365 Ficlets – Day #318 ~ “Dark Night by the Fire”

The polished wood feels good in my hands. It’s funny the things that put us at ease, they are so rarely the same from person to person. In fact there are no other people in my life that feel even comfortable with firearms, let alone comforted by them.

Please don’t misunderstand, I am not a violent person, and I certainly do not relish the idea of shooting someone, but I have done just that in my past, just as many soldiers have. I suppose that the frightening truth is that if you spend long enough in the field you come to see it as the status quo, and ridiculous as it may seem to anyone else I am sitting here by my open fire, practically cradling my fathers twelve bore and thinking of the past.

If the shrink assigned to help with my re-entry into civilian life saw me here without the context of my true feelings I’m sure that he would immediately assume that I am contemplating suicide, but the weapon is not loaded. I don’t have ammunition in the house, it really is just that it is a touchstone to times gone by.


365 Ficlets – Day #317 ~ “Train Dream”

The lights of Oxford were streaming past the train window as I awoke from an odd dream. The particulars of the dream were already lost to me, but I am left with a definite sense that I was frightened and confused. Judging from the looks of surprise on the faces of the two people sitting opposite me I had shuddered awake in some odd fashion, and I was left feeling incredibly self conscious.

The train was nearly back at Reading, so I started to put away the laptop and check my pockets, trying to remember eveything with the dim cloud of this unremembered dream.

The older chap across the table looked up at me;

“Are you ok there?”

I nodded, my embarassment rising, trying to break eye contact with him rather than acknowledge my odd outburst that had piqued his interest.

“It’s just that you were muttering a name under your breath. I mean, who is Deirdra?”

Suddenly the dream came rushing back to my mind, and I was lost in the dark calling out ‘Deirdra! Deirdra’, and I could smell the distinct odour of fresh blood nearby.


365 Ficlets – Day #316 ~ “Riding the Rails”

As I pass down the aisle, lurching from side to side as the train shudders and jolts on every join in the track I dispense a litany of ‘sorry’ and ‘terribly sorry’ and ‘oh do excuse me’ to the various people whose seats I bump into or whose newspapers I snag as I pass by.

When I finally reach the train’s buffet, after three carriages of offences against the peace and tranquility of my fellow passengers, I am greeted by a smiling face that already I can tell is softening me up for a disappointment.

“Could I have a coffee, please?”

The smile broadens, and the eyes widen in an almost undetectable act of supplication;

“I’m sorry, sir, but we are not currently able to serve any hot beverages.”

For a moment I consider launching into a comical rant about the fact that there is no one on the planet who uses the word beverage apart from the people who work in transport-centric catering, but in the end the poor woman’s visible anxiety encourages me to forbear. I nod and turn on my heel, plunging back into the morass of the three carriages between there and my seat.


365 Ficlets – Day #316 ~ “Riding the Rails”

As I pass down the aisle, lurching from side to side as the train shudders and jolts on every join in the track I dispense a litany of ‘sorry’ and ‘terribly sorry’ and ‘oh do excuse me’ to the various people whose seats I bump into or whose newspapers I snag as I pass by.

When I finally reach the train’s buffet, after three carriages of offences against the peace and tranquility of my fellow passengers, I am greeted by a smiling face that already I can tell is softening me up for a disappointment.

“Could I have a coffee, please?”

The smile broadens, and the eyes widen in an almost undetectable act of supplication;

“I’m sorry, sir, but we are not currently able to serve any hot beverages.”

For a moment I consider launching into a comical rant about the fact that there is no one on the planet who uses the word beverage apart from the people who work in transport-centric catering, but in the end the poor woman’s visible anxiety encourages me to forbear. I nod and turn on my heel, plunging back into the morass of the three carriages between there and my seat.


Riding the Rails

I hate travelling by train. I know it’s irrational, but it is basically about control. When I travel by train someone else decides when I leave and when I arrive, and if I am delayed it is only ever because I am at the mercy of others. Even so, I often do travel by train; I commute to my office in London, and I am currently taking a break from driving, due to my knee injury, so trains represent a necessary evil.

There are upsides to travelling by train, and my journey towards Manchester today has benefited greatly from one of them; the opportunity to meet people. We were just pulling out of Oxford when I looked up from my book to be asked by a young woman if there was anyone using the seat opposite me. I smiled, told her that both seats were indeed free and she sat down. From that point until we arrived at New Street (where she left the train to catch another to Nottingham) we talked about our lives, likes and dreams without any sense of discomfort or self-conscious British reserve. In my experience there is a strange alchemy to these things; one rarely ends up with an enjoyable conversation after ‘breaking the ice’, but now and again something truly special and enjoyable can grow out of a simple “going far?”, or “heading home for the weekend, then?”.

Grace is in her final year at Oxford, studying PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics). At twenty-one years of age and all of 4 months away from holding an Oxford degree she has already worked out that she wants to spend a few years teaching in order to give something back to our society and then continuing in the vein of service, would like to work for an NGO or the Civil Service in development or diplomacy. I was intoxicated by her intelligence and wit, and very sincere commitment to doing something worthwhile with the opportunities that she has had, while still being human and unpretentious. I spend a lot of time being infuriated by a media and an older generation that speaks about my generation (which I can just about say that I share with a twenty-one year old, but perhaps not for very much longer) as if it were populated solely by selfish, feckless wasters, looking out only for number one and the easiest possible way to make a buck. I could honestly say that I don’t know a single person of my generation who actively prizes money and perceived success above happiness and as clear a conscience as one can muster as a member of a first world nation at the start of the twenty-first century.

