I’ve been lucky enough to have a short story picked up by Idle Ink. ‘A Spaceman Came Travelling’ is an odd little piece that went through several iterations in my head before eventually making its way onto laptop screen. I’m not sure it fits comfortably in any particular genre, but I’m reasonably pleased with how it turned out.
They say that the Pacific has no memory. Whoever they are, they say this in such a way as to invoke images of old men looking wistfully across sun-beaten bays, and of winsome young girls with sea-grey eyes walking on beaches, their shoes dangling from one hand. What is says to us, to my brethren and I, is that the Pacific is a body of water in its dotage.
Subject to vicious mood swings? Sure.
Hiding her fair share of secrets? What grand old lady isn’t?
Where I’m from, memory is muscle. Without it we are formless, foetid water, stilled in a dip in the ground.
We provincial rivers remember. We remember the low-lying expanse of flood plain waiting to be crept across. We remember the imperceptible shift in the levee during the last spell in spate, the fingertip journey through crowded gabion.
To rely upon brute distance a la Point Nemo is clumsy – girth is no guarantor of fear. I have people looking up at bruised, pregnant skies with fear written large on their faces. Villagers listen to the thrumming on their roofs whilst in their minds already clambering on to those same roofs. My tributaries of threat steal across minds like capillaries over brains.
The river has burst its banks trills some bedraggled reporter, her umbrella tugging at her hand. Surely your forebears taught you that I have no banks, no boundaries. I wend my way through rock and soil as I will, as I have willed since the crushing darkness of mile-thick ice carved out the routes I follow still. Memories are made this way.
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, Best MicroFiction 2021, Writer’s Egg, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0
Thimbles are old hat. As are hatpins, come to that.
We don’t skirt along wainscots anymore – linoleum and robot vacuum cleaners have made that too dangerous. Nor do we abseil down curtains – blinds are not nearly so conducive to a silent descent. And the pets…People still talk about Eggletina having been eaten by a cat, a story whose horror is not in any way reduced by its being apocryphal, but in modern Borrower life the Human Beans are far more eclectic in their tastes. Ferrets, parrots, tarantulas…my cousin Dimmer swears he had to squeeze through a letter box brush to escape a fucking micro pig. These days it is ventilation grilles, wood burners, and shimmying down USB cables.
The residents of Lettaford are thin-lipped and watchful. Some put it down to the hamlet’s isolated position on the edge of Dartmoor. Others say that the place was borne from the people and that there’s nowt as queer as folk.
One thing everyone agrees on is that the moor is a dangerous place. Mists eddy and creep over the hillocks and streams and do strange things to people’s sense of direction. Rowan and Willow root wind underneath the peat and the heather.
When travellers stop by the low-slung inn, mauve smoke curling from the chimney, the villagers warn them not to set foot upon the moor, no matter how clear the path may seem. Some are foolhardy, though, sneering at the patrons with coaldust in their hair and dregs of ale in their beards.
Cheap pitches. Free showers. View of the loch. Save for the omnipresent midge, there seems little reason not to stop at Kinlochleven campsite. Strange then that no-one stays a second night.
Looking west along Loch Leven as the sun dives horizonwards, the summits seem benevolent, cradling the little town in a gnarled embrace. Binnein Mor, Na Gruagaichean, Am Bodach, Sgùrr a’ Mhàim and more lie in wooded repose lochside, benign under the last sideways-slung rays. This dying of the light is picturesque to be sure, reaching up into the loch. Weary trekkers and wellness bloggers snap pictures for their Instagram accounts, their eyes on their phones whilst locals search the gullies, the craggy overhangs.
It is not the dusk that the townsfolk are wary of. At least, not the dusk alone. It is a stillness in the evening air, a sense of heavy dreichness. The villagers can sense it. They close their doors over softly and stuff dishcloths and rags in the loose window frames. Curtains are drawn, lights dimmed.
The woman showed no surprise at the midshipman’s entrance. She stared at him, a smile nudging at the corners of her lips.
Bligh stood with mouth hanging open; a small boy caught stealing apples from the orchard. He had seen this fine green dress once before; across Bantry Bay, on a captain’s wife with a kerchief pressed against her mouth because she could not bear the smell of the harbour. Gone was the timid, sickly looking woman who had rushed off in her carriage as soon as it was politic, replaced with this confident, sensual creature.
“I was looking for…” whispered Bligh. His voice sounded childlike and tiny amongst the oak beams.
“You were looking for Ugly Bertha,” prompted the woman, her voice low and melodious. Bligh could smell orange blossom from the woman, the scent replacing the dank rot of the hold.
The woman held out her arms to each side of her petite shoulders. “Here she is.”
The sound of rolling glass permeated Bligh’s slumber and he woke slowly to the smell of rot and dampness. Looking down from his repose, he saw an empty olive-green rum bottle rolling from beneath the surgeon’s desk and under a hammock occupied by Harper. The young topman lay sleeping and, judging by the rum fumes emanating from him, was well sedated. From what he could see of the boy’s ankles, Bligh did not think that the boy would ever again climb rigging. On top of the table lay slouched the surgeon himself, drunk. Bligh sighed and looked around him. As a place of well-being and recuperation, the sick bay of the Cleopatra left a lot to be desired. Situated in the aft part of the lower deck, there was little light and even less fresh air. Bligh took a moment to wonder why surgeons, always lecturing about how bad airs contributed to disease, were put to work in one of the dankest, dingiest parts of the ship.
The scene that enveloped Bligh as he reached the deck was staggering in scale. Screams and shouts issued a group of women who were being forced to the hammock nettings of the ship by marines at bayonet point. Herded together like a writhing ball of herring, Bligh wondered at just how many had come aboard since the ship had anchored. Curses and threats rained down from the wives and prostitutes, more than a few of whom were spitting and clawing at the marines. These were dockyard women; scarred, calloused, and capable of defending themselves.
Standing serenely on the poopdeck and supremely unconcerned by the tumult beneath him was Captain Cowan. A mass of seamen were gathered opposite the pressed women on the main deck, held at bay either by the marines or by the force of their Captain’s will. Men who had grumbled and muttered at Acheson’s flogging a few days earlier were now dangerously close to open sedition. Glares of fierce hostility were directed up at the poop deck and fists were clenched in anger at the treatment of the women.
It was two days after Captain Cowan’s arrival on HMS Cleopatra and the pale winter sun had spent itself, leaving the ship huddled in half-light on an iron-grey Bantry Bay. Any free time that the men had would usually be spent on the forecastle. There would be cock-fighting, story-telling, dancing, and dicing, but not today. Bligh was with the gun crew that he commanded, as well as a few others crowded around the galley stove. Its black hulk dominated the room, dimly lit by tallow candles sputtering inside lanterns of tin and translucent horn. Bligh preferred the company of his men as opposed to the other midshipmen in the cockpit, especially today. He shivered, although whether at the damp threatening to invade every loose stitch in his clothing or the unease at what was being discussed he was not sure.
A ship was comparable to a small town. There were glaziers and glassblowers, farmers and fishermen, shoe cleaners and snuff makers. Shoehorning such a population into a seventy-four gun ship like HMS Cleopatra however, meant that the intrigues and undercurrents that ran through any town were multiplied many times over.
Added to this already potent brew was the fact that the majority of seamen on board were not there by choice. After being pressganged into service, torn away from loved ones, and kept at sea for months on end, there was an unspoken contract between captain and crew stating that a seaman’s welfare was the responsibility of his commanding officer. This was an agreement that had just been trodden into the oaken planks by a pair of immaculately polished hessian boots.