Short Story Challenge Week 1: Before The War

I feel the need to challenge myself again. Here goes.

Some years ago, a journalist friend of mine dropped a comment on Facebook about how she was thinking about doing a short story writing challenge.

One a week, for a year, to see how it rolled out and how she found it. I thought this was a wonderful idea, and decided that I should try to have a go at it.

From that (spoiler alert), my second book, Fifty-Two was born. No prizes for guessing how many short stories were in it.

It’s still on sale for all major eBook formats, and a great read for anyone. But I would say that, right?

Buy it through Amazon for your Kindle e-reader here.

Buy it through Apple for your iPad or iOS devices/Macs here.

Buy it through Smashwords for any other e-reader format here.

Anyway, it’s been more than 5 years since I last attempted one of these.

Of late, I’ve felt some creative urges growing, so I figured I’d give it another crack.

Here’s the rules:

One story a week, over a span of 52 weeks.

That’s the rules.

That’s all the rules, because this time I’m not putting word limits, or working time limits or anything else on myself.

All I have to do is provide a story every week, short or long, standalone or part of a series. I may even revisit some ideas found in Fifty Two… I guess I’d better get started now, right?

Before The War

‘Course, it was all a bit different around these parts.

You know, before the war.

Back then, that field over there – no, not the one that nobody goes into, because of the land mines.

The one next to it, where you’ve got to walk quickly to stop yourself getting stuck in the black tar.

Yeah, the stuff that took Mrs Jenkins down last week.

Nasty business, that. You could hear her screaming for hours as she sank.

Until you couldn’t hear her any more.

Anyway, before the war, in that field, there was a cobbled path near a stream. And in front of that stream, there was a little shop. It was… green, I think I remember, with a thatched roof, and a sign outside that read “General Goods”.

No lad, General Goods wasn’t in the army.

‘Meant it sold all sorts of things, from farm tools to wood screws, linen to buckets. And of course, the rations what we were entitled to.

Only shop for miles and miles. I remember as a kid, once a week, Mum would take us there to help with picking up the weekly food rations. Three portions of meat, two of vegetables and if we were lucky, maybe something sweet for afters.

There was this old fella who ran the place… now, what was his name… I can picture him in my mind, clear as day.

Always wore one of those thick cotton shirts with a red vest, and big brown boots that gleamed in the sun.

Kids used to say that he used to play on the national squad in those boots before retiring out this way.

The national squad… no, not the army, lad. Sports.

You wouldn’t understand, but back then we’d go watch grown men kick around a ball, just for the fun of it. Like I said, different times.

Henson!

That was his name, Mr Henson.

Stringy thin hair, little goatee beard and always grumbling about this or that.

If it wasn’t the rations not coming in on time so’s he could sell them, it was the leak in his roof that the thatcher never seemed to properly pin down.

Some said that the thatcher was cheating Henson, never fixing it properly so he’d have to come back next winter when it would crack apart again.

Even winters were different back then, with proper snow you could play in, and freezing temperatures that meant we had to get the hounds in once it got dark.

They stank to high heaven with the farting, but Mum would give us hell if we left them outside… and none of us wanted the job of cleaning up the frozen corpse the morning after, neither!

Anyway, that little shop… I nearly got to working there, back in the day.

Henson was getting on in years, and the council said that he had to retire.

He argued long and hard that he was already retired, and that’s why he had moved here, and it was his shop anyway.

But, well, the council being what it was, they weren’t having none of that, until Henson agreed to take on an apprentice.

We were all dead excited about that, and why wouldn’t we be?

You tell me which you’d prefer; day after day toiling in the cold fields dragging a sack of spuds, or resting easy behind a till, chatting to folks and keeping warm?

So naturally there was a fair old bit of competition for who should be Henson’s apprentice.

We all filled in the council form best as we could, but some of course never played fair.

Kevin asked Tracey to fill out his form for him, what with not being able to write proper, and she only went and put his age down as 73, older than Henson himself!

‘Course, Kevin never found out about that, on account of not being able to read his form… and none of the rest of us was going to tell him, ‘cause he had a dirty temper on him, that lad. Went off to fight, you know.

When the war began.

Anyway, Kevin was out before he even got started.

I remember Steve telling me that Tracey had tried to use her wiles on old Henson, see if she could sweet talk her way into the apprenticeship… What?

Wiles… well, lad… how do I put this… hmm.

Maybe it ain’t my job to teach you everything about the ways of the world.

Tracey was a cute little thing, and for certain her wiles.. no, don’t bother me about that right now, lad… her wiles would have worked a charm on any of us, young and dumb as we were.

But Henson weren’t having a bar of it, throwing her out of the store soon as she tried wiggling her hips in his direction.

Some choice words he used to describe her too, some of which I never did quite rightly understand.

Still, there were plenty left that wanted that job.

We all spent hours trying to curry favour with Henson, helping him move bags of stock, or sweeping up outside the store without being asked to, or asking for anything in return.

All for naught, ’cause Henson knew what he really needed for his shop.

In the end it were Steve who got it, because he was always good at the counting up come planting season.

His dad were none too happy about that, because a good counter is always handy in planting season, back when you could plant things and expect ‘em to grow some.

But again, the council said that this was that and rules was rules, and we all had to follow the rules if we wanted the rations.

So Steve went off to become a shopkeeper.

Well, that was the plan, anyway.

Shop was the first thing hit by the bombs, you know, with Henson and Steve inside, right when the war began.

Anyway, no time for stories now, lad.

Get over there and get them boots off those bodies – we might be able to make a bit of coin out of ‘em, and eat tonight…

About the author

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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