During May I’ve written various character sketches/beginnings of stories. The problem now is… I don’t know which one to work on first! Below are all the written pieces, each being 300 – 500 words.
Which one do you think I should start with? Tell me in the comments!
The man on the bus
Gareth sat down at the front of the afternoon bus, glancing at his watch and muttering to himself. Slightly hunched shoulders, covered by a thick camouflage print jacket hid a deceptively lean frame. Shoulder-length grey hair, which may once have been blonde, was tied up in an untidy bun, the cerise pink hair elastic pilfered from his daughter’s room contrasting with the greens and browns of the jacket meant to hide him in plain sight. He rubbed a hand over three day’s grey stubble that lined an ageing but handsome face. Shadowed eyes were turned to the road to note every block the bus passed while ignoring the other passengers with their smart phones, books, tablets, and cameras. In his hands, almost hidden beneath the jacket, was a letter in a rectangular envelope. Trembling, work-hardened hands played with the corner of the folded paper, bending the browned corner back-and-forth, back-and-forth as the bus rumbled and shook along the road. Indistinct music thumping a beat from earphones behind him dragged him back into the present and he glanced at his watch again. The bus is taking too long, he thought, fidgeting with the jacket’s zipper for a moment. Come on, come on! He watched the streets go by too slowly. Binney, Duke, Balderton, he repeated the names in his mind. Back-and-forth, back-and-forth, he bent the browned envelope. He glanced down at the old paper bearing only a date and time. The person it was intended for would know him, he had been told by the letter’s previous keeper.
The blogger in the church
Sarie shifted her weight slightly to one side and felt the thin prayer cushion, with its embroidered trinity knot, give way under her knees. Tendrils of auburn hair that would not be tamed by hairspray fell over her face. Around her the church had fallen silent after the end of the sermon. Outside sounded the sunlit sounds of cars, people talking animatedly, and a newly baptised baby crying. Behind her, on the aged wooden pew, lay an open prayer book that did not match the others in the church and bore her grandmother’s name on the inside of the front cover. Beside it was her laptop, purse, and a Bible as worn as the wood below it.
“Our Father,” she mumbled below her breath, but the next words of the well-known prayer were lost in her racing thoughts and the comments she had just read. Her words seemed swallowed by a darkness inside.
A tear dropped from her chin onto the red shirt she was wearing, leaving a darker red stain on the fabric. She wiped over her face with one hand, not caring if she smudged what little makeup she wore. She was after all, she thought, hardly the stock photo, picture perfect blogger that she’d hoped she was going to turn out to be when she first started leaving posts on her own site. Long but frizzy hair, a face covered in acne marks and arms always covered by long sleeves to hide the lines of scars that marred them, hardly said ‘cover girl’. “All she really has going for her,” she’d overheard her mother once say, “is that her eyes are two different colours”.
She clutched her hands together so that the knuckles pressed white against her skin and leaned her forehead on them as if the act of supplication could reverse time and take her back to before she had opened her laptop and read those comments. In the darkness behind her eyes an old demon awoke and bared its razor teeth in a wide grin. “Just one cut,” it whispered to her and she wondered how it was possible for this devil to have not only woken up, but to be whispering to her in the very church she sat in every Sunday. Just like that he’d invaded her safe space, just like the trolls who spewed their vitriol into the ether of the internet ruined the one way she had of showing her true self to the world. Just like that, with one whisper from within, her holy space had been defiled. She looked up at the wooden cross that hung in the front of the church, stared at the coloured glass scenes of redemption on the windows on either side, and watched the world turn to a smudged watercolour as tears welled up in her eyes.
Aidan Wright left the damp soil of the graveyard behind him, shifting the heavy canvas into a more comfortable position on his shoulder. He shuddered. For all the times he had done this, he still gagged at the idea – and smell – of carrying a dead body through the dark streets of London just after the witching hour. Hands that may, in a different life, have been suited to play the piano, had been hardened by work, the soil of the graveyard worked into his skin so that he felt as if he could never quite be rid of it. As a gravedigger he was as much a part of the graveyard as it was of him. He struggled down the night-black alleys as fast as his limp would take him, an old handkerchief bound over the lower part of his face to try and keep the smells at bay.
When at last he reached the correct door, he carefully put the body down on the ground and knocked twice. Muffled footsteps came closer until an older man opened the whitewashed door, a lantern with the flame turned right down, in his hand. The light lit Aidan’s large brown eyes, making him squint and lift a dirt-covered hand in front of his face.
