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:
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.”