My Plan

From time to time, I post short stories that I have written. Helpful comments about what I've written or suggestions for future stories are most welcome. I also have another blog of stories from my family history

Monday, 28 November 2011

Travel Writing

Well, it's been a while since I have posted a story.  I have been working on something a bit longer.  However, I have found some time to have a go at some non-fiction - travel writing.  I hope you like it.


My Impressions of Israel (and Palestine)

After extensive questioning, the El Al officials decided that they would let Angela and me on board our 3pm flight to Israel.  The tour company had advised us to get to the airport in plenty of time and I had heard that El Al had very tight security, so we weren’t surprised about the time it took to check in.  We had some time for duty free shopping at Heathrow before our five hour flight to Tel Aviv.  It was a bit of a bumpy ride but other than that, the flight was fine.
On arrival in Tel Aviv, we were met by our tour guide, Rami, who told us that this was his first ever tour.  This was also the first time he counted the tour group only to find someone missing.  One of our group had been taken aside for detailed questioning and searching by the Israeli officials; fortunately, she wasn’t kept for too long.  Once all fifteen people were accounted for, we headed for our hotel and to bed.  Sleep was not easy to come by as it was a very warm night.

The next morning, Angela and I got to the restaurant early for our very nice breakfast.  While we were waiting, we had a chance to meet some of our fellow tourist, including some of the seven people who weren’t on the flight the day before.
After our meal, our tour group set off for a scenic drive through Tel Aviv with commentary from Rami.  It was the start of a busy day of travel.  Tel Aviv reminded me a bit of Amman in Jordan – lots of pale box shaped buildings; Bauhaus style architecture is a major feature of the city. Eventually, we reached the water front and drove along the seaside boulevard to old Jaffa. 

Jaffa was our first stop and although it was only 9am, it was already really hot. We started our walking tour at a park with a stunning cliff top view over Tel Aviv.  Then we went down though the winding streets of the old town to the port, passing the house of Simon the Tanner; our first encounter with biblical history.   We then got back on the coach and headed for Caesarea.
The remains of Herod’s city of Caesarea are in a lovely location by the Mediterranean Sea.  We walked around the ruins, visiting the theatre and the hippodrome.  Soon, we noticed that, as in many Mediterranean counties, cats are a common feature to be found wondering amid the ruins and alleyways.  A short coach ride took us to the aqueduct and beach for a brief photo stop, followed by a much longer coach ride to Haifa.

In Haifa, our stop was the Baha’i garden, high on a hill overlooking the city.  We had time to stop for photos and a short walk around the gardens.  I think it is the first time I have ever had to go through a security check just to enter a garden. 
At some point during the day we stopped for lunch, I can’t remember when, but I think it was after Haifa.  We stopped at a tourist restaurant where there were several coach loads of people.  It was the first of many meals where the options were pita bread with a choice of falafel, chicken schnitzel or chicken shawarma and accompanied by hummus and salad, with a soft drink.  The prices were pretty much the same at every location.  First time around, it was a good meal but after a week, it got a little boring.

That afternoon, we headed for Acre (or Akko or other variations), our final destination for the day.  We left the coach to go for a walk through the old town, following an introductory film at the local tourist centre.  Unfortunately, one of the ladies from the group snuck off to the toilets without telling our inexperienced guide.  She failed to catch up with the group and a short time later, her husband noticed that she was missing.  He went back to look for her, eventually going back to the coach.  The remainder of the group was led through the crusader era tunnels under the town to the waterfront.  Rami then continued the search for our missing traveller, mostly through a series of phone calls.  Eventually, our lady was found and a meeting point arranged.  In the meantime, we watched the sun setting over the sea and saw some boys diving off the city walls into the sea below.  After the mishap in Acre, Rami got very good a periodically counting us and making sure we had regular toilet breaks.  In my experience of being a tourist, these are two of the most important tasks for any guide.  The day ended with hotel pizza for dinner (there were not really any other options) and another warm night.

Our first destination on a very hot day three of the trip was Nazareth, home to Jesus, Joseph and Mary and also home to our guide and coach driver.  It seems somehow appropriate that we were led around the Holy Land by a man from Nazareth.
In Nazareth, we visited a couple of churches that had been built over the ruins of crusader era churches that had been built over the ruins of Byzantine churches that had been built over Roman ruins that may have been the location of a biblical event or home to a biblical character (apologies for the long sentence).  This was generally the situation with all the churches we visited in Israel.  In my view, some of the locations made sense and seemed reasonable whereas other locations had more tenuous links to the bible stories they commemorate.   The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth was built over a Roman house that apparently had been marked as special by Roman era Christians, which is why it was thought to be the house of Mary.  Also, in Nazareth, we visited a spice shop with huge sacks of colourful and odorous spices.

Our next stop was the ruins of Capernaum.  Here, a modern church had been built over the presumed house of the apostle Peter, suspended in the air with a glass floor so that the house could be viewed beneath it.  We had a chance to wonder around the ruins and to see the Roman synagogue.  This stop was followed by a visits to a few more churches located around the Sea of Galilee.  It was fascinating to see the area where Jesus and his disciples spent much of their time.  The landscape was much hillier and more rugged than I expected, but I could say this about the whole of Israel.
In the afternoon, there was time to relax while we sailed on the Sea of Galilee.  The design of the boats is not thought to have changed much in two thousand years, except for the obvious addition of a motor.  I think everyone enjoyed the boat ride. 

