This is the last contribution of what’s been a fascinating two years of story-telling. Between us, Eden Baylee and I have written 43 800-word stories, 14 of them solos, the rest with each of us taking turns to write segments 1 and 3 or 2 and 4. We’ve had various minor debates – mostly provoked by different usages and/or meanings of various words in North America and the UK – but a lot of fun with it all. I think it’s also sharpened some of our general thoughts about the whole process of writing fiction. We genuinely hope that, whether you’ve looked in lots or even just once, you, too, have enjoyed your visits. You’ll find Eden’s final solo effort here.
The prompt for our final 2 solo stories is the rather forbidding : I put tulips under all the pillows and then I set fire to the house.
From a very early age, it was clear that Andy was different – and not necessarily in a nice way. He seemed to want to test the limits of what he could get away with, make his own rules about everything. His parents frequently did things of which he didn’t approve, such as insisting on feeding him porridge when he’d already turned the plate upside down to show them he didn’t want it. If they scolded him for anything, he’d go for days refusing to respond to anything they said or did. It applied to the simple, kind things too. For example, if either of them used what he judged to be the wrong voice for a character when reading him a bedtime story, he’d take the book from them, slam it shut and leave it on the landing outside his bedroom door for days. Quite often, his actions were actually dangerous. Once, he piled all the toys in his cupboard on top of one another one by one, climbing first on a chair then a table to add more. He then climbed down, sat next to the pile and pulled out the bottom one. This led to the first of many visits to Casualty.
But those early aberrations only seemed to set the tone of who he was because they persisted and got worse into adolescence, becoming more and more bizarre. Needless to say, he infuriated his teachers by his constant refusal to conform to orthodox behaviours. In History, he handed in essays about 1066 which he’d copied mostly from books about archery, his French translations were into an unrecognisable language based loosely on a mixture of English and gobbledegook, and, when the Biology teacher drew a diagram of an amoeba on the blackboard and labelled one part of it ‘inner cytoplasm’, every subsequent sketch Andy made – a bee, a stork, a mackerel – everything in fact – had a prominent protrusion on it somewhere labelled ‘outer cytoplasm’.
He could be ‘normal’ if he chose to. In fact, when it came to getting a job, he had to, but he did so reluctantly and was easily bored, which meant that most of his time outside work was spent doing things that made no sense, things that his few friends called his ‘escapades’ and usually led to yet more hospital trips, one of which at last made him change his ways.
A hang-gliding accident had hurt a lot but he’d still decided to try a straightforward parachute jump. That, too, though, had ended badly. He’d very much enjoyed floating freely down but paid so much attention to the sensation that he forgot to control his ‘chute properly, landed awkwardly two fields away from his target zone, and burst several veins in both legs. At the hospital, the doctors and nurses welcomed him back with muted greetings. They weren’t looking forward to yet more bizarre anecdotes about impossible activities. But Ursula, a newcomer to the nursing staff, was a revelation. First, she was gorgeous, more beautiful than any woman Andy had ever seen. And, at first, she listened and even appeared interested in his tales. But the more extreme and unlikely they became, the less impressed she seemed to be.
For his part, Andy would do anything to keep her talking as well as listening and when, one evening, she described a house on the corner of her street which someone had bought and turned into a maternity clinic, his mind jumped to thoughts of her having his babies.
‘If you had a baby, what would you call it?’ he asked.
Ursula frowned and said, ‘I don’t know. Probably Hercules or something.’
‘Brilliant,’ said Andy.
In a way, it was a sort of turning point. She had no desire for marriage and was certainly too young to be thinking about offspring, but Andy was too self-centred to recognise the curl of her lip which greeted his approval of her choice of name. For him its outrageousness made her seem even more attractive. Indeed, his enthusiasm for it led to him moving from his tales of ordinary derring-do to hints of a possible relationship between them and, typically of him, he reverted to descriptions of what he saw as his uniqueness.
‘When I worked offshore, I got things done more quickly by not bothering with safety gear…’ began one memory. Another had him driving his car on the wrong side of the road to bypass a long traffic jam. Yet another involved a waterfall and a rubber dinghy. His enthusiasm for them brought more, thick and fast.
At last, in a rare pause, Ursula yawned and said, ‘Yesterday I went in that maternity clinic I told you about. I put tulips under all the pillows and then I set fire to the house.’
‘Really?’ said Andy, with seeming admiration.
Ursula stood up, said ‘Of course not’. Then she left.