Tag Archives: 750 Words

Speakeasy #152 – Decision Day

speakeasy090314_3The flat was cold and damp – a single, bare 40 watt bulb pulsed and crackled in tune with Ri-Sang Choi’s own laboured heartbeat. A trembling kettle whistled, bubbles of condensation forming on the narrow, single glazed kitchen window. Through a circle, cleared within the dripping moisture, Ri-Sang could see it was another bright, spring morning. In the background a small transistor radio relayed the familiar voice of state control over its one and only pre-tuned channel. As if the people of North Korea needed to be reminded, today was Election Day.

Ri-Sang had lived in the same three-roomed apartment in the Pyongyang suburbs for forty-five years. His grandly titled role as a ‘Worker of Capital City Passenger Traffic Guidance Bureau‘ had won him two important advantages in life. The first was to call the North Korean capital home: to live in the same city as the ‘Glorious Leaders‘ was a privilege hard earned, and on occasion a privilege abruptly lost by even those once regarded as the most fervent of party loyalists. The second was the apartment itself, basic by western standards, but to Ri-Sang and his neighbours a jealously guarded luxury. While his younger brothers has remained in the countryside living in rustic, squalid conditions, surviving on the crumbs of failing crops and long days of back breaking toil, Ri-Sang had enjoyed a city life of comparative comfort – a life though that had demanded unquestioning obedience: a life only ever one careless mistake, one wrong word, one misplaced smile away from leaving the city – not back to his family, but riding one of the trains upon which people departed never to return.

Ri-Sang now lived alone. Distant the days when he would sit and watch his beloved wife Su-Dae sewing his threadbare serge grey party overalls. Where once his wife’s gentle smile, deep green eyes and raven black hair would brighten his days, there were now just stark reminders of duty, and of his increasing isolation. This day, as on all days, he was dressed in the self same grey overalls his wife used to mend: that anonymous covering which stripped its wearer of their own personality, presenting them as just another faceless soldier of the revolution.

Out on the streets there was no outward sign of excitement, the atmosphere as soulless and conforming as on any day. The worn front tyre on his twenty year old bicycle appeared to be flat – each bump in the road sending a jarring shudder up through the forks, and into his gnarled, arthritic hands. The pain shooting through his fingers reminded Ri-Sang that perhaps it was time. While Su-Dae was alive he couldn’t possibly risk disobedience. Even though their life and been a hard one, one unblessed by the joy of a child, it was still a life he’d shared with the most beautiful woman in Korea – the mere thought of her soft voice and tender touch brought an unexpected public smile to his wrinkled cheeks as he peddled.

At the doorway of the third district’s Polling Station, Ri-Sang paused. Looking up towards him was the angelic, gap-toothed grin of a small girl. As they observed each other, a glistening orange lollipop was carefully steered towards a mouth already ringed in sticky sugar; from her hair fluttered red and blue ribbons, an obsequious, parental tribute to the matching colours within the omnipresent Workers Party flags. The man alongside placed a protective hand on the little one’s shoulder as he spoke loudly to a visiting western journalist.

I will devote all my intelligence and strength to fortify our socialist system, which was built and developed by our great generalissimos,‘ the defiant voice said.

These were words Ri-Sang himself would have unthinkingly uttered many times if prompted. Most would say anything when all that mattered was staying alive. However, the grinding pain in his cough told Ri-Sang he had likely seen his last election day. Deep within his heart he knew it would be so easy to comply just once more, but his choice had been made.

On the crisp, yellow voting paper placed into his outstretched palm there was but one name, one party: one decision. Ri-Sang hesitated – as he watched those watching him, a steady left hand calmly lifted the chained pencil and scored out the only name on the ballot.

Moving towards him he heard the creak of polished shoes, caught the dazzle of a red lapel pin. Ri-Sang looked directly at the approaching man and smiled – too tired and too alone to be afraid any more.