The relaxing continued when we reached the kibbutz that was our home for the night. We stayed in cabins that each had chairs and a table outside.  It was very pleasant sitting around chatting with the others in the tour group and defending our dinners from the local cats and a dog.  It was also at this point that we discovered that the husband of the lady who got lost in Acre had a small set of bagpipes that he carried around in his backpack.  The bagpipes appear and were played from time to time on our travels.
For dinner, we had ventured into an Israeli (or Palestinian?) supermarket for supplies.  It was fun trying to guess what some stuff was thanks to mostly Hebrew labels, however, Angela and I had no problem identifying a packet of Tim Tams for dessert.  For those who don’t know, Tim Tams are a much loved brand of chocolate biscuits from Australia.

Day four of the tour involved more ancient history and the Dead Sea.  The first stop was Bet She’an, a Roman city next to a large tell with about 20 layers of civilisation.  I really liked Bet She’an.  What made it different to other Roman cities I have visited was the colours; the city was a mix of white marble columns and black basalt blocks.
Jericho was our next stop.  Entering Jericho meant leaving disputed territory and no-man’s land and entering Palestine proper.  Old Jericho is an archaeological site with a number of trenches but no reconstruction, so there is not much to see in a quick visit.  The modern town has a very large old sycamore tree that may (or, possibly, may not) be the one that Nicodemus climbed so that he could see Jesus, two thousand years ago.  We also had time in Jericho for souvenir shopping in a designated shop, the speciality being beautiful Hebron (or Phoenician) glass – yes, I did buy a small piece.  Getting out of the coach in the town centre was not allowed as it was not safe.

Our third stop was Qumran, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Unlike Jericho, Qumran has been very well set up for tourists, complete with a huge souvenir shop and restaurant (more Pita with Falafel or Shawarma).   In addition to the caves where the scrolls were found, there is a settlement that has been excavated and plenty of information about the life of the Essenes who lived there.  A lot of it seemed to involve baths.
In the afternoon, we went swimming (or rather floating) in the Dead Sea.  The general consensus of our group was that the Jordanian side was better when it came to swimming.  Quite a few people on the tour had been to Jordan and most had been to other Arabic countries; everyone seemed to have saved Israel to last because of the restrictions that can come from having an Israeli stamp in a passport.

That night it was another (rather nice) kibbutz.  For dinner, most of us went out to a café for dinner.  Options were very limited because it was a holiday in Israel (Sukkot, the Jewish New Year) and most places were closed.  The highlight of the evening was finding a fish shaped tambourine in one of the shops near the café – the ultimate in tacky souvenirs.
The next morning, our first destination was a National Park to see some wildlife – the Syrian Ibex.  We got lucky and found some quite quickly, thanks to our eagle eyed driver.  Some of the animals were obliging enough to come quite close to the coach so we could get some good photographs.  We were also lucky to see some hyraxes (which look like gophers).

After a scenic drive along the Dead Sea, we came to Masada, one of the highlights of the trip. Masada is an impressive site (and sight); the plateau really stands out from the other mountains in the area.  We took the cable car to the top of the mountain and had time to explore the hill top site.  The ramp the Romans built during their siege of the fort circa 70 AD is still there, as are the siege walls and camps.  The views from the top are spectacular; rugged mountains to the west and the Dead Sea to the east.   It was very hot though, with very little shade.  Trees are not easy to find in the Israeli desert.

Our next stop was not far from Masada, but it was quite a long drive as the road didn’t go directly to the Bedouin camp that we were visiting for a camel ride and for lunch.  The camel ride was fun.  On this occasion, there were two people riding each camel.  Angela and I shared one.  On the way up a hill, the camel at the front of our string refused to move and the order had to be changed so that a more amenable animal was in the lead.

After our late lunch, we set of for Jerusalem, reaching the city after dark.  After a bit of a break at our hotel, some of us headed for Mamila, a fancy new open air mall near the old city.  Our guide, Rami, had given us strict instructions about what areas were safe and what areas should be avoided.  Angela and I were not really hungry, due to the heat and a big lunch, so we spent a couple of hours investigating the many jewellery shops and looking for possible venues for dinner on other nights (however we never made it back to Mamila).
Our first full day in Jerusalem started with a drive around the outskirts of the city, followed by a visit to Yad Veshem, the Holocaust museum.  The museum is well designed but is very full-on and intense.  Angela and I both felt that it was a bit of “information overload”, so we moved through it quite quickly.  However, I am sure that anyone who had a direct link to the Holocaust, or who wanted to know all the details of the horror, could easily spend several hours there. 

Rami told us to make sure we visit the children’s memorial while we were there.  I thought this was the best thing at Yad Veshem.  It was quite a simple memorial but very moving.  It is a dark space with candles and mirrors, which makes it almost look like the night sky, and a voice reading out the names of child victims of the Holocaust.
We next visited the Israeli Museum, mainly to see the Shrine of the Book, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Many of the scrolls on display are facsimiles rather than the originals, though.  The museum has a very large and impressive model of Roman era Jerusalem, showing the Jewish temple, which we also had a good look at.  We had a little free time, so I managed to pay a quick visit to the archaeological section of the museum.

