Writer’s Block by Baz Baron

This clever little piece of fiction was Baz Baron’s entry in a recent competition for which the subject was “blank canvas”:

 

Writer’s Block

Midnight.

It was a conscious decision to choose the new moon of Hallowe’en to perform the most gruesome of crimes. The blade of the linoleum knife glinted like a diamond as the killer slithered by an un-curtained window in the once old vicarage library. The victim had long since rid himself, to his detriment, of his tools of trade, snaps, radio and holstered Smith & Wesson in the top drawer of the hall table.

Now in the sight of a motionless hairline just above the high backed blood red leather fireside chair, the killer paused when a log dropped sending a crackle of sparks upward.

Once the deathly silence returned, the killer dropped his shoulders on his final approach having noticed a flicker of flame lick the contents of a side table and highlight an empty tumbler next to the half-empty Bourbon bottle.

The killer had already planned his next move. Penetrate the stomach with the movement of a raptor’s claw. Twist. Pull upwards. Jerk contents onto victim’s lap. Watch in glee as innards flow like molten lava onto the fireside rug.

Breakfast.

‘How nice of you to prepare breakfast dear. I didn’t hear you come in last night. What kept you?’

‘Writer’s block dearest I needed to put the Red Dragon to bed.’

‘And did you manage it?’

‘Yes, my darling. Now I can put something on that next blank page. I already have a title. It’ll be the sequel.’

‘Oh, you are a clever man. What will you call it, Thomas?’

‘Silence of the Lambs’ dear. Now, eat your bacon and eggs there’s a love.’

The Passenger by John S Alty

“Would you give me a ride up to the motel at Green Ridge?” he asked as she took the nozzle from the tank and hooked it back on the pump.

What could she say? How could she refuse without a reasonable excuse? It’s OK for Dan to set these rules but he would have given the guy a ride, she was sure of that.

“Fine, no problem. I’ll go and pay and we’ll hit the road.”

When she returned he was sitting in the car, seatbelt fastened. Settling into the driving seat she flashed him a smile and set off. He didn’t return the smile, his stare fixed on the road ahead. They drove in silence, the blacktop reeling away under the headlights. A car came at them and in the wash of its lights his face seemed more cadaverous, his nose more beak-like and his eyes blacker than in the soft glow of the gas station lights. She shuddered and cursed herself for her stupidity. Dan had told her never to give a lift to a stranger when she was on her own. Never.

“Did you have car trouble?”  she asked.

“Cars can be very dangerous. If you don’t concentrate, or you’re overtired, you can have an accident. Same if you’re drunk.”

She wondered if he’d smelled her breath. She’d stopped at the Buffalo Run after work for a couple of glasses of wine with Marge. Well, maybe three or four. And that glass or two of champagne with the birthday boy was probably stupid. No problem, she drove with that much in her all the time. Just had to drive carefully, you’d never get pulled over. Not around here.

“When you drive drunk you carry death as a passenger” he said.

The motel was only a mile or so now and then she’d be free of this creep. She pulled in without indicating, skidded to a stop on the loose gravel, breathed deeply.

“Sorry, I’m a little jittery for some reason.” She turned to face him. The seat was empty.

“What the fu…”

Wheels spinning, heart thumping, she accelerated out onto the road, into the night. Then she looked in her rear-view mirror and started screaming. The road bent sharply to the right but she didn’t make the turn. Her eyes were fixed on the mirror, a mirror filled with the awful, madly grinning visage of her passenger.

Word Scales

When we write a story we start with words, build them into sentences and then build the sentences into paragraphs, then chapters. If we were writing a blues guitar solo we’d start with individual notes, build them into riffs and then put the riffs together to create the solo.

The words of a sentence have to work together harmoniously, just as the notes of the guitar solo must. In music, we’d select notes from a scale to put into our riff. A scale is just a list of notes that sound good together. In writing we have no scales. No-one has put together groups of words that work together, sound good together. We must make up our own scales from the entire lexicon.

In music, if we hit a wrong note it sounds bad and we know why – it isn’t in the scale, it’s misplaced, we’ve picked it out of the wrong box. If we use the wrong word in a sentence we might think it doesn’t sound quite right but we don’t know why. All the words come out of the same box. Only by trial and error can we find the right word. Some of us are more adept than others at selecting the right word, the one that works, the one that’s best on the ear.

How much easier this writing lark would be if someone had built word scales for us to work with.

Funeral by John S Alty

This story was published in Across the Margin magazine and was placed on their list of Best Fiction of 2017

By the time Michael arrived, the pall bearers had the coffin shouldered and were trailing the priest into the church. The hearse was parked by the roadside, tailgate raised. He followed the coffin through the door and took a pew at the back, away from the sparse congregation. The organist played Bridge Over Troubled Waters badly. She probably did a fine job with Chopin but was struggling with the Simon and Garfunkel classic, Adam’s favourite song. A scan of the mourners and he knew this was the right funeral.

