The Black Dog

The salt of the cold winter sea air was coating Bangor pier. You could not breathe without wincing at the sting of each inhalation. The sun was already beginning to set, filling the Menai Straits with burning orange light, like a sea of fire. The wind was relentless. The rain was unyielding. The wood was rotting. The steel was rusting. Plaques on benches were weathered away into smooth silver squares. The seaweed that littered the shingled shore was black. The mussels that were clinging to the decaying legs were black. And the looming cloud ever-present on the horizon was black. The air sucked the warmth out of all that it touched, even the tea sealed inside James’ thermos flask.

He clutched at his coat as the wind jostled his ink black hair, scraping away at the cheap hair wax he had so carefully applied before leaving the house. His thermos flask was advertised as being able to keep hot drinks warm for at least twenty-four hours, yet one sip of the tepid liquid inside proved this was not the case. James emptied the contents over the flaking handrail and watched as the harsh wind picked it up and carried the murky droplets away before they could touch the gloomy water. He paused for a second, and then dropped the useless flask in too. He zipped his long coat right up to his face and walked back along the blustery pier. He could see the freezing cold water below through the uneven cracks between each splintering plank, they once were pure white but now the paint had peeled off revealing the sodden wood within. With each creaking step the week-old stubble on his cheeks bristled irritatingly against the scratchy wool lining of his waxed coat. His horn-rimmed glasses were steamed up by his hot breath and tiny rain droplets coated the surface of each lens, partially blinding him. Every so often, the terrible wind blew so ferociously that James had to clasp at his pasty face and hold his glasses in place for fear of losing them to the elements. His leather boots were soaked through to his unmatching socks, and with each strenuous step, water seeped in and squelched between his wet toes. James peered over his foggy glasses and watched as a warped broken umbrella danced helplessly in the sky above him, jerking this way and that, possessed by the weather. The wind died down momentarily, and the umbrella hovered peacefully for a few seconds before plummeting into the endless water below. It did not float.

He was the last visitor of the day. An old man stood impatiently at the gate as James walked sluggishly down the pier, he was dressed in a heavy fisherman’s coat that was faded yellow and buttoned all the way up to the top. He had left the hood down and wore a green wool knitted hat. Long silver whiskers crept their way out over his high collar and swayed in time with the coming winds. He was supporting himself with one bony hand on one of the bars of the tall black iron gates that secured the pier and was holding a loop filled with various shapes and sizes of keys in his other hand. James continued walking past the long dead flowers in their memorials, past the cracked windows of the long-abandoned fishing hut, past the lampposts now glowing orange with artificial light, James was in no hurry. Just before he reached the gate, he turned to one side and sat on the nearest bench, it sagged precariously as James forced his weight upon it, but it held. There was a plaque fastened to the bench, its letters were faded and faint, but James could just make out the inscription:

Helena Jones
14 February 1929 – 11th November 2009
Every time we pass this place, we’ll close our eyes and see your face.

