So over on my friend’s blog there is a novel activity called the Writealong. Every Saturday she’ll post up a writing prompt and you use that to write a small section of prose. At the end, you should have enough to edit it all together into a short story. I’ll be posting mine up here. Sounds good? Yes it does. So head on over to the first prompt and get cracking.
Here’s my first raw draft:
It was one of those god-awful days in late spring when Andy asked me to help him clean out his house. You know how it goes; there’s a week of glorious sunshine when you’re stuck in work, and then as soon as the weekend hits the colour is bleached from the sky and everything turns grey. It’s not warm. It’s not cold. It’s just… I don’t know, stagnant?
I arrived at Andy’s house a little after midday, not that you could tell. time had felt static since the moment I woke up. For the past few months Andy had been clearing most of his possessions out of his house. “I just want to lighten my load,” he’d told me. I worried about him sometimes. It seemed as though every passing day he withdrew deeper into himself. I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to spend some time with him.
Seeing the barren wasteland which Andy’s house had become came as a mild shock to me. I mean, I knew he was downsizing, but this? Did he even have a sofa left?
“It’s great,” he told me, “I can almost fit everything I own into a single suitcase now!”
“uh huh… So are you planning on travelling then?”
He gave me a barely visible smile and then turned away.
“Come on, just the cupboard under the stairs to go now. I don’t think I’ve even opened this door in… well since I moved in. Probably still got some of my old Uni stuff in here for all I know!”
I didn’t even realise Andy HAD a cupboard under the stairs. That wall had always been covered up by a poster of some sort. First Babylon 5, then Buffy The Vampire Slayer, then Blade Runner… I think the last time I was here it was some obscure Japanese anime poster. You know the sort – teenage girls in jumpsuits piloting giant robots. The bare wooden door stared at me nonchalantly, as if it was proud of the fact that I had been unaware of its existence. Joke’s on you, door, I’m about to go right through you.
“Christ Andy, you weren’t kidding!” I said as we cracked the door open. Now I know how those Victorian archaeologists felt, opening up the tomb of Tutenkhamun for the first time. A layer of dust an inch thick coated everything in the dark cubby hole. A faintly dank smell assailed my nostrils as I tried to adapt my eyes to the light, gave up, and fumbled around for my phone.
“What the hell are you doing?” Andy asked
“Getting my phone, need a torch,” I replied, still fighting with my handset to stry and get the torch app open.
“Or, you could hit the light switch.” Andy reached out and flicked the switch and a 40 watt tiungsten bulb flared to life right in front of my face. I’d be seeing green filaments for the next ten minutes at least.
“What’s all these bags?” I asked, gesturing to the rotting hessian sacks which made up the bulk of the cupboard’s contents.
“Oh, they can all go in the skip,” Andy replied, “I think that was back when I was collecting those old local newspapers, remember?”
“Jesus, that was, what, fifteen years ago?” I remembered it vaguely. Andy had started reading about local history in some “newspaper flashback” series in a local rag. You know the kind, “in this day in 1856…”, that sort of thing. Anyway, Andy’s the kind of person who really gets into things. I mean REALLY. Like, obsessively. It’s like he has this fire inside which constantly drives him along. But, like a steam engine, once the fire runs out, he runs out of steam.
Andy had spent months collecting ancient newspapers from around the area. He’d buy massive job lots on ebay, he’d raid the local library and spend ages at the photocopier (although he always maintained that owning the original was best), he’d call up the local paper and ask to view their archives. I can’t remember what he was looking for, or even if he was looking for anything, but he would occasionally draw notes in the margins, or highlight certain stories. I never really asked about it because he tended to get defensive around his little projects.
Then one day he just stopped. Bagged all of them up. The project was done. I assumed he’d thrown them all out, but apparently not. We started hauling out the bags and loading them into the skip outside, the stink of mildew coating our lungs like the dust coated our clothes.
“If I catch tomb-rot or something from this…”
“Don’t worry, I’ve been growing some penicillin as a side project.”
“I feel safer already”
Once the papers were gone I noticed something else in the dank corner of the cupboard.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“That wooden box?”
“Beats me,” Andy said, wide eyed. “I have genuinely never seen it before. Probably something the previous tenants left here.”
I couldn’t get a decent look at it from where I was, even with the light on. I reached in to grab it so we could have a look at it in the daylight.
“Ow you bastard!” As I pulled the box out I managed to catch a splinter in my finger. I hate splinters. They sit there just out of reach, taunting you, daring you to try and tease them out, threatening you with paltry amounts of irritating pain every time you put pressure on your fingers.
“I’ll get some tweezers.” Andy turned to head into the kitchen, but I grabbed his arm to stop him.
“You’ll do no such thing,” I said sternly. “I want to know what the hell is in this box.”
The box was sort of a wooden crate, like those old packing crates you see in 1940s movies. There was some writing painted the side, but the wood was so blackened with mould it was impossible to work out what it said. Painted on the top there was what looked like an eagle logo.
We prised the lid off with a swiss army knife and looked inside. In amongst a tangle of straw packing was a small, ornate box. It was heavy, seemingly roo heavy for its small size. The metal of its construction appeared at first glance to be gold, but as we turned the box in the light it seemed to shift though a whole spectrum of colours, like a patch of oil on a wet road. All over the box was an intricate filigree of symbols.
“You recognise any of these symbols, Andy?” Andy had, for a time, worked at the university on a computer project designed to digitise ancient manuscripts. He’s seen literally hundreds of ancient documents – Egyptian, Sumerian, Norse, Japanese, Old English. If anyone was going to identify these symbols at the drop of a hat, it was him.
“They look like Hebrew,” he said, turning the box over in his hands. “There’s something not quite right about them though. Like they’re jumbled up, or like they were made by someone who knew what hebrew was, but didn’t understand it. You know what the weirdest thing is though?”
“What?” I asked, incredulous at the idea that this could possibly get more bizarre.
“There’s no hinges.”
“Yeah hinges. There’s something inside it, right? You can feel it sliding around in there. And this bit here loooks like it should open. But There’s no damn hinges. And there’s no way to get the damn thing open.”