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[Writing Contest] - THE ARENA

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  • Registered Users Posts: 763 ✭✭✭alfa beta


    okay - should have a wee bit of time tomorrow - pop a title or a theme up when you can and we'll give it a shot.


  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 17,231 Mod ✭✭✭✭Das Kitty


    I'll put a theme up tonight so. :)


  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 17,231 Mod ✭✭✭✭Das Kitty


    Okay, alfa. The theme is....

    Smoke.

    See you in 24 hours. :D


  • Registered Users Posts: 763 ✭✭✭alfa beta


    ok


  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 17,231 Mod ✭✭✭✭Das Kitty


    Father Sean opened the censer and tried to steady his hands as the incense was spooned in. He let the heavy brass lid slide back down the chains, which he wrapped around his right hand twice. Dear God, if only he could get through the next ten minutes, he might survive the day. Turning to the steps, he steeled himself before going to the coffin. To Brendan’s coffin.

    The cloying incense billowed from the censer as Sean swung it carefully next to the box. He kept his mind on the smoke and how it swirled and dissolved in the draughty chapel as he repeated the prayer by rote. For once, he didn’t let himself think of the departed soul ascending to the Lord. He couldn’t. Not with the eyes of the parish trained on him.

    The smoke faded from the censer, and he allowed himself a moment to let his hand rest on the lacquered pine in silent farewell, before resuming the service.


    The hearse took the body to Dublin to be cremated, like Brendan had wanted. He didn’t want to be buried, or “planted” as he called it. Sean stayed in the chapel, rather than watch the hearse drive away. He’d leave that for Brendan’s children and his brother. He removed his vestments and sat in the front pew to say a few decades of the rosary in private.

    “Father O’Neill?”

    Sean looked up. It was Brendan’s daughter, Lisa. He gave her a watery smile.

    “Can I sit?” she asked.

    “Of course, my child.”

    She sat next to him with her small hands folded in her lap and said nothing for a long moment. “I sat with Daddy a lot the last two weeks. He was asleep mostly.”

    Sean nodded. “He was asleep when I was up on Tuesday to give him the last rites. Úna said he hadn’t been awake all day.”

    “No. Úna was wrong there. He was awake when I was sitting with him in the morning, only I didn’t tell the others.”

    Sean turned in the pew to face her. She dropped her eyes to her hands in her lap. “He was himself again, you know, after all these months, for one last time.” She fell silent again and scraped at an imaginary speck of dust on her skirt.

    “That can happen,” Sean said.

    “He said to me… He told me that ye were friends since ye were both little boys, since ye were babies being pushed in your prams by your mammies. He said about how much you helped him after Mammy died, how you’d phone him and visit him and take him out of himself. And— Oh, God help me.” Her eyes flew up to the statue of the sacred heart on the altar.

    “It’s all right, Lisa. Whatever it is, it’s all right.”

    She took a deep breath in through her nose. “He said to tell you. To tell you that you didn’t need to say it, that he knew you did—that you do—and he said to tell you that he loves you as well.” The colour rose in her cheeks.

    Sean was stunned. “I—”

    Lisa put her hand up. “Look, I just promised him I’d tell you, and I’ve done that now.” She got up and hurried back out of the chapel.

    Sean sat for a while, absently passing the rosary beads between his finger and thumb, and thought about Brendan until the lump in his throat went away. Then he stood and went to the altar to put the candle out. He cupped the flame with his palm, and paused for a second before extinguishing it. A wisp of smoke spiralled from the ember, and Sean waited with it until it turned from red to black and the smoke stopped coming.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 763 ✭✭✭alfa beta


    August 1984. That’s when we first experimented with smoking.

    God, that was a real summer. With a heatwave that broke all records, and evenings that just went on and on and on. You know the kind. Even when it got dark it would still be warm. You could still wear a t-shirt and walk down the beach and the moon would be hanging over the water like a big ripe fruit and these lazy waves would just roll up onto the shore and make the sound of a thousand people clapping as they slid back over the gravel and into the sea.

