Emmanuel looked down across the beach to the distant water. There was more sand than he remembered, and certainly more people, but he knew this was where his father had brought him many years before.
He had been woken while it was still dark, had a jumper forced over his head and carried down to the shore. The spring full moon was disappearing into the horizon but gave off just enough light to see the tide was lower than ever before. His father put him down at the edge, his feet recoiling at the cold, clammy mud, and they started looking for tiny key-holes in the surface. They had practiced drawing them last night and his father had taught him the importance of walking calmly as the clams could feel their movements and would burrow out of reach if frightened.
Once they had found their first one, his father handed him a metal rod, with a bend at the bottom. It was the handle from the old umbrella Grandfather had given them for their trip to Houlgate last year. As he’d been shown, he plunged it fast and deep in line with the hole, twisted it half way round and steadily pulled it up. With it came the long, elegant shell of the clam.
The last moonlight shined the glossy coat of the oozing creature hanging from the bottom, desperately searching for a way back to land. The electricity of the hunt was warm across his body and the dull ache of his naked feet in the cool ocean stopped. He wanted more.
Continue reading Razor clams (tweeted 6th Nov 2013)
As soon as the bell rang she stuffed the books into her bag and ran.
Everyone knew about the hole in the fence, but she hadn’t been brave enough to venture that far before. Today she didn’t hesitate; she just needed to get as far away as possible. She squeezed through the gap, the wire ripping at her jumper. She ran into the copse and kept going until she found a patch of leaves to sit on. They were slimy, and made the bottom of her trousers dirty.
She reached into her bag, pulled out the sandwiches she had made that morning and tossed them into the mud. The crisps and chocolate followed, their bright wrappers sitting tauntingly on the surface.
She had escaped school for the time being and that relief brought with it hot tears. She knew what the others said about her parents. She could hear some of the hushed comments when they came to parents’ evening or a school play. But Cara was supposed to be her friend, the one person who she had shared her deepest thoughts and worries with. To find her making jokes about her mum and howling with glee cut much more deeply than the whispers.
Her hurt turned to anger. Couldn’t they see what they looked like to other people? It wasn’t just their weight; it was their clothes and their appearance. Surely they noticed heads turn when they walked into a restaurant, and people exchange smiles. Surely they knew how much they hurt her. Why couldn’t they be like other parents?
She lay back, and the wet leaves kissed the back of her neck.
Her stomach rumbled. She turned on her side, reached over and picked up the discarded snacks.
The wind shook the branches above and her friend’s laughter echoed through the trees.
The instructions had been clear. Arrive at the hall at ten and grab a drink. The new manager will be running late but there will be other fundraisers to chat to in the meantime.
Jo had been pounding the streets on behalf of cats and dogs for a couple of years now. She could care less about the animals themselves. Like any salesperson she did it for the chase. She instinctively read body language and knew within seconds if someone would sign over five of their hard earned pounds to help little Tiddles come to terms with feline obesity or Max recover from a nasty encounter with a badger. She had a number of routines to turn to, ranging from “I’m so sorry to trouble you” to outright flirtation, and could quickly gauge the best.
She pulled into the gravelly car park, the first to arrive. She knocked on the door and then pushed it open. The room was empty except for a small table with refreshments and a large blue banner hung above the kitchen at the back.
It read “Be all that you can be…and more”.
“Oh god, one of those types of training” she thought to herself.
She poured a nasty smelling coffee and looked around. Strange that no-one else was here yet as she had been cutting it fine. In fact the whole arrangement had been a bit odd. Usually the bi-annual training was held in the swanky HQ in London, not some dusty building out in the countryside.
She went to see if anyone else had turned up but found that the door had been locked behind her. All of a sudden a voice boomed out from behind the banner.
“Hello Joanne, welcome to your re-training,” followed by a piercing laugh she couldn’t mistake.
Terror poured into every vein in her body and she sank slowly to the ground in disbelief, curling herself into a tight ball.
Jake saw the console abandoned on a park bench. Nobody else was around apart from his mum. Grasping it in his hands he heard her call from behind but his excitement muffled the words. He switched it on, fingers instinctively knowing which buttons to hold. The screen lit up and suddenly the world grew dark. He could not see the park or his family. The console was all he could focus on, the words “Your game is about to begin” scrolled in front of his eyes.
A familiar picture appeared on the screen. It was the park. A pixelated version of the bandstand marked the exit, just as it did in reality. Jake could not understand why the screen was the only thing he could now see. A countdown appeared in the top corner
99, 98, 97…
and the words “You must escape the park” began flashing. Scared, he wanted to put down the device but his hands would not let go,
He tried to run but his feet would not work.
Panicking, he pressed his thumb down and instantly he was moving.
Somehow Jake could control himself with the buttons.
Using his fingers he spun around, searching for his mum but she was no longer there.
He tried to head for the exit but with every step he took the park changed shape.
The closer he thought he was the further away he became.
Desperate he tried to make himself jump over the fence but could not find the right button.
Jake fumbled for the off switch but there wasn’t one.
The only thing that was left was to run, but it was too late.
The words “Game Over” were the last he ever saw.
Thanks to DH for the excellent guest contribution – TL
The blade pierced the skin deep into his pale flesh.
It was the larger of the tormentors wielding the knife but the smaller one was laughing with demented glee and shouting instructions.
Another slash came, and then another, ripping into his body. Then the torturers began cutting away the meat, one chunk at a time, and tossing it aside. The pain was excruciating but he was too paralyzed with fear to resist.
He tried to recall how he had ended up in front of these maniacal butchers. The last thing he remembered was drifting off to sleep surrounded by his family. They had spent the evening star gazing and telling stories from the long summer days of their childhoods. Then he woke in this hellish room, staring into these sadistic visages.
