February 12, 2005

Flash Fiction

Hey Guys, here's my first flash fiction. It definately needs refinement but I'm not sure where to start on that so let me know what you think :) It also needs a title…

The mountains tower around my insignificant car, sheltering me from the wind, but taunting me with treacherous winding roads. The map is useless and so is my sense of direction. Each house I have passed has been deserted, rotting from the inside out, pining for its warm past and the homely smell of soda bread.

The car is jittering now and the petrol gauge is creeping into the red. It is four in the afternoon and the sun is out for a change. I have been travelling for hours. My eyes are becoming weary from scouring each nook and cranny of the mountains, searching for some sign of life. A village, town, hamlet, cottage, cave: anything that might mean food and communication.

I drove off the Swansea-Cork ferry six hours ago at eight am with an old map and a chest-full of excitement. The boat ride was bizarre. I watched pulp fiction projected onto a wall in the makeshift cinema and I drank a pint of Guinness in a traditional Irish pub. I browsed the gift shop and bought my car a present; a Guinness key ring. I then drank more Guinness and got talking to an old man who asked if i'd like to hear a true ghost story.

He told me about his family who lived in Kerry. I mentioned that I would be staying there and he smiled with misty eyes that were lost in some distant memory. He continued. His family had lived in a cottage, deep in the Beara Mountains near to the village of Lauragh. There were twenty of them that lived together, his immediate family and that of his uncleís all under one roof. They survived this way for many years until his father grew old and his uncle grew greedy. The aged siblings began to dispute over whose family would own the land upon their death. The disputes got worse and more violent and one night, when they had driven each other quite mad, the brothers took their fight outside and drew their knives. The situation was resolved with the death of his uncle and the family abandoned the house soon after. The old man paused. I wondered where the ghost of this ghost story has disappeared to. I waited. ďIt has been told,Ē said the old man eventually in a sad, husky tone, ďthat my uncleís ghost can be seen walking the mountains around the deserted cottage, guarding his family home and searching for his sheep. I havenít been back there in years.Ē

The next morning, as I was passing by the bar to take the escalator down to my car, I saw the old man again. This time he was asleep in an armchair with a stain on his shirt and a half-finished pint by his side. I thought to wake him but didnít and instead I wondered to myself if he ever got off the ferry. Maybe he travelled back and forth perpetually, searching, like his uncle, for what he knew he would never find.

I feel myself drifting ghost-like through these craggy passages, lost in my mechanical tragedy like a sheep thatís strayed from the flock. I am loosing hope and the car gives its final shudder as I notice a house tucked away in the mountainside ahead. There is a driveway and I manage to swerve the car into it just as the engine stalls. Luck or coincidence? I think to myself as I step down from the car and lock the doors. The house stands about two hundred metres above me on the slope and there is a neat footpath amongst the bulrushes and stacks of heather.

The building is renovated, painted green, and faces south so that the sun shines directly upon the garden that is in full bloom. I see potato plants and tomatoes and marrows tucked beneath broad green leaves. There must be people living here. My heart rate increases. I knock on the front door. I knock again. And again. No answer. I walk around the building peering in windows but there is definitely no one in. I see a door ajar and decide to explore.

I have stumbled into a studio. The walls are lined with paintings which are all by the same artist. They mostly depict colourful buildings and shop fronts typical to Southern Ireland. There are a few portraits too and a man trekking across the desert. I notice an easel erect and a fresh white canvas upon it. The palate of paints is ready too and still wet. They must have been freshly mixed.

I sit in front of the easel and stare at the canvas, deciding what to paint. I pick up a large brush and dip into the green paint. The brush guides my hand to the canvas and I begin to swirl the brush to and fro, creating grass-like patches. Next I use blue; the sky and the grass blend seamlessly in front of me. The cottage should be grey, with flecks of brown, and the thin brush that I reach for follows my command, but my eyes are finding it hard to focus on the detail. Exhaling in mild frustration I reach for my glasses which are balanced on the toolbox to my right. Thatís better. I see a small smudge and get up to retrieve the white sprit from the cupboard on the back wall, beneath OíSheaís Supermarket. My large, speckled hand carried the large bottle with ease.

The cottage is done and the sheep I have dotted about the landscape need little attention. Almost finished, I smile with satisfaction. I lean back for a moment to absorb the entire painting and reach for my joint which has been smoking in the glass ashtray that Val brought back from India. Just one figure left to add before this painting is complete. My 3mm E18A brush slides between my forefinger and thumb, where it is most comfortable, and with browns, pinks, blues and black the figure of Michael Molly is fused to the landscape amongst his sheep. Bless the old man. The really was a crazy old fool, but by God he tended those sheep well, forever roaming these mountains with his bad leg and an angry frown that told of a tough life and a hard soul.

ďGeorge! Dinnerís ready love!Ē
I stand up and take the last drag of my joint, stubbing it out in the ash tray that I pick up to take with me. The painting stands finished, a sentimental dedication to Old Mike Molly. I chuckle to myself: our mountain wonít be the same without his hopping all over it with those funny crutches. I head out calmly, forgetting to shut the door behind me, and I think of calling Teddy to help tow away that mysterious car.

- 5 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. I like it. I like it a lot. I love the fact that it's not predictable in the slightest. Very cool.
    I'll get back to you on the title.

    12 Feb 2005, 15:25

  2. Interesting, and very descriptive. I like the attention to detail, and the almost imperceptable transition from one narrator to another is very slick.

    You pointed out the danger of cliches to me, and it was very helpful. The section where the old man tells the ghost story isn't as bad as my milkman, but it is the weakest part of the story. It's very hard to tell a ghost story without lapsing into cliche, but I'd recommend "They say" or "I've heard" rather then "It has been told". Additionally, I'd remove either one or both of "Misty eyes" and "lost in some distant memory", which is a double helping of cheese.

    Apart from that, I liked it. Good work

    12 Feb 2005, 20:44

  3. The progression's a bit Lynchian, only rustic and pleasant, dontcha think? Haw about calling it 'A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS AN OLD MAN' Maybe not. In fact, definitely not. I had to read it a few times to appreciate it, but it was extremely pleasant. I agree with Tim, btw. You could probably afford to streamline somewhat, cut maybe 5% of the prose. Possibly. Try it. I think it could be more obvious, or perhaps I'm just tired and stupid. It's 0221! Shit!

    13 Feb 2005, 02:21

  4. Thanks guys, the comments are really helpful – keep em coming :)

    13 Feb 2005, 14:07

  5. It's excellent. I'm sorry, but I can't think of much to change. The old man's story is impeccably handled, espescially

    The aged siblings began to dispute over whose family would own the land upon their death. The disputes got worse and more violent and one night, when they had driven each other quite mad, the brothers took their fight outside and drew their knives.

    I also like the passage where the narrator begins to paint. I get the feeling that the act of painting "takes over" and causes the transformation into the painter.

    The story threatens to become disturbing or frightening but never does so. It has a slow-burning suspense that dissipates by the end.

    13 Feb 2005, 17:25

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