The Price Of Perfection: An Observation From A Seat In A Supermarket Cafe.

 

What is the price of perfection? That put together look. Sleek hair, pristine shoes. Matching colours, matching brands. Not a thing out of place. The stuff itself if costly, for sure, but what is the price on the soul and is it all borne by a single one? How much time does it take to be so carefully assembled? How much sleep? Do you worry that today might be the day you fail, that aspeck of errant dirt may foil your sheer veneer?

Who helps you carry your load, supporting each part of your perfection? Or do those perfect nails preserve in spite of of your own gut-wrenching labour to bring this appearance, that car, that house to such a level of zen?

I dust croissant crumbs from my slack maternity jeans, only half conscious of the milky foam at the corner of my mouth, and I watch. I’m entranced by your glistening, gliding through the aisles. I wonder why you’re here at all, perfectly balanced at the trolley bar. What could you need with this place? Is the point of perfection just to be seen?

My shoulders sometimes sink under the weight of it all. My blemishes and imperfections wear upon me as a patina. Even with the most Titanic effort I still crash and sink in attempting to achieve even a fragment of your flawless.

Do you struggle and fight the onslaught too? Do you ever break a sweat, throw a spill, lose control of your hair?

You make it look so easy. So achievable and within reach. What is the cost?

 

George’s Last Three: A short story

George sat on the bench on the end of the pier, his back to the sea, looking back at the vista of the town as the sun set over it.

The town had changed so much throughout his life, from a thriving seaside oasis in his childhood, a welcome escape from the noise of the city where he had been born. A heaven all of its own. Memories of days spent running from the disaster zone of his mother and father. Running with his brother and sisters to hide between the metal legs of the pier, like a safe apron he could pull on the strings of for protection. Safety his mother had never been able to be, in the face of the rage of Dad. This place had been special then and, even now, with its sense of decay and deprivation, George felt happiness even as he looked across the closed shops and the scattered forms of homeless people on the sea front.

George’s legs were set wide and his meaty paws, with their tattooed digits, rested on his thighs as he started to struggle to breathe and the pain latched around his chest. His first thought was to panic, to fight, but then the pain lifted, like the end of a sudden shower of rain on a summers day. Gone.

It was then that the sallow young man appeared on the bench at his side. George tried not to take umbrage to the fact this youth, with his dark clothes and unlikely colouring, was invading his space when there were at least a half dozen empty benches around them, but it irked him. Little git, he thought. I’ve had enough of these kids on here. He puffed out his breath to signal his annoyance and, in a fit of long redundant muscle memory, cracked his now painless arthritic knuckles into a crunching fist.

George then noticed the tips of the boy’s wings, black and smooth and batlike as they were. While not an educated man, George had always had wit enough to read situations well. It had kept him alive on the streets and seen him well in earning a crust. He put the pieces together: the sudden absence of both sudden and long-borne pain; the appearance, as if by magic; batwings on a person…

You’re not what I expected,” he huffed.

The youth tilted his face to George: “I hardly ever am, this one woman…” His voice tailed off. “This isn’t about what you expect. Or about me. It is about leaving things behind. Making your exit.”

George chuckled: “I always reckoned it’d be the grim reaper. You know, bony face and scythe.” His meaty hand waved over his face before miming a curved blade in the air. The youth smiled sympathetically. “So this is it?” asked George, the weight of his bovine face dropping into a resigned look of sadness.

When you leave the body, you leave it all behind. Every single memory, every single story. We’ve time for just three special moments George,” said the youth.

But it’ll be dark soon,” said George, waving his hand across the view of the town.

You might not have noticed George, but time is stopped. You’re dying, time isn’t a factor any more. We are out of time.”

George’s face crumpled in thought. “Special moments? Just three?”

Just three – think them and we will go back now.”

George’s face uncrumpled and smiled.

He was there in his football strip, the day of his eight birthday, surrounded by his juniors team mates. For the first time ever his father was on the sidelines. There on some sort of a promise from his mother. He could see Dad chatting to Tommy Finnegan’s mother. She was brassy and caught the eye. Even to a boy like him she was noticable. Tight clothes in bright colours. A million miles away from the drudgery of his own mother.

