Archive for December, 2012


Christmas Dinner for One

Isabel picks up more than turkey and sprouts shopping for her Christmas dinner.

T’was the night before Christmas and after a long shift at the lab, Isabel stalked the supermarket shelves. She looked down at the few remaining loose Brussel sprouts. Scrawny little rejects. She didn’t even really like sprouts, but you couldn’t have a Christmas dinner without them, could you? The tatty sprouts’ plump friends mocked them from inside pre-packed bags. Isabel pulled a bag from the dispenser, she only needed three or four, no point in buying a bagful, so the rejects it was.

She reached down to select the least miserable looking vegetable and her hand collided with someone else’s, a sharp smack of knuckles. She drew her hand in. “Sorry,” she muttered, absently rubbing her bruised fingers.

The would-be sprout-snatcher took a half step back. “Sorry. You were here first, go on.” He gestured to the veg with an apologetic smile which Isabel returned.

She picked out four sprouts while he waited beside her; two of the better looking ones and two real sad cases as she didn’t want to leave him all the worst ones. While she shouldn’t really care whether the man could get decent sprouts at 9:00pm on Christmas Eve, he had a nice smile and she liked the soft, woody scent of his deodorant, or whatever it was. It had been a while since she’d been near anyone who didn’t smell of antiseptic, or worse.

She tied up her bag and dropped it into the basket at her elbow. “Thanks.”

Sprout guy smiled again. He had warm eyes behind his wire rim glasses. He turned back to the sprouts and, with a flutter of embarrassment, Isabel realised she was still stood there. She tucked her hair back behind her ear and quickly walked off towards parsnips.

***

Choices for turkey were limited. Even the smallest whole bird would be too much, and all they had left were the massive ones for 10-12 people. Was it too much to hope they’d still have a thigh or leg joint? Of course. A few small turkey crowns remained which was a small miracle. Isabel picked one up and paused. Well, it was turkey, but crowns went so dry. Or at least the one she’d cooked last year had.

Was turkey really essential? Maybe she could use a chicken and pretend it was a really little turkey. She took a step back from the chiller, crown still held in one hand, and trod on a foot.

“Oh,” she lost her balance and stumbled sideways. Arms caught and steadied her. Isabel’s cheeks and stomach burned; how embarrassing! She turned round, “I am so sorry, I didn’t see‒”

Sprout guy shrugged. “My fault, I should stop sneaking up on you.” His gaze swept the shelves and he frowned. “Is this all that’s left?”

“Er, yeah, looks like it. Not really surprising though.”

“I suppose not.”

She watched him crouch to examine the turkey crowns, clearly as indecisive as her. “I, umm, I was thinking of going with chicken, I mean it’s kind of the same thing.”

He looked over his shoulder at her with a grimace. “Is it though?”

“No, I guess not.”

He stood back up with a crown in hand. “They had a few small frozen ones left. You’d probably have enough time to defrost one overnight.”

“Thanks, but a whole one’s too much. Even this’ll last me a few days.” She waved the cold raw turkey crown at him and then realised what she was doing and put it in her basket.

His eyes followed her hands briefly and then snapped back up to her face. “I hear if you cover it with bacon it keeps the juices in,” he said, holding his turkey crown up in evidence. “But then I suppose most things taste better if you cover them in bacon.”

Isabel giggled and sprout guy ‒or should it be bacon guy‒ grinned at her.

“I should, er…” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder.

“Yeah, me too. Thanks for the tip.”

“You’re welcome.”

She gave him one last fleeting smile and walked quickly to the end of the aisle. She turned, walked a few rows down and ducked into the world food aisle. How did he make her feel so clumsy and uncoordinated? That scruffy hair style and the rumpled white shirt under his coat gave her the impression he’d just done something naughty at the office party. She closed her eyes and shook her head. Now was not the time to be day dreaming about some random guy at the supermarket. She pulled her list from her pocket to ground herself.

Well she might as well go and get bacon next, before she forgot about it. As she passed the end of the wine aisle, she spotted bacon-sprout guy comparing a couple of bottles. Both whites. That was one thing he could pick up without risk of crashing into her; since she’d be on call tomorrow, wine was off the menu.