It was a genuine pleasure to meet a fellow mind, a fellow young and energetic person on my train journey today and to simply converse, about both the weighty and the sublimely trivial, about the future and the past, and more than anything to do so merely for the joy of human company between two strangers who will likely as not never see one another again.

I hope that I will remember to spare her a thought in September, when she starts teaching full-time, and remember to thank her in my mind for doing what I lacked the courage to do when I left University; for becoming a teacher. I cannot say that I regret my decision, mainly because I still maintain that I would have made a lousy teacher at that point in my life. Even now I am unsure that I possess the temperament to be a good and nurturing teacher, but I suppose it would also be fair to say that my involvement in erotic photography leads me to wonder if I would ever be permitted to become a teacher. I know that I am not a danger to children, and that I have no inappropriate interest in them but in the current social climate, where as a single man I feel I have to be careful about playing innocently and joyfully with my friends’ kids, I fear that my work thus far might be too much of a red flag for some parents and education authorities.

Still, my current job is proving to be fulfilling and interesting, so perhaps I won’t have to think about it for a while yet. For now I can focus on doing my part to make RiverMuse a success and worry about the latter half of my career on another day.


365 Ficlets – Day #315 ~ “Weirdo”

“Sorry, did you just say that you don’t like pizza?”

She nodded, a mischievious glint in her eyes and a crafty smile on her face; she knew that this was going to mark her out for special attention.

Daniel stopped for a moment, marshalling his wit, and meeting the gaze of his audience, each of them in turn, preparing them for what was to come.

“You actually have the gall to claim that you don’t really like pizza? I must say that I applaud your honesty and bravery in this company, madam! Even so, despite my quite genuine respect, I must say that as the indigenous master of the great flat food it is my sacred duty to challenge your position, and indeed show you the very grave nature of your error.”

The room errupted in peals of laughter and pockets of impromptu applause, and Daniel rose to his feet, and bowed deeply before starting to speak once more;

“Since the dawn of time, or at least since the nineteen-sixties, people of taste and learning from across this sceptred isle have known the joy of pizza in their lives.


365 Ficlets – Day #314 ~ “New Frontiers”

“Put out your hand!”

The brand was glowing white hot; I didn’t need to put out my hand to feel the heat coming from it. I reached down within myself, searching for the resolve to endure, and endure without showing weakness. Slowly I pushed my hand forward and uncurled my fingers, willing myself to accept the pain that was shortly to follow.

I finished preparing myself for the moment when thought and reality would collide and I would find out the hard way whether or not I was right to be fascinated by the idea of marking my body with super heated metal, then nodded to him that I was ready.

There are no adequate words for the pain of a white hot brand searing its way into the palm of your hand. In the moment it happened I can actually say that I felt no pain, but the brand has to be held in place for a little more than 5 seconds in order to achieve a clean scar from the relief on the tip. I have never experienced such a long five seconds; the last four were so painful. Still it did not disappoint as an experience.


365 Ficlets – Day #313 ~ “Bar Heist”

“Buy me a drink”

I had not even seen her sit down; I was staring into my beer, minding my own business, trying to work out how to get out of my contract. No one believes me now, but meeting women had not even been on my mind when I left work and headed straight to Dane’s.

Anyway I looked over, and unashamedly checked her out; after all she had just commanded me to buy her a drink. It seemed only fair. She reminded me of a young Janeane Garofalo; her sleeve tattoos left me wondering whether or not they continued under her crop-top. Now you can say it was low that I decided I liked the look of her, and so I was sold on buying her a drink, but it was more than her look. Her look was important for sure, but the gall to sit down next to a stranger and demand a drink added to the way she looked and with her overall demeanour as well, she was compelling.

I waved the barman over;

“Yeah, can I get another beer and whatever she’s having, please, man.”

He looked over at her and raised an eyebrow;

“Black Jack on the rocks.”


365 Ficlets – Day #312 ~ “Mission Improbable”

The air is cold out in the street; it cuts into my face as I walk out. No one back home ever believes me when I tell them that it gets cold in The Mission. everyone back home in England thinks that California is like the SoCal beaches in Baywatch, but the Bay Area is not the OC. March in San Francisco is cold by most Californian standards, and windy evenings on 24th make leaving Carlos’s less appealing, but I have to get home.

Since Lottie moved out I have been staying later at Carlos’s, or The Phoenix, and it’s starting to show at the office. Being the ‘token Brit’ means that the State Department are ever present, their agenda unambiguous. If ever I was a candidate for “Visa Loss” then it was in the last three weeks. Greg is a cool guy, he knows I’m hurting. Still, I have to stop turning up at the office hung-over, unwashed and in dirty clothes.

As I head off down 24th towards my place, opposite the Francis Fountain Diner, I pull my jacket closed and almost walk right by her; she’s stood under a street lamp.


365 Ficlets – Day #311 ~ “Dancing to Nothing”

“What the Hell is going on in there?”

I was pointing into the tent, where getting on for five hundred people were dancing, in the half-light, to absolutely nothing.

A stereotypically dismissive teenage boy tutted under his breath and shook his head before saying;

“You never seen a silent disco before?”

This was the first time that I was made to feel old during my visit to Guilfest, but I am sorry to say that it was not the last. My companion – who shall remain nameless at her own request – indicated that she was in no way interested in discovering the secrets of the silent disco, so we agreed to meet later on and I wandered into the sea of silent dancers.

There are no words to describe how odd it is to see a large group of people dancing to unheard music, and clearly not the same music, in a large tent. Every now and again one sees someone dancing to their iPod, but nearly five hundred people dancing to headphones? It’s just odd, there is no other way to put it. I put some headphones on and fell into the groove.