Torn back from the momentary distraction, he heard Tommy shout his name and he turned in time to see the cross, heading it neatly into the goal like a dream. His teammates piled on him in smiles and cheers, as the ref blew his whistle for time. Dad roared from the sidelines: “THAT’S MY BOY!” jumping around and grabbing Tommy’s mum in celebration. Right then George was Terence Sway’s boy and he knew it and it felt like his heart would burst. George didn’t ponder what had come next. How two weeks later Dad and Gloria Finnegan would do a bunk. How he and his siblings would be left with Mother and a whole other world of misery. That was just pain and this wasn’t the time for that.

The youth appeared and the memory shifted. George found himself wearing the skin of his twenty four year old self. He looked at his hands, newly tattooed under his wedding band, pulled his fingers into a painless and functioning fist. He was outside The Bell and he felt glee as it all had started to kick off. The fist to the side of his face was well met as George felt the vigour of his youth mixed with the bravado of drink coursing through his veins. Stunned, but by no means distracted, he span back to the source of the sucker punch, pulsing with pure rage and lamped the bloke straight to the nose, which burst with blood across his face as he fell to the ground. George swung his foot into the man’s side, kicking his ribcage up into a curve, before stamping on the man’s face with his boots. George span round, his own eye cut and bleeding from the earlier blow, dripping down the whiteness of his best shirt. His fists were clenched as he expanded his chest, his face screwed as he roared: “WHO FUCKING WANTS SOME THEN?”

Violent happiness, perhaps the biggest rush of his life. He caught the figure of the youth in the corner of his eye and the world shifted again.

He was sitting in a chair, in his home, the home he’d had with Maggie, before he had spoiled it all. It was dark but he would recognise that place, that moment, even with his eyes closed. The warm weight on his chest, the tiny curve of his sleeping infant son, just settled after what seemed like hours of crying. George couldn’t even remember why he’d gotten up instead of Maggie. It wasn’t the norm – maybe she’d been sick or something – he’d normally sleep through any noises because that was women’s work. But on this occasion he remembered sinking into that chair, very conscious of how small George junior had been and he had felt a quiet joy which was so pure, so burning hot in its purity, that it tore through every defence and awareness of mortality. He cried because he felt at once so much love for this child and so much fear that he couldn’t protect him from the world.

George hadn’t meant to feel that, hadn’t meant to return there, and, as he came back to the pier with the Angel of Death, he sobbed without restraint.

Why did you take me back there?” he said as big, bulbous tears fell from his eyes.


“I didn’t, you did. That was the moment in which you were most happy.”

George looked skyward as he wept. “I left that morning. I couldn’t do it, I would’ve been an awful dad. I didn’t see him again until he was a teenager. He hated me by then.”

The youth now stood before him and looked at him square in the face, wings spreading around them both.

It’s over now George, let it go.”

As he started to seep from his body, George was hit by the relief of it all. Had he known of the use for the French expression “La Petit Mort” as a euphemism for orgasm, he might have compared it to other moments which were now lost to him. But he was just struck by the sensation of lightness, unencumbered by the weight of his body, the burden of all the feelings accumulated and pushed down through his life and, in those last moments of consciousness, he felt something he had never before remembered feeling: freedom.

Ruby Inks: A Legacy

There is no finer tribute to the life of someone you have lost than to take their lessons seriously.

Self-preservation and fragility attribute the comments of friends only to kindness, with no merit, and alienate the recipient from the gift that is being given.

As I wrote in Ruby Inks: She Has Her Own Identity That She Will Not Let You See I benefited from the support of a friend, now lost, in writing. We had planned for a joint project, which I was just too scared to immediately pursue. So I will step forwards and onwards with #RubyInks.

At the start of this project I asked you for Just Five Minutes. Five minutes to read through these four, five minute pen pictures and choose the one you wish to be extended. So many of you supported me in the first effort. So may I ask you for just five minutes more?

I’ll put the poll on my pinned Tweet and will ask you to pick your favourite of these four tiny tales. Once the poll is closed I will take the winner and wrangle it into a longer form, to be published for your approval. If you’re not Twitter literate, feel free to vote in the comments below.

1. A Sea-Faring Wreck

He didn’t really want to have this argument, but if that was what it took, he was weighing in.

Look I just don’t care,” he said. “But it is what he wanted.”

The passage of time had given weight to his large frame. Before he had been big and broad, but never heavy. He sat in the chair of the bland solicitors office, his huge volume surpassing the boundaries of its arm rests and the seat sunk into its mechanism as if he were made of lead. He looked down the paperwork of the will in front of him pensively, looking carefully for any sort of deviation that would serve as an out.

