Parcel Prompt Story: Writer’s Block

You saw the title? Yes, this is a parcel prompt, a first. A short story, in 1280 words.
I took the photo of a parcel sent to me all the way from California, by my blogging friend, John Rieber.
He decided to go one better than a photo, and this was sent including a polystyrene box, to protect the contents.
https://johnrieber.com/

There was a time when things were good. ‘Demon of The Marsh’ was a huge hit, and smashed into the fantasy market. Top seller on Amazon, and in the front windows of the bookshops that still existed. I was interviewed on the radio, then even a short telly spot on the BBC local news. The Guardian columnist called it ‘A fresh new take on the Demon genre’. Naturally, I was excited. And when it had sold over six thousand copies in hardback, then many, many more in paperback, I was approached by the very keen publisher with a deal for a second book.

I admit it, I was excited. I gave up my job without talking to Stella about it. She thought it was premature, but when the royalties started to roll in she stopped talking about that job, and began to spend the cash. Then ‘Demon’ went onto Kindle, and sold like hot cakes. In less than a year, I had an agent, and he arranged publicity too. Conor Farley wasn’t even a pen name, and it was on a lot of lips, I tell you.

There was a problem though. The first book had a definite conclusion. A good one, if I say so myself, but no scope for a sequel. And for the life of me, I couldn’t think up anything nearly that good for my next novel. I wasted hours on drafts, eventually settling on one idea and sending the first six chapters off for consideration. My agent thought it was crap, and the publisher said there was no way they would put it out. I bet they were relieved they hadn’t paid me the advance.

Eighteen months later, it was all going wrong. The money was draining away, and Stella went with it. The old house had to go, exchanged for a run-down one-bed flat above the local Indian Restaurant. At least I didn’t have to go far to buy something to eat. I had a great new story, but only the title and page one so far. What saddened me most was that the fans of ‘Demon’ were clamouring for more. One even started a Facebook page called ‘Where’s Conor?’.

To be honest, I was seriously thinking about going back to work. My old job had gone of course, but they were recruiting at the call-centre, and I was desperate enough to consider their no-hours contract. I really was. Then one day, Mr Patel from the restaurant downstairs stopped me as I was going to the corner shop. “Mister Conor, I took this parcel for you. You must have not heard the driver knocking”. I went back in, intrigued to examine the parcel.

The first thing I noticed was that it was from America. I didn’t know anyone over there, and certainly not the person who had put their name and address as the sender. It was also very light, easily lifted in one hand. I went up to the kitchen with it and got a sharp knife, to open it carefully. Inside, was a polystyrene box. That contained a box of small cakes, called ‘Twinkies’. I confess I was flummoxed. Who would send a box of presumably cheap cakes all the way from America, to someone they didn’t know? The postage alone must have cost considerably more than the box of cakes. It freaked me out a bit, I have to say.

The cake box was sealed, and the cakes inside individually sealed too. I unwrapped one and held it to my nose. It smelled fine. I gave the cake a lick. Tasted alright. I went for broke, and bit the end off. It was sweet and creamy, the sort of thing you instinctively know isn’t good for you. But what the Hell? So I ate it all. Then I went to the corner shop to get the tea and milk I needed.

Waking up in the middle of the night was very unusual for me. But that’s what happened. The bedside alarm read three-fourteen, and I was wide awake. What’s more, I was buzzing with thoughts and ideas. Without getting dressed, I was soon sitting at my computer churning out pages. I didn’t even stop for tea, coffee, or a pee. By the time the morning light was coming through the window overlooking the street, I had over sixty pages written and no sign of flagging. When the men came to get the rubbish piled on the pavement outside, I was up to eighty-eight pages. Then when I heard Mr Patel’s chef opening up to do his lunchtime prep, I was on page one hundred.

Tea was needed, and I felt myself trembling as I made it. I would have to go back over what I had written, but my gut told me it was bloody good. Better than ‘Demon’, I could already tell that. The re-read confirmed what I suspected. it was great. better than great, and tons better than ‘Demon’. I treated myself to another of those Twinkie cakes with a second cup of tea, and got back to writing. I had started to really like them, and it wasn’t long before I had eaten two more. It saved bothering with lunch, and then the rest of the box was gone by dinnertime. I was buzzing though. The book was looking superb, and I was already on page two hundred and six. Another hundred and fifty pages would be long enough, and I already had the ending open for a sequel. Lots of sequels in fact.

