Stories from a Dublin Scientist

Month: July, 2012

Picture it and write: Thirsty

Hello all, this is my offering for this weeks picture it and write for Ermilla’s blog here. Once again, the picture is not mine, I just use it for inspiration. Anyway, enjoy


I had never been, or ever would be again, as thirsty as I was then. It was a deep, gut wrenching thirst that sapped the very strength from your body. I couldn’t even breath properly, what little saliva I had left was drying before it could leave my mouth, clogging my airways with gritty phlegm. The sun beat down on me, the cloth cap I was wearing far too inadequate protection. I longed for a drink, prayed for a drink, hoped for a drink. But I couldn’t drink. I had to keep digging.

The fine, flowing sand was difficult to work with. Each shovelful of sand that I removed was quickly replaced by more of its kin. Yet I persisted and when I had a pit that I thought was deep enough I reached around to get the box to test it. It was then that I noticed the four figures approaching.

People; this far out. I mind was filled with contradictions. People here could mean salvation, or disaster. People were rarely out here on any good, godly business anyway, murder was seldom beyond them. I checked my bag, fingering the pistol, reassured by it’s cool touch and I waited, lying low.

As I watched the figures grew closer and larger, far larger than me. It almost looked like they were going to pass by, had ignored me, when one of them turned to face me, pointing an arm in my direction.  It then marched across the sand followed by the three companions.

But the time the figures had reached my basin, they had solidified into three men and a woman, they were in khakis, their eyes covered in silvered glasses. The first one, the largest I could see, peered down at me beside my hole and in a strong, booming voice asked, “Hey kid! Is this the way back to the hotel?”

I knew it was but I had been told not to talk with strangers. The large man seemed perturbed “Son! I asked you a question! You are supposed to answer.” His tone frightened me. I crouched down some more, my hand going into the bag. “Don’t frighten him Dave.” said one of the other men “Can’t you see he’s only young!”

The man snorted “That is not an excuse for rudeness” and he took another step towards me, right into range, there was a call from one of the others behind me and I used the moment of confusion to grab my pistol from the bag, aim and pull the trigger. My aim was true. “Hey” yelled the man, “He hit me with water! Why you little.” But he was interrupted by the rest of his companions “Dave! Steph just saw a surfing kite over there, I think they have them at the marina, we should be close.”

“But this little bastard!” retorted the man “Ah leave him alone, we’ll be late for drinks in the bar” The man trudged away grumpily turning before he left to say to me “You little brat! You shouldn’t be left on your own to pull crap like that!” and was about to say more when further calls from his friends dragged him away.

With the adults gone I took a pack of Capri Sun from my bag and drank it deeply. I then pulled the box from behind me and checked it again. The contents of newspapers, playing cards and old rocks was intact and accounted for. The hole it seemed was not yet wide enough I started to dig some more. I had to be quick though, it was nearly time for tea. It did not do to still be burying treasure then.

Picture it and write: Left Behind

Hello! Here is my offering for this weeks picture it and write available here. Once again, the picture is not mine, I just use it for inspiration. Anyway, enjoy!

Left Behind:

Sam watched as the young man lifted the last of the boxes, his youthful body