    We’d sit on the rocks under huge starry skies. Me and my brother. And we’d talk about stuff. You know. Girls, school, sport, music. The good stuff. We’d laugh. And we’d fish. We had these old rods our Da had given us. And we knew how to get the most out of them. We knew what bait to use. Where best to cast. How long to wait before reeling in. All that sort of stuff. We’d usually catch bass or flatfish. And then we’d wander back up to the house around midnight with tomorrow’s dinner ready for filleting.

    Of course in September, when the mackerel broke, well that was mighty crack...jesus, we’d haul in reams of the flappy little ****ers. We’d end up giving them away - to neighbours who we knew didn’t even want them! Mackerel. Shur, you’d be picking the bones from your teeth for days.

    Good times. Thirty years ago though. God, feels like yesterday. Really does. But it’s not, is it. Forty-four now, so I am. Successful businessman and all that - or so they tell me! Still fishing whenever I get the chance. And, of course, still smoking. More than ever now. Herself would like me to cut back a bit. I know she would. She’d said as much. But, I don’t know. I’d find that very hard. I mean, it’s what I do, you know. It’s who I am. Maybe next year. We’ll see.

    I still remember Da’s face that summer when my brother told him what we were up to. He’d seen the gear in our room one day. There wasn’t much to it now - a biscuit tin and a wire rack basically. Both tarnished with ash when he found them. ‘Would someone like to explain what these are?’ he says, standing in front of us with the tin in one of his big rough hands and the rack in the other. I stood there bashful as anything. Feeling a bit embarrassed to be honest.

    ‘That’s our smoking gear,’ pipes up Leemo. His name was Liam. But all the lads called him Leemo. So I did too. Even though I thought it sounded a bit stupid.

    ‘Your smoking gear?’ The old fella’s eyebrows arched upwards. His face was suddenly a mixture of concern and anger.

    I laughed. I realised why. Shur, he must’ve thought we were doing some mad druggy stuff with our rack and our burnt tin and Leemo’s explanation. ‘Fish, Da,’ I said. ‘For smoking fish.’

    He glared at me for a moment and then every muscle in his face relaxed and he just said, ‘Oh, oh right.’ Then he glanced uncertainly at Leemo and back at me and put the tin and the rack down on the old kitchen table. ‘Really?’ he said.

    We both nodded. ‘We thought we could make more money from the fish we caught by, you know, flavouring ‘em and stuff. So we’ve been trying different wood chips and glazing and stuff. Mick Faherty helped us out. Gave us an old recipe said his uncle had.’

    The old fella suddenly smiled. ‘Well, aren’t you the fine pair of entrepreneurs?’ he said. I had no idea what that meant. Just that it sounded French and sort of important.

    A week later he came home with this big metal box of a thing. A ‘Bradley 320 Hot and Cold Smoker’ it said on the manual. The three of us sat around and stared at it. ‘I was thinking,’ he said, ‘if you want to make some real money outta this hobby of yours, you’ll need a bit of investment behind you.’

    Well, that was the start of it. And I’ll tell you what, his investment paid off, so it did. We export all over the world now. The US, Canada, Australia, everywhere. Smoked salmon. Smoked haddock, smoked mackerel, even smoked oysters. You name it, we smoke it.

    The old fella's gone now. Passed away a couple of years ago, God rest him. But before he left us he used to joke, ‘I never thought a father should be proud of his son’s smoking habit, but I guess there’s a first for everything.’


  • Registered Users Posts: 8,551 ✭✭✭Rubecula


    WOW

    Two absolute cracking stories. I dunno which is best to be honest. But thank you for a couple of great reads :)


  • Registered Users Posts: 450 ✭✭Agent Weebley


    Although Das Kitty's story was so incredibly close to home, incredibly well written, and really tugged at my heartstrings, alfa beta's story was sung on on a happier note, which I need right now, and had a really cool couple of twists that narrowly won my vote.

