Magnetic Fields & Electric Fences

It was late, when we stood in a field, with fifty cows. The bull, you said, was two fields down, and you thought it would be funny to let it in this one. I wouldn’t let you. You, who listens to me sing without laughing. Which isn’t easy.

Earlier, when it was light, I sat on your lap while you sat on a picnic table. You came up with lines to let him down with. I liked ‘Let’s just be friends,’ emphasis on ‘for now,’ and ‘I’m unboyfriendable.’ You told me it’s from a song, but you wouldn’t sing it. It wasn’t late enough and you needed more to drink.

Later, in the field, with the cows, we lay down, somewhere we guessed was centre, though is sure to have been off. You said it was the most women you’d slept next to, not just in one night, but always.

‘Me too,’ I said, and you laughed.

‘But you’re not next to any women,’ you told me.

‘I thought you meant the cows,’ I said. ‘The cows are all girls.’

After the lines about the cows, that made you laugh, that shouldn’t have, I thought how I could never use that line on the boy I was meant to, and I couldn’t keep him hanging on either. You fell asleep before I could get you to come up with other options.

The next day we found the bull, three fields down, not two.

‘Not much to do, on his own, is there?’ you said.

‘Too much in the other field though, really.’

I told you then I couldn’t tell the other boy I didn’t want to be with him, with the lines we’d come up with. You thought I meant I chose him, which wasn’t it, Pétur. It really wasn’t.

‘This is where we leave it then,’ you said to me, ‘One wanting to give it a try, and the other, not brave, with not enough charming lines to get them out of dates they said they’d go on.’

So I stood, in that field with one bull, thinking how, three fields down, he had so much choice, but he didn’t know it.

electric

(Originally published on FlashFlood Journal, 19th April 2013)

Advertisements

Julie Delpy

For four weeks Russell’s been researching rail travel, because he wants to be Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise. He’s prepared for other variations if this one won’t work, although he’s not updating Shakespeare, serenading Winona Ryder, or pretending he’s someone he’s not (unless it’s Ethan Hawke, obviously).

I try to be supportive. He asks me, ‘Where can I get a good hamburger?’ until he gets the accent right. We walk around the city, late nights and early mornings, and he keeps saying, ‘I didn’t think it’d be this cold. It didn’t look cold in the film.’ Sometimes, I swear he’s saying ‘Uma Thurman’ under his breath, but he may just be shivering.

He’s got his inter-rail pass already. I bite my lip to stop from saying, ‘This isn’t what Ethan would have, because Ethan’s American.’ I don’t relay any of Russell’s flaws back to him (he really can’t say ‘banana’) because I’m not in the habit of destroying hope.

Before he leaves I ask him, ‘Why Ethan?’ and he mumbles something about oddly tall beautiful women, whilst fastening the clips on his rucksack. I stand on tiptoes, crane my neck and say, ‘You don’t need to travel round Europe for that.’ And then he kisses me continentally, on both cheeks, as his train pulls in.

bs sunrise t

(originally published in Fractured West Issue 3, then on the National Flash Fiction Day blog)

Guest Post by Calum Kerr: Ekphrasis

Originally referring to written pieces describing works of art (specifically sculptures or paintings), the term ‘ekphrasis’ is now used to describe pieces which are in some way connected – through direct inspiration, tangential ideas, use of the title, whatever – to ‘art’ in its broadest form, including music, TV, film and other writing.

As I work mostly from prompts, a huge amount of my work can be considered as falling under that banner. To take the prompts I used in flash365 as an example, I used lines from a song by They Might Be Giants, entitled ‘Fingertips’ for the first 21 days of month 2, and then titles of other songs by them for the rest of the month. In October, I used the titles of books by Barbara Cartland, and in the February, titles of films selected by my mate, Mike; a major film-nut.

In between, although my prompts weren’t necessarily arty or creative – news stories in August, cities and towns in March – the individual stories often came from both the prompt and the intersection with some inspiration borrowed from somewhere else. One example of this is ‘Shock Corridor’ (published on Susi Holliday’s blog). The title is from a film, but the story came to me  from a song a student played to me during a session which was actually on ekphrasis. I can’t remember the song, but I remember the image of the collapsing space-station and the running man coming to me very strongly.

