I have been going through old blog articles and brushing up some of my earlier Short Stories.
Hope you enjoy them. I have only lightly edited these short stories.
When I get a chance I will go back and give them a proper edit.
This is the second set of short stories.
Without further ado enjoy!
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Keeper of Keys
“You will thank us before the end” the scrawny one, Finnick, said standing at the open door. The growing light of the morning piercing into the darkness of the chamber. He was the keeper of keys.
“There will be no thanking from anyone if I were to follow you” the big one, Harlath, said. He did so while sat behind a desk stacked with books.
“Harlath I’m leaving, as are the rest of the guards. Come with us” Finnick said.
“Thank you, but my duty is here. I bear you nor the rest of the guards any ill will over the dereliction of duty. You understand that your wages are forfeit” Harlath said.
“Gold has lost all value, and you sit there informing me that I will not be paid as if I were to care. None of us will feel owed.”
“I have heard that before. Some people would tell you that they have no need for the common currency. Always find a way of holding out a cupped hand” Harlath said.
“You think we mean to defraud the crown for some extra gold? Do you think that the chaos that has swept the land? Driven fathers to slay sons mothers to devour daughters was a conspiracy on our part? Is it that you think that it is part of some elaborate orchestration on the guards part? To pry several gold pieces loose from that miserly commander? That you think us capable of such deeds is a great honour.” Finnick said. Finnick crossed the threshold of the doorway into Harlath’s chamber.
Finnick stopped himself halfway between door and desk.
“Look Harlath; I don’t like you, none of us like you. A man so honest devoid of vice is not to be trusted. A man should have a weakness that he is prepared to display. Now I can tell the rest that you do have a weakness. You have a conviction to carry out your duty when all else have abandoned hope. Even those who command you to do that duty.”
Finnick stood looking at Harlath whose eyes were cast down at the parchment on the desk. Harlath stopped writing briefly and shrugged. Finnick could not tell if the shrug was motivated by his words. Or Harlath had discovered some irregularities in the accounts.
“Put the quill down, stand up, come with us. We are heading west. The plan is to get a ship. There is nothing in the tales that say the giant can traverse the oceans” Finnick said.
Palms up, running teeth over the dead skin of dry lips.
“If I were to take you up on your offer then the men that are under our charge would starve,” Harlath said. Looking up to Finnick for the first time since the conversation started.
Finnick leaned back onto the balls of his feet. The rough stone of the chamber floor put him off balance. Finnick took a step back towards the door.
“Let them, they had their chance, they can rot, and no one will care,” Finnick said.
“Let them rot, I see. Some of these men have sentences that are finishing their sentences. They are to be released, and there is no keeper of keys, they would feel betrayed by the system that they are part of.”
“Who cares, when they are released? There will be no world for them to return to, better they stay here unaware the choice removed,” Finnick said.
“Now you are thinking like me, there’s no point in running from the inevitable. Awaiting death can be worse than the execution itself. Stay, distract yourself with work, remove the choice and life will become easier”.
“You belong on the other side of those bars”. Finnick said.
Finnick broke eye contact.
“I may join them. A caged beast does not care about what age it will grow, all it thinks of is escape” Harlath said. Harlath rose from the chair and went and stood before Finnick. “Cowardice is not a choice I would make.”
“I’m not a coward,” Finnick said.
“I didn’t say you were, but seeing yourself in my words is something for your own conscience.”
“I will not be mocked by some jobsworth.”
“A jobsworth who has chosen to face the fact head-on, not cower from it in some lie. Fortunately, you are a bastard. Had you carried on your families name the bloodline would have been ended out of shame.”
Finnick clenched a fist and struck Harlath. Not even a wince, a smile grew wide across Harlath’s face.
“I would forgive the insolence. I’d also forgive the admission of dereliction of duty. Striking a superior officer is where I draw the line” Harlath said. Finnick went to flee, but Harlath had already a hand pinching into Finnick’s shoulder. Harlath’s strength had Finnick hunched over.
“I will escort you to your cell, and before the end, you will thank me”.
James held the pen in his hand. All he had to do was sign the piece of paper in front of him. Gerald sat opposite on him, separated by the desk. He kept a close watch on the pen in James’ hand. Gerald was consciously trying to stop himself from rubbing his hands together. All he could do was slow the motion.
