Start writing!

This week's title is Too Much Information. The final entry time this week is 11pm (UK time) 2nd March 2018. Predicted prize fund is £50!

Editorial

12th November 2017

As somebody who's spent the last few months looking at creative work inspired by roads,The Open Road was always going to be an interesting brief, promising as it does a wide variety of interpretations, and I was excited to see that several of the entries took the theme in an unexpected direction (pun unintended!). 

 

One of the most eye-catching interpretations of the theme was Entry 2830: The Navajo Legacy which touched on some painfully timely themes of choice and political action, whilst also connecting with the culturally laden touchstone of Roswell. I was also drawn to Entry 2823: The Open Roada story of personal liberation and bravery set in a very contemporary environment. As with Entry 2830I welcomed the wider resonance of this story, particularly in today's political and cultural environment. The idea of the open road, for me, always has to reach somewhere beyond the apparent limit of the story, and I felt that both Entry 2830 and Entry 2823 did this with success. 

 

The other entry which caught my eye was Entry 2822, a poem which sang into some tight, vivid imagery. Lines like 'cellophaned bunches of flowers' were handled well. I also enjoyed the dense yet acute imagery in the final stanzas of this piece. I returned to this poem several times to let myself fully understand and start to come to terms with the amibiguity and depth to some of the moments; a welcome task! 

 

I was immediately drawn to Entry 2819: Sometimes A Car Crashes and Nothing Else is Near and for me, this was a clear and definite winner. Sometimes when it comes to writing, less is more and the appealing tightness of this poem, with its self-contained stories and imagery, was hard to deny. The characterisation of space within the poem was well done, contrasting the idea of the intimate space inside a car with the wider locations of the service station and the 'tidy hedge'. I particular enjoyed the final stanza: 'The rear light of a small family / car flickering through the gap, / a tiny hedge' and how it engaged both a sense of visual movement but also time. 

 

My congratulations to everyone who submitted work! Reading your entries was a stimulating and interesting experience and I'm pleased to have been able to to do so!

 

 

Bio:

 

Daisy Johnson is a writer, researcher and a librarian and also the current A14 'Writer In Residence', at the Institute of Continuing Education at the University of Cambridge. Along with writing her own work inspired by the landscape, Daisy is looking for people with their stories to tell about the road, whether they're real, fictional, poetic, or avant-garde performance poetry... You can find her online at http://didyoueverstoptothink.wordpress.com and more about the A14 project at https://www.facebook.com/groups/A14stories