Then the tiredness hit me, after that early start. I decided to have a bath and get to bed. That book would be finished by tomorrow afternoon, at this rate.

When I got up the next morning, it was past nine, and very sunny. I made tea first, then sat in front of the computer, raring to go. But as I stared at the page, I suddenly didn’t have a clue. I couldn’t remember that magnificent open ending I had in mind last night, and two of the characters started to seem underdeveloped, even unnecessary. The doubt crept in, and I couldn’t type a word. I decided to get dressed, and go and buy some more of those cakes. They might help me focus.

Mr Allen in the corner shop hadn’t heard of them. He suggested I try one of the big supermarkets on the edge of town. That meant a bus ride, and a long walk around the trading estate. Still, something told me I did need those cakes, strange as that seemed. So I got the bus. The big Morrisons didn’t stock them, and neither did Tesco. The man in Asda told ne he had heard of them, but they didn’t carry that line. He suggested I try to order them online. I thanked him, but couldn’t admit that I no longer had a credit card, and my bank account was almost empty. And I didn’t mention that I could no longer afford to be connected to the Internet, either.

Four smaller shops I went in on the long walk home didn’t have any, and I arrived back at my flat exhausted.

Six weeks later, and I have literally run out of money. I am still on page two hundred and six, and waiting hopefully for another parcel to arrive from California.

Meanwhile, I have posted the application off to the call centre.

Photo Prompt Story: The Duggan House

This is a short story, in 1350 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, sent to me by Darlene Foster.
https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/about/

When she split up with Joanne, the first thing Carrie wanted to do was to get out of Vancouver. She put in to the RCMP personnel department for a transfer to anywhere, and it wasn’t long before Alberta was offered.

Edmonton, somewhere she had never been. She accepted it without a second thought, and told them she would stay in a motel until she found an apartment to rent.

It was an Inspector’s job with the detective branch. Most of the others were well established already, and she knew she wouldn’t get anything high profile until she proved herself. After a couple of weeks getting used to the place, and settling in, Carrie found a decent apartment, then set about getting on with the job. She arrived early, and stayed late. When there were no cases coming her way, she looked for work.

Superintendent Roy looked at her as she tapped on his office door. “Can I help you, Inspector Chang?” She held up a file. “I was looking through this old case, sir. Be alright if I take some time to check it out?” He took the file, and flicked through it. “An old missing person job, out near Busby? Jeez, that’s over three years ago, Carrie”. She shrugged. “Looks funny to me sir, almost like it was let go. The guy has never showed up, not anywhere. I think it’s suspicious”.

She had come with good reports, and an excellent case clear-up rate. He thought he might as well see what she could do. “Sure, drive up there and look around. Take a week if you need it, then let me know what you think”. That night, Carrie took the file home, and read it in bed. Something had been missed, and she knew what that might be.

It was forty-five miles to Busby, and she made it under the hour. Not much happening there, just a small farming community. Even the gas station had closed down, probably unable to compete with the new one she had passed on highway forty-four. Taking the detailed map, she spread it over the front of the car and scanned it carefully. If she was right, she should be able to climb the tumbledown fence, and walk to the place.

The patrol car pulled in just behind her. Local cop. He walked over, smiling. “You lost, ma’am? Need some help?” Carrie flashed her badge. “I’m heading for the Duggan House. Were you around when that young fella went missing a few years back? Luke Anderson, he was a student at The University of Alberta, down in Edmonton”. He took off his hat and rubbed his crew-cut hair. “You mean that kid from Grande Prairie, nineteen or so?” Carrie nodded. “He told his room mate at the student accommodation he was going to head out here to look over the Duggan House. Nobody ever saw or heard from him again. He didn’t have a car, so he must have got the bus from Edmonton, and walked from the stop”.

The cop put his hat on and started to turn back to his car. “As I recall, there was a big search for him, and nothing showed up. If I was you, I’d keep away from the old Duggan House. That’s a bad place”. Then he was in his car, and driving away. Carrie folded the map and put it in her backpack. Then she locked her car and left it in the pull-off by the side of the country road. It took less than ten minutes to cross the fields until she saw the house in the distance.

It looked to be unloved, to say the least. The glass was gone from the windows, the roof shot, and there was light between the planks that had been used to build it, God knows how long ago. She walked straight up to the gap where the front door had been, and went in. The floor boards creaked under her feet and dust rose in small clouds that settled over her shoes. It seemed very cold inside, much colder than it had been out in the field. The ground floor was just one big empty room, and her footsteps echoed as she walked around it.

