Block

Wrote this quite a while ago. Like the idea but not sure I like what I’ve written.

Please have at it with sticks.

Pointy ones.

*

I push the button and wait for the chaos. Two shapes dart past the frosted glass of the front door. The gate buzzes, releases and swings open. I have just enough time to close it and turn around before I’m enveloped in a three way maelstrom of children and dog.

“Daddy! DADDEEEEEE!”

I fend off the dog with one hand, low five my son with the other and shuffle forward bearing the weight of a three year old blonde haired limpet on my right leg. She slides off me just before the steps.

“Yucch Daddy! Why are you all sweaty?” Her nose wrinkles.

“I’ve been running my love, that’s what happens.”

She gives me a serious look and then starts laughing. “StinkEEE Daddy!” She runs inside yelling and giggling.

“And how are you doing big guy?”

“Fine.”

Guessing that there will be little expansion on this initial assessment I throw in a follow up question. “Did you have a good sleep?”

“Yes. And do you know Dad? I played with my train in the living room and a marble got stuck on the track and do you know what Lily did? She put some toast under the sofa and mum shouted at her and do you know? Do you know? At Makhaya’s party we were all playing as Star Wars and Alex fell into some poo in the garden and do you know…”

Time holds no linear trail for a six year old. The marble getting stuck on the track is the only new revelation but what small boy could resist the opportunity to remember two tales involving a sibling getting into trouble and some dog poo. I break the spontaneous wonder with more mundanity. “Did you eat your breakfast nicely?”

“Yes. You can ask mum. I had oats and honey.”

I grin at my wife who has been dragged to the door by our daughter. “It’s ok big guy, I believe you. Why don’t you go and show Lily how the marble run works.”

“Can you play cricket with me?”

“Not right now my boy, I’ve just got home and I need some breakfast and a shower. Grab your sister and go and play with the marbles.” I add an unacknowledged, “Gently Danny!” to his retreating back as he takes my instruction literally and drags his sister to the living room. I grin again at my wife and shrug my shoulders. “At least he listened for once.”

“For once. How was your run?”

I follow my wife into the house. “It was pretty good. Better than I expected. Stunning morning for it.” I close the front door and head for the kitchen. “Loads of people out but we’re heading into race season so I guess it’s normal. My pace was pretty reasonable but I don’t think I’ve got much endurance in my legs. I did just under twenty kays though so it wasn’t too bad really. I went down past the river and then headed up to the university. Got in some decent hills and…” I break off as my wife starts laughing and shake my head. “Yeah, yeah OK. I guess the six year old answer of fine would have done the trick.”

She gives me a peck on the cheek. As is our ritual, I make an exaggerated grab to give her a hug while she sways out of reach. “Not a chance. Go shower. I’ll make you some eggs. Are you going to write today?”

“I was thinking about it but if you need me to do some stuff with the kids I…”

“Nope. Taking them to a party. You’ve got three clear hours so no excuses.” She breaks eggs into a bowl and starts to whisk. “There are plenty of writers who refuse to do anything else in their day before they hit their target word count. Out of bed, fire up the machine and start typing…”

“Sounds like a terrible idea. The only things worth getting out of bed in the dark for are running shoes, coffee and bacon.” I slide my hand into the back pocket of her jeans. “There are a few things worth staying in bed in the dark for though.” I am rewarded by a smack on my leg.

“Silly daddy! Why are you tickling mummy’s bum? Stinky dad!”

I raise my arms over my head and pull a wide devil’s grin. “I need to practice so I can come and tickle your bum right…NOW!”

Lily shrieks and runs. I steal some grated cheese from the counter and get a second slap for my troubles. “Go shower. Honestly, you’re as bad as the kids.”

*

Home becomes a different beast when it’s quiet. The flurry of activity retreats into a series of small sounds, as if the plug has been pulled and life seeps slowly into the earth. The soft thud of the garage door. The departing growl of the car. The coffee machine juddering itself to slumber. In a place where noise signals normality, the silence of the day is potent. Like shaking off pins and needles I can feel my senses sharpening, casting off their shackles. I imagine them white and weightless emerging from a grey cocoon inside my mind. “I’d better write that one down.”

My words are answered by a skittering noise from the living room. It’s just the dog twisting in a dream, claws rattling against the wooden floor but in imagination’s eye it could be remote controlled cockroaches of the future, sent back in time to snuff the life of a child destined to save the world; the solemn chatter of a prisoner’s chains; the ticking of a bomb. I boil the kettle and let my thoughts continue their wandering.

