Tag Archives: new writers

The Seasons of Love: autumn by Shirley Golden (FreeSpace #4)

11 Nov

 

Universe

 

The Seasons of Love: autumn

 

Foundations

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I turn the page, you stay put. It’s okay. We can do that, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be together; I tell myself this as a mantra when I sense that shift in either of us.

I like to drink until my head fizzes. Not every night, at the weekends. I like to discuss human nature, the world, the universe, its stars, galaxies, time-travel, or the possibility of other selves. You call it, talking about the “ins and outs of a rat’s arse”.

You like to earn money, and relish the challenge of persuading people to part with notes or coins. You start campaign groups after watching political debates. You separate out glass bottles from empty tins for the bin men, and remember more about the reality of everything. I admire your efficiency: you won’t waste a Joule on matter you can’t influence.

At night, we curl up and wait for the cat to come home. I balance a novel in one hand and rub your shoulders with the other. You watch documentaries until you can no longer keep your eyes open. You’re ready for bed before me. We’ve given up on compromise. Compromise means you get crabby and I’m wide awake at 3am.

I wait in the yard for the cat. I scan the night sky by the back door and try to count the stars. The cat makes his demands: supper and sofa. I rub my arms in the cold-spiked air, and am ready to return to the house.

I carry my novel and glasses upstairs, in case I wake before the alarm. I’m thinking of the duvet and its comfort. I imagine the feel of you shifting towards me, your half-conscious mutter that you love me, your breath hot on my neck, your arms tightening around my waist.

And like leaves in autumn everything falls away, leaving our skeletons in readiness for the next spell when light and warmth trigger buds to unfurl.

 

The Seasons of Love: autumn is the 4th of 4 short pieces by Shirley focusing on the theme of seasonal love.

You can find winter here, spring here and summer here.

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Some of Shirley Golden’s stories have found homes in the pages or websites of various magazines and anthologies; a few have won prizes. She lives in Hampshire where she is door-person and arbitrator to two wannabe tigers, and can sometimes be found on Twitter when she should be writing. She likes to bake jumbo chocolate and pecan cookies. www.shirleygolden.net @shirl1001

Shirley’s debut novel, ‘Skyjacked’ is to be published by Urbane Publishing  in 2016.

Big thanks goes to Shirley for sharing her Seasons of Love series with us!

 

 

 

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The Seasons of Love: summer by Shirley Golden (FreeSpace 3)

7 Oct

 

Conceptual cells

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The Seasons of Love: summer

 

Reboot

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He builds her, piece by piece. He doesn’t need to compare the image, grainy, not designed to display on current tech. He knows her by heart: violet eyes, long lashes, button nose, black silk hair and pale skin.

No one cares how the thing looks. He works for perfection but they’d be happy with bolts and big stitches. She needs to be wise and strong, obedient without question; something that will serve and protect; something that will adore, not destroy its creator.

He keys in height, based on estimation, body shape, based on his data entries – a combination of how he imagined, and the machine predicted, she would look.

***

She’d run up the path, arms open to be captured by him. He’d scoop her into a bear hug and tell her he’d missed her. It won’t be forever, that’s what he told his wife. Contract work, high paid, away from Earth for months at a time. He’d stop when the code was complete – he promised – they were so close to a break-through. But that was getting old.

His wife didn’t trust bioelectronics. Where should one life finish before the other thing takes root? She wouldn’t allow them to test the implant when Isha got sick. The therapy was high risk with side-effects. But they both knew the alternative. His wife argued treatment was too much for her, too much for them. Let’s enjoy the time she has. He watched his daughter transform from flesh to threadbare.

After the service, his anger multiplied. He should have forced his wife to agree to the programme. He didn’t know who to be mad at, his wife or himself.

He stayed at work when they insisted he should go home.

***

His creation sits up and opens her eyes. ‘Hello,’ she says.

He can barely look, or look away. She’s a blur through his tears. Already he plans how to make more, hundreds, thousands; if one crashes, there’ll be another ready to spark into life. He pictures how they’ll spring, fully grown and armed, like Athena. And how, godlike, she’ll remain unchanged, like summer on playback forever.

 

The Seasons of Love: summer is the third of 4 short pieces by Shirley focusing on the theme of seasonal love.

You can find winter here and spring here

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Some of Shirley Golden’s stories have found homes in the pages or websites of various magazines and anthologies; a few have won prizes. She lives in Hampshire where she is door-person and arbitrator to two wannabe tigers, and can sometimes be found on Twitter when she should be writing. She likes to bake jumbo chocolate and pecan cookies. www.shirleygolden.net @shirl1001

Watch out for the last season…. coming soon!