At the side was a lean-to. Judging from the single tap still bolted to the wood, she guessed it had served as a kitchen at one time. She headed up the stairs, which groaned under her light weight. The hand-rail looked like it would easily come away from the fixings, so she left it alone. There were two bedrooms upstairs, with an old iron bedstead still in one, and the other empty. Much of the upstairs space was taken by a big old storage space at the front. It was dark in there despite having no window, not even the frame. She took out a small flashlight from her pocket and shone it into the space.

Only dust and boards, nothing to bother with. Just about to turn and retrace her steps, she saw something glinting in the beam. She held the light on it and walked into the far corner. It was a small digital voice recorder. The chrome trim had reflected the light.

From her other pocket, Carrie took a latex glove, and a small evidence bag. She picked up the recorder in the gloved hand, then dropped it into the bag before sealing it up. It was getting colder all the time in there, so she decided to head back to her car. In the statement from the room mate, it was clear that Luke had been heading for the Duggan House. But it was also clear now that nobody had ever searched the place at the time. Or they would surely have found that recorder.

Back at the station, Carrie wrote up a report about what she had seen, then found some fresh batteries in the storeroom, and turned on the voice recorder.

“This is Luke Anderson. First recording for the Duggan House. It’s eight at night, and I am just going through the doorway”

Then there was the sound of footsteps, and creaking boards. Carrie began to jot down some notes in the file.

“Okay, the flashlight isn’t showing anything but an empty room. Going into the side room. I think this was the kitchen, but according to what I have read, nothing happened here”.

Creaking and heavier breathing followed. Carrie guessed he was walking upstairs.

“The old bed is still in one of the rooms, no furniture anywhere though. It feels really cold in here, considering it was around sixty degrees outside. Got to check out the old storage loft now, should start to get something where most of it happened”.
He probably meant that big empty space with no door or windows, Carrie made some more notes. Then there was just breathing, heavier this time. Almost a gasp.

“Jesus, it’s so cold in here. I can see something in the far corner. Going closer. Wow, it’s as cold as ice now”.

The next part made Carrie jump back in her seat. Luke was shouting, really loud.

“OH NO! OH SHIT! PLEASE, NO! STOP! PLEASE, STOP!”

There was no more audio.

Placing the recorder back into the evidence bag, Carrie put that and the case file into her backpack, and reached for her car keys. The case had taken a completely different turn now, just as she had suspected. Grabbing an extra flashlight from the desk drawer, she headed down to her car. It was already dark.

The best time to go back there, and try to find out what happened.

On Friday morning, Superintendent Roy walked into the main office. He raised his voice so they could all hear him. “Anyone seen the new girl? You know, the one from Vancouver, Carrie Chang”. Everyone shook their heads in turn. He raised his eyebrows. “She hasn’t let me know her progress, and it’s been three days now”.

He turned to the admin girl who was seated at the back.

“Janice, get on to the uniforms. Ask them to send someone to check her home address”.

More online publication

Further to my non-fiction articles being published by Mythaxis online magazine yesterday, they have also decided to publish two of my book reviews, and two film reviews too.

Welcome

Here are some links to those reviews.

Films.

Peeping Tom

1917

Books.

The Three

The Dry

Many of you will have read these before, but I would be very grateful if you could take time to click on the links, and leave a ‘Like’.
There are lots of other good reviews there too. You might enjoy them.

Published Online

I am pleased to announce (okay, boast) that three of my non-fiction articles have been published online, in Mythaxis Magazine.

Welcome

Many of you will have read these before, whether something similar on my blog, or when they were published elsewhere.

But I would really appreciate you taking time to click each line, and leave a ‘Like’ for me.
Of course, if they are new to you, then please read them too!

While you are there, you can have a look and see what else Mythaxis has to offer.

Here are the links.

Farewell to the City

Countryside Fashions

My New Fluffy Gown

My Top Ten Posts

For the last few years, there has been little change in the most-read posts on this blog.

No matter how much fiction I write, or how much I love to post about films and cinema, none of that gets close.

As Julie is watching ‘Dancing On Ice’, and I would sooner sit out in the rain than watch that, I just checked my stats again.

Here are those top posts, with number ten first.

