One Hundred Years On

War is hell for all involved. From the raw recruit to the seasoned soldier. It starts at the training camp and continues through to the battlefield, to the trenches themselves. It also effects those left at home to worry and to grieve.

As time went by, it seemed there was no escape other than becoming an invalid, or through death. Some kept a diary, some wrote poems, memorialising the horrors of war. It was their way of trying to stay sane in an insane world.

The grim escape from the battlefield, via the field hospital and the rehabilitation centre, and finally to the street. They were the lucky ones. Few of those they left behind at the front received funerals, only death and oblivion.

Now, one hundred years on, there are no veterans left. No poets or nurses to tell of the suffering, no distraught wives, become widows. None left to tell of the suffering. Yet still we remember those who fought.

More than nine million soldiers lost their lives in this conflagration that introduced the world to war on an industrial scale. Many of the dead were never recovered, their bodies rent asunder and trampled in the mire.

This week’s newspapers are full of the armistice and the end of the Great War, their pages eulogizing a lost generation, a tragic lost generation. Yet conflict continues to pervade our world. Some lessons are never learned.

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 148, on the anniversary  of the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany for the cessation of hostilities of World War I. with reference to the prompt: Soldier; Battlefield; Eulogy.

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This piece won the competition as the Judge’s Pick.

Out of the many heart-wrenching war stories this week, this beautifully-written history lesson was the one that touched me the most.

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On a Mission for M

For once his wife had trusted him enough to send him to the shopping mall on his own. He left home in the knowledge that he was working solo; he was on a mission for M.

Driving to the mall the secret agent watched his mirrors, looking for any sign of a tail. He swerved his way through the busy rush hour traffic, changing lanes at random to lose any followers. On parking his car at the mall he carefully weaved his way between the parked vehicles, in an effort to avoid the hidden assassins out to get him. On safely entering the mall he made his way towards his objective. It was his mission to retrieve a priceless artefact and get it back to base in one piece.

Ducking and diving, dodging from door to door, he passed through the mall unseen. At times he doubled back to keep his enemies confused; he knew they’d be watching for him so he ascended two levels before dropping back to the level below. As he neared his objective, he rehearsed the passphrase under his breath. His destination was in sight, a large store, shelves heaving with books. Fearlessly, he pressed on.

He entered a store teeming with customers, any of whom could have been working for the opposition. Straightening his tie he walked up to the designated rendezvous, it was disguised with a sign reading ‘Customer Services’. Just in case, he reached into his jacket ready to pull out his weapon of choice, an old-fashioned cheque book.

A man approached him, uttering the secret passphrase, ‘Can I help you?’ With that our hero, inscrutable to the last, replied with the answering passphrase, ‘I’m here to pick up a book on behalf of my wife. My name is Mitty, Walter Mitty.’

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 147, on the anniversary of the death of James Thurber with reference to the prompt: Daydreamer; Shopping Trip; Comedy.

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This piece won an Honourable Mention.

This story captivated me from the start. The clarity of thought and the wonderful way in which it describes the characters daydreams made this a really enjoyable read.

Forwards, to the Past

The professor addressed his audience of final-year grad students.

“Time travel is real. We are all time travellers of one sort or another. The majority of the population are on a one-way voyage into the future, a voyage from which there is no coming back, But a few, usually members of an institution such as this great university, are time travellers of a different sort. They can be split into two classes: those who know that they are, and those who don’t.

“Those who know, such as myself, have actually experienced temporal displacement themselves. Those who don’t know, and there are a number of you here today, are those yet to travel through time. I know who you are because I’ve already transported you to the future in my time machine. We will be having a field trip sometime next week to prove this hypothesis. I have already been to the middle of next week from where I completed my first successful experiment and travelled forward one year.

“Unfortunately, my first foray into the past was less fortunate, and resulted in the destruction of a vital component. I’m lucky that I didn’t try to go any further back in time otherwise it would have been impossible to manufacture a replacement as the technology wouldn’t have existed. This component will be ready by Tuesday or Wednesday, in time for some of you to accompany me on that field trip and, in doing so, become time travellers of the third kind.

“It’s early days in the history of time travel and teething problems can be expected. I can assure you though, that in the future, you will be able to purchase a secondhand time machine, secure in the knowledge that they don’t make them like they’re going to anymore.”

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 146 with reference to the prompt: Intellectual; Time Machine; Comedy

As Others See Us

The longer my stay on your planet, the more curious I find your species to be. To facilitate my study of your fascinating species, I had embedded myself at one of your places of learning; I believe it’s called a university. Here I was able to observe your young at close quarters as they chose the professions they would follow for the rest of their lives.

What a peculiar array of professions your species possesses! Whilst I could understand the value of becoming a member of the police force, righting wrongs and enforcing the law and suchlike, I failed to see the value in disseminating the news of martial conflict that seemed to prevail across your planet. Unless, that is, it is purely in the attempt to discourage the practice of war. If so, it doesn’t appear to be working.