“Brought him,” Aidan said in a low voice.
“Put it inside.”
Aidan heaved the body into his arm and carried the corpse inside to one of the tables. His hand lingered on the dead man’s brow for a moment, a silent prayer sounding in his mind.
“I’ll need a new one next week.”
“Mister Wright, I do believe you have forgotten something.”
“I –“ Aidan began, checking the canvas in his hands and then realising what the surgeon was referring to. “Thank you for your help,” he stuttered and headed back out into the cold of the early morning, making for home. He wrapped his patched coat around him as the wind tousled his dark hair. In the distance a bell tolled twice.
Sarah moved the stapler on her tidy desk into its correct position before switching off her laptop and placing it in her matte black laptop bag. She glanced in a hand mirror to make sure that her hair and makeup were still immaculate before saying goodbye to her colleagues and heading for home.
The local pizza restaurant was her first stop on her way home. She ordered a four seasons as a take-away and hailed a cab home. The black Corolla stopped in front of a double storey house with a well-kept English cottage garden filled with roses and lavender.
She glanced around before she opened the front door, making sure that no prying eyes were watching. Tucking the pizza under her arm, she squeezed in through the front door, sidestepping the pile of mail and newspapers that kept the door from opening properly. A stale smell greeted her as she walked with careful steps along the tunnel that was her only access to the bedroom and bathroom. The piles and piles of useful and useless belongings barely registered anymore, but tears still pricked her eyes when she entered the bedroom. Only part of the king size bed could be used, the rest was piled with clothes that did not belong to her, but which she could — like the rest of the possessions — not throw away.
With a sigh she plopped down on the bed and turned on the TV to a random station for company. Before opening the pizza box, she picked up one of the men’s shirts on the bed next to her and held it up to her face, taking a deep breath. If she really tried hard she could imagine that it still smelled like her husband. New tears burned her eyes as she looked around her. How could she change anything in the house now that he was no longer with her? What was the use now, after all?
She put the shirt down and opened the pizza box. The smell of pizza replaced the stale smell of the room and she ate in the hope of drowning the empty hole inside.
Telling Half a Truth
Markus looked at himself in the mirror for a moment, taking in the gaunt features before starting to apply a thin layer of makeup. Through the years he had learned well how to mask the signs of what little sleep he managed to get. He sighed as he put the makeup back in the drawer. So many of the spirits would just not leave him alone until he’d listened to their messages.
The face that looked back at him from the mirror had a healthy glow now – now he could start seeing clients. His cheap plastic watch beeped the hour and the carnival music started playing outside. He pulled at the white shirt he was wearing. He preferred calling his work clothes costume-party-gypsy-chic. It was what people expected him to wear.
He walked the short distance from his trailer to the tent where he plied his trade. Some of those who had arrived early at the carnival grounds already gazed at the red and purple tent with curious expressions. Markus knew that, before the end of the day, at least one of them would have come to visit him. It was like people just knew when spirits were there to speak with them.
Markus ducked into the tent, bending almost double because of his height. Green eyes that had seen too much of life darted around the tent to make sure everything was in its place before he sat down at the table and ran a hand through dark shoulder-length hair.
Tightness gripped his chest as the spirits closed in around him. He sat down at the table, drumming his fingers on the wood.
“You’ll have to step back,” he said to the spirits only he could see. His voice had a subtle English lilt to it, betraying a youth spent in England.
All but one of the spirits stepped back — an elderly man with a thin grey moustache and a birthmark covering part of his face. Markus glared at him.
His first clients — four bubbling teenage girls — entered.
“So,” one said, sitting down and sticking out her palm, “what does my future hold?” She giggled and Markus wished his childhood years had been so carefree.
The elderly man stepped forward.
“I am her grandfather,” he said.
“Coming to… take her to the light. There’s going to be a car crash this afternoon.”
Markus took the girl’s hand and stared at the lines on her palm.
“In your future I see a lot still happening,” Markus said. “You will have one great love in your life.” The girls giggled.
“And Peter is here, hoping to see you. You’ll find him by the cotton candy.” Markus grinned at the girl’s surprised expression. It was difficult as hell being a real psychic, but when he could give someone some happiness it seemed worth it.
The girls paid and rushed out of the tent.
“Thank you for not telling her,” the elderly man said and Markus nodded.