Monday, 27 March 2017

Stories of Struggle: Flash Fictions 24-27

Here I am, nearing the end of the month, with nothing Done but photographs taken (roundup at end of the month) and flash fiction written.

There are four days left of the month, but here are my flash fictions from today and the previous three days--flash fictions 24-27:
Art Imitates Life: About strange happenings and an artist of particular talent
Green Triangles and Yellow Trees: The story of a blind man with synaesthesia, and a remarkable skill.
Background Characters: The tale of a man disconnected from those around him
Connections: A sequel to Background Characters, about a commuter who feels he is only existing, rather than living.

Art Imitates Life
Date: 24th March 2017
Prompt: Frame

In the upmarket part of town, Thompson's Gallery was where Grendel Thompson sold his paintings, and a few by select local artists.

Whenever Thompson completed a new canvas, he displayed it within an ornate, decaying gold frame in the window. It drew the attention of passers-by, who stopped to survey the latest of Thompson's works, and marvel at his talent for combining surrealism and photorealism.

Thompson's work was based on town life, featuring faceless figures of locals in odd situations, so people liked to see if they could spot themselves.
Whenever anyone recognised themselves, they would gasp excitedly.
Had they understood what would happen, those would have been gasps of horror.

The first strange occurrence was on a Sunday. Reverend Bryant was leaving church with the verger, still dressed in his vestment, when he began to feel strange. Putting it down to his breakfast, Bryant opened his mouth to tell the verger, Mrs Cranleigh, of his indigestion.
Only the sound that came out of his mouth was a loud, bovine 'Moo'.
Mrs Cranleigh shrieked and dropped her Sunday gloves in shock when, before her eyes, the robust Reverend Bryant transformed into a cow.
Bryant thought her Sunday hat looked mightily tasty, and chased her all the way through the town as he sought to eat it.
Mrs Cranleigh panted and puffed, and thought she might fall with exhaustion as she passed Thompson's Gallery.
Then with a zinging noise and a smell a little like turpentine, Reverend Bryant was back to himself, confused and ashamed, and more than a little flatulent.
They agreed to never speak of it again.

The second strange event was that of Gareth 'Gaz' Miles and his gang, who called themselves 'The Guzzlers'. It was a Saturday afternoon, and Gaz and the Guzzlers were in the park, drinking cheap cider from the off-licence. They were rowdy and immature, taking it in turns to let out the loudest burp they could manage.
Gaz laughed at his friends, and claimed he could be louder.
Yet when it came to his turn, and he drank deeply and waited for the air to settle in the right place to let out his most well-practised 'Gaz Belch', he couldn't burp.
The trapped air hurt, and stomach inflated like a balloon.
Then Gaz was a balloon, floating upwards as his bulbous stomach protruded from beneath his t-shirt.
His best mate Steve grabbed his legs before he flew any higher, but then Steve began to lift from the ground too, so Mike grabbed his legs, and then Dan grabbed his legs, and soon enough the entire gang floated several feet from the ground.
Caught by the wind, Gaz and co were blown out of the park and along the main road, and into the fancy part of town where, as they neared Thompson's Gallery, there was a zinging sound, and a smell "like the art teacher", and the gang landed in a tree.
Gaz's stomach shrank to its normal size, and the gang had to be rescued by the fire service.

Unlike the matter of Reverend Bryant and Mrs Cranleigh, a lot of people witnessed the event involving Gaz and co. People began to talk, and as more strange events happened, the entire town came to join in the gossip.

Mandy Collins and her friends, who liked playing jump-rope in the road and singing loudly, found their rope was a rattlesnake, which pursued them beyond Thompson's before it changed back.

Mr Escher the butcher went to his freezer and discovered that instead of his secret recipe sausages, there was a pack of small, grumpy dachshunds.
They nipped at his ankles, and herded him all the way past the gallery, where he climbed Mrs Parson's garden wall to escape them and fell bottom-first into a holly bush (the dachshunds, at that point, became a tasty-looking string of sausages).

Jim Baker the reporter was dive-bombed by newspaper seagulls...

Kerry Maddox, the dentist, found herself at the mercy of a lioness (it had previously been her chair)...

The WI meeting was in uproar after the cakes grew wings, and began dropping chocolate buttons and glace cherries like missiles...

