The Old Man and the Museum

I hadn’t been working there long when I first noticed the old man. He was padding round the balcony, glancing about with a look of quiet fascination at the old maps displayed on the walls. He made three circuits, before descending to the ground floor and tipping his hat at the meet and greeter as he left.I quickly learned from my colleagues that he was a regular to the museum and had been for some time. Aside from taking walks around the upper floors, the old man also liked to tell jokes. He would often come over to the information desk and whisper “Have you heard the one about…” to whoever was stationed there that day. The punchlines were terrible, but we would laugh anyway out of courtesy and also because it was a brief spell of cheeriness amongst the drone of weary visitors.From then on, I paid close attention to his habits and saw how he would pause on occasion to pat a handrail or a stone column, like it was a trusted friend. At other times he would suddenly become fixated by an exhibit and beam at it with a knowing smile. This often had the profound effect of drawing other visitors to the object at which point the old man would slip through the bustle and continue on his steady meander.Most of all, he enjoyed looking at the Didier-Pouget that fills the wall outside the wildlife gallery. Nothing seemed to please him more than taking in the sunlit tufts of heather and the sprawling hillside as if it were a view he knew too well or perhaps longed to see in person.The first week he stopped visiting the museum, things began to deteriorate. Chunks of marble began breaking off the staircase in the front hall as visitors passed up and down. Surveyors were brought in to assess the problem, but they were unable to determine a cause and management had no choice but to close them off, indefinitely.The old man appeared a few days later, using the back stairs instead to reach the galleries. Although he still made his rounds, word quickly spread that he didn’t display his usual level of affection towards the exhibits or the building.The following week, the preventative conservator became convinced that there were new cracks appearing in the Assyrian reliefs. At first, no one believed her until she began taking pictures that illustrated the encroaching damage. The curators were bewildered, but those of us who worked on the galleries knew what was happening. You could feel it in the walls and the great oak doorways – everywhere was withering in his absence.The last time I saw the old man, his face was deathly pale. He still wore his broad-brimmed hat, but he’d swapped the tweed for a grey woollen suit jacket. He didn’t tell us any jokes. He barely made it up to the balcony.Over time, things returned to normal; mostly. The steps were able to be repaired and the cracks in the reliefs no longer seem to be increasing.How many have noticed the new addition, I couldn’t say. It’s barely acknowledged, except through the briefest of whispers or in the flick of an eye. But if you care to look, you’ll see that a second figure has appeared amongst the rose-tinted hillside where once there stood a lone female. There’s not much detail to make out apart from a broad-brimmed hat that’s being held aloft as if the person is embracing the scene.No doubt there’ll be others who’ll become a fixture amongst the museum and its collections. It’s what they deserve after contributing so much to the masonry and the treasures within. You might even call it a public service. For those yet to discover their own cherished item, I wish them long and healthy lives.

Literary submissions for Popshot Magazine are now open

I picked up a copy of this recently and was blown away by each and every piece. Exciting to hear that they’re open for submissions. I, for one, will be slinging some words their way..

ShortStops

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After the resounding success of our latest issue of Popshot (which is looking likely to become our bestselling one of all time) we’re even more excited than usual to announce that literary submissions for our forthcoming issue are officially open.

Through The Curious Issue and The Outsider Issue, our last two editions have focused in on the introverted and peculiar sides of humankind. For this issue however, we’re turning the tables and looking to explore the extroverts, the travellers and the adventurers to create a collection of short stories, poems and illustrations that will roar with energy and spirit.

For the full submission guidelines, head to our submit page and make sure that you send in your short fiction or poetry long before the deadline of January 20th. We would also recommend reading the recent article by our editor which shines a light on what kind of writing we’ll be…

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The morning crowd

A short-short about the early morning grind.

The stars gaze down at me, merciless and piercing. ‘What the hell are you doing up?” they say. “We haven’t finished our shift yet.’

Don’t I know it, I think back at them, and squint through the damp at the orange readout. 15 minutes.

A schoolboy type is standing there, collar and shoes beneath an anorak. He half-turns at my arrival, letting his peripheral do the work. Probably wondering if it’s still early enough for weirdos.