In the afternoon, we went to Bethlehem.  We had to bring our passports for this, although we didn’t end up needing them, as Bethlehem is in Palestine.  We visited the Church of the Nativity.  Apparently, we were lucky that there were very few tourists there and so we were able to get into the small subterranean room that marks the presumed birth place of Jesus quite quickly.  The monks at the church were holding a mass while we were there and they weren’t happy when a group of pilgrims started to sing.  While in Bethlehem, we had time for souvenir shopping.  Bethlehem is the place for buying olive wood carvings.
In the evening, we were dropped off by the gates of the old city and we had our first chance to venture a little way inside the walls.  There was a group of five of us sticking together.  As it was Friday and the sun was setting, we had the experience of nearly being bowled over by the many orthodox Jews who were rushing to get to the Wailing Wall.  Often, it was men pushing prams or dragging a string of several small children along behind them.  Initially, we thought the rush was because the sun was about to set, marking the beginning of the Sabbath, but the following day we realised that this is just how the orthodox Jews in Jerusalem seem to move about.  They make London commuters look slow.

As all the shops were closing due to the Sabbath staring, we went back to the hotel and after a short break, went to a very nice local restaurant for dinner.  My impression was that the standard restaurant cuisine in Israel is Italian in style – lots of pasta and pizza, which is what we ate that night.
The final day of our tour was spent exploring the old city of Jerusalem.  We started off at the Mount of Olives, looking across to the old city and the Dome of the Rock.  We then set of walking down the hill, stopping a t a few churches along the way.  The most impressive is the very modern Church of all Nations at the bottom of the hill.  It is beautifully decorated both inside and out.  From there, we crossed the main road at the bottom of the valley before heading to the Lion Gates to enter the old city.

Not far from the gates, we visited the church that marks the spot where Mary, mother of Jesus, was said to have been born (I don’t remember that bible story), which is also next to the remains of the pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a blind man.  Around this area, there was a group of Brazilian pilgrims wearing what appeared to be high vis vests.  They kept getting in the way of photos.
From here, we returned to the Via Dolorosa and followed the Stations of the Cross through old Jerusalem to the church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The church was completely chaotic and overcrowded.  I couldn’t wait to get out of there and have no idea whether what I saw was everything I was supposed to look out for.

Next stop was the room of the Last Supper.  The most interesting thing about it was the lookout on the roof, where my main impression was that it was a long way from the Garden of Gethsemane.
Our final destination for the organised part of the day was the Wailing Wall.  As it was still the Sabbath, we were not supposed to take pictures, as that is considered work.  The wall is split into two sections, one for men and one for women.  It was fascinating to see the Jewish men, several rows deep praying and socialising at the wall, it was very unstructured.  There were nowhere near as many women at their section of the wall and we were able to go right up to the wall.

We had several hours of free time in the afternoon, before we were due to set off on a night time tour of the city.  Angela and I did some final shopping, had some fresh pomegranate juice (yum!) before heading back to the hotel for a rest and to pack.  On the night time tour, we re-visited some of the scenic places we had already seen during the day, but there is always something special about a city lit up a night.  In Jerusalem, it was the brightly lit gold Dome of the Rock.

It was a great tour and I had a lot of fun with a great group of people.  I took about eight hundred photos that I could use to illustrate this story, but I have restrained myself.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Michelle's Morning

Here is my Flash Fiction Friday story for this week.  The story prompt:

Prompt: The aftermath of being late. Late. Late!
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1000 words

I hope you enjoy it.


