I belong to Uxbridge Writers' Circle, and during each of our monthly meetings we are given a "write-on-the-spot" challenge, with ten minutes to write - no editing! We usually have a selection or pictures or words to stimulate us. Here are some of my more recent attempts (what would you have written?):
(Prompt was a picture of a bridge over a canal).
The bridge loomed ahead. Terry rode his bicycle with a casual nonchalance, almost invisible to anyone else on the tow path. The few lights attached to the old, derelict buildings were reflected in the almost still water of the canal, but weren’t sufficient to illuminate the path or reveal Terry’s presence. He had no lights on his bike and it make little noise as the tires squelched into the sodden ground.
The bridge was not as high as he remembered. An old railway bridge, it had seemed enormous and dominant in the landscape when he was a boy. It disappointed him now. It’s height from the surface of the water was less than he needed, and the canal was deeper than he’d hoped.
He leaned his rusty bike against the cold, dank walls under the bridge, and climbed the slimy, slippery slope of the bank up to the railway tracks. As he stood beside the tracks and gazed down at the black water below, her realized he couldn’t do it. He didn’t want to at all, in fact. He wouldn’t have cooked up such an ineffective plan to end it all if he’d been serious.
A lightness washed over him – a weight off his shoulders. He wasn’t truly suicidal. He just needed help. Someone to listen. Someone who understood what it was like to lose a child and who could help him to get his life back.
Vicky Earle Copyright 2019
(Prompt was a picture of tables with umbrellas on the beach)
The heat intensified to the point that it was too painful for Joan to walk on the sand in bare feet. She was late, beads of sweat covering her upper lip, lethargy seeping into her muscles as she struggled to put her sandals on. The sun radiated off the sea, dazzling her as she made her way to the only table which was effectively shaded by an umbrella. Most of the large orange canvas coverings were tilted the wrong way or long ago broken and no longer attempting to do their work.
He wasn't sitting in his usual seat.
Her heart missed a beat as she scanned the other tables, feeling flustered and growing alarmed. He wasn't there and he was always on time. She was always late.
Her eyes were drawn to the open sea. She feared the worst. He would be at the table as promised unless some tragedy had occurred to prevent it. She was absolutely and totally of the belief that her son would never let her down. He must have drowned. He'd insisted on taking the sailboat out and yes, the wind had picked up, an off-shore wind which was more dangerous. And he didn't know the waters well. There were eddies and rocks and sandbanks.
Just as she started to hyperventilate, she heard him laughing - strolling towards her with a beautiful young woman holding his hand.
Vicky Earle Copyright 2018
(Prompt was a picture of an old red and white North American car).
Anna knew she would stand out. That was the plan. The red and white car shone, almost dazzling her as she walked towards it. It was all hers. She was the first girl in her class to own a car and perhaps even the first to have taken, and passed first time, the driving test.
It wasn't a total surprise to her friends, because, after all, her father owned a used-car dealership. But she planned to correct the misconceptions that the car was used, and that it had been bought for her.
No, she'd paid cash and it was brand, spanking new and with leather seats - a convertible. She got in, her scarf tied securely around her head, her large sunglasses in place, and started the engine.
She just had to concoct a believable story about where the money had come from. That was the biggest challenge. The truth could not come out.
It all started because her girlfriend, Martha, and she were talking one night, and Anna revealed to her how much she wanted a car. Martha, after a few forbidden drinks, asked her if she'd like to earn some money by partnering with her and her father, Joe. Joe was a rum-runner at this time of prohibition in the States, and Martha did most of the driving. She could get over the border from Canada by just "batting her eyelids" as her father would say, and had never been questioned. His business could expand if he had another driver he could trust.
Martha lept at the opportunity without another thought. The only downside being her parents are fundamentalists and don't allow an ounce of alcohol in the house.
Martha needs a plausible story to explain the money, the car. Please give your suggestions to Martha in a sealed envelope and put it under her doormat. There'll be a prize for the one she uses.
Vicky Earle Copyright 2017
(Prompt was a picture of small boats on the sea by the coast).
