John Who?

I’ve written a short novella and I’ve decided the best way to share it is to blog it, a chapter a night. This is the first part. Hope you like it.

We are so few, less than 1000, but we are strong enough. We have purpose. We will repair.

John watched as the nanite cloud streamed from his syringe and into the wall cavity. He knew the house was falling down; he’d been trying to get the builders in for years, but one look at him had brought abuse and derision rather than quotes and work.
He’d never been one for conformity. As a child, John had exasperated his teachers by refusing to leave the library; preferring the company of books to that of children, still he’d always passed tests and exams with top marks so, eventually, they left him alone and took the credit for his brains. His parents were far too busy with their successful carers to notice his disregard for personal hygiene and the staff were too scared for their jobs to say anything to them about it until his experimentation in micro-biology ecosystems was well underway. It was a study he had meticulously documented his whole life, and one that had helped him immensely in his development of the nanites. His understanding of the delicate balance and symbiotic relationships of the many bacteria and organisms had enabled him to develop the organic power system and the self-replication programme, as well as tethering the individual processors, enabling the nanites to communicate with each other. All this meant that, once he’d released this primary batch he’d be able to leave them to get on with the repairs on house and concentrate on his other research projects. The most pressing of these was his work on epidemics, again inspired by his micro-biology study. He was close to a break-through he knew, then he’d take his findings to the proper authorities. With his work the world need never fear a mutated bird flu or Ebola outbreak again.

Over the next few weeks John was so focused on his work he didn’t even notice that the rain no longer came dripping in through the roof, or that all the lights now worked all the time, or even that the heating came on and the water was hot. The day he finished his research and finally had something to take to the authorities, dawned grey and overcast, but he didn’t care. He packed his old rucksack full of papers, proofs and computations and headed out to the university. He’d decided that would be the best place to start, there was some hope that one of the professors would at least be able to grasp what he was trying to explain. He remembered back to those few months in his youth when he’d been a student there, before he’d got bored of the tedious classes and slow-witted staff. He retreated to the library again, devouring information and knowledge but they insisted he attend classes and so he’d left and continued his research alone. It didn’t occur to him to make himself more presentable, he believed that a man should be judged by the content of his mind rather than the cut of his pants. He pulled on the same grey raincoat he’d had for years and thrust his arms through the straps of the rucksack and set off.

Professor Brian Johnston looked reluctantly up from his keyboard as his secretary buzzed through.
“John Kirby is here again sir, he doesn’t have an appointment but he insists you’ll see him.”
Brian felt himself deflate; there went his day. “Okay Delores, send him in.”
The office door opened and the unmistakable form of John Kirby let himself in. He looked, if possible, worse than ever. His nails were long, ragged and filthy, his long grey hair merged with the matching, unkempt beard leaving an almost inverse mask of clear, although not clean, skin around the downcast eyes.
“I have found the algorithm to end epidemics with minimal isolation; even allowing for global travel patterns.” John announced, before he had even sat down.
“Hi John, how have you been?” Brian asked wearily.
“It is all a matter of ensuring the proper quarantine procedures are put into place as close to the point of infection as possible…”
John droned on, as ever, whilst Brian wondered how long it was since John had seen a shower and how much of his day this meeting was going to eat. It was always the same with John, he came in, droned on and on about his latest obsession without listening to a single word Brian said. Over the years he’d offered John so much advice but there was no evidence he’d ever taken a blind bit of notice.
Brian wasn’t even sure why he entertained John any more. He thought back to their short-lived friendship on campus, where they had shared a room for the brief few months John had stayed. Brian had felt sorry for him, even back then. It was like no one could see through the personality disorder to the brilliant mind behind, no one but him, anyway. When John had left Brian had felt he’d been let down and was determined to make it up to him somehow so, as he joined the faculty, he made sure his door was always open to John and his latest fantastic theory, but now, twenty years down the line, the man exhausted him. He sighed and looked over at John, who was still, inevitably, talking.
“John,” he interrupted, “you really can’t come down here anymore, with these wild theories of yours. Don’t you think the government has large, well-funded science departments working on these problems? Isn’t it more likely they will come up with the answer to the epidemic threat than one aging loner sitting alone in his room?”
“They don’t have the practical, long-term, research on microbiological ecosystems to call on that I do and they haven’t yet realised the importance of the symbiotic relationships they rely on to breed not to mention the ways they have of altering hosts’ behaviour to aid their reproductive system.”
“There have been many studies on parasitic behavioural modification of hosts…” Brian tried to interrupt.
“But not in relation to humans!” John countered, before continuing his monologue.
“John,” Brian decided to continue whether or not John slowed down, “you and I have been friends for a very long time but you cannot continue to use that friendship each and every-time you have another crazy idea. I can’t help you get your ridiculous findings published; think about what it would do to my reputation. John, please, stop talking for a minute and listen to what I am saying. It pains me to have to do this but you really don’t leave me any choice, I’m going to have to ask you to leave and not to come back again. Do you understand?”
John hadn’t even paused in his diatribe.
“John? Look at me. John?” Brian didn’t know how to break into John’s stream of consciousness. “John, I’m going to have to call security if you won’t even listen to me when I am speaking to you.”
John gave no indication he was even aware Brian was speaking.
“John, please,” Brian pleaded, “for the sake of our friendship; I don’t want to call security. I just want you to see you need help.”
“Help?” John looked up, giving Brian a rare look at his face, “of course I need help. That’s why I’m here. I’ve taken the research as far as I can. I am, after all, only a sample of one. I’m sure your boffins here with their computers and…”
“John!” Brian hadn’t meant to raise his voice so much, the force of it surprised him.
John was oblivious, continuing on with his ruminations about exactly what Brian could do for him.
Brian shook his head sadly, and pressed his intercom button, “Delores,” he said in a tone that screamed defeat, “please call security and have them escort Mr Kirby from the premises; he is no longer a welcome visitor, do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” came the efficient reply.

