The Ambitious Drifter

Words, Images and The Occasional Noise


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Red For Safety

Some flash fiction I knocked up for last week’s Quickfic challenge.

Red For Safety.

It was so close she could see their faces, but the cries were torn away by the sea. She felt the same old dual perspective, seeing the shore, being there on the shore.

This was how the dream repeated, the timbers being wrenched apart, she feeling oddly calm. There was always someone on the beach, a young woman in red. An immobile figure, not capable of helping, but unable to look away.

Which had been first? Was it the story or the dream? The bay had taken a thousand lives or more, tales of the wrecks were common. Which ship was this? She’d never known its name. Stood on the deck as it broke up around her, it seemed hardly a ship at all. Who was it standing there beside her? That changed, sometimes it was someone from school, other times it was a face she’d seen on the bus. The dream was quite calming, an old friend. ‘ I cannot go down with the ship’ she thought ‘I am there alive on the shore.’

She came to the bay as often as she could, but that was annually now. Her father was gone and her mother barely knew her. The sea might be calm or furious. It had not ceased from claiming souls.

Call it a superstition if you will, she had always worn red to come here. ‘For safety’ she said. She waved, she’d never done that before. Then she turned away and went off to face another year.

 cliffs of moher

The Quickfic challenge had a photo of a person in a red coat looking out to sea. In keeping with the Drifter’s house rules, here’s one of my own photos of the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland.


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The Hidden Man

Been a while since I put up any flash fiction. This was a response to a Faber Quickfic Challenge from some weeks back. The prompt was a photo of a child’s hobby horse discarded in a bin.  I got a bit Midsomer… for the fun of it. I might see if I can turn it into a proper story.

The Hidden Man

The morning after Michaelmas Night is never a pretty one, but this was the worst in living memory. There was a body, not the snoring kind you’d usually find in the pub car park, a dead one.     ‘Everyone’s a Mummer’ thought Sergeant Miles, ‘twenty seven people disguised in fancy dress, the Hidden Man and a Pantomime Horse.’ That was just the performers. Most people in the village brought along a hobby horse, most had flaming torches too. Now she was looking at a costumed man in blackface. Turned up his toes, as they say. No one was sure how he’d died yet. The local doctor, reputedly one half of the Horse, was yet to appear.

The identity of the dancers should not be revealed, that was the custom. Everybody knew it was Ron from the pub, his brother and a bunch of the other lads. Alright, round them up and get some statements. Oh yes, check who’s missing. There’s a dead Morris Man in the skip behind the mini-mart. We don’t know his name yet.

At least it was a man. In recent years there’d been Lady-Mummers, as the parish newsletter had delicately called them. Given the costumes, it hadn’t seemed to matter much. Someone muttered ‘No good will come of this!’ They’d been right. She guessed that the hobby horse was the murder weapon. It was not home made.   ‘At least’, thought the Sergeant, ‘I have an in’.

Her own village secret. She’d been the Hidden Man.

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The old bridge at Schowham, Morcestershire, UK.


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…sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing…

Take the first sentence from your favorite book and make it the first sentence of your post.

Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression. 

This is perhaps not the most memorable opening line ever written, but the author is leading us into the privacy of his mind and down the rabbit hole. He is writing a novel and we are going with him.

The blogsphere is full of sage advice for aspiring writers. Every day we are exhorted to kill our darlings, bleed all over our keyboards and eschew the use of adverbs. What can we learn then from a vacant eyed, would-be novelist with his mouth full of bread?  Flann O’Brien’s writing tips  are still astounding after seventy years.“one beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with.”

‘At Swim Two-Birds’ is my favourite novel. It is a clever blending of multiple plots, keen observation and moments of great beauty. It combines lyrical poetry with high farce. O’Brien imports characters from Celtic mythology, pulp novels and the kind of folk seen by Leopold Bloom on his travels around Dublin. New characters are created, conscious of their newness and lack of a back-story. Good and Evil contend for their freshly created souls. The Pooka MacPhellimey, master of malediction, is a likeable chap. The Good Fairy is a bit of a prig. Characters revolt against their authors and begin writing their own novel, roughnecks revere poetry and Mad King Sweeney witters away in the background.