10) My Blog: Privacy And Cookies Notice. It has had 677 views.
This was published on the 31st of May, 2018.
It was a very short post, complaining about issues with WordPress, and the notice in question.

09) Beetley Village. It has had 840 views.
It was published on the 16th of August, 2012.
This is a detailed post about what you might expect to see if you ever visit Beetley.

08) Birds Don’t Like Cornflakes. It has had 857 views.
This was published on the 31st of August, 2013.
It was about feeding birds in the garden, and how they had refused to eat the cornflakes I had scattered on the lawn.

07) Ollie: A dog’s like and dislikes. It has had 864 views.
This was published on the 12th of September, 2016.
It was about things that my dog likes, and other things he doesn’t.
It is the only post featuring Ollie in this top ten.

06) Beachlands: Pevensey Bay. It has had 924 views.
This was published on the 24th of March, 2016.
It is a photo post, featuring photos of Modernist and Art Deco bungalows on a 1930s housing estate in Sussex.

05) The driest county in England. It has had 1,623 views.
This was published on the 29th of August, 2012.
It is about how I was told that Norfolk was the driest county in this country, and it hadn’t stopped raining since I moved here.

04) Dereham: A Norfolk Town. It has had 1,820 views.
This was published on the 17th of April, 2014.
It is about the nearest town to Beetley, the market town of Dereham.

03) Whatever happened to? : Jimmy Somerville. It has had 2,071 views.
This was published on the 10th of August, 2016.
It is about the singer and front man of Bronski Beat, and The Communards.
It features pop video clips, and asks why we never hear of him now.

02) About. It has had 2,925 views.
This was published in 2012, and is regularly updated.
It is about me and my life, and features a photo of me with Ollie.
The popularity of this post shows the importance of having a good ‘About’ page.

The number one post will come as no surprise to regular followers.
It has been at number one since shortly after publication, and is read at least once every day.

……Drum Roll……

01) Whatever Happened to?: Jamiroquai. It has had 4,298 views.
This was published on the 4th of September, 2016.
Since then, it has been the subject of many more posts remarking on its popularity.
It is about the British Acid-Jazz band of that name, and asks why they had disappeared.
It features pop video clips, and discusses why they dropped out of the music scene.
After I published this, they released a new album in 2017. It wasn’t very good.

So, there you have it. Do you know what your own top posts are? If you fancy it, why not do do something similar?
Then link it to this post, and we can all find out what are readers out there are enjoying the most.

Photo Prompt Story: Big Vern’s New Friend

This is a short story, in 1118 words.
It was inspired by the above photo, sent to me by Kim Barker.
https://cadburypom.wordpress.com/

Vernon was a big man, and I mean big. He looked as wide as he was tall, and had hands like bunches of bananas. Okay, he was getting some flab as he got older, but woe betide anyone who took him on. Anyone who thought that ‘the bigger they are the harder they fall’ was destined to be very wrong, when it came to Vern.

A big man needs a big dog, at least as far as he was concerned. And he got the biggest and meanest dog he could find. Tank was a Rottweiler, and one of the biggest I had ever seen. He was well-named too, as he could bash through any local dogs, and didn’t even notice them as he did so. Vern kitted him out, so he looked the part. He had a spiky collar, and needed two choke chains just to make him walk to heel. It was unlikely anyone other than Vern could have managed him.

There was no doubt that Tank was the king of the canine world in our town. Most other neighbourhood dogs wouldn’t even venture out when he was around. Vern would walk him all the time, taking Tank everywhere he went. He walked tall and proud, sure that his dog was by far the best around. Sidewalks cleared as they approached. One look at Tank’s menacing stare and drooling jowls, and anyone would cross the street to avoid them. Vern lived in the rough part of town. Though pretty much most of the town was rough, he chose to deliberately live where others tried to move away from. With a dog like Tank, nobody, but nobody was ever going to try to break in.

He really loved that dog. He would wrestle it in the front yard, and the growls and snarls could be heard along the street. And that was just Vern.

Then one day he had to go to the dentist, and they said there was no way Tank could come in. Even when Vern gave the dentist his most withering look, Mr Macaulay stuck to his guns, and said Tank would have to wait outside. Vern tied him up to a bike rack, and told him to sit and wait. It would have been alright, if Duke the German Shepherd hadn’t suddenly appeared across the street. Maybe he could tell Tank was tied up, we’ll never know. But he barked and barked at his old enemy, until Tank had had enough. He snapped that leash as if it was a shoelace, and took off across after Duke.

