Cindy oh Cindy

He had woken up with a fierce headache, breath that breached the Chemical Weapons Convention, and a nasty sense of foreboding. His brain hurt. He knew something was wrong. He knew he would have spent the better part of the previous evening trying to impress the new girl on the till at the local drugstore, and that he would have, probably, likely, definitely, have said something stupid, claimed a non-existing ability, promised something he was now committed to and would never in a month of Sundays be able to deliver. This wasn’t the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.

The phone rang. It was her. “A great evening. Thanks for that. Hope you got home okay. And so you’re going to do that for me? Run the marathon? Raise money for the cancer fund? That’s really sweet of you. I’ll pop the entry forms through your letter box this evening.”

Thirty eight years old and not in his prime. Not that he had ever had  a prime or foresaw himself as having one. “Show me a minicab driver who has a prime, who can flex a muscle, who can even bloody locate a muscle,” he thought to himself. Too much time behind the wheel. Too many kebabs or hamburgers or parcels of fish and chips – snatched meals taken whenever there was a lull in the job. Not exactly healthy. Not exactly regular. Run a marathon? Could never happen.

But she was sweet. Cindy. That’s her name. Newly divorced, new in town, new at the job, new at the till. And she had treated him sweetly. Happy to go out with him, happy to sit and chat in an ordinary bar. Didn’t need to be taken to a swish club so she could spend all his money on overpriced champagne substitutes. Insisted on paying for a couple of the rounds of drinks. She knows what life is really like. She’s got a few miles under the bonnet herself and it’s made her generous, unselfish. He likes her. It seems he likes her a lot. He wants her to like him. He wants her to admire him. And so, a drink or two down the road and his head spinning with what might be, he says yes, yes to supporting the charity, yes to running the marathon, yes to doing it for her. How could he refuse her? Sweet Cindy.

He knew how many miles there are in a marathon. More than his normal minicab trips, more than he could run in a million years. But Cindy, oh Cindy, he wasn’t going to let her down, he wasn’t going to say no. The forms arrived, the forms went off, and he worked on his training strategy, his tactics, his battle plan. He would get the medal, get the respect and get the girl.

He pored over the route of the race, he studied the town map, he marked up all the rat runs, hidden alleyways, and illegal short cuts that he had learnt when he was doing the Knowledge and he reckoned that if he turned up at the start, he could cross the finish line in about four and a half hours with having run only five miles. He knew he could do it. The downside was the five miles, but for Cindy he could do it. And so for the next few weeks before his shift, he walked, then jogged, then cantered, then galloped until he knew that the five miles (and hopefully Cindy) were in the bag.

It all went smoothly. He crossed the line with hundreds of others with a time of just under four and a half hours.

“My best time ever,” he said to the official handing out the medals.

“Respect,” said one of the policemen helping with crowd control.

“Oh, thank you,” said Cindy, kissing him full on the mouth. “Let’s meet up later.”

By the time he had fought the crowds back to his home, washed and shaved and put on his second best casual gear (he would save the best for another time) the list of runners who hadn’t passed through all the check points and were consequently automatically disqualified, had been published and tweeted and retweeted and his name was third on the list.

No medal, no respect, and no girl.

Early morning. The phone rings. It’s her. “You owe me five miles of sponsorship and I like the way you kiss. Can we meet up again tonight?”

How can he refuse her? Sweet Cindy.

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Slow learners

 

Image copyright: Roger Bultot

And this is where Strongman did dwell. He, the chosen one, anointed by the people.

And the people did love him, did flock to his assemblies, did worship at his gilded altar.

And they had faith in his word, believed him to be true.

But after a time, thoughtfulness returned to the land, and the people grew to know that he was false. They saw his wealth grow, his granaries overflow. Beyond his mansion did hunger and disease flourish but Strongman cared not.

And so the people did rebel, and history tells us so.

Again. And again. And yet again.

 

Written in response to Rockinghorse Wisoff-Fields’ weekly 100 word challenge found here.

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The Tree of Life

Image copyright: Ronda Del Boccio

 

She bought me an oak tree for our first anniversary. We dug a big hole in the back garden, filled it with tender kisses, loving embraces, vows, and some peat free compost mixed with bone meal. We watered it well over the next two or three years and then left it to nature.

Some while later, acorns dropped, seedlings appeared demanded to be nurtured until that time they matured into saplings and started staying out all night.

Over the years there were times when oak wilt disturbed the status quo, but that’s normal in any long-lasting relationship, don’t you think.