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These words form my entry into the speakeasy writing challenge. After reading the prompts on Sunday morning I was surfing through the leading news items on the BBC website. The story which caught my eye was one about forthcoming ‘rubber stamp’ elections in the secretive state of North Korea. In particular the following phrases inspired me to write:

‘Each of the 687 districts had only one candidate running for office.’

‘In the last election in 2009, turnout was 99%, with 100% of votes in favour of the given candidates.’

I hope you enjoy my story!

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Speakeasy #151 – Making of a Masterpiece

well‘Life had once been defined by linears and absolutes, not anymore….’

Pretentious bullshit or not, all those early reviews of Frankie’s work screamed the same message: here was a man who didn’t just live his art, he was his art. Disappointingly for the weekend feature editors, Frankie Bosanko wasn’t your standard fucked up malcontent born into a troubled childhood: his mother hadn’t been a sexually abused, teenage crack addict – Frankie started out as a plain ordinary kid, in a plain ordinary life. Perhaps that was the reason things eventually went the way they did.

The fire at the mill cost the Bosanko family nearly everything. His dad hit the unemployment line, and then the bottle, as his son headed for three years in juvenile correction. Nobody could understand why he’d done it, he never did explain that night to anyone. It was while in ‘juvey’ that it began – just scribbles, but within those seemingly random, abstract shapes and lines something sparked. The golden flames which ripped through the burning mill inspired his first major work. Some said he was glorifying crime, nobody died in his fire, but none the less plenty thought it was in bad taste.

‘It’s art, it’s real, it’s my life,’ is all Frankie would say.

At twenty Frankie moved to the city and rented a tiny bedsit on the east side. He unashamedly played on his maverick genius, ex-con persona and quickly became the must have, risqué invite for the trendiest parties on the scene. The story of the night he and the wife of a well heeled client fucked like randy college grads on pristine white sheets while being showered in paint still does the rounds. That particular client was ecstatic, he watched and then paid $200,000 for the results – those sheets are now worth ten times that, as are most Bosanko originals.  It was good money for Frankie and he never denied he enjoyed it, the life, the women, even the infamy – especially the infamy.

Through all the good times Frankie had remained phobic about the prospect of becoming predictable, even worse becoming irrelevant. His public appearances were by now fleeting, rare and often a disaster. Each time the worry lines on his sallow face grooved just a bit deeper, the impish smile slightly more strained, his once shoulder length jet black hair, racing backwards in a losing battle to a rampaging white army. Some said he was ill, others that he was dying.  He then disappeared for nearly a year, prompting many in the community to proclaim his demise.

Then suddenly he was back.  Understated fliers invited those interested in his work to attend the Yarndale Gallery on the corner of 23rd St – it was packed as people watchers, social climbers, journalists and just the plain curious milled throughout the vast open plan studio. Frankie looked worse than ever, yet under the pasty skin and dark shadowed eyes there remained a spark. He was up to something, they all knew it.

‘Well, I’d just like to thank everybody for coming,’ he began.

The crowd cheered and  applauded.

‘…it’s been a while. I expect most of you had forgotten about me.’

‘No, never!’ they replied as one.

At the back of the dimly lit gallery, Frankie stood motionless in front of a empty, white textured canvas. A younger Frankie had been famed for his live performances and outlandish installations, and so the room was soon at fever pitch as the crowd waited on their forgotten hero to amaze once more. A second, closer canvas was squeakily wheeled into place as the frail figure of Frankie disappeared again from public view. The room then went pitch dark – laughter and giggles morphed into screams. Before pupils could react to the gloom there came a bang – not a loud explosion, more of a contained squelch followed by the unsettling sound of liquid meeting solid.

As light slowly re-illuminated the room, the two canvases were now arranged side by side. A cordon of pleated, red felt rope provided a barrier as burley, shiny headed security guards stood primed to prevent any potential breaches. From the rope a cardboard sign hung loosely on white parcel string – it stated boldly:

Do not touch!

Both canvases were sprayed in lurid reds, blacks and browns. In amongst the dribbles and blotches, lumps of matter shuddered, as if alive. Around the foot of the pictures pools of what looked like blood had begun to congeal.

