Not as expected, but the rent is cheap and suddenly available. Sally checked the agency’s note. The landlord, Mr Bates, had the keys; she knocked. It’s the top flat. She followed him into a tiny room. You’re beautiful. He scratched his beard. Sorry! A pretty view. See the park. Oh yes, nice. Is that jasmine shampoo? She moved to the exit. No, no, this way. A dark bedroom with narrow windows, a carpet stain and a new mattress. He scratched at his neck. Should we forget about this month’s rent? She smiled. Maybe not, as my boyfriend would kill you.
When I opened the photo prompt this week I saw the humour of having such a robust security device. Yet, I noted the craft in the metal work so my story recognises this skill. Having worked with metal I understand the satisfaction of creating aesthetic pleasing items, no matter how simple they look.
Below the story I have added a crafted bespoke gate, which we fitted for a customer.
My story contribution to Friday Fictioneers reflects how the apprentice system needs resetting in this technological age.
A Chance Opportunity
Elliot hated the written blacksmith test. The pen snapped in his hand and he slammed the desk. ‘I’m sorry, sir. It don’t make sense.’ he said and wiped his eyes.
Mr McKay looked over his newspaper. ‘Take your time, lad.’ He watched as Elliot clawed at his hair. He was the worst-case illiterate and innumerate of anyone in the rehabilitation class. Words and letters jumbled around in the boy’s mind. However, he expressed eagerness in his eyes and was a skilled metalworker.
“A last chance,” the judge had said. “Join honest society and make use of your pilfering hands, constructively.”
‘Water, is the sustenance of life.’ Father Van Gory preached. Melba and Cheryl were at the back as usual, knitting. ‘Any time now,’ whispered Cheryl. ‘You’re mean.’ ‘You mustn’t tell.’ Cheryl dropped a stitch. ‘It’s only vinegar.’ ‘Serves him right.’ Melba stared at the priest. ‘Him rubbing salt in folks’ wounds.’
‘Alcohol,’ Father Gory pointed at the Bible group, ‘is a mean spirit.’ He picked up the bottle of water. ‘Let us pray and seek forgiveness.’ He took a large mouthful, then spluttered and sprayed it over his notes.
Cheryl dropped a stitch. ‘Immaculate,’ whispered Melba. ‘Let him seek forgiveness.’
‘It’s a message, Watson.’ He blew a cloud of hashish smoke. ‘Lord Carmichael will refuse the ransom.’ Watson spluttered. ‘Do you have to?’ ‘Oh, there’ll be no demands.’ Holmes shrugged. ‘The infusion enhances concentration; try it.’
‘Surely the kidnappers know of his Lordship’s wealth.’ ‘My dear Watson.’ He grinned. ‘Look, what do you see?’ ‘They dropped a cord.’
‘Lady Jane is an eccentric intellectual and a fanciful romantic.’ ‘Holmes! She is in mortal danger.’
‘The symbol eight; love and infinite wealth.’ Holmes smiled. ‘A Pearl of the East and a paper boat.’ He laughed. ‘Lady Jane has run off to Hong-Kong.’
The front door letter box rattled, and I heard a dull thud as something hit the mat. I rushed and picked up the small parcel. Turning it over a few times, I read my name and address, but there was no return address.
Inside the packet, I found a rectangular block of a polished piece of oak. There was no obvious lid, and I wondered if it was a musical box or a curiosity toy. I tried turning and twisting it. It seemed to be a solid wooden brick, so I gave it a shake, then dropped it onto the kitchen table. I drummed on it with by fingers and then knocked with my knuckles to see if it was hollow; I heard something shift inside.
‘Stop!’ shouted a voice. ‘Oh, please stop.’
I looked around. Did I just imagine the wood speak? I turned it over and tapped it on the table.
‘That’s enough,’ screamed the voice, then it whimpered. ‘Please help me.’
I gave it another good shake and put it down on the table, really not knowing what to expect.
‘Stop, stop, please just stop,’ it cried, ‘you’re making me dizzy.’
‘What’s going on?’ I said, looking around and out the window just in case I was being observed.
‘Please let me out.’
‘How?’ I felt ridiculous. ‘Where’s the lid?’ Some prankster was probably listening, and I played along. ‘If you tell me how to open it, then I’ll get you out.’ I wasn’t sure what the point of the joke was, or where it was leading to.
‘Once I am free,’ it said, ‘your every wish will come true.’
‘Ah! So, you are a Genie trapped in a box,’ I said, still sceptical and looking around for some trickster. ‘It’s just my imagination.’ I muttered.
‘Ah, very good,’ said the voice, ‘you are getting close.’
