Monthly Archives: June 2017

Claim To Flame

Another monthly flash fiction tale.  This one’s theme was “flame”, or any variant thereof.

I swung myself into the beer garden of The Crooked Stump, finding Brad, Terry, Stephen and Jules already there.

“ADAM!” they roared as one.

I waved back at my mates as best I could without overbalancing.  They had chosen a round wooden picnic table not far from the fairy tale toadstool slide in the children’s playground.  Of course they had.  Not only was it a splendid evening, but Jules needed a place to take a puff.

“Hey mate, discharged eh?” remarked Brad.

“Or did you just smack the nurse on the arse and get kicked out?” Terry hooted.  Cue wild, puerile laughter from the rest of them.

I carefully eased myself onto the edge of one of the seats and stowed my crutches under the table.

“Not likely, given he was a man,” I replied, wincing as a sudden pain shot up my leg.

“That foot still painful, mate?” said Jules, a cigarette poised before his lips.

“Sometimes,” I groaned.

“You’re bloody lucky you didn’t lose the whole thing,” said Brad, looking pale.

“The doctors said it could have been a lot worse if I hadn’t got boots on,” I told them, “Or the lawn mower had a more powerful engine.”

“Well, count yourself lucky, Adam,” said Stephen.  “You’re back out in time to enjoy the rest of the summer.  How was your stay in hospital?”

“Not bad,” I shrugged, “Competent, friendly staff, clean wards, good facilities.  I even made friends with one of the patients; Caroline Eastman.  She manages a theatre not far from here, when she’s not having her ankle set in plaster.”

“Asked you to meet her backstage some time, eh?” Terry quipped.

“Do your thoughts ever come from above the waist, Terry?” Brad protested.

Apropos of this, Stephen decided to change the subject.

“Tell you what, Adam, we were discussing old TV, Power Rangers, Playdays and all that.  Remember any good shows?”

“What about The Elementals?” I suggested.  “Did you guys watch that?”

“DID I EVER?” Brad blurted out.  “Who was your favourite?  I liked Flood the best, you know, with his icicle darts and that magical surfboard he rode on.”

“For me, it was a cross between him and Typhoon,” said Jules, tapping ash into the ashtray in the middle of the table.  “Remember how he could fight using thunderstorms and tornados?  KABOOM!”

There was laughter and general assent at this.

“I tell you what,” added Stephen, “Not many kids liked Tremor much, but he had a sort of charm for me.  Sure, he was a big, dumb man-boulder, but he was kinda loveable, like a little brother or something.”

“Yeah, you would like him, you weirdo,” Terry snorted, “But can we just talk about Flame for a second?  God, she was gorgeous!  She was like my first crush!  Remember that red hair that flickered upwards when she was covered in fire, and that yellow suit stretched out over her boobs, or those legs?  Christ, Jessica Rabbit’s a dog compared to her!”

“Yeah, she was hard to beat,” I agreed drily.  “I tell you what, let me get my phone out a second…”

I connected to the pub’s WiFi network and opened YouTube.  Then I looked up The Elementals outro so I could play it to them all.

“Alright! I lived to hear this music!” Brad cried joyfully.

Stephen broke into a smile and Jules began humming along to the rocking beat of the theme song.

“Adam, you’re a star,” Terry smiled.  “I tell you, if I could…  Hey!  Don’t pause it, you muppet!”

“Don’t throw a hissy fit, Tez,” I chuckled.  “Take a look at the names right there.  Any seem familiar?”

My four friends’ eyes went as round as saucers.  On the screen, they quite clearly saw, under the credit title Voice Talents, the name Caroline Eastman.

“That’s right, boys,” I said, grinning from ear to ear.  “I shared a hospital ward with the lady who played the hottest heroine of our childhood.  And she’s promised me and whoever I bring with me a discount if we ever come to see one of her plays.  What do you say, Terry, guys?  Fancy going to meet Flame?”

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The Wise Woman

I wrote this for a competition where the theme was “fake news”; a subject relevant to today’s headlines, although its setting is far from contemporary.  It didn’t win a prize, but the judge gave it a special commendation.

It was a baking hot day in high summer. The terraces outside Pflaummenwald’s village inn were packed with revellers. Heidi Gerber was in high spirits, but her lifelong friend, Elsa Schwartzmann, was another matter.
“Aren’t you worried at all, Heidi?” sighed Elsa. “We’re only just 40 years old and Germany’s at war for the second time in our lives! Don’t you ever fear for Lutz, Klaus or anyone else? There’s still everything to play for.”
Lutz Gerber was Heidi’s son, a 19-year-old private in Germany’s freshly victorious Sixth Army. Heidi had been quicker to settle than Elsa, whose son Hermann was only 12. But then, unlike Elsa’s late husband Dieter, Klaus Gerber (currently a reservist in the Volkstȕrm) had been eight years his wife’s senior.
“Elsa,” Heidi laughed, “The war’s as good as won! Poland’s beaten, Norway’s been taken and the French lasted less than two months! And just listen to the radio these days! London’s a wreck, the U-Boats are thrashing the Atlantic convoys… we can’t lose!”
“I just hope you’re right, Heidi,” Elsa replied coolly. She sipped her wine and sighed again.
The trouble was, no-one in Pflaummenwald shared Elsa’s scepticism these days. To them, she was a just a cranky old widow, bitter and lonely, her parents long dead and all her other relatives too far away to visit often. Some of them suggested she secretly hoped she’d say the wrong thing. After all, that could be fatal these days…

