Splashdown

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This picture, of Gemini 5’s return to Earth in 1965, is the prompt for today’s Flash! Friday challenge.. 

Gemini 5 landing

We don’t speak Martian here at NASA. Anything more complex than five notes and we’re pretty baffled.

So when we got the message, with co-ordinates and then something that sounded like Swedish being coughed through bagpipes, we thought that they wanted to meet us.

The co-ordinates were at sea, so Halsworth and I were put in a dinghy to wait, and to offer them Mars Bars in greeting.

They hadn’t wanted to meet us. They’d been asking us to take the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Their giant bucket bounced us out of the dinghy like two kids on too tight a trampoline.

We were rescued by conspiracy theorists. They follow us everywhere, ever since Roswell didn’t happen.

The Martians have sent us the video and we feel that we now have a bond.

So we’re challenging the Klingons, launching our own huge ice-filled bucket to land at high speed on their planet.

We have a good feeling about this.

 

Washed Up

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Ok, I’m back. I could make some excuse, but I’ve just been plain lazy. Anyway, the picture below is the prompt for today’s Flash! Friday challenge….

Marooned

There should have been a girl.

Everyone knows this. When you wash up on a desert island you meet a girl stranded by a previous shipwreck, blonde, beautiful and wearing an outfit that she has apparently fashioned out of her handkerchief.

That was why he had jumped ship. He was too good for life at sea, with its scurvy, rats and monotonously easy games of I Spy. He would find the girl and found an Eden.

But now he sat dejectedly on sand that stretched endless and empty, like his future. There wasn’t even the obligatory single palm tree. Too late he reflected that urban legends do not apply outside an urban environment.

Actually they do. At that very moment the girl was sitting under the single tree, calmly awaiting companionship.

Sadly, it wouldn’t be with him. He had come ashore on Bikini Atoll, and she was on the other half.

 

Baring My Head

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HeadSpace 3 (cover art by Michelle Granville)

HeadSpace 3 (cover art by Michelle Granville)

HeadSpace Magazine is a writing and art magazine based around the theme of mental health. It is published online, and also has print copies which it distributes free of charge to hospitals and support groups across Ireland and the UK. You can read more about the magazine and its aims here.

Issue No 3 is being launched tomorrow night at White Lady Art on Wellington Quay in Dublin. It features art, poems, fiction and memoir, and much to my astonishment it includes a piece I submitted about my stress-induced bout of depression in 2001 and about an incident which I regard as the start of my recovery.

Even more to my astonishment I have agreed to read this piece out at the launch. At least that proves that I am nuts.

Actually, I’m quite looking forward to the event, and I hope that the magazine gets all the publicity and attention that it deserves.

Opening Line

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Babies practise their first word in their heads for months before saying it out loud. (BBC News Website)

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He woke at four a.m., flat on his back, chubby little fists clenched either side of his head. He woke because he was wet. For a moment he felt like yelling out “nappy!” but decided against it.

He didn’t want “nappy” to be his first word.

He had been thinking about it for months, like a miniature Neil Armstrong planning the first lunar sentence. He knew, just knew, that it had to be special, something that his Mum and Dad would remember forever.

He was considering simply saying “Hi”, but was afraid that they would think he had hiccups and force gripe-water upon him.

He was considering saying the name of Daddy’s favourite football team which he knew, from the way Daddy shouted it when they were on the TV, were called the Gobshites.

He was also considering saying something clever. After all, his parents always applauded wildly if he simply farted loudly, so if he said something like “physiotherapy” or “Solzenitsyn” they’d probably explode with pride.

Meanwhile he had to continue to act dumb, in every meaning of the phrase. Whenever he wanted his teddy, or his ball, or his Dalek (his parents were Doctor Who fans, and were determined that he would be too) he would point and grunt, rather than ask for them by name. During mealtimes, when he was being fed some mush consisting mostly of carrot, since he was now on what were laughably called solids, he would have to clamp his mouth tightly shut and turn his head away instead of hopefully saying “ice-cream?”.

And sometimes, when his gums were really aching, he had to fight the urge to moan “f-u-u-u-ck”.

Words were important.

The cold dampness around his bum now reminded him that, when applied to nappies, the words “keeps Baby dry” are meaningless. Unable to call out for help, he began to cry.

