Where to go in winter to finish that damn book!

All in all, this is just the place I was looking for to write into a story.  A perfect blend of fact and fiction could make this into something else, or just plain hiding in plain sight.

If you are not skiing, not hiking, not horseriding, and have come for the fishing, this is the place to be.

Except…

There is something about a summer resort town in the middle of winter.

Or maybe it’s like this all the time.  After all, I have been here in Spring and Autumn and it was just as deserted on the main street.

And not just deserted it is almost like a ghost town, and I suspect the few people that are here are the few hapless tourists wandering about wondering where everyone else is.

It’s about 2 pm and we are heading for the local Coffee club for lunch and coffee.  It might be past lunch but I don’t think that’s the reason why there are so few customers

There is just no one here.

Perhaps it’s probably a different story on weekends when the city people come down for the snow and are passing through.

But, essentially, Taupo is a holiday town, and if you take a closer look, all you will see is cafe’s, dining establishments and motels.  A quick tour of the shopping center shows more shops are closed or vacant than there are open.

It’s not surprising that a lot of businesses cannot survive, because to stay in business, you need a steady stream of customers all year round, not just in Summer.

Unlike their winter counterparts, the ski resorts who seem to have a different working model, take as much as you can while you can, they only have to operate a few months of the year, use non-permanent seasonal workers, and can adjust if there’s no snow.

An indication of just how much custom there is in Taupo in winter is trying to organize horse riding.  Admittedly it is rather cold for both humans and horses, but not every day is a loss.  We sought out the local Taupo horse riding establishment and found it closed for Winter.  Understandable perhaps, but the more telling point was the fact it had a big sign up “Business for Sale”

I don’t fish, and aside from water sports, a summery thing to do, there is precious little to do there in winter, which could have it’s benefits.

Hmm.

Hang on, if I really want to disappear and can’t be bothered doing anything else except a walk to the nearest cafe for a cup of coffee to be away from all the distractions long enough to finish a book, this is the place to go.

It’s just a pity with the COVID restrictions, we can’t go anywhere, even New Zealand.

I guess I’ll have to find something closer to home.

A photograph from the inspirational bin – 2

It’s the obvious items in the photograph that you see first, or that your eyes go to first.

The ocean, the beach, the buildings. You can see a shopping mall with MacDonald’s sign above it.

Yes, it’s late afternoon, and you can see long shadows of the buildings.

So, if I asked you what did you see in this photo, what would your reply be?

From a thriller writer or murder mystery writer’s point of view, it’s what you don’t necessarily see.

So, for the purposes of the story, the opening line for the world-weary detective, handing the photo to his partner, “What’s is it you can’t see in this photo?”

A partner that hadn’t been on the job very long, in from the suburbs, and had seen little more than break and enters car theft, and school kids hi-jinks.

“What am I supposed to be looking for?”

“You want to be a detective, or be looking for old ladies cats?”

His partner takes the photo in hand and looks at it again.  There has to be a reason why the old man had given it to him, or perhaps there wasn’t and he was just playing with him again.

No, he thought, there has to be something…

And then he saw it, quite by accident.  A hand, a gun, and following the line of fire, at the end, what looked like someone in the bushes.

In a photo taken from a higher floor of the building over the road, looking down on what was supposed to be a rooftop recreational area.

Only there had been no report of a missing person or a gunshot wound in the last seven days.

“When was it taken?”

“Two days ago?”

“And no reports of a shooting, or a body?”

“No.  And yet the person who took this swears he saw a body, but by the time he came back, there was nothing.”

The detective handed his partner a second photo.  Time-stamped five minutes later.  With no gun and no body.

What will happen next?

“Uncanny good luck shines upon me…” – a short story


I never did take advice very seriously.  Especially when they were issued by old man Taggard, a man of some mystery that we all, adults and children alike wanted to know about.

Everyone in the street knew him as he had lived in the almost derelict mansion at the end of the cul-de-sac forever, way longer than anyone else in the neighborhood had.  In fact, it was rumored he had owned all the land around and sold it off bit by bit over time, the reason why there were so many houses of varying age in the estate.

Ours was one of the older houses, a few doors up from it.  We were close enough to observe Taggard’s habit, like sitting gon the porch on an old swing chair in the afternoons, to the late-night wanderings in the street.  Some said he was accompanied by the ghost of his long-dead wife, which led to stories being told of the house he lived in being haunted.

As children, we had been brought up on a diet of TV shows such as ‘The Munsters’ and ‘The Addams Family’, and had invented our own make-believe show called ‘The Taggard Mansion’, the house with ghosts, and the neighborhood center for strange goings-on.