***

After a thorough hunt she eventually found the instant custard she was looking for, and then made her way to the section with Christmas pudding. She stopped short. Bacon-sprout guy stood by the shelf, considering his options. The flutter in her stomach returned. At least this time she’d get to surprise him.

She walked quietly up behind him. He held a little individual pudding in one hand. Just the one.

“You going to eat all of that by yourself?” Isabel asked.

He jumped and turned, catching her in the chest with his elbow as he spun round.

Isabel gasped and clutched at the bruise. “Ahh.”

“Oh God, I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” she said, rubbing the sore spot. “Serves me right for sneaking up on you.”

“Well it was some pretty good sneaking.”

She set her basket down. “So, er, is that all for you?” she asked again with a nod towards the tiny pudding.

He looked at the package in his hand and chuckled. “Oh, er, yeah. Big on the gluttony, me.”

She took one of the individual puddings for herself. For once an easy choice. “Do you think they make these just for people who don’t have anyone to spend Christmas with? Or are they for people who want to look posh?”

He watched her for a moment and the back of her neck tingled. “The first one, I think,” he said. “That’s why there’s always so many left over.”

“Because only sad people spend Christmas alone?”

“Sad people like us.”

“Yeah, exactly.” She popped the pudding in her basket and sighed.

“Er, well, I’m all done. What about you?”

She looked into her basket. “I think so, let me check.” She pulled out her list and mentally checked off everything she had. “Oh, one more thing.” She looked up and spotted the seasonal aisle just across from where they stood. Bacon-sprout guy followed her to a spot next to Christmas crackers. There were boxes of six, eight or even twelve.

Warm memories of family Christmases, laughter around the table, brought a prickle of tears to her eyes. “Guess they don’t sell these in ones,” she said.

“And don’t you kind of need someone to pull the other end anyway?”

She took a deep breath and blinked back the tears. She’d see her family in the new year, but it just wasn’t the same.

“Can I make a really stupid suggestion?” Bacon-sprout guy asked. She turned to face him as he rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand.

“Umm, sure.”

“Well, you’re on your own tomorrow, and so am I… maybe we could… ah, forget it, I’m sorry, stupid idea.”

The constant flutter in her stomach sent a ripple out through her whole body. “Why is it stupid?” she asked, before she could think better of it. She didn’t even know his name and so far he was responsible for at least two bruises.

“Well, because…” ‘He shrugged.

“I’m Isabel.”

“Jack.”

“So, are you offering to pull my cracker with me tomorrow, Jack?”

He chuckled. “Now there’s an invitation. And, yes. If you like.”

She turned back to the crackers, considering, and spotted a box containing just two. “Ah, look. Perfect.”

Jack frowned at his basket. “Maybe we need to re-think this now. Pool our resources?”

Isabel grinned. “Do you want to go see if any of those frozen turkeys are still there?”

He stepped aside with a sweep of his arm. “Lead the way.”

Merry Christmas Sprouts.

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For those who don’t know, Great Escapes is the first in a series of annual anthologies from The Great Escape where I am fiction editor. The book features contributions from 18 great writers spread all over the world, some of who featured on The Great Escape in 2011/12 and some new ones with brand new, never before seen contributions. There’s also illustrations from Kat-in-the-attic.

Some of the rewards offered on Kickstater, including custom artwork from Kat and “The Round the World Book Tour” will only be available through Kickstarter! So make sure you don’t miss out.

To pledge your support for this book, visit the Project Page and be sure to check out the Project Updates for more about the extra rewards.

Pre-orders close at 9:00pm GMT, Wed 5th December.

Ideas are not something I usually struggle with, but sometimes I like to challenge myself to write something based on a prompt purely because it wasn’t my idea. I’ve found in the past that some of the stories I have created through trying to find a story within a prompt are the ones I’ve been most pleased with.

Some places where you can find prompts

Creative Writing Prompts – a huge number of diverse prompts for both fiction and creative non-fiction. They won’t all be to everyone’s taste, but if you browse through you’re sure to find something to inspire you.