Ephemera

Ruby looked at her nails, at the trouser legs of the person next to her, anywhere but at the sweat-sheened, earnest face of the preacher. He was nearing the climax of his sermon, gesturing and imploring and haranguing like a pro.
‘…if we are dead to ourselves, therefore, we are alive to Christ! We should not presume to be like God, but thanks to His grace, we are raised up and can share in His ineffable goodness…’
This guy was totally different to Simon, the usual speaker on Sundays. He was a ‘visiting preacher’, some itinerant, non-denominational man of the cloth. He looked like a used car salesman. Where Simon was always approachable, straightforward and sometimes even funny, this bloke was staggeringly, seriously intense. A high-octane holly roller. Simon would never have used words like ‘ineffable.’ Ruby felt like getting up and walking out. There was a Costa over the road. Yes, why the hell shouldn’t she?
Maisie. That’s why. Her friend, who’d been coming to this church for how long now? Years, wasn’t it? At least since her breakdown. When Maisie became a Christian, Ruby had been astonished at her friend’s new outlook on life. She seemed, not just happier but more vital. More intense, like someone who’d found a reason to live after suspecting there wasn’t one. At first, Maisie wasn’t up for talking about it, saying that Ruby should come along if she wanted to experience what the fuss was all about. But Ruby had declined – it wasn’t for her, the church-on-a-Sunday thing.
Then Maisie’s church had run an Alpha course. Ruby thought that was a more approachable environment, and agreed to go along. Within the friendly, low-key atmosphere, she’d made friends with Dan and Sharon, Sven and Hope: all people her own age and willing to talk. To talk about why God would have allowed a situation like Ruby’s dad leaving when she was five, and then, in later weeks when she’d got to know everyone a bit better, why she lurched from relationship to relationship in the search for a man who would stick, a man who wouldn’t bugger off when things got serious.
The talks on Jesus had been interesting; helping to overturn a lifetime’s prejudice that he’d just been some crackpot prophet with a funky line in magic tricks; like an ancient Derren Brown. Ruby had sung ‘Colours of Day’ along with everyone else at Primary School, but no fire had been lit up and no flame allowed to burn. Her mum, an eccentric, nervous and above all bitter woman, had understandably wanted nothing to do with God, and in fact had been, embarrassingly, the first mother to request that Ruby’s promise at Girl Guides be one with all reference to the Almighty removed. But now, hearing about this wise, enigmatic man-who-apparently-was-also-God, Ruby began to melt a little inside.
Simon had delivered most of the weekly talks, and it was the one on ‘How and why should I pray?’ that rocked Ruby’s world. She thought she’d give praying a go – nothing to lose, as it were, and she was still hurting from a particularly nasty break-up with a guy called Tony the week before. She asked Simon if there was a special formula or incantation that God responded to better than others. He laughed, and said there may well have been, but if there was one, then he hadn’t found it. Instead, he suggested, Ruby should speak to God naturally and conversationally, as if he were someone she’d known all her life.
‘All my life? I’d barely _thought_ about God until coming here.’
‘But he’s known you all of your life,’ said Simon, serious now. ‘You should open up – nothing’s hidden from Him. Nothing you say will shock or surprise Him.’
‘But…what should I pray for? I don’t want anything. Well – nothing except peace of mind.’
‘Then you should pray for that,’ said Simon. He looked as if he was about to say something else, then thought better of it.
‘Do…do I have to close my eyes?’ asked Ruby.
‘You don’t have to, though some people find it helps them to block out the other distractions that might be around.’
‘Ah,’ said Ruby, as if she could connect to this. ‘Like getting into the astral plane, sort of thing? Tuning out the fuzz of existence?’
Simon looked a little confused. ‘Not…not really. Just tell God what’s on your mind.’
Ruby shrugged. ‘In for a penny,’ she said, and closed her eyes.
It didn’t take long before she was overtaken by the most amazing feeling of self-negation she’d ever experienced. She didn’t know the term ‘transcendent’, but if she had, she would have used it. Her current stress from work, the residue of the bust-up and consequent end of her and Tony’s relationship, melted like a snowflake landing on a warm rock. She mentally pushed out towards the God she’d heard so much about, and something answered. Something like a much bigger sense of the universe, something underpinning everything, a sort of skein over the fretwork of the stars, of atoms, of quarks, something that understood and maintained and destroyed and spoke into being.
She sat, breathing softly, lips moving gently, connecting with what she began to think of as God. It was a true gear-shift, an epiphany, a reveal of the curtain of the cosmos to show, not cold indifferent space, but a deep, thrumming love that said ‘I WON’T LEAVE YOU OR FORSAKE YOU’.
Ruby reached out, and from then on, wanted nothing more than to be in that place.

The preacher’s rhetoric was climactic and fierce, and it cut into her reverie suddenly, like a band saw through a piece of balsa wood. ‘We ALL fall short of the glory of God, and this is rightfully so. To deign to come near to his unadulterated goodness, to turn our own human sins around into something approaching divine – that is not for us to manage. It is His prerogative, once we have accepted God into our lives, to shape us into holy vessels, ready to contain His spirit. I am but…a work in progress. You,’ and here, he seemed to look directly into Ruby’s eyes, ‘are a work in progress. Give God the steering wheel of your life, and He will do the rest. Amen.’
With that, there was some singing, and then ministry time, where people with various ailments were prayed for, but Ruby just wanted to go. She had a thousand worms crawling around her mind, stopping her from even the most basic conversation with the other church members.
‘Maisie,’ she said to her friend, apologising with a raised hand to the older couple that Maisie was talking to. ‘I’m just gonna head over to the Costa over the road, okay? Will I see you there, or…?’
‘Yeah, no probs, see you over there. I’ve got a few more folk I need to see,’ Maisie said. Her brow crinkled and her voice dropped to a conspiratorial level. ‘Are you…okay?’
Ruby looked past her, towards the ministry going on, the people being prayed for; the peace they were no doubt feeling, that she wasn’t. ‘Yeah, fine. Fine. As long as I keep saying that, I’m sure it’ll be the truth, eh?’ Maisie looked sympathetic. ‘I’ll see you over there.’