John was mid-flow when the security men arrived, he hadn’t noticed their approach so he was somewhat taken aback to be suddenly manhandled, he shrugged himself free and attempted to regain his flow, only to have the two men grab hold of his arms and forcibly move him towards the door. John was confused; he couldn’t understand why Brian would just stand there; why he wasn’t helping? Surely he could explain the misunderstanding to these goons.
John started to struggle, loudly protesting, hoping Brian would be stirred into action and come to his aid. When that didn’t work John protested louder and his actions became more and more violent until, suddenly, he broke free from one of his captors. Unfortunately the man’s momentum carried him backward and he barrelled into the door frame with a sickening crack, then crumpled to the floor, unconscious. Brian flew across the room but not to John, he knelt beside the stricken goon then called to the woman in the outer office who replied she was already calling an ambulance.
John looked at the scene before him, it felt like one of those television programs he hated was being played out before his very eyes, the secretary’s hard voice cut into his thoughts and he heard her pointedly ask the dispatcher on the other end of the line to send the police as well as an ambulance. She called him a dangerous maniac! Him! If Brian wasn’t going to help him he certainly wasn’t staying here to be called names. He stuffed the papers that he had scattered over Brian’s desk, as he tried to explain his theories, into his bag, which he clasped tight to his chest as he stepped over the still unconscious man and headed for the lobby.
“John, wait!” It was Brian. “You can’t go.”
“Well I can’t stay here. That woman called me a maniac. I’m not a maniac, a maniac is a violently insane person, I am not violent or insane…”
“John, you just knocked a man out!” Brian interrupted.
“He was man-handling me. Self-defence in any one’s book.”
“He was merely escorting you from the building.”
“Why would he do that?” John asked.
“Because I told him too!” Brian sounded exasperated, whilst John felt astonished.
“You did? Why?”
Brian took a long, deep breath and looked at him, “Because, when I asked you to stop ranting on about your latest hare-brained project you ignored me, just like you always do.”
“Hare-brained project!” John was indignant, “that hare-brained project could save the lives of millions of people.” John stared at Brian, he’d always known the man was an idiot but he’d never before thought him a fool. Now he knew Brian would never be any help getting his research accepted. He raised himself up to his full height and gave Brian a rare stare to the eyes, “I will waste my time with you no more,” he said, and turned, once more, to leave.
“You can’t go; the police will need to speak to you.” Brian called after him, but John had stopped listening and carried on his way, choosing to walk the four flights of stairs down rather than wait for the lift. Thoughts of the police far from his mind as he worked out a new method of getting his research out into the public domain, where it could do some good.

John had no idea how long after he got home the police arrived but he was at a particularly difficult stage of setting up his latest experiment so, when they wouldn’t go away and were making enough noise banging on his door to wake the dead, he yelled at them to go away. It didn’t work, it just seemed to make them more determined. The noise they made, the pressure of knowing they were there, Brian’s betrayal and John’s realisation of it all meant that he lost concentration on the experiment he was trying to set up. He dropped just a little too much sodium into the test tube.
There was a blinding flash and a deafening noise and he found himself hurled across the kitchen at a terrifying rate of knots. The noise obviously spurred the police on in their efforts to get inside the house because he hadn’t even managed to shake himself free of the debris that used to be his kitchen table when the room was full of black boots and shouting voices, all demanding different things from him, all at once. The cacophony of noise was too much and he lunged at them, yelling for them to get out of his house and leave him alone.
The next thing he knew he had been shoved face down on the ground and several young officers were sitting on him. They thrust his hands up behind his back and he felt the handcuffs snap shut over his wrists. Their violence towards him only served to intensify his struggles and he tried anything to get the men off him, bucking, kicking, head-butting and even trying to bite anyone that came even vaguely within reach. It was to no avail and only served to earn him a sharp blow to the head, which knocked the fight out of him and left him woozy and only vaguely aware of what was happening.
He felt himself being dragged out of his house and wasn’t surprised to see some of his neighbours jeering after him on his front lawn. He knew he’d been flung into the back of the police van with more force than was absolutely necessary but he didn’t feel the pain he knew he should as he hit the floor.
John wasn’t sure how long it took them to get to the police station, but he thought he might have slept because he couldn’t remember the entirety of the journey and that was unusual for him.
He was surprised to find himself standing before the duty Sergeant, he couldn’t even remember getting out of the van. John tried to protest at his treatment, he knew his rights, he was going to sue them for wrongful arrest and use of excessive force. At least that’s what he tried to say.
“Have you been drinking, Sir?” the Sergeant asked then obviously decided he had, when he couldn’t understand John’s reply. John saw the man’s eyes roll heavenward as he intoned the caution mechanically then, turning to one of the two policemen now holding him up he said, “put him in number five, we’ll question him in the morning, when he’s had a chance to sober up.”
John felt himself being pulled away from the desk, he tried to go along with them but his left leg didn’t feel like cooperating. He was beginning to feel very dizzy and quite sick too and his head felt like someone had a pickaxe lodged in his right temple. He wondered how much sodium he’d poured into that test-tube and made a mental note to be more careful in future.
As they removed his handcuffs and took off his shoes he sunk gratefully down onto the hard bench, momentarily grateful the nanites would take care of the mess back at the house for him. He closed his eyes and welcomed the sleep that might end his headache. And that’s how they found him when they opened the cell door in the morning. Flat on his back on the bench with his eyes closed, only he wasn’t asleep and the headache would never bother John again.

http://www.hellenriebold.com

@hellenriebold

F: Hellen Riebold’s Author Page

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Two for Two

Unheard of, I know, but here I am preparing my second blogpost in two days. Please don’t worry, normal, sporadic service will be resumed forthwith. However, today I wrote a very short, fun little tale as a result of a flashfiction prompt I was given and it made me smile, so I thought I’d share it. Hope you enjoy it.