He considered whether anybody would make a plaque for him when he died and buried the thought. He reached into his interior coat pocket for his packet of cigarettes, pulled one out and stuffed it between his chapped lips. He patted down his many pockets in search of his lighter and found it nestled between some loose change and crumpled tissues in his right trouser pocket. The cigarette hung loose and flaccid in his mouth as James tried again and again to light the damp cigarette. On the eighth or ninth attempt, James succeeded and drew in a deep breath of hot sickly tobacco smoke. He looked up and found the old man was now standing before him, with his arms crossed and a well-polished boot tapping impatiently on the wooden deck. James exhaled a haze of smoke from his lungs which dissipated quickly in the gale. He could hear the old man tutting loudly, despite the wind beating away at his eardrums.
‘I saw you!’
The old man spoke loudly to be heard over the storm, his voice was hoarse. James had no interest in conversation and took another drag from his fizzling cigarette.
‘You deaf or something boy? I said I saw you!’
The old man jabbed one of his skeletal fingers towards James’ face and his bushy eyebrows frowned deeply. He had a face like thunder. James tried to ignore the old man, but his finger was so close to his eyes that he could see the black grime under his dirty yellow fingernail. He took one last breath of his cigarette, dropped it to the floor and crushed it under the heel of his boot. The cigarette butt fell through a narrow crack between the planks and down into the salt water beneath them. James stood up and responded,
‘So what?’
James towered over the old man and looked down at him through rain splattered spectacles. The old man’s grey eyes looked up at James and widened, his wrinkled brow furrowed deeper. He was not going to back down.
‘You shouldn’t do that!’
‘What?’
‘Littering!’
James sighed deeply and fumbled around in his jacket pockets for another cigarette.
‘Don’t try and pretend you didn’t do nothing! I saw you chucking something into the sea, it’s not right you know, there’s fish in there that might mistake whatever it was for another fish and then we’re in trouble; next thing you know, you’ll be finding man-made waste inside your next fish dinner, mark my words!’
James said nothing as the old man proceeded to lecture him on the intricate and highly fragile ecosystem that was the North Welsh coast.
‘It’s tourists like you that are the problem, there wouldn’t be half as many boats spilling oil and God-knows-what  in these waters were it not for the likes of you out-of-town folk.’
‘I’m not a tourist.’
The old man hesitated almost as if he had forgotten he was talking to another human being rather than an inanimate object.
‘’Scuse me?’ The Old Man said, pretending to have misheard James.
‘I. Am. Not. A. Tourist.’
James emphasised each word loudly, zipped up his coat further and started towards the black iron gates.
‘Well you don’t look like a local to me. My family’s been living in these parts for hundreds of years, I’m Bangor blood through and through. I ain’t never seen you round here before…’
The old man’s voice became lost in the ferocious wind as James walked further away from him. His language slipped between English and Welsh several times. He did not follow him, but he continued shouting in James’ direction until it was clear to the old man that he was alone. As soon as he was out of earshot, James smiled from ear to ear.

James strode down the streets of Bangor with his eyes fixed on the pock marked pavement and his hands shoved firmly in his pockets. Nobody dared to brave the weather, so James was alone, the streets were empty. It was Sunday evening, the shops were also empty. One by one, the street-lights buzzed to life and lit up the darkening streets of the City. The Christmas lights from the previous year still hung inelegantly down the high street, and the smell of fish and chip shops and kebabs lingered in the air as the numerous takeaways all fired up their ovens. He walked alongside a terraced row of houses, one of which caught his attention: the curtains of the living room were wide open, and James could see through into their front room. There was a family in front of a flickering television but no one was watching it, there was a nature documentary involving sharks. They were spread out across on a long corner sofa, at one end sat a boy whose attention was focused on a tablet, at the opposite end a younger girl sat next to her mother who held her softly in a loving embrace. James watched them involuntarily for a few moments before looking away. He continued his journey home.

James lived far enough away from the sea that his house was protected from the endless onslaught of corrosive sea winds but was close enough that it was always damp. It was a small two-bedroom terraced house at the end of a miserable council estate. The house was made of concrete and built to last, the outer walls were pebble dashed with a grey aggregate, the windows were grubby and unwashed, and the house was enclosed by a tall untamed hedge that spilled over onto the pavement. James brushed his way through the gap in the hedge where a gate once hung, it leaned against the post it once swung from, its hinges exposed and twisted. He kicked through an assortment of litter that the wind had blown in through the gaps in the hedge. He had given up maintaining the front lawn long ago, it was always too wet to cut and was now overgrown. The grass had become intertwined with crisp packets, bent cans and plastic bottles. He jammed a key into the lock and shoved hard against the stiff front door. It opened onto a small hallway decorated with a brown patterned wallpaper that was slowly peeling away. James stepped over a small pile of letters, picked them up and added them to a much larger pile of letters that extended half way up the wall. His coat dripped puddles of water onto the smooth wooden floor as he walked through the house directly into the living room. He kicked his boots off next to the fireplace, he peeled off his wet socks from his soggy pruned feet and hung them up on a small rack. He shrugged off his sopping waxed coat and hung it on the rack next to the socks. He removed his glasses, exhaled onto each lens and with the corner of his shirt, he polished away the cloudy marks. He shivered in the bitter cold room as milky water droplets mixed with the remnants off his hair wax dripped from the tips of his black hair.

James knelt close to the empty fireplace. It was a magnificent piece that one might not expect to find in a house like this. The mantel was made of a chocolate brown coloured walnut that hung effortlessly above the firebox. The surrounding trim panels were of the same rich walnut and were decorated with intricate carvings of sailing boats, fish and seashells. The metal grate was of two interweaving Welsh Dragons, their spiked legs and forked tongues crossed symmetrically around each other. The hearth was made of local Welsh slate and had the fossil of an ancient species of starfish sprawled out in the bottom left hand corner, its long winding legs frozen in time by the metamorphic rock. The fireplace looked out of place, it did not belong.

