1000words

where pictures make prose

Don’t Follow Me

4685d1b65ea2cee6b69b7599ce6b7f18It was the hair that first drew me to her. She had the same wild, ginger curls as me. Though mine were now greying and ragged with neglect, hanging to the shoulders of my biker jacket.

I’d taken to coming to the swings in the early mornings, when there weren’t many people about, to breathe some cleansing air into my hangovers. I tried to recapture that feeling from childhood when a swing could feel like the very definition of freedom.

The girl’s hair was tied in a ponytail that floated up and down as she whooshed through the air in a trance of pleasure. Something made me slow to a stop and go for a closer look at this girl with my hair. I stood, watching her, not too close. Then she looked up at me and I froze. I don’t know for how long I stood staring at her. I did the maths: She must have been about six or seven. No more than eight. Which meant …

***

Eight years ago I’d been in the same park with Cathy. I was 27, trying to be an artist but basically on the dole. As we walked around the lake she announced, with shy pride, that she was pregnant. I made the decision immediately. Or rather my fear made it for me.

“We can’t have a baby,” I blurted. “You must get an abortion.”

Cathy stopped walking and glared at me as if seeing me for the first time.

“My God,” she said, shaking her head. “You’re so feckless!”

She spat the word as if it were a curse.

“In that case,” I said, “I’m hardly ready to be a father, am I?”

I begged her to have the abortion, at one point actually sinking to my knees in a grim parody of a man proposing marriage. She slumped on a bench overlooking the lake as I grovelled in the dirt. She covered her face with her palms. When she looked at me again there was a new resilience in her eyes.

“Fine. I’ll do it by myself. We’ll be better off without you.”

I think that was the moment I realised how much I loved her, a deep admiration that I’ve never felt before or since, perhaps never will again.

She walked away. I hurried after her and she shouted over her shoulder, “Don’t follow me!”

***

I never saw Cathy again. But I’d just seen her face in the face of this child. Our child. My child. The girl was returning my stare, not wary, just curious. She had Cathy’s full lips, my wide forehead. My eyes.

“Can I help you?”

I turned and saw a man, about my age, holding an ice cream. He was smart, fit-looking with a trim beard and clear blue eyes. He would have seen a scruffy unemployed type with hair that was too long for his dried-out, smoker’s face, a potential paedophile, or at least someone contemptibly feckless.

The girl had hopped off the swing and was now standing beside this man, tugging his coat, licking her ice cream. He tousled her hair, but his gaze remained fixed on me. It was now or never.

“Actually, I think you can help me,” I said. “Look, can we get a coffee?” If I could get him talking …

He frowned. “Do I know you?”

I stepped towards him. “Look at my face,” I said, “my hair. And now look at your daughter.”

The man whitened and sagged as if someone had slipped a dagger between his ribs.

“Daddy!” The girl was gripping his leg now, nervous, perhaps sensing her father’s distress. Except he wasn’t her father, and he knew it.

Daddy!”

The need in the girl’s voice seemed to give him strength. He swept her up in his arms, hugging her protectively. Then he turned and hurried to the car park. I went after him.

“Wait!”

The man got the girl into a gleaming estate car, strapped her in and slammed the door. Then he strode towards me, stopped and stared. In his eyes I saw a passion unique to filial love; he’d kill me if he had to.

“Don’t follow me,” he said.

As the car pulled away I waved impotently at the girl’s ginger head, hoping to catch the eye of my child one last time. But I was eight years too late.

(Author: Adam J Wolstenholme. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Natalie Bowers. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Roadkill

bowlI once knew a man who ate himself to death. He was poor, and found food by walking around the outside of town with a shovel and a sack, scraping his meat off the road fresh as the Lord provided each day.

He was happy eating anything; squirrels, rats, cats, raccoons, anything. And he had the skills to make it work for him too, Michelin skills, so much so that a few of us would watch him cook over a trash-can in a nearby alley. Sometimes he’d use the skin-and-skewer method, cooking shish-kebab style over the top of the can. Other times, if the animal was big enough, he’d serve himself a nice thick fillet on a bed of boiled nettles. Once, he even came back with a bag full of mash and still turned out a wholesome looking stew. This guy had it made.