The Trade
Zack was exasperated. He’d been haggling with this trader for over 30 solins. The man was being totally unreasonable. His offer of an eye for an eye was nothing short of out and out robbery. Zack’s Palloium violets were worth seven or eight of the trader’s Earther blues. Besides that Zack had been careful to harvest the optic nerve too, those Earther eyes had clearly been ripped out by a butcher. The nerves were shredded, sure they’d look good, but they’d never function.
“You are wasting my time!” Zack snorted as he turned to leave.
“Wait, I may be willing to sweeten my offer…” the trader called after him.
Zack stopped. He should keep walking, he knew, this man had nothing he wanted and he could easily be stalling for time. Ionians, like Zack, were rare in this part of the galaxy. He turned and growled, “How?”
“I couldn’t help but notice your heritage.”
“What of it?”
“Well,” the man had the good sense to at least fake being slightly embarrassed, “I’m not sure if you are aware but there is a belief among some Earther’s…”
“…that my body parts make good aphrodisiacs?” Zack finished for him, already reaching for his weapon.
Alarmed the trader held up both his hands, pleading, “relax, my friend. I mean you no harm. I’m a trader, not a harvester.”
“Then get to your point, and do it quickly.” Zack’s weapon remained at hand.
“Do you often visit Telaniam 7?”
“I have passed that way.”
“Then you will know of their fascination with the ancient past.”
“It is…very profitable.” Zack conceded, becoming curious despite himself.
“I have, in the back, a relic from the giganotosaurus. One of the largest Earther dinosaurs ever discovered. It is over 110 million years old. On Telaniam 7 it would fetch a small fortune. But they are a reclusive people. I have been waiting over twelve years for one to pass my way, and I am beginning to think that, by the time I meet a Telaniam of any moon, I will be too old to enjoy my fortune.”
“What does all this have to do with me?” Zack was becoming suspicious again, his Pallonium violets were valuable but they were not worth a small fortune and this merchant knew it. Zack saw genuine fear pass fleetingly across the man’s face, before he cleared his throat and continued.
“A small, fresh, Ionian body part, voluntarily given,” the trader added in a hurry, “would be much easier to find a buyer for.”
“You propose a trade?”
The trader looked a little relieved, “I do. I propose exchanging my relic for one of your teeth. You may harvest it yourself, of course, as I said, I am not a harvester.”
“Show me the relic.” Zack demanded.
The man turned and disappeared behind the rope curtain into his ramshackle shop. Zack moved to the side of the stall, to avoid any nasty surprises, but his caution was without cause. The man returned almost groaning under the weight of what was clearly a large incisor from a massive jaw. He dropped it onto the table with a thud that Zack could feel through his feet.
Despite himself Zack was intrigued.
He sheathed his weapon, grabbed his scanner from his belt and moved over to examine the tooth. His read outs showed it was genuine and still contained active DNA.
“What do you want for it?” he asked, trying to mask his enthusiasm.
“I’ll take your Pallonium violet and one of your incisor’s. I will throw in the Earther blue as a show of good will.”
Zack mulled it over in his mind. Telanium 7 was 18 light years away. If he travelled via the network he could be there in a little over two years and the trader was right, the giganotosaurus tooth would fetch a fortune there. He thought about what the loss of his incisor would mean. He would be weaker in a fight, and he would need to cook his meat whilst his new tooth grew but then again, he’d be in transit for most of that time anyway. He couldn’t see how he could lose. He changed the setting on his scanner and held it up to his cheek. This left incisor materialised in the organ receptacle.
“We have a trade. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” he said.

