Category Archives: Fiction

Birth

THEY WERE BEDDED down quietly in the Norfolk reeds, gazing at the broad expanse of water beyond them. They weren’t talking.

“How come you’re so white?” he suddenly blurted out.

She looked out across the water, as if recalling a dream, and sighed. “It’s a long story”, his mother replied, giving him a look as if to say: ‘Why d’you ask?’

“All right, you don’t have to answer that one,” she smiled. “Anyway, you didn’t hear what I said. So I’ll tell you, if I must, so long as you keep still for a while and pay attention.”

“Please. I want to know.”

“It’s quite a story, so don’t interrupt the way you usually do.”

She looked out across the water again.

“It begins with us having to fly a long way north. It took days to get there; the journey seemed to go on forever and ever to me. And I wasn’t alone in thinking like this.

“Eventually, we saw a lake in the mountains. It was lying in a bowl of pure whiteness surrounded by reed beds.” ‘If only we could be as white, we’d be acceptable’, I thought.

“Everything was covered in snow. It was all white, except for us. We would always stand out as we were, even against the drab murkiness of the reed beds.

“Nevertheless, we decided this was the place for us, so we flew down to the lakeside, to rest up after the long journey, and settled ourselves there for the night. It was very peaceful and quiet. Almost unusually so. Almost deathly quiet. It wasn’t long before we were asleep.

“When I first woke it was dark. That didn’t bother me too much – darkness has never frightened me – and I was soon asleep again.

“The next time I woke, it was broad daylight and, as I looked around, I saw that we were all losing that greyness, the same as you have at the moment.

“You can imagine; I was quiet alarmed. Things like this didn’t happen to us.”

Her listener, paying intense attention for a change, made little or nothing of her remark.

“After a while,” she went on, “it seemed to be natural and I didn’t panic, as you might think. We were all losing our greyness, and no one was in pain, so it seemed OK to me.

“The rest of the day went off quietly. We weren’t disturbed, neither did we make a lot of noise.

“At dusk, I thought I saw a movement on the far side of the lake. The reeds parted and I fully expected to see a gamekeeper come out, with a shotgun. ‘Good heavens, I thought. What’s going to happen next!’ But no one appeared.

“Instead, I saw a black swan at the head of what looked like a flotilla of nearly all black birds. Cormorants, I guessed.

“Now I really was alarmed. This was an alien group, or at least a different species.

“Then, quite suddenly and without any warning, the whole flock took off and, wheeling round against the white, snowy mountainous backdrop, flew away and were very soon out of sight.”

Now her listener did begin to agitate. “Well, what happened next?”

His mother, puling herself together, said: “The sound of all those birds taking off had woken everybody.

“We weren’t all white, but nearly so. I suppose we didn’t know what to do.

“Then one of our number, who seemed to be in charge, rushed out of the safety of the reeds and took off, flying vaguely southwards, towards home.

“Just like sky-borne sheep, we all followed and were soon flying southwards.

“Everything went well, except that we got lost and ended up on the shores of the Black Sea, where – as you may guess – we all turned black.

“We took off, once more heading home.

“When we eventually arrived I noticed that we’d all turned white.

“Funny, that, nothing had happened during our flight.

“But there you have it. That’s why I’m white and you’re not. You haven’t yet been to the lake in the north!”

For few moments he said nothing.

“How far is it?” he blurted out. “This lake in the north.”

“Oh, not so far that you couldn’t get there. The only trouble is, I can’t remember what it’s called. Or how to get there quickly.”

“I’ll find it,” he said, full of bravado. “And, just you wait, when I come back I’ll be white as the driven snow.”

She laughed. “I hope the snow hasn’t been driven too much!”

He shuffled out of the reed bed and took off, unaware that he had been joined by several others.

Together, they flew northwards, his mother giving a sigh as if to say: ‘Hotheads.’

A while later – he didn’t know how long – he spotted a lake lying in a fold in the mountains. It was the only dark smudge on the white landscape.

‘This must be the place,’ he thought, as he swopped down to land on the surface with much splashing, leaving a small wake behind him.

Looking around, he spotted some reed beds, which must have been those his mother rested in.

“I’ll rest here a while and see if anything happens.”

He was soon asleep, and slept for the rest of that night. When he awoke it was broad daylight. He looked around to see that nothing had changed, not even the colour of his feathers had worn when he left the place he called home.

The rest of that day passed off quietly. He and his comrades made little or no noise, as if they knew something was going to happen and had to stay silent to be ready for whatever it was.

At dusk, just as his mother had before him, he thought he saw the reed beds stir on the other side of the lake. He drew breath, and then gave a start.