James’ mother sat behind him; she stared at the back of his head. Even though James could not see her, he could feel her eyes drilling into him, trying to hurry him along.
Gerald licked the corner of his mouth a gesture that James noticed out of the corner of his eye. James repeatedly clicked his pen with one hand. With the other moved the contract up and down on the desk. The print became a blur as James struggled to focus his eyes.
“All you have to do is sign James,” Gerald said. Gerald brought a hand up to his mouth before quickly pulling it away and putting it flat on the desk. James looked down at Geralds’ hand it was subtly, soundlessly tapping the table. James looked at Gerald’s fingers, the tears of dry skin and nails that were nubs. Gerald grimaced ever so slightly and looked away.
“All I have to do is sign along the dotted line. Then that’s me locked in. I’m taking this moment in”. said James looking at Gerald.
“Everything is in order; you were locked in a week or two ago so really this is just a formality.” Said Gerald, shifting in his seat.
“That’s true, but from a technical, legal perspective, it isn’t a lock until I sign.” Said James., James heard his mother sigh behind him, and he smiled.
“Just get on with it James, this was only supposed to be a quick stop off on the way,” James’ mother said. “Everyone wants this for you, and you want it for yourself,” she said and cleared her throat.
“I’m not sure that it is what I want. Everyone keeps telling me that it’s for me and for my benefit and, to be honest, I don’t think that is the case. Everyone else is excited for me” said James.
“It’s because they care for your well being,” said his mother.
“That’s a lovely sentiment, and I’d like to believe that however, there is this part of me that just can’t. Gerald here, he doesn’t care” said James to his mother but looked directly at Gerald.
“The only thing that I care about is getting a signature. Not to rush or pressure you, just sign the contract,” said Gerald.
“So I can get a house,” said James.
“So you can get a mortgage,” said Gerald. He smiling at James. Gerald and James held eye contact for several seconds before James broke it off. James looked down at the contract and clicked the pen some more. James brought the piece of paper closer to him and put the pen to the line.
Franklin Cosgraves sat alone at his piano in the conservatory. He was a singer-songwriter. Franklin rolled his head around in a circle then dropped it to look at the keys in front of him. He stretched out his fingers, steepled them and cracked his knuckles. Franklin then began his warm-up exercise.
Franklin started the movement. Slow at first. Fingers sluggish on the ivories. Soon they sped up, and he found that he was beginning to enjoy himself.
Franklin continued through the motions. His fingers were getting faster and faster; a smile crept onto his face.
Franklin craned his head backwards. Looked up through the glass ceiling at the branches the obscured the blue sky on a sunny day. Franklin came to the final movement his hands possessed as he reached the crescendo. He laughed aloud. Franklin slumped. His head dropped back down to the keys, squinting his eyes as if he were trying to focus in on that new idea.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he felt an idea for a melody coming to the fore.
Franklin reached down beside him and grabbed the folder beside his feet and set it on his knees. He opened it and took out the notes that the lady from the government had given him. Franklin looked down at the instructions and thought about what she was asking him. Wanting a brand new song within three days because that was how creativity works. Franklin knew that he could have a piece within that time, but it would not be the song that would turn the tide.
Franklin only had a few hours before the deadline.
The government had never rejected any of Franklin’s music. More importantly, the government had always paid Franklin. They kept using him more and more often. Used him for more compositions. Each time the deadline would be much closer before he began writing. Franklin knew that there would be a time coming that he would start the project on the hour of it’s due, but it was not today.
Franklin wanted to hand back the song that would make the difference in the war.
He had been hired seven times by the government, and seven times he had given them what they asked.
Franklin thought about how long the fighting had been going on. The war was going to go on forever. There was a chance that the government was elongating the killing. Franklin looked back at the notes. “to increase the killing of enemy combatants,” had he not seen this before? No, he had spent the wartime in a drunken haze hoping to never come out of the fog. The fog was clearing due to restrictions on alcohol rationing.
The singer-songwriter could see clearly.
An extended war.