http://www.hellenriebold.com

@hellenriebold

F  Hellen Riebold’s Author Page

The Wait

Ginny was vaguely aware of the children’s laughter all around her but, she wasn’t really watching them. They were playing cricket, football, tag and any number of other playground games; a small group quite close to her were simply rolling down the slope which led to The Lawn, squealing with delight as they descended. She sat on the bank, cuddling her knees, lost deep in her thoughts, her presence barely registering with those around her as she nursed her broken heart. Matthew Felton had not arrived.
She had met Matthew at her first Greenbelt, six years previously. She had stopped her car in ‘the lanes’ on that first Friday morning, and the old banger had refused to move another inch. Everyone was very lovely, very polite. Assuring her it was no problem as they quietly manoeuvred their cars around hers and made their way onto the campsite. She had been distraught. She’d been looking forward to the festival for months, secretly saving her house-keeping so Jeffrey wouldn’t notice. Getting more and more excited as each new speaker or band was announced. But now it was all ruined. She’d never be able to hide a brake down from him, not to mention the cost of the repairs. Ginny had been terrified and wondered why she’d let Gerry talk her into coming in the first place. Never mind that the timing of the festival had been perfect.
Each August bank holiday Jeffrey visited his mother in Taunton, she wasn’t allowed to join him – his mother couldn’t cope with her childish sense of humour. Jeffrey thought she was at home doing the annual ‘autumn clean’ in preparation for Christmas. She had worked almost non-stop so his expectations wouldn’t be disappointed just so she could take the three days off for the festival, but she had decided it would be worth it. It had been her friend Gerry’s fault. She’d popped round for coffee one day at the wrong time and caught Jeffrey telling her off for not having completed her day’s tasks. Gerry had been appalled but, worse than that, when she had asked Ginny if his behaviour was normal it had been like a scab coming off a particularly nasty, festering wound. Ginny had poured out all the pain and frustration caused by the previous three years of marriage to the sophisticated older man, who had been so loving and considerate whilst they were dating but had become manipulative and cruel behind closed doors.
Gerry had urged her to leave him. She’d even given her a phone number she could ring to get help but it hadn’t felt right to Ginny. She had made promises to God that she would stay with this man for life and she intended to keep those promises and trust God that things would work out for the better.
Matthew Felton had been her first glimpse that God was planning on honouring his end of the bargain. She’d been sitting on the bonnet watching the other campers slowly drive pass, acknowledging their well-wishes and exhortations it would all be okay when he’d appeared. He’d asked her what the problem was and, when she’d admitted she hadn’t got a clue, he’d offered to take a look for her. He was an RAC man in real life, he’d told her as he rooted under her bonnet. He had diagnosed the problem as a broken spark plug, disappeared to buy her some and then had her car purring like a kitten in under an hour. That first Greenbelt he had been her knight in shining armour, vanquishing the dragon of her fear and making it possible for her to enjoy setting up her borrowed tent. She’d met him again dancing for all she was worth in the mosh pit at the Delirious set Saturday night and bought him a drink at the YMCA to say thank you for rescuing her.
It was the beginning of a wonderful, annual friendship, which they renewed each Greenbelt. Ginny wished she’d had Matthew’s listening ear and advice through-out her year, but she daren’t contact him outside of her secret festival. Jeffrey monitored their computer and refused to allow her a mobile phone of her own, his growing jealousy meant even her contact with Gerry was suspect. As the years went by Jeffrey wove his web tighter and tighter around her life, leaving her with no one to confide in, apart from the one week in the year he ignored her and devoted himself fully to his sainted mother.
On her second year they met, by accident, in G-Source as she was enjoying the freedom, knitting a little square for a peace blanket at the Quaker’s stall. He seemed genuinely pleased to see her, even trying his hand at the new craft so he could join her. It was here that he first suggested Ginny volunteer so she could get her ticket for free. He told her if she volunteered in a pre-festival team she could still enjoy the whole festival and have some of her food paid for. When she explained she had to clean the house before she came he suggested she use some of the money she’d save to pay for a cleaning service to do it for her and it had felt very naughty, the third year, when she did exactly that.
As her marriage reached its seventh year, Greenbelt became her retreat, her place of safety. The space where she could remember who she was, be reassured God hadn’t forgotten her and revitalised into caring about the things going on in the world around her. Her friendship with Matt became the cherry on the icing on the cake of her joy. She looked forward to telling him all about what she had done in the previous year. The stories she had written, the letters she’d had published (using a pen name, obviously).
The eighth year had been particularly bad. Jeffrey’s jealousy had reached new heights. He’d even taken them out of the church where they had met and joined an online house church, based in America which piped its services and teachings direct to their house via the internet, meaning her one opportunity to speak to other people was removed. Greenbelt had enabled her to renew her fellowship with God’s wider family, helped centre her mind and reassured her she was correct in her assessment of the teaching she was now being fed. Matthew and she devised a prayer diary for the year so she would know that at least one person was praying for her as she held onto the vows she had made. She found Greenbelt that year the hardest to leave. She and Matt had packed up her tent with heavy hearts, which they tried to hide from each other. They had joked about the weather, and the amount of gas cylinders she had packed. They had walked down to the race-course one last time to donate her left over food and then he had helped her lug her things up to the car park and, somehow, squeeze it all into the boot. She was grateful for his support, especially as she knew he didn’t agree with her decision to remain in her marriage, but it did make driving away almost physically painful. She knew he could feel it too. In the end it was focussing on the next year’s festival, and their next meeting, which had made it possible for her to start the car.
Then in October she had checked the Greenbelt website and seen the news the festival was moving. The building work at Cheltenham had been impossible to miss and she, Matt and almost everyone else had enjoyed speculating as to what it might mean for the festival but still, it was a shock. It brought so much uncertainty into her mind, where would they go? Would she be able to get there? Would she still be able to volunteer? And the question that kept her up at night, would Matt be there? With no safe way of contacting him she wouldn’t know; she’d just have to wait and hope.
During the run up to Christmas Jeffrey became obsessed with finance, even more than usual and, as part of his economy drive, he finally found an excuse to take her car. After all, she no longer worked and he could always drive her to the shops. Ginny wondered how she would ever save up enough for the train fare for Greenbelt.
In February she was able to check the website again and found that the festival would be moving to Boughton House, close to Kettering. Her heart sang; it was so close to home. Not even two hours away. She started to plan just how light she could travel then, in March, her world disintegrated.
Jeffrey arrived home from work, barged past her and locked himself in their bedroom. He ignored her pleas to talk and refused to open the door. She could hear cupboards and draws banging, he was obviously packing. Not wanting to wake his anger she left him to it and went downstairs to wait until he was ready to tell her what was going on.
The doorbell rang.
Jeffrey crashed out of their bedroom and yelled at her not to answer it so she stayed in the front room.
A few minutes later the charming, sophisticated Jeffrey she had married entered the room, closely followed by a tall, smartly dressed woman with brunette hair and large brown eyes. He had told her that he had left her bags by the front door. That their marriage was over and he would be filing for divorce in the morning. She was stunned. He steered her forcibly to the door and closed it firmly behind her, leaving her on the doorstep with her cases.
Those first few weeks had been a blur. Gerry had taken her in, found her a Christian solicitor who refused to let Jeffrey Smythe have things all his own way and generally helped her to put her life back together again.
Before she knew it the August bank holiday was looming large and, with it, Greenbelt. Gerry insisted on lending Ginny her car so, for the first time in six years, Ginny had felt carefree as she headed down the A14 to the festival’s new home.
She had unpacked her tent in the beautiful new parkland surrounded by trees under large, empty clouds. The volunteers’ field was almost empty; it was, after all, only Tuesday. She had half expected to find Matthew already there, though, and she felt slightly deflated as she crawled into her sleeping bag later that day, but consoled herself with the knowledge he’d definitely be there tomorrow.
It was with a spring in her step that she went up to the volunteer lounge for her team briefing the next morning. Volunteers’ Reception was the best team in the world, she had decided long ago. The guys who led the team always brought copious sweets and made sure they all had coffee coming out of their ears and she got to spend the day welcoming the people who really wanted to be here as they arrived. They had a natter about the changes the new site dictated, like the need for six hour shifts and larger teams, but all Ginny could think about was getting to the front desk and being there as Matthew arrived.
She was momentarily distracted when they went for a walk-round of the site; it was stunning and majestic. The grand house smiled down a long, plush lawn just to the side of the big top and the main village street. The mirrored surface of the lake reflected the beautiful blue sky and the symmetry of The Mount and Orpheus were breath-taking. All in all, Boughton seemed to be saying ‘welcome home’.
Finally it was time for her shift to begin. She perched eagerly on top of her stall, happily welcoming familiar faces, signing them in and bubbling over with enthusiasm for the new site, all the while anticipating the moment when she’d see Matthew.
She was surprised when Sophia came to relieve her, she hadn’t realised she’d been there six hours for one thing. She hung around for a little while but, space in the box office was short, split between so many teams as it was, and it soon became apparent to Ginny that she was in the way. She began the long walk back down to the campsite, the country air and beautiful views reviving her spirit to such an extent that by the time the tents came into view she had convinced herself Matthew may well have decided to pitch first and register later. He hadn’t, but the other friends she’d made year after year had and, having found her tent, had camped around her. Her evenings weren’t lonely anymore, she had good friends she knew she would now be able to stay in touch with all year round.
Thursday and Friday came and went by in a rotation of eating, laughing and working but still no Matthew. By the end of her final shift she had almost succeeded in convincing herself that even if he wasn’t volunteering this year, he’d still come. She’d be bound to bump into him.
Close by a boy yelled at his parent’s to watch him roll down the hill; his insistence broke through her thoughts. As the year had progressed Ginny had realised that her feelings for Matthew had progressed too. Was God punishing her for her suppressed desires she wondered. It was Sunday afternoon. She had had a wonderful festival. For the first time she’d been able to swap phone numbers and email addresses; G-Source had held new meaning for her as she realised she could finally commit to getting involved in some of the campaigns close to her heart. She had enjoyed buying little fairtrade trinkets to furnish the flat she knew she’d have by this time next year; she’d drunk hot chocolate at The Tank, whose four clocks still shouted the time, and hot apple and cinnamon at the Tiny Tea Tent. She’d discovered new music and revisited old favourites. She had cried at Martyn Joseph’s new song, Half A Man, which had made her want to hug him. She had shared wine with her friends and enjoyed the communion service immensely but, for her, Greenbelt was incomplete.
“It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?” A familiar voice behind her asked.
She turned and her happiness was complete.