    If only I could write with the emotion that Das Kitty shows in her stories, I would be one happy man. And I just love the way you write, Das Kitty. Best lines: (1) She fell silent again and scraped at an imaginary speck of dust on her skirt (2) Her eyes flew up to the statue of the sacred heart on the altar. I can empathise with Fr. Sean having to be strong - he was the lead man. But how can he be strong in that situation? He was Brendan's lifelong friend . . . He has to pull deep. He cannot lose it. They are all counting on him. He cannot recuse himself and sit in the front pew, letting someone else do it. They wouldn't know Brendan and uck it fup royally. No, Fr. Sean has to do it. Just read what you wrote, Fr. Sean . . . as if someone else is saying it. Honour your friend.

    OMG, where was I? Sorry . . .

    [A]lfa beta's staccato sentences were awesome! And the story initially reminded me of me and the boyz having our first smoke after school on top of the Sainsbury's store in Coventry. We went to the far reaches of the rooftop carpark, found a car to hide behind, then we each lit one up. We hadn't even finished it when the PE teacher and his wife trundled up to their car with their groceries. Their car was our hiding spot! That was the first and last time I got the stick from the Headmaster. We were wearing our Ullathorne school uniforms at the time. Had we taken off the school logo-ed coats, we would have been home free and untouchable. There was another [ahem] "experimental" twist that got me smiling: "rack and our burnt tin" <> propane torch and 2 burnt knives?

    You've gotta have a twist, and alfa beta seems to have in that regard.

    Hey, alfa beta, I've been wanting to ask you this since last summer . . . do you know Markus Kramer? Coincidentally, I'm currently writing a story for Rubecula with a Markus Drakus in it . . .

    Oh, and the smoked salmon must be good if they can sell it to Canadians!


  • Registered Users Posts: 8 furzebush


    Great reading for us that don't have to choose between them. I enjoyed them both. Looking forward to seeing the next, thanks, furzebush.


  • Moderators, Category Moderators, Politics Moderators, Recreation & Hobbies Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 81,310 CMod ✭✭✭✭coffee_cake


    I liked the writing style in DK's better but they were both good stories
    I think the ending of ab's didn't quite fit for some reason, I don't know, and the so it is to be sure to be sure kind of style
    But they were definitely both very good


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  • Registered Users Posts: 628 ✭✭✭hcass


    I loved them both for different reasons - so this was very difficult for me but Das Kitty's made me cry and I love to cry. The ending really surprised me and it was so touching and heartfelt. I loved it.

    Shout out to Alfa Beta for another great story but DK just pipped it for me.

    Always excellent to read stories you know have heart in them - thanks folks.


  • Registered Users Posts: 763 ✭✭✭alfa beta


    nice one kitty - looks like it's over to you now!


  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 17,231 Mod ✭✭✭✭Das Kitty


    Balls.

    Ha ha.

    Loved your take on the theme and your main character voice alfa.


    hcass, I wish I could say sorry for making you cry, but it sorta made my day that I could. :D


  • Registered Users Posts: 450 ✭✭Agent Weebley


    Congratulations. Das Kitty. As I said, great writing...


  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 35,088 Mod ✭✭✭✭pickarooney


    What the hell? Who loves to cry?

    Too late to vote for this and I don't know which I would have gone for in any case, but a cracking pair of efforts to start the year off.


  • Registered Users Posts: 2,269 ✭✭✭GalwayGuy2


    Too Early to challenge the winner? ;)

    I think a third party making a theme would be cool.


  • Registered Users Posts: 763 ✭✭✭alfa beta


    Let me suggest a title/theme then:

    The Forest


  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 17,231 Mod ✭✭✭✭Das Kitty


    I can't do it at the moment I'm afraid. I have houseguests and homework. If someone else wants to take up the challenge, feel free.


  • Registered Users Posts: 2,269 ✭✭✭GalwayGuy2


    I can't do it at the moment I'm afraid. I have houseguests and homework. If someone else wants to take up the challenge, feel free.

    If nobody else wants to take it up, It can wait?

    I'm trying to break writers block, so I'm happy to wait. :p


  • Registered Users Posts: 66 ✭✭Achillles


    Feck it, I'll take up the mantle if that's alright? If we leave it a few days the thread could fall off again. Do the 24 hours start from now or from when you accept the challenge GalwayGuy?