Another passenger arrives, shorter, rougher. He occupies himself with a tangle of headphones before the guitar riffs of Hotel California fill his ears. 9 minutes.

A girl in a fur-lined hood makes us four and we drill the empty road with our willpower. It conjures up nothing. Then the readout resets itself and suddenly its 2 minutes. Anticipation sets in.

When the bus finally arrives, we stumble on in single file, the driver as grim as the hour. Upstairs is all two-day stubble, black woolly hats and jackets up to the chin. I fit right in.

We lurch away and my eyes wander to finger marks, smeared across the window from the night before. Behind them, shop fronts float by, the night shift workers silhouetted against pale lighting while they mingle with lorry drivers. Up the front of the bus, the glow of brake lights is like a furnace, stoked by offerings from the daily grind.

Then a few stops along, he appears. Something about his demeanour isn’t right. His movements are too energetic and he’s blabbering away on the phone like its Friday afternoon.

Groans pass along the deck as he takes a seat. I get to work, fixing him with my best glare while others turn their heads and throw a mean glance, but he appears invulnerable. Even Hotel California has noticed from two seats back as he removes his headphones and stares incredulously at the back of the man’s neatly cropped hair. He clocks me and we shake heads in unison.

Then a lad with 5am eyes glaring out of a grey hood launches across the aisle and lamps the guy on the chin. A chorus of approval erupts from the passengers. The man recoils in his seat, before scurrying down the stairs and we all press our faces to the windows to see his freshly-pressed figure disappear into the black of the morning. 5am eyes flashes a murky grin while the driver gives it a couple of hoots. The rest of us look around at each other, snarling with satisfaction. That one needed nipping in the bud.

Picking up a trail

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Jack sniffed the dirt. Someone had been here. There were traces of urine, possibly excrement too. He went to investigate further, but something was holding him back. Damn lead was always pulling Jack off the case.

Fortnightly Round-Up Sept (I)

Heck of a lot of stuff going on at ShortStops for fiction writers (and readers). Definitely worth a look if you’ve got anything submission ready.
I haven’t. 😦

ShortStops

Hello lovers of well-crafted and brief particles of prose,
Welcome to autumn! Here’s what’s been happening on our blog over the past fortnight. As ever, if you’d like to contribute, drop me a line and I’ll explain how it works: shortstopsuk@gmail.com

Lit Mags

Jotters United publishes issue 6 and is calling for submissions for its women-only issue. Check out the summer issue of Long Story, Short and issue 6 of Alt Hist. Firewords Quarterly has launched its second issue (review coming soon).  And there’s also  one of the 100 stories that accompanied the release of Mark Watson’s new novel, Hotel Alpha, Issue 38 of Neon Magazine – and Battery Pack, Don’t Do It’s Issue 5, the Electricity issue, and Bunbury’s fifth issue is the Mythology special.

On the submissions front: Short Fiction journal wants your short stories. Holdfast is fundraising for its first ever print anthology and also…

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Man in the Matchbox

It’s been a busy few weeks, having a holiday in Italy and then working to get my entry finished for the Bristol Short Story Prize. As such, I realise I haven’t made a post for nearly a month!

I’ve got a few things that I’m planning to write about in the coming weeks, but to briefly fill the gap, see here for a little thing I did for Visual Verse. It’s a fun exercise to stir up the visual cortex and also allows a bit of publicity for your blog or webpage 😉

A word from the King

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, a great book about the life of the writer and his thoughts on how to write a story. I came across a passage in it that I thought sums up the writing process well (or atleast, his process) and thought it was worth sharing.

“I want to put a group of characters in some sort of predicament and then watch them try and work themselves free. My job isn’t to help them work their way free, but to watch what happens and then write it down.”

“The situation comes first, The characters -always flat and unfeatured – come next. Once these things are fixed in my mind, I begin to narrate. I often have an idea of what the outcome may be, but I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way…if I’m not able to guess with any accuracy how the damned thing is going to turn out, even with my inside knowledge of coming events, I can be pretty sure of keeping the reader in a state of page-turning anxiety.”

And for those shortstoryers out there (me included), here are a few bits of advice I came across coupled with a list of publishers…

http://ideastap.com/ideasmag/the-knowledge/how-to-write-a-short-story-and-get-published

Hope some of this is helpful.