And her face appeared above him. Her hair was wild and partly stuck to her face, and her eyes were bleary and barely open, but she smiled down at him, a smile of deep, boundless love. He decided.

“Mama,” he said softly.

 

 

Your Country Needs Ewe

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Our Government had a re-shuffle yesterday, and the Minister for Agriculture is now also Minister for Defence…

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No one would have believed in the early years of the twenty-first century that this world was being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Yet across the gulf of space intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded this Earth with envious eyes, despite the fact that we have stuff swarming and multiplying in our water, and slowly and surely they drew their plans against us.

The Martians, for it was they, landed on a small farm in Killala in County Mayo. There were seven of them in this advance group, and they intended to take control of the farm and establish a base from which to co-ordinate the main attack force. The farm was home to the Murphys, Pat and Mary and their twin children Jimmy and, well, Daenerys, because Mary was a big Game of Thrones fan. The Martians reckoned that they would be overpowered in less than an hour.

And they were right, because there is more than one way of reading that last sentence.

First to fall was Benzhi. He hadn’t been listening during briefings, so upon seeing a cow he approached it and said “take me to your leader”. The cow regarded him placidly, chewed for a few seconds, then farted, and Benzhi, overcome by methane fumes, fell face first into a cowpat.

Although not a vampire, Ronaarn was killed by cloves of garlic. Pat drove over him in a truck full of them.

Xanoz was shot between the eyes by young Jimmy. Jimmy only had a water-pistol, but had loaded it with the only substance in the universe harder than diamond – a brussels sprout.

Kharwan made it as far as the farmhouse, but Mary had seen him coming, and had left an Irish breakfast on the table. The aroma was irresistible, and Kharwan eagerly tucked in. The Irish breakfast consists of sausages, rashers, black pudding, white pudding, eggs, beans, fried bread and, as one of your five-a-day, a mushroom. It is essentially a cholesterol bomb, and the Martian had eaten only half of it before his arteries exploded.

Bacon was also responsible for the demise of Makjar, who cornered Daenerys in the outside toilet, a shed with not enough room to swing a cat. There was, however, room to swing a small piglet, and Daenerys caught him full in the face.

Geronax was hit by blue ice falling from a passing plane. In fairness to him, that was just sheer bad luck.

The horrified leader, Neadak, radioed the mothership and called off the invasion before hiding in terror. Unfortunately he chose to hide in a greenhouse.

He had heard of the film Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, everyone in the universe has. He had just never realised that it was a documentary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take That Back

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This was the prompt for today’s Flash! Friday challenge – 140 to 160 words, and the story had to include friendship…

“Hamilton-Burr Duel, After the Painting by J. Mund.” Illustration from Beacon Lights of History, by John Lord, 1902. Public domain image.

“Hamilton-Burr Duel, After the Painting by J. Mund.” Illustration from Beacon Lights of History, by John Lord, 1902. Public domain image.

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“Take it back,” said Hamilton. “I do not dress like a girl.”

“You’re wearing ladies’ stockings,” said Burr. “They actually gleam in the sunlight.”

 

The Best Foot Forward Gang had grown up together, mercilessly poking fun at one another in that curious way in which boys demonstrate affection. Their growing up had not included emotionally, and they still believed that there was no truer sign of friendship than a barbed insult, apart perhaps from a good slap with a wet towel.

But they did not usually impugn one another’s manhood. It is a sign of the gravity of Burr’s error that none of them sniggered at that last sentence.

Hamilton fired, but as he did so a lifetime’s friendship jerked his hand upward. The shot hit the branch above Burr’s head and ricocheted into Hamilton’s chest.

Or, rather, into one of the socks he had stuffed into his bodice. Luckily, he did dress like a girl.

It’s Off To Work She Goes

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This photo is today’s prompt for the Flash Friday challenge..

Joan Ranger

She was leaving town now. Her work was done.

Once she had been a simple schoolteacher, and engaged to be married. Then he’d died.

There had been an ambush in which he and his comrades had been killed. She had wept, pined, and drunk whisky by the bottle, because this was the Wild West, after all.

Then months later she’d heard of the mystery avenger, the man with the white hat, the mask, and the ridiculous silver bullets, as if he was up against werewolves.