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  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 17,231 Mod ✭✭✭✭Das Kitty


    Achillles wrote: »
    Feck it, I'll take up the mantle if that's alright? If we leave it a few days the thread could fall off again. Do the 24 hours start from now or from when you accept the challenge GalwayGuy?

    Thanks. My head's a bit melted right now or I would do it.


  • Registered Users Posts: 2,269 ✭✭✭GalwayGuy2


    Achillles wrote: »
    Feck it, I'll take up the mantle if that's alright? If we leave it a few days the thread could fall off again. Do the 24 hours start from now or from when you accept the challenge GalwayGuy?

    How about when reply you to the post.

    Then we'll both be on the same footing?


  • Registered Users Posts: 66 ✭✭Achillles


    Das Kitty wrote: »
    Thanks. My head's a bit melted right now or I would do it.


    No problem, glad to be of assistance! :D
    By the way congrats on another great story! Alfa Beta's story was great too, splitting hairs between them.

    So GG we start now, yeah?


  • Registered Users Posts: 2,269 ✭✭✭GalwayGuy2


    So GG we start now, yeah?

    Yeah :)


  • Registered Users Posts: 2,269 ✭✭✭GalwayGuy2


    Hmmm, u'm done the story, but it's kind of violent and only has the smallest connection to a forest.

    will i post it here, or send it to a mod first?

    Oh, and my writing blocks over :)


  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 17,231 Mod ✭✭✭✭Das Kitty


    GalwayGuy2 wrote: »
    Hmmm, u'm done the story, but it's kind of violent and only has the smallest connection to a forest.

    will i post it here, or send it to a mod first?

    Oh, and my writing blocks over :)

    Post it.

    People have even posted pron in this forum, so I wouldn't worry. :)


  • Registered Users Posts: 2,269 ✭✭✭GalwayGuy2


    People have even posted pron in this forum, so I wouldn't worry.

    Hmmm, I should improve my 'Sexy scenes'. Better read them for, eh, educational purposes

    Here it is:

    Now, let me tell ya right here and now how I met theman.
    He came in the rain and I never saw such a fine-

    No, I can’t start there. I can’t start on the end and end on the start. Ya know what I mean? But where do ya start with a story like this?

    I could start with me father. Bit of a Messer, you know the type. Always havin’ a laugh when the drink was in him. He’d wrestle with ya as if you were a grown man. Sure, every now and then you slipped and broke a bone. But, sure, it was all in good fun.

    Now, sometimes he had the devil in him. Sometimes, he’d come home from the pub with a look in his eye. Me Mother, the poor dear, would not hold her anger in and screamed bloody murder at him. Usually about what a bold brat I’ve been .She’d go on and on and he’d scream back, and she’d screamed louder and then she’d beat him across the face and tell him to get out of her house and say she’d knock his block off and he’d storm down to my room and kick the door open and grab me by the hair and scream in my face that he’d put me in the ground and go away for murder.

    To be sure, times were sometimes tough.

    Now, to get to the day where I met the man. Not my father, I already knew him, but the man that made my father look like a dog.

    I was stuffin’ my face full of bikkies and bread when my father stumbled through the door. I tried to ignore him, I really did, but he kept calling me a ****. He only comes up to me shoulder, but he'll always be a bigger man than me. His finger is in my face and his eyes shine like dying stars. The anticipation is the worst. As the threat of violence builds and my shoulders hunch ,I feel like less than a man, less than a beast, less than a bloody bastard. But then the swing comes. And the old man still had a mean hook.

    Until I took a knife and stabbed him through the chest until me arms were burnin'.

    Now, I aint no pussy. Got emotions of steel me. I didn't vomit, I didn't cry, I just washed me hands and went outside for a ciggy. My face was wet because of all the rain, I swear, and my fingers were shaking because of all the sugar. I was calm before the man came out of the forest. I swear on me father's grave.

    I saw him stand beneath the trees. For a moment, his golden hair glittered, his emerald eyes shone, and he was a fallen sun beneath the branches. He appeared in front of me and…those lips…those beautiful fingertips…

    Now, I ain’t a gay. But I just wanted him to hold me and kiss me. I wanted him to tell me it was going to be okay, and that someone would love me. I wanted those strong arms to surround me and then…

    But, if you know him, you know he’s a better man than that. He called me a murder and told me it was nothin’ to be ashamed of. But, he asked me what sort of murderer would I be? Would I be a useless slasher like the Yorkshire ripper and fade beneath the folds of time.