 

 

The Seasons of Love: spring by Shirley Golden (FreeSpace 2)

8 Sep

Shirley's FreeSpace Picture 2

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The Seasons of love: spring

Afterwards

Dana can’t cry, not in front of everyone. Bradley breaks down a couple of times. He leans against his wife and children for support. Dana holds onto the front row pew as the coffin appears. The service wasn’t her idea. She’d have preferred a woodland clearing surrounded by oaks and beech, the whisper of a breeze disturbing new shoots and a carpet of bluebells. But it was November.

Instead, she stands to sing, ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’. She mouths the words, never comfortable with singing out loud, and listens to the rain lash against stained glass. She checks her watch, no need to retrieve the ten o’clock pills from their box. Her fingers twitch.

Bradley said she looked tired and asked about the Will. She’d gone grey since the last time they met. He used to phone once a week. Their mother would wait for his call while Dana ran her bath or made sure she had the right sized clippers for toenails. The rest of her evening consisted of drying, moisturising and plucking, whilst her mother reeled off Bradley’s achievements: his commercial appearances, his talented children and wife, his house, his car, his fancy suits.

Dana had fallen in love, years before with an entrepreneurial man, but she was never a part of his long-term plans. She retreated into her paintings. Her mother referred to her work as ‘Dana’s little hobby’. At first Dana took it as an expression of interest and would show her the pieces she was working on. Her mother would glance at them and talk about the time she won the school trophy for her collage. So Dana stopped doing that long before her mother lost hold of reality.

Their mother forgot when she was supposed to wait by the phone for Bradley’s call, so she’d sit close to the handset every day. Dana tried to persuade her that she could carry it in her pocket, but her mother didn’t trust that. Bradley’s calls became less frequent.

Dana ran baths, cooked meals and clipped nails.

She kept the trimmings, and stained them a multitude of colours, creating a page of flowers from her mother’s offcuts: bone-thin crocus petals, bursting from layered, green, convex stems.

She never showed anyone but intended to hang the piece on an east facing wall once she had secured a bright dwelling of her own. After the funeral, once everyone else had forgotten.

 

The Seasons of Spring is the second of 4 short pieces by Shirley focusing on the theme of seasonal love.

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Some of Shirley Golden’s stories have found homes in the pages or websites of various magazines and anthologies; a few have won prizes. She lives in Hampshire where she is door-person and arbitrator to two wannabe tigers, and can sometimes be found on Twitter when she should be writing.She likes to bake jumbo chocolate and pecan cookies. www.shirleygolden.net @shirl1001

 

There will be another 2 seasons to come so watch this space!

 

 

Weekend Showcase : Stephen Thom (Writer)

13 Mar

Spotlight

Every Friday, 1 creative, letting their work speak for itself.

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Stephen Thom

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Marbles

 

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IT IS ALL LITTLE MARBLES IN OUR EARS

by Stephen Thom

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Hugh placed his plastic cup of sparkling wine beside the picnic hamper and pushed the tweezers deep into Lottie’s left ear. She slugged her own cup back violently, wincing as the bubbles surged down her throat and cold metal tongs simultaneously wriggled into her earhole. Selecting a pair of tweezers for herself, she directed them into Hugh’s right ear and tried to focus on her own prodding and poking. And as it was, she succeeded first. A little, smooth, dark round bead was tugged from Hugh’s ear, clenched between the pincers of the metal implement. Swiftly the bead was followed by more and more tiny round balls, connected together by some sinewy, sticky tether. Hugh’s ear bled as the beads were carefully extracted; dribbling, red pearls hanging from the lobe.

‘How does it feel?’ Lottie asked. Hugh’s head was throbbing, but he didn’t want it to show. Instead he tried to change the subject. ‘I can’t seem to get a handle on yours.’ He switched positions, wedging the blanket into the sand beneath it as he shifted onto his knees. Finally he felt his tweezers click around a smooth surface, and with his eyes screwed up in concentration, tugged the first few beads from Lottie’s left ear. They slid out with comparative ease; soon a whole, slick chain of dark little stony spheres was unravelling out of her earhole, and she barely flinched as she focused on yanking and squeezing Hugh’s assorted beads out individually.

‘Ow,’ he muttered, craning his neck against the roving tweezers. ‘Ow.’ His eyes flickered to the trail hanging from his ear. ‘Ah…Jesus.’

