancient carafes from our individual masseurs. It was filled with cool and clean water. Understanding their gestures, we poured the contents over our foam-covered bodies and stifled gasps as the cold unite us in reality again.

Shiny, clean and naked – several hands reached for stacked towels. Wrapped in dry security, we completed the cycle as we returned to our individual change rooms, to be met by our modern, recently shed attires. Numbed senses, but enhanced awareness. An experience banked in memory. Till today.

I clear my throat again and sip the last bit of water before returning to the pleasant hum around the table outside. Wiping my eyes as I sit down, I smile back at the sympathetic stares. It happens. Dan leans over and kisses my cheek.

“Your turn?” he says and all eyes now focus on me. My turn.

I smile, cough again and start my story about my favourite place.

“You all know that city-travel is not my thing. I prefer the wide open spaces with no interference from civilisation. Rather interaction with locals in rural areas than shopping in malls.” I see some rolling their eyes, they know me. “Give me the smells and sounds of earth in its rawest from.” Appreciative nods around the table.

“But there is ONE city that vibrates with a life of its own. And somehow hums with my vibe too.” Curious glances and knowing smiles. “ The only city I am capable of revisiting over and over again.” Now I see a few leaning forward for more. I smile. “That place where memories created by senses will always haunt me and find my; as if it happened yesterday.”

The daydream fresh in my mind, I once again whirl with the dervishes in concert on the cobbled streets. Where the ice cream sellers played their tricks on me with their bells and little trolleys. I remember the flavours of the food court vendor’s shawarma and his sizzling kebabs. Overflowing grand bazaar, colours, people and exotic items mingle with the constant supply of apple tea and I can feel the glow of the sunset on the waters of the Bospheros.

Suddenly Dan’s face comes into focus and I realise the glow must show. His eyes warm with his own memories. And I realise his anticipation. The reality hit me. I give a little cough, choking experience still an excuse, and continue.

“London” I hear my voice. Strong and convincing. I look at Dan. He beams.

“My favourite place is London.” I pause for effect and to squeeze Dan’s hand on my thigh. “Because that is where I met Dan.”

Whoops and jeers from around the table. And the gentle tuck on my arm, pulling me closer. A whisper in my ear. Enough excuse to make me blush truthfully. Yes, he is gorgeous. And I do love him so.

So what if I have to sacrifice Istanbul? Jane will understand.

Doesn’t Oxford Dictionary define a white lie as a harmless or trivial lie, especially one told to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IMG_2847

Prompt :– A New Life
Word count :– 1000 words
Genre :- Futuristic (or not!)

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                                FORGIVE                                

     by Annalie Kleinloog

She blows her nose.  There is blood on the tissue and on her fingers.

She hesitates, then looks up from the basin where her stained T-shirt soaks. The familiar puffiness around her cheekbone already shines. It will soon reach her eye. But her nose looks more skew. Damn. She will have to dig up more than the usual excuses before work on Monday. The weekend is not long enough to recover from this one.  Better go finish dinner while he is absorbed in the match of the season; and his umpteenth beer. He wants food by six.

As she fumbles for a clean tissue in her apron pocket, she finds the business card. Her heart skips a beat. She put it there, but forgot to throw it away. The letters and numbers on it swim into recall. It was a chance meeting this morning.  She escapes from her immediate abuse with a sigh and a dreamy smile. The smile hurts the closing eye and she winces.

When they had both stopped in recognition, eons between now and then vanished. She flicked her long blonde fringe expertly over old bruises when she greeted Tim. He looked excited to see her.

“Where have you been all these years?”

Her forced cheerful explanations couldn’t hide emotional and physical pain. She caught a flash of something in Tim’s eyes as he gave her his card.

“I’m in the area for a week, let’s catch up some time, if you can.”

She did not miss the quick glance to her covered eye. Embarrassed she hastened away with a feeble excuse; intent on never bumping into him again.

Halfway down the stairs now, aching in unseen places, she reconsiders that invitation. But quickly changes her mind as she hears her husband’s snort in disgruntlement. No, she cannot aggravate the situation.