James lit the fire, starting with the kindling and building up to larger and larger sticks until the flames were hot enough to take a whole cut log which he placed carefully into the middle of the intense crimson flames. He rubbed his ice-cold hands together in front of the fire, and relief flowed throughout his body as he began to warm up. He dragged a deep-seated armchair closer to the hearth and collapsed into its comfortable embrace. The dampness began to fade, the cold was now a distant memory and James stared blankly into the all-encompassing flames.

Yolk

“Yolk! I’ve struck yolk!” I call out to the rest of the kitchen. A fountain of gloopy golden ooze erupts from the cracked surface. It coats me head to toe, filling my ears and nostrils with the sweet nectar. Toby climbs the shell, bucket in hand.

“We’ve hit the motherload baby! We’re gonna be rich I tells ya, rich!” He laughs and wipes the yolk outta my eyes with a dusty handkerchief and thrusts the bucket in my hands.

“Don’t just stand there, ya dingus! Get scooping!” More buckets are passed up, miners clamber the shell face, a pump is connected and precious liquid is pumped out, down off the carton, down off the kitchen table and into a tin can on the dusty tiled floor.

“You and me buddy,” Toby says, one arm over my sticky shoulder, “All our problems are over, Everything’s gonna be alright now.”

“No, Toby.” I say, “Our problems have only just begun.”

Writing exercise: 28/02/19

The exercise was to tell a well known news story, story or joke in the voice of one of the following:

A 7 year old irish peasant child in 1850

A celebrated Scottish poet in 1780

An imperial Concubian in the forbidden city of the Ming dynasty in 1450

A first year Brookes student in 2029

It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out which voice I chose!

 

Didja hear about Santa Claus? Didja? Didja hear the news? He’s not comin’ this year, that’s what Mammy says. She say’s Santa’s not comin’ to Ireland. I ask her why and she says he’s run out of toys, he’s got nuffin left, nuffin. So I ask her what happened to all the toys and she says, Jimmy you ask too many questions you do. Last year he got me a sword didja know? Not a real one, a wood one. He gave Matthew a whole tuppence the lucky bugger, Mammy says you only get money when yer old enough and I’m only 7 and half. Mammy asked me what I wanted for Christmas if Santa was gunna come. So I tell her I want a nice beef stew with plenty of carrots in. I asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she says she wants a ticket to this place called Merica, lots of food there she says. So I changed me mind and said I wanted one of them tickets too, she says maybe if you pray hard enough, God’ll hear you and tell Santa to get us all tickets, she says.

I hope she’s wrong, about Santa Claus, I hope he does come. 

In the works

I’m currently writing a story for the latest Didcot Writers anthology. The theme is first contact, so the obvious choice for me is to try and write some science fiction. Already having a lot of fun writing it!

I took a small break from writing over the Christmas period as I awaited feedback from my writing assignments for uni. I didn’t get the results I wanted, but this has only inspired me to write more and to write better! The feedback was very useful and I will try use it to improve my writing.

I was also thinking of trying to enter some writing competitions to try and get my name out there a little bit.

Anyway, back to it!

5:17 on a Friday

“And now for Sally with the traffic,”

“Thanks Johnny, and yes there is an awful lot of traffic building up on the A34, we’re getting reports of a fatal traffic collision involving a motorbike and lorry. Expect delays of up 2 hours as they’ve had to close one lane due to the debris. We’ll get back to you with more information on this when we can so stay tuned….

****

The black motorbike speeds up, indicates, changes lanes, speeds up again. Faster and faster the bike travels, 100 miles an hour, 105 miles an hour 110. Blue siren’s flash in the wing mirrors but the driver doesn’t slow down. Everything blurs. Road signs drag past, the driver catches a glance at the one sign that matters to him, Hospital: 2 miles.

***

Steve switched on his phone and the screen lit up, 30 missed calls, 5 voice messages, 15 texts and a Facebook message, all from Sarah. He put the phone away, he knew what was happening and where he needed to be, he just hoped that Sarah would forgive him. Steve started up his motorbike and drove off…

**

“We’re going to have to let you go Steve. You’re performance isn’t up to standard and we don’t have the budget to keep you on. I’m sorry Steve.”

