A little writing

It’s not what you come here for, and this is a repost of an old piece that I’ve retouched. Again, I like to hear the thoughts/comments of various people, although I will try to resist discussing because my writer’s ego is still very small :)

Sentimentality warning after the link!

Copyright (C) Oliver Smith, 1999.
Please do not copy or redistribute this without the author’s express permission

A long and uniform darkened street; the distant hum of town and country. The gentle, dawn-orange glow of suburban night light. A scent, just there, of nearby sea.

From behind a line of bush – a garden wall? – a small child steps forward. Bravery, perhaps, shines on his face. The boy peers awkwardly into where surely the shadows lurk ominously. He stands on tip-toes to peer across the road through car windows. A car cruises past the street to his left, a dozen houses hence.

In the time honoured fashion of eight-year olds, his nerves are settled by the passing of a jumpered sleeve across his nose. His nerves steadier, yes, but his face no better. The hand that wiped nose, now scratches bottom.

Determined-innocence marks his face; he turns away from the big road with the oblivious cars and starts to walk. Slowly at first, going nowhere; head angled down, alert. His head tilts from side to side, and every hedge or fence is examined thoroughly. Yet fences meet the crown of his head, as his eyes strain to search them thoroughly but unconcernedly.

Another car passes, quieter now; the town’s answer to the sound of a wave breaking on the shore against the background of the ocean.

Confidence blossoms as the boy reaches the cone of a street light, his head raised, his pace quickening, crossing quickly its child’s-mile of light. As his shadow crosses in-front of him, his backbone stiffens and for a moment his stride breaks.

“Eighty”, he declares to the night. He glances at the house on his right and shakes his head. Quickly, he hurries on towards the next pool of light.

Distant, raised voices drift along the street, somehow comforting. Others have braved the darkness and are unharmed. His pace relaxes.

After a third pool of light, he reaches a corner. The child’s face looks confident, a smile begins to form. This is his crossroads: shops, familiar despite the dark, to one side, and on this side, around the corner, his second home, The Green.

But as he rounds the corner, pure horror contorts his face. Between boy and his green lies The Alley; a dozen paces of road end abruptly in a dozen paces of paving sided by unkempt grass and shrub, the canine equivalent of a railway siding, sometimes called the cycle path. Yet, en-shrouded in dark and shadow, the evil of the place is evident. At least, to an eight year old boy. The obviousness of his decision is written on his face. Again, determination.

His fear is in-apparent as he hurtles past the alleyway, across to the next block (why, children often run), and he errs on the side of caution, glancing over his shoulder (only to avoid a nasty collision with a bicycle), until he has safely passed the first pool of light on the farther side.

This block passes uneventfully, the sounds of passing cars two blocks distant merely a buzz amidst the background hum, the elsewise-quiet otherwise interrupted only by the slapping of undone laces of a child’s left shoe. The unfamiliarity of this stretch of street lessening the foreboding of the shadows lurking behind gates and knee-high walls, under hedges and bay-windows.

The occasional blue, flickering light from behind an uncurtained window speaks of hungry ghosts, what else at this time of night? Our hero hurries along.

Another corner reached, this time no shops but a church opposite. No grave yard here, no keeping of the rotten dead – a place of God not ghosts. The boy turns the corner, incense and prayers behind him, and leaves the familiar street. Wide eyes tell of unfamiliarity, and the boldness of this venture.

Conversation is exchanged, voices speaking just ahead; the young child freezes ’til the sound of a closing door speaks of arrival rather than departure. In further silence, he gathers himself; mainly a tucking in of shirt, a rearrangement of ruffled hair.

Now he strolls; his pace relaxed, the gardens and windows, the flickering TV lights no-longer scare or worry. “Eighty”, he says again, squinting up garden paths. He shakes his head and wanders past. “Eighty?”, he enquires of a house with amber-glowing curtains. Further still, and the road begins to bend upwards, he follows, curiosity and puzzlement alight his face.