Most of Frankie Bosanko was nowhere to be seen.

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These words form my entry into the speakeasy writing challenge. I hope you like them!

Speakeasy #144 – Lost and Found

flyers2The Charter were on the move again: drifters on one lifelong trip some called them. Whether the ties that bound were injected straight into the blood, or washed in slowly through endless sessions of soporific doctrine the result was the same: join and your mind became theirs. The group’s leader, ‘The Great Helix’, used to push life insurance back east. These days he sells his malleable young followers on the promise of a true afterlife, ‘the only real salvation’ as he calls it. There aren’t any coloured robes, no mystical chanting, no outward signs of religious or spiritual zealousness – no free love. Just plain ordinary, means you never really see them coming. By then it can be too late.

Charlie had been with the Charter for the best part of his adult life. Like a lot of the flock he’d been a  troubled kid; like all of the flock he’d learned to forget. Once within the all consuming grip of the Charter you didn’t have a previous life – you’d only had the path which led you to where you now stood. Families, crimes, pains – all forgotten, all left behind. From there on in your goals were shared, your problems borne by others. Charlie had quickly established himself as one of the Charter’s best recruiters – a combination of his boyish, if somewhat faded good looks, and a refusal to be discouraged by even the most disinterested of prospects made him one of the Helix’s favoured children.

This morning the cobbled central streets of Valeranna were busy with late winter shoppers. Just the faintest hint of frost tinged the air as the Charter pulled off the 78 and into town. As ever, the great one was not to be seen. Instead it was Charlie who once more reaffirmed to his fellow believers the value of persistence. Despite Charlie’s best efforts, numbers had been falling in recent years – Valeranna though had been fertile hunting ground for the Charter in the past: Charlie himself began his own path to salvation from this small, coastal commuter town. For years his heartbroken mother tried desperately to get in touch, to bring him home. However, Charlie like all true members of the Charter turned his back. He only had one family now.

His return to Valeranna was proving a tough pitch. While others flagged and angled to pack up for the day, Charlie remained hopeful. It was then he saw her: she looked like someone seeking an answer.

‘Excuse me lady, can I interest you in the true path to Salvation?’ he began.

The woman turned to face her assailant. Black, tightly bunched hair flecked with grey; the shadows under her eyes hinting at an unsought excess of cares and worry. She didn’t look an old woman by any means. However, she looked tired; she looked like she needed salvation. As Charlie readied himself to rescue another lost soul he paused – an unwelcome, slightly queasy feeling of vague familiarity momentarily flustering his normally equable delivery of Charter rhetoric.

‘Chucky? Chucky, is that you?’ asked the woman.

‘My name is Charles, and I implore you to seek Salvation in the arms of the Charter. Please, read this leaflet,’ he replied.

‘Chucky, is this where you’ve been hiding all this time?’

‘I think you must be confusing me with someone else, madam. My only family is the Charter. Why don’t you come and visit with us. We have a meeting here in town later this evening. You will be more than welcome.’

‘I don’t know what these people have done to you, but some things can’t be forgotten, Chucky – your mother, my sister, surely you remember her? Six years she looked for you, her only son. Blamed herself for your problems – it drove her into an early grave. Did you know that? Do you even care?’

‘You sound troubled – we can remove your burdens. Please, come and join us this evening,’ Charlie added.

‘No, Chucky. I can live with myself just fine. It’s you I worry about. I truly hope you do find peace son. I really do. Your poor mother certainly didn’t.’

With that the woman turned and left – Charlie’s empty stare watching as she gradually disappeared from view. Any fleeting, fugitive chill of uncomfortable, personal memory once more safely returned to the depths of the Charter’s forgiving, collective conscious.

‘Come on people. We have a meeting to get ready for. This town needs our help. Let’s get to it!’ he snapped, as flakes of snow began to fall gently on the now deserted street.

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These words form my entry into the speakeasy writing challengeI hope you like them!