“Please Mr Rodgers, I’ve just had to take out a second mortgage on the house and my wife…”

“I really am sorry Steve…”

*

“Can’t you call in sick?” Sarah asked one last time.

“You know I can’t Sarah, I’ve told you this, my very future at the company revolves around this meeting and Barry from HR reckons tells me they’re sizing me up for a managerial position!” Steve replied, trying to do up his tie while eating a hastily buttered slice of toast.

“She was due days ago Steve, I’m ready to pop at any second!”

“I’m just going to be gone for 5 hours, can’t you call up Karen to take you or something?” Steve zipped up his jacket and grabbed his suitcase before heading to the front door.

“She’s on holiday, don’t you remember anything? I have no family left, no friends, all I have is you Steve, please don’t walk out on me like this, I need you.”

“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be fine.” Steve said and closed the front door on his pregnant wife.”

An Unwanted Encounter in an Elevator

“Hold the door!”

Lily made no attempt to stop the doors from closing. The Man however, made it just in time and stuck his size 12 boot into the closing gap at the last possible second.

“Close one eh lass?”

The Man chuckled to himself as he straightened his fedora and tucked his shirt deep into his waistband. He glanced over to the illuminated button on the panel.

“Number 13 eh? Unlucky for some that?”

The Man laughed to himself again as Lily said nothing, instead she reached for phone and pretended to text somebody.

“Lucky for you though it’s the same floor as me, which apartment are you? Oh let me guess number 3 right?”

Lily nodded.

“That’d make us neighbours then wouldn’t it?”

Lily nodded again, her eyes fixed to her phone screen. The lift slowed and came to a halt on the 7th floor, a cleaner entered the lift pushing a trolley.

“Oh don’t worry love, plenty of room for the three of us.”

The Man re-positioned himself much closer to Lily, trapping her in the corner of the lift with his bulk. His gut pushed against her and pressed her raised arms against her chest. The stench of his body odour crept up into her nostrils. They stood in silence, Lily heard the man take a deep inhalation. The lift stopped on the 8th floor and the cleaner left. The Man held his position for a moment too long and stepped back.

“Lovely perfume that one, Clare de Lune if I’m not mistaken?”

Lily pressed a button and the lift stopped. She got off, 3 floors too early but not a moment too soon.

Heart of Darkness

‘So I woke up cold again. Even with a nice puffy duvet and not one but two blankets, I was cold. Even though Bono had crept under the covers during the night, and even with our combined body heat, I was still flipping cold.

‘It’s funny really, Mum used to tell me that there are two kinds of people; hot and cold, and I was the cold sort. Milly the Snowman she had called me once. Milly the Snowman with her icy cold heart. Boy do I miss her.

‘It was still early, not really light yet, sun was just coming up but you know, once I’m awake there’s no way I’m getting back to sleep. Someone’s belly was grumbling loudly and to be honest, it was hard to tell if it was me or the dog.

‘We had croissants for breakfast, I’d actually managed to get them really cheap from Tesco just before they closed. It’s crazy, they bake all these nice bread and pastries in the morning and if they don’t sell it all by the end of the day, they slap a big yellow sticker on with a ridiculously low price and put it all on table that says “everything must go!” I’d got us some croissants, a sourdough bloomer and some fancy Danish thing for 52 pence, what a bargain eh?

‘So anyways, we were sat on this nice steel bench in the park eating these croissants and there was this woman walking down the path with a pram. She was wearing this posh long coat, it was all red with shiny silver buttons and the pram was like one of the old fashioned ones, vintage, lots of wires and a hard cold metal frame and it was all black too.

‘I wasn’t bothering her or anything, honestly I didn’t do or say anything to her at all. I had no intentions of doing anything to her or her baby. But she spat on me, as she strolled past in her fancy coat with her fancy pram, she spat on me and called me scum. It came as a right shock to me because like I said, I was just trying to sit there and enjoy a nice croissant with my dog.

‘I shouldn’t have done it, look right, I know that now but there was something about her that just made me so red hot angry, it’s not like I wasn’t provoked or anything. She didn’t get to treat me like that and get away with it scot-free, I deserve better than being spat on by some woman who’s probably only got such nice things because her husband is rich. I bet she hasn’t done a days work in her life.