‘They look a bit like marbles,’ breathed Lottie, stroking his head to calm him. ‘I thought you’d be able to see…more, or anything. Maybe they’re different on the outside, like, maybe they change?’

‘Maybe,’ choked Hugh, grinding his teeth as water formed in the corners of his eyes.

With a sucking noise, what appeared to be the final bead was wrenched from Hugh’s ear; Lottie laid his collection in a bundle on the blanket beside her own, long since unravelled to the ground. They surveyed the piles of beads in silence for a while, Hugh rubbing his ear. ‘How long do you think we have?’ He murmured.

Lottie looked up at him. His eyes were jet black, but she declined to inform him of this.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ she said, reaching for his hand. Hugh let her caress his palm for a moment, then picked up one of his beads. He rotated it between thumb and forefinger. In the centre of the little ball, a cloud swirled amongst the gloom. As he watched, it gathered texture, accumulating into a structured mass. This mass snaked out to incorporate fleeting glimpses of minuscule limbs, features, stretches of environment – a world condensed into a smooth, sticky marble.

‘No, you were right,’ Hugh concurred, ‘it must have been a type of…camouflage, or cover. Look, this is when I met you.’

He held it up to her glassy eyes, still in ownership of their pupils. A scene danced across the minute circular landscape.

‘It wasn’t, though,’ she replied, averting her gaze. Then, looking back at Hugh, she saw a thick sliver of black liquid ooze from his dark eyeballs. He wiped his cheek in shock. Hastily, he pulled the beads up one by one, scrutinising the pictures the little marbles conveyed.

‘This is Greece!’ He cried. ‘This was our holiday! When I was twelve…I had such bad sunburn. I had to have cold showers. Look, this is when Mum was ill…we were waiting at the station for Dad to pick us up, but he’d got the time wrong, and you just kept talking about how you have to pay to use the toilets there, I guess you didn’t want to talk about anything else-‘

‘Hugh…’ Lottie covered the bead with her left hand, and pulled the arm of her jumper down over her right hand, wiping away some of the black fluid flowing down his cheeks.

‘I don’t know if it was the right thing to do anymore,’ he croaked. He was having trouble kneeling upright now; he seemed to be hunching into himself without realising. ‘Even if they’re not ours, or mine, or whatever, it’s what we knew. It’s all I knew. I should honour that. It doesn’t feel right, or like I thought it would. I still spent my life with these people.’

Lottie kissed him on his smudged cheek. ‘It is right,’ she said, and she felt her own voice flagging as she did so. ‘You did spend your life with them, and you will meet them again, just in the right way this time. These things, here…’ her hands fumbled with the beads, ‘they’re not our own, they’re someone else’s interpretation. But all these…links, they’ll come back to you. You will see them again,’ she finished, trying to sound decisive.

Hugh’s face was a mess of black fluid, and he sunk to the blanket as his knees failed him. The sand that had drifted onto the blanket mingled with the thick oilish substance as cracks and sores opened across his skin, and more of it flooded forth. Lottie held his head tightly, staring straight ahead as her own eyes dulled to black.

‘Hugh, did you hear me? Hugh, it’ll be your own now.’

‘I’m sorry,’ he sighed as a black mass converged before him and fractured into a million splinters; splinters that remolded themselves as little black marbles, tumbling in every direction.

He saw his embryonic, shapeless shadow chasing after them, ready, renewed-

‘Don’t ever be sorry,’ Lottie sobbed, somewhere far behind.

.

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Biography

Stephen Thom is from Carrbridge in the Highlands of Scotland, and enjoys reading and writing fiction with an interpetive element. His pieces have appeared in Firewords Quarterly, Holdfast Magazine, Fur-Lined Ghettos, High Flight, Don’t Do It, Thought Collection Publishing, Thick Jam and Puffin Review amongst others.

http://stephenthom.wordpress.com/​
@StephenThom3

Stephen also plays mandolin in a folk-rock band called ‘Dante’. Their debut album, ‘Wake’, was released in October 2013 to fantastic reviews and features in the Herald’s ‘Top 50 Scottish Albums of the Year’.

http://www.dantemusic.com
@wearedante

 

 

If you would like a Weekend Showcase please do get in touch via the contact form on the What’s On Page or via the comment box.

 Image by Barnaby N: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blast/212455

 

 

 

Weekend Showcase : Marie Gethins (Writer)

6 Mar

Spotlight

Every Friday, 1 creative, letting their work speak for itself.