At the top of the curve he stops in the brilliance of a street light. The street meets a house side on, and the child’s posture speaks of confusion. An ear tugged, neck scratched; the hoof stomp of a young boy. A small gate leads to both garden and door, while on the side of the house another gate leads to another door.

Something says that the child has exceeded past experience; his approach is uncertain. The gate creaks uneasily, and caution, heavily laden with fear, enters each step. He reaches the first door, and with utmost temerity, gently raps upon the glass.

The moment’s silence and lack of movement raises darker spectres and scares the child more than the wickedest howl, and hastily he retreats down path and through gate. Hurriedly he opens the side gate and approaches the second door. He peers around, searching, and once again taps gently.

More silence and stillness; once again the boy retreats, this time beyond the pool of light. He fidgets, and grave concern fills his face – moisture reaches an eye.

With clenched fists and tight mouth, our little fellow once more dares the first door. Once more determination and – something subtler – a hint of hope. Again his eyes search, and settle upon a small plastic box. He presses firmly on the buzzer, and, slowly, as stillness once again prevails, begins to step backwards.

A sudden wall of firmness halts the scared withdrawl; firmness encircles his shoulders, and lifts him round to peer, no to radiate fear and fright, into an angry face which breaks the the night:.

“What are you doing in my garden!”

“I, I, I, I came for my cat!”, cries the child between tears and sobs, “my mum told me he was here, and I couldn’t sleep, so I sneaked out”.

Five minutes later, a half past ten, our small adventurer is tucked in bed, almost purring as loudly as the recovered kitten, smiling knowingly, upon his pillow. Knowing smile is returned by loving smile.

“We were both lost”, the kitten whispers as the bedroom door closes, and the lingering smell of mother’s kisses fade, “but somehow I think the impression will last longest upon you”.

“We were both lost” the boy tells the kitten. “But I found you and fetched you and now we are safe home,” he yawns. As sleep closes in and his eyes fall shut, the knowing-kitten grin makes its mark upon childish memory. had his eyes stayed open a moment longer, the memory of feline nod would perhaps have lasted with it too…

— notes —

No; the boy isn’t me. I am the boy, however. The story is based on memories, and interpretations of memories, but it isn’t, so to speak, a true story (it may surprise you, but cats are not well noted for their public speaking).

I wrote this very much to explore some of those memories, but also to take something I could almost tangibly touch and put it into words, so that I could see how people react to a style, a mode, and different types of content. I very much want to know any aspects, any words, any paragraphs or phrases, that people like or hate. Any turns that confuse, or switches that explain.

7 Comments

This line made me chuckle.

“The hand that wiped nose, now scratches bottom.”

This sentence confused me as to its meaning and I had to read it again along with the preceding and following sentences to catch the meaning: “An ear tugged, his neck scratched.”

I like the straightforward paragraph: ““Eighty”, he declares to the night. He glances at the house on his right and shakes his head. Quickly, he hurries on towards the next pool of light.”

What looks odd to my American eyes are hyphenated words such as in-apparent and en-shrouded. Must be British spelling.

The first sentence is two clauses but and I understand it is to set a scene but is it a sentence? You probably spent a long time on the first sentence yet it strikes me as peculiar.

I was not clear as to why the sentence, “An ear tugged, his neck scratched.” confused me. I did not see immediately that it was the boy himself that tugged his ear and scratched his neck.

Isn’t the first sentence just a slightly clever way of saying “It was a dark & stormy night.” ?

Heh, j/k. But I couldn’t resist.

Actually, yes Horse, inspired by it too :)

Egbert, the first sentence (two clauses) is really a stylistic thing, as horse points out, like dark and stormy night, but wanting to carry the portents of a story being recited or told. Earlier versions actually had that style throughout but it made for a lot of those “an ear tugged” type things. I modified that, better?

I like the density of the prose, there’s a nice elegance in description, a tautness. Possibly a little dense for some, but I liked it. I suspect that’s at least the coder in you coming forward (as well as a conscious stylistic choice, obviously).

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