In many cases I don’t even need to know anything about the film or book, the title can work all by itself – as good titles should – to conjure ideas and expectations. In other cases – such as when I used the titles of books in the Old Testament – the titles were often so obscure that I needed to read a synopsis of the book in order to dig up some idea of what to write.

In the main, though, I find that TV, films, music and other written pieces are probably where most of my stories come from. I never borrow or steal directly, but an evocative line of dialogue, the look of a scene, a plot twist not taken, all of these inspire the stories that I go on to write.

The flash accompanying this post (Two-Lane Blacktop) was rejected by Metazen for being ‘too meta’ and was removed from Lost Property at my editor’s suggestion as ‘nothing really seems to happen’. The title is from a movie, and if you Google it, you’ll see it’s described in reviews as a film in which very little happens. So, in that case, I think I got it exactly right. See what you think.

About Calum:

Calum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife –  the writer, Kath Kerr –  their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is now available from Amazon, or direct from the publisher, Cinder House.

Guest Post by Calum Kerr: Two-Lane Blacktop

It was dark and Billy was walking. He hadn’t been walking long, only about fifteen words so far.

Moonlight flared on the fighter’s smile of the white line: Morse dashes floating in the oily black of the road. Billy expected his boots to make sucking, slurping noises as he walked, but all he heard was the clump-slide, clump-slide, clump-slide of one whole and one broken heel.

He looked back, but all was in darkness. He wondered where he had come from but could remember nothing beyond the last two paragraphs. All he could remember was walking.

There were no lights up ahead, either, and no signs to tell him where he was. He could be anywhere, in any black segment of imagination, he couldn’t tell.

Heat was radiating off the blacktop. He must be somewhere hot.

He carried on walking. He could do nothing else.

He wondered about his destination. Did he even have one? Or would he just keep walking forever.

None of it mattered, all there was lay beneath his feet, metered out in slide-clump, slide-clump, slide-clump.

The word ‘blacktop’ tickled through his brain. Blacktop…

America. He must be in America.

That was something, at least.

And as the thought came to him his vista widened. The scrub of desert appeared on either side, pale grey in the moonlight. The line of the road snaked out into the distance, linking his walking feet to the horizon.

He felt a weight lift inside him. He still didn’t really know where he was, but he now knew that he had a path. That was enough for him.

A faint noise came from behind him and conjured a headlight-cast shadow on the road. The car slowed as it reached him, and the window slid down.

“Going far?” asked a woman’s voice.

“About forty words,” replied Billy. His accent sounded mid-Western in his ears.

“What?”

“I don’t know where I’m going,” he said.

“My kinda guy,” the woman said. “Get in.”

Billy climbed into the car and it set off at speed, driving straight out of the story.

2laneblacktop

My Blurb for Nonplaced by Amy Ekins

“These poems have the obsessive quality of Jack Nicholson’s eyes. Intent on logging every detail, each page is a melancholic remembrance, or eulogy, a reminder that we can never really erase anybody. Ekins’ stored snippets are ghost pain, post-amputation, and we’re not ready to move on, or give in. And maybe we won’t be, like, ever.”

jackAmy Ekins is one of the 2013 winners of a Northern Writers’ Award New Poets Bursary. You can buy her pamphlet ‘Nonplaced’ on Amazon or Erbacce now. Her work is forthcoming in Issue 2 of Butcher’s Dog Magazine. Jack Nicholson still has eyes.

Co-written with Laura Tansley: “Heat Death”

(Heat Death: On The Walking Dead and the zombie apocalypse)

The heat death of the universe is more likely than zombies. In all actuality we won’t learn how an axe helve feels when the apocalypse comes. Apocalypse means unveiling anyway, a revelation that will change everything. Just like how, in every end of the world scenario, on TV, in films, books, society’s the same, or it degenerates, slowly at first, until only the women are cooking, and the men are killing, catching, skinning, the sorts of things traditionally we were meant for, if history books are in fact true and not propaganda selling us a sense of home or belonging or substance. Apparently when the world ends every woman peels carrots, puts intricate creases in bed sheets like people might notice, even though in most incarnations of the end times nobody washes their hands after touching corpses, doesn’t think blood from infected parties shouldn’t stay on like blusher, mascara, where it’s accidentally or, sometimes, serendipitously splattered. And decisions are men’s.