Unluckily for Tank, it was a cement truck that ran him down. If it had been a car, he would almost certainly have survived. He might have even jumped up and carried on after Duke. But even a dog as big as Tank had his limits, and that limit was a cement truck.

Big Vern was distraught. He carried that dog home as if it was as light as a bag of groceries, then he buried him in the back yard. He marked the spot with Tank’s choke chains and a rubber bone toy, before wondering how he would cope without his best friend. The locals left him alone for a long time after that, as his mood was impossible to predict. They knew he had done some hard time in his youth, and there were bad rumours about his past. Enough for everybody to leave him in peace with his grief.

Some time later, Vern had to go to the Post Office, to send back a shirt that was too small. Even when he bought the largest size available, they were usually too small.

After checking in the parcel, he headed for home. Shoulders slumped, feeling lost without a leash in his hand, and the feel of Tank pulling hard at the end of it. Approaching the corner, he looked behind for traffic, and was surprised to see a tiny dog behind him. As he stopped, the dog stopped. When he crossed at the light, the dog crossed too, and as he walked into his street, it was still behind him. He thought no more of it, and went into the house.

After some coffee and a few sandwiches, Vern thought he might hose down the front yard, just for something to do. Standing by the gate was the tiny dog, giving him a concentrated scare. Wandering across, he loomed over it, smiling. “You lost, little one? Where’s your mom and dad?” It just stood there, with that same stare. Vern leaned forward, and scooped it up in one of his shovel-sized hands. “I s’pose I better take you to the Vet, see if you got a chip or something”.

There was nothing on the Vet’s scanner, and nobody had reported the little dog missing. He told Vern that it was a pure-breed Pomeranian bitch, and was around five years old. Vern asked if he reckoned he could find a home for it, and the Vet smiled. “Sure, these dogs cost a lot, and are very fashionable. Leave her with me, and I will charge the new owner for my time”. As Vern turned to leave, he saw that the dog was still giving him that look. Try as he might, he couldn’t bring himself to pull on the handle to open the door.

Reaching into his pocket, he removed his wallet. “On second thoughts, I will pay your bill and take her. I don’t like to think about who might want her, and whether they will look after her”.

Vern carried the dog home, and stopped off in the pet store on the way. The owner looked at him in wonder as he bought a pink leash, a collar with rhinestones, and a small dog bed. He knew Vern from old, and thought the old guy must have lost it. Vern’s next stop was the fried chicken shop. He bought a family bucket, and smiled as the dog’s nose twitched at the aroma.

Back at the house, he carefully removed the fried coating, and separated some chicken from the legs into one of Tank’s old bowls. It was big enough for the tiny dog to take a swim in, but she gobbled up all that chicken in record time. Vern went into the bedroom to take a nap, and the tiny dog folowed him, jumping straight up onto the end of the bed. He smiled at that cute little face. “I’m gonna call you Little Kimmy. You live here now”.

Little Kimmy looked straight back into the big man’s eyes.

She knew she was home.

Keith Jarrett : Somewhere Over The Rainbow (The Blue Hour)

Thom Hickey’s blog is a real gem. It is hugely popular, and you will see why if you look at his posts. This latest one is a prose poem of praise to the ‘Blue Hour’, an English love letter to twilight.
And he has chosen the perfect soundtrack too.

The Immortal Jukebox

Stars withdrawing from the night sky.

Buffeting winds blowing the heart open.

Old Winchester Hill.

The Blue Hour.

Iron Age Forts.

Bronze Age Barrows.

Ghostly legions marching by.

Corn Buntings and Lapwings.

Skylarks and Linnets.

Yellow Hammers.

Stone – curlews.

A glimmer of sunlight greeting the ghosts, the birds and me.

Butterfly flutterings.

Marbled White.

Meadow Brown.

Chalkhill Blue.

The Blue Hour.

Dreams that you dare to dream.

Clouds far behind.

Birds fly over the rainbow.

Once and forever in a lullaby.

Once and forever.

Keith Jarrett.

A meditative musician.

A perpetual pathfinder.

Rediscovering, reimagining, recreating, the almost, almost, forgotten land of the untroubled heart.

Soaring with Bluebird and Skylark.

The Song of The Blue Hour.

Hold it in your Heart.

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