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Marie Gethins

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Brigid Painting

 Painting by Brigid Delahunty

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Jeremiah and the Singing Sheep

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A few months after Jeremiah turned the fields around Gallybeg blue, sheep began to sing. People in the village called it singing, but it was more of a hum. Shamie Howlin claimed he heard the chorus to O’Donnell Abú one night when he took a short cut home from the pub. However everyone knew better than to trust Shamie’s opinion.

Jeremiah arrived one April with a long beard and an orange tent. “A New Age blow-in,” my mother said, shaking a finger at me. “Now lad, don’t get too familiar.” By the end of his first week, she puzzled together enough information to serve Jeremiah’s life story with my father’s Saturday steak. “Brains to burn, degrees coming out his ears. He’s here to set-out those wind turbines.” She poured pepper sauce across his meat and potatoes, tapped the metal spoon against the pot. “From Kentucky—so they say.”

The wind turbine project pleased almost everyone in Gallybeg, bringing with it a handy cash injection. A protest group from Dublin came down a few weekends until a bull got loose and chased them through the village. “If we had the climate for tomatoes, it would be as good as Pamplona,” my father said. But we could only grow grass and by the look of the livestock, even that didn’t seem to be doing so well.

Part of the preliminary crew, Jeremiah took measurements and pounded sticks into fields marking off access roads and tower bases. He said that he liked to live close to nature. Although the company would pay his expenses for a city hotel and commute costs, he preferred to pitch a tent near the construction sites, landowners permitting.

Jeremiah’s orange tent became a regular fixture and feeding him a competitive sport. It began with a sandwich pile and tea flask, but stakes rose to a full Irish breakfast and hot dinner by farm number three. When he arrived at our place, my mother pinned meal plans and a baking schedule to the kitchen curtains. My mother decided she couldn’t cook, bake and deliver, so my father and I shared the task of bringing Jeremiah his meals.

He had an easy way of speaking: slow and gentle, leading you along. Philosophy, engineering, nature, mythology—Jeremiah covered them all, mixing one with another. Often I couldn’t tell my mother what we had talked about, only that I agreed with him. One evening my father and I shared a warm apple tart and tea with Jeremiah while the ewes and lambs nibbled around us.

“That’s hard dining.” He motioned towards the flock with his fork. “Ryegrass, what’s the variety?”

“It’s a mix,” my father said. “Irish seed mostly, but I was thinking of trying a bit of Italian next.”

“Italian ryegrass? Wouldn’t you consider Poa? Works real well back home. Poa pratensis, Kentucky bluegrass. Those sheep would be so content they’d sing.”

My father shook his head and laughed.

When the construction team arrived, Jeremiah moved onto his next job, but he said he’d return to Gallybeg before the wind turbine commissioning. Although everyone had stared at Jeremiah’s stick outlines for several weeks, big machinery churning up the fields came as a surprise. The post office, petrol station and pub buzzed with complaints. My mother put away her recipe cards and told me to stay well clear of the crew. From my bedroom window I watched the white towers rise, giant fingers pointing to heaven. On rainy days, they broke the grey clouds into marshmallow pillows and when the sun came out, clinging drops glimmered on their sides. With rotors fitted, the turbines became a line of fairground pinwheels waiting for God to blow. My father heard the electrics still had to be wired up.

The heavy works crew left and after a few days Jeremiah appeared. We walked around the wind turbines with him, our wellies sinking in the muck.

“Not a blade left in the field,” my father said.

Jeremiah stroked his beard. “I believe there’s a reseeding contingency in your contract. This could be an opportunity my friend.”

Two weeks later several sacks of Kentucky bluegrass seed came by special delivery. My father covered them with old blankets and locked the shed. When he deemed conditions were ideal, I helped him plough the field and spread the new seed. Soon tufts popped up. A mixture of green and teal blades surrounded the wind turbine bases and covered the soil. When seed heads appeared, the land turned a blue tint in twilight. The ground firm, we moved our flock into the wind turbine field. The sheep rustled through the new coarse grass, happy to dine on the American gourmet fodder. We started to notice other Gallybeg fields the same shade as our farm.

Commissioned at last, the wind turbines began to rotate. Regular rent payments arrived from the energy company. My father talked about building a new shed, my mother a conservatory. Reporters interviewed farmers, photographers snapped shots of white wind turbines and fluffy sheep against bluish fields.