But it happened one day, a couple of miles out of town, that he came across a full grown bull moose just lying there beside the road. The tyre-marks around showed something must have happened, but the car, and more importantly its owner, were nowhere to be seen, making this moose anyone’s for the taking. So he dragged it up onto the road and back downhill towards town. He dragged it past farm-houses and over rail bridges, over well-trimmed suburban lawns. He dragged it through the back streets and the main streets and right past Town Hall till he arrived, steaming, back at his kitchen-alley. But he didn’t rest there.

He broke up pallets for firewood and swiped a stack of newspapers for kindling. He emptied out the local store’s dumpster for a makeshift oven, sending out bags of half-maggoted food waste and rats squealing to the nearest gutter. He ran over to a building site and tore up an 8-foot scaffold pole for a skewer. He even broke into the dojo and stole the sensei’s ceremonial sword, using it to gut and skin the beast, wrapping himself in its raw, wet hide before hauling and heaving the thing up onto his DIY-rotisserie and setting it ablaze as the sun set slowly behind the distant hills.

Some say it was the aroma that sent him crazy, and in truth it smelt spectacular; people we hadn’t seen in years suddenly arrived back in town sniffing the air. It wasn’t long before a whole crowd had gathered, standing to watch as one man took on the moose. And he didn’t hold back. He ate sirloin steaks and rib-eye steaks. He gorged on chateaubriand and filet mignon. He stuffed in top-loin and tenderloin and t-bone and bone-marrow. He used a stick to jam in the brisket and the back ribs and the eye-balls kept in his pockets for safe-keeping. He grunted primitively and dribbled but still he ate and he ate.

Hours later, rotund and panting and incontinent with weight, he sat staring at a quivering moose brain, the last uneaten vestige of the beast. Mournfully unable to stop the occasional offal chunk from sliding back up his distended oesophagus, unable even to speak, only his eyes, greased with tears, told of the tearing pain inside; the pain of a man left prostrate and guts-vulnerable, pinned to the very rock of Earth by his own appetitious devices. We all knew the brain would be the end of it.

With the effort of both hands he picked up the trembling organ and gestured for us all to move close. Slowly, he separated off for each of us a piece and mouthed painfully that we join him in his final supper. I felt touched. In that moment, we all felt a connection, a primordial connection to the mysteries of life and death channelled through a 50-stone man sat slick in his own sweat and piss. As we stood there, eating our brains, his heart finally gave. But his arms, un-licked of their remaining mess, did not fall limply to his side like those of the defeated. Instead, they stood out proud from his body, buttressed by roll after roll of semi-chewed flesh, his corpse glorifying in the last of the fire-light before dawn. It was beautiful.

Those of us there that night, we all knew we’d witnessed something. We all changed. One guy left the streets to volunteer in a soup kitchen. Another joined the church and still prays for some kind of forgiveness. Me, I learnt to carve statuettes of how he looked on that day of his greatest distension. I give them out to people who stop to hear my story. And so I still get to see him now and then, as I pass by an open window on a sunny day and there he is, resting on top of a mantelpiece or a stack of CDs, beaming with the warmth of his own internalised nirvana. The Moose-man, I call him, the street-eating legend of our small town.

(Author: Edward Beach. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Natalie Bowers. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

The Train To Valladolid

e96549a38870817f4f859737984d3979Rosa Delgardo Romero was the first to board the 7:15 train to Valladolid. She had bought the cheapest ticket, third class, with the hardest seats, although she had money enough to travel in the second class, with its fusty sprung seats and the young men, noisy with their return to university. She had a basket with a bottle of water, a slice of tortilla con patatas and an orange from Paco’s tree. It was going to be a long journey, with many stops.

She sat in the middle of the train, in the middle of the carriage, in the middle of a bench, ready to glower at anyone who threatened to move her. Folding her hands in the middle of her lap, she gazed into the middle distance and waited. There was a jerk as the engine backed into the end coach, ready to be coupled by greasy men.

Looking out on to the station, she was surprised at how few were drifting along the platform. The dirt on the window made the figures insubstantial and steamy smoke from the engine wreathed around them like winding sheets. They moved strangely, some jerking along as if they were projections in a cinema, some so slowly that she wondered if they were little more than statues. She thought she saw Tomas. But no. It was only a man who had the same walk, the same cap, the same slouch. Tomas had been taken last year by the bitter winter and a weakness in his lungs. She blinked away the tears; she needed the glasses that she could not afford.