    Or would I lay among the stars with the great murderers like Napoleon ,and Alexander the Great? Could I kill for a cause, or was I just a lost cause?

    To a man with lips like those, how could I say no for killin’ under his order?


  • Registered Users Posts: 66 ✭✭Achillles


    People saw things, in that forest. They’d gather around the fire at home, or in the local, and spin yarns to curdle the blood. As a very young lad, I’d listen to the aul boy talk of the day he’d seen a weeping woman down by the little stream. Her feet hung over the edge of the bank, he could see on his approach, and as he cautiously walked up from behind her she turned and looked at him. He was frozen to the spot by those piercing blue eyes, so full of sorrow. His mind went blank with wonder, and when he looked up she was gone. We lived on a one acre site outside of town, and the forest loomed perilously up behind the house at the boundary. They said the forest floor was littered with human bones, several people had disappeared there. I still remember myself at the age of six, lying awake in bed listening to the creaking boughs just yards away from my window, picturing the hanged man swaying with the breeze. He had had a way with stories, the aul lad.

    By the time I was twelve, I knew better. Myself and the friends, we would head out into the forest after school, and ‘twas often we wouldn’t be seen until after dark. We knew every creek and hollow in the place. The forest was indeed littered with bones- but those of badgers and weasels and stoats and foxes. The craic we had back then was mighty, camping out and telling stories passed down by the generation, until the forest we knew so well did seem a bit solemn and eerie. I had my first kiss under an old forlorn oak, not the first one it had seen, and I was sure I would marry that girl, Rebecca O’ Brien. I didn’t.

    It was soon after those blissful years that my father passed away. The family never recovered after the man coughed out his last ragged breath. The cancer beat him. If it had been a battle of wits, he would never have lost, but he couldn’t outsmart the mutating cells of his body. Even the experts still haven’t, not really.

    ‘Well, I’m riddled.’ was how he broke the news to us.

    Over the next four months, he hollowed out. His skin became taught and stretched; his smile was that of an old hag, scrawny fingers picked at his teeth after dinner, soon followed by a hacking cough as the disease spread. But he never lost that cunning look in his eyes. Those candles could not be extinguished until they closed for good. Soon after we had to move so that my mother could find work in a bookies and the house at the edge of the forest was no longer home. We still struggled by, mam and I, but it was never the same.

    Lilting laughter lifts my morose nostalgia. My grandson, Charlie, is playing down at the bottom of the yard. The forest no longer looms menacingly over the property of our old house, but rather the garden has started to be swallowed up greedily after years of neglect. Stiff joints creak and click in protest as I stand up from the back porch and head towards the forest. ‘They could do with some wd40!’ he’d say if he were around.

    ‘I’ll be back in a minute young man.’ I tell Charlie.

    As I get to the edge of the forest, where I heard the hanged man swing, I continue on through the brambles and undergrowth. Eventually I come to a gurgling little stream. People see things in this forest, and they’re not wrong. I close my eyes and I see the bean sí with the piercing eyes, I see childhood friends, I see young Rebecca O’ Brien and her lovely smile. I see the hanged man, and human bones and swinging boughs. I open my eyes and stoop down to the stream, the cool water licking at my nose and peer at my reflection. I see a dying old man -riddled- with nostalgia and cancer, a warm trickle of a tear running down his left cheek.


  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 17,231 Mod ✭✭✭✭Das Kitty


    I was very intrigued by GG2's tale. It was like a part of a bigger story and chilling.

    I voted for Achilles, though. I thought the forest he painted was brilliant. All the different facets of the same thing. I loved how he drew back the father's tale of the drowned woman to the end. I really got a feel for the cyclical nature of life, mirrored by the forest itself.

    Well done folks.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 2,269 ✭✭✭GalwayGuy2


    ‘Well, I’m riddled.’ was how he broke the news to us.

    I love that line :)


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