Summer rains shifted into autumn frosts. On a clear November night, my father and I checked on the flock. An orange harvest moon hung heavy in the dark sky, stars scattered like bog cotton around it. A rhythmic hum grew louder as we approached the field.

“Do you hear that?”

My father nodded. “It must be the sheep.”

“What?”

“Jeremiah said that grass would make them sing.” He slapped my back and chuckled.

That winter noise pollution protestors from the city went round the village asking people to sign their petition. They wanted the wind turbines silenced. “But the wind turbines are silent,” the villagers said. The protestors passed around leaflets on infrasound, asked about headaches, nausea and tinnitus.

“Don’t you hear that hum?” one said. “How can you sleep?”

“Ah that’s just the sheep.” My father handed back a leaflet. “They’re so happy with the Kentucky bluegrass they sing for joy.”

A CD and a letter from Jeremiah came with my father’s latest seed order. The cover had a picture of him outside a tent, beard plaited, a funny looking guitar in his lap. He wrote that he’s started an Ashram in the Appalachian Mountains and plays bluegrass music on the sitar for the local wildlife. Next birthday I’m going to ask for an orange tent and when I’m older, I’m going to grow a long beard. In the meantime, I play the CD for our flock, a background hum in harmony.

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Biographies

Marie Geth­ins’ work has fea­tured in the Litro, 2014 NFFD Anthology, Flash, NANO, The Incubator Vin­tage Script, Circa, Firewords Quarterly, The Lamp, Control Literary Magazine and Word Bohemia. She won or placed in Tethered by Letters, Flash500, Drom­i­neer, The New Writer, Prick of the Spindle, Sen­tinel Lit­er­ary Quar­terly and 99fiction.net. Marie is a Pushcart and Best of the Short Fictions Nominee. She lives in Cork, Ireland, working on her MSt in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford.

https://twitter.com/MarieGethins

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 Artist:  Brigid Delahunty:

Award winning artist Brigid Delahunty’s work reflects upon the different shapes of man-made objects built or left in the landscape with their random presence creating a new perspective and incongruity in the environment. Each scene is individual and fictitious with a narrative approach that emphasises a sense of emptiness and isolation. Contact info: https://brigiddelahunty.wordpress.com/

 

If you would like a Weekend Showcase please do get in touch via the contact form on the What’s On Page or via the comment box.

 

 

 

 

Weekend Showcase : Elizabeth Rose Murray (Writer)

9 Jan

Spotlight

Every Friday, 1 creative, letting their work speak for itself.

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Elizabeth Rose Murray

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Gothiclitterabastarda3

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The Books, They Cry *

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Sarajevo, 1993. No idea what date exactly – it’s not important any more. Food and cigarettes are the only currencies that matter.

Zoran pulls himself out of his bunk and into his hole-ridden combat jacket, rescued from a dead comrade last week. Bullet holes in a jacket bring you luck, they say. Bullets are proud like Serbs. Never hit the same spot twice. There’s no glory in that.

The scarf that Zoran tied carefully around his face has slipped in his sleep. The dusty air burns, dry and hot. Every breath suffers. He gulps like a suffocating fish, checking around nervously to make sure he hasn’t disturbed his comrades. As his gaze falls on his commander, Zoran stiffens, straightens as much as his tired body can manage. He wonders how the commander sleeps so well.

Before he turns sixteen, Zoran wants to be in charge of a unit. The Great Siege is all he has left. His mother, father, brothers and sister; they all died unremarkably. Zoran was outside sketching the last lime tree in his village when return fire blew their makeshift home apart. He found remnants of his mother, but the others evaporated like mist. Hiding in the apartment was a cowardly act. They should have been fighting for the cause.

Under his commander’s care, Zoran is no longer the snivelling boy found curled around his mother’s severed body. Tomorrow, he starts his first shift on the barricades on the Northern Bank of the Miljacka. The barricades offer the best contact fighting. They’re where you earn respect.

“Are you ready to join the men, Zoran?”

Zoran had not noticed the commander wake. He stares into his leader’s eyes. The others say the commander can see into a man’s heart. Zoran believes it, even though his own vision is clouded. He puffs himself up, sucks in his cheeks like he’s seen the others do.

“I am, sir.”

He hopes the thin croak in his voice doesn’t betray him. He’s been dreaming of this moment, can’t risk his excitement being mistaken for fear. The commander reaches out, grabs the boy by his shoulder and squeezes. Zoran accepts the pincer-sharp grip, fights the urge to pull away. Inside, his heart pumps like rapid-gun fire.