The white Spanish sun was filling the windows on the other side of her seat. She should have been able to see the green crops in Señor Da Luca’s fields, the priest’s donkey and the white-washed houses of Puerto rising up the valley side. The grime that fuzzed the station was thicker here; dirt and salt spray had thickened to a crust, which glowed as if alive. She wanted to scrape a viewing port but it was all on the outside, on the wrong side. She tightened her fingers to a white weave and stared ahead.

The window crust had one advantage. It blocked the heat as the sun slid up the sky, gaining power with altitude. Surely it was time to leave? She shivered, the carriage was cold. Once they were moving a little heat would seep in, warming her ash-cold bones. The train jerked again, rattling windows, making a sound like thin bells. The motion threw her against the backrest and her basket slid against her feet.

An icy hand stroked her spine, the same way that Tomas’s had in the darkness of their bed. She shivered, as she always had. But this time it was not with the heat of desire. Tomas had always whispered silly things about her beauty, his need. The faint whisper from the steam locomotive whispered other things. Things that she could not, would not hear. She had to go to Valladolid.

The locomotive crashed into the train a third time. The whole line of coaches moving backwards, groaning and clanking. The motion went on and on. Her coach rose into the air, spinning. Her basket opened and tortilla arced one way, the orange another. The bottle of water smashed, glass flew asunder, shooting stars of crazy light. The Spanish sun burst through the window crusts. Heat and light. Stars and Suns. Darkness and cold.

Silence.

Rosa Delgardo Romero sat in the middle of the train, in the middle of the carriage, in the middle of a bench, ready to glower at anyone who threatened to move her. Folding her hands in the middle of her lap, she gazed into the middle distance and waited. She had to get to Valladolid.

(Author: Zena Hagger. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Thomas Leuthard. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Strawberries & Cream

NNCThe wasp dances haplessly within the dull interior of the glass. I lean in, examining the striped beast scrabbling for purchase. Tipping the glass gently, I slide a piece of apple in before grabbing my keys. I pause at the front door, wondering whether to peer into Mum’s bedroom again.

Outside, though its only eleven in the morning, the concrete of the tower block is already baking hot. Everywhere windows are cast open, net curtains hanging apologetically as raised voices quarrel in the heat. Descending the stairwell, shifting from light to shade, the usual stale odors are overwhelmed by the aroma of someone’s greasy BBQ burning greasier meat.

Ground level and Skunkhead Phil is in position, stood smack in the centre of the estate, weeds peeking out between the cracks in the concrete beneath his feet, neck craning, hands cupped to his ears. I asked him once what he was doing. His irises, big as moons, stared deep into mine. Apparently he was deciphering the chaos of noise that emanated from the four conjoined tower blocks. ‘No need for a television with this lot!’ he chuckled into the sky.

I walk past, head down, not in the mood for engagement. Skunkhead, oblivious to my passing, listens in on his world.

I hate London in the summer. Most people when you say summer think of postcard crap. Wimbledon, pale skin cooking on the beach, picnic hampers, freshly mowed grass. For me summer is a combination of hot tarmac, white dog shit and a light that bleaches your eyes. I dated a girl once, Tamsin. Total obsession, yet in reality I was nothing but a thorn to prick her father with. He owned a car dealership, hated me, evident from the fixed grin that never left his face the first time we met. Sussed me straight off, not fooled by the Rude Boy with the East End accent intent on touching up his daughter. Yet he knew how to end this particular dance. Just had to declare me a friend, embrace the relationship.

She dumped me the next day, not even a breakup shag to lessen the fall.

Bastard.

Anyway, summer for Tamsin meant Spain, Tenerife, France. Far flung exotic locations. She laughed when I told her I had only been out of London once. A torturous trip to Devon two years ago, the three of us packed into a car borrowed from one of Dad’s mates, more rust than metal with a fan belt that screamed louder than the radio. No blue water or white sand awaited us though, just a decrepit ghost town teetering beside cold grey water. That holiday was the last time we were together. Back home Dad set off to the return the car, yet failed to return himself. Mum kept it calm for a while, reminding me each day over breakfast that he had always come back to her.

She pined for him, till the void in her fermented into bitter resentment. Don’t get me wrong she never turned on me. Yet the fortress was shut, the doors barricaded. Her only solace the booze, chased down with pills to help her sleep. Nothing Shakespearian. Just another insignificant drama played out through the repetition of smaller moments.