Jeffrey grappled with the oars as he sat in his boat. He was tired and dispirited, having spent the day in a colourless cubicle staring at a computer screen. He hated his job and the only thing which kept him going was the promise of peace and quiet, rowing his boat along the rugged, grey Cornish coast.
Today had been particularly difficult. There had been rumours of downsizing, lay-offs and early retirements. Jeffrey knew he wouldn't be eligible for a departure package - he'd just be required to pick up the slack for a couple who were.
He rounded the point, heading for the small, pebbly cove where children often played - collecting shells, searching for crabs or paddling in the cold sea. He saw a circle of seagulls swerving, diving, squawking and screeching - so many of them it made him look more closely. Someone lay still on the cold, hard peddles, the face almost as gray as the surroundings. He jumped out of his boat and pulled it up the beach. It was Ben, one of his colleagues - who'd been laid off, he found out later. He'd jumped off the cliff.
It was then that Jeffery found something to appreciate about his cubicle life.
Vicky Earle Copyright 2017
(Prompt was a picture of an institutional building).
The clouds gathered in dark clumps outside, but the fluorescent lights continued their relentless glare. Janet blamed them for her incessant headaches, but she knew, deep down, that it was the stress. The stress of being alone in a place that she could never call home. Her room was austere, colourless, cold, even though over-heated. The smells were pungent, acrid, and she was sure her eyes stung on being exposed to these odours. The sounds were loud, thoughtless, constant - a barrage on the auditory system even at night.
But she deserved to be here. They’d locked her up because she couldn’t remember if she’d put the milk away or not, if she’d fed the cat, or if she’d read the paper.
Funny, though, that her memory appeared to be as sharp as a tack now. She could remember having breakfast, what she’d eaten, what her table-mate had said, word for word, even though most of it was gibberish. She could recall everything that had happened since the day after she arrived at this hell-hole of a nursing home, put in the locked section, labelled as having dementia.
The clouds shifted and a horrible, terrifying realization came to her. She had been drugged by her son. He wanted her out of the large house she owned. He had said he could rent it out and make a lot of money if only she’d move to a condo. He was a money-grabber, and she knew it.
Vicky Earle Copyright 2017
(Prompt was a picture of a teddy bear).
Bev clutched her teddy bear and wouldn’t let go.
“You’ll have to leave that in the car,” her nanny said, as she hoisted the little girl out of the limousine.
“I want him to come,” Bev said, tears rolling down her cheeks, her bottom lip quivering.
“You don’t need him.” The nanny grabbed the bear and tossed it onto the floor of the black vehicle.
Unbeknownst to her, the driver had the window down. He got out of the car - tall, slim and smart, in his chauffer’s uniform.
He pushed the nanny aside, whisked Ben into his arms and into the front passenger seat, buckled her in, and drove off before the nanny realized what had happened. He knew it would be a case of “he said”, “she said”, when he met with Lord Clarence, but he couldn’t stand by and watch and hear any more.
He delivered Bev, along with her teddy bear, safely to the back door of the junior kindergarten program which was operated by her father’s prestigious club. Although Bev was a little afraid of this tall, black guy, she sensed a kindness and protection.
James got back into the limousine and contemplated what would happen if he was fired. The more he thought about it, the more he believed it likely that he would be out of work. A shame. He liked Lord Clarence.
The Lord summoned him later. Much to his surprise he commended him and gave him a raise. Lord Clarence had suspected some shenanigans for some time, and had a microphone implanted in Bev’s teddy bear.
(Prompt was a picture of a reindeer grazing on the tundra)
Santa's view from the North Pole in the summer is a landscape of shiny, pure white, frozen crystals. He's seen enough of snow and ice, so he hitches up his sleigh to a couple of reindeer and travels to the edge of the tundra. It's such a relief to see the expanse of browns, pinks and greens, and to catch glimpses of thawed ice, the water shimmering in the light from the sun.
He sees a reindeer grazing as it casts a long shadow on the flat ground, under a blue sky. That image reminds him that he doesn't have a full stable of reindeer back at the North Pole. Two reindeer retired in the spring and he needs replacements.