*

The Gazi Husrev Bey Library is so silent Ismet can hear his father’s breath from the other side of the room. Before the war started, before the bread queues and blockades, before the trees were cut down for firewood, the building would have been full. Nobody comes to read books any more. They’re too hungry or cold or afraid. The majestic glass dome is now a withered skeleton. There is no glass left in Sarajevo.

Ismet’s father used to say the library was the middle point between heaven and earth. He talked of how the books came alive at night; “Imagine, Ismet, while we sleep, philosophers and scholars from every country, every era, leap from the pages to debate the world’s most important ideas.” When war threatened, Ismet’s father didn’t panic. He smiled, cupping his hands around a decorative spine. “In times of war, books and prayers can be of great comfort to a man.”

Back then, Ismet would examine the treasured sixteenth century manuscripts, trying to make sense of the beautiful, handwritten script. Scarlet, viridian and indigo inks whispered to him, offering a glimpse of the nighttime chatter of ghosts. Ismet listened carefully, trying to decipher their incessant noise in languages he couldn’t understand.

Those days ended when the ‘men in the hills’ arrived. Now, Ismet’s father is silent. He holds the books close, smells their musky scent, strokes their covers. But there is no smile. He reads very little. Always, he worries. The books, they cry.

Once one of the most respected scholars in Sarajevo, Ismet’s father is reduced to stacking abandoned manuscripts into banana boxes. See the remnants of his past in the elegant angle of his neck as he concentrates? Ismet tries harder to see it every day as willow-thin and grey as the sky, his father methodically piles book upon book, then seals the box.

An act that could cost him his life. His son’s too.

*

Zoran secures an excellent view of the Latin Bridge: a necessary crossing for civilians in need of water. Day after day, war-worn men and grief-bruised women race across the bridge in the hope of reaching the Brewery. Here, they drain water from the pumps, then risk their lives again to get back home to their families.

A tall, wiry sniper stationed at the Northern Bank barricade grins at Zoran. He nods his head towards the bridge.

“Easy pickings.”

In return, Zoran widens his lips and shows his teeth. It isn’t what a smile used to look like.

“Easy pickings,” he repeats.

Holding the high-precision rifle makes Zoran feel taller. Excitement rages through his body. Unlike the defending soldiers, he has ammunition. Ignoring the rusted trigger, chipped handle and uncomfortable weight, Zoran imagines that his weapon gleams against his hip. He’s thankful that there are no mirrors. He doesn’t want to see the oversized, tattered gun against his slight frame.

Zoran was never athletic or academic. He only excelled at art. Looking back, he scorns that weak, sunburned boy who spent hours dabbing at canvas with a sable brush. Cerulean blue, lemon yellow, alizarin crimson: all distant memories buried under the dust and debris of constant shelling. What need is there of such wasteful occupations? The city’s freedom will be beauty enough.

*

The city’s main library is bombed. Ismet’s father grows increasingly restless. What will stop them from turning on the Gazi Husrev Bey next?

“It is time, Ismet,” he says.

A disused fire station near the tunnel that leads from the city to the airport is their only chance. No one attacks the tunnel. The fighters need their cigarettes. The black market needs its extortionately priced food. And those who can pay need their way out.

“How many books will we take, papa?”

“All of them.”

More than ten thousand tomes have made their home in the Gazi Husrev Bey. Ismet sighs. He wonders whether, with all their wisdom, those revered scholars saw The Great Siege coming? Pausing, gleaming manuscript in hand, he peers skyward, expecting to see apparitions. There is only the flat grey sky where the dome once glistened like dew.

“When, papa?”

“Morning.”

Ismet’s mother begs her son not to go. She says it is too risky for a boy of fifteen. She has not heard the books whispering, isn’t familiar with the sound of their important ideas. Ismet knows that if Sarajevo is to be rebuilt, it cannot be left to the criminals and thugs that have sprung up on both sides. Whoever wins, whatever the future, the books will preserve the city’s identity. They need to be heard.

*

Pacing the barricade, staring down into the city, Zoran feels sweat drip down his spine despite the wintery air. With every step, the sniper’s eyes sear into him, calculating his next move. Zoran knows his future relies on impressing this man. Otherwise, the commander will be disappointed.

“Smoke?”

Zoran takes one of his companion’s cigarettes, taps it against his palm before lighting it to buy time. After three days of watching, he must shoot. But the choice of target is critical.