Sat with a large mocha and an Empire biscuit, Ruby checked her phone but it was devoid of notifications for a change. What was everyone doing? Surely someone in her friendship group had some sort of trivia that needed commenting upon, or liking, or sharing? She tried to banish feelings of loneliness, the idea that since she’d become a Christian, she’d lost all sense of pursuing a fun life, a life of spontaneity, and that her friends had rightfully shunned her.
Suddenly, Maisie was in front of her with a cup of tea on a tray and a slice of tiffin. Ruby said with a grin,‘Makes my selection look lame. You can’t beat a tiffin. Don’t know what I was thinking.’
‘Hey, I’ll go halfers with you,’ said Maisie.
‘Don’t worry about it – I should stick with what I chose in the first place,’ said Ruby, with the sudden, uncomfortable feeling that the conversation had turned to encompass much more than biscuits.
Maisie sat down, cupping her tea in both hands, her mocha-brown wavy hair wreathed in steam. ‘So…you seemed a bit out of sorts after the service,’ she said.
Ruby played with the wooden stirring sticks she’d pulled out of the serving area. She always put them on two fingers and pretended they were skis. ‘It’s what the visiting preacher was saying…’ she managed.
‘Which bits?’ asked Maisie.
‘All of it,’ said Ruby, nailing her friend with a piercing look. ‘I signed up for this, right, because God gave me a reason to focus on myself, getting _me_ sorted, before I pissed away my life on another crappy relationship or credit card binge. Yeah?’
‘Sure…’ said Maisie, a bit flustered. ‘I know you were well pleased after the Alpha course finished. Simon was saying you’d changed so much in those first few weeks…’
‘I had, right? I…I _am_ changed. It’s just that stuff the visiting preacher was saying. I can’t buy into that,’ said Ruby, taking a sip of her mocha and shaking her head.
‘He can be a bit full-on. I remember him coming last year – he ran around the church, dispensing the Holy Spirit like some kind of martial arts move…it was terrifying.’
Ruby nodded. ‘But it’s not just him. I was looking around, as he was going on about how we need to humble ourselves continually before God, that we shouldn’t presume to know His plans for us, and we need to hand over control to Jesus…anyway, all I could see was Hope and Sven, Frank and Rachel; people like that, all nodding away, eyes glazed….I mean, it’s like being reprogrammed, right? It was all a bit…bovine.’
‘That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?’ said Maisie after a moment’s silence.
‘I didn’t say _you_ were looking glazed. I think you’re as worried as me.’
‘Worried? What about?’ said Ruby with a puzzled smile.
‘This ‘work in progress’ thing he said,’ said Ruby. ‘The analogy is like you’re a passive piece of inert stone, being chiselled away at by God…with no say in the direction of your character, or your life…’
Maisie made a ‘pffft’ noise. ‘Come on…who’s going to stop Ruby from being Ruby? Even God’ll have a hard time changing your mind from how you think things should be.’
Ruby held her friend’s gaze for a moment. ‘Hey. If God wants to tell me to change my ways, I will. But a load of sweaty middle-aged men exhorting me to do so? To stop me trying to direct my life? No thanks.’ She drained the last of her mocha, stood up, got her umbrella ready for the onslaught of the rain. ‘I’m on a quest, Mase,’ she said, and as she said this she wondered what she was really saying. It seemed to be coming direct from somewhere previously untapped. ‘I’m on a quest, and I’m following a map I drew years ago.’
Maisie stayed seated, looked awkwardly up at Ruby. ‘I know – it’s not been easy for you. With – with your dad, and everything.’
‘Fuck _that_,’ said Ruby, suddenly full of vitriol. ‘I was talking about my own map. Not some…blank, creased scrap of paper left by a walking turd. Or even the bloody _labyrinth_ that my mum scrawled for me. I promised myself I would find my way out of this. Mine. So all this ‘give over control’ and wait for God to shape everything into a perfect…picture…’ she tailed off, choking back a sob, eyes suddenly brimming, and marched out into the awful rain.