The government had suspended all elections since the fighting started. Everyone who objected was getting paid to shut up. Franklin included himself, he realised he’d been receiving blood money. Franklin knew that people would die because of his propaganda. His music was an upbeat contemporary flow, jolly little jaunts. It was the lyrics, lyrics dripping with hatred.
Franklin thought the government used his songs as a subtle means to end the war, not increase the killing. He decided that he would do something he hadn’t done in a long time. Franklin wasn’t worried about getting paid. He was going to write a piece of music that would demoralise the soldiers on his side.
Franklin would have to do it subtly.
The bureaucrats in the offices would be slow to comprehend. If they did, then it would not matter they would stop using his services. Franklin knew that if he were found out, it would mean arrest and execution. Franklin didn’t care. He wanted the killing to end, he didn’t care about winners or losers. Franklin, the singer-songwriter played beautifully.
Napoleon looked ahead.
There was a sound that emanated from behind. The soldiers shook at the thought of what it might be. The men looked at each other for consolation, but Napoleon sat atop his horse as it trotted along the cobbled street. Napoleon could feel their eyes on him. The eyes that pled with him to make a decision, any decision. If Napoleon marched them into the Moskva river and they would do it with glee. For his men, a definite end was preferable to eternal uncertainty.
Napoleon knew that his men were exhausted, physically from the journey. Mentally from the constant state of anxiety that they had found themselves living in. Coming to Russia had taken a toll. There had not been a single direct engagement with the enemy army, the Tsar was playing a well thought out game.
Napoleon could not strike at an enemy that was not there; he was chasing a ghost that he could not attack.
Napoleon and his army had taken Moscow with ease; there was no army, no civilians, the city had been abandoned. Napoleon had achieved his goal, but it was an empty victory. He knew that somewhere close to them, the Russian army lurked waiting for the men. To be on their lasts legs before blowing them over with a feather.
Napoleon knew that to turn back now would spell a blow to the morale of the men. His own reputation would suffer a considerable blow. If he were to order his men to stay put, it could be potential mutiny on his hands. The Tsar had the water pumps vandalised. Napoleon was begrudgingly impressed by the tactic. Soon his men would start feeling the thirst.
Napoleon thought a man without an enemy to fight is one thing. A man without an essential means of sustaining him would become a rabid dog.
A tension that goes on too long is torture. War as with women was sustained by a cycle of escalating tension that is then released. Since starting the campaign, there had been no release of that tension. The men needed to dissipate that tension they carried it in their bones, in their soul. If the men could not release it against the enemy, then they would release it with themselves. Infighting would become commonplace.
Napoleon had still not ordered them to abandon Moscow. He knew that engagement with the enemy army would never come, but still, he held out hope for fighting. He knew that his pride was clouding his judgment.
Either way, he could do nothing to steer himself out of the predicament he found himself.
Napoleon saw the crows on a roof, he could also see that the tiles they loitered on were loose. He watched and waited for the inevitable. The crows lost their footing, sending tiles towards the street. Napoleon knew that once the tiles hit the ground, it would send the men spiralling. Spiralling into another of their agitated panics. He watched the tile with grim resignation as it raced to meet the cobbled streets below.
The Kings Glove shone.
Kimabara was walking alone on the road. He had his staff in hand along with his belongings in a sack that was over his shoulder. Ahead in the distance, Kimabara saw riders approaching. They were three abreast taking up the entire width of the road.
“Make way, make way” the lead rider shouted as they got closer. The riders were at full gallop and were on an intercept path with Kimabara.
“The way has been made already, but not by me,” Kimabara shouted, his voice becoming a snarl of contempt.
The riders slowed their steeds to a trot before Kimabara. Once the three were upon him, they encircled him. Kimabara stopped and stood still. The three horsemen were uniformed similarly in full armour, except for one who had an angel wing design on the side of his otherwise featureless helmet.
The winged rider pulled up his visor to reveal a darkened face. Darkened in its skin colour, darkened in its expression.
“We do not expect you to have any knowledge of who we are pale Orc, for your kind have a particular kind of ignorance. I carry a message for the king. In our duties, there is nothing that says that we cannot cut down wretches like yourself. You look confused, I will educate you on what a ruler is even though I know the practice is futile. A king is our equivalent of the shortest most bad-tempered Orc, what he says goes. Only not all rows must be met with savagery and killing, that’s how our kind is different from yours. I thank the moulders that I am not an orc” the winged rider said, the other two laughed.