He unhitches Donna and Blitzen and asks them to approach the grazing reindeer and to ask him if he'd be interested. Santa can see that he's already growing a beautiful rack of antlers, which would fit well with the rest of the team.
He watches Donna and Blitzen amble over to the other reindeer. But the reindeer ignores them. He doesn't even raise his head.
Donna and Blitzen return to Santa and tell him that they tried very hard indeed to get his interest, saying how wonderful it is to fly through the night sky and deliver toys to beautiful children all over the world. But the reindeer just grunted and said that he didn't believe in Santa, couldn't fly and didn't like children.
Santa knows what he has to do. He can't have reindeer living near the North Pole who don't believe. So, he pulls out his packet of Christmas stardust, puts some in the palm of his hand, and blows it towards the reindeer.
The reindeer comes over and joins the team.
Copyright 2017 Vicky Earle
(Prompt was a picture of a group of horses in the snow)
"Well, George, it's about time we got a rest," says Blaze as he licks the blue salt block encircled by snow and ice.
"You're telling me," says Speed.
The horses have just been unloaded from the enormous, shiny trailer which has delivered them home from the racetrack. The racing season is over, as the winter weather sets in.
"I'd rather be at the track," says George, as he paws at the icy ground. "I miss the people and my rider, Angelo."
"I can't believe it. Surely you don't like being cooped up in your stall for most of the time?" asks Blaze.
"I like being groomed, too," says George. He feels a bit defensive, so he wanders over to the gate, hoping to get a chance to see Sally. She feeds him carrots, strokes his nose and laughs a lot. But she's nowhere to be seen.
Sally is watching from the window. She's sure she can communicate with the horses and knows what they say. Previously, she made the mistake of telling her mother, who told her father, who banned her from going near them. There's a fear, she knows, in her family, of anything different, of any special perception or understanding.
The horses are going to the States in the early spring to be sold at auction and she wants to warn them. As soon as her father leaves for work, she runs down to the gate and lets them out.
(Prompt was a picture of fingerprints)
His fingerprints were all over the gun. He knew that, because he picked it up. And he had blood on his shirt because he bent over the body to check if the woman was still breathing, which she wasn't. He wished he hadn't had the habit of leaving his shirt hanging loose, because that must have been how he got blood on him. And the police arrived before he'd stepped out of the room. They thought they'd caught their man red-handed. He didn't even see the point of trying to explain. He could see everything was against him.
He couldn't even explain how he got to be there. He'd received a phone call asking him to provide an estimate for construction and installation of new cupboards in the kitchen. He wasn't sure that the woman who lay dead in a pool of blood was the woman who'd phoned him. He decided she wasn't. The body was wearing a long, black dress covered in sequins, her ears were adorned with sapphire earrings, and her face covered by an elaborate mask. Her long blond hair had been carefully coiffured into an ornate up-do, with jewels decorating the curls.
Then his thoughts shifted, violently. Who wanted him out of the way? Who were his enemies? He must be being framed, set-up. Of course, it must be his older sister. A horrible panic rocked his body as he was pushed into the police cruiser - the dead woman must be his younger sister. The inheritance will be going to his older sister.
(Prompt was a picture of young girl whispering to a snowman):
Emilie is bathed and in clean clothes.I'm sure she feels better, I know I do. She was grimy and her tears made red rivulets down her grubby cheeks, when she showed up on the front doorstep of my house this morning. This isn't the first time my seven-year-old granddaughter has run from her house down the street and landed at my home. And I seem to be powerless to do anything, or perhaps I haven't got the courage I need to face her parents.
We've just made a snowman and Emilie put one of the horses' carrots in his face to make a nose. I helped put walnuts for eyes and to make a mouth. And then she said she had a secret wish she wanted to tell the snowman and I couldn't hear it, otherwise it wouldn't come true. I can guess. She must be dreaming of leaving the abusive and neglectful home she's in.
