Flash fiction, short stories, poetry …
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Fitcher’s Curve

K

arly has a pair of bolt cutters as long as her arm, and so heavy she has to drag them up to the fence; there’s a trail of kicked-up stones behind her. Clipping the links takes a few grunts and heaves, but once she gets the hang of it, the blades press down firmly, smoothing themselves into the steel that cuts with a little ‘click’, like soft fingernails. Sections of wire slinky down the fence.

Dad always said that taking the right tools is half the battle.

Through onto the waste ground, she contemplates the massive ramp. It rolls up out of the landscape like a big ol’ dragon, running up and around – all smoothed-out concrete and tarmac that goes nowhere. But this is the place, alright. Everyone knows Fitcher’s Curve.

It’s four am and a white mist rolls across the fireweed, piled stones, and rusting coils of wire. It’s as flat as a table, high as her waist, finding the hollows.

She’s seventeen tomorrow – today, even – and if there was one thing she wanted to find out before this day had come, it was where Dad had got to.

Despite what they said on the stair, he wasn’t ‘that type’. Just wasn’t. He wouldn’t just vanish off and leave a three-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter, now would he? Though with Mum, she’s beginning to wonder.

After all this time, Mum and her friends have the knife well-and-truly wedged between Dad’s shoulder-blades, but now that Karly’s older – been around the playground – it feels like a bitchy need for shared troubles, rather than the truth. None-the-less, his disappearance is not so much water under the bridge as acid rain burning its way down a steel culvert.

She starts to climb.

Along at the Akenside Working Man’s Club, they say Dad was the salt-of-the-earth. They probably mean he was totally normal: a dedicated man, who built roads and bridges all his life; Old-man McBride.

So it made it all the stranger, that one day, working on the bypass, Bill McBride and the rest of the men downed tools, came down and told the damned project planner, ‘where to stick it’. They weren’t going to work the Curve no more; not for any money.

Dad said no one should ever work up there. That Fitcher’s Curve was a bad lot; one of the worst projects the city ever started. Ran over budget, ran out of time. But, most of all, it just plain freaked him out; like when they saw the dancing men.

He was sitting on the end of her bed, smelling of tar and ground metal and it’s still weird to think that metal can burn. “The things I’ve seen, Karly.” And he gave a little shudder. “Worst thing is, it makes you question everything. If that’s true, then what else is true?” Though he never said what ‘that’ was. It gave her the impression that some things were better left unknown. And yet… he went back; perhaps to investigate his theories about what they were doing to the landscape.

Now I’m on Fitcher’s Curve.

The railing is chilled beneath her hand, wearing its patchwork of anodized zinc like stippled splots from a kid’s paintbrush. Weeds grow between the cast-lines in the concrete. As she curves up, starting to breathe a little heavy in her Nikes, the journey feels like some sort of fairground ride, cranking up and up into the cold morning air. The anticipation is the same.

Over the side, she can see reinforced embankments, built up with hexagonal bricks – showing handfuls of tousled grass – and the mounds of construction, and piled stones dragged from the ground, running out amongst the failed machinery. As the pigeon’s-eye-view develops, the heaps and troughs become huge earthworks; something akin to an ancient iron-age defense.

And then she’s here; at the summit. The slip has risen up two hundred feet and stopped. There’s just a workman’s hut, covered in graffiti, and the tangled mess of rusted, steel reinforcement sticking out where the road ends. As far as the eye can see, there’s city; one of the great views, perhaps. And a few hundred yards over, the finished bypass that left the Curve behind like a discarded tributary.

For an hour she waits, standing on that frozen wave, contemplating the edge; imagining Dad working up here; wondering what Mum will say if she doesn’t get down in time for school and presents. Mostly she wonders what she thought she’d find. Some unpleasant thoughts come, like, Maybe just a pile of folded clothes, which really hadn’t occurred before.

But it’s only when she picks up the broken half of a stone-mason’s chisel, kicking it free from where it had rusted to the road, and begins to scrape at the railing – the beginnings of a despondent ‘Karly Woz Here’ – that the world shifts.

The head of the chisel buzzes on the metal. She steps back, eyes wide. A chilly breath of wind stirs the fine hairs on her cheek.

The sound is muffled, but grows. She hears the sounds of drums, softly beating out across the landscape and feels their resonance in her guts. There’s an acrid smell of burning animal – fatty animal – curling around in the haze, blue trails, and sooty, black threads. And then the chants: back of the throat and nose, a guttural a-tonal, tone, that mumbles on and on in one breath of a multitude, to the clatter of bone, and bare feet whipping through the undergrowth.

And now she knows what he meant about the painted men dancing up here. But it can’t be ghosts – there’s nothing old here, only the Curve.

But then she remembers something else he said: that there’s power in things that rise up out of the landscape – the old knock hills;  a bend in a river; the boughs of a great, gnarled tree; a circle of stones dragged to a summit – and those were nothing on the scale of Fitcher’s Curve.

She can smell blood, and sweat, and cured leather, and charred herbs, blowing as ash on the wind.

But you know what? As she stands here, listening, smelling, wondering, at this otherworld rolling through the mist, she sees what the builders were scared of; terrified of. It’s not a horror, but something that is wild and passionate; primal, but not primitive. It’s not behind but parallel, and there is a sense of lost secrets that are worth knowing.

As the sun begins to rise, turning the sky to orange and purple and red, in great swathes of fire, she knows her father has more to answer for than she thought – in the choice that he made – but now she, too, wonders whether to walk back down the Curve, or stay forever.