‘So I did what anyone in my position would do and yeah, I’m not proud of it but she got what was coming to her. I think I must have knocked over the pram while I did it as well because next thing I knew, there was this ugly pink thing rolling around on the frosty pavement, wailing away. It was so loud, like a thousand crows all squawking at once and see here’s the thing about Bono right, he hates birds, like really really hates them. One time he spent a whole hour just barking at this tree that was full of them and they just sat there, high up in the branches, doing nothing like he was nothing to them.

‘That’s probably why he did what he did though, because of the bird thing I mean. I don’t think he meant to do it either though. he was just trying to protect me because that’s what I’ve trained him to do.’

‘Sorry Miss Maple, but can I just stop you there.’

Milly paused and glared across the table into the eyes of the detective inspector,

‘What is it exactly that you did to Mrs Cameron in the park?’

A slow smile formed it’s way across Milly the Snowman’s face.

Writing exercise: Writing dialogue

Brief: Write a scene in which there are two people. One person is highly sophisticated, posh and is in a position of power.

The other person is uneducated and has no power, they must try to convince the person in power to change their mind over something.

For added hilarity, swap the implied accents around. (So for example, the posh dialogue sounds common)

 

“Good Morning Mr Bland”

“Alright, who’s this then?”

It’s Mr Beaumont from the office,

“Ah yeah what’s the matter?

“What’s the matter is that you are not in work today Mr Bland.”

“Ah right yeah well you see…”

“This is your third transgression of the financial year and I’m certain that you are very well aware that 3 counts of violation against company protocol results in an automatic suspension. Are you not aware of this Mr Bland?”

“Now right look Mr Bowmont, I don’t know nothing about no “violations” but there’s a proper good explanation for why I ain’t in work today.”

“And that is?”

“It’s me dog Mr Bowmont, sir.”

“Well it weren’t feeling too well so I brung it to the vets and you’ll never guess what was wrong with it Mr Bowmont sir, you’re never gonna believe this.”

“Enlighten me.”

“Turns out my dog was proper pregnant and I mean like well proper, which is mental cos I never knew that my dog was even a girl dog, I thought she was a boy dog you see. I mean I guess that makes sense cos I always thought that he was just gay cos he was proper interested in my mate Stanley’s dog Ripper”

“Simply riveting story Mr Bland but I’m afraid that is not a legitimate excuse and I am going to have no choice but to let you go.”

“Aw please Mister Bowmont sir, you can’t fire me now, not now I’ve got puppies on the way.”

“Regardless of the fact I’m afraid that there is nothing more to be discussed, good day Mr Bland.”

 

A Sonnet

I, Angus Broadbent have written a Sonnet!

Here it is:

A Sonnet

When I think about writing a Sonnet, fourteen lines spring to mind
with ten syllables per line and a pentameter. Not forgetting four lines in
three sets, with rhyming couplets in a Shakespearean manner.
A single rhyming couplet at the end.
This is not like most sonnets, there will be no rhymes
here, no structure at all and there are certainly
no hidden messages that I have woven between the words,
A hidden treasure-trove for only the most educated to enjoy.
But it is a sonnet,
And I don’t care what you call it,
You can analyse it as much as you want
But when it comes down to it:
It’s my poem,
And I can call it whatever I damn well please.

By Angus Broadbent

 

I don’t think I’ve ever written poetry before, let alone a sonnet. Don’t expect me to write much more of these. However, if the general consensus is positive then maybe I will write some more poetry.

 

Uni

Being back at University is great. Just being around other like minded people is already helping me with the creative process. I’m feeling more motivated than ever to actually write a book. I currently have two ideas on the go at the moment and will hopefully decide on which one to focus on after my tutorial meeting later this week.

My first idea is a satirical comedic detective story based around a detective who has implied mental illnesses. I never really thought I would be going down the comedic route but a lot of my writing in workshops has been going down that route recently and the feedback has been positive so far.

My second idea is one that I wanted to wait til I was good enough at writing to do it justice, but I’ve made a start on it anyway. It’s a post apocalyptic book based in a future where earth has flooded entirely, partly due to an impact of several large comets but mostly due to global warming. The story focuses on viewpoint of a cadet who is surviving on board the largest ship ever built: the flagship of the Royal Navy. I want to include hints towards the current climate between Britain and Europe as well as having an underlying message of the dangers of global warming.

I feel like I could go either way at the moment so I have sent extracts of both ideas to my lecturer in the hopes that he can help me come to a decision later this week.