The frivolity of training to become a host for the purpose of entertaining the masses is beyond me. Why don’t you just have fun by yourselves? Why does it need to be organised? Similarly, training to pursue a religious lifestyle seems at odds with the day-to-day life of most members of your species.

The most honest profession I’ve come across so far, is a life of crime. It offers a bewildering selection of opportunities for the venal. I’ve observed how your young start off with petty crime and then work their way up the ladder in the hope of graduating as a mastermind.

These are just a few of the professions I’ve studied during my stay on your planet, there are of course innumerable others I’ve yet to turn my attention to. I’ve yet to make my mind up about your species but, given the choice between comedy and tragedy, I would tend towards declaring it a tragedy.

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 145 with reference to the prompt: Extraterrestrial; University; Comedy

The Perversity of the Inanimate

Never underestimate the innate hostility of inanimate objects. An observation not to be toyed with by those in search of an easy, and painless, life. All I can say is thank goodness that animate objects are so much more better behaved.

Walking through a furnished room can be akin to crossing a minefield or negotiating an obstacle course. Chair legs will leap upon your ankles with joyous glee. Tables have four corners, each of which is always on the lookout for that unwary passing hip.

Plumbing can be particularly vicious. Stepping into the shower and turning it on results in an unwanted drenching in freezing water before it behaves itself and settles at a comfortable temperature. Conversely, one turns on the hot tap only to find it running cold then, by the time you’ve picked up the soap, it decides to scald your hand.

Clothing can be troublesome. That first glove one attempts to put on is inevitably the wrong one whilst pullovers have the uncanny ability to rotate themselves through one-hundred and eighty degrees as you put them on, resulting in you putting them on the wrong way round.

The kitchen can be a challenging place at times. Enamel mugs will burn you out of spite. At breakfast, a dropped slice of toast will always land butter-side down. Seemingly at odds with the way that dropped objects usually end up a surprising distance from where they are first dropped or in the place most inaccessible for retrieval. That recalcitrant cutlery drawer that stubbornly sticks, only to let go suddenly, leading to knives and forks being scattered all over.

And what is it with lost or misplaced inanimate objects? How come you only ever find them in the last place that you think of looking?

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 143 with reference to the prompt line: Enamel mugs will burn you out of spite.

I’m With the Band

Here we are again. Stopping for more tea in the middle of the night at yet another run-down café. Tea and toilet every two hours as we wend our way down the length of the country in a Transit that won’t go above fifty. If you ask me, not that anyone ever does, we’d make a damn sight better time if we didn’t continuously fuel our need for toilet breaks with all that tea.

Join a band, they said, for a life of glamour and excitement. It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing or play an instrument, you can always be a roadie. You even get your own uniform, jeans, tour shirt, and denim jacket. It sounded a great idea at the time, and I soon joined the company of an up-and-coming new band. This was a band that was going places. That was true, unfortunately the places that they were going tended to be in the north of England, which meant a life continually commuting the length of the A1.

Timing, in music and in life, is everything. I quit to look after another band at just the wrong time. The week after I’d left, Melody Maker announced that my former band had signed to a major record label and were going to make it big.

I’m pretty senior now, but I’m stuck in the groove of shepherding new, small-time bands, all dreaming of getting a record deal. They’re all the same these days: rehashing the riffs from decades past, rarely coming up with something new. Music fashions may come and go but Metal seems to be always on the road.

Still, I reckon there’re a few years left in this old roadie. Not sure I can say the same for the Transit though.

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 142 with reference to the prompt: Roadie; Greasy Spoon Café; Soliloquy.

Love on Two Wheels

As I am often heard to say, ‘Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.’ Nor for my future as a bicycle engineer. The more people employing this most perfect form of transportation, the better, both for mankind itself and for my profession, not to mention my pocket. I find it encouraging the number of young women nowadays who choose to adopt the freedom of the bicycle and the way that this is reflected in rational dress and the modern bifurcated fashions that many of them now wear.

Recently I have noticed an increase in the number of suburban female bicyclists availing themselves of my services and I find this pleasing if confusing. There is one particular young lady that has come to my attention, both for the regularity of her visits and for her unusual familiarity.

One day I was troubled to find my admirer, if I may describe her as such, dressed in a pair of the new-fangled bloomers, or knickerbockers as they are sometimes called. I do believe that she is chasing me in search of romantic involvement. I am much for the emancipation of women but this brought a blush to my cheek. She was even forward enough to suggest that I should accompany her for a ride.

Shyly, I accepted her offer and found it to be an enjoyable experience. One thing led to another and before long we became betrothed. To celebrate the occasion, and not wanting to spend more than a minute apart, I set to in my workshop and created the bicycle of our dreams. It was a tandem machine of cunning design, a wedding present to us both.

And now, together, we pedal the leafy lanes as one.

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 141 with reference to the prompt: Bicycle Engineer; Suburbs; Romance. (On the anniversary of the birth of H. G. Wells)