This is the kind of book that gets five star reviews or one star reviews. It’s a multi-layered masterpiece or it’s nonsense. It does help to know a little of Irish mythology, or at least have a bit of the Irish in you. You don’t have to have read  ‘Finnegans Wake’, perhaps because of this book you won’t need to.

It is metafiction, a book about writing a book. It’s a book where everybody knows that they are inside the story, except, of course, the reader. I am a would-be writer with a vacant expression and I find it inspiring, subversive and  whole lot of fun.

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Formerly Trellis’s Red Swan Hotel, Dublin,  now much neglected

 

 


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The List, My Wonderful Wonderful Past Lives

For this week’s challenge, I invite you to breathe new life into the established genre of the end-of-year countdown list.

  . . . rank things and to build coherent narratives out of the chaos of loosely-related events . . . 

Well maybe not a coherent narrative!

Year after year, I keep making this list, but then it gets lost. I’ve tried everything, engraved on stone (wears off in time), golden tablet (stolen, melted down) and eventually into some folk songs (people get the words wrong). Past lives eh? Who’d have ’em? Still, it’s immortality, (no bad thing), coupled with recycling, well that’s a good thing isn’t it?
There’s not many of us around, lots tried, but didn’t have the patience to get the spells right. Plus they got it wrong… you can’t live forever as the same person. Stands to reason. People start to notice, next thing they’re banging on the castle door with their pitchforks and flaming torches. It’s messy, I can tell you.

I won’t do the full list of who I’ve been, can’t be bothered. Some of them were dull anyway. ‘Foot soldier in Napoleon’s army’, yeah right, cold, boring, not enough to eat. I’ll give you a few of my Greatest Hits though. I doubt if this internet thing will outlast a slab of marble, but no one’s going to nick it, are they?

Julius Caesar.
Not bad, had fun with an army, crossed the Rubicon, didn’t really conquer Britannia, did alright in Gaul. Downside, male pattern baldness and some ungrateful folk who stabbed me. I could’ve done without that. Oh yeah, Cleopatra ditched me for Marc-Antony.

Alfred The Great.
And didn’t I put the ‘Great’ into that one! One of my best, took an obscure Saxon prince and got him to found an entire nation. Beat the Vikings too, yeah, don’t believe that burnt cakes nonsense.

Geoffrey Chaucer.
That was fun, all the kings and that were taken, so I went for the writer job. I knocked off a few nice stories, nicked a few off Boccaccio, but what the hell? There I am ‘father of English literature’ and I even got to slip in a few fart jokes. Happy days.

Eleanor of The Acquitaine.
…and of about everywhere worth having as well. I blagged a French king AND an English one…. not too shabby on the CV. The kids were a pain though, always fighting. Richard the Lionheart? Don’t make me laugh… and John, ‘Bad King John’…. what a joke. I outlived most of them though.

Richard the Third.
There was lots of potential in this one, I think I could have taken it further. I got a bad rap though, none of it was true. Alright, there were a few murders, but hey, it’s a Plantagenet thing, OK?

No, you’re guessing right, I didn’t get to be Shakespeare. Nope, popped back as Guido Fawkes that time…. ’nuff said. Seemed a good idea at the time.

Jamie Boswell.
…wrote that one down. Had fun? Ooh yes, read all about it. The first blogger,  for sure.

Look, shush, I was so NOT Queen Victoria. That outfit, puhleez! No, I was Ada Lovelace… shoulda got more Likes for that one, not sure what went wrong. I was cute, clever, Lord Byron’s daughter….. invented programming. OK, so I got a Google Doodle…. bah, without me, no Google! How about ‘the face that launched a million nerds’?

Robert Johnson.
Well that was going real well till someone poisoned me. I had it all happening, just cut the first album. Blimey that Mick Jagger owes me a few bob, eh? I did put in a bid to come back as Jimi Hendrix after that, but I missed the cutoff date.

The Ambitious Drifter.
Oh well, not one of the biggies, but I haven’t been stabbed or poisoned. It’s good sometimes to have a quiet life, get a few moments to write it all down.