The TV madness is suddenly interrupted with an important announcement. His drunken cursing overlaps what sounds like a global warning. She stops at the landing and leans over the balustrade to get a better view, but quickly pulls back as he gets up to fetch another beer. She hears the fridge door open and leans over again to see the full screen president of the USA.

Stern. Serious. More terrorist attacks?  She holds her breath, hoping the beer will take a while. Straining to hear beyond the kitchen clutter.

“… an asteroid the size of Hawaii is approaching Earth. Its impact is computed to be in the Atlantic Ocean and is estimated to happen in 90 minutes from this announcement. It will destroy all life on earth …”

The message fades away as she absorbs and analyses at the speed of light. Little more than an hour left of life?  In the time it takes him to settle back on the couch, the news flash is done.  She’s made up her mind. She slips out the back door as she hears him flicking through channels to find his match and calling for his supper.

She dials the number on the card as she runs towards the place of their chance meeting.

“It’s me” she says, “I need to see you immediately.”

She can hear in the casualness of Tim’s reply he doesn’t know yet.

“Sure, where?”

“Can you pick me up at the Supermarket from this morning?”

“Convenient. I am just across the road, The Royal, room 503; why don’t you come up?”

Her legs move on their own accord. Five minutes wash away all inhibitions. Years of restraint now seem senseless. She knows who she wants to spend the last minutes of her life with. She always knew.

The foyer is deserted; she won’t have to wait for the elevator. She stumbles out on the fifth floor as others rush in. His bedroom door opens almost immediately. She falls forward into his arms. The way he holds her tells a million tales.

He knows.

He knows about the asteroid.

He knows she always knew, because he did too.

He knows she always wanted to confess, but she feared to acknowledge it.

They don’t speak. They hardly breathe. A lifetime of missed opportunities and wasted emotions spill over them in silence.   She glances at her watch. By now her husband must be breaking down their flat in his search for his usual victim. How dare she ignore his calls for supper? It is five minutes past dinner time.  She pulls away from the embrace.

“Did you hear….?” Tim puts his finger to her lips.

“No time for senseless questions. Let’s just remember and share.”

He walks over to the minibar. Opens a bottle. Hands her a glass.

“I want to know you, before I lose you – again”

“This time, we will be together, forever. An end to this, but a chance on a new life. Riding an asteroid into a new world?” she manages to smile.

She doesn’t try to hide the bruises.   He sits and listens.  She sits and talks.  Time stands still. As he touches her swollen cheek, a slight shudder runs through the building.

Is this it?

Tim pulls her up into a long awaited embrace. His warm breath close to her ear.

“Now it is time to forgive,” he says. “I can’t have you while he still possesses you. Albeit through hatred or resentment. Forgive him and let him go.”

She sobs.   How can she?   So much wasted time? So much hurt? So much pain? So much fear?  How is it possible?

He kisses her tears away gently. And opens the curtains – the sun is setting red above a city filled with chaos and noise. Everyone and everything in a rush to somewhere or someone. Or nowhere.

“Look,” Tim says. “We are lucky. We are together. We have each other.”

The horizon turns dark and the pandemonium continues in the streets below.

“You are right”, she lifts her face to be kissed, “I forgive”.

As Tim bends over her the last thing she sees is a wall of blackness rolling towards them…

THE END

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Prompt:- A Conversation with my spouse    Word Count:- 1200 words      Genre:- Horror

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MESSY                                                                                                             by Annalie Kleinloog

Apprehension thickens the already tense atmosphere in the room. I look around. I’m not alone – as usual. But somehow, I feel desolate.

There is a their side and our side. Our side is hushed with an occasional fumble in a handbag. Both sides have monitor screens and cameras and I know somewhere out there is someone observing every move in here. I’m not sure if that is a consolation or a concern.

The other side is empty now, but muffled voices behind closed doors belie the quiet scene. Footsteps echo from bare passages. Although I know the rules, my palms are sweaty. I also know today will be the last I ever set foot here.

My mind chooses an escape to another time.