Pflaummenwald lay in the south-west of Baden-Wȕrttemburg, about half way between Freiburg (where Elsa worked on the production line in an electronics factory) and the Swiss border. Elsa was satisfied with her job, but the factory manager, Herr Gottleib, was stunned by a concern she raised with him one afternoon.
“We should be making more practical things, Sir!” she protested. “All our radio sets are for homes! We should be making radios for the Wehrmact, the Luftwaffe, the Kriegsmarine! They’re the ones who really need them!”
“Rubbish, Elsa!” Herr Gottleib retorted. “The Fȕhrer would order more radios for the troops if they were needed! Unless you think the Fȕhrer is an idiot?”
Elsa quickly shook her head. She knew better than to disagree with that.
All through 1940 and 1941, Elsa kept quiet and got on with her work, as endless triumphant rhetoric resounded throughout Germany. Crete was captured, the Balkans fell and Field Marshall Rommel held off Wavell’s forces in North Africa. Then, having flattened the Poles two years before, the Axis armies began moving East in earnest…
“Mutti,” Hermann asked one morning in the autumn, “What are Papa’s old skiing clothes doing by the door?”
“I’m giving them to the troops in Russia,” Elsa explained. “I don’t think our boys are equipped to fight through the winter.”
“I’m sure that not true, Mutti,” said Hermann, after a telling hesitation.

1942 arrived. Russia held and America entered the war. Elsa chuckled to herself on the day when, at the government’s insistence, Herr Gottleib retooled his factory to produce radios for the armed forces. He let all his workers have one of the surplus home sets as a gift.
As the year wore on, the residents of Pflaummenwald noticed Elsa become much happier, but also turn into the most ludicrous and insufferable gossip. She scoffed that carpet-bombing Malta had done nothing to damage the Allied campaign in North Africa. She joked that the U-Boat fleet was losing track of shipping convoys in the Atlantic. Heidi even stopped talking to her for a while, after she insisted that the troops’ cheerful Christmas message from Stalingrad was faked.
Elsa understood. It would be hard for Heidi to accept rumours that the Sixth Army was cut off and couldn’t break out. Lutz was over there with them.
But sure enough, early in 1943, the Axis troops at Stalingrad surrendered. Heidi came to Elsa’s doorstep that same night, ashen-faced, shoulders slumped, eyes red and hollow. Once seated in the lounge, she explained why.
“Klaus has shot himself. He’d heard today that Lutz has been taken prisoner by the Soviets. Elsa… I don’t think Lutz is ever coming home.”
All through the evening, Elsa tried to comfort Heidi. She listened to, and accepted, Heidi’s apologies. Finally, Heidi took Elsa by the shoulders and fixed her with a piercing gaze.
“On my son’s life, I will not repeat it to a soul,” she intoned, “But tell me where you get your information,”

The next day, Elsa drove Heidi south of Pflaummenwald, to a hillside that lay within sight of the Swiss border. She and Dieter had taken walks there while they were courting. Here, in a hollow at the base of an old dead chestnut tree, Elsa had stashed Herr Gottlieb’s complimentary radio set, wired to an old car battery. For months, she had come here to listen to Swiss radio news, then pass it on to others, claiming it was merely rumour.
Elsa knew how risky this was. The penalty for listening to foreign radio was 30 months in jail.
“But I couldn’t stand only ever hearing one side of the story,” she explained. “I preferred to risk prison than live free and ignorant.”
“Elsa,” Heidi smiled, “You’re braver than I’ll ever be.”

1943 wore on. Field Marshal Montgomery, newly in command of Allied troops in North Africa, decisively beat Rommel back. Russia began reclaiming lost territory. Mussolini’s Italy crumbled, dams were bombed on the Ruhr and even Germany’s vaunted U-Boat fleet was humbled. Throughout the year, Elsa and Heidi listened furtively high in the hills, wise to the facts while other Germans marched to a false tune of hope.
One October evening, Heidi gazed south to where Switzerland lay.
“We should flee, Elsa,” she said, “You, me and Hermann. The Allies will be at the gates any day now. We need to get out before that happens.”
“Wise words, Heidi,” Elsa smiled, “And isn’t it remarkable that you were the one to say them?”