And as children were wont to do, we had to ‘investigate’.

There was a ‘gang’ even though we didn’t refer to it as such, about seven of us who lived in nearby houses, and all of whom had very active imaginations.  We also met in the cubby house out the back of our house to plan forays to find out whether the rumors were true.  The thing is we never got very far as he seemed to know when we were sneaking in and scared us off, so for years, the rumors remained just that, rumors.

But as grown-ups, and by that I mean, middle teens, our plans became bolder and more sophisticated, based on a whole new breed of TV shows, where the seemingly impossible was no longer that.  And Andy Boswell, my older brother’s best friend, his father was a private detective, or so he told us, and he had managed to ‘secure’ some of his father’s tools of the trade; a camera on the end of a wire that could connect to a cell phone, a listening device that could hear through walls, and in-ear communicators.  We could now, if we were close enough, see under doors, and hear if anyone was in.  We could all keep in touch, though I couldn’t see how this would help.

But a plan was formulated.  All seven of us had a role to play.  My brother Ron and Delilah, his girlfriend, were taking point, whatever that meant, Andy and I were going to take point, while Jack, Jill, and Kim were going to run distraction.  The theory was, they’d make enough noise to keep the old man occupied chasing them.  No one had been inside the house, ever.  Andy and I were going to be the first.

Andy had drawn up a plan and it was up on the wall.  He had charted the house, and had a very accurate picture of the house’s footprint, where doors and windows were, likely entrance points, including a hatchway down into what he assumed was a basement, though he preferred to call it the dungeon, and a layout of the grounds.  Apparently under the undergrowth were paths and gardens, even a large fountain that once graced the grounds of the three-story mansion made of sandstone, and built sometime during the middle of the 1800s.

Andy had done some research, mostly from old newspapers, and also discovered that the old man had once been married, they had a half dozen children, three of whom had died, the others scattered around the world.  It explained why no one ever visited the place.

The distraction team would be going in through the front gate, easy enough because it had come off its hinges and just needed a shove to open.  The old man usually emerged from the house via the driveway, or what was once a drive that cars could enter one side of the property, stop under a huge canopy, and emerge onto the road further along.  But it’s overgrown stare, the width of the pathway was now about six feet.  The fact it was once an amazing feature was the roadside lights, now all but disappearing behind the undergrowth.

Andy had found a photograph in the paper of it, and it had looked magnificent, as had the gardens, the overhanging canopy, and all the lights.  To think such magnificence was now lost.  And having seen it for what it once was, it was not hard to imagine any number of scenarios, my favorite, rescuing a damsel in distress from the tower.  Yes, it even had a tower, two, in fact, at each end of the house.  My brother always said I had an overactive imagination.

Andy and I would be going in by the less used car exit, and heading for the left side of the building where Andy said was several floor-to-ceiling windows that looked to him like French doors.  Of course, none of us knew what French doors were, and my brother cut Andy short when he tried to explain.

Failing that, there was a door at the rear that seemed to be open, and we’d try that next.  We would get into position, advise the distraction team, and the operation would be a go.  The only debate was what time of the day were we going to do it.  My brother preferred late in the afternoon.  Andy said it was better at dawn, or soon after if we were looking for maximum confusion of the target.

Dawn, confusion, tactics, target, Andy was in his element.  He was going to be a spy when he grew up.  My brother said he would never grow up, but then, my brother said I was a dreamer and would never amount to anything.  We ignored his advice, well, we pretty much ignored everything he said.

We were going in at dawn.

At 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, we gathered at the cubby house ready for action.  We all took a communicator and put it in our ears, and then had fun saying stupid stuff, and hearing it through the earpieces.  It was weird but added an exciting element to the adventure.  I know my heart was beating faster in anticipation.  Andy was pretending to be cool and failing.  I suspected my brother and Delilah had other plans when we left them alone in the cubby house.  The distraction team was ready to go.

Shortly after the sun came up, it was cool and the air still.  It was going to be a hot day, and that first hour, everything was almost perfect.  It seemed a waste to do anything but let the early morning serenity settle over us.  Not today.  Andy and I went to our position, slowly feeling our way through the bushes, taking bearings from the light poles, and every now and then seeing the guttering and what looked to be a concrete path.  Beyond that was once a garden, and I tried, more than once, to imagine what it was like.

In my ear I could hear the others in the distraction team setting up at the start of the driveway, ready to go.  We reached our position, about twenty feet from the so-called French windows, the view into the house blocked by curtains, but beyond that, what we could see was darkness inside the house.  Taking in the whole side of the house, there were no lights on behind any of the windows.  If we didn’t know better, we could have assumed the house was empty.

