A while ago I signed up to The Write Practice and received a free ebook called 14 Prompts written by Joe Bunting. Each of the 14 exercises it contained is preceded by a page or two of explanation and then it’s timed writing for 30 minutes. The results will appear below as I write them. Some turn, quite unexpectedly, into stand-alone pieces, while others are glimpses of something bigger and more complex. So this is me, doing as Joe suggested, and “pass[ing] on this gift of seeing” to anyone who might be interested
It was a small room and it was cold. I don’t know why this surprised me, it was an old building. Very old. Probably several hundred years. The radiator was a huge sombre brown affair and vintage Victoriana. Listed buildings were hardly going to let them mess about with something like that. I tugged my coat around me and crossed my arms. “You can wait in here.” The gruff, old man had said imperiously. Had he been expecting me to steal the silver? Maybe it had happened before? I hunched further down into the wing back chair with its nasty odour of dirt and disuse. I wondered how long they would expect me to wait.
The room, although small, had been packed with an inordinate amount of what could only be described as ‘stuff’. It wasn’t a library although there were books scattered here and there. Balanced on pieces of rickety looking furniture and stacked, in leaning towers on the floor. Neither was it a study despite the presence of a rather nice, if filthy, leather topped desk. This seemed to have given up its original purpose in favour of becoming a storage site for miscellaneous ephemera. Boxes of bones, not human I hoped, a rather nice collection of fossils and a stuffed badger sat on top of a yellowing sheaf of paper, covered in the scrawny handwriting of a past age. I would have quite liked to have a look but was afraid of the inevitable avalanche it would cause.
Feeling almost itchy with unease I swivelled slightly in my chair and looked out of the window. Several cracked pains of glass and the buildup of years of grease obscured what was, most probably, a rather fine view of the park and the mountains in the distance. What was I doing here? What had possessed me? Was there a place on earth where I could possibly feel any more of a misfit?
Somewhere in the distance a gong sounded and reinforced every single misgiving I had experienced since my arrival. I had been there all of ten minutes and already I could feel the desire to get up and run building inside me. If it hadn’t been for the snippet of information the Dowager Duchess had already allowed me to read then I most certainly would have been long gone. But, as awkward as I felt, it was enough to keep me in the rather disgusting chair, waiting for the creepy old man to come back and lead me even further into the nightmarish mausoleum.
The temperature in the room seemed to have dropped another couple of degrees and I was growing increasingly impatient. My right foot was drumming on the faded old rug, a sure sign I’d had enough. What the hell was going on? I got up and waved my arms about to get the blood flowing, the place was a real icebox. Had creepy, old man forgotten I was here as soon as he left the room? Had he shuffled off down the freezing corridor with no further thought? It was getting darker outside and there was no way I wanted to be stuck there for the night. Maybe I should call a taxi and be done with it. Getting to see the old duck had been a long shot anyway and my toes were starting to ache with the cold.
I looked over at the badger again, and at the pile of papers sticking out from beneath his ancient paws. Maybe I should take a quick look. Perhaps there might be something in there that would make the trip worth my while. The badger stared back at me with glassy eyes, like two marbles, frosted and opaque. Was he daring me? Well I never backed down from a dare. I put my gloves, a bit freaked out at the thought of touching the matted, dead fur. It was probably infested with all sorts of vermin, not to mention bacteria. Whi on earth liked this dead animal stuff? Wasn’t it illegal? The badger, however, looked old enough to have predeceased even the earliest of animal rights activists and his moth eaten ears were testament to his great age. I only hoped he’d had a good life before they stuffed him full of sawdust.
When I eventually got down to it touching him was the least of my worries. There was a nasty whiff of chemicals coming off him that stung my nose and lodged in the back of my throat like a mouthful of steel splinters. had some idiot tried to clean him with ammonia? Or maybe, worse than that, had someone or something peed on him? This place was weird enough for anything to happen. I stood there trying not to breathe, gloved hands hovering over the poor old brock, and I couldn’t touch him.