Kerry, the Writer

I have written this story as part of Esther Newton’s weekly challenge, Monday Motivations. I have particiated a couple of times in her challenges but haven’t put the stories on my own blog. This week’s task was to write a story or poem on the themes of “Sleep”, “Misery” or “Gold”. I had a go at incorporating all three, and I hope you enjoy what I’ve managed to come up with; I’m sure that all of you writers out there will identify with it!

I’m looking to get involved in more fiction challenges hosted by my friends on WordPress, as they are always a lot of fun and work wonders when I’m stuck for inspiration!

I’ll have a longer story to post soon, once I’ve finished editing. Here’s hoping that this offering will be enough until then. Thanks for reading!

 

Kerry, the Writer

By Adam Dixon

 

Kerry stared at the blinking cursor on her screen, her jaw working and her eyes narrowed. It was taunting her, that cursor, and the half-empty page, too. They knew she was tying her brain into knots over her next paragraph and they just waited, smug and superior. Kerry hated them. She rubbed her temples, groaning with fatigue. She blinked her dull brown eyes rapidly and took a long swallow of the cheap energy drink she had purchased on her way home from work. The too-sweet, slightly chemical flavour rushed down her throat, leaving her grimacing with the bitter aftertaste. The acrid smell of the sweeteners clung to her lips like moss to a cliff face. She didn’t like them, but they worked faster than coffee and she needed to stay awake.

“Kerry? Why are you still up?” Kerry started and twisted in her chair, looking sheepishly at the speaker. Jodie stood bleary-eyed in her pink dressing-gown, her raven-coloured hair in the disarray of sleep and her small hands barely containing an almighty yawn. Her face scrunched up and the glow from the naked lightbulb highlighted her freckles and dimpled cheeks. Kerry loved her when she looked like that.

“Hi, babe,” Kerry said. She frowned and bit her lip. “I, erm, didn’t wake you, did I?”

“No, you didn’t,” Jodie said, leaning against the door frame, and glancing around the spare bedroom. It was a tiny space, but Kerry had quickly claimed it with her desk, chair, laptop, book shelf and stacks upon stacks of notepaper which bore her spidery handwriting. Jodie took it all in with disinterest borne from familiarity.

“It’s gone twelve, Kerry,” Jodie continued, trying to look stern; Kerry refrained from smiling at the attempt.  Instead she brushed a wayward blond curl from her eye and tapped the desk three times with two fingers. That was her habit whenever she was stuck with her writing.

“You’ve got an early start again tomorrow,” Jodie continued, folding her arms.

“I know, I know,” Kerry said, wringing her hands in her lap. She tugged at her jogging bottoms and adjusted her hoodie. “I just need to keep on going for a bit, I won’t be much longer. Promise.” Jodie sighed and shook her head in bewilderment. Kerry closed her eyes and held back a long sigh. Jodie didn’t understand, not really. Nobody close to her did; they were all wonderful and supportive in their own way, but they were not creatives. They couldn’t understand what drove her to write, even late at night when the loathsome alarm clock grinned from the wrong side of midnight.

“Alright then,” Jodie said in a resigned voice. “Just don’t wake me up when you do come to bed, ‘kay?”

“’Kay,” Kerry said, turning back to her screen and back to the mockery of the blank page and the cursor. She heard Jodie close the bedroom door and listened for the muffled creaking of their bed. I suppose I could go to bed, Kerry thought with longing. I’m exhausted and some sleepy cuddles sound great right about now… Kerry sat up straight and gritted her teeth, annoyed at her lapse in discipline. No, she needed to write, damn it! She placed her hands above the keyboard, her digits poised and ready. But nothing came. Kerry’s shoulders slumped and she laid her forehead on the desk, feeling defeated.

Why am I even trying? Kerry thought for the umpteenth time. I can’t figure out what to write next and everything I do write is crap anyway! Why do I even bother? She lay there in her silent despair, unmoving, for several minutes. She turned her mind this way and that, considering where next to take her characters and how to put the words on to a page before an idea hit her like a thunderbolt. She sat bolt upright, the straight edge of her desk imprinted across her forehead. It was an angle of her storyline that she hadn’t considered before, but maybe… Hardly daring to breathe, Kerry began to type the first sentence. Then she wrote the next, doing so with care as the idea began to struggle upwards, like a delicate flower moving towards the sunlight. After the third sentence, the idea blossomed.

