A.J. Walker

writerer

April 2021

The River's Name

MWFRiver
Prompt: MidWeekFlash Week 195 - photo by Silina Lambertini


The River's Name



Benjii had said to keep away from the river. That it was an evil place. But he never said why. Just said I should believe him when he said it. Of course I loved Benjii with every fibre of my being, I really did. But everyone is fallible; that includes Benjii - and me.

He said I shouldn’t go out on my own, he always smiled and shook his head when he said it. “Like trying to hold back the tide,” he said. There were things he felt he had to say out loud. Even if I didn’t follow his instructions perhaps he just felt that he’d done a job by warning me. I’m not sure.

And here I am on the banks of the River of a Thousand Names by myself; as night begins to fall. I muse that there are so many of Benjii’s edicts and instructions I am ignoring to be here. But it is the river which has drawn me. Water always attracts people. It has its pull for many a reason. But I feel to me I have always been destined to be close to a river or a lake: though somehow I know I will never see the sea.

The boatmen sit by a fire chatting and eating. Their working day coming close to an end. Few want or need to cross the water at night. Emergencies only: or midnight escapes, which I guess could be an emergency too.

I’ve pitched my tent a few hundred metres away on the edge of a field of poorly growing maize. The rains have been heavy in the higher lands but seem reticent of travelling eastward to these parched soils. I can see labourers sat in corners of fields and beside the river who are employed solely to dig channels, or more likely to carry water to existing channels, to fields like the one I am in. Hard work. But it must be useful surely. Or else no one would pay them to do it. Would the parched fields be completely lifeless without them? If the rains come what do these men do? Do they always pray for drought?

I walk up to the boatmen’s fire and smile at them. They sign to me that I am welcome to sit with them. I feel blessed. The day is still warm and the fire seems there just for the comforting crackles and its display; no one is cooking with it. But I see the faces turn to it whenever the conversations lull.

These men all day on the water are drawn to the fire as I am drawn to water.

They ask why I am there. I tell them that I just like the river. They ask me what I call it; the river of a thousand names. I tell them I haven’t decided what the river is yet. They laugh and each tell me what they call it. They tell me of the river gods that live in it. Those that look after the river and the boatmen. Those that are gentle or capricious. The usually absent and the usually there ones. They trip over each other to tell me their stories of these river gods. It seems the river of a thousand names requires a thousand gods. One for each name. How does a boatmen know which one to pray to when it is in turbulent times? Which gods get the blame when their friends are taken?

I sit and look at the city over the water. I will travel there in a few days, but first I want to feel its power and majesty as I sit beside it observing and absorbing all I can. The mosquitoes rise up from the silts as the sun drops. Night will be on us soon. I hear the crackle of the fire as more wood is added, the mosquitoes buzz around my ears. The boatmen turn to face the fire, some move closer, and talk turns too. It’s no longer of gods and the river: it is of food and of love. I turn to the river. I will find its name. It has one, not a thousand.

I am not sure about the number of the gods; or who I will pray to when I will cross it. But I will know the river’s name.


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WC: 727

Dutch

Dutch

The waitress came back with Daniel’s Gold Card and a couple of chocolatey mints to take away the sting of the bill.
‘You are joking right?’ said Philipa, as she pulled her scarf out of her handbag.
‘I’m afraid it’s true,’ said Daniel, ‘I just have to pay by card or contactless.’
‘But you really cannot go to an ATM?’ Philipa said.
‘Nope. Nor a bank,’ said Daniel.
‘Blimey, I’ve never heard of anything like it,’ she said.
‘Sense of smell is linked to the most primal of instincts you know,’ Daniel said, ‘the strongest and most instant reactions.’
Philipa touched his arm as he put on his jacket, ‘What happened to you when you were a kid then? Must have been something.’
‘Well of course, but I’m not at liberty to tell you on a first date,’ Daniel said touching her hand, ‘Suffice to say just a few bank notes and it can send me right off, pure mental. It frightens me how much of an animal I can become if I touch cash.’
‘Fine excuse not to tip then,’ she smiled, ‘Suppose change is okay?’
‘Like I say card only,’ he said, ‘I’m no skinflint, it’s purely health and safety - I’m usually a pussycat.’
Back at the flat Philipa sat on the sofa and smiled at Daniel as he walked into the kitchen to pick out a bottle of red. After placing the bottle and glasses down he took off his jacket - something attracted his attention - as he took his hand out of the inside pocket she saw his face change instantly and realised that this was one date she shouldn’t have forced to go Dutch.

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WC: 278 words
Trifecta: 'Animal' - 24 Sept 2013

It's All About the Bland

It's All About the Bland


The marketing manager stood up. ‘Right, we’ve completed the market research and all the indicators show that we will be just ahead of the curve here. Perfect timing, we will be riding the wave, we reckon for a good two, potentially three, years. Crispin...’

Crispin, the new marketing assistant, stood up a little nervously in front of the gaudy powerpoint presentation, ‘As you can see the kids absolutely love this Product, particularly after we ran some advert mock-ups past them. The thirty-somethings also feel it is a really good fit with the existing portfolio and can see themselves drinking both Products. With the proposed premium this should result in a projected uplift in profits of some 12% plus or minus 2% for the whole lager range. Err, that’s after marketing costs.’

The CEO stood up below the red neon logo and the gold crown seemed to hover above his head, ‘Look guys, if we make it people will buy it. Simple as,’ he said. ‘There’s nothing we cant sell these dumb asses. Our Product is blander than tepid water on a wet Sunday and what do we do? We water it down, that’s what we do. And what do these characters do? They lap it up even more of course. For a premium too. Love it guys, love it. Good work fellas.’