Heaven… On… Earth

Last week's competition

Featured Entry

by runner duck
It happened a long time ago, or so my grandmother told me. It was in the winter when she was a girl that her father entrusted a story to her. It was true he said. But whether that was the same as it being factual she didn't know. He had pulled up two chairs and put them by the fire after supper one evening and begun:
“You are of an age now to be a guardian of a secret. Your mother is gone and I have no son and as much as I grieve for that you have been as loyal and dependable as any boy could have been. We've worked hard the both us keeping the farm going, but I'm tired now and you will be leaving me soon. So listen carefully little one for that is still how I think of you even though you are nearly a grown woman.
There was civil war in the land and your enemies were under your own roof. Neighbour saw neighbour hung without flinching and the church stood by protecting its wealth, doing nothing to save the parishoners who it fleeced week in week out.
One day a monk, close to death who had been beaten and viciously stabbed crawled into a barn on this farm. It was centuries ago and he died the next morning but he told a tale to the farmer – my great grandfather that made his blood run cold.
The devil had come to earth and was changing hearts and instilling hatred into every soul that succumbed to his seductive words and promise of riches. He went in disguise as a juggler travelling around the fairs and bewitching children and adults alike with his quick hands and wonderful showmanship. Only one person recognised him and that was a child. She saw with eyes of truth and clarity. She warned her parents, she warned her friends but no one believed her. What did a girl know? And a blind one at that?
Fair after fair. Village after village and then city after city fell into the hands of the juggler. Whenever he moved on he left men and women who had given him their hearts and souls in charge of ensuring that hatred bewteen neighbours flourished and the civil war claimed more and more lives.
Eventually men and women of prayer in abbeys and convents realised the danger the earth was in and sent monks and nuns around the nation speaking out against the divisiveness of the juggler. Some listened to their message but most did not and many of them were beaten, some killed.
The juggler grew more daring and performed in castles and palaces alike before finally arriving at the gates of the great city of London itself.
It was here the devil made his mistake.
He fell in love.
The woman in her early twenties with fair skin and golden hair was already married but the devil didn't care, he was besotted. He stirred up a group of men in a tavern one night and they beat the womans husband to death, falsely believing he had stolen from their purses. Consoling the widow and using his charm and assuring her that he would care for her he smiled and relaxed, thinking the woman his own. She however was truly grieving and despised the juggler though she pretended otherwise. She planned to kill him, take his earnings and move back to her family in the countryside of Kent.
The devil finally saw through the womens false affirmations and a battle boke out as had never broken out before in his own soul. Enraged he provoked more and more riots and yet so in love was he that he couldn't bring himself to kill the woman and desperately tried to convince himself that she would fall for his charms.
The woman fled and travelled back to Kent under the protection of three monks who were returning from a pilgrimage in the capitol, going back to their abbey near sevenoaks.
They almost made it to safety but the devil had stolen a horse and gone after the woman catching up with the quartet just a few miles from her family farm. He unleashed a terible violence and hatred that had never been seen before. He dashed two of the monkks to pieces and tore out the heart of the woman. No one would have it if he couldn't. The third monk had hidden and crawled away to a barn where he later told the tale.
The last bit of which I will now share with you little one. But first I must have a drink for my throat is dry and my eyes`are heavy.”
The girls father drank the mulled wine that she brought him and closed his eyes for what seemed like an eternity. The effort of telling tne story had taken a lot out of him and he had aged.
Finally he opened his eyes, passed the mug back to her and continued the story.
“The devil exhausted by the violence and with the body of the women he loved at his feet, moved under a tree and slept. When he woke he found himself looking into the face of another. He went to lash out but the gaze held him and his arms hung useless at his side.
"It's not too late” her voice said, “not even for you.”
The devil laughed, his cockiness and self assurance instantly returning. So she wanted to save his soul well that was a mistake. He went to stand but his legs gave way.
Why won't you let go?” she asked and in that moment the devil knew he was beaten. He howled and the animals and birds and everyone who heard it cowered in fear. It was a terrible sound. The sound of a thousand men going to their deaths. The sound of pain and longing and hatred. It was a hideous sound that turned the sky black and dried up streams. It was a sound that moved his companion to the marrow of her bones and as the devil looked up he saw tears rolling down the face of a little blind girl. It was more than he could bear and he tried to reach out his hand to dry them.
The blind girl though vanished from his sight and he hung his head in shame.
He buried the bodies of the monks and the woman he loved and untieing the horse shooed it away and went and lived in a little hut on the edge of a field..
He lives there still little one and the blind girl watches over him”
“Father?”
“Yes”
“What is the secret I'm to be guardian of? I don't understand. If the devil is tamed and being watched over there is no danger is there? What has this story to do with us?”
“The hut is on our land little one. It is at the spot where the field becomes wood. It is a spot no-one ever goes to for nothing grows there and no light penetrates the trees that overhang his living space”
The girl got up and walked over to the small window.
“Is that why you always told me to not to play there?”
“Yes. No one knows if the blind girl will die or if the devil will regain his power and no one must ever go to the hut to see.
This farm will be sold soon and you will move to the home of your husband but it is your task to pass on the secret to the next generation who will live here. It is a burden but you must find a way. Then if the terrible things that happened all those years ago begin again they will know that the blind girl has died and they must seach for someone new who can move the devils heart and once again bring peace. For that is heaven on earth little one. You must watch and wait and not leave it too late. Do you understand ?
“Yes father “
The girl said as tears rolled down her face. For news had reached her yesterday that fighting had broken out in the neigbouring village.
Brothers had fallen out with each other and three of them had been brutally beaten and killed.