There’s a few more goodies in the list, but maybe next time huh?  I’ll tell you about the time I was Schrodinger’s Cat.

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Postmortem Selfie –  Gloucester Cathedral. Wasn’t exactly a starring role, but the outfits were pretty nifty.


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In My Beginning Is My End

I wrote this short piece for the Faber Academy‘s Friday QuickFic contest. Flash fictioneers should check it out!  Yes, it’s the ‘Faber’ from Faber & Faber, the famous publishers. This week’s prompt came from a  quote by TS Eliot, one of  their most illustrious writers. For some of us, he IS Faber. If you’ve never read it, I recommend you read ‘East Coker’.  My piece has references from the poem, although that wasn’t necessary for this fun creative exercise. 

I didn’t win, but a fellow WordPresser did, very good it was too!

In My Beginning Is My End

My kitchen is all old stones, I look to make sense of them every day. I’d have them plastered, but there’s words in there. One day when the light is right, I’ll see them clear enough. One wall was chopped out of the rock, too neat to be anybody but the Romans. What stood on this site is barely known, but the stones are everywhere along this road. I live in the kitchens of a castle, itself as old as Richard the First. In the mornings I am older than any of that and further along into my life. My knee is turning to stone as I shuffle down the stairs. Each day I am a little more of a fossil.

I live along a pilgrim road, older than the shrine they’re going to. The pilgrims are living artefacts, some trudge past each day. It’s a very long walk from here, but it doesn’t seem to stop them from coming. It will end in glory, even if they never get across those fierce mountains. They have begun and that is everything. To die on the road is reward itself. However is the ending, is the ending.

For me, another coffee, staring at the intriguing walls. I make patterns, I see patterns, patterns emerge. It’s my only pilgrimage, the best I can manage now. Surprised to be an old man, I must still be an explorer.

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Dried vine tendril


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Where Do You Come From?

Some flash fiction for this week’s challenge. Thought up as I got my dinner ready. The essential question, ‘Where do you come from?’

The storm, they said, was a once every two hundred years one. But I don’t know how they count off the time. The tree had been through two at least, but this one had been too much. I heard it go over, through the walls and with my feet. It sounded closer than it was.  It was off in the woods, a bit up the road. In the morning it stood out like a missing tooth, a gap in the trees where the light came in. The council men were already there, it’d blocked off half the road. The tree had gone clutching a fist of soil, wrenching out a crater and toppling rocks down the hill.  They’d already sawed the trunk in half.  In the hole there were stones and bones. The police had just been called.

They arrived in a hurry, as you’d expect, but didn’t stay here long. This may have once been a murder, but it was not for them. They taped off the scene and warned us all, ‘no taking souvenirs now!’  They left slowly, disappointed I think. Some time later, a white van came. Archaeologists, I guess. I’d fought the urge to fossick, but I was curious. Besides, I’d been left on guard. My neighbours had better things to do.

I’d spent a quiet hour staring at his skull, as close as I could be without touching. The jaw was intact, there were lots of teeth. His lower half was still in the soil, bones sticking out from the crumbling hill. He’d slept by the tree for some five hundred years, maybe more, they said.

It’s beyond the houses, there isn’t much here, just the forest and the ancient road. It’s a pilgrims’ way, still used today. Before the saints came it was a Roman road, but I don’t think he’d be that old. There was not much to see really, it was all quite quick. He hadn’t been buried with anything much. The leather he’d been wearing, gone with the cloth, it’s too damp here for much to survive. There were no spears, swords or treasures, just the bones were left. Good teeth, they told me, he was probably not old, and yes, he had been a man.

I wondered, I still think now, why was he left out here? It’s twenty minutes to the centre of town, was he close as that, or had he just set out? I think he was a stranger, to be buried right out here. I’m sure he was a pilgrim, come from far away. There were no friends or family, that’s why he was resting here. It doesn’t matter now if he had made it to the shrine. He died on a pilgrim road, so his salvation was assured.