The pack mentality is present. The alphas, the betas and a whole mess of gammas. Everyone’s supposed to know their place in this community, to circle the vulnerable, to keep moving, to create a whirlpool in the centre that spirals down to safety. But no-one’s asked who’s good at what; who can run, build, wash, dry, rub, tend. And if you’re out of formation you’re lost, swallowed, suffocated, turned inside out. Aggression’s catching, indiscriminate, there’s no philosophising it. It’s rooted like rot, like mistletoe.

The women need guérrilla tactics.

If they expelled the men then maybe they could hear the wasps chewing the wood of the barn to mulch, spitting paper into the nest to add another layer of protection. Maybe they could follow this low buzz to a nest, smoke out the hive and collect the honey, smear it golden on the backs of their brown hands, glue wounds together with it, trap things with it, gather round and praise it. They’d hush the cicadas with a finger to their lips to hear a footstep a mile off and know to listen not to ignore. In this way maybe they could belong, like the red spots behind sun-shot eyelids, like the comfort of tinnitus.

But without them, without him, she’d miss the sharp edges of his jaw, the way he pushes the seat back in his jeep so she can straddle him better, his action versus her inaction. It’s all sex-and-death, sex-and-someone’s-death, sex-and-a-little-death, sex-to-avoid-death. Sometimes a cliché’s worth carrying, like a handgun in a purse.

Andrea knows she’s homeless. Her home exists somewhere but changed so much she wouldn’t fit back into it, like her high school clothes or book group. She equips herself with guns, wants to know how to hold one accurately from the outset and is mostly mocked for this. The other women make a meal out of cooking, make a show of chopping vegetables without a board, using a thumb as a guard like their mothers used to, peeling towards not away, not slicing like TV chefs, while she keeps watch outside, checking boundaries, fences, wishing her eyesight was what it was in the nineties, a decade she fit in snugly, like ice cubes in ice cube trays.

Before the end started, happened, came, she was a legal secretary, doesn’t miss it, it never defined her, and she didn’t think a situation, group or a place would give her such a hard time as this. Because the research suggests women aren’t cut out for the end times and how is that not terrifying? Why is it assumed if there’s one place women won’t fit it’s in combat, when the world burns, if attack is imminent? Aren’t we past this?

Like rain sounding right on the roves of summerhouses, the plethora of horror films Andrea watched as a teenager seem right, like research, preparation, same as reading the Bible from start to finish in a year. Instead she started with the Scream movies, worked her way back through franchises until she understood what it is to survive, and nobody learnt that watching Dirty Dancing, 27 Dresses. There are some precious rules that she keeps close, like keep fitshoot twice without blinkingdon’t do anything daft like stop to play a piano in an abandoned house because you’d like to hear the out of tune keys clanging and think about how there’ll never be a chance to learn now, how Chopin might be lost forever and all we’re left with is 4’33”on repeat.

But she’s not sentimental for long, could survive under the floorboards of a house for months if she had to, or predict with relative accuracy which shops were worth looting, and which had been picked off already by the undead, and the alive, who are dangerous like archetypal villains in the films she knows better than Shakespeare. And she still prays for a world ending eclipse (the movie Eclipse doesn’t count, although the world’s a little darker because of it) or a comet on its own course, because every predictable thing falls foul to chaos some time, calculations can’t help all decision making, like Snickers or Mars? In that moment, if it’s a choice between dry-panic and calm, she’ll be calm, because depression gathers everything up into a fine point like a statement of intent, ‘this is it.’ Over. Done.

andrea

(Originally appeared online in Friction Magazine and Journal, April 26th 2012. Co-written with Laura Tansley)