His sister sat beside him, tiny, tidy and tightly wound, her stress induced facial tick more evident than ever, She stared at him from behind her narrow, black framed glasses, burning holes into the side of his big head.

But he never even went on a boat,” she said. “Why the heck would he want to be buried at sea.”

He bit his lip, thought to himself “Sheer embuggerance”, then simply reminded her that, to get her share she’d have to be part of this magnificent, impractical, sea-faring wreck of a funeral.

2. Patterns In Sand

Young as he is, he is not what he seems. He sits in the sandbox, at just three years old, sketching with his fingers through the grains. His mother only noticed him intently smoothing the top layer before drawing in the box with his hands whilst sitting on the side. She was entranced by his slow, deliberate movements focused on the ground before him. She didn’t see the patterns he sketched in the sand, the swirling, geometrically-sound mandalas he laid out on the surface of it. Had she, she might have thought him a prodigy and boasted of his endeavours to the world. But each time she came down the yard to collect his tiny frame up and indoors, he would have already smoothed the surface back over again. Instead she feared he was a fool, as he had not uttered a word or a sound in all his life. She feared what that might mean, as it had done for her cousin. The cousin never learned to speak and eked out a living in the pit, assumed an idiot but grown into a huge man, with hands the size of shovels and pony-like strength, without ever saying a word.

3. An Unusual Hour

The clock struck an unusual hour as she waited at the station. The clock display was digital which rendered the accompanying 24 bongs odd – sounding out as the clock switched to 24:01:00. Lucy peered at the display, unsure as to the extent of the effect of the three G&T’s she had consumed on the train or the fact she had chosen not to wear her glasses that night. She reached into the deep pocket of her woollen greatcoat and pulled out her own phone which also showed the time as 24:01. She shook the handset, as if resetting an etch-a-sketch, and looked again. The consistence baffled her and she looked around the concourse, casting about to find someone to verify the odd information being presented to her. There were two other people. The man in a bowler hat with an umbrella, checking a watch on a chain, appeared to be an oddly clean shaven hipster, insistent on period detail. The woman was somewhat more interesting as she peered in the space before her, confused and flicking across at the air, but dressed in clothes the like of which Lucy had never seen before, neat but visually far too light for the conditions even within the vacuum of the concourse. It might have been the oddity of the woman which had distracted Lucy as to the fact the concourse had shifted in appearance. All detail had fallen away and just the grey pencil-like outlines of the structure of the concourse remained. This only became apparent to her as she heard the bowler cry out in shock…

4. The News

It was a cold day when the trouble started. No snow, or rain or fog, just cold. She remembered the draft whispering past her ankles as she brushed her teeth in her nightdress, it carried the sound of deep voices at the opened front door up the stairs to her in the bathroom. She couldn’t hear what they said and she paused to listen, only to have her eardrum pierced by her mother’s shriek. The scream dropped into a lower howl and Leonie’s toothbrush dropped to the floor as she felt the grief hit her like a wave of solid water. She did not know who, what or why but she knew that sound, the sound of a suddenly hollowed human. She crept out onto the landing, which overlooked the wide sitting room on the ground floor, and saw the man in the scuffed bright yellow jacket helping her weeping mother to the sofa. Her mother wilted into the stained leather sofa in a shower of sobs, her body shivering with pain. Leonie hesitantly took herself to the top of the steps, a hand over her mouth, unaware of the toothpaste that sat around her dark lips. She resolved to descend the stairs, aware of the potential threat the uniformed man might pose to her and the other children up the stairs, her brothers whose tiny forms were currently cuddled close together in the cold of their bed. She took the steps one by one, grasping unseeingly at the wooden handrail, whose splintering surface irritated but did not distract from the purpose of reaching and comforting her mother. Even at six years old she had been able to work out the reasons they might be here. Her father was late home, even for him, and her mother had started to chant his name under her breath as the policeman attempted to console her. As she rounded the corner at the bottom of the staircase Leonie saw the policeman was not alone as she identified the much larger man by the door to the kitchen, silent and threatening mass, with his hands tucked inside his stab vest, as he balanced his substantial weight across his two huge boots. For his part the man, a father of children himself, saw the small child with the resolute but terror stricken face, under the neatly braided hair, and softened inside. This translated to his face falling into a sad puppy-like expression, but did not alter his stance. Leonie reacted accordingly, refusing to move her stare away from him until she reached the uncertain haven of her mother, even then still peering at him frequently to ensure he didn’t scale the stairs to her brothers in the bed above.