Kimabara said nothing, but he did not break the gaze of the winged rider. The winged rider narrowed his gaze. He said, “I would ask you to not take offence at my words if you could understand such a concept.”
“A lowly brute like me? I have no business conceptualising abstract concepts such as offence. My kind exists only to be amazed by what you smart men find commonplace. Look at this river we stand in, straight and carve yet no water, what wonders.” Kimabara said.
“I do not like your tone beast,” the winged rider said.
“Tone, oh us orcs are far too dim to know about that, m’ lord,” Kimabara said.
“Put some music in your voice, or I will mistake you for one who mocks,” the winged rider said, leaning in.
“Our kind is too savage to know what music is. At our wedding ceremonies, we merely hit trees with sticks,” said Kimabara. She looked at the other two riders who shifted on their mounts.
“We don’t have time for this” a deep voice said from behind a grill.
“I will say where the time is to be spent,” the winged rider said.
“Our message is to be brought to the king. If he finds out that we have dallied when we should have sallied,” the deep voice said.
“Who is to tell the king, it is only us four, and it is soon to be three.” the winged rider said.
“I wish whichever one of you parts a speedy, safe journey,” Kimabara said. The other three let out a groan.
“Just get it over with,” said the deep voice.
“I’ll remind you I’m your superior,” the winged rider said. “Well this has been fun, but like any other orc you will only realise what has happened once it’s too late.”
The winged rider had dismounted, drawn his sword and swung when it came to a halt. Kimabara’s sack fell to the ground, contents spilling out onto the road.
Kimabara stood before him having caught the swing with his hand. The hand was in a glove, dark brown, large and bearing an eagle emblem on the knuckles.
“The king’s glove,” the deep voice said.
“The king’s glove is right, and your king has a message for you.”
“Please show mercy, I yield, I yield,” said the winged rider. The winged rider stood staggered on one knee still holding onto the sword.
“I am too stupid an orc to know what it means to yield,” Kimabara said. Drawing the winged rider in closer.
“Mercy,” the winged rider said.
“I am too primitive to show such a thing”. Kimabara said.
The other two riders watched on.
“It’s your politics,” she said.
“Not my politics love, you’ve been the one sitting there telling me” the taxi driver who happened to be a man said.
“Don’t call me love, it’s Michelle. It’s that attitude that tells me you still don’t understand,” Michelle said to the driver.
“And I never will, look we’re here. If you think that you have it so bad, you can swap with me. Work till five this morning, too wrecked to spend time with your family, fine. I wouldn’t mind going into a cushy job like yours, wear a headset, carry a clipboard and shout at people. I could do that just fine. Otherwise, it’s £9.80.” the driver said.
Michelle paid the driver and got out of the car. Her fellow traveller had remained silent throughout the whole exchange.
“You could have said something back there, Rory,” Michelle said to the other person.
“I believe that you’re strong enough to fight your battles on your own” Rory said.
Michelle opened the door to the apartment complex. Rory went on through the door first, and Michelle followed.
They took the lift up to her floor and went into her apartment. The far wall of the living room was a big window. It looked onto the marina below and ahead of them the developing skyline.
Construction had stopped on one of the buildings on the far side of the harbour. A worker had fallen and died. Michelle was tired of looking at the ugly scaffolding.
Michelle turned on the living room light. She looked at the coffee table and saw takeaway containers mixed in with cups. Some of those cups had been there so long that there was life developing in the bottom of them. They were her cups her choice, but Michelle refused to clean. She didn’t want to become her mother. That’s why she hired Izabella.
Michelle liked Izabella even though she was not supposed to be in Northern Ireland.
It meant that Michel got a good discount on the services.
Michelle thought that maybe immigration services had finally caught up with her. Perhaps that’s why she had not been. She would miss Izabella, but the cleaners were replaceable.
Michelle turned the living room light off; she could bring Rory into the kitchen and then the bedroom. The living room was a no-go. Michelle looked at the door to her apartment to see that Rory was still standing there.
“Are you sure that you want me to enter?” said Rory.