‘Michelle, how come you’re not up yet? Are you sick or something?  I thought you had that meeting today.’ came a voice from the doorway, her flatmate.
‘What?’ Michelle mumbled, her head still on her pillow.  She heard the door close.  Pushing the covers away from her face, she turned to look at her alarm clock.  It was five minutes past seven. Michelle was instantly out of bed and on her feet.  Surely she had remembered to set her alarm clock.  She always set her alarm clock for half past six.  How could it be after seven?  She needed to leave by seven thirty to arrive at work by eight thirty.  Her commute took an hour, on a good day.  She was supposed to have a meeting with the departmental manager later that morning.
Dashing to the bathroom, Michelle shot a ‘thanks’ at her flatmate who was eating toast in the kitchen.  Michelle tore off her nightdress.  She turned on the shower.  While she waited for it to warm up, she decided that there was no time to wash her hair.  The shower wasn’t heating up.  There was a knock on the bathroom door.
‘Sorry, Michelle, there’s something wrong with the shower, we’ll have to call the landlord.’ said the flatmate.
Michelle turned off the shower.  After glancing at the bathtub, she decided on a quick wash at the sink.  It was going to be a day for strong perfume and a ponytail.  Feeling not quite clean, Michelle returned to her bedroom.  It was seven twenty.  She grabbed the first skirt and shirt that came to hand.  Once dressed, Michelle glanced in the mirror.  There was a stain on the front of her shirt.  Stripping it off, she grabbed another from the wardrobe.  Michelle looked at it carefully before putting it on.
Michelle slipped on some shoes, grabbed her handbag and keys and ran for the door.  Her flatmate waved a cup of coffee in her direction.
‘No time, sorry.’
The flatmate, who worked at a school that was within walking distance, shrugged and drank the coffee herself as Michelle left the flat.  It was seven thirty.  Michelle was on time.  She walked downstairs and stepped out into a bright sunny morning.  After her earlier mad dash, she felt better.  It was a five minute walk to the Underground station, enough time to gather her  thoughts.
On reaching the station, Michelle went to pull her ticket out of the pocket on the side of her handbag, where she always kept it.  There wasn’t a pocket.  It was the wrong handbag.  She checked inside.  Her purse wasn’t there either, nor was her phone.  The only option was to return home. So, Michelle turned around and hurried back to her flat.  Half way there, she felt her ankle slip sideways.  There was no pain, but looking down, she saw that the heel on her shoe had snapped.  Michelle hobbled the rest of the way to her flat, one shoe on.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked the flatmate, as Michelle walked through the door.  Michelle silently held up the shoe as she went to her bedroom.
A few minutes later, Michelle had a new pair of shoes on and the right handbag, with all her bits and pieces in it.  It was ten minutes to eight.  As she left the house, Michelle decided to send her boss a text to let him know she was running late.  He wouldn’t be happy but it was always better to let him know in advance rather than just walk in late.  The battery was flat.
As she approached the station, Michelle thought that there were a lot of people standing outside.  The closer she got, the worse it looked.  The sight was all too familiar.  There must be a problem with the trains.  Michelle heard someone say the words dreaded by all London commuters, ‘signal failure’ and ‘suspended’.  Michelle knew, from experience, that it would be at least half an hour before the trains were running again, if she was lucky. 
While mentally running through the alternatives, Michelle decided to get a coffee at the stall next to the station.  Finally something went right; there was only one person ahead of her.  Coffee in hand, Michelle decided to catch the bus to a nearby station that was on a different underground line.  Everyone else was apparently thinking something similar.  A large queue was forming at the bus stop.  Michelle joined it.  It was nine o’clock.  Three buses and fifteen minutes later, Michelle finally got on one.
Michelle stood on the bus, holding a rail with one hand, sipping that last bit of coffee from the cup in the other.  The bus jolted and a loud bang came from outside.  Something hit Michelle on the back. It was warm liquid.
‘So sorry! My coffee!’ a woman exclaimed.
Michelle just shrugged; it was just one more disaster for the morning.  Peering over the heads of the other passengers, Michelle could see that there had been an accident a few cars ahead.  Moments later, passengers started asking the bus driver to open the doors and let them out. The bus driver obliged.  Along with most of the other passengers, Michelle got off the bus.  It was a half hour walk to the other station or a fifteen minute walk home.
Giving up on trying to get to work, Michelle returned home.  It was after nine thirty.  She was over an hour late.   She plugged her phone in and waited a few moments for some charge.  Then she called in sick, apologising for not calling earlier.  Michelle went and lay down on her bed, exhausted by her fruitless attempt to get to work.
About an hour later, Michelle turned on the television.  Instead of the usual day time TV, there was a news bulletin. Two underground trains had collided and derailed.  At least ten people had been killed and many injured.  If Michelle had been on time, she would have been on one of those trains.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Flash Fiction Friday - Merlin and Arthur