 

Ruby Inks – She has her own identity that she will not let you see.

Today I discovered I had lost a friend.

 

The unique, indomitable Ineke Poultney had left life behind and was no longer there as the powerhouse of friendship and joy she had been in the world, not just to me but to many.

If you didn’t know “Inky” you truly missed out. I’m sorry but, you’re simply too late. However, I would like to share with you something she shared with me – because it’s a little fragment which she left behind with me which says so much about who she was. This is not a betrayal of confidence. We had always agreed these messages would form part of a book – a book I was, simply put, too chicken to pursue right away. This is something I regret. That she would never see these words, under her name and in a book.

I hope in the future to make good our agreement, in the fullness of time.

If you read my blog post “Ruby Inks: Just Five Minutes” you’ll know I was working with Inky on a series of writing prompts, which evolved into a plan to write the aforementioned book of five minute responses to sentences which came to Inky’s mind.

The below conversation happened on Twitter messages after this agreement (Inky’s words appear in italics):

“She has her own identity that she will not let you see.”

Get writing!

(I am really looking forward to this!)

Here goes…

She has her own identity that she will not let you see. She cloaks around it the identities which have been placed, unwanted, upon her. She did not choose to be a woman, it was already given with the attendant oppressions it weighed upon her. She did not choose to be disabled, yet there she was, with legs that could not be used, in a world designed for the “norm”. She did not choose the inability to speak her inner thoughts, so was rendered stupid in a world of spoken words, capable of communicating only the most basic of thoughts and intents. All of these were identities imposed upon her, but not a single one was the one that was her. She kept that back just for her. The stories she wove in her mind meant that she was free of assumption and free of limitations. She would describe colours no-one could even imagine, surrounding characters never before created, who executed their adventures in landscapes that the world could not conceive of. But this was part of the identity she will not let you see. When her mother gave her a laptop, ostensibly to allow her to reach out into the world, she chose instead to pour out her own world into words. She did not share it with mother, nor did she take from the world around, she just wove thicker and richer the world within.

WHAT??? How on Earth did you do that??? Are you sure we have never met???

Just change the word “wheelchair” to glasses and you almost have me to a T!!!

You *ARE* going to use that in your book!!! I have decided!!! It is too amazing not to be used!!!

So tell me the back story to the sentence- or was that the FB post?

No – it isn’t the Facebook post! Here goes!

The first line I gave you is actually the first line of a song which I suspect is about me (although I have never dared to ask Kristyna if it is)!!!

Hold on while I find the link to the YouTube video of it!

Listen to the song and you will realise why I was so stunned by what you wrote!!!

The song Inky wrote of is linked here.

Message In A Bottle: Looking for a home on the news stands

It is a really frequent occurrence. I’ll find myself standing in the magazine aisle at a supermarket or in a newsagents, desperately looking for something that I can feel speaks to me. I’ve probably spent hours from my life disconnected with the contents of the news stands. Glossy magazines, whilst beautiful, seem to be so light on real, heartfelt content. Gossip magazines hold no appeal. Creativity seems to find itself represented by cross stitch magazines, adult colouring books and home and gardening magazines. There seems to be nothing that reflects my interests of creativity, progress, family, current affairs and culture (I’ll be honest I miss the Marie Claire of the past which fulfilled many of these needs). Generally, if I come away with anything, I come away with a copy of New Scientist and Private Eye, often after a long time standing, puzzled, yearning for a short read home that seems not to exist.

Yesterday I took the twins out for a wander in the car. My partner works from home and often needs a little bit of quiet to go about the work he has to do. So, being on maternity leave and always looking for a new adventure I drove out after the girls had eaten their mid-morning snack.

I’m a believer in the art of Zen navigation (in the style of Dirk Gently – “I rarely end up where I intended to go, but often end up somewhere that I needed to be.”) – today I set out to go to one nearby shopping centre. Instead, via some interesting countryside landmarks and a short stop in a layby to write down some ideas for blogs including this very one, I ended up at Rushden Lakes shopping.