Just like that, Kerry had it. She smiled a warm, excited smile and began typing with gusto; her second wind was guiding her along and she didn’t dare try to stop it. The wonderful feeling of relief and happiness flowed through her, like liquid gold coursing through her veins; she was more energised than if she had downed five of her cheap cans of pop! She wiggled her toes inside her slippers and an involuntary giggle escaped her pursed lips.

“I did it, babe!” Kerry whispered excitedly, clambering into bed and holding Jodie close half an hour later. “I found my golden words!”

“Mmm!” Jodie protested, wriggling. “I asked you not to wake me up…” Kerry smiled in the darkness, alive with the rush of her success. Jodie didn’t understand, but that didn’t matter. Whatever she had written was bound to be sub-par by that point, but the idea had been captured and fixed in her mind. The flow of gold through her fingertips had revived Kerry’s flagging courage and she felt as if anything were possible. She was a writer, and that is what it was all about!

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2nd Place!

I opened up WordPress yersterday afternoon to some wonderful news: I had come 2nd in a short fiction competition!
My story was entered as part of Esther Newton’s Flash Fiction Competition and the stories were limited to 100 words. I’m thrilled to have done so well and would like to congratulate everyone else who entered.
You can read my story, “Money”, by following the link provided here. Do please read the 1st and 3rd place entries, they are brilliant! Thanks again to Esther for providing the challenge!

PS. I appear to have buggered up the links as they are not working for some people. If they don’t work for you, Dear Reader, then please look in the comments section and find the lovely Esther Newton. You’ll find the stories on her blog along with many more wonderful and inspiring posts.

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Paintings of the Past

This is a story I wrote a couple of weeks ago for the lovely Esther Newton’s Guest Post. She kindly provided the prompt for me and this one was a joy to write. It seemed to flow from my mind to and on to the page more so than some of my more recent efforts. So thank you, Esther!

 

 Paintings of the Past 

By Adam Dixon

Joe opened his eyes and looked around the room; where the hell was he? He was standing in a long hallway with white walls, wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts. He blinked a few times to make sure that he was awake. He was, and with a clear head and calm stomach too, which dispelled his second idea that he must be drunk. He turned his head and stared down the corridor. It was a very long one and he could barely make out the end of it from where he was standing. All he could see was a crimson carpet running along the floor like an elongated blood stain and what appeared to be a series of paintings or photographs hanging on both walls. He glanced behind and saw only another blank wall blocking his path. He scratched his head in confusion and tried to figure out what had happened.

“JOSEPH PEEL, PLEASE MOVE ALONG. THE GATEKEEPER AWAITS,” a clear voice boomed from above. Joe almost jumped out of his skin and cast about to and fro, seeking the cause of the noise. He saw nothing but the walls and carpet. After calming down a bit Joe concluded with a degree of satisfaction that he must, in fact, be dreaming after all and that by approaching this Gatekeeper the dream would reach its conclusion. He would then wake up in his over-priced but stylish flat in Brighton and wonder at the significance of it for a moment before getting on with his day. Maybe it would even feature in some of his writing in the future. Regaining his dignity, Joe took a deep breath and began to stride down the hallway.

The objects mounted on the walls were all paintings. Joe knew little about art but he appreciated the realism of each one. They all boasted a central image of a man or woman staring off into the distance surrounded by a snapshot of their lives. One showed a tall, bearded white man wearing blood-spattered armour standing amidst several fallen soldiers, the cross of Saint George proudly displayed on a flag behind him. Another depicted a white woman on a wooden stage, gesturing wildly as an audience gazed at her with rapt attention. Another saw an Asian woman wearing colourful clothing watching a fierce battle with horror and sadness. Joe noticed that the paintings appeared to be displayed in chronological order in terms of their historical period. He rather enjoyed the grotesque painting of what surely must have been a victim of the infamous Vlad the Impaler in Russia. The suffering of the naked, bleeding man was exquisitely and disgustingly detailed. The painting of a primitive black woman protecting her children from a white man with a rifle was as inspiring as it was horrific. After half an hour of walking and not paying complete attention, Joe walked into a solid wooden desk and stubbed his toe.