This is my Flash Fiction Friday story for this week.  The story is inspired by a photo of an old man sitting on a train.
The word count for this week is 1000, which is really a little short for the story I've written so I think it ends a bit abruptly, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.
Merlin glared along the train at the young man sitting in the corner.  They were travelling incognito because of a rumour that the young man had heard a few days earlier.  Merlin wasn’t good at incognito as he absolutely refused to shave or even trim his beard.  It was his pride and joy; and an integral part of his identity.  How could he possibly be recognised as a master wizard without a long flowing beard?  Arthur was looking back up the train at Merlin with a smile.  Arthur looked like he should always have a flagon of beer in his hand and be singing drunken songs, which indeed he often did.  Merlin and Arthur together looked too strange and they bickered too much not to be noticed.  On their own and in the right environment, such as the New York Metro, they didn’t attract quite so much attention.
‘Merlin, I have a lead on the sword.  A good one this time.’ Arthur had said a few days earlier.
They had been following false rumours for years.  Legend said that if only Arthur could retrieve the sword, Excalibur, he could take back what was rightfully his.  Arthur was the eternal king of the Kingdom of Albion.  Merlin realised that few in the modern world believed in magic swords or magical kingdoms, but he knew they were real.
‘What is the lead, Arthur?’ Merlin had asked in a voice infused with weary scepticism.
‘It’s in private hands, in New York.  We’ll have to go undercover.  It’s a good lead.  I promise.  Really!’
 Arthur was excited.  He liked adventure, especially when it meant going undercover.  Merlin had long since grown bored with Arthur’s antics, but he had no other choice but to go along with them because they only had each other.   Of course, there was always the chance that Arthur had actually stumbled across the truth.  Merlin thought it unlikely, but he never quite gave up hope.  Given enough time, surely they would find the sword.  They had all the time in the world.
                ‘The collector is rich and has English ancestors.  The rumour is that it’s been with his family for hundreds of years.   They weren’t always well known or rich, which is why we hadn’t heard of them before.  They just had the sword, hidden away.  The rumour says that they know what the sword is.’
                ‘Purely out of interest, Arthur, where did you hear this rumour?’ asked Merlin.
                ‘From a man in a pub.’
Merlin shook his head at this.  However, he ended up going along with Arthur, like he always did.  Unfortunately, electromagnetic signals interfered with magic and this meant that spells could have even more unexpected results that in more primitive times, so Merlin didn’t even have his magic as a distraction from his eternal boredom.  With the sword, they could put an end to much that Merlin found unpleasant.
                ‘I hope we don’t live to regret this.’ said Merlin as he always did in these circumstances.  His hope had thus far always proved false.
                ‘It will be fine.’ said Arthur, always wrong.
Merlin’s troubles started many years ago when he had gone off with Arthur on a quest for the Holy Grail.  At the time, he didn’t think it existed.  After all, why would anyone still have a cup used at a party five hundred years earlier?  And why should it have special powers, just because someone who some thought to be the son of God had drunk from it?  Merlin had always been a sceptic, in spite of his magical powers.  Much to his surprise, they found the Grail.  Even more surprising, it did make anyone who drank from it immortal, although he and Arthur didn’t realise this until later.  It froze them at the age they were when they drank.  No one else drank from the cup and they had hidden it really well.
Arthur arranged everything.  He always looked after the plans because he was the original prince charming and could get anyone to give him whatever he wanted.  Merlin was a grumpy old man and could turn people against him with a glance.
                ‘Right Merlin, this is the plan.  We fly to New York, by plane rather than magic, then we find the house where the sword is and then we take it back. Easy!’ Arthur’s enthusiasm was almost contagious.
                ‘Do you know the address?’ asked Merlin, knowing Arthur’s haphazard approach to details.
                ‘Merlin, why do you doubt me? Of course I’ve got the address and, you’ll be really impressed, I have the plans of the house and I know what room the sword is in.’
‘It’s about time.’ Merlin was genuinely impressed.
After their trouble free flight arrived in New York, Arthur presented Merlin with his outfit.
                ‘See, the shirt says “Navy”.’ Arthur pointed out unnecessarily. ‘I saw it and thought of the lady of the lake.  Water, you know…’
Merlin took the shirt without a word.  He had a bad feeling about this, but then he had a bad feeling about everything.  The shirt was a little too big.
So Merlin found himself sitting on the train, glaring at Arthur, mainly out of habit.  He found it best to start by assuming that Arthur had made a mistake and was going to mess up as it saved time later.
To Merlin’s surprise, the adventure continued smoothly.  They reach found the house and no one was home.
                ‘They’re on holiday until next week.’ said the ever confident Arthur.
Merlin used some minor magic to unlock the doors and turn off the security alarm.  Arthur led the way to a basement room.  The two men paused in the doorway, stunned by what they saw.   The room was lined with stone and was empty apart from a large block of stone sticking up from the middle of the floor.  A sword hilt stood on the stone.
                ‘Excalibur…’ Arthur whispered before striding to the stone and pulling the sword out with ease.
Merlin was speechless.  Their quest was over.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

A Happy Story

Here is a Flash Fiction Friday story, with the following prompt:

Today, the goal is to get optimistic … to be whimsical … to conjure a feeling of lighthearted wonder in your reader (and yourself). Prompt: Be Happy – Write a positive story.
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1000 words
My happy story has come out sounding a bit like a childrens story.  Enjoy!