Everyone was happy then, I thought. Our journey together started the proper way. We followed the pattern. We met, courted, fell in love and got married. I worked as the provider and every day when I arrived home, she was there. It was all so orderly and normal. The house was spotless, nothing out of place.

Every day she waited for me with the same smile and the same kiss and the same

“How was your day, Sweety?” I was content.

Why wasn’t she? What went wrong? Or was it always there and I never noticed?

Maybe the towels didn’t have to be folded exactly that way, but it was a small effort to keep her happy. Or maybe the magazines could have looked as nice without being arranged alphabetically; later it was just easier for me not to read. That was also why I had my own coffee mug hidden under the sink, so as not to disturb the rows of mugs – ears all pointing in the same direction like soldiers on parade. Yes, I managed to make it easier for her.

Until the day they came to fetch me from work. Two stern men in suits. I thought something had happened to her. I was wrong. Everything changed that day, most of all – her.

Crunching keys in overused locks startle me back to the present. Chains scrape in rhythmic unison with shuffling feet on shiny floors. A wordless prayer sprouts from my heart to any entity listening, “Please let her be reasonable today.”

I breathe deep with her every approaching step. It seems to work, because by the time she sits down, I’m calm. Almost indifferent, I observe surprised. Relieved. Indifference is painless.

“Have you missed me?” the sneer comes from behind cracked lips. Pain jumps back at the memory of once kissing those lips, alluring then. She wisps the once sun-kissed hair over her shoulder. Her cold eyes focus on my face; her voice is husky. Cigarette smoke hangs between us, swirling around the metal bars and gratefully diluting other bodily odors. I cannot muster the smile I was planning and merely wipe my eyes. “I used to,” I say instead.

I used to believe she was innocent too.

I used to love her.

I used to think she was beautiful.

I used to hope it was all a misunderstanding.

I used to think the nightmare would end.

“What can I entertain you with today, Sweety?” She cups a breast buried in heavy uniform fabric, suggestively shrugging her shoulders. She laughs roughly at my wince. I look away, finding the pen and open the document I have on my lap.

Her eyes narrow. She leans back and put her feet on the bars between us, dismissing me. I see the guard approaching, baton ready. So does she. She drops down and hisses, “You can go fuck yourself!” I pretend not to hear and surprise myself with a calm and collected appeal, “I can’t come back again for this. Ever. Please just sign it.

“Don’t you first want to know WHY I did it?” she asks, almost coquettishly.

The guard taps the baton on his folded arms. “We are running out of time” I sigh.

“Just sign the divorce papers. And NO! I don’t want to know. It‘s bad enough to know you actually did it. It’s unthinkable that innocent children had to suffer. It is absurd to know I NEVER knew…” my voice trails off. I feel the familiar strangling choke I experience every day and every night since she was arrested.

I feel my stomach heaving. I know sooner or later I’m going to vomit, but I can’t stop my outburst. “They are still digging up bodies.” I manage to get out, barely audible. “It has been months and still distressed parents must identify little mangled corpses!”

I swallow. Bile sits between my voice and my guts. Bitterness is hard to control, whether physical or emotional. My emotions are now unstoppable, the revulsion pours out, “Innocent children on their way back from school … you lured them into OUR kitchen! Then you processed and packed them as if they were chicken pieces, ready to be packed for consumption.” My head jerks up at the thought.

My eyes meet hers with equal chill. But horror replaces mine when she averts her stare to inspect her short nails casually. “Yes”, she says conversationally, like it is a matter of sunshine or rain. “And then I buried them in the park across the road! Teeheehee.”

I recoil at her giggle. “You are sick!” I managed through gritted teeth.

She shook her head in disbelief, “No, I didn’t bury them myself, Silly! It was soooooo easy to find helpers. You know the municipal gardeners come every Tuesday and every Thursday? Two days a week. So convenient.”

She is done studying her nails and leans closer, nose almost touching the bar. As if confiding in me. “They believed me when I told them it was a biodegradable bag full of lovely compost. So every Tuesday and Thursday they would nourish their precious plants by burying my donation amongst the shrubs.”