She’d known straight away that it was him. He’d always been a show-off.

He hadn’t written, he hadn’t telegraphed, he hadn’t even got his friend to send smoke signals. He didn’t care.

So she had set out across Texas, always one town ahead of him, fighting crime in her own way just to annoy him. She wore a mask, simply because she was now single and it made her look hot.

Here in the town of Little Falls (the waterfalls are massive, as you can see, but this is Texas, remember) she had fought drunkenness with stern lectures. She had fought gambling with statistics about the odds against winning. She had fought bar-brawls by fighting everybody in the bar-brawls, because she was still a very angry woman.

Now she was on the bridge outside the town. She made sure she was in silhouette, because that was important. She knew that HE would have reared his horse at this stage, but she had tried that once and had ended up wearing her skirt over her face. She nudged her horse and slowly trotted away.

The townspeople watched her go.

“Who was that masked woman?” asked one of them.

“That was Joan Ranger,” someone replied.

Working Clothes

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This is the photo prompt for today’s Flash! Friday 150-word challenge ….

Nuclear Winter Recon

He had tested the mask thoroughly. He had painted it in gravy. He had dangled sausages from the end. He had had a friend, a baseball pitcher, hurl haggises into his face.

He had plunged face-first into a bowl of porridge, though only because he had fallen asleep during breakfast, so hard had he been working on perfecting the mask.

He was the ultimate vegetarian, so anti-meat that he felt uncomfortable having a beef about it. It had never impacted his job before. Until today.

When he arrived there were giggles from his peers, and muttered unfinished sentences that began with “what the”. He knew that he looked daft, but kept reminding himself that he wasn’t the weirdest-dressed person there. He took a deep breath, causing his mask to momentarily contract like a dying balloon, then stepped forward, microphone at the ready, to interview Lady Gaga in her meat dress.

Heart’s Desire

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“New crowns for old ones!” –Benjamin Disraeli presents Queen Victoria the crown of India. Punch, 1876, by cartoonist John Tenniel.

“New crowns for old ones!” –Benjamin Disraeli presents Queen Victoria the crown of India. Punch, 1876, by cartoonist John Tenniel.

This is today’s Flash!Friday prompt: 140-160 words, and the story has to involve arrogance…

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He could sense her attention wandering.

“As I was saying,” said Djisraeli the Wizard, “I can offer you this new crown-shaped lamp in exchange for your old -“

“What’s that on your arm?” asked Mrs Aladdin.

“Proof of my genius,” said Djisraeli proudly. “I call it a handbag.”

“What’s in it?” asked Mrs Aladdin.

“Everything I need,” said Djisraeli. “Tissues, money, carpet-keys -”

“It must be wonderful,” said Mrs Aladdin. “You can lay your hand instantly on anything.”

“Er, yes,” said Djisraeli. “You’d think, wouldn’t you?”

“I want it,” said Mrs Aladdin. “I’ll give you this lamp for it.”

“Seriously?” said Djisraeli, turning scornfully away. “You think I’d swap my wonderful invention for some old lamp?”

He was two hundred yards away before what had just happened sank in.

“Djoh,” he said.

Meanwhile Mrs Aladdin sighed, absent-mindedly rubbing her lamp. The Genie emerged.

“I can grant you -” he began.

“A handbag,” said Mrs Aladdin. “Now.”

The Line In The Sand

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 The sailboat was anchored just a few yards away
and the sun had set. With the campfire slowly
dying, and their bellies full of fresh fish, the
lovers decided to go skinny dipping. As they
descended, hand in hand, into the warm water,
he felt something slip around his ankle and
pull…hard.
 
That was the prompt for the Spring WritersWeekly.com 24 Hour Short Story Contest, a quarterly challenge limited to 500 entries. This is my fourth time entering and for the first time I got into the top 25, with the effort below…
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The cove was inaccessible by land, which was why Mark had suggested it. It was their six-month anniversary and he’d wanted it to be as romantic as possible. Laura had felt that a candlelit dinner in a nice restaurant would have been just as romantic and offered less chance of sand in their food, but had agreed anyway because he was obviously trying so hard.
 
They had reached the shoreline and Mark had cut the engine which most sailboats have these days. Mark was a software engineer, which was how he could afford the boat, not a smuggler, which was why he couldn’t steer it purely by sail.
 