As he sucks on the cigarette, Zoran tries to think like his commander. Could shooting a man earn him the most glory? Maybe killing a woman would show he’s cut all ties with childhood? Or would a toddler be best? He looks into the sniper’s eyes, trying to read him like a colour palette. But the sniper only sees in monochrome. Zoran has to make his choice alone.

As soon as his cigarette is finished, Zoran stubs it into the ground and perches his rifle on the barricade. Closing one eye, breath slowed, he waits. Instinct tells him to let the first few people cross. But when a man in an expensive blue suit and hat steps out, Zoran’s heart thumps. The world pales. The blue suit gleams as it sprints across the Latin Bridge. Zoran aims, fires.

Recovering from the thump of the gun against his shoulder, he sees the man make it safely to the other side. His hat lies crumpled and smoking in the middle of the road. As Zoran lowers his weapon, a fist strikes him in the mouth. He springs back, but doesn’t cower. The blood is bright against his palm as he wipes it away. The sniper fixes his stare on the boy, spits his cigarette to the floor.

“Idiot! There’s no room for failure, here. If you want to lose, join the other side.”

*

Ismet and his father are ready. The city library still burns, lighting up the sky as their stooped figures step out into the morning, each loaded with a banana box full of books. Their task has made them strong. In single file they run across streets, dodge down alleyways, duck behind boxcars. Last night’s mortar attacks leave the air extra thick with dust, cloaking their movements.

When they reach the Latin Bridge, their hearts throb with fear. The bridge is open and in full view of the Northern Bank barricades. No dust will save them now. Waiting with the stragglers and empty water cartons, tucked behind an upturned truck, they watch. Ismet scribes a prayer in the dirt. War involves too much waiting.

A woman runs out, plastic water bottles clanking by her hip. She kicks an abandoned hat adorned with a single bullet hole, stumbles, but makes it safely to the other side. As another woman crosses successfully, Ismet decides he will grab the hat as he passes. A gift for his father as protection; they say no Serb bullet strikes the same place twice.

“It is time,” says Ismet’s father. “I will go first.”

He believes a sniper will fire as soon as he sees the box. There won’t be enough time to reload and shoot at his son.

“See you on the other side.”

Taking a deep breath and heaving the box of books close to his chest, Ismet’s father races into the street.

*

Sucking on his wounded lip, Zoran peers out across the range. There’s been little movement since he missed his shot. Just a few women he’d let pass to lure better prey. The others cower like starving dogs, sheltering behind vehicles. Zoran has heard that some people count the seconds after a sniper shot, trying to guess the safest time to cross. When will they realise it will only be safe when they, the Serbs, have taken the city by force?

Avoiding his comrade’s gaze, Zoran squints into the distance. He knows this is his last chance. If he doesn’t hit his target this time, his commander will be informed. His dreams of leading a unit will crumple in cadmium flames like the city library.

Zoran wears his non-smile as the civilians relax and begin to cross. First: a bent, grey man with a proud face. He runs slowly, only just able to bear the box he carries. Zoran blinks. Did he see right? His eyes haven’t deceived him; the box is imprinted with bananas. Zoran stalls. He knows that the black market is thriving; cars, clothes, toys, water. Anything can be bought for the right price. He’s seen the men in tracksuits with their oily hair and oilier palms, slicking their way from tunnel to hill to valley. They didn’t bother him before – smugglers are always chameleons in war – but the bright yellow-gold of the bananas feels like an insult.

“We don’t even have bread, and they have bananas,” says Zoran quietly.

Anger creeps into his stomach. His heart shrivels. As his blood pumps faster, making his forehead throb, he knows he will shoot the next person to appear. Under the watchful eye of his fellow sniper, Zoran lifts his rifle. Prays he won’t fail this time.

 .

* ‘The Books, They Cry’ was shortlisted for the RTE Francis MacManus Short Story competition (2013) – it was aired on national radio but this is the first time it has appeared in print.

 

  Biography

Elizabeth Rose Murray lives in West Cork where she fishes, grows her own vegetables and lives for adventure and words. Book One of her Nine Lives trilogy for children (aged 10-12) will be published by Mercier Press in August 2015.

Elizabeth has poetry & fiction published in journals across Ireland and the UK, and she has been shortlisted in the following competitions: RTE3 Short Story (2014) Penguin/RTE Guide (2013), Powers/Irish Times (2013), Writers & Artists/Anam Cara (2013) and Aesthetica Creative Works (2011). In 2012, she performed in Ciudades Paralelas: Station – a live writing installation in Kent train station as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival.