http://www.hellenriebold.com

@hellenriebold

The Saddest Boy In The World

A friend and I had cause to be in central London on Bank Holiday Monday, where we visited a Starbucks. The story below is inspired by something we saw whilst there. Hope you like it and, if the little man in question reads it, I hope it gives him ideas.

 

Ralph’s attention drifted from the test paper on the desk in front of him, his brain rebelling against the endless practising for an examination he didn’t even want to take. His father’s cough sounded low from across the room, he was being watched, he knew, so he had no option but to plod on. He bent his head back to his work and tried anew to figure out which shape could possibly be the odd one out.

Ralph had been excited when his father had suggested their trip to Starbucks. He so rarely spent any time with his dad, who always seemed to be busy at the office or locked away in his study doing serious things, his heart sang as his father chose to spend his precious bank holiday with him. However, once they arrived, Ralph’s hopes had been dashed. His father had ordered a single drink, a black coffee, and then pointed Ralph to a prison of a table, wedged between the wall and the high side of the counter with soft sofas in front of the table that would trap him for sure if anyone sat down in them.

His father had carefully placed the test booklet on the table, together with a pencil and a ruler. “You have an hour,” he’d said with no further explanation. “If you complete the test satisfactorily, I’ll buy you one of those milk drinks you are so fond of.”
With that his father had turned his back, walked to the other side of the room and chosen his own seat by the door where he proceeded to read The Economist, occasionally glancing up to check his offspring was being compliant.

Ralph’s spirits sunk – he hated the eleven plus, he’d had to do a test paper each and every week day of the holiday, he did a quick mental calculation to check just how many that made in total, seven times five, 35 tests! An hour for each test, followed by 20 minutes of terror each evening as his father marked them then another hour whilst his mistakes were laid plain for him to see and repair. That was 105 hours of his precious holidays wasted on a stupid test he didn’t even want to take. He didn’t want to go to Boughton House, like his father had, he wanted to go to St. Thomas’ with Simon and Mohammad, he didn’t want to be sent away from home, only seeing his mother during the holidays and never allowed to call during term-time. His father called it character building but Ralph thought his character was okay as it was. He didn’t want to make the ‘right’ kind of friends, he liked the ones he already had and anyway, he didn’t want to work in a bank, or any other kind of office, come to that and, if he ever did get a job, he wanted it to be because he was smart, not because of who he knew.

Ralph finished the final calculation and looked over at his father who was engrossed in the article he was reading. A shiver of panic travelled down his spine – he’d finished too soon. He must have got something wrong. Hastily he flipped the booklet over and turned each page, scanning for the mistake, but he could see nothing. He let the final page fall to the table and carefully put the pencil down beside it, uncertain what to do next.

Two women had filled the sofas as he feared someone might, and he was trapped. He looked over at his father for help but his father wasn’t looking this way and wouldn’t want Ralph to disturb his reading anyway. He looked around the table, as if searching for a previously unseen magic door to open and release him, but none appeared. Finally he headed straight for the sofa, even though he could see the space between it and the table was insufficient to his needs, he just didn’t know what else to do. Mercifully one of the women saw his predicament and asked her friend to move so he could squeeze passed. His father heard him whispering his thanks and put down his magazine, looking expectantly at the boy.