He was looking at a lone black swan.

He and his comrades immediately took off and, without a backward glance, set off towards home.

Back among the safety of the Norfolk reeds, he settled and blinked as he saw a small boat pass by, no doubt headed home, its grubby white sails tinged pink by the dying light of the sun.

By his side, his mother laughed quietly to herself.

“What’s so funny?” he gasped.

“You should see yourself, and all the others.”

He looked down at himself, and then at the others.

Everyone was quite white.

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Right on the money

As they pulled into the parking lot the sign over reception said it all. The Weary Traveller Motel. It wasn’t promising.
Getting out of the car, Tom said: “Is this what you’re trying to get us into?”
“Aw c’mon, soldier. It’s a brilliant opportunity. Forty-four room motel just off I-19. Been closed for a while. Going cheap. Spend some money on it and we’ll clean up.”Pictures Love Words FG7
“It sure needs a clean up. I’ve seen better in Kabul.”
“Yeah, yeah. But this is Arizona, man, not Afghanistan. Fifty miles south of Tucson. Perfect for people needing a break. C’mon, let’s take a look at one or two of the rooms. You’ll see what I’m talking about.”
There never was an end to Joe’s enthusiasm.
They got to room thirty-nine before the handle turned and the door opened onto a dark, gloomy space smelling of stale tobacco smoke and cheap perfume.
“This is terrible”, Tom said. “If they’re all like this …”
“I’m gonna check the last five. See if any of them are open.”
A moment later, Joe returned.
“Rest of them all locked, just like the others.”
“So why is this the only one open?”
“Dunno. Let’s take a closer look.”
Just enough light
With the door wide open, there was just enough light to make out a large bed, a TV, a picture of the Rockies on one wall and a nondescript prairie scene on another, an easy chair, a simple closet and a chest of drawers.
Stepping into the bathroom, Tom opened the cupboard under the washbowl.
“Whoa”, he whispered. “What’ve we got here?”
Pulling out a battered holdall, he took it into the room where Joe was going through the chest of drawers.
Dumping the holdall on the bed, he opened the zip.
Turning, Joe let out a low whistle. “Jesus Christ! Will ya take a look at that?”
As they up-ended the bag, wads of dollar bills cascaded onto the chenille coverlet.
They stood there staring at the pile of cash until Tom said: “Must be a hundred thousand. Maybe more.”
Joe could hardly speak. “What the hell’s it doin’ here?”, he whispered.
“I don’t know”, said Tom. “All I know is, possession is nine tenths of the law and finders keepers. And I think we should put it back in the bag and get out of here, fast.”
Leaving the room just as they’d found it, they made their way back to the car. There was no one about. No one had seen them.
As Joe gunned the engine, Tom said: “Not a word to anyone, right? Not even Becky. I’ll keep my mouth shut. You do the same, OK?”
Joe nodded.
Drug-related
A couple of days later, Tom spotted an item in the local paper. The Weary Traveller had been trashed. The police suspected it might be a drug-related act of revenge. Someone hadn’t found what they were looking for. But he and Joe had.
Sitting in their favourite bar a week or so later, Tom said: “You know what we should do with the money?”
“Nope. You tell me.”
“Open a parking lot on the edge of town. Charge by the hour and the day. Clean up big time.”
“Hey”, said Joe. “No sheets to launder!”
“And I reckon we should call it … The Last Chance Parking Lot.”
“Soldier, you always were right on the money!”

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The boy who grew too big

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He was always at the centre of things. He always had more hair, his parents owned the biggest yard. He always rode the smartest bike.
Hell, he even had the best girls. He knew how to catch them.
But that wasn’t always the way.
When he was small he was scrawny. Like a little chick hatched out without any feathers.
In those days, the older boys used to run a little wild in the street and he’d want to run with them. But they just left him behind.
It didn’t take him long to fill out, get taller, learn how to run faster.
Then came trouble. Just little things to begin with. Stealing candy bars. Smoking cigarettes, then taking dope.
There was one time he stole a car, just to go joy-riding.
Before long, he had a reputation. Most of the rest of us learned to steer clear of him.
He got in with a bad crowd. People the rest of us didn’t know. People we didn’t even want to know.
Sad to think of it now, but the last I heard he was doing time. Caught in a net of petty crime and drug dealing, he’d been busted by the NYPD and found guilty.
Such an innocent child, just like the rest of us. But grown too fast, too wild and – the law thought – too big for his boots.
He never did let me borrow his fishing net.

One of a series of very short stories you’ll find at Pictures Love Words on the Creative Ampersand website: http://www.creativeampersand.co.uk

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