He lowered the anchor, then hung the ladder over the side. He and Laura climbed down and waded ashore. Mark stood upright with his hands on his hips, looking around proudly. Laura felt sure that he was fighting back to urge to say ‘Aarrr’.
 
“Right, Friday,” he said, not noticing her eyes narrow as he said it, “you will gather firewood. I will be hunter-gatherer, and will catch us our dinner.”
 
“Aye, aye, Wilson,” she said, saluting.
 
“Wilson?”
 
“The ball from Cast Away,” she said. She tossed him his fishing-rod. “Now go sling your hook.”
 
Laura’s preparation of the fire was set to the accompaniment, from the shore, of cursing, muttering and on one occasion what sounded like someone running three steps involuntarily into the sea, as if being dragged along while walking a large dog.
 
Well, she thought, he can certainly swear like a sailor.
 
Half-an-hour later Mark jammed his fishing-rod heel-down firmly into the sand and tramped up the beach towards her. He was carrying two fishes, each about the size of a TV remote.
 
“Gee, honey,” said Laura, “we’re gonna need a bigger bowl.”
 
“You should have seen the one that got away,” said Mark, feeling that the sentence was mandatory.
 
“I tell myself that every day,” she replied sweetly.
 
Mark ignored that, and dropped the two fishes onto the sand, where they flopped and thrashed.
 
“I was rather hoping,” said Laura, “that dinner would be a bit more, well, dead.”
 
Mark looked around and in desperation picked up two large rocks, one of which he dropped onto each fish.
 
“There you go,” he said. “Flatfish.”
 
“Interesting technique,” said Laura. “Now they have to be gutted.”
 
“I’d say they are,” said Mark. “I know I would be.”
 
An hour later they ate. Mark wasn’t very hungry, the twenty minutes he’d spent performing fish disembowelling had taken the edge off his appetite. This was just as well, because after you’ve beheaded and de-tailed two fish, taken out the bones and then dropped one fish right into the centre of a fire, there’s not a lot left.
 
“Not exactly filling,” said Laura. “Perhaps if we’d had five loaves it would have helped.”
 
Then they built sand-castles, then wrote their names in the sand, then skimmed stones. Then they listened into shells to see if they could hear the sea, though the evidence was inconclusive since the actual sea was five feet away.
 
The sun set. A thin pink line, like icing on the horizon, was all that was left of the daylight. The campfire was dying, with just a red glow in its heart and the occasional flurry of sparks, like a brief swarm of fireflies, whenever a piece of wood would crumble into it.
 
They sat sipping wine in the contented, contemplative silence that only staring into a fire can bring. Laura snuggled up closer to Mark. “It really has been a lovely day, you know,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
 
He kissed her forehead. “No, thank you,” he said, “for making me so happy.”
 
She swallowed the last of her wine, uncurled herself from him, and stood up.
 
“Skinny dip?” she said.
 
His eyes widened, like a small boy who’s just been told that it’s all-you-can-eat day in the local sweetshop. He got to his feet, pulled his shirt over his head and lowered his shorts. When he looked up she had done the same.
 
They looked at one another for a moment, feeling a deeper closeness, as if their relationship had crossed an invisible line. Then she gave a huge grin and started to run towards the sea. “Last one in’s a 1974 Ford Cortina,” she shouted over her shoulder.
 
He took off after her, and she shrieked as she could hear his footsteps gaining on her. Small waves were softly flopping then hissing away on the shore as she reached the water first, splashing noisily out into the sea.
 
Mark ran in just behind her, but after a few yards he felt something slip around his ankle and pull – hard. For a panic-stricken second his mind filled with visions of giant octopuses, of the ghosts of drowned maidens and, for some reason, of a police ankle-monitor.
 
He looked down. He had got his leg caught in the line of his fishing-rod. He looked up to where it was stuck into the sand and saw that it was bent towards him, as if bowing like a judo-opponent.
 
Laura, waist-deep in the water, turned and looked back at him. “What’s keeping you, slowcoach?” she asked.
 
“My rod’s wrapped around my ankle,” he said.
 
She raised one eyebrow in mock scorn. “Now dear,” she said, “don’t brag.” 
 
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