I heard Andy say, “Ready.  Start making noise.”

A minute later we could both hear the distraction team in the distance and through the communicators.  It took two minutes before we heard the old man, yelling, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”  Their job done, getting him out of the house, all they had to do was retreat.

Time for Andy and I to go.

Working on the basis that no one else was at the house, and the fact we had no evidence there was, we were not overly worried about making a stealthy approach.  I could hear in my earpiece, the gasping of those in the distraction team having just made it outside the gate, and to tell us the old man had stopped at the gate.  I doubt he had been running, but his yelling was just as effective.

That had stopped, and a sort of silence fell over the area.

We were now at the French doors, and Andy produced another tool that he’d forgotten to tell us about, a lock pick.  The fact it didn’t take long to unlock the door told me he was either very talented, or the lock was old and presented no problems.  Either way, he opened the door and ushered me in.

I brushed the curtains aside for him to follow, then moved in as he followed, closing the door behind him.

I’d taken five steps before I heard a woman’s voice say.  “Uncanny good luck shines upon me.  My knights in shining armor.  You’ve come to rescue me, no?”

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Searching for locations: Queenstown Gardens, Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown Gardens are not far from the center of Queenstown.  They are just down the hill from where we usually stay at Queenstown Mews.

More often than not we approach the Gardens from the lakeside during our morning walk from the apartment to the coffee shop.  You can walk alongside the lake, or walk through the Gardens, which, whether in summer or winter, is a very picturesque walk.

There’s a bowling club, and I’m afraid I will never be that sort of person to take it up (not enough patience) and an Ice Arena, where, in winter I have heard players practicing ice hockey.

I’m sure, at times, ice skating can also be done.

There is a stone bridge to walk across, and in Autumn/Winter the trees can add a splash of color.

There is a large water feature with fountain, and plenty of seating around the edge of the lake, to sit and absorb the tranquility, or to have a picnic.

There are ducks in the pond

and out of the pond

and plenty of grassed areas with flower beds which are more colorful in summer.  I have also seen the lawns covered in snow, and the fir trees that line the lake side of the gardens hang heavy with icicles.

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to write a war story – Episode 7

This is a story inspired by a visit to an old castle in Italy. It was, of course, written while travelling on a plane, though I’m not sure if it was from Calgary to Toronto, or New York to Vancouver.

But, there’s more to come. Those were long flights…

And sadly when I read what I’d written, off the plane and in the cold hard light of dawn, there were problems, which now in the second draft, should provide the proper start.

 

If it had been Jackerby in charge and not Johansson, I had no doubt I’d be at the end of a firing squad now.

Jackerby was not Army, nor a man of honour.  His gait, his manner gave him away, despite the fact he was out of his usual uniform.  I suspect now I had been taken care of, that would change, and we’d get to see his true colours.

After leaving the hall, I was escorted downstairs to the cellar, and where I knew there were a number of rooms with iron gated fronts, places I suspected, in olden days, enemies of the castle were held, enslaved or executed in these cells.

There were several male prisoners is the first two cells, awaiting their fate, one which would not include escaping to the other side, but perhaps something a lot worse than death.

At the end, there was another corridor, and several smaller cells, where second from the end, I was roughly shoved by one of the guards.  He was going to add the butt of his rifle to the back of my head for good measure, but Jackerby stopped him.

I was sure it wasn’t out of respect for Johansson.  It appeared that Johansson needed me for something else.

After the door closed I yelled out, “All the rooms upstairs filled?”

“Yes.  It’s high season.”  So Jackerby had a semblance of a sense of humour.

 

The room, if it could be called that, had a camp stretcher, a seat, and a bucket.  The light came from a burning torch out in the corridor, an interesting touch that electricity had not made it down this far.

The floor was cobbled, and, like the walls, damp.  There was an overbearing odour of mustiness in the room.

It was also cold, so these cells must be located not only under the old castle but underground.  That meant centuries of history, and probably a ghost or two.  I was sure terrible things had happened, down in these cells, not just back then but also recently.

Outside the wall, I could hear the sound of running water, so the back wall must border onto the stream.  And there must be a gap, or hole somewhere for the sound to reach me, but it was too dark to see.

When night fell, it was going to be a lot worse; the light wouldn’t be affected, but it was going to get a lot colder.  As it was the torchlight from the passage barely made an impact, and it took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust.  And I was sure there were rats, just waiting for the dark to come out to play.

I moved the seat to beside the door and sat down, trying to make myself comfortable, in a position where I might hear them coming if they came back.

Then a voice quite near, said, “What are you here for?”