My daughter is addicted to drugs and her partner, Emilie's stepfather, has disappeared again. Seeing her whispering to the snowman has brought me to my senses. I'm going to do my best to help my daughter get clean and to care for my granddaughter. I realize I've not faced up to my grandmotherly responsibility. I'm ashamed. There's going to be a better future for Emilie - one that she deserves. There has to be.
(Prompt was these three words: bacterium; amble; azure):
Sharon ambles along the shore, the sand sticking in between her toes. She doesn't want to be anywhere near this place. She can't believe she's on vacation with her parents, after all, she's seventee. She hates these resorts, with their all-inclusive deals. Her parents eat, drink, sunbathe, eat, drink, sunbathe and then eat, drink some more. She's sure she can heart their laughter as they lie on the lounge chairs lined up in a row beside the sparkling azure water of one of the sanitized pools. You can smell the chlorine. Not one bacterium can survive in that water.
She glances down and notices a shell, siny with brown spots dotted all over. She's almost disappointed when she find no occupant. It's hard to part with it, to put it down on the hot sand.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" A young man's voice startles her. She didn't hear him approaching her on the empty beach.
"Yes, yes it is."
"Do you collect shells?"
"Well, not really." She wishes she did.
"If you're interested, I can show you where there are some fascinating specimens."
"You must be a scientist or something."
"Good guess. I'm studying marine biology. I'm here with my parents for one last vacation before I graduate."
"I'm hoping this is my last vacation with parents too."
It wasn't. They all returned the following summer for a wedding.
(Prompt was a picture of a dancer):
No, she wasn't going. There was no more to be said, as far as Michelle was concerned. Her father's face reddened with fury and his voice was a bellow.
"Your mother and I have done everything we can, sacrificed many things, for your future."
Michelle had heard this so many times, and each time it made her angrier. What right had they to decide her future? Her passion was for dance and she was good at it too.
At first her parents thought she looked cute in her tutu and were as proud as peacocks when family and friends clapped and praised whenever Michelle danced for them. But then things got more serious, with competitions and medals. Things evolved from pre-school ballet, to after-school dance and sometimes instead-of-school Latin-American dancing.
One day, and Michelle remembered it well, she announced that she wanted to go to London to study dance. Her father exploded. He was furious about her obsession with dance. Her mother cried. She was devastated that her daughter wanted to leave Canada.
Her father's plans were for her, their only offspring, to follow in his footsteps, and go to medical school. He had it all worked out and she had the academic record, despite the time she spent on dance. She was brilliant as well as athletic and artistic.
Her father had lined up summer jobs, had researched medical schools, had organized job-shadowing with some high-flying doctors. None of this made a difference to Michelle. Dance, it had to be dance.
Her mother was the one who eventually managed to smooth the waters. After all, she'd wanted to be a singer.
(Prompt was "fist-sized, gold-coloured lump"):
The wind is so strong I can barely walk to the shed to unearth my spade. I'm hoping it's not frozen to the ground, like it was last April - I had to fetch a kettle of boiling water to swirl round the metal blade and kick it a few times to set it free. No, I'm lucky this year. I must have remembered, when the snow was flying, to put it on a piece of plywood. I make my way to the garden bed which surrounds the house with the intent of clearing the packed sodden leaves, which fell last autumn. I plan to clear them away from the neatly trimmed edges and to free the bulbs of their deadening canopy - to allow them to sprout. And I have some new bulbs to plant at the corner of the bed.
It takes only two plunges of my spade into the defrosting ground for me to unearth something shiny. The gleaming sun reveals a fist-sized lump of something gold in colour. I have no idea what it is.
My neighbour is a geologist, so he comes to mind as someone who might be able to identify it. I hand it to him as he stands on his doorstep shivering, his reading glasses falling down his nose. His eyes widen and he appears to be fascinated by this unexpected bounty from the earth.
"I'll get back to you, Sid. I'm busy at the moment, but I'll analyze it and let you know."
Of course, this is the last I see of him and my mystery lump, so I have to assume I parted with a fortune in gold.
Copyright 2017 Vicky Earle