Unusually, and for the first time ever, I have a guest post today from Calum Kerr, who I’ve worked with on National Flash Fiction Day. I also edited a flash anthology, Scraps, with him this year. Here, he talks about his initial interest in flash, and follows this with some of his own fiction.
The Birth of the Projects
by Calum Kerr
I described, earlier this month, over at Vanessa Gebbie’s blog how my career in flash-fiction was launched at one of her workshops. What I didn’t mention was how my projects to write flash-fiction on a daily basis got started. And that too was Vanessa’s fault.
You see, early in January 2011, she posted a photo to Facebookof a ruined abbey which she had visited. When I saw it, I knew immediately that I had a story to tell. The photograph had become a prompt and the prompt had done its work.
I ignored it at that moment, but in the evening I sat down and wrote the story in my head. And I liked it. I thought it was pretty good. Later that night, talking to my girlfriend (now my wife) on the telephone, I flippantly remarked that I should write a flash-fiction for every day of that month, as we had recently completed the NaNoWriMo challenge to write a novel in a month and the pressure of it had worked well for me.
The next morning, when I woke, it was to discover that aFacebook group had been created dedicated to this very endeavour and that a whole host of my writing friends had been invited to watch and to ensure that I completed the challenge.
The resulting 31 stories became my first pamphlet, entitled, suitably enough, 31. I took a break after that effort, and then in the May I started flash365, the same thing but for a year, andthat led to National Flash-Fiction Day, and in the rest is history.
So, anyway, that introduction was just by way of saying, here is the first story written for 31, and the start of all my (crazy?) projects.
Eric always told me not to drive in flip-flops. I never listened, of course. Every year on the first of May I rescued them from the bottom of the wardrobe – the old pairs from last year and the new ones I’d bought since – and they were all I wore until the last day of September. Sometimes my feet were cold, sometimes wet, but the feel of the air on them always made me feel free.
As I walked across the mostly deserted space which served as a car park a small piece of gravel slipped in under my sole, but a practised shake dislodged it. Once on the pavement I could feel the heat baking up off the tarmac. It warmed the ends of my toes and the sides of my heels. It felt like a benison, like comfort.
“Four pounds fifty,” said the bored man in the hut. I handed over my money with a smile and waited for my change, looking around. I could only see the very top of the Abbey over the shoulder of the hill. The stones were ragged and broken, but at one end they rose to a perfectly curved peak which led the eyes to heaven.
I glanced back at the car park. “Not busy today.”
He grunted. “School’s are still in. It’ll be packed next week. I’ll be in Kos.” He gave me a half-smile and I felt his gaze try to unhook the thin straps of my dress. I said nothing, but took the offered coin with another smile and slipped it into my purse.
“Well, enjoy Kos, then.”
The pavement quickly turned to dirt as the path rose up and round the side of the hill. As I climbed, it seemed as though the Abbey was being pushed up out of the ground, the stone-masons hammering away under the earth and forcing the building towards the sky.
The dirt turned to grass and then I was there, right in front of the half-crumbled building. Buttresses and the remains of windows framed the ruin, throwing shadows to stain the surrounding green. I stood for a moment and just looked. Through some of the stone lace I could see more walls; through others the clean blue of the sky.
I brought my gaze back down to earth and looked in through the main doorway. Verdant nature had reclaimed what had once been the floor, marred only by fractures of stone and the balding patches caused by trampling feet.
I wandered forward, letting the atmosphere of the Abbey fill me. I didn’t stop to read any of the plaques, but headed straight into the heart of the building. If Eric had been here he would have been reading and learning. I had always enjoyed simply being in places such as this, but I lacked his enthusiasm for the words, preferring to see the thing for itself.
As I passed into the shadow of the patch-work walls, the temperature dropped and I felt the skin on my arms pucker and bunch in response. A shiver ran up my back and I let it, enjoying the sensation.
Inside it was silent and not as dark as it had looked from outside. The centre of the roof was missing, allowing a shaft of light to fill the main body of the building. I thought of all those nuns who had lived here in the darkness and wondered what they would think of the ruined beauty of this bright space.
The centre of the Abbey formed a wide corridor of light between the darkened side-sections. I walked down the middle in the sunshine. A squeal and a giggle came from the darkness on my left. I stopped and watched as two children – a boy and a girl – ran through the light in front of me. Too young for school but old enough to run and raise hell. I thought again of the nuns, and grinned, imagining their muted shushing.
“Jack! Chloe!” A woman also emerged from the darkness, following after the children. “Come back here and calm down.” She spotted me and gave me an apologetic smile. “Sorry,” she said, “to them it’s just a place to run and hide.”
Quite right, I thought. But all I said was, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”
The woman smiled her thanks and hurried after her children.
I waited a moment until all was silent again, and then I stepped out of my flip-flops. The sun on my skin warmed me, but the grass was cool as my feet sank into it, my toes curling to scrunch the blades into their tiny fists.
I tilted my head back, closed my eyes, and let the heat of the day transport me. I thought of Eric and felt him at my side, eager to share what he had learned from the information boards, but holding his silence, waiting for me to finish my communion. I reached out and felt him take my hand. I clutched it tight in mine, and let out a long breath that I hadn’t been aware of holding.
I nodded slowly to myself and then opened my eyes. Eric wasn’t there. Of course he wasn’t. He never would be again, but I could still feel his hand in mine.
I walked on, leaving my flip-flops, my offering, in the middle of the ruin.
Calum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife – the writer, Kath Kerr – their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is now available from Amazon at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Property-Calum-Kerr/dp/095769850X/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372940684&sr=1-4 or direct from the publisher, Cinder House, at:http://cinderhouse.com/product/lost-property-by-calum-kerr/. The individual e-pamphlets which make up the book are also available via Dead Ink athttp://deadinkbooks.com/archives/category/ebooks