Yet we’d been happy that holiday. Well I had been. Made a killing in the arcades, working the penny falls. Watching coins drop, pushing their clinging compatriots over the edge. Conning the local kids, in awe at this scally from the big city. Initiating them in the joy of shoplifting, the thrill of the chase, and lure of Billy Whizz. I almost found myself enjoying the scent of the sea, daydreaming of staying there, getting a job.

Mum was happy there as well. Sat on the pier, a punnet of strawberries and cream. Red juice staining her fingers, white smeared across her lips. Her laughter, cutting across the serenading gulls.

Strawberries and cream. I feel the tears rising. Shaking my head, I spot D waiting outside the lockup, the only reason I left the flat this morning was he owed me some money. I light up, ignoring his eyes rolling at my lack of response to his greeting. Moments later two vans pull up. D begins chatting with the drivers, two identikit blokes, shaven-headed, bomber jackets. I keep my head down, unloading the stacked boxes lurking within. Electronic gear all off the back of some lorry. Soon they’ll be touted by loud confident voices in the market, declaring promises of a bargain.

Vans unloaded, cash paid. D asks what’s up, how come I’m, so moody this morning. I shrug, he rolls his eyes again, yet chucks a fifty into my grip and I move off. I like D, he’s a decent bloke, yet today’s a day that father figures can do one.

I hit the Red Lion, necking a pint whilst cherries spin on the fruity. Classic pub, filled with dark wood and darker souls. I nudge a couple, hitting the jackpot, another twenty. My lucky day, the universal joke. I treat myself to one more pint out the back in the beer garden, comprised of two cheap benches, a sagging umbrella and a view of the stagnant canal. Not exactly Benidorm, but it’ll do. As I watch the sunlight glisten off of the rising bubbles in my glass from somewhere I hear the cry of gulls and the crashing of waves.

Cream smeared on her lips.

I feel sick, forcing back the panic, drinking deep.

The sunlight would be coming in through her window now, barely warming the bluish white foot nestled between red sheets. The vomit, speckled on her lips, trapped inside her throat not over the bed this time.

I chuck the glass into the canal, whilst red juice dribbles down her chin, her laughter crashing like waves. Dad’s sullen glare as he again checks his watch. The scent of coins on my skin, turning fingers into dead batteries.

It’s time to let the wasp go.

(Author: Andrew Patch. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Natalie Bowers. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

#flashcomp winner: From My Body, Flowers Shall Grow

19f55df8310e3dd9fe9dc75cc988b2c1It is 4.23pm on a Sunday and she lies beneath three elm trees, waiting to be found. A beetle with an iridescent shell scales a stalk of grass next to her ear. By now, police departments across the county have her name and her last-known location. But for her, this is the end, not the beginning of the story.

At 5.47pm, a blue Volvo will pass within 20 feet of her at an illegal but efficient 56 miles per hour. The driver, a rangy middle-aged man by the name of Eric, will switch radio stations as the familiar jingle announces the afternoon’s news. He will barely recall driving down this road by the time she is found.

At 8.32pm, the sun will set. It will be 12 hours and 14 minutes until police find her here, naked and bruised in the long grass. Her long hair and white skin keep her in the media, her parents’ tears playing over and over on the news. It will take another 17 days until the man who left her here is caught.

For her, there is only peace. For those left behind, this is the beginning, not the end, of the story.

(Author: Lorrie Hartshorn. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: A Guy Taking Pictures. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

badge flashcomp july 2014

#flashcomp winner: Starfish Synchronettes

19f55df8310e3dd9fe9dc75cc988b2c1We stretch out, limbs splayed, starfish synchronettes floating on the grass. Your soggy plimsoll twists the toe of my grubby white sandal.

Ready?

My clammy fingers skim the tips of yours, black crescent dirt-moons shining under our nails. I suck the salty sweat-streak from my upper lip.

Steady?

We scull ninety degrees until the crowns of our heads touch, still damp hair in gleaming tangles. You smell of the earth, dank and sweet, lush.

Go!

Skin tingling, sun-seared and gritty from the silt of Brown River, we twirl. Mirror images spinning faster and faster, propelling us to a thud at the bottom of the bank.

Three, two, one.

Your breathing thrums; my heart bobs in my chest. Our eyes flick open, harmonised.

Don’t blink.

We stare and stare, until the sky swirls and glitters. It is the river, the river is the sky, and you are an echo of me.