Ralph made his way over to his father, the paper shaking in his hand a little and laid it down in front of him, “Finished?” he asked.

Ralph nodded silently.

The man glanced quickly through the booklet, “Let’s get you that drink,” he smiled down at Ralph, “I have a feeling you’ve earned it.”

The two of them went over to the counter and Ralph’s father ordered himself a second coffee and Ralph a strawberries and cream Frappuccino with cream and everything. Ralph walked back to his father’s table but before he could sit down his dad picked up his copy of The Economist and gave it to him.

“Why don’t you go and read this back at your table whilst I mark your work?” he asked, though Ralph knew it wasn’t really a question.

He took the magazine and his drink, squeezed his way past the two ladies, who looked at him sadly, and returned to his prison seat to enjoy his reward, silently.

He could hear them whispering under their breaths about him and his father, they seemed to be cross but he couldn’t really tell with whom. He tried to tune them out and focus on an article about the need to maintain free trade in the global commodities markets in areas of conflict. He didn’t really understand anything he was reading but, as his father had taught him, he ringed the truly baffling phrases with his pencil for later discussion.

Ralph had almost finished his strawberries and cream Frappuccino when his father called him over with another discrete cough, he was relieved to see the grumpy ladies had gone so it was easy to free himself, he was careful to pick up his pencil, ruler, magazine and beaker, he was hoping not to return.

“You know Ralph,” his father almost smiled down at him, “I think that if you keep performing at this standard, Boughton House will have to invent a new top set, just for you.”

“Thank you, Father,” Ralph replied, and that’s when his wicked idea hit him. He did a quick mental calculation, the holidays would be over in less than two weeks, that was around another ten tests his father would mark. Another ten tests he had to pass. But Father wouldn’t mark the real test, he realised with relish, if he deliberately answered those questions incorrectly, Boughton House wouldn’t want him at all, not in any of their sets. He’d be free to go to St. Thomas’ with Simon and Mohammad. Free to sit with his mother for breakfast, free to play football after school and see his Nanna whenever he wanted and, best of all, free from his father’s expectations and plans for his life. He would be free.

He smiled a deep down smile that travelled from the secret places, through his stomach, into his chest and burst forth onto his face with a force that could not be stopped.

“Feels good to win, doesn’t it son?” his father asked.

“Yes Father.” Ralph answered.

Writing Promptly 2

I have decided to share some of the micro stories that I have furiously scribbled down, in response to writing prompts, with you. I hope this will encourage you to have a go yourself but I also wanted a way of giving these little tales a chance to live, however briefly.

The challenge for this next story was to take a recent piece of news and write as though you were someone caught up in the events. I chose a piece of local news about a lightning strike on a building in Rayleigh High Road, which closed the road for hours and caused chaos locally. Please remember this story was written under time pressure so does not represent my ‘best work’, it’s just a bit of masochistic fun which I’ve decided to share.

The Story
“You will not believe the day I’ve had,” Sylvie called as she finally lugged her bags wearily across the threshold. My meeting was moved to Chelmsford, but, of course, no-one thought to let me know, so I had to go tearing up the A130 as soon as I got in, and you know the Army and Navy roundabout is full of road works. I tried to cut up through Great Baddow but then I got stuck behind one of the flat-cap and pipe brigade doing three miles an hour! Mike?”
Sylvie stopped and listened to the silence that met her. Sulking is so childish, she thought. She glanced at her watch and kicked off her shoes.
“I’ll jump in the shower – we won’t hiss much of the party.” She apologised.
She made a quick search of downstairs, continuing her tale of woe; trying to excuse her extreme lateness.
“The meeting went on for hours – it was so dull, I struggled to stay awake. Then on the way home I had to cut through Rayleigh because the roundabout was flooded, I was making really good time though, then, just as I got to the top of Crown Hill, there was an almighty bang and a huge flash. I swear the car almost jumped off the road. Then, suddenly it was raining huge lumps of brickwork. I thought a bomb had gone off, or something.”
She made her way upstairs.
“The road was completely covered in rubble. Thank fully the police station is just across the road there so they were soon on the scene. They closed the road. I couldn’t get through, and it would have to be the one day I leave my phone at home, wouldn’t it! Mike? Are you home?” The lack of response was beginning to bother her now.
“Mike!” she called as she walked into their room.
She stopped and stared at the scene in front of her. Her brain unable to comprehend what it was seeing. His drawers in the chest stood open and empty, the wardrobe door hung gapping, screaming “He’s gone!” with a mouthful of empty hangers.
She glanced down and an envelope, addressed to her, on the bed caught her eye. She grabbed it and tore it open, resigned to its contents.

“Sylvie
You couldn’t even bother to call with your excuses this time. I’ve had enough. I’m going to celebrate my birthday, my way with my mates, and I won’t be back.
Mike”
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If you liked my little tale and want to find out more about my writing you can follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hellen-Riebolds-Author-Page/530521043655534 or take a look at my website: http://www.hellenriebold.com/

Writing Promptly 1

Once a month I attend an encouraging, enabling writing group called Writebulb which is held at Chelmsford library and run by two very hard-working women called Carlie and Maria. Each month, at the group, we are given writing prompts and thirty minutes to come up with a story inspired by that prompt. I have decided to share some of the stories that I have furiously scribbled down in those labour intensive, frankly terrifying thirty minutes, with you. I hope this will encourage you to have a go yourself but I also wanted a way of giving these little tales a chance to live, however briefly.

The prompt for this first story was a list of four things that had to be included in the tale, they were: a door, a tree, an explosion and a golden key. Please remember this story was written under time pressure so does not represent my ‘best work’ merely a fun story which I hope you like.