The casualness overrides all my willpower. The envelope is still on my lap and I reach it just in time. With my stomach settled, I wipe my mouth on my sleeve and put the envelope carefully in the bin meant for tissues. “And at the time we discussed the horrors of serial killers and the incompetence of the police!”

The document gains a few more marks as I sob.

“All I want is to have nothing to do with you, forever – sign this NOW!”

She makes a small sucking sound between her teeth, smiles and grabs the pen. The guard steps closer. She scribbles dutifully and flicks each page to me glancing innocently at the guard.

I’m exhausted, but feel relief wash over me as the guard taps the clock on the wall and announces solemnly, “Time.”

I gather myself and the messed up pages. In a very calm almost serene voice, she says: “Get a grip on yourself, Sweety. It is very untidy for a man to weep. Or to throw up in public. Oh, and have your shirt dry-cleaned before your next visit.”

I look at her in disbelief. “There is not a next time.” I turn as I say it.

“You can get killed for being messy!” she sing-songs.

A shiver runs down my spine.

THE END

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It’s been a while, but this will force me to do at least one post every month. Yes, it’s a challenge but it is also about the discipline. If there ain’t goals or deadlines then there ain’t achievements…thank you to Mia from WritersWrite.co.za (#12/12)

So, here is the first.

Prompt : The List.                                                                                                Word Count: 1500

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An Empty Page

She looked up from the task at hand. Swirling mist outside prevented her mental escape over stark skyscrapers; instead, her focus was forced inside the window.

Out there, life bustled away.     In here was the empty.

The grey disconnectedness from that world was in stark contrast to the painful chaos surrounding her in their bedroom. She hardly recognised the tired face reflecting from the weather-beaten pane. Weary eyes stared back, past the reflection, into a pool of memory.

“My brown eyed girl,” soothed his familiar voice from afar. It was his way of shushing her whenever she wished for glossy looks. With a pained smile she reflexively wiped over the back pockets of her jeans. “You have the perfect butt,” he would thwart her regular diet threats. She sighed.

Cleaning out their apartment was an act of purging and she allowed her emotions to roam within limits. Thoughts and memories ebbed and flowed. She allowed her touchy senses to recall him one last time; smell him and caress him with her eyes; then relied on her common sense to finally let go, to throw out the last bits binding his presence to this earth.

Recent conversations swirled as she bent to continue sorting. “There is no perfect”, he often repeated, “it’s the imperfections that make us human.” “Why remember now?” she scolded the thrown-out parcels.

She was scientific enough to accept the medical facts, yet spiritually she was inclined to deny there could be nothing after death. So, here she was. Old fashioned and sufficiently romantic to search and sort through his possessions in the hope of finding a talisman, a tangible, everlasting memory of his essence. “Just one little thing, something small to find and keep … and remind me of you,” her heart begged when she reached the last drawer.

And then she found it.

It was an unsealed envelope addressed to her; part of the bigger pile meant to conclude post-life administrations.  She swallowed. Her fingers retrieved the folded pages from their cover. She froze.

An empty page stared back at her.

Its blankness snapped the thin thread of control, giving her permission to let go. Sobs arose from bruised depths. A place within her she was able to hide until now. The last bit of lifeless blood squeezed from her heart. And slowly, as the pain eased and a mute ache replaced the depths of it, she felt the pulse of life again.

It was a long four months; in a very short time.

Four months ago they were very young, very much in love and very happy.

She was contemplating a new hairstyle for their trip to the Amazon. He was more interested in her back – would she cope with the weight of the necessities for the intended hike? She showed off her stealth by challenging him to a race up the stairs with fully loaded backpack. He cunningly found his way out. Naively, she claimed victory while he hid his growing concern with busyness around the camping stuff. Now she recalled the signs, although youth denied such possibilities then.

She remembered the preparation hikes on the city outskirts. “Not too far”, was the agreement. Neither the drive nor the walk, she realised now. Did he know? Or was it a subconscious protection mechanism?

Always returning home exhilarated, or was it only her? And in the midst of this preparation they would crumble in mutual sense of fun, mock wrestle and seal the outcome with passion – refusing to take note of his increasing tiredness.