“Ahh, bugger it!” he yelled, bending over to grasp the injured digit and hopping about in fury.

“Oh dear, that is most unfortunate!” a woman’s voice tutted sympathetically. Joe ceased hopping and looked up. He had reached the end of the hallway. A small, plump woman with a kindly face was seated behind the offending desk, her soft brown eyes gazing at Joe with concern.

“Are you alright, Joseph? I really ought to have said something, but I saw how engaged you were with the Artwork! Oh dear, silly old fool that I am!” The woman was about sixty, with curly silver hair and wearing a practical woollen cardigan over a simple green dress. Her voice was friendly, if a little bit high-pitched, and Joe found himself liking her instantly despite his situation.

“Erm, that’s alright,” he replied, unsure what to say. “So…are you this Gatekeeper, then?”

“I am indeed, Joseph!” The woman clapped her meaty fingers together in delight and beamed at him. “I am your Gatekeeper and I must say that it is a pleasure to see you again!”

“Erm…right,” Joe gingerly set his foot down and stood up straight. “So, what happens now? Are we going to have a tea party or something until I wake up?”

“I don’t follow you, Joseph,” the Gatekeeper frowned. “There won’t be a tea party, although I could have prepared one if I knew that’s what you would have wanted. You won’t be waking up either, I’m afraid. Well, not like this, anyway.”

“Oh…kay…” Joe scratched his head again. He looked behind the woman. There were two doors set against the sterile white walls, both just as plain and unassuming. The way out, perhaps?

“I wouldn’t approach the doors just yet, dear,” the Gatekeeper said, reading his intention. “Not before I tell you about them first. I always forget that you won’t remember the last time!”

“What last time? How do you know me? You’re just my imagination, a figment of my subconscious!” Joe was becoming annoyed. “I know I shouldn’t’ve eaten that bloody stilton! Look, just say what you need to say and let me wake up. I’m a busy man, I haven’t got time for this!”

“The dead have an eternity in this Waiting Room, Joseph Peel,” the Gatekeeper said solemnly.

“The dead? What the hell are you talking about?”

“You are dead, Joseph,” the Gatekeeper said with regret in her voice. “You died on Wednesday 3rd of May 2016 A.D. You are currently approved for Resurrection in 2030.” Joe stood dumbfounded, staring. After a moment he began to chuckle, running his hand across his face.

“That’s not bad, actually!” he said, grinning. “Although I’d have thought that my subconscious would’ve come up with something a bit more exciting. Maybe that’s why my first books haven’t sold! Haha!”

“Joseph, I am not jesting,” the Gatekeeper leaned across the desk and looked intently up at him. “You died at four thirty-two A.M after your lit cigarette dropped from your fingers and onto a pile of discarded writing paper. Your flat went up in flames a few minutes later. Your severe inebriation prevented you from waking up in time to save yourself.” Joe stood still again.

“You…you must be joking,” Joe stammered. “I can’t be…dead…I was only-“

“Thirty-seven years old,” the Gatekeeper interrupted, glancing at a sheaf of note papers in her hand. “You were unmarried, living in Brighton, England and you were working as a freelance writer. I know all about your life, Joseph. This life and all of your previous lives, too. Did you enjoy the charming paintings of them? There are quite a few now!”

“Previous lives…” Joe’s face scrunched up in confusion. “Are you trying to tell me that I’ve lived as those men in the paintings that I’ve just walked past?”

“No, Joseph, that’s not what I am saying,” the Gatekeeper said with a frown. “I am trying to tell you that you have been ALL of them, both the men and the women. Every single painting you wandered past before reaching me is a depiction of the person you once were, during a single stage of Resurrection.”

“Resurrection…”

“Yes, Resurrection, Joseph,” the Gatekeeper sighed. “It really is unfortunate that you don’t remember all of this when you come through here. It’s rather tedious having to explain it all over again! Simply put, Joseph, your soul has lived forty-seven lives throughout its existence and it is my duty every time you die to guide you onto your next Rebirth. Understand?”