I have tea. I have silence. I have a flashing cursor. I have a wealth of ideas. Had a wealth of ideas. Somewhere between the kitchen and the office chair the lights of my mind have dimmed. What was solid is now wispy, ethereal. Like the unseen faces in dreams that you cannot quite fathom. I drink some tea and close my eyes. Here we go again. I click around aimlessly on the internet. Sports results. Music reviews. An article about social media graveyards and the growing prevalence of the dead. Each click signals a shutter coming down inside my brain. I finish my tea and bow my head into my palm, eyes closed once more.

The faint whirr of the hard drive breaks the spell and I look up.

We’re thirsty.

I sit back and stare at the words on the page. Immediately my mind starts to rationalise. I must have opened a document by mistake. I must have typed something without thinking. My machine is being hacked. This third option is the most likely so I disconnect the network cable and delete the document. I hear the cat padding back and forth on the window sill to my left so I reach over and open the window to let him out. I turn back to the screen.

We’re always thirsty.

I sit back in my chair. My heart feels too big for my ribs and my back feels sweaty. I take a couple of deep breaths and then start to laugh. “Funny. Very funny. Well done whoever you are. Let’s see how you get on when I bounce the modem and change the password for the wifi.” I duck below the desk and fumble for the modem switch. Once it’s switched off I unplug and replug the power supply for good measure and turn it back on. “That’s your lot.”

thirsty

I get out of my chair and step a couple of paces back from the machine. The twenty point font doesn’t seem to shrink from distance.

This isn’t fucking funny. Do you hear me? Not funny.” Part of me realises how stupid I sound but my adrenaline is up and I can’t stop myself from talking. I open the door of the office and yell out into the corridor. “Who’s here? It’s all really clever but I’m not laughing any more. Don’t make me come and find you.” The hollowness of the threat is exacerbated by the shake of my voice. I close the door again and force out a laugh. “This is ridiculous. It’s just some virus. Stop being so jumpy.”

thirstythirstythirstythirstythirstythirstythirstythirstythirstythirstyTHIRSTY

“What do you want?” The cursor blinks next to the last y as I continue to yell. “Seriously – what the fuck is this all about? There’s nothing worth stealing on this machine so what do you want?” WHAT DO YOU WANT?” The cursor appears nonplussed and pulses at regular, somnolent intervals. I sit back in the chair, fear partly giving way to anger. I flex my knuckles above the keyboard. “Fine. If you don’t want to listen then I’ll make you fucking listen. What…

The middle finger of my left hand strikes the w and pain shoots along the bones all the way to my wrist. On reflex I put the tip of my finger in my mouth and taste copper. The w key has a red smudge on it. My hands start to shake. The cursor blinks at me for three or four seconds until, on some unknown cue, it drops to a new line.

Not enough. Need more. Thirsty. Always thirsty. Give and take.

“What the hell does that mean? What do you want from me?”

give
andtake
giveandtake
givetake
give
and
take

“I don’t understand! Take? What am I supposed to take? You’re the one trying to do all the taking. Who are you?”

onceuponatime there was a wrITer who hadnomorewordstowrite…

I have plenty to say. It just takes time.” I take my finger out of my mouth. The bleeding has stopped but the tip has an ugly purple mark. The kind you get when a trainee nurse draws blood and takes three stabs at a vein.

I thirst. You thirst. Solution is at hand.

“How do I know you’ll keep to your bargain? Oh for fuck’s sake I’m talking to a machine. “I must have fallen sleep. Time to wake up now. This will make a great story.”

if youaresleeping why worryaboutmy truth? Whatsalittle blood amongstfriends?

I start laughing.”This is all in my head isn’t it? Stress dream. That’s it. Fine. It’s time to wake up. Let’s start typing and put an end to this bullshit.”

I lay all eight of my fingers on the keys. Then I start to scream.

*

“Hi dad.”

“Hey kids. How was the party.”

“Fine. Can we watch TV now?” Danny is designated spokesman while Lily contemplates a lollypop.

“What did your mummy say?”

“I can’t remember.”

“Then maybe we should ask her about it now that she’s here?”

Danny looks less than convinced but cracks a smile in the direction of my wife.