I dreamt of him several times, but it wasn’t with any fear. I think he’d had a pleasant face, maybe an honest smile. I wish we could have talked, but all I’d want to ask, is ‘Where do you come from?’ and listen to him speak.  I would not want to ask him  now  ‘Where are you going?’  It  doesn’t seem to matter after all this time.

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Forest road, La Curie, France.

More Fiction

 Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science. 

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.


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The Pie In The Sky

A Weekly Writing Challenge. 

This week I invite you to write about pie.

Flash fiction fresh out of the oven. Oh goody, no one’s used it yet….

I’m not sure when we all began calling it ‘the pie’, probably after our stupid media guy did his last interview. Management had hated it, the press had gone wild. Dull subject, great tagline.   ‘Yep’ he’d said ‘It’s just like a fly on a pie. We’re gonna land, penetrate the crust, scoop up a bit of what’s inside and go home.’     It was my line originally, but I’m not owning up to it. He’d wanted an analogy. You know what those are? Yeah, one of those. The probe was just a six hundred million dollar fly. There was a four mile wide pie hurtling past the Moon. Yep, they have a crust. We wanna know what’s in it. My bad, should have drawn a few more pictures for him.

The press were delighted. You can guess what came next. ‘Pie in the sky’. Alright, we now know that six hundred million dollars worth of pie could feed a lot of orphans for a long time. Somebody worked out the numbers. You’re ahead of me, aren’t you? Yep, they made a pie chart. Management again, not amused, especially the nameless ones that have to talk to the Senate Committee about the money.

It wasn’t all our money either. The Brits had put in a few pounds and a team of helpers with incomprehensible accents and  long sideburns. ‘We have finger in pie!’ screamed the Daily Morrow. Not much text, but a large photo of an undiscovered model called  ‘Miss Delia Honeypie’. The team at Nullborough University didn’t mind that at all. I gather she’s in line for an honorary doctorate if the probe gets home.

I was the one that had to front the angry mob, my bosses bosses bosses. I’d expected to be one of those fairly cute extras in a zombie film that gets eaten alive early on. It wasn’t that bad. It turned out that our rulers are practical people. They’d weathered great storms than this one.    ‘So what’s in it for us?’ they asked. Several people asked that in different ways. It was only the last of them that summed it up so succinctly. I’d got this worked out already.

‘It’s like  that Bruce Willis film.’ I said ‘Where he saves the world and all that.’ There was a sigh of relief. Of course, saved by popular culture.

‘Anyway, if we know what’s in these things, we’ll know what to do if one crashes into us.’ That went down well. ‘So we can blow up the pie, right?’ said someone who hadn’t said anything yet.     ‘I guess so’ I said, ‘if we armed a probe.’ They seemed disappointed, wasn’t that the right answer?      ‘Erm’ said someone ‘we can’t blow this one up?’ I explained. We don’t know what it’s made of, we haven’t got a bomb and no one would see it anyway. It’s the wrong side of the moon. Well that seemed to work.

All was good. The new media person was able to get a selfie with Bruce Willis. It turned out he was quite willing to help out his country by standing next to Miss Delia Honeypie. She’d cost us an airfare from London, but we got a lot of positive coverage. It’s all mathematics really. The less coverage she wore, the more coverage she got.

I stayed up for three days and nights trying to manoeuvre the probe onto the pie. Flies make it look really easy. Then again, this pie wasn’t just left out on the windowsill to cool down. It was zipping along at 34,058 miles an hour. Well about that. We made it up really. Anyway, we landed finally and I went off to bed. Team Krusty over at Nullborough could do the rest. Little Jack Horner had sat quietly in his corner for long enough. Time to put in the thumb. This was the proof of the pudding. See? I’ve been reading too many English newspapers.

I got about six hours of the well deserved and then the phone rang. I put in another two hours happy slumber and the damn thing rang again. Better see what’s happened. ‘Yeah, me’ I said, ‘What?’.       Well some good news. ‘You’ve won the sweep!’. We’d all put in suggestions as to what we’d find up there. ‘Giant carbon dioxide slurpee’ was generally expected to win. We’d all put in a few silly ones too. Hey, we’re scientists!