All ended up at Thompson's before everything became normal again.
Everyone heard a strange noise, and smelled a strange smell, though put the latter down to the proximity of the gallery.

It was after Ms Looper's knitting group was chased by a pack of feral pullovers that people began to figure things out.

Ms Looper remembered marvelling at a painting, there in the old gold frame, that depicted a knitted wild animal, and a number of figures she now understood as her group.
Kerry Maddox remembered the painting of the lion with braces, Mr Escher recalled the dachshunds in buns, and Reverend Bryant privately thought of the painting of the cow in the churchyard.

Grendel Thompson knew he was rumbled when the townspeople gathered in his gallery.
They told him to stop.
He told them he wouldn't, and they couldn't stop him. He could stop them, and he would, right now.
Thompson had been edging towards the frame as he spoke, and he now seized hold of it, swiftly loosing the current painting and reaching for a new canvas.
Jim Baker wrestled the canvas from him, and Gaz snatched the frame away. He tried to break it, but it didn't even creak.
There were mutterings amongst the townspeople as Thompson stood there smugly.

They didn't know what to do.

Mrs Cranleigh, who liked bossing people around, and fancied herself as a bit of an artist, took charge. She plucked a marker from Thompson's desk, scrawled upon the canvas, and popped it into the frame.

Thompson disappeared.

Before there was any zip or zing or smell, Mrs Cranleigh scribbled again.

The frame fell apart in her hands.

She took the canvas home, without letting anyone see it.
Later that evening, Thompson's Gallery disappeared altogether.

Green Triangles and Yellow Trees
Date: 25th March 2017
Prompt: Colour

Age of six, synesthete Michael Johnson fell ill and lost his sight.
Though officially blind, Michael, who as a synesthete had associated sounds and words with colours and form, found his ability continued behind his damaged eyes.
His name, when his mother called it, was a looping, deep purple squiggle (followed by a crimson dot, when she was cross). The way his dad talked, when he was late home and making up excuses, was interlinked, mint green triangles. His sister's off-key singing was a splatter of muddied colours: dull yellow and blue and orange.

Michael grew accustomed to his blindness and synaesthesia. By twelve, he could read braille swiftly and move about the house and his school as though he could see everything.
His hearing also sharpened, as had his talent for 'seeing' sound.

By sixteen, Michael learnt that happy people talked in yellow trees (the happier they were, the bigger and more flourishing the tree). Sad people were orange wiggly lines, whilst everyone else spoke in pink circles, sometimes bordered by yellow or orange zigzags, depending on whether they were feeling hopeful or worried.
Michael became known amongst his peers for understanding feelings, therefore became rather popular (especially among the girls).

What Michael interpreted best were lies.

Lies were like his father's voice was when he created excuses: green, triangular.
Michael had come to distinguish the seriousness of lies by the size and shade of green. Harmless white lies were mint green, interlinked and medium-size. Cruel lies were an obnoxious lime green: large triangles that stood apart. Dangerous lies were a line of tiny, identically-sized triangles, the colour of leaves in the spring.
It was outright, thoughtless likes that Michael heard (and saw) the most, especially in school. Those were bottle green, tilted at random angles and fluctuating in size.
The school careers counsellor, who told Michael that he could be anything he wanted to be, spoke like that.
Michael didn't need to be lied to. He knew his blindness meant a difficult future.
He never drew attention to her lies, but he quietly pointed out when friends were lying to each other, and when teachers were making things up.

In school, Michael became known for his ability to detect lies. Some people became afraid of him after that. He could tell by the dull blue flowers that accompanied their usual speech.
It made Michael wish he didn't have his talent.
But wishing was fruitless (wishes were red and navy horizontal stripes) and Michael became even more widely known for his lie detecting.

Then a national newspaper published an article on him, branding him "The Human Lie Detector".
Strangers travelled from all over to gain his help. Sometimes, those people asked for purely selfish reasons (selfishness was beige ovals). 
Michael wouldn't help them. He helped those who talked in orange wiggly lines, and purple squares (purple squares were desperation).
Michael thought very hard before he helped anybody that spoke in green triangles themselves.