Within days he could not manage the stairs to their front door. He phoned her from the pavement one day. Despair mixed with fear made his voice unrecognisable. She had to shout his name to get herself out of the confusion. She rushed downstairs; found him crumpled.

Instead of taking him up the stairs, she helped him into the back of a taxi. His head cradled in her lap, his face pale and transparent. His eyes asking. She had no reply.

Instead of handing over when professionals barked orders, she held his hand while they wheel-chaired past the emergency counter. Answering his clammy grip with a determined double handed clasp.

Instead of panicking when they surrounded him with machines and beepers, she repeated the cold details required on numerous forms by heartless voices.

Instead of rushing home to comfort and safety, she watched helplessly as they probed, poked and withdrew blood.

Instead of a quick emergency visit, she was asked to wait outside intensive care. There she remained. When the specialists finally allowed her into his cubicle, she had lost touch with time and reality.

She listened to the hushed voices guiding rushed steps outside the disinfected room while she waited for results, diagnosis’s, prognosis’s all blanketed by an eerie expectancy. During this time his eyes were closed, dark circled and tired. And all this time hers were wide open, searching for reasons and demanding answers.

The wait ended in finality. They had to call off all plans. Except the ones that involved hospitals and tests. They had to cancel all meetings and travels, except to be with each other as much as possible. There was no treatment and no cure.

Their reality was the now. Only now.

Every day for four months she was next to his bed.

Some days were light with fun-filled chatting, other days were serious and heavy. Most days consisted of making lists to ensure a hassle free admin for her after he was gone. Lists of numbers, people and places.  To do lists.

And almost every day he would tell her about all the things he was planning to change in life. Changes he would like to see in the world. And with a glint in his eyes he would add; “And all the things I want to change about you.”“What?” she would sulkily ask. “I want to know now, so I can start working on it immediately, so when we are old together one day, I can be perfect for you,” she said and hoped he couldn’t see the tears in her eyes.

There was minimal paperwork in the end. The last few days they focused on the wishes he had for his final journey. No sermon or ceremony – who was to impress? No songs. No tears. “A simple farewell, because only love lasts,” he urged with bony fingers.

His bedside drawer contained the few lists they considered essential, and as he opened it for her to remove the pile of envelopes two days ago, they both knew all was done. And they both understood it was not long.“Put this away and work through it when you are ready,” he whispered. “And remember to look for your list too.”

She smiled at his last brave attempt to tease her. No tears, she willed herself. He kissed her hand, “I love you for real.” His voice barely audible. “And straight back at you,” she said.  She bent over him, kissed his forehead and whispered, “Wait until I find that list, when you next see me, I will be SO perfect.” He grinned and winked. “The list is there, waiting for you when I’m gone.” The smile was still on his face when his hand relaxed and his eyes closed peacefully. Forever.

She sat knowing. But also not. She didn’t want to move. But also wanted to run as fast as she could. She didn’t want to let go. And she didn’t, for a long time. That is how the night nurse found her and gently nudged her out the room.  “It’s over.”

She didn’t know how she arrived home.

She recalled feeling overwhelmingly empty. Except for the bundle of envelopes from his bedside drawer. It was, they agreed, to be put in the desk drawer till needed. And that was where she found it now. That single unsealed envelope that bore her name, a smiley face and in brackets, “The List”. Her heart jumped in apprehension and excitement. He wasn’t joking.

She wondered what irritated him the most about her? Her giggle? Her dress-sense? Her big nose? Her neediness?  Unsealed because he knew she would be the one to find it. “Bugger” she thought with a smile, “you DID leave a list.”

Two pages neatly folded.  Unfolding them, she now stared at the first blank page.

She blew her nose noisily.

She paged over, on the second page the writing was muddled with a weak hand, but clear. “I love you for real,” said the scribble. “You have seen that first page, filled with nothing? … those are ALL the things I want you to change about you, forever. Xx”.

The nothingness suddenly filled her heart with a happiness beyond words. She could burst with love.  Then she remembered him often saying, “To have what we do makes any life worth it. Imagine how many people die and never experience this?” And then she smiled.

A list that needed no change – ever.

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