“I…” Joe was lost for words. He scratched his head, a look of defeat creeping across his face. “I’m…dead….but…it’s not fair! I was finally getting somewhere with my life! My book sales were picking up and I’d started dating again! Why now?”

“Life is rarely fair, my dear,” the Gatekeeper said sadly, cocking her head to one side. “After doing this job for a few millennia you’d see that, too. You’ve had much worse luck in previous lives, if that makes you feel any better? You were wrongly accused of murder in Texas in 1843, for example; you were hunted down and lynched by the townsfolk! It’s shocking that they would even do such a thing to a woman back then…”

“No, it doesn’t make me feel any bloody better!” Joe cried, slamming his fist down on the desk. The Gatekeeper jumped, her curls bouncing and her pearl necklace jostling around her throat.

“Come now, Joseph! There was no need for that!” she said, adjusting herself crossly.

“Like I give a toss!” Joe retorted. He began to pace before the desk, stomping his feet deliberately.

“Why now? What’s the point?” he said, half to himself. “Why let me die in 2016 if I’m not due for Rebirth or whatever until 2030? Surely I could’ve lived until then!”

“Then you would have come here slightly older but no less annoyed for it,” the Gatekeeper replied, folding her arms across her chest and leaning back in her chair. “Now, Joseph, you must make a decision. You have two choices: to spend an eternity in this hallway with nothing but these walls and paintings for company, or accept what has been planned and be Reborn once again. To do so you need only open the door on the left. I know which one I would choose, given the opportunity.”

“What about the other door?” Joe rounded on the Gatekeeper. “What if I choose the door on the right?”

“That door…” the Gatekeeper’s tone and expression was grave, “is where Death awaits. If you walk through that door, Death will embrace you and He will reap your immortal soul. Your death that time will be final; no more Rebirths, no more lives to lead. It will be the End.” Joe shivered, hugging himself against the chill which passed through him.

“Do…do many people choose that door?” he whispered. The Gatekeeper shrugged.

“Some,” she admitted. “But not many. Most find the very idea too awful to contemplate.” Her expression revealed what she thought of that option. “You do not have to make your decision right away, but if you delay for too long then I will assume that you do not wish to be Reborn and I shall leave you here. By all means take a few moments to think it over. I shall wait.”

Joe’s mind whirled with emotion as he tried to make sense of everything he had learned. He raised a hand to his eyes and wandered back down the hallway aimlessly. He thought about his life, or the one he remembered at least, and longed to return to it. He felt crushed by the weight of his misfortune. Life really had been improving! Sure, he’d never have become the next Stephen King, but he was all set to make a halfway-decent living from his writing.

“A bloody house fire! How could I have been so stupid?” Joe groaned, recalling the countless instances when he had glanced up at his broken fire alarm and reminded himself to get it fixed. Maybe it was natural selection at work…

Joe opened his eyes and saw that he was standing in front of a ghastly scene. The painting before him showed a man lying on the back of a wooden cart with a dozen other corpses, all emaciated and riddled with disease. A village was burning in the distance, with a line of identical carts moving out from its gates. Joe was repulsed by the scene and suddenly grateful that he couldn’t recall this particular fate.

“Okay, I’ve made my decision.” Joe said, looking at the Gatekeeper with a pained expression. The Gatekeeper nodded and looked at him expectantly.

Joe straightened and took a deep breath. He stepped past the desk and with a trembling hand he opened the door on the left.

 

A – Z Challenge Day 22

It’s Day 22 of this April’s Challenge, and my prompt comes once more from the lovely Esther Newton. Esther has suggested some brilliant prompts in the past which have helped me write guest posts for her, something which I hope to do again very soon. The suggested word is “VACUOUS”. This is a great word which had me stumped for ages! I was beginning to worry about whether or not I’d have something to write at all, but this afternoon something clicked and I hashed out my thoughts during my lunch break. Thank you, Esther, for such a creative and brain-busting prompt!