‘So?’ I said, trying to sound interested. ‘It’s a muddy icecube then? Water?’. There was a silence. Then one of those ‘erms’ that people say before the have to say things they really don’t want to say.  Another silence. ‘It’s a chocolate raisin!’. Oh not again. Mars had been bad enough, how could we cover this one up?  The universe is one big sweetshop. Still, I’d beaten Hoskins again. At least it wasn’t really a pie.

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From the International Pie Observatory. La Curie, France.

More fiction

Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science’. 

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.


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Sorry Is A Hard Word

Someone’s left you a voicemail message, but all you can make out are the last words: “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you months ago. Bye.” Who is it from, and what is this about?

A Daily Prompt

I played it back a few times, it wasn’t a voice I knew. After about the fifth time, I did know something though.  It wasn’t a voice I liked.  The message system was running fine, nothing had been missed. She was simply one of those people who picks up the phone and starts talking. ‘Wait for the beep’ I’d said… in English and bad French.Someone hadn’t waited.

I’m a creative type of guy, good imagination (some days). My mind did what minds do in this situation. It ran a gamut. That’s a gamut of emotions. Is there any other sort of gamut out there worth running?  My mind wandered. A flash of clear light, gamut…. en francais that’s ‘gamme’… a range.  Running a gamut and wandering off, that’s just like me.I’ve got a  whole range of emotions in no particular order.

So.

 It wasn’t my doctor, he’s French. I ruled out that particular aspect of bad news.  Was the news actually bad?  My caller’s voice hadn’t made that clear.  There was a slight impatience there, I could hear that.  There was also some kind of relief. This was something she’d finally been able to get off her chest. It was also something she’d meant to say a long time ago. It was almost boring for her now.    I’m being dumped?  I’m being dumped by a woman who’s voice I don’t recognise?  Well no wonder she dumped me. Maybe I’ve failed to get a job I can’t remember applying for. I wouldn’t hire me then, my memory is no good.

Was it good news, somewhat postponed? There’s always the Lotto, but I check my own numbers. It was all a puzzle, but I’d run out of gamut.  If I hadn’t been told months ago, then I didn’t need to be told today did I?   I ran a quick survey of the bleedin’ obvious for the ‘well duh!’ scenarios. Nope. She hadn’t told me, no one else  had told me either. I made amental note to look up gamut and promptly forgot about it.

A few days later I was down in the kitchen when I heard the sound of my own voice. Someone was talking over me. Ah yes. The answering machine, my ‘not at home’ speech. I didn’t quite dash, that’s not my style, but I got upstairs anyway. I’d recognised the voice. A successful lunge for the receiver, she was still there. ‘Hello?’ I said, friendly but questioning. Silence. Then about another half a silence, then a breath. ‘Oh’ said the voice ‘Wrong number, sorry. Bye!’.

Twice this woman has rung me up to tell me she’s sorry. I think it must be a quite  hard word for her to say. I’ll never know though, will I?

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My mind went blank. I was in a very dull place.

More Fiction

Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science’. 

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.


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A Perfect Crime

From a series of interviews with Mr A G Bell at the Queen Adelaide Sanatorium, New York State.

He speaks about the irony of his confession.

 Compiled and edited by Mr Latimer Naseby 

I have since been told that it was the perfect crime. Can you believe such a thing? The path of science is strewn with fatal mishaps. Indeed Icarus the victim is better known than Daedalus the inventor. How could I have caused this disaster? I was obviously working in my own small laboratory in the garden. The irony Sir, I was congratulated upon my luck at surviving! The evil of it still oppresses me. I know I must account for myself in the afterlife, madman or not. I must face those poor people at last.

I made my confession even as the blaze was being extinguished. Needless to say, this was met with great astonishment by the officers I spoke to. It was assumed that I had been driven temporarily insane by the tragedy. Some kindly souls understood that I felt responsible, as it was my experiment that had caused the fire. Even my very confession was seen as evidence of my madness. Could a killer do such a thing as this and then be so calm? I was placed in a hospital, but I was not under arrest. I did receive the first of many doses of tincture of laudanum. This, I believe did help me bear the burden of my crime. It was some years before the mass of it fully crushed my heart. I will never escape that weight now.