Last Week's Winner!

Winning entry by jaguar
All the colours of the past revealed by the curling paper. She laughed at the walls stripping like she used to. At least they revealed more attractive selves than the present day – her clothes were better looking than her flesh.

Something stuck in her teeth again, between the two that reminded her of an old couple, leaning on each other. Nothing should come between them, particularly not old vegetable gristle trying to resist its final journey. She teased it out with a silver toothpick and the bleeding started. Everything was on its final journey now, even her teeth.

She swallowed, savouring the tang of iron, such flavour. Each day she was more aware how much of her was water but it smelt and tasted so strong. Outside the wind berated the windows so she couldn’t hear the fighting. Most days the metallic sounds of war dominated, words spelt out by bullets now the dialogue's stopped.

The walls of her room groaned as if tortured while her building struggled to pull itself out of the ground, free itself from this cursed street. The sign above the apartment entrance crashed to the ground, half-buried by rubble. Just the last three letters of Olympus showed. She laughed at her own stupidity believing she might find her paradise here.

Yet it was once Heaven on earth. Not this cringing apartment building with its grandiose name but only a few streets away. A street-level house, a garden full of fig trees and flowers. Scent, colour and personalities too large to remain earthbound long. They’d risen like balloons, off on their journeys somewhere better but were the trees still there? Who'd hurt a tree?

Did she still believe the other side wouldn't, out of spite? She wasn’t sure. So many of the stories had worn too thin for purpose. She could see right through most of them. You get what you deserve, expect rewards if you work hard and don’t complain. Lives were torn as easily as tissue paper. As pointlessly, there was no overall plan. People were no better than wasps in a jam-jar, stomping the weaker down so they didn’t drown.

Yet that was how her enemies wanted her to feel – trapped in a tiny jar - about to go under their feet. If she believed that they’d won. She raised her chin and pulled the blind back from the window. The silence was so unusual she wondered if her hearing had gone. The wind had dropped and taken all the clamour with it, the shooting and the shouting. Her city was still and it was still her city. All of it not just these few streets.

She put her creaky boots on forcing her feet inside. Her outdoor shawl fastened she clutched her purse and her stick. For once the lift responded to her request. She hesitated before entering it but she had to die somewhere of something. To her surprise she was outside the apartment block before she’d realised she was going straight out. She was in the quiet street, blinking at the sun, thrown by the absolute silence.

She started walking fast, small steps that propelled her forwards with each touch on the ground. she didn’t slow even as she crossed an invisible border, the divide between her people’s territory and the enemy’s. Could they tell by looking at her she held different beliefs? Were they using her clothing to sort her, staring down their cold barrels, making up their minds?

She walked faster, almost running now, her breath catching with the shot of pain each step delivered. She stopped, retraced a few steps and swayed in front of a row of houses, a rubble-filled garden, the skeletons of fig trees. One hand covered her throat, the other reached towards the blackened branches. A fierce whine broke the silence and she leapt forward, fire-working blood.

Her last thought was of her childhood, of belonging, of being back in the sanctuary her parents created. Here but not here. Heaven on Earth.
My Notes