He rocked back into the deep leather chair and took a satisfying sip of an expensive rioja. He rose the glass up to the happy committee and ended the meeting as he usually did, ‘It’s not about the Product guys, it’s all about the brand.’

He left the room with the sound of the committee’s self congratulatory applause ringing in his ears. It was another great day for the company.


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WC: 294
Trifecta: ‘Brand’ - 20 August 2013 (33-333 words)

The Black Harvest Moon

The Black Harvest Moon

There was a quietness to the night with nothing seemingly stirring but for the whisper of bats busy in the sky above Gareth’s head. He watched them flitting jerkingly as they followed the lines of the hedgerows and trees.

He burped loudly and apologised to the empty night. There was no one there to react.

Halfway home from the coaching inn he stopped for his traditional dewatering exercise into the shallow ditch by the lonely oak. He wobbled unsteadily at the top of the slope and momentarily thought he might fall in. That had happened more than once. And always he’d skidded down through the freshly damp patch. He caught himself and smiled at his little victory.

As he turned back to the road he saw the moon looming over him, silhouetting the willows on the top of Kendell Hill. The moon was full and seemed unnaturally large in the sky - it was somehow supernatural. He’d heard a snippet of conversation in the pub earlier. He wasn’t sure who from, but someone had said tonight was the Black Harvest Moon. He’d not heard that phrase for years, probably back to his school days. The moon was supposedly late rising, full and low in the sky like this, and the harvest was not agricultural, it related to the taking of young lives. That’s why school children told the story. Death brought to the young under the full moon. He recalled it was headless bodies found on the moors.

He laughed to himself. To think he’d believed such nonsense. Anyway he was too old now to bother a man with an axe. He was no longer young: as an old man he was safe. Though he’d never admit to being old to anyone.

Gareth hardly realised that he’d sped up the hill. His walking was normally constant. His mother had said she could set the mantel clock by when he got home from the pub. Urgent or relaxed, his strides seemed pendulum sure. But not now. Something spooked him. He needed to get home. The axe of the Black Harvest Moon could fall on these moors.

The moon was so bright it gave an ethereal glow. His eyes accustomed to the night, he could make out the road to the cusp of the next hill where it hung before dropping to their cottage. He thought of his mother. She’d probably be asleep in front of the embers of the wood fire. She’d smell of damp smoke like preserved meat. He’d joked that she’d be preserved forever by that fire. They’d find her long after she’d been dead and buried with her smile and eyeglasses still knitting some hideous blanket.

He wanted to be home now under one of her blankets. It was less than a mile. His heart was now going faster than his feet: ten to the dozen his mother would call it. Away from the trees there were no bats, there was nothing around the moors at the moment, though he’d tripped over a dead sheep just last week. The farmer had blamed wolves, but Gareth had never seen or heard a wolf himself. He thought the farmer a story teller.

His heart was thumping in his ears. A man was near. He could feel it. But there was no one young here. And the story was nonsense anyway. He was safe. But still he was now all but running. He’d seen no one ahead from the top of the hill - but that didn’t stop him running into the man. He ran straight into him. Over six foot tall, wide and healthy like the best of farm labourers. But so much more. It felt like he’d run into a wall. He blinked at the silhouette of a man in smart clothes like never seen; no one would wear those clothes in the country. Gareth shifted around on his elbows to see this impossible man. The moon framed him. He had a high top hat like something from fancy pictures. In his right hand he held the long handle of an axe. It looked too nice for a tool. Not something for chopping wood.

‘I can hear your thoughts,’ said the man. ‘It is not for chopping wood.’

He turned and twisted as the axe rose and fell in one smooth move, perfected over years.

‘Young enough my friend.’ He said, as he picked up the severed head by the hair. The moon saw it all. As it did every year.




The Dragon's Fire

The Dragon’s Fire

September
1st

Since I first heard about the dragon I’d anticipated this day. It has surpassed all expectations. The dragon is real. A true giant standing proud on a table mountain, lording over the jungle.
Nothing prepares you for the night when you first see the dragon’s fire, a scarlet flame shooting across the sky.


2nd

The expedition left later than planned due to my oversleeping - local hooch last night, which I’ve inevitably christened “Dragon’s Fire” - Beware!!
Still, progress was better than I could have hoped. The village men seem keen to deliver me quickly to the base of the mountain - they have families to return to (and some of my money).
Made camp in a spot where the dragon could watch over us.

Kept away from the hooch.

3rd

The jungle thinned out as the terrain became rocky and we made fine time. I agreed that the men could go home - away from their cursed mountain.
I camped alone comforted by the noises of the jungle and the dragon’s glow.


4th

Climbing. Climbing. Climbing.
It was a day of nothing else. Hard work but good progress. This trip seems blessed, this dragon benevolent. No sign of a curse.
I could not see the great dragon, nor its flame from my tent - but I dreamt of it.


5th
Climbing. Climbing. Walking.
I made it up unscathed. Tomorrow I will touch the dragon. Touch the fire. Take it.

6th
Today I touched the dragon’s fire!
I put my arm down the mouth of the dragon and touched it. As I suspected it is an unrivalled ruby. There is some sort of light behind. A trick of geology or biology? Whatever, at night it is the ruby’s light that makes the fire from this ancient dragon.

My arm is now trapped by some devious stone mason’s device. I know I’ll not leave here until my body has withered, the dragon snapped and my bones blow to dust from this mountain.

Please let it be known that I [
signature illegible] was the first recorded person to reach the dragon and touch its fire.



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From the Flash Friday 2013 Flashiversary