 

Written in response to Rowanberry Wisoff-Fields’ weekly 100 word picture prompt found here.

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A good news story

Image copyright: Sandra Crook

Beth’s wedding dress was magnificent, made from cotton grown in Papa’s very own fields, designed by Mama, and cut and stitched by the plantation’s in-house seamstress, a second generation mulatto slave and Beth’s half-sister.

The bales of raw cotton had been shipped across the seas to the home country where it was ginned, spun, woven, and dyed before being shipped back as fine fabric. Only three mill children had been injured in the conversion process; no-one had died.

With the Governor and his wife in attendance, the reception was everything Mama had hoped for.

The slaves were given extra rations.

 

Written a bit late in response to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ weekly 100 word prompt found here.

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All’s fair…

Image copyright: Anshu Bhojnagarwala

She had trained at the Conservartoire de Paris and later would sell-out most of the great concert halls in the west. Her recordings were in every aficionado’s collection.

She gave it all up after a particular messy love affair went bad and came to live here in the village. She advertises herself as a piano teacher but as far as us kids know, she’s never had any pupils.

Gerry Anderson who runs the guitar shop says it’s because she chops off a finger for every wrong note played.

Gerry also teaches guitar apart from selling them.

His business is thriving.

 

Written in response to Rachmaninoff  Wisoff-Fields’ weekly 100 word challenge found here

And here’s a link to some info on the collection of short stories I’ve just published: Life Thinly Sliced

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Item 2

Ha! Last night I clicked on Submit on the Amazon self-publishing site. Hopefully everything is in order and I’ll soon get some sort of message saying my book is ready to go. I’ve ordered a draft copy and have my fingers crossed that my spell check hasn’t let me down and that I’ve used a sensible font. I had to resubmit the manuscript because I’d left my name off the book, so I’m experiencing some butterflies – what else have I done wrong? Fortunately, any minor issues found in the draft can be fixed. Hooray.

It’s a collection of short short stories, many of which have featured here on FF. I should therefore say how grateful I am to Rochelle for proving this platform and to all the FF-ers for their prompts, comments, and support. Without you… etc etc.

Enough. Back to the prompt.

ITEM 2

Image copyright: CE Ayr

In the chair, calling the meeting to order, was Terence, a yellow-eyed Rottweiler. On his left sat Gabriel, heavily scarred canary dog. On his right slouched sharp fanged Mary, Wolfdog, no pussy she.

“Cats!” he said, “Excessive exposure on the internet. What’s to do about it?”

Uproar from the floor, “Kill,” “Neuter ’em”, “No more cat flaps.”

Terence waved a paw. The room fell silent. “I rather like cats.”

“Cuddly,” said Gabriel.

“Gentle,” said Mary.

There was a general murmur from the floor, “Terence likes…,” “Some of my best friends…” “Sweet things.”

“Moving on,” said Terence, “Vegan dog biscuits.”

 

Written in response to Razzamatazz Wishoff-Fields’ weekly 100 word challenge found here.

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Duplicity at the Deli

Image copyright: Jean L. Hays

005-2 raised his eyebrows, sucked on a pencil, “A complaint you say?”

“Yes, a Mrs Bailey. She feels the tomato chutney she bought last week is off. Says it’s past its sell-by date. Wants a refund.”

“A refund? Bloody hell. We don’t do refunds, we’re a secret service agency, we’re spies. Spies don’t do refunds. What would the Russians think? What would Mossad think? We’d be the laughing stock of the world of cloaks-and-daggers.”

“But the sign above the door reads “‘Delicatessen’. It’s our cover.”

“True, give her the money. Oh, and a bottle of invisible ink as apology.”

“Sir.”

 

Written in response to Roxana-Saberi Wisoff-Fields’ weekly 100 word challenge found here.

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Building the wall

 

 

Image copyright: Hardy Carroll

“Love those bricks,” said Ollie, the border guard.

“Stones,” said Alan, the wall designer, “Sandstone.”

“Good to look at. Peaceful. Do you think…?”

“You mean build the wall like that? Sandstone?”

“Why not?” said Ollie, “Plenty of sand around.”

“True,” said Alan,” kicking at a clump of mesquite. “Feasible.”

“Better’n metal slats and concrete panels.”

“Would be boootiful.”

“The Man would like it.”

“Make it easier to get funding.”

“Pretty labour intensive though.”

“No shortage of people looking for work,” said Alan, eyeing the crowd behind the high fence.