One day, a man from the government came. He wanted to give Michael a job, where he could use his talent to help his country. They had people who could teach him to hone it even more strongly.
"You may eventually be able to see everything around you," he said.
It was the only time the man spoke in green triangles, and those were wobbly, weakly-formed and iridescent: uncertain.
But the man spoke Michael's name as a respectful lilac squiggle, he talked in pink circles (occasionally bordered by orange zigzags) as he spoke, and then pale blue spirals when he got onto the serious matter of Michael's talent.
There was not a single dull blue flower to be seen.

Michael had only seen the pale blue spirals are few times before. They meant respect.
And though the occasional beige oval appeared in the man's speech, Michael agreed.
He'd take the job.

Michael finished school and began to work with the government. He was put into a training program to improve his understanding of his synaesthesia, and given recordings to listen to. His job was simple: he listened to the recordings, some of which were in languages he didn't understand, and made notes on the true intentions of the speakers.
A few years on, he attended meetings and interviews, and listened in person, typing notes as always. Many enemies of the country, were discovered through Michael's synaesthesia, and gradually, his colleagues talked with fewer blue flowers and more blue spirals.

The man from the government, whose name was Tim Black (Michael knew it wasn't his real name) was grateful for Michael's hard work (those sunny yellow splotches around the spirals made it obvious). He sent Michael to many scientists and doctors, who did their best to help him 'see' again: they theorised that if he learnt to hear the sound frequencies that bounced off his surroundings, he would 'see' them in colour, almost as though he were seeing them with undamaged eyes.

None of their trials worked, but Michael didn't really mind. Life as a blind man was never going to be straightforward, but he had a job he could never have dreamed of, and there was a kind-hearted woman there who spoke to him in looping, royal purple squiggles with yellow zigzags, not a green triangle to be seen.
Michael's synaesthesia was no longer a burden.
Soon enough, he was talking in yellow trees.

Background Characters
Date: 26th March 2017
Prompt: Separation

Though well-connected and rather picturesque in parts, Ashingheath was a commuter town that might have been bustling were it not that most of the residents left the town and took the train into the city to work every day.

The town centre boasted many retail units; half were empty and those remaining were dilapidated, with the exception of the pound shop and the new branch of a local grocery chain (the latter of which was gradually putting the independent retailers out of business). The weekend market had stopped running a year ago, but there was still a cinema, which had one weekday matinee screening and three screenings over the weekend.

Martin Overton liked films, but he didn't go to the cinema often. He had the Movies add-on with his TV package, and watched them whenever he wanted.

Besides, his every waking hour was like watching a movie.
That wasn't to say his life was full of action and adventure, or danger and romance. His life was mundane, uneventful, relatively empty, and he was no more than an onlooker, in a production with very little audience participation.

Martin watched his hands wash the dishes, barely feeling the heat of the water or the slipperiness of the suds.
When the postman had occasion to knock, Martin saw the door open and accepted the mail as if it was a scene from a movie.
Driving to the supermarket was like playing on a simulator, wandering the aisles and queuing at the checkout was nothing but a string of filler scenes between the action.
But there was never any action.

Every morning, Martin stood at his front window and watched the commuters hurry up the hill to the station. He knew their figures and mannerisms as if they were old friends, but in reality he didn't even know their names. They were leading characters, entering the scene at the start of the film, not yet introduced, yet to undergo startling development or delve headfirst into adventure.
Martin tried to names them once, but ran out of names. Now he thought of them as 'Mr Glasses' or 'Mrs Trenchcoat' or 'Backpack Kid'.
Just like in a film, they went about their business, unaware that he was watching.

It was the same everywhere he went. Nobody interacted, with the exception of store clerks, deliverymen, and on a monthly basis, the pharmacist. Martin didn't make much effort to interact with anyone either. Everyone spoke as though they were actors in a role. Martin preferred to let them to communicate with each other, rather than him. He was just the watcher, disengaged from their reality and merely seeing and hearing, rather than living.

It was real life, but no different to watching his movie channels. He felt the same way when watching the news: the atrocities and terrible, horrific events of the world, the bad news and the rare good news all felt unreal, scripted, invented.

Martin lived in reality, but he was disconnected. 
He knew so many people through watching and listening, yet nobody knew him. It was as though, when life's screenwriters were working on the characters and plot, they forgot to give Martin any vital links to other characters.
Sometimes it felt as though they'd forgotten to give him any lines, either.
They'd certainly forgotten to give him any plot.