“Rory I’m very sure but to do that you’ll need to come into the apartment first,” Michelle said with a smile. Rory laughed and walked towards her.
“You’ve got a great sense of humour like early Lisa Lampanelli,” Rory said.
“I don’t know who that is,” said Michelle.
She walked backwards, leading him towards the kitchen.
“She’s a stand-up comedian; I hate that phrase, stand-up. Stephen Hawking could have been the funniest person alive. Actually, I hate the word person too, why not perdaughter?” Rory said.
Rory talked on for some time, Michelle zoned out and just took it all in. The whole night had been fantastic, they had met at a fundraiser. Rory first caught Michelle’s ear. It was when she overheard Rory repeatedly saying “Doesn’t matter” to a female judge. The judge was asking Rory why companies didn’t just only hire females staff. If they could get away with paying them less.
Michelle and Rory talked at the bar.
They both realised that they had a lot in common. Both of them watched Ghostbusters 2016 on Kodi boxes because it left the cinemas too quickly. Arrest people for googling Souad Faress and the gender suicide gap needs widening.
Rory looked great, suit and tie and Michelle could tell that underneath the body was firm. Rory’s job was in stocks, but Michelle didn’t care, “It’s your politics” she remembers saying back at the bar.
It was the first time that Michelle had said it and meant it. Now she was standing in her kitchen with Rory. Michelle noticed that the talking had stopped.
“Let’s go into the bedroom,” Michelle said, taking Rory’s hand without asking.
“I don’t think I should,” Rory said.
“C’mon you gotta enter into the joie de vivre of it all” Michelle said, pulling him along.
“I love that you know French. You have been reminding me of powerful women the whole night, and now there’s one more,” Rory said.
Michelle went on into her bedroom and turned on the light. Izabella better come back soon. Rory stood at the door.
“Who?” Michelle asked, taking off her earrings and necklace.
“Marine Le Pen,” Rory said. Michelle stopped what she was doing.
“Marine Le Pen, right. Come on in.”
“Can I come into the bedroom?” Rory asked.
“I want you to come into the bedroom,” Michelle said.
“I want to respect you,” Rory said.
“And that is really sexy; I would like it if you came on in”. Michelle said.
“I’m coming into the bedroom,” Rory said.
Rory stood by a chest of drawers, looking for something. Michelle undressed, watching Rory.
“I’m over here,” she said.
“I’m looking for a stand, something to wedge my phone with,” Rory said, scanning the ground.
“Your phone doesn’t need to be out, it’s not going to result in anything good,” Michelle said.
“It’s better to film encounters in case there is a dispute,” Rory said.
“There’s not going to be a dispute, come over here now,” Michelle said. Michelle was naked and under the covers.
Rory stood fully dressed beside the bed and looked down at her.
“Can I take off my clothes, get into bed beside you and kiss you?” Rory asked.
“I’ve wanted you to do that the whole night,” Michelle said. Rory undressed. He got into the bed and kissed Michelle.
“I love how you dealt with that taxi driver. You stand your ground like Arlene Foster,” Rory said between kisses.
“Can I kiss down, your neck and chest until I reach your breasts?” Rory asked.
“Yep,” Michelle said, Rory proceeded.
“You know what I like about your breasts; you have two of them. One breast for each female conservative Prime Minister.” Rory said. “I like how you don’t, hold on, may I put my hand on your genitals?” Michelle shrugged then nodded. “I like how you have a total of zero penis’. You have as many penis’ as Labour have had female leaders. I hate penis’ they disgust me when I first saw one I knew I was a lesbian”.
“Lesbian?” Michelle said.
“Whatever phrase you want to use, some of my friends say, we’re not lesbian we’re lesdoing, I love that.”
“You’re a man.”
“I was born with male anatomy. However you look at it, I’m very much a woman.”
“You wear a suit.”
“I don’t believe in the gender binary.”
“Your name is Rory.”
“Gilmore Girls helped me realise who I was,” Rory said. There was a moment’s silence between the two. Rory got out of bed and started dressing. “You know for a homophobe you sure disguised it well, I’m going to go.”
“I’ve had a lovely evening. However, it’s over. Look it’s not you.”
“I don’t care,” Michelle said.
“It’s your politics.”
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