Ollie frowned, “The Man won’t like that.”

“Ah, well,” said Alan.

 

 

Written in response to Roustabout Wisoff-Fields’ weekly 100 word challenge found here.

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Always read the small print

Some people have a pictogram of a salivating dog on their front gate in order to deter burglars.

Mrs Harris at number 8 Acacia Drive has this, but also of of knives, guns, a blowtorch and a baseball bat.

Some burglars take no notice and the unfortunate who jimmied open Mrs Harris’s front door in the early hours of Tuesday morning was one of those unbelievers.

“Bloody hell,” said the first officer on the scene.

“Bitten, stabbed, shot, burnt and bashed,” read the postmortem report.

“He had plenty of warning,” said Mrs Harris, oiling the barrel of her Colt 45.

 

Written in response to Ragmuffin Wisoff-Fields’s weekly 100 word challenge found here.

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Back on the ward

Long after the evening meal they wake me to measure my blood pressure and to shine a light into each of my eyes. Who knows what for. I don’t object. I’m in their care; they’re only doing what the doctors have asked them to do.

Behind their backs, in the doorway, the Grim Reaper shakes his scythe, gurns at me, taps his watch meaningfully, ducks out of sight when the two nurses have finished with me and turn to leave the ward.

Soon after, still awake and with a freshly emptied bladder, I peer through the doorway, first to the left, then to the right. No sign of him. My dearest enemy has had second thoughts, has changed his mind, has slipped away to find himself a different trophy. This time not me.

I high five myself in the mirror, sashay into the corridor.

I catch the duty night nurse on her rounds.

“Do you ever see him?” I ask.

“Him?”

“Him, Marjory,” I say reading her name badge, “Him. He. He who be the Grim Reaper.”

She goes pale. “That’s not a question for a place like this,” she says turning to look at the rows of occupied beds all lined up like coffins in a plague village mortuary.

“No. no, no, Just asking. Do you ever see him? I mean this would be a jolly good place for him to hang out. It’s a hospital, after all. And this ward, well, lots of low-hanging fruit, I reckon. Can’t believe he doesn’t visit from time to time. Or often. C’mon, you can tell a dying man like me; won’t say anything to the others.”

Her face softens; eyes flick from side to side.

She knows something, I think.

“Okay then. Just between you and me. Well, of course. Not often. A bit spooky but reassuring. We see them going about their business. They do a good job. They’re like dung beetles for humanity – get rid of the waste. It’s a service they offer.”

“Them? They?” I ask, “They? Them? Grim Reapers? With an ‘s’? As in plural? More than one?”

She gives me a pitying look, “Well, yes, of course. What do you think? That only one could take care of all our dearly departeds? I mean this hospital alone needs the services of a small army of them, and they are kept busy, busy, busy, twenty-four-seven, weekends, bank holidays, holy days, and all.

“And, you know, they’re not all the same. Like us they have different personalities, likes, dislikes. Check them out. Some prefer scythes made in the traditional Japanese style, others opt for the Toledo sword making process. Some of the young bucks use laser wands. They all wear the same basic outfit – cloak and hood, but if you look closely, every now and then you’ll see little personal differences, a bit of unusual trimming here, some fancy stitching there, a flash of yellow silk lining maybe, or the hint of hipster to the hood. Oh, they certainly aren’t clones. And they can be quite fun loving, make jokes, throw parties. And they don’t like the soubriquet Grim Reapers. They prefer to be called Collectors.

“And some are quite friendly.” She blushed.

“Friendly? A Grim Reaper, friendly?” I say, “You must be joking.”

“Well, not all of them of course. Some. Some certainly. Well, one, anyhow. Just the one I know, really.”

“Say tell.” I urge.

“His name’s Haerold. Really nice. Has integrity. Thought of introducing him to mum and dad. But he said, best not. Might make them anxious. Or he might forget his manners, and you can imagine what would happen then.”

“So Haerold, then, sounds sweet. I’m sure he’s nice; maybe he can help me. Any chance of you setting up a meeting, him and me? Without prejudice, of course; no scythes or similar ceremonial weaponry. I’d like to talk about some sort of concession, a pass, a bye. Some extra years. A deal, possibly? I have some elderly relatives he could profit from knowing about. Got to be worth something. Get him to call on me. Daytime’s best. Night time spooks me.