 

© Charles Heath 2019

A new way of doing things

Well, welcome to the new world.  Covid, we’re told, is never going away and we now have to live with it.  Even when people are still dying in numbers.

Perhaps in a lot of things, we should have been there a long time ago, but I suspect complacency and laziness has a lot to do with some of the issues.

Like washing your hands. It’s usually hell on earth to get a child to do anything and you have to be at them and at them to do anything.

I’m not sure about social distancing, but I’ve long wanted people in the supermarket to stop leaning over me to get stuff off the shelves when they could wait one minute longer.

Or being crowded into a restaurant where you can practically eat off the plate of the person at the next table. I like the distance, and the privacy it brings.

I’m also a fan of the new click-and-collect phenomenon where I don’t have to go out to get something I want; just get it delivered.

Of course, there’s still the necessity to go to a shop and physically see an item before you buy it, in my case clothes and shoes, but online sales for a lot of things are so much better, especially books and magazines.

I guess future traffic jams won’t be cars but delivery trucks.

I like the idea of working from home. Aside from having to face time with colleagues every now and then, if you don’t have to be in an office, then give it up. It will reduce pressure on roads, public transport, and reduce the concentration of the population in one place. You might even get to work on time, and get something to eat before you arrive!

As long as they get the internet right, which in this country is a pretty big if.

And perhaps now people will stop blaming 5g for the COVID virus.

Perhaps this homeschooling thing might work as well, having seen it in action, and in most cases it works.  Of course, the isolation of students could be a problem, and there is always a need for face time for teachers and other students for interaction with contemporaries, but perhaps a compromise could be found, especially since Covid spread in schools is high, even after finding a vaccine.

Among the negatives in a time like this is the fear of using public transport, a fear no one is taking lightly, leading to children having to be taken to and brought home from school, and the fact there are potentially 800 cars needed to do it.

I used to leave home 30 mins before school end and was first in the pickup queue. Now I leave 45 minutes before and the closest I can get in nearly a mile from the school. And the traffic is a dangerous hazard in the main street, blocking driveways, bus stops, and lanes. It’s basically a mess, and it cannot continue without more organization.

But there’s another problem. The anti-vaxxers. Everywhere in the world, it seems, not more than 50% of the population will get vaccinated, so it means that we may NEVER get past where we are now.

And the very worst problem that this new world has sprung on us, we may never travel safely again. Anywhere.

Perhaps we really do need a miracle.

“Trouble in Store” – Short stories my way:  Jack, the girl, and the shopkeeper

I have reworked the first part of the story with a few new elements about the characters and changed a few of the details of how the characters finish up in the shop before the policewoman makes her entrance.

This is part of the new first section is the one that involves the Jack, the girl, and the shopkeeper

 

Jack exchanged a look with the shopkeeper, who in return gave him a slight shrug as if to say he had no idea what this was about.

He could see the girl was not strung out on drugs; if she was it would be a good bet both would be shot or dead by now.  She was just the unfortunate partner of a boy who was on drugs and had found herself in a dangerous position.

Beth, his wife, had told him she didn’t like nor trust the shopkeeper and that her friend in the same apartment block had told her he had been seen selling drugs to youths who hung around just before he closed.  She had warned him it would not be safe, but he had ignored her.

It was a bit late to tell her she was right.

He took a half step towards the door, judging the distance and time it would take to open the door and get out.

Too far, and he would be too slow, his reward for running; a bullet in the back.

Perhaps another half step when she wasn’t looking.

 

The shopkeeper changed his expression to one more placatory, and said quietly to the girl, “Look, this is not this chap’s problem.”  He nodded in the direction of the customer.  “I’m sure he’d rather not be here, and you would glad of one less distraction.”

He could see she was wavering.  She was not holding the gun so steadily, and the longer this dragged on, the more nervous and unpredictable she would become.

And in the longer game, the customer would sing his praises no matter what happened if he could get him out of the shop alive and well.

This could still be a win-win situation.

 

The girl looked at Jack.  The shopkeeper was right.  If he wasn’t here this could be over. 

But there was another problem.  It didn’t look like Simmo was in any shape to getaway.  In fact, this was looking more like a suicide mission.

She waved the gun in his direction.  ‘Get out now, before I change my mind.’

As the gun turned to the shopkeeper, Jack wasn’t going to wait to be asked twice and started sidling towards the door.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

Is there something wrong?

I asked myself that question when about 1000 odd words into a current short story, one that I continue to go back to, but found an initial reluctance to write, and now seems to be difficult to continue.