Twitter: @ERMurray
Facebook: /ERMurray.Author

Elizabeth will be returning to ArtiPeeps on Wednesday 25th February for her first FreeSpace. Do watch out for her. 

 

If you would like a Weekend Showcase please do get in touch via the contact form on the What’s On Page or via the comment box.

 

 

 

 

Weekend Showcase : Chris White (Writer)

25 Jul

Spotlight

Every Friday, 1 creative, letting their work speak for itself.

______

Chris White

 

Flash

 

The Shadows of the Jungle

 

“What’s the fucking time-stamp on that picture? Does anyone know?”

The image staggered and jumped – overlaid with a static-fuzz, the jump-suited soldiers were barely visible, flicking in and out of phase with the shadows of the jungle. Had they realised that the mech was dead? He certainly hoped not.

“Janice! Janice! Get down in the turret now! And somebody go and bloody warn the others!” Was it too late? Shit, he hoped not.

The image looped, in his peripheral vision, over and over and over again. There were kids inside the factory – sure, they’d done their best to make it seem decrepit, had pumped a slurry of sewerage and grey water and algae into the roof to dampen their heat signatures, to hide from the drifting satellites, hangovers from before the war was won. From before the world was lost. There were kids inside the factory. That was why it was soldiers, this time, not drones or tanks. Infantry. Quislings, they’d already adjusted to the new regime, they’d already betrayed their own species.

“Yeah, we get it Phil, they’re bastards.” He heard Janice, cutting through the static in their old-fashioned walkies. He hadn’t realised he’d been talking aloud. “Have you got a visual on ‘em yet?” She pedalled the belly-mounted turret around, the little plas-steel bubble rotating on the jerry-rigged bicycle chain – electricity was at a premium, and the settlement’s air-purifiers, waste-recyclers and water-pumps were more important than the old war machine that quietly rusted outside it. Most of the time. That was why the mech’s cameras weren’t set to be always recording, why they were motion-activated, why they didn’t have a goddamn time-stamp. Wearily he fingered the connection code, powering up the mech’s weapons systems, imagining the sudden, hushed silence inside the factory building as the lights faded and parents snatched up frightened children, or grabbed some antique piece of weaponry. Bolt-action .22 rifles, bows and arrows – they might as well be carrying clubs.

But even a B.B. gun was better than nothing. There were gaps, weak spots in those armoured jump-suits, around the eyes and the joints. Thank Christ for the secret, underground organisations, of doomsday prophets and nutty Christian survivalists. Without them there’d be no tinned foods, no bottled water, no ammunition. No survival.

The bugs had never bothered too much with the rogue settlements – the jungles were outside their habitable zone, they preferred the cold, high deserts, like the Atacama, the Gobi and the Antarctic plains. Which was how they managed to get settled in, no-one went and checked out the flaming crash landings. Meteorites fizzed into the atmosphere all the time, and if they landed somewhere inaccessible, somewhere far from cities or farms…well, who cared? Humanity had just breathed a collective sigh of relief, and wondered how they’d slipped through the ring of satellites all looking outward, counting pebbles in the vacuum. Why hit the rogue settlements now? And why with men, carrying stun-guns and handcuffs? It was simple, really. They needed to enlarge the breeding pool, they were just trying to encourage a little bit of genetic diversity.

He heard the drone of the gunner’s nest powering up, the whisper of the rail-guns, the bark of lumps of uranium-enriched tungsten breaking the sound barrier. He heard Janice cursing, spitting profanities that he didn’t know she knew as the guns kicked into life and dealt out death. She was only fourteen – his little girl. But he couldn’t stop her from calling him Phil, couldn’t stop her from trying to catch the tails of the window lizards, couldn’t stop her from sneaking out into the forest without her respirator or his rifle.

The spider’s eyes lenses of the cameras drew the black-armoured soldiers into sharp relief against the green-grey-red foliage of the jungle, painting them with the computer’s targeting lasers.

It was all the invisible, untouchable satellites needed, as their own computers locked onto the signal, and the drones ghosted their paths high above the battlefield.

There was a flash of light, which blinded the cameras and the crippled legs of the mech collapsed in a shower of rust flakes and torn, screaming steel.

They took the settlement, without much more resistance.

 

 Biography

Chris White is an author. His words (and worlds) can be found in both 1’s and 0’s, as well as in books made of dead trees. His blog is right here: http://chriswhitewrites.com

 

If you would like a Weekend Showcase please do get in touch via The contact form on the What’s On Page or via the Comment box.

 

 

 

 

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