The hacking went on for some time. He could feel the life force ebbing away from his once plump and proud body. Occasionally there would be momentary respite as the torturers broke but they would soon be back at their grim task.
At one point he could sense they were slicing into his skull but by that point he had lost all feeling.
Finally it was over. The instrument of terror was downed beside him and his persecutors left, congratulating each other. He sighed but was too weak to do anything else for the time being. At least now, he thought, I can be left to find some peace and respite in my final hours. But his relief was short-lived for moments later they returned in possession of a flame that immediately began to blister and blacken him.
Too numb to care about pain any longer his thoughts turned back to his family outside and he prayed that they weren’t next on the table.
At Speed, the second autobiography from Mark Cavendish following 2010’s Boy Racer, covers the tumultuous three years between 2010 and 2013; including the highs of 2011’s Green Jersey and World Championship wins.
By focusing on this relatively small period rather than an entire career, the book is able to provide a lot more detail than one might expect. It is one of the better insights into the life of an elite pro cyclist that I have read: each page littered with the sacrifices, compromises, drive and passion that “Cav” makes every day of the year in order to maximise his innate talent and ability.
As you would expect from someone as newsworthy and allegedly controversial as Cavendish, At Speed does not shy away from discussing and explaining some of the more higher profile incidents that he met with during that time. But instead of the standard PR drivel that emanates from a lot of sports books, what you get is an honest appraisal of the situation, irrespective of who that means comes in for some criticism: friends, teammates and more often that not Cav himself.
The book doesn’t often stray away from Cav’s career but inevitably one chapter focuses on Lance Armstrong’s doping confession. Again, Cav is nothing but forthright but it’s hard not to agree with most of his conclusions, not least that those the same yardstick is not being applied across the piste to those involved.
All in all, At Speed proves a worthy companion to the increasingly prolific canon of books written about professional cycling and a fascinating understanding of possibly the most talented sportsman of his generation.
Twiction Lunch rating – 9 spokes out of 10
Looking back, the break-up had been inevitable from the moment she handed him the key-ring. Allegedly a blue fluffy bird, it looked more like a malformed marshmallow rolled in a pile of carpet droppings.
It was the first thing she had made with her new found passion for sewing and when it was presented to him one evening there was a mixture of pride and self-deprecation in her voice. For his part he thought it looked ridiculous and when she said “Of course you’ll be taking this to work tomorrow to show off what your wonderful wife can do” he took it with an extremely large pinch of salt.
Come the next morning he had already forgotten about the comment and barely noticed the blob lying purposely on the kitchen bench next to the sandwiches that she had packed for him before heading to work herself.
Later they arrived home in the winter dark at the same time, dumping their coats and bags on the hallway floor and unleashing their scarves. He opened the door to the lounge, turned on the light and walked over to the kitchen to start the ritual of cooking dinner together. But for some reason she didn’t follow him.
When he turned around he saw that she was bent down picking something up from under the couch. She stood, glared at him accusingly and held out her hand. Lying on it were the remains of something that had all the hallmarks of having been savaged by their cat Tomahawk. He smirked sheepishly and started:
“It must have been very realistic for him to have done that.”
The look that followed spoke volumes and that evening he ended up cooking by himself.
Yes thinking about it now, it was then that their troubles really began.
Like all of her friends, she left the island as soon as she was old enough.
Unlike the others she came back, bringing a husband and a daughter with her.
The distant city that in her youth she had worshiped had lost its shine; the thrill of the energy transformed into fear and frustration. In turn the carefree peace of her childhood quickly became mythologised and when Beth was born she longed to have the same for her.
Idle throwaway remarks quickly became forceful arguments with her husband but eventually she won him over with stories of summer skies sparkling with fireflies and bathing in diamond pure lakes.
At first it was largely as she remembered. They even managed to catch a large brown crab with a hunk of bacon in their first few days, and the three of them sat around a small fire on the beach, prising the buttery flesh out of the limbs with their tongues.
Summer rolled in, dry but not oppressive like in the city. Fresh fruit and vegetables were plentiful and the neighbours were only too happy to share with the island daughter who came home. One day Beth picked a basket of peaches and took them down to the beach to share with the other children.
And then, a few days into September there was a knock at their door. It was their neighbour, a greying elderly woman who had run the local store for as long as anyone could remember.
“Good evening Mrs Munro, I’m sorry to call unexpectedly but I need to talk to you regarding something delicate to do with your daughter. You see, some of the people around here have been expressing a few concerns about her clothes.”
From that moment, everything on the island changed.
The heat in Kaori’s tiny room was becoming unbearable; damp, intense and claustrophobic. After a long day of school, followed by the private tutor her father paid for at great expense, the humidity made study impossible.
She folded a tight red paper crane and tossed it on the desk with the others, her standard time-wasting method. Scattering them with the back of her hand she pushed her chair back and headed to the window. Her friend Yuki lived in the apartment opposite and they would often sit there looking at each other across the narrow airspace.
She caught sight of a movement below and recognised the local homeless man scouring the lobby vending machine for forgotten coins.
Instinctively Kaori headed to the cranes on the desk and picked one up. Back at the ledge she leaned out, hesitated and then dropped it. It floated gently through the still air, like a maple shedding its autumn leaves, and landed just behind the machine. Catching sight of it, the man stopped and leaned around to pick it up. At that moment she knocked a pen off the side and out into the air. It plummeted arrow-like for six floors and without any sound hit the man on the crown, crumpling him to the floor from where he was crouched.
Kaori froze, fixed on the shadow of the toppled figure, her breath deserting her lungs.
The only sound was the dull thud of a thousand frustrated housewives beating their dusty futons clean in the early evening sun.
She was brought back to her senses when her thin bedroom door slid back and the tobacco stained smell of her father’s shirt entered.