Pepper and the Hedgehogs
It was the first warmish day early in spring, so Pepper was due to go and colour the blossoms on the fruit trees.  Pepper was a fairy.  She lived at the bottom of a large garden, in a mass of brambles, along with a fairy queen and some other fairies.  Each spring, the fairy queen sent the fairies out to make the garden look beautiful.
Being a fairy, Pepper could fly.  She had beautiful gold filigree wings.  Her hair was the colour of a rainbow.  Most days, Pepper wore a bright red dress, which contrasted nicely with her pale olive green skin.  Colours mattered a lot to her.  Like all fairies, Pepper was very small.  If a human ever spotted her from a distance, for she was careful to never be seen up close, she would look like a large dragon fly.
 “This year, Pepper, you must remember that cherry blossoms should be pink, a pale pink… and apple blossoms are white, so you shouldn’t go near them at all.” said the Fairy queen, just before dawn on that warm day.  The large garden had a several fruit trees.
“Yes, your highness.” said Pepper, “but there are so many pretty colours and it seems a shame not to use them.”
“I do not want any more episodes like the roses last year.” said the Fairy Queen sternly.
Last spring, after obediently colouring the fruit trees more or less as instructed, Pepper had lapsed by painting each rose on each bush a different colour.  Sadly, another fairy had soon spotted this and alerted the Fairy Queen.  She corrected it before any human had seen the strange sight of multi-coloured rose bushes. It was easy to change flowers from white to a colour but not so easy to change between colours or back to white.  Each plant was supposed to have the same coloured flowers from year to year, as Pepper had learnt at fairy school.
“I will be checking your work closely, now go out and see to the cherry trees.” said the Fairy Queen, before dismissing Pepper with a stern nod.
Pepper flew out of the brambles, heading towards the orchard.  It was windier than she expected; a warm wind coming from the south carrying old leaves from the previous autumn with it.  Soon, a gust caught Pepper and blew her towards the wood pile along the back fence between the brambles and the orchard.  Pepper grabbed onto a splinter of wood to stop her self being carried any further by the wind. 
Glancing down, she saw a grumpy hedgehog.  Pepper felt that she was very perceptive of people’s, or in this case, animal’s, moods and she liked everyone to be happy.  Bright colours made people happy.  That was why Pepper had made the multi-coloured roses the year before; it hadn’t worked though, because the Fairy Queen wasn’t happy.
Looking at the hedgehog, Pepper decided that one reason why the hedgehog must be unhappy was because he was all brown.  It briefly occurred to Pepper that all hedgehogs were brown and that maybe he was used to it.  She very quickly dismissed this thought, deciding that this hedgehog was a particularly dull brown.  To cheer up the hedgehog, Pepper waved her wand and turned his quills a bright buttercup yellow.  Now, he looked nice and cheery.
“Hello mister hedgehog.” said Pepper. “What do you think of your new quills?”
“What new quills?” said the hedgehog grumpily.
“Can you see them?  No, I suppose not when you are unrolled like that” she replied, please that she had read his mood correctly.
The hedgehog curled into a ball so that he could see of his quills. “Ooh, I say.  That’s a very nice colour.  My friends will be jealous... do you think you could colour their quills as well?  They don’t all have to be yellow.  One of my friends is particularly fond of red.”
“I didn’t know that hedgehogs liked different colours.” said Pepper.  She was very excited. “I would love to help your friends.”  Pepper looked around as if expecting to see more hedgehogs.  “Where are they?”
“They are not here.  They are in other parts of the garden. I can’t wait to show them my new quills.  Let’s go.”
So Pepper followed the yellow hedgehog.  They set off towards the rose bushes, Pepper fluttering around the hedgehog’s head, chattering away.
 “Mr Hedgehog, why were you grumpy this morning?” Said Pepper
“Oh, because I just woke up from hibernation and was hungry.” said the yellow hedgehog.
Along the way, the hedgehog found a few grubs to eat.  On reaching the garden bed, the hedgehog called out “Heddy! Heddy! Where are you?”
There was a snuffling followed by the appearance of a hedgehog who said. “Ooh, Hoggy, you’re yellow!”
“Yes! It’s thanks to this fairy.” said the yellow Hoggy. “Would you like red quills?”
“Ooh, really, can I?” said Heddy.  With that, Pepper pulled out her wand.
By the end of the afternoon, there were two more red hedgehogs, three blue ones, one green and one pink.  All of them were very pleased with their new quills.
Very tired from making all of the hedgehogs very happy, Pepper headed back to the brambles to have a rest.  It was only when she got back that she remembered the cherry blossoms.  It was too late to do anything about it, so Pepper decided to go to her room and to go to bed.  The next morning, she reported for duty as normal.
“Pepper, the cherry blossoms are looking very pale this year.” said the Fairy Queen. “Very pale indeed, in fact they could almost be considered to be white.”
“I think they will gain some colour in the early morning Sun.” said Pepper. “Actually, I am absolutely sure of this and will go out to check myself, just to make sure.”
You do that Pepper... you do that.” the Queen replied. “And look out for the hedgehogs. I hear that they have come out of hibernation early this year.”