Martin was a part of his life, but he certainly wasn't the protagonist.
He was a background character, eternally separated from the leading role.

Date: 27th March 2017
Prompt: Existence

Come rain or shine, Drapes Man was always at the window when Aaron Bishop went to catch the train to work. It didn't matter what time Aaron strode up the hill, Drapes Man was there, not quite unnoticeable behind the thin mesh of his living room curtains.

The other commuters that waited at Ashingheath station had noticed him too--pale, balding and with a bit of a stomach, his tired yet sharp gaze followed people as they passed his tidy little house.
Someone had nicknamed him Drapes Man, on account of the fact he watched from behind the drapes, and the name had stuck.

Aaron, who knew his fellow commuters rather well from their daily hour-long rides into the city, thought it was a shame that Drapes Man was never out in his little front garden. Drapes Man looked lonely, and might benefit from the occasional passer-by bidding him a 'hello' or 'good morning'.
Being indoors away from everyone was no way to live. It was more like existing than living.

Then again, what with the commute and work hours, Aaron felt that he merely existed, too. He did far too much overtime (he had to, in order to afford the mortgage payments on the family home), had to take international conference calls on random evenings and weekends, and spent a vast amount of his supposed 'free time' finalising business plans and presentations. He tried to get quality time with his wife and kids, but just about managed to return home in time to kiss the kids goodnight and sit down for a late dinner with his wife.
They'd argued about it in the past, but Marie's job was as stressful as his own, and they couldn't afford for one of them to go part-time or take a less demanding job.
Paying the bills meant being nose to the grindstone, every weekday (and weekends and evenings when work demanded it).
It wasn't a life, it was an existence, and it sucked.

It made Aaron question what life was like for Drapes Man.
The man appeared to be around retirement age, and the way he watched everyone was as if he was merely one of life's bystanders.
Aaron wondered if the man had ever taken up cycling, or joined a sports team, or even gone on holiday.
Possibly not, he thought.
Aaron wanted to do those things himself - he had a bike in the garage, a lifelong passion for basketball, and dreams of a nice holiday in the Mediterranean. He just didn't have the time or money.
Drapes Man probably had both, but stayed inside his house, watching other people go about their lives.

Though Drapes Man was a retiree and Aaron still chained to his office desk, Aaron thought they were rather similar in that they both did nothing but exist, with few moments to spare to make real connections with other people.
Even though Aaron knew his fellow commuters, he wouldn't exactly call them friends. Their train rides were peppered with work calls, meaningless small talk, and last-minute computer work before office hours began.
Aaron's real friends were scattered across the country: they'd graduated together, but been hired at different companies in different counties.
Aaron wondered if Drapes Man even had any friends.
It made him feel sad for the man, and he decided that he had to do something--even if it was but an insignificant gesture.

So when he next strode up the hill towards the station, he slowed as he neared the house where Drapes Man watched. Then, when Drapes Man's eyes rested upon him, Aaron gave him a polite smile, and nodded to him as he passed by.
Drapes Man looked a little alarmed at being noticed, and smiled back uneasily.

Aaron did the same every day that week, and the weeks after that. Once that Drapes Man became less alarmed and began nodding back to him, Aaron threw in the occasional wave, too.
His fellow commuters began doing the same, quietly curious about Drapes Man and who he was, why he watched.

A year later, on sunny days, Drapes Man began to spend the mornings in his garden.
When Aaron neared the house that first day, before he'd even had a chance to nod, Drapes Man called out to him.
"Good morning!"
Aaron smiled. "Morning!"
The man's greeting made Aaron cheerful. It was a good way to start an arduous day.
As Aaron continued up the hill, he heard the voices of Drapes Man and another commuter greeting each other.
And Aaron reflected that maybe it was through these simple, fleeting connections that people lived, rather than existed.

These four turned out to be more pleasant than some of my previous flash fictions. I found I thought more deeply as I wrote the latter three (the first one in this post was just a bit of fun). I guess that's the result of writing on a daily basis?

Only four more days to write for, and then I can cross goal #26 off The List!

Previous days: [1-4][5-9][10-14][15-18][19-23]

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