This is a big out of town shopping development and, with its array of high street names, isn’t somewhere I really aim to be. I’d much rather potter around quirky old towns, but that wasn’t where I needed to be it seems. I drove around the perimeter, with an idea in my head to get some lunch with the babies then return home once everyone was fed, and saw the sign for one of the stores – “Magazine World”. Ah – kismet! I had been pondering the lack of viable reading material and lo, the universe doth provide.

I realise this is the fulfilment of a small need but, the buzz of validation in my zen choices, I was in awe. I went through the glass doors with a sense of apprehension and excitement. What I found was truly overwhelming. It was difficult because I didn’t even know where to start. I saw so many things I wanted to read, to touch and consume. I could only spend about ten minutes in the shop because I had two chirping babies ready for food and I wanted to read EVERYTHING. So I grabbed three magazines that caught my eye – the advertisement-free womankind, illustrated short story publication Popshot Quarterly and women’s writing magazine mslexia.

I’m going to have to come back to you on whether or not I’ve found my perfect match. What I do know is now there is a place I can go back to and try to find my light-read home.

Ruby Inks: The First Return

So, you all gave me your time and your consideration and read Ruby Inks: Just Five Minutes.

Many of you were kind enough to choose your favourite from four prompted pieces of five-minutes of writing and 37 per cent of you chose Story 2: Gifted to be extended out into a fully fleshed short story. I then had a self imposed 24 hour deadline on making this piece a reality.

Having taken the step of putting out my little five minute pieces was a bigger step than I think some might imagine. I was putting myself out, not only to criticism but also, to accountability.

It is really easy to just write for yourself and to keep all your half baked efforts to yourself, hidden in numerous notebooks dotted around your home, or on laptop hard-drives never to be seen again. As many of you know, I’m a mum to a herd of children, most notably a pair of eight month old twins, currently teething, so it is relatively easy to make and excuse for not putting out an effort, to keep the words hidden for as long as possible to avoid judgement.

First of all I apologise – this piece of writing is NOT a short story – the words became something a little beyond that. I don’t really know what these presume to be but, as promised, 24 hours has elapsed and here are the fruit of my labours in their raw and uncut form.

Please be kind, but be honest.

Secondly I thank you all for reading and encouraging this mad little endeavour. I hope you all continue to encourage my efforts, hold me accountable and keep me motivated. You are all lights in the world, for which I am eternally grateful.

Finally thank you to Ineke Poultney and my James for getting me this far.

Now, please read and critique if you have the time:

Gifted

Martha said she wasn’t much, wasn’t important, but shimmering light trailed in her wake.

She had met Grant from the underground, having arranged to meet him on her way home from work and before some class she hadn’t specified. For many years they had communicated by Twitter, the odd humourous exchange, the occasional retweet but, as she said, he’d never thought of her as much, not important. It was only on the day his father died and he could only manage a mention of his loss that Martha came into her own and stepped forward from the murky shadow of social media irrelevance. It was weeks before she suggested they meet for this coffee on her way home and he hesitantly excepted, still fragile from his loss.

The coffee shop was unremarkable, the coffee bitter and old, and he could not remember of what they spoke, but he left that day feeling lightness and – for the first time in weeks – he felt hope. He couldn’t describe why but there it was, nonetheless.

It was only as he followed Martha from the cafe – as she went back to the tube and he started to walk back towards his office – that he saw the irridescent air behind her. As Martha passed people by none of them seemed to notice, but their expressions changed as the shimmer caught their space and frowns and blanks turned to smiles.

He looked confused for a moment, uncertain as to what he was watching, before being shaken back to reality by a homeless man sitting close to his own feet spoke.

“Some people don’t realise how gifted they really are,” he said.

“She’s something else,”gasped Grant, tossing coins into the man’s upturned hat, as he watched Martha make her way towards the tube steps. He tried to absorb every detail of her being, her short brown curls, the strong and balanced line of her form, athletic for her middle age and her diminutive height, her lilac eyes, dark skin and slightly off centre smile.

“Not her,” said the man, coughing. He began to stand himself up, shuffling the cardboard boxes beneath him and gathering up his layers of clothing.

Grant was still smiling, the after effects of his proximity to Martha. But as she disappeared the spell broke and he looked down at the man. Grant had rather taken his sudden and momentary presence for granted, but as he woke to the full effect, he noticed that the man was not as dirty as he seemed. The layers of clothing he presumed to be rags were actually woollen winter greatcoat and a three piece tweed suit. As the man tipped the coins from the grey pork pie hat into his hand, he raised his eyebrows as if peeved at Grant’s generosity. He was standing on the cardboard in a pair of buckskin derby boots. Grant crushed his forehead down into a chevron of wrinkles and tilted his chin up and back, both confused and annoyed at being pulled into the odd little deceit of unnecessary spare change donation.