The Story
Robert hurled himself to the ground as the blast wave hit, feeling the vibration rip through the earth around him. The castle itself seemed to explode, rather than merely the small device he’d planted. Instinctively he buried his face in the grass and covered his head with his hands as the first, smaller, shrapnel began to fall around him. He silently prayed that the larger stuff, when it came, would miss him – or at least leave him able to escape. He screwed his eyes tight shut and pushed his thumbs over his ears as the choking cloud of dust enveloped him. The air became hot and thick, making breathing like sipping treacle, and his prayers more fervent as he waited for the onslaught to pass. His back and legs were slowly being buried under a rain of debris but, by frequently wriggling, he knew that, so far, he would be free to run when the time came.
Something sharp and heavy hit his head, bounced, then landed on the ground beside him, resting against his arm. It was hot, and he quickly jerked his arm away.
Eventually, the dust storm began to subside and Robert knew he’d better begin his escape. It wouldn’t take the authorities long to arrive and, when they did, they’d be looking for someone to blame for the Great Commander’s demise.
He jumped to his feet, risking a quick glance back at the smouldering pile of rubble that only 15 minutes ago had been the jewel in the state’s crown. He couldn’t help it, despite all the death and destruction he’d caused, a tiny smile escaped his lips. He looked down, feeling slightly ashamed, and that’s when it caught his eye. The heavy, sharp, hot thing that had hit him. It was a key, a large, golden key with an intricately patterned top and five teeth standing to attention at the business end. It piqued his curiosity so he bent down and, pulling his sleeve over his hand, scooped it up and into his pocket before taking off into the forest.
He ran full-pelt, keeping the sun always behind him, which, at this time of day, would ensure he maintained his trajectory westward, towards the safety of the hinterlands. He was so intent on maintaining his course that he never even saw the tree he ran into at full pelt.

A brutal blow to Robert’s side roused him from unconsciousness then a cascade of water hit him full-force in the face.
“Get up worm!” A rough voice yelled, before another blow to the side winded him.
Robert forced himself to open his eyes and, as his vision came into focus the unmistakable shape of a state prison door came into view, half way up the wall. You had to be standing to reach that door and, as he felt the manacles around his ankles and wrists, he knew that was something he would never do again.

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If you liked my little tale and want to find out more about my writing you can follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hellen-Riebolds-Author-Page/530521043655534 or take a look at my website: http://www.hellenriebold.com/

What Did Nelson Mandela Ever Do For Me?

I don’t have many childhood memories, probably because I was too busy having fun to think about remembering stuff, but among the few I do have, two songs stick out very clearly in my mind.

 The first is Space Oddity by David Bowie. I remember watching Bowie sing it on Top of the Pops while sitting inside what I can only describe as a large tube. I was two and, bizarrely, I can trace my interest in space to that moment. Why bizarrely? Well because in the same year, 1969 (yes I know, I’m old), my Dad kept me up to watch the moon landing. How much of that do I remember? Nothing. Memory eh? It’s a funny thing.

 The second song I remember is The Specials with Free Nelson Mandela, which you can hear here; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgcTvoWjZJU  it was released in 1984, when I was 17, and I remember it because it was the song that awaked my personal social conscience.

Don’t get me wrong; by 1984 I was a veteran of many protest marches, mostly, but not exclusively, for CND. I had been encouraged from an early age to think politically and had been taught about the greedy rich and the downtrodden poor, the Irish situation and the terrorists who would kill, even if they didn’t have a cause, but this song challenged me for the first time to decide for myself what I thought about a situation. I had never heard of this guy, Nelson Mandela, they were singing about. I wanted to know why he’d been in prison so long, what had he done and why was his imprisonment so unjust? In short I wanted to know who Stan Campbell was begging to let him go and why.

I did some research and was astounded that a situation like apartheid could possibly exist in the modern world, how could rational people think that it could ever be OK to treat another portion of society almost as a contamination merely because their skin was a darker shade on the continuum? And how could my own government agree with them?

The sense of injustice I felt was personal. It wasn’t something I had been taught or told about or grown up with, it came from deep inside me. I was, for the first time in my life, truly outraged. I joined the protests and boycotts, I spoke to everyone around me, I became passionate in my desire to see Nelson Mandela freed, if only as a symbol of how wrong this system was.

Finally, the great day arrived. I watched, like a lot of people my age, as this almost mythical creature, left his prison and walked, looking like an ordinary man, to his freedom. I was excited and ecstatic but also a little scared. He was, after all, a member of an organisation which had resorted to violence to try and get their voice heard, as people with no hope often do. What would he say? What would happen to South Africa?

We waited.

His answer was the most miraculous thing I have ever seen.

He never once spoke recrimination or revenge. He spoke only peace and reconciliation and his actions matched his words.

He brought hope, not only in South Africa, where it was desperately needed, but also to the millions of people like me. Hope that millions of ordinary people, each individually choosing to make a stand, can change the world.

So, what did Nelson Mandela ever do for me?  He taught me about social responsibility and gave me hope that, no matter how big the evil, if we stand together we will win, he taught me forgiveness is a powerful weapon against hate and that actions speak louder than words.  Lessons I will never forget.

Thank you Madiba, and may flights of Angels carry you to your well-deserved rest.

The Emily Pankhurst Blues

Usually I blog about fluffy writing issues but recently something has really got me riled up and so I decided to share my feelings and join the debate.

I feel very blessed to have been born when and where I was, it has meant that I have been able to express my opinions freely, to protest when I have found injustice, gain as much education as I could ever have wanted and wear exactly what I want.

Usually the injustices I have railed against have occurred in the developing world and that’s because the generation of women before me fought hard and long to give me the right to raise my voice and have an expectation of being heard and for that I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Lately, however, I think some of our politicians have forgotten just how strong women are and have decided that quick political points can be made against them in the current social climate and I have reached the point at which I have to say, enough!