‘I’m going mad, I must be delirious,’ I felt a moment of rising panic. ‘I’ve no idea what’s happening here.’
‘Think, think of an idea. Use your imagination and soon, we will be free.’
‘We! Is there someone else with you?’
‘No. I mean us, you and me. Please, get those grey cells working, procrastination is not an option.’
I gave the shiny oak another good shake and heard it giggle. It started knocking from inside the wooden block.
‘Stop it. Please release me,’ it cried. ‘Remember, I am the secret to your future; your fortune.’
‘That’s it, I’m getting my saw,’
‘Wait!’ shouted the voice. ‘For a hundred years I’ve waited, but if you damage the wood, you destroy the spell. A curse will fall on anyone who damages this box. The secret to your future will be lost forever.’
‘Then how can I open it. Where is the catch to release a lid?’
‘Oh, why do you want to come into the box? Trust me, there is no way out.’
‘So, what is the secret to my future, tell me.’ I grabbed the box and shook it. ‘Tell me. I’ll get a chisel and split you.’
‘No use,’ the voice coughed. ‘Destroying me breaks your chance of any good fortune.’
‘This is ridiculous.’ I said, ‘I’ve no idea how to get you out.’ I was becoming frustrated and bored with the dilemma. Was I talking to myself again? It had been going on for weeks, and every day I struggled to maintain my sanity.
‘You know the answer,’ said the box, and it laughed. ‘Ha, ha. Time is running out. Find an idea. Think, just think.’
I sat for hours admiring the perfect sheen of the polished oak, and its dark and light hues along the grain. It would make a great paper weight or door stopper, but then it would mock me each time I looked at it. My future, my good fortune apparently my sanity, all depended on an idea of freeing the Genie trapped in a knotted wooden block. How ridiculous.
I threw the wood into the fire and watched as it burned; the flames were a crystal blue and dazzling white. I decided the responsibility for my future and fortune would be my making and independent from some magical idea trapped in a box.
That night I went to bed feeling frustrated and angry at my impatience for not solving the problem that may have freed the Genie. Would he really fulfil my fantasies and dreams? Perhaps it was a missed opportunity.
Regardless, I slept well and in the morning the rattle of the letter box woke me with a jolt. I fell out of bed and hit the floor with a dull thud on the carpet. I tried to get up, but knocked my head on a wooden ceiling. It was dark. I felt as if I was being carried and shaken, then I realised I was in a box.
Suddenly the answer to my future and fortune was clear; if only I was wise enough, if only I could “think outside the box”. Was it too late?
Just another day at Hernandez Hermanos Mercado.
The gossips at the taco stand whisper – there is civil war between the brothers.
It’s about Isabella, rumours of a secret child in the convent.
Until Isabella Lopez returns to the village, Ricardo refuses to provide root vegetables for Miguel’s market stall, unless he denounces his love for Isabella.
Senior Lopez forbids his daughter to marry any of these ‘granjeros’ and has placed Isabella in the hands of the Sisters of Santa Cruz for safe keeping.
The Taco seller takes bets. Which brother will Senior Lopez shoot?
Will there be carrots next week?
Caroline was just an ordinary seamstress, sewing to earn a few pennies.
She was under arrest; her background being scrutinised.
No comment was all she mumbled to the fashion police. They beat her.
She was a fool: the pin cushion from Hong Kong and the military buttons pointed to her Intelligence role in the Far East.
That was years ago. She was a civilian now and it was commercial espionage.
She had stolen Valantino’s top secret pattern for the Princess’s ballroom dress. Everyone would love a copy, like Cinderella.
Caroline was tight lipped, as an army veteran her pension meant poverty.
A woman in green came to our school; she told us about a wonderful world where dreams came true. She believed how plants could care for us; they were special.
‘Take this moon rock,’ she said. ‘Put it in a jar and keep it in the dark overnight.’
Everyone in our street had one.
It seemed miraculous, the speed it grew, up and over the kitchen walls. No one knew what it was. The cats were first to vanish then, Bertie, our dog.
Then one day!
‘Good morning,’ the plant said, trailing a tentacle around my neck. ‘I’m so hungry.’
She sky-dived, and landing she broke her ankles. The family came to help.
She would race across the Sahara; a push but worth a try. Then she’d climb Kilimanjaro; her second option since her doctor suggested the cold on Everest would aggravate her arthritis.
What does he know?
Her colostomy bag will float as she swims the English Channel. A trek along the Great Wall of China, a canoe up the Amazon and visits to the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu.
Her bucket list was growing.
If only the gang could navigate the way out of the care home carpark.