When the priest started his eulogy of a man he can’t possibly have known, Michael left the church. Hands pushed deep into the pockets of his raincoat, he strolled between the tombstones. Gusts sent leaves skittering around his legs and a grim sky threatened rain. Adam always did have a sense of occasion; a fitting day for a funeral. The freshly dug hole gaped and the apparatus of burial was ready. Michael moved away to a copse of trees from where he could watch the proceedings unrecognised. Crows screamed their indignation at his intrusion and clattered into flight.

Handfuls of soil rattled onto the coffin, flowers were dropped, words were ripped away on the wind and then it was over. Black clad figures drifted away towards the cars.

Michael stood alone staring into the hole. Few men can be described as truly evil, but this was one; he’d cut a swathe through life leaving misery and pain behind.

“I hope you didn’t die easily”, Michael said, as he pissed on the coffin. Then he walked away, took out his phone and dialled.

“Yes, the bastard’s definitely gone. And yes, I did, just as I told him I would. I’ll be home soon.”

The Call of the Sea by John Alty

First published on the Writer’s Workshop site:

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

~ John Masefield

An albatross and a handful of shearwaters skimmed the tops of the waves, their wingtips impossibly close to the water as they swept and dipped and darted. The sea was grey green and white clouds scurried over a pale blue sky. Waves marched past, spume was ripped from their tops and scattered downwind. The wind blows constantly in these high latitudes and the ship was making good progress.

“Glass has been dropping these past three hours, Captain, I think we’re in for a big blow before nightfall.”

“Aye, I think you’re right, Jones, let’s get these topsails off her and the foresail, too.”

I heard Jones call an all hands and soon the men were swarming up the ratlines and along the yards to furl the sails and tie them tight so the wind couldn’t tear them free.

By late afternoon the wind was howling, tormenting the sea, goading it higher. The ship was rolling gunwale to gunwale now, green water running down the scuppers.

I ordered the helmsman to steer five points lower to ease the strain. I’d have to take it back after this gale, though, to keep on course for Cape Horn. The English must have their tea and the best prices go to those first to market and that would be us, God-willing.

Through the night the tempest fought us, its army of watery dunes chasing and harrying the ship. She fought back, refusing to be overpowered, lifting her stern to the waves. Now and again a monster would rise above the rest and crash down on the ship, shivering her timbers and sweeping away anything not firmly lashed; several pork barrels and one of the dories was lost but her precious payload stayed safe and dry in her holds. By the next afternoon the wind was down but a big sea was still running and the men had to take care as they went about their duties.

We’d be past the Horn sometime tomorrow and then we could turn north, bound for Blighty and the embrace of loved ones, the taste of fresh bread, foaming ale and a bed that stayed still.

And then I’d be restless and yearning to be off, for I must go down to the seas again.

On The Road Again by John S Alty

This tale won the Writers Workshop  short story competition, December 2017:

The sun was coming up as I reached the Atchafalaya Basin and I stopped on the elevated stretch of highway cutting through the swamp to watch nature showing off. Mist rose like smoke through the cypress, burnt red and yellow by the dawn bursting over the horizon. Then I was back on the road, tyres thudding on the blacktop as it reeled away under the car. Willie Nelson on the radio, On the Road Again. I was in the groove, tuned to the rhythmic thrum of traffic coming and going, the miles slipping by. On the road again.

I’d left Pensacola in the early morning, still fully dark, to be through New Orleans and Baton Rouge before local traffic built. She’d be up now, drinking her first coffee of the day; mussed hair like a blonde halo, wrinkled t-shirt, bare feet. I planned to call her when I stopped for gas, say good-bye. Would I? Probably not.

Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Road Tripping. Mellow. Soothing. Go west, young man. Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas. Then what? Mexico? Why not? I took a couple of bennies with a can of Coke, no need to eat, no need to rest, keep on cruising.

Afternoon came and the sky over the Gulf was a bruise, a plum coloured smudge lit by sheet lightning. Storm building; rain before nightfall. The air conditioning was cranked but I opened the window anyway. I wanted the noise, the buffeting air stream, hair riffling in the breeze. I wanted to feel.

Springsteen was hollering at me, Born in the USA. Little towns with forgotten names then Houston, San Antonio and onwards towards Laredo on the Rio Grande. A handful of bennies, can’t stop now, no time to sleep. Rain splashing, the wipers slashing, headlights cutting through the night. Keep going, keep moving.

Momentum. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. Newton’s law. Driving on in driving rain. Foot down; eighty, ninety, a hundred. The wheels slapping the concrete faster and faster. Radio full blast, Tina Turner belting out Proud Mary: Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river.  Yes, I’m rolling, on a concrete and tarmac river.

I’m on the road again.