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


This is my first attempt at Flash Friday Fiction (  The story prompt for this week:
Teenagers in Space -
Themed word list: Plutonium, galaxy, robot, photon, and lasers
Genre: Sci-fi, Sci-fi/coming of age or sci-fi/romance
Word Count: 1,300 words
Xelon looked out of the portal at the planet he longed to visit.  Its beautiful blue green surface seemed so inviting compared to the inky blackness of space.  There were stars and galaxies in space that interrupted the black, but they were merely unreachable pin-pricks of light to Xelon. A nearby planet that nearly filled the portal was a much more attractive object.  With his parents busy working and living on the space station that was orbiting the Earth, Xelon had never been down to the planet; he desperately wanted to go there. 
Because gravity was lower in the space station than on Earth, it was generally accepted that if you hadn’t spent substantial time on Earth by the time you were about sixteen, then it would be very detrimental to your health to ever go there.  Gravity was kept low on the station to match Martian gravity, as most people who lived on or passed through the station were more likely to end up in the Martian or Moon bases than on Earth.  Earth people tended to stay on the planet.  Xelon was fourteen and he knew that he had to go to Earth soon if he was ever going to go.  His parents weren’t interested in him going.  They wanted him to take an apprenticeship on Mars in the plutonium mines.  The money was good.  Time spent on Earth adjusting to the gravity there would cause health problems later on Mars.  Xelon didn’t care about money.  He wanted adventure. 
As his parents wouldn’t help him, it would be difficult to get to earth, Xelon realized.  There was a need for passports and permits that required parental approval, which wouldn’t be forthcoming in Xelon’s case.  Some of his school mates have been more fortunate with their parents sending them to Earth for their last years of schooling.  Xelon did have a plan, though.  He would stowaway.  It was simple, really; he would hide in a supply box.  Supply boxes were for food and other organic supplies from the Space Station, the Moon or Mars and they had to be shipped in pressurized and aerated compartments.   With money given to him on his last Birthday, Xelon had paid one of the porters to help him.  It was all arranged that he would go in the next big shipping run, which was due to go the following day.  Xelon was so close to getting to Earth, he could feel it.
The next morning, Xelon skipped school and went to find the porter.  The porter was waiting for him in the store room, as arranged.  It seemed that everything was going to plan.  Xelon climbed into the supply box, which was just big enough that he didn’t feel too cramped.  With him, he had some supplies that would get him through the 10 hour journey to Earth and his backpack containing his most treasure possessions.  Following his arrival on Earth, he had arranged for one of his school colleagues to meet him. 
Xelon felt the supply box move and then a little while later, felt it being strapped into place, presumably in the transporter ship.  Soon, the thrust of the transporter made Xelon feel as heavy as he had ever felt in his life.  It wasn’t very comfortable and for the first time, Xelon wondered what Earth gravity would feel like.  He had never been off the space station so he had only ever experienced the one level of gravity.  Soon, the heaviness disappeared and was replaced by weightlessness. Not long after that, Xelon discovered that weightlessness in a confined space was not very comfortable.  He had been warned about nausea, which he didn’t feel, but not about the awkwardness of trying to avoid his pack and supplies floating around and, occasionally, into him.
Ten hours later, Xelon was desperate to get out of his box.  His torch battery was going flat.  It had been very difficult to eat or drink anything without gravity and relieving himself had been a bit messy as well.  So what had started out as a fun adventure had, within hours, turn rather dark, smelly and uncomfortable.  Then, what must have been Earth gravity kicked in.  Xelon felt pushed into the base of the box and he could hardly move.  When he thought that the movement of the transport had stopped, indicating that they must have landed, instead of feeling excitement, he just felt heavy.
A short time later, Xelon felt the supply box being released from its moorings and being moved.  Every bump was painful and made him feel heavier but the journey didn’t last long.  There were voices and then the lid was opened.  The face looking down on Xelon wasn’t his school mate but a muscular man of uncertain age and very short hair.  Xelon recognized an Agent when he saw one.  No one else had hair like that or the ice hard expression in their eyes.  The Agent had a photon laser in hand.  This meant trouble.
“Do you really think that you could disappear for ten hours from the space station without anyone noticing?” asked the Agent.  “I would ask you to get out of the box, but you’re used to Mars G so I know you can’t move and that you will come along quietly.”
Xelon just looked up at the man, knowing he was right because whatever Xelon might want to do, he was stuck at the bottom of the box and couldn’t move.  Rather than remove Xelon and his pack from the box, the put the box on small hover platform and carried him to the back of a truck.  So far, in his short experience of Earth, it wasn’t looking much different to the Space station.
Three months later, Xelon found himself sitting in a garden attached to the rehabilitation centre, where he had been placed while he adjusted to gravity, pondering his fate.  It turned out that teenage stowaways from the space station and the Moon base were common.  A whole industry had been set up to deal with them.  They weren’t sent back where they came from, as they were viewed as potential trouble makers and having such characters on a space station was deemed too risky.   A single thoughtless act could result in many deaths in space.  Instead, the teenagers went through physical therapy to adjust to Earth gravity and were allowed to finish their education.  Then they were sent out to work in jobs that were considered too menial for anyone to bother making robots to do them.  There they worked until they had paid for their treatment and schooling.
It seemed that it would be some time before Xelon experienced any adventure.  He soon discovered that most Earth cities had been developed in a way that left them looking similar to the Space station, the only difference being gardens and the open sky above.  The novelty of the uninspired city gardens had soon worn off.  There was a very limited variety of trees and flowers grown and no grass at all.  Xelon heard stories about the countryside that had been allowed to go back to its natural state after too many years of human interference.  People were rarely allowed to visit the countryside.
Gradually, it dawned on Xelon that life of Earth was not unlike life on the Space Station.  The only difference was that on the Space Station, he had a family and friends who loved him.  Xelon looked up into the night sky.  He could see one pin-prick of that was much brighter and bigger than the others moving quite fast across the sky.  It was not a star, but the space station.  He longed to go back there to see his family and maybe travel onwards to Mars.  Xelon longed for adventure.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