(Author: Anouska Huggins. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: A Guy Taking Pictures. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

badge flashcomp july 2014

#flashcomp winner: A Boy In a Green Place

19f55df8310e3dd9fe9dc75cc988b2c1He punched a wasps’ nest once. For a dare. The air all fizz and fireworks afterwards. And he gets like that sometimes. In his head. His thoughts like punched wasps, all bullet-sting and crazed. So, he takes himself off, to a wood he knows where the air stinks of wild onion and garlic, and spiderwort carpets the path, and fern and nettle and dock. And soon enough all his wasp-thoughts are turned to bees and not like bullets then, but like kisses or caresses.

And he took her there once, way back: Suzanna – and she’s so pretty he’s not surprised there’s a flower named after her. And he took her to his place. She asked him to. She held her nose against the onions and garlic, and she laughed, and was breathless with the walking, and she hoped he knew the way back seeing as how she was lost.

Then a clearing and it’s like a great green bed scented with dogwood and wild rose. And Suzanna kissed him there and let him touch her breast – just the one time. And he lies there some days, alone, and he thinks of touching Suzanna and it is not a sad thought.

(Author: Lindsay Fisher. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: A Guy Taking Pictures. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

badge flashcomp july 2014

#flashcomp winner: Jacob Clears His Head

19f55df8310e3dd9fe9dc75cc988b2c1When Jacob comes to, the trees remain beyond his focus.

He’d been hiking with Hester. Hester! He sits up and touches the back of his head. Throbbing fogs his memories. He scans for evidence of what might have happened.

A noise, she’d said, after hours of walking and seeing no one. He stole ahead, hearing nothing other than her footsteps, and her breaths, lengthening. Pain. Blackness.

He gropes for his backpack. Gone. No water, food, or money. No phone.

He stands but is forced to prop his hands onto his knees. Every part of his body aches. He pictures her, seized and bound. Sickness rises from his gut.

The hike was her idea. Not running away. No. They needed to clear their heads, and plan how they’d pay back all of their (mostly her) debts. All summer she talked of insurances and joked about faking their deaths. She spoke in a breathless way that drew him to her and he wondered, not for the first time, what she saw in him.

He stares down an unfamiliar, solitary track and notes the beauty of the birdsong, charming and hollow. The canopy sharpens; its clarity sudden, fierce and stark.

He vomits.

(Author: Shirley Golden. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: A Guy Taking Pictures. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

badge flashcomp july 2014

#flashcomp winner: Honour Maid

19f55df8310e3dd9fe9dc75cc988b2c1It’s the village festival in St Anselm, and young hearts are fluttering. The girls are hopeful while their admirers fret.

The lord chooses the Honour Maid, relishing the rights it brings. He is fair of face and of means; many girls would pay the price for the Honour. But sometimes it is higher than one night in his bed.

Matilde is vomiting weeks after being crowned. With the freedom of village fare, she takes little yet grows larger.

Two months before her time, the pains become vile, and the baby boy is stillborn from her young-teen body. Her parents weep, perhaps more for loss of the lord’s support than for Matilde who has years for childbearing. He has been generous to his Maids in the past.

According to custom, a hollow is gouged in the trunk of an oak. The part-formed babe in white linen is sealed in the tree while the preacher intones: St Anselm, take this infant in your name, to nourish the tree in its growth.

Matilde does not recover well. She wanders through the nighttime wood in her shift, barefoot, listening for the cries of her son and sometimes, just sometimes, she hears them.

(Author: Jacqueline Pye. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: A Guy Taking Pictures. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

badge flashcomp july 2014

#flashcomp July 2014: RESULTS

Hello, and welcome to the results of our latest flashcomp!

We had 33 entries in total, and all of them had something special about them. They were a joy to read – we’re always amazed at how one picture can prompt such a variety of stories. So, thank you to everyone who entered, and thank you to everyone who helped spread word of the contest via twitter and facebook. Running 1000words would be so much harder without your support.

And so, without further ramblings from us, here are the five winners, in no particular order:

We also picked five runners-up. They are, again in no particular order:

  • Mahogany Song by James Whitman
  • Saturday Night, Sunday Morning by Van Demal
  • Sainte Catherine by Mindy Hung
  • Living Things by David Hartley
  • Bokeh by Daniel Clay

The winning stories will be published, one a day, here at 1000words. We hope you will come back and read them.

We will be in contact with the winners this week to find out if they’d like to be interviewed on Natalie’s blog and to give them their 1000words badges.

Until next time … Happy Flashing!

Natalie and Heather x