Here is what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it. 7

P.S. Just in case you are interested, you can find stories aided by Esther’s prompts here, here and here. Shamless plug, sorry!

VACUOUS

By Adam Dixon

“I can’t do this anymore, John,” the sleek, blond woman said, her voice quivering as she knelt beside the young man seated in a wheelchair. She took his hand with both of hers and began to sob. The man had his head lowered, looking defeated. He slowly raised his head to look at her, and his face was oddly blank.

“Sandra…” he began. “I don’t-“

“NO NO NO!” A shrill voice bellowed from the audience. Startled, the couple glanced in the direction of the outburst. A short, bald man wearing a pink shirt and enormous glasses was striding towards them, his expression the picture of exasperation. He stopped in front of them, his arms folded and clutching a sheaf of papers tightly. As he tapped his foot on the wooden floor of the stage, the sharp thuds echoed around the empty theatre space. He looked wired, and he stank of coffee.

“Mr Smith,” he started, running his hand along his cheek and sighing. “How many times must I tell you that this is perhaps the single most important moment in your character’s life? Sandra’s inability to take care of him after his illness sends him spiralling into loneliness and despair, which then leads to his malevolent actions later on.” He began leafing through the pages in his grip, pulling an expression of mock concentration. After a moment he shook his head and declared with frustration:

“Now, I don’t believe that it says in this script that John should be an expressionless, emotionless block of wood, although I could be mistaken! Why can’t you put a bit of feeling into this scene, for God’s sake!”

“I’m sorry, mate,” the man Smith replied, irritated. “I’ve already told you that I’m not a very good actor.”

“That much has been made abundantly clear!” The man in pink responded, almost hysterically. He turned to the woman, who was adjusting her blond wig and looking uncomfortable.

“Jackie, could you please try to bring something useful out of Keanu Reeves, here? Just for me?” The man pleaded. Jackie shrugged her shoulders.

“Dunno what you think I can do, Max,” she said sounding annoyed herself. “He’s pretty wooden. I don’t think he’s acted much in his life.”

“I haven’t, that’s what I’m saying!” Smith argued, rising from the wheelchair. “I don’t know what you thought I could bring to this production when my brother is the real actor!”

“Yes, Jerome would have performed exceptionally,” Max nodded, looking sad. “It’s a terrible shame that his accident occurred so close to opening night.”

“Look, I know I’ve only been asked to fill in because I look like him, but surely this is a bit much?” Smith said, waving his arms in exasperation. “I can’t act for shit! Surely you have another guy who can play this part well enough?”

“I have several “guys” who could do it, of course,” Max said, speaking slowly and carefully as if to a complete moron. “But I need Jerome Smith! If not him personally then I need his likeness. I’ve never come across anyone so suited for the part purely based on looks! I consider it a miracle that the boy can act as well!”

“Yeah, halle-fucking-lujah,” Smith grumbled. “But Jerome is in hospital, so you’re stuck with me. I dunno why you’re giving me such a hard time, I’m doing this as a favour to Jerome and by extension a favour to you, so don’t push it!”

“Alright, alright!” Max held up his hands in resignation. “I will endeavour to hold back a bit with my criticisms, but there are many! I suppose we’ll just have to see how you do with a bit of practice! Now, Jackie, from the top, if you please?” He stormed off-stage and slumped back into his folding chair. Jackie cleared her throat and knelt down beside the chair, motioning impatiently for Smith to sit. Smith muttered darkly to himself as he complied.

“Dunno why the grumpy sod is taking it all so seriously,” he mumbled. “It’s only an amateur production, for fuck’s sake!”

“I can’t do this anymore, John,” Jackie said, back in character. She gazed up at him with actual tears in her eyes. Fuck me, she’s good!  Smith thought, impressed. He raised his head slowly and looked into her eyes.

“Sandra…” he said, trying hard to convey emotion. “I don’t know how you can leave me like this…after all I’ve done for us…”

Max covered his face with his hands and groaned. The boy was utter shite; he’d never seen anyone with such a vacuous expression! He may as well have been carved from a tree!

“We’re doomed!” he whispered sadly, not bothering to watch the rest of the performance. He knew it was going to be a car-crash, anyway.