Easily Mused – This site does a series of six word prompt challenges which they call “Six for Sunday”.

Daily Writing Tips: Writing Prompts 101 – a good article about the benefits of writing from prompts, 20 prompts to get you started and a bunch of links to other sites.

Follow @WritingPrompts on Twitter

Daily Photo Prompt – a blog which does exactly what it says on the tin.

Where have you found inspiring writing prompts? Share your links in the comments.

5 prompts to try

Let me know if you use any of these, I’d love to see what you do with them.

  1. 5 word prompt – Bus, paper, fly, yellow, polish
  2. Opening line – Half the sticker was missing…
  3. Concept – A character returns to a childhood haunt
  4. Character – A store assistant at a greetings card shop
  5. Dialogue line – “What do you mean nearly missed?”

Short Story: The Key to No 43

Based on writing prompt 309 from Creative Writing prompts.

Alice tried to remember who had given her the key. The memory seemed to dance out of reach. Strangely she could remember the rest of the day, but not that one moment.

Someone had given it to her for a reason; that much seemed clear. The heavy iron key sat on her kitchen counter and Alice perched on a stool considering what to do with it. What use was a key without a lock? On the side of the shaft, someone had etched a single number into the metal. 43. An address perhaps?

Yes.

Alice jumped and turned to look over her shoulder. The thought was definitely inside her head, but it felt so utterly alien she must have heard it. There was no one there.

“Hello?” No answer. She turned back to the key on the counter top. So it was part of an address, but there was no street name. Or was 43 the street number? 43rd Street. 43, 43rd Street?

Yes.

This time Alice controlled her flinch but a shiver still ran up her spine. Where the hell was the voice coming from? Her own thoughts did not sound so masculine, and they didn’t have such a strong British accent.

“Who are you?” she whispered. Her head stayed quiet. Who are you? She tried thinking.

Someone who needs your help.

She tumbled off her chair and backed away from the counter. Single words were one thing but that! Ge-agh, weird! Okay, okay, she needed to get a grip. She took a deep breath and climbed back onto the stool.

Why do you need my help? she thought clearly.

You are the only one who can free me. Take the key, open the door.

Each time he spoke his voice became clearer and more distinct.

Alice picked the key up. Crazy guy in her head wanted her to drive across town and open some door with a medieval key. Yeah, nothing fishy there. But, she got the strong impression he wouldn’t take no for an answer and she didn’t know how to block him from her head.

Fine, but you’d better get out of my head after.

***

The door on 43rd street was impossible. Sandwiched between a deli and a dry cleaners the tiny, drunken building looked older than Columbus. Chunky iron studs dotted a weathered oak door barely five foot high.

It certainly matched the key.

She turned the key in the lock with a satisfying clunk and then pushed the door inwards. Stiff hinges resisted. She ducked under the lintel and took a single step into the dim interior. Cool air rushed past her, gathering force until she had to strain to resist it.

Thank you said the voice in her head.

She staggered back and her heel caught the doorstep. She hit the side walk with a bump and muttered a curse under her breath. When she looked up, the door was gone, as was the wonky little house. The dry cleaners simply pressed up against the deli with no gap in between.

Alice stood and put her hand up to the line between the two properties. How could a whole house vanish?

Are you still there? she asked the voice in her head. Silence.

But, what had he meant? Who had given her the key? What exactly had just happened?

“You freed me.”

Alice jumped and spun to face the man behind her. Dust clung to his archaic long coat and ruffled shirt. He looked like he’d just stepped out of King Henry VIII’s court. Her mouth dropped open. The voice perfectly matched the one in her head. A million more questions bubbled up.

“Why me?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Fate, destiny. Call it what you will. It always had to be you.”

“Huh.”

Middle ages guy look around, eyes widening as he took in the tall city around him. A woman with a little terrier on a string frowned at them as she walked past.

“Maybe we should get you indoors,” Alice said, grabbing his arm. She’d released him, it seemed like he was her responsibility now. Oh boy.

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