I am told I was eventually charged with multiple murder. I had kept a journal, my intentions, all my plans were laid out clearly. I am a meticulous man, as you may gather. I had even kept the receipts for the explosive chemicals I had ordered. I did not attend the court, I was in no fit state to do so. I have not seen the transcripts either, but the proceedings have been described to me. Scientists, some known to me, were called to testify that I had indeed planned the destruction of the college. Many of the chemicals I had used are not naturally explosive. The exact details of the electrical triggering mechanism were suppressed. There is one quote I remember, but it brings me no pride. ‘If this was not such an evil plan, it would have been a work of genius.’

As you see Sir, I gained fame and recognition of my work. It was not how I intended to be remembered. That I have lived so long is not a comfort to me. I believe it to be part of my punishment. I have grown so old as to be able to read about myself in history books. They are far too kind to me, much too innocent. My telephone would have been a success, I’m sure of that. I’m also sure it would have caused misery and disaster in the summer of 1863. I have read that many telegraph operators died or were injured in that terrible summer. How many more would have perished in their own homes, talking on my telephone? To think, Mr Naseby, I had planned for my wires to be brought right into churches and concert halls!

And yet, Sir, I remained a scentist. I know that my calculations are utilised on the Optical Telegraph. I thought about it, you know, when I was planning to kill my poor colleagues. At that time, every sight, every event had special meaning for me. I would walk  in the college gardens in the early dawn. I saw the beads of dew on the leaves and noticed how the new sunlight was refracted through them. I was being shown the path of light, even as I plunged further into the darkness.

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Daguerreotype, aftermath of the Boston explosion 1859.

Reproduced by the kind permission of the Royal Institute of Photography, Kandahar.

This is another excerpt of an ongoing fiction work ‘Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science’. I will be publishing new parts twice weekly.

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.


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Some Things Are Brighter At Night

Weekly Writing Challenge.

In today’s writing challenge, you’ll choose a scenario (or invent your own) and write a poem, a short story, a vignette, a scene, or flash fiction based on Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.

Well I hate making a mess, hey Red, you got an ashtray? Take your time, the man needs his drink first up. Yeah I got a light,the lady’s got one for me. Just right there when I need it. You know I was wondering about that match-book. One of you was bound to still have it, you’re all tidy people. You’re not smokers either, I am. You notice that kind of thing when you ain’t got no lighter. Yep, just the one match missing. You were a smoker once lady? Gave it up for your voice of course. Smoky enough already huh? Needed to steady your nerves I guess.

Move it Red, that man needs his drink real bad. But you’d know about that huh? I know about that, I can see it all here in front of me, I got brothers too. I knew you’d all come here. Yeah, I know, nothing I can prove. Our friend with the shaky hands wouldn’t lie, not if he wants to keep doing his sermons. He doesn’t look quite right though, out of uniform like that.

Red’s alright, aren’t you Red? Never left the diner, not for a moment. Little Miss Scarlet here, on stage at the club. Everybody saw you, right lady? All illusions, all well done no doubt. I don’t have illusions, not any more. I’ve seen too much. And you know what? I don’t care. I can guess why, but there’s a thousand ‘whys’ out there. Look for a motive? Who don’t got a motive for this? Had it coming? You could say that.

There’s plenty of working stiffs back at the Precinct House would have done the same thing. Not smart enough though, not as smart as you people. One real smart family. The church, the club, the diner… all in the same business when you look at it. All working for the lonely souls. Here you all are then, hiding in plain sight. My Ma was a redhead, you know that? It’s how it I spotted you. Just passing by, long day that one. Wasn’t going to come in, but there you all were, plain as day.

I’ll be on my way when I’ve smoked this thing. Trying to give up too. Hey Red, put the match-book in the trash can out the back will ya?  They ain’t going to find it, and if they do? Ah yeah, just another nighthawk that came in for a brew.

hopper - bombed

Meanwhile, Jake & Dinos the two dimensional art bombing Trivialians congratulated themselves on how well they’d blended in.

My apologies to Edward Hopper.

More fiction….

Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science. 

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.