Speakeasy #142 – Black Holes

Big Ben UK

The luminous blue digits of his bedside clock flashed 6:40am. An alarm began to pulse: faintly at first before these early, gentle invitations to rise were replaced by more insistent, inconsiderate buzzes that echoed noisily around the room. From deep within the folds of the duvet Professor Ward groaned as he began to uncoil his barely awake body from that of the still sleeping Mrs Ward. A brisk walk across the cold, bare boards of his bedroom floor soon had the Professor approaching the window. Rubbing sleep from his eyes he pulled wide the curtains,  bracing for the first assault of morning sunlight; expecting the warm dawn glow of what was forecast to be another scorcher of a summer’s day. Instead there was nothing but darkness.

The phone on the dressing table was already rocking and chiming with messages. Switching on the television he dressed quickly amid confusing reports of blackouts all over the globe. Leaving the house he was shocked by the sharp, bitter coldness biting at his fingers. A thick layer of frost wrapped itself around the cars in his street; ice crystals instantly formed in the warm air that the Professor exhaled from his body. It was July – it felt and looked like the middle of winter.

Driving to work he watched as people shuffled along pavements dusted in snow. Everybody wrapped against the unexpected chill. Ahead an accident as a car had skidded into a roadside tree. A bloodied, confused driver just stood staring by his mangled vehicle. Headlights dazzled in the gloom. Streets remained unlit as lamps stayed  locked in their summer schedule. The world wasn’t ready for this; there was chaos everywhere he looked.

‘What the hell is going on?’ the Professor asked, as he finally reached his desk at the institute.

‘The sun. It’s disappeared. Gone, Professor.’

‘That’s impossible. Give me a sensible answer!’ he demanded.

‘Here look for yourself!’ replied his suddenly indignant research assistant.

Disbelieving, the blood curdled through the Professor’s  veins. Image after image of emptiness. Where once sat the flaming, yellow ball which provide light and heat for billions, there was now nothing.

‘It must be there. It must be. Look harder,’ the Professor insisted.

A lone, maverick scientist in Zurich was first to make the claim that shocked the shivering world: the sun was still where it had always been – it had simply gone out. It’s light and heat extinguished; the seasons it provided now threatening to merge into one long, dark, cold void.

‘We need to tell people. They need to know what’s going on,’ said the Professor.

‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ his colleagues replied, in suspicious unison.

‘We have to say something. The fucking sun has gone out. How the hell can we cover that one up. Come on, tell me.’

‘The situation will be managed,’ injected a previously unheard voice.

Looking up a man in a shiny, grey suit stood in the Professor’s doorway.

‘What do you mean managed?’ barked the Professor. Reaching for the phone he began to dial. As he did so the receiver was grabbed violently from his hand.

‘Don’t do that Professor!’

Before he could continue his protests two other men in grey suits appeared. Theirs didn’t shine as much. Their faces more sinister.

‘Take him,’ they were ordered.

An alarm suddenly buzzed. Blaring, deafening – nobody else seemed to hear it. His arms were being held: he was helpless to cover his aching ears. The sound was excruciating. He began to lapse in and out of consciousness. Everyone else in the room was now laughing. Pointing. Staring. Ridiculing.

He thinks the sun has gone out!

He’s mad!

The Professor has lost it!

Lock him up!

Hysterical laughter grew louder. Sardonic smiles became even more cruel, more mocking. His pleading voice deserted him: agonisingly powerless to reply.

***

The alarm pulsed gently. The clock face flashing 6:40am. Today was the day of the conference. He only hoped his fellow scientists were ready to be told that more dark spots had been found in the surface of the  sun. Thinking about telling the world this news had given him endless weeks of worry and stress. However, he knew people needed to be told. The world had to be ready for the worst. To be ready to act before it is too late – before the nightmare becomes a reality.

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These words form my first ever entry into the speakeasy writing challenge. I hope you like them!

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Much to my delight, as well as polling third in the voting, this story was chosen as the ‘Editor’s Pick‘. Thanks to everyone who either read, voted for, commented on or simply liked my story.