Is the reason because I don’t feel like writing, that I’ve written myself into a corner, the story isn’t flowing, or there’s something else I’d rather be doing…

Like, scouring the internet…

Working on writing some blog posts, like this one…

Checking my email…

Checking my other blogs to see how many people have viewed my recent posts,

Or just puddle with anything other than what I should be doing.

The thing is, I know where most of the stories are going, it’s just a matter of sitting down, picking up the threads, and writing. Certainly, I could be working on one or another right now.

But, something is nagging at me.

I thought it was that I wanted to write another Being Inspired piece, having the photo I wanted to use for inspiration in my head. I sat down this morning and started it, and got seven or eight paragraphs done, and then it was time to go down to breakfast.

Attention diverted.

I could have written more after breakfast, but that seemed to segue into a chat over coffee that ran into lunch. It’s odd how it seems there is so much to talk about.

Then it’s been one excuse after another that has kept me from picking up that story and running with it. I could do it now, but that reluctance remains.

Perhaps tomorrow.

For now, I’m going to work on some crosswords and see if that doesn’t inspire me, and if it doesn’t I could always have an early night.

It’s the same every time we go away, on the run all day doing touristy stuff, making notes for later on, on the run, and then getting back to the room exhausted. After all, there is so much to see and do.

Maybe I’ll just reflect on today and worry about it tomorrow, except…

We have an equally hectic day planned.

Maybe I’ll get that holiday from writing after all.

A photograph from the inspirational bin – 1

We think of tropical Queensland having pristine white beaches and azure sparkling seas.

Not necessarily so.

This used to be a mangrove swamp.

Perhaps this is what happens when you mess with the natural environment, you’re left with something that’s not very nice.

There’s no beach, no sand, and sometimes not a very pleasant odor.

We can imagine what this might have looked like before man turned up to urbanize the area. In the background, there is an inlet and on either side lush vegetation.

It must have looked very inviting once upon a time. Now the shoreline is completely built on, the vegetation that was once there completely cleared, and the inlet leads to a marina.

Perhaps the story here might be about greedy destructive property developers who care not for anything but profits.  But in their quest to destroy, there is always someone else aiding and abetting, someone in government.

But what if there was an even darker secret hiding just below the surface, and about to be uncovered.  How far would someone go to preserve that secret?

 

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to write a war story – Episode 7

This is a story inspired by a visit to an old castle in Italy. It was, of course, written while travelling on a plane, though I’m not sure if it was from Calgary to Toronto, or New York to Vancouver.

But, there’s more to come. Those were long flights…

And sadly when I read what I’d written, off the plane and in the cold hard light of dawn, there were problems, which now in the second draft, should provide the proper start.

 

If it had been Jackerby in charge and not Johansson, I had no doubt I’d be at the end of a firing squad now.

Jackerby was not Army, nor a man of honour.  His gait, his manner gave him away, despite the fact he was out of his usual uniform.  I suspect now I had been taken care of, that would change, and we’d get to see his true colours.

After leaving the hall, I was escorted downstairs to the cellar, and where I knew there were a number of rooms with iron gated fronts, places I suspected, in olden days, enemies of the castle were held, enslaved or executed in these cells.

There were several male prisoners is the first two cells, awaiting their fate, one which would not include escaping to the other side, but perhaps something a lot worse than death.

At the end, there was another corridor, and several smaller cells, where second from the end, I was roughly shoved by one of the guards.  He was going to add the butt of his rifle to the back of my head for good measure, but Jackerby stopped him.

I was sure it wasn’t out of respect for Johansson.  It appeared that Johansson needed me for something else.

After the door closed I yelled out, “All the rooms upstairs filled?”

“Yes.  It’s high season.”  So Jackerby had a semblance of a sense of humour.

 

The room, if it could be called that, had a camp stretcher, a seat, and a bucket.  The light came from a burning torch out in the corridor, an interesting touch that electricity had not made it down this far.

The floor was cobbled, and, like the walls, damp.  There was an overbearing odour of mustiness in the room.

It was also cold, so these cells must be located not only under the old castle but underground.  That meant centuries of history, and probably a ghost or two.  I was sure terrible things had happened, down in these cells, not just back then but also recently.

Outside the wall, I could hear the sound of running water, so the back wall must border onto the stream.  And there must be a gap, or hole somewhere for the sound to reach me, but it was too dark to see.

When night fell, it was going to be a lot worse; the light wouldn’t be affected, but it was going to get a lot colder.  As it was the torchlight from the passage barely made an impact, and it took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust.  And I was sure there were rats, just waiting for the dark to come out to play.

I moved the seat to beside the door and sat down, trying to make myself comfortable, in a position where I might hear them coming if they came back.

Then a voice quite near, said, “What are you here for?”

 

© Charles Heath 2019