What am I talking about? Well it is the headscarf issue of course, it seems to be the local darling of the political elite. Suddenly, a mere 500 years after they first came into use, it has been decided that the most threatening thing to a civilised society is the sight of a woman wearing a full head covering.

I have two problems with this, firstly the precedent that it is OK to legally dictate what a woman can and cannot wear and the second is the insidious assurances I am hearing that one of the major reasons this law should be passed is to protect women from being forced to wear something they don’t want to. Enough!

Women are women are women, whatever their religion or the country they were born in, they are strong, intelligent and resourceful, they have had to be to survive generations of injustice at the same time as raising their oppressors’ children. Women of the Islamic faith are absolutely no different from women anywhere else and, here’s a shocking thing, some of them actually have a faith of their own which is not forced upon them by their wicked husbands. If a woman, of any faith, makes a decision to honour the teachings of her religion and cover her head, then are who are we to say she cannot.

Is it really more acceptable to tell a woman what she cannot wear than what she should wear is ridiculous in itself, isn’t it? “We have to protect women from wicked men who tell her what she must wear by telling her she will get arrested if she does.” That sounds sane to me-not! We live in a society which bombards girls with images of scantily clad women in every advert selling everything from batteries to bread, where lingerie lines are marketed for three year olds and where female singers feel they have to go naked and gyrate like a whirly-gig just to be heard. With all these clothes related issues the thing the politicians feel we ought to legislate is the wearing of too many layers. Hmmm.

Now I’m not daft, I have heard their arguments of safety, trust and anti-terrorism, I would counter that argument by asking why has this suddenly become such a big problem?

Well I’m giving notice, if this ridiculous law is brought in, as it has been in France just 21 miles away, I will be buying a burka to wear as a fashion choice in the hope that I will be arrested and then they can tell me exactly why I cannot wear exactly what I want when I want in the democracy where I live.

Rant over, normal fluffy writing related service will be resumed soon. Thanks.

http://www.hellenriebold.com

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Flash Fiction

Today’s blog is a little different. I set the Rayleigh Vineyard Writing Group a flash fiction of about 500 words with the title “Shh! Did you hear that?” and I thought, as I set it, I might share my attempt. So here it is…

Mandy by Hellen Riebold

“Shh! Did you hear that?” Robert hissed, annoyed.

“What?” Mandy looked at him confused.

“Well, if you would just stop yammering for two consecutive minutes I might be able to hear what he was saying.”

Mandy’s face crumpled and Robert regretted his harsh tone. “I’m sorry Mandy,” he whispered, “it’s just that I paid a lot of money for this conference, specifically to hear this guy tell me how to get rich writing and I keep missing stuff because you’re talking.”

The people around them rose to their feet and started applauding enthusiastically as the seminar came to an end.

“Now I’ll never find out what number seven was.” Robert exclaimed, rising wearily to his feet and politely joining in with the clapping.

Mandy, in the meantime, turned to the person behind her, “Excuse me,” she said politely tapping the person on the top of his arm to get his attention, “can you tell my husband what number seven was please, I’m afraid I distracted him and he missed it.”

The man ignored her completely, turning instead to the person standing beside him, “Isn’t he insightful?” he said and his neighbour nodded his agreement.

The clapping died down and people started leaving the room, barging past them without so much as a by-your-leave. Robert was getting more and more annoyed and Mandy, wanting to deflect some of his anger, decided to try again, “Excuse me? Hello? Could you help me?” she tried stopping the flow of people several times, tapping them, waving at them and even sticking her foot out to cause them to stumble but nothing. Everyone was in far too much of a hurry to even look at them.

“What are you doing?” Robert’s eyes bore into her. “First you make us late leaving with your cooked breakfast and endless check-lists of things we don’t need, then you forget the tickets so we have to go all the way home, then you needed that loo break and, when you finally do get here you talk to me just at the most crucial part of the seminar. I really have no idea why I brought you along!”

Mandy felt her bottom lip start to tremble, she didn’t like it when he exploded and she could feel an eruption was imminent, “Robert, I’m sorry. I was hoping I could ask one of these people what you’d missed. I thought if I could find out for you it might make up for my ‘yammering’. I really don’t know why you keep me around, I’m such a nuisance.”

He looked at her trembling lip and pleading eyes and his heart melted, he let out a deep sigh and took both her hands in his, “Mandy.” He began, “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. You are not a nuisance. I love you, I couldn’t bear to be without you.”

She smiled, “I know. Would you like me to go home ahead of you and get the dinner on, then you could stay here and find out what you missed.”

“That would be great.” He smiled.

And with that Mandy disappeared.

Rayleigh Vineyard Writing group is completely free and meets the third Saturday of every month at Rayleigh Library, Essex from 2pm to 4pm and new members are welcome. Have a look at our Facebook page for more info https://www.facebook.com/groups/157357637755219/

Isn’t It Ironic?

Recently I have been thinking quite a lot about irony, brought on by the fact that I found myself tweeting about how a PBS documentary about the Amish was making me want to move to Pennsylvania and share in their life-style.

I began to notice other little ironies creeping in to, for example my tendency to Facebook about my battle with procrastination when writing and my friend Anna looking straight at me and struggling to remember her sister’s name, which is the same as mine. Of course the biggest irony I have come across is Alanis Morissette’s song ‘Isn’t it Ironic?” which always has me screaming at the radio, “No. That’s just sod’s law.”

So what is the point of irony? Well in an academic setting it is useful to show you understand a concept enough to be able to point out its flaws and, in a literally setting, it is seen as a useful device to point to the larger issues your work seeks to highlight, but what about when irony raises its head in the everyday setting. Well, I’ve thought long and hard about that and have come to a very clear realisation.

Irony is God’s way of showing us He has a sense of humour and His sneaky way of helping the world to laugh at us when we take ourselves too seriously. Now isn’t that ironic?