First Story - Percy the Pink Dragon

 This is a light hearted story I wrote on St David's Day this year. I got my ideas from legends about Welsh Dragons, combined with a related discussion with a couple of work colleagues.
Percy was a pink Dragon.  He was a magenta shade almost as dark as red but still very definitely pink.  Most dragons are either Red or White.  Percy’s brothers and sister were either one colour or the other; none of them was the mixture like he was.  In fact, Percy hadn’t ever met any other pink dragons.  There were plenty of rumours and legends about pink dragons, but these dragons were always somewhere else, at another time.  Still, as Percy was undeniably pink, it was obviously possible for there to be pink dragons.
No one knew why some dragons were born red and some white, so there was no chance of explaining why Percy was Pink.  Both of his parents were red, but further back in his ancestry, there was a mix of the colours, the same as with all dragons.  There had been five eggs in Percy’s clutch and the others were red or white.  The only clue to something odd in Percy’s family was that one of his cousins was white but had one red leg.  Both Percy and his cousin were singled out for special attention, particularly by the other young dragons.  Special attention wasn’t always good.  They were teased for being different.
The elders, however, were very pleased with Percy because the best and more fantastical legends in his clan’s histories often featured a pink dragon at some point. By his very existence, Percy gave weight to the truth of the legends.  Because he was singled out by the elders, the other young dragons were jealous and this gave them another reason to pick on Percy.
Percy’s dragon clan lived high in the Scottish Cairngorm mountains, far in the north and hidden away from human settlements.  However, the dragon legends mostly told tales from many hundreds of years ago when they had lived further south in the Welsh Breacon Beacons, making them Welsh dragons and not really Scottish.  In those days, the only people to be found in the area lived very wild lives, mostly hunting but also farming small holdings, growing just enough to survive, and fighting wars with neighbouring tribes.  On the whole, these people had shown little interest in the dragons.  On the few occasions when dragons and people had met, the people showed due respect.  Now, people just didn’t see the dragons.  This was because being magical creatures, only those who believe in them can see dragons and so few people believe now. 
Percy had seen people at a distance, when he had been flying over the mountains but he tried to avoid them most of the time.  This was not because they posed any danger, but because they looked so tasty and tempting a food.  Recent experience had taught the dragons that eating humans tended to lead to vast numbers of people coming into their territory, trying to find the missing person.  Because there was no body to find, the searching tended to last quite a while and risked leading to further disappearances and searches.  In addition to these problems, one of the legends said that Pink Dragons were the easiest for humans to see, but generally the humans had to have consumed a lot of alcohol or other mind altering substances to see a pink dragon.  As most human’s didn’t believe dragons existed, stories were told about pink elephants and flying pigs instead.  So, Percy was encouraged to avoid areas where people were likely to be.  Instead, he spent a lot of his time around his home settlement.
As pink dragons were the main characters in so many of the legends, Percy liked listening to them.  He often spent time with the elders, asking them to retell the stories.  Everyone’s favourite story was the one about the first pink dragon.
*             *             *
Once, when all of the Dragons had lived in the Breacon Beacons, there had been red clans and there had been white clans. The two colours of dragons kept separate from each other and when dragons of the two colours met, there were fights.  This feuding got so bad, that several dragons were killed and humans had started to notice the fighting.  Some dragons were tricked into taking sides with the people in human battles that were being fought at the time. Soon it seemed that the dragons were fighting in place of the humans, as they were so much bigger and better at it.  Once the dragons realised what was going on, the leader of the white dragons and the leader of the red dragons decided to fight a duel to end the slaughter of their clans.  Dragon duels were fought in caves deep under the mountains, where there were no witnesses; whoever emerged from the caves was the winner.  If both made it out, they had to go back and finish the fight.  So the two warring dragons headed for the caves.  For days, there were constant rumbles as the dragons fought below ground.  These lessened over time, but just when everyone, dragon and human, thought it was all over, there would be another faint rumble.  This went on for months and months.  The rumbles were heard less and less. Eventually, it was all quiet, but no dragon emerged from the caves.
 By this time, the red dragons and the white dragons had spent a lot of time together awaiting the outcome of the duel.  They had realised that in fact, they weren’t that different to each other and that with a bit of effort, they could get along.
At about this time, a young human man came along to find out the result of the fight.  He had to let the humans know which army was the victor and so the winner of the disputed territory.  The dragons explained that it was against their tradition to interfere with a duel; however the young man was insistent and said that he would go down into the cave.  After much discussion, it was decided that an elder of each colour would accompany the man into the cave.
The trio travelled deep into the cave.  There they found a strange site.  There was no sign of the either of the duelling dragons.  All there was, in the largest of the caves, was an egg.  To the dragons, it looked like an ordinary dragon egg.  They couldn’t see anything special about it, other than that it was beginning to crack.  The two elders stood back and watched as the baby dragon broke its way into the world.  In the dark of the cave, the baby looked red.  Therefore, the red dragon elder claimed this as victory for his clan.  The white dragon was not happy.  The man merely looked bemused at the bickering of the dragons and suggested that they take the small dragon out of the cave.  The red dragon carefully picked up the baby and the trio returned to the surface.
Meanwhile, a crowd of dragons and people had gathered around the entrance to the cave to await the outcome of the duel. As the trio emerged from the caves, there were roars of shock from the dragons, which made the people run for cover.  What had shocked the dragons was that the baby wasn’t a red dragon, or a white dragon, it was very definitely pink.  In the daylight, this so shocked the red dragon who was carrying the baby, that he nearly dropped it.
Apart from being pink, the baby dragon looked healthy.  One of the mother dragons, who had a new clutch of her own to look after, offered to take care of the pink baby.  As no one could think of what else to do, this was quickly agreed to.  The dragon and human elders then settled down to discussing the pink dragon.
*             *             *
Percy wasn’t so bothered about the rest of the story because it was about politics, which he thought was boring.  However, he knew that in the end, the fighting stopped because it was agreed that the pink baby was a sign that no one could win the war.

The end...
for now...