10 comments

1 Harry B. Sanderford { 02.26.11 at 12:26 pm }

Wow Stephen, this is excellent! Have you ever read anything by Rupert Thomson? A favorite of mine and I was reminded of him reading this piece. Will there be more?
” It’s not behind but parallel, and there is a sense of lost secrets that are worth knowing.”
Very cool!

2 Stephen Hewitt { 02.28.11 at 11:08 am }

Hi there Harry – thank you.

I haven’t read Rupert Thomson, but I’m checking him out now on Wikipedia… and he sounds like an interesting author. I liked the sound of: Once described as “one of the strangest and most refreshingly un-English voices in contemporary fiction”. Always good if something I’ve written reminds of an author with books out there.

Another part to this piece? Hmm. I’d imagined it as a stand alone. Though, writing a number of parts to a mini-series would be interesting and would help to push me on as a writer. I’ll have a think on that. If not this, then perhaps a planned sequence of three or more.

Thanks for attaching a comment. St.

3 Aidan Fritz { 02.27.11 at 5:15 pm }

I love the way you blend a touch of the surreal into this piece. The tension was masterful pulling you through the piece with the mystery & I had dread, but glad to see that there were other reasons not to come back.

4 Stephen Hewitt { 02.28.11 at 11:17 am }

Hi there Aidan – glad you found some tension in there, and that things weren’t too surreal (as you probably know, I can swing between some and ‘teapot’). I was keen to make sure that there were mixed reasons in that decision of return, to hopefully keep things interesting. St.

5 Joan { 02.28.11 at 4:47 pm }

I don’t know how you think of them all!
‘Karly has a pair of bolt cutters …’ – you have enough detail so you (the reader) can just see it – the trail of kicked-up stones behind her. I like the way the sections of wire were ‘slinky’ down the fence, also.
You’re good at giving character in a few lines, also – Mum and her friends and the knife – but Karly sees that is probably a need for shared troubles – it paints an interesting picture of ‘Mum’ and what she might be like – and she’s seen through Karly, so we (readers) understand Karly better, also.
There’s a nice contrast between the modern ‘Karly Woz Here’ and the old – hills etc. I wonder what people did for a ‘Karly Woz Here’ in the old days? Something that looks as though it must be very important (cave painting maybe) but it’s only an ancient equivalent of ‘Karly Woz Here’. How would you know that, though?
Liked this one.

6 Stephen Hewitt { 03.03.11 at 6:11 pm }

Hi there Joan —

Mostly I take a couple of ideas and try to beat them together until, hopefully, they anneal as one. 😉

I’m glad you like those little details. The story kind of began with Karly dragging those bolt-cutters along and my wanting to write about a modern mythological landscape. Writing Karl’s mum, it suddenly came to me that she was at best a sort of neutral character, whom Karly might not like that much, though the circumstances of her mother’s discontent are perhaps understandable.

When you mentioned what ancient graffiti looks like, it did remind me that there’s a few famous examples of Viking graffiti on various ancient monuments in the UK, similarly Roman graffiti in Pompei. So might be able to find out 😉 Though I’m guessing , as you say, ‘who would know’ the further you go back, e.g. to the neolithic. Though even that could be an interesting concept to write about.

Thanks for popping on a comment — greatly appreciated as always.

St.

7 Joan { 03.07.11 at 4:38 pm }

Yeah – now you come to mention it, I remember seeing a TV programme about the graffiti at Pompei.
Neolithic – there are those hand paintings, aren’t there, in some cave – was it in France? Where they have puffed the ochre, or whatever it was, around the hand – that’s like a signature, in a way. Wonder what it meant to them, though? Interesting question – as you say – material for fiction. Doubt I’ll do it myself, though – mind, I did jot down a few things about some tribe or other – something like that might get into it, probably subconsciously. Another thing you do which impresses me – you use ideas – obviously, everyone does – but people can use just ideas – they don’t have to be intrinsically original – the ideas become original in the way different writers use them. It used to dismay me, in the past, to find I’d written something, and then I saw ‘Star Wars’ again or something, and there was the scene – I hadn’t deliberately pinched it. I realise now, though, it’s okay to recycle ideas. Most ideas are recycled anyway.

8 Stephen Hewitt { 03.10.11 at 11:36 am }

Hi there Joan — it’s very rare to see a completely original idea out there, but the main thing, I think, is to head out in your own direction and hope for originality. I would happily look at other material for inspiration, though this is normally for a kernel or concept, I then take that in whatever direction pops into my head. So for instance, I wouldn’t write another story about a ‘little guy who throws a ring into volcano to destroy the Dark Lord’, but I would happily write about the effects of a corrupting influence between two friends, if that makes sense. The former probably has a couple of other interpretations, but it’s going to be pretty stale and unoriginal, the latter, you could write a whole book of short stories on that one idea, alone. A group of writers would all write different stories. In reality, every page of every book has more ideas on it than could be used in weeks or months of writing. The creative (and tiring) bit is taking any one of those ideas in your own, unique direction; growing it like a seed. I guess, to me, ideas aren’t plot, they’re what folk call theme, but they don’t have to be grandiose. A great story could come from one person staring at another, while forking in a mouthful of ravioli. St.

9 Lara Dunning { 03.09.11 at 7:21 pm }

Once she is on top of the hill I can smell and visual what she is looking at. I have a feeling her journey is just begining. Hope to read more.

10 Stephen Hewitt { 03.10.11 at 11:41 am }

Hi there Lara — it’d be interesting to know if she decides to go or not. Me being me, I’d like her to, just to see what happens. 😉

Thanks for popping on a comment.

St.

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