“It’s fine. Go and watch. But only two shows.”

“But mum can’t we watch…”

“Two shows! Now go before it’s no shows.”

“O…kaaaay. Can I have an apple please mum?”

“And me!” Lily rediscovers her voice at the prospect of food.

“Sure. Daddy will bring them to you. Now go.”

I hug my wife. “How was the party?”

“Yeah it was ok. Nothing too exciting. Kids had a ball. How did your writing…what happened to you hands?”

“Oh. It’s nothing. Don’t worry. I read something on the internet about putting plasters on your fingers to stop all kinds of crap spreading on to your keyboard.”

“So you were procrastinating again while we were out. Jack, how are you going to get to the end of something if you don’t take it seriously?”

“Two thousand words.”

“Really?”

“Really. And I’m really happy with them. Could be the best thing I’ve ever written.”

“Wow! That’s excellent love!” She kisses me on the cheek. “Go lie with the kids. I can sort the apples out. Do you want a cuppa? You’re looking a bit pale. I hope you’re not coming down with something…”

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16 thoughts on “Block

  1. Ok. Love the idea too. I like the second section especially. The dialogue is also very authentic, but we know you are good at that. My honest feeling is you could cut a lot of the first section to get to the interesting stuff quicker, and maybe there needs to be more about the struggling writer guilt and his desire to pay the bills through writing perhaps? To make the deal seem more understandable? Those are my thoughts..

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Becky – as always you make some great points! There’s definitely some sort of imbalance in the piece – the early section needs to be there but it also needs to sit correctly with the second half of it. When I started writing it I had no idea where it was going to go and I feel the early going may be more suited to a longer piece. I’ve always felt it could work as a longer story and the general theme running through the comments seems to support that! Thanks for taking the time to give feedback – constructive criticism is always helpful!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Jason – appreciate the comment and the follow!

      Interesting that the comments have a general theme that there’s something not quite in balance which is the nagging feeling I’ve had with it from the start. I like sections of it but I’m starting to feel it could do with a bit more space / wordcount to play in!

      Comments and feedback were really helpful – thank you!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Go with your gut. Maybe set it aside for a week or so, work on something else and then come back to it. You’ll see what’s missing then. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is to try and force it.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Completely agree about not forcing it. I wrote this last year sometime so it’s been locked away for a while – the fact I haven’t had much desire to work on it further perhaps tells its own story…!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I thought it was quite clever the way that we were lulled into thinking this was going to be a sweet ‘I love my family’ sort of story. I agree with Rebecca you could cut a bit of that and still keep the message. When we got into the second part I was hooked, especially coming after the ‘normality’ of the beginning. I see what Rebecca has written about the ‘writer guilt’ and I totally agree – at the moment this is a nice family man with a computer virus (or so we think at first) but we need him to have that particular weakness that will make him considering a deal with the dark side maybe the pile of bills on his desk -that sort of thing.
    it’s a good start though and I did find the computer threats chilling.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Diane – I’m glad you found portions of it chilling. I wanted it to be that uneasy weird old horror story feel but with a modern medium. Kind of story Stephen King could do a million times better than me haha! Thanks for the read and the comments – always helps. I’m trying to get more work out there and to get more criticism this year – makes me work harder…

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Nik, this story is awesome! I love the interweaving of the mundane, every day details of life with the psychological torment (and creepy supernatural vibes) of a writer trying to produce the daily word count, and the underlying idea of writing or any creative pursuit as something that is all-consuming. I really enjoyed this! I’m doing a short story writing course at uni at the moment and if you don’t mind, I’d love to share this piece with my course mates as an example of ‘using what you know’ to create a story 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Reminded me of Gabriel García Márquez – the way it derails your thinking. Pointy stick wise; weird weighs in much heavier than photorealism, so a writer with your talents don’t need so much of it. Gabo slots maybe one or two paragraphs into a book and it freaks you out. The photorealism of this is superb, that’s why the derail works so damn well.
    LOVED the first weird. Loved the scream. Maybe less in-between?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great advice – thanks Jac. I completely agree that there’s a need here for pruning some of it back. Oddly, I feel like it would be easier to do if I made it into a longer piece – sounds somewhat counterintuitive but with less pressure to “tell a story” quickly, the weirdness could seep in over a longer period. Thanks for taking the time to comment on this one – your pointy stick is always most welcome!

      Liked by 1 person

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