Marjory looks doubtful, “Actually Haerold’s on a two-week holiday; gone to Paradise to recharge his batteries, he says, sort out a few rattles. Graeham is covering for him. Nasty piece of work, is Graeham. Greedy. Loves a trophy. Goes around with souls hanging from his belt. Sometimes snatches them a little bit early. Sees it all as a competition as opposed to public service. Not the nicest of them at all. And apart from his all-round nastiness, his personal hygiene leaves something to be desired; smells terrible, never has formaldehyde showers like the others; says that smelling of damp earth and mould and decay is more natural. Haerold thinks he’s a real pain in the ischium.

“Anyway, if he’s hanging around, make sure your blood pressure and heart rate are at normal levels – you don’t want to be getting him excited.” She sniffs the air, “Hmm, seems like the coast is clear, but best you get back to bed for now. If you’re still around when Haerold gets back, we can arrange that meet up. Until then, stay healthy.”

She waves a goodbye and moves down the corridor in the direction of nurses’ station.

I shuffle back to the ward, open my laptop, search for “Health Tips for the Not So Young”.

I read until the arrival of the breakfast trolley wakens the others in the ward.

Some of them don’t look so good. That’s fine by me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yet another Santa story

Santa shivered in his recently redesigned uniform. No longer coca cola red. Now boring black emblazoned with G4S logos. G4S! He could still hardly believe it. He wrapped his ungloved hands around his polystyrene coffee cup hoping for additional warmth.

He could still hardly believe he had signed the contract; the negotiations had been tricky. First there was a deal and then there was a no deal. Canadian and Norwegian options had been mentioned, probably because they also had lots of snow around Xmas. Then one bunch of elves suggested a backstop. Another bunch said, “Whoah, ho ho no.”

In the end his head was spinning and he just signed the first piece of paper the lawyer had thrust in front of him. “Don’t worry about Ireland,” he had said, “The southerners are mainly Catholic, while in the north, they’re mainly not Catholic, so all in all it doesn’t matter.”

“Bummer,” said Santa to the miserable looking gnome seated next to him on the market place bench, “Nobody recognizes me. Where are the little children asking me for an x-box game or a gender-neutral vegan doll?” He ran his hand over his neat hipster-style beard.

The gnome spat an olive pit in the direction of a litter bin, “Look in the mirror, buddy. Remind yourself. You sold out. You signed the paper, hoped for an easier life. Now it’s all done on the internet; the kiddies send requests by email, the bots analyse the data, the Chinese stuff the shipping containers with cheap plastic throwaway toys. And it’s all delivered in driverless sleighs.

“I mean, c’mon Santa, we all know you have a freezer full of reindeer meat back home; don’t come on all dewy eyed now.”

Santa sighed, “You wouldn’t know how stressful it all was. All you had to do was carve a few million wooden toy soldiers, go home to Mrs Dwarf, put your feet up and down a pint of rose petal gin before getting an early night ahead of a long lie-in in the morning.

“Me, on the other hand, I had management work to do, serious stuff, not lightweight like yours. I mean, your toy soldiers were pretty rubbish, nobody asked for them, we had to ditch them in the Bermuda Triangle to get rid.”

The dwarf went red in the face, “How dare you speak to me like that, you piggy has-been. I’ll show you what happens to people who bad-mouth me.”

And with that he drew six toy soldiers out of his pocket, lined them up in front of Santa, and shouted, “Ready, aim, fire.”

The gunshots and smoke drew the attention of the shoppers in the crowded marketplace; a small group rushed to the supine Santa’s aid.

“Make way, stand back,” called out a cheery cheeked white-haired woman, “I can fix this.” And she wafted a mug of hot mulled wine under Santa’s nose. “Wake up Santa, wake up,” she said.

And slowly Santa stirred, opened his eyes, stared at the logo-free, coca cola red Santa suit hanging from a rustic wooden peg on the rustic wooden door, breathed in the essence of reindeer chomping to be on their way and listened to the jingling of cap bells as a mischief of elves scuttled hither and thither loading up the toys, recyclable and artisanal educational toys made from wood, wood harvested in ecologically responsibly managed forests.

“Wake up, Santa” said Mrs Claus, “You’ve been having a bad dream. All those cheese fondues.”

Santa stroked his long, tangled beard, sipped from a mug of hot mulled wine, “Just a dream, just a dream. Well, thank heavens for that. Ooh that was awful. Time to cut down on the cheese.”
He winked at his best friend, the wood carver, “Happy Xmas everyone, eh? Happy Xmas.”

 

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