“What do you mean not her?” he said, sniffing.

“Buy me a coffee and I’ll explain.”

Grant remained confused as to how he had ended up agreeing to coffee with the up-market “tramp”. His grief left him a little confused by most situations at the moment, his father’s funeral had been a little less than a week before, and he was still left as if he was waiting for something else to happen. but found himself with a large ceramic coffee cup in his hand having, to his chagrin, paid for both their drinks, listening with rapt attention to the odd tale being woven by the man.

“You see, we’re what they used to call guardian angels,” he said in a cut glass English accent, peering up at Grant with his pale blue eyes, anomalous within the dark, dark skin of his face and not matching, to Grant’s mind, the long greying dreadlocks which flowed from their tie at the back of his head, all the way down his back. Ezekiel, as he had introduced himself to Grant, had been waiting for some time to speak with him.

Ezekiel paused. “This is too much. I’ll start with the girl, what’s her name?”

“Martha,” said Grant curtly.

“Martha, you see is a Lumen. Lumens are…how do I explain this…like saints. They are people who are inherently good, only not in a holy way, not in a religious way.

Ezekiel paused again, perceiving that his frenetic speech patterns were not being followed by an increasingly lost looking Grant.

“They are just good, even when they make their mistakes they make them only with good intent. Without them there is no hope, because outside of them is chaos which seeks to be sated for its own sake, it means that things just happen and there is no rhyme or reason. Lumens bring order because they bring a capability for empathy. Empathy did not exist before they did, kindness was absent. That was why She created them. She saw all her other creations spinning around in a never ending tornado of birth, fucking and death and wanted to make something more of the world.”

“She? You mean Martha?”

“No, She, you know the creator.”

“What? Like God?”

“Yes, but no,” sighed Ezekiel. “More like Gaia – you know Mother Nature. Anyway you’re missing the point of it – we’re the only ones who see them, the Lumens, so we are the only ones who can protect them. She made us to protect them so they could give balance to the world. I for one am not religious, so I wouldn’t know what to call us. My grandmother used to call us ‘schutz’”

“Protect them from what?” Grant started to become quite aware of his own Brummie accent and tried to tidy up his vowels in a vain and odd attempt, given the circumstances, to match the BBC diction of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel looked to either side of himself, before leaning in and whispering: “From the other. It has found a way of taking them, consuming them and using them to grow.”

“The other? Lumens? Schutz? This is crazy,” Grant snapped, raising himself up from the chair.

Ezekiel picked up his coffee cup, drank from it calmly as Grant looked at him as if to elicit an explanation, and said with a sigh. “You can’t be told can you? Want to see what looks like crazy?”

Grant tilted his head to the side and narrowed his eyes as the coffee shop melted away and they were surround by light.

***

That conversation felt like a world away, two months later, as he wandered the streets of a pre-Christmas London, tracking Martha’s movements as she went from shop to shop, oblivious to his presence and to the danger he was now all too well versed in. She had been easy to track that day as she left work, in her pillar box red coat and heels. It had been hard in those few weeks to stay back. Martha’s very being drew him in, but he had to stay back or he could not protect her, Ezekiel had warned him.

It was in the last half hour of tracking her that he had noticed the man paying attention to her as she went in and out of the shops in Covent Garden, endlessly browsing. He’d seemed non-descript at first. A man close to Grant’s own age, with an ill fitting high street suit on, finished with a pair of shining Italian leather shoes. He wore an ill fitting wedding band. Grant’s instincts were not distracted by the little idiosyncratic details which the soul sucker had taken on to pass as a part of the world around him.

As he looked towards the man Grant saw pluming smoke and flames around the line of his body. He knew others didn’t see this, not the theatre goers in the queues for the performances, nor the policemen looking out for ticket touts, as he followed Martha, then the creature down the side alley away from the crowds of people milling about in Drury Lane that evening. They were pressing on through the streets at a brisk pace. Suddenly their company dived into an alley and the three of them were alone and Grant ducked between the shadows in an attempt to stay out of sight. There would be another, he knew that much.

Grant paused, he’d mentally and physically prepared with the guidance of Ezekiel for weeks for this possibility, watching from the shadows and waiting for the appearance of these soul suckers, but as he watched the creature, in its Top Man suit, close in on Martha, all helpless and alone, he froze. His hands stayed in his pockets, a solid grip on the weapons he had been given and he felt he could not move. The soul sucker came nearer and nearer to the now visibly effervescing Martha, her light starting to be drawn into the widening vortex that whipped around the demon. Then, from the back of his throat, Grant uttered a strangled grunt, in a higher pitch than he felt was becoming for man of his age and bulk. The soul sucker span and turned towards him, the weight of its cloud-like presence upon him, red staring eyes burning his reflection. As the cloud overcame him, Grant saw Martha, rolling her eyes in a weary fashion, to the left of the creature, moving quickly as he himself fell to the floor in a dead faint.

“I’m here to protect you Martha,” stuttered Grant as he started to come around and Martha helped him to his feet. The soul sucker was gone and it was just the two of them in the alley. “I must protect you. I’m a Schutz and you’re a Lumen, its my duty. Wait!”

Grant started to look around for the tapping noise he had picked up. “They usually hunt in pairs!”

“I’m fully aware of that Grant,” she snapped. “Generations of my family have been both Schutzengel and Lumens. I’ve been trained to be both for the best part of 38 years. As far as I’ve heard you found out about this two months ago, so how you’re speaking of this with so much authority I do not know. Duck.”

Martha flung the knife at the second soul sucker, wearing the form of a narrow man in his twenties in a fitted leather jacket, which had appeared behind Grant, the blade nicking Grant’s cheek as he staggered out of the way. The blade thudded to a halt into the chest of the soul sucker, on target and deadly. He evaporated into a red haze, back into the Never

“God, give me the confidence of a mediocre, white man,” Martha muttered as she walked past Grant to collect her knife and the jacket left with the remnant vapour of the soul sucker. “Hmm,” she smiled. “I’m having this, it’ll go well with jeans. Now come! I’ve got to get back for the sitter.”

Grant, still dazed, stood and dabbed at the blood on his cheek before trotting after Martha as she strode through the garden archway beyond. “Sitter?” he echoed. “I didn’t know you had kids.”

“A kid,” she snapped back. “It’s about time you started listening Grant. You’ve more to learn than you really ever had to say. You really aren’t your father’s son are you.”

Ruby Inks: Just Five Minutes

Through the struggles of finding time, energy and inspiration to write I have been gifted with the help of many good friends.

On top of that I’m a sucker for a challenge. Aren’t you? I loved the 100 Burpees challenge – even though my abdominal muscles initially screamed in low-key hatred for my self-improvement seeking soul. I relished stepping out for 10,000 steps a day for Care International’s Walk In Her Shoes. I’m a persistent volunteer for mud runs and charity races – even though I hate running with a fierce passion.

Competing with yourself has to be one of the best joys – to push yourself and see what you can do.

Casual chats with dear friend and trouble-maker Ineke Poultney (@inkyworld on Twitter) triggered my latest challenge to myself. Bemoaning my lack of ability to actually sit down and write a book Ineke suggested, nay volunteered, to put me through my paces with writing prompts to help shift my writers block. Just five minutes a day of writing to stretch my imagination and force the block through by just writing.

Just five minutes.

I have to admit that, at the beginning, I was scared. Scared that the short compositions would reveal me to be lacking in imagination and short of storytelling capabilities. Just five minutes seemed to be too long. I was not sure that I could even sustain just five minutes a day for a week, never mind fifty days.

I’ve been very fortunate to have Ineke in my corner, her industrious and determined nature have kept me on track in our project. A keen writer in her own right, Ineke’s unique world view has informed some fascinating and creative prompts which flowed with a level of consistency which has exceeded the amount of energy she might have been able to give on any single day. For fifty days she provided a line to inspire a little moment of writing. For fifty days she offered kindness and support, gently coaxing and chasing me into working.

The result has been fifty pen pictures. Fifty beginnings. Fifty places from which bigger worlds could be drawn – I hope.

So today I offer four of these beginnings to begin the next phase of this creative project. I want to extend my writing, open myself up to more criticism, more challenge. Can you help?

I need just five minutes.

You have a day to choose one to be the next beginning of a short story, dear reader, then I will take 24 hours to turn around the beginning of your choice into a longer story.

Are you up for the challenge? Please, if you can take just five minutes, read these four beginings and make your choice by voting on the pinned tweet at @RubiesB4Swine.

Thank you. I just hope I’m not wasting your time…

Story 1: Show You Care

“The best way to show you care about someone is to allow them to be themself around you, you know. That is how he has been able to do all this,” said Simeon eyeing his brother whilst sipping the Malbec.

George was at the end of his own jetty with Eleanor sitting atop his shoulders, her little arms wrapped around the top of his head, preparing to climb aboard his own boat..

Rosalind blushed and softly spoke: “Wasn’t he like this before?”

“No,” said Simeon. “No he was not. George was just anger – fury and rage. He never seemed to settle before. I’d expected he would have managed to kill himself before now, or someone else. He was a walking death wish before you. Now look how he has changed, he has softened so much. I thought there was no way back for him after Dublin.”

“Dublin? What do you mean Dublin?”

“You know, after the incident,” nodded Simeon as he waved at a happily shouting Eleanor.

“What incident?” said Rosalind, genuinely baffled.

Simeon picked up the wineglass, gulped from it and looked towards George then around to his mother in the house behind, as if looking for a person to help.

Story 2: Gifted

Martha said she wasn’t much, wasn’t important, but shimmering light trailed in her wake.

She had met Grant from the underground, having arranged to meet him on her way home from work and before some class she hadn’t specified. For many years they had communicated by Twitter, the odd humourous exchange, the occasional retweet but, as she said, he’d never thought of her as much, not important. It was only on the day his father died and he could only manage a mention of his loss that Martha came into her own and stepped forward from the murky shadow of social media irrelevance. It was weeks before she suggested they meet for this coffee on her way home and he hesitantly excepted, still fragile from his loss.

The coffee shop was unremarkable, the coffee bitter and old, and he could not remember of what they spoke, but he left that day feeling lightness and – for the first time in weeks – he felt hope. He couldn’t describe why but there it was, nonetheless.

It was only as he followed Martha from the cafe – as she went back to the tube and he started to walk back towards his office – that he saw the irridescent air behind her. As Martha passed people by none of them seemed to notice, but their expressions changed as the shimmer caught their space and frowns and blanks turned to smiles.

He looked confused for a moment, uncertain as to what he was watching, before being shaken back to reality by a homeless man sitting close to his own feet spoke.

“Some people don’t realise how gifted they really are,” he said.

Story 3: Fighting Fires

Neil nodded his head sagely and added: “According to our Risk Assessment you do not need to alert the local fire brigade.”

“Who wrote the risk assessment? Guy Fawkes,” said Barry cynically. “There’s a fucking twenty minute indoor pyrotechnics display in the middle of the set. You wanting to have us all razed to the ground?”

“Barry, you know better than anyone that we’re working to a tight budget and that, where we can save we must. We simply can’t afford to pay for further work with the fire brigade, especially not after the cost of the fireworks each time.”

Barry grunted and shrugged. He knew he couldn’t just keep pumping cash into this tour. He was borrowing now just to keep venues on side, having maxed out several credit cards on ordering the “merch”. He pondered, for a few moments, scrapping the fireworks all together but decided that he liked the sparkles after all.

“Just make sure the roadies clear away the backstage area for crap before we go on.”

He then walked over to the curtains around the back and side of the stage, tripping over speaker cabling as he did, and lifted a piece between thumb and forefinger.

“These are fire retardant right?”

Story 4: No Names

“Maybe a name is not the best way to identify someone?”

“What do you suggest – numbers? Barcodes?” asked Sadie, baffled.

“It’s just so…non-specific. I’ve grown up with three Chloes, four Lauras and a total of six Gemmas,” said Hayley. “I have never been to a single educational establishment where I haven’t been the only Hayley. How are you supposed to feel unique in a world where you’re just so…so nondescript, so similar.”

“Is this truly about names?”

“Perhaps not,” sighed Hayley. “But I think I might be finished with the name Hayley Jones. I’m thinking of changing things up.”

Sadie tilted her head, with her mouth slightly open.

“So what? You’re going to became Regina Philange now?”

“Maybe, maybe not, but I need to shake off this life, this town.”

• Remember please vote for your favourite beginning on my pinned tweet @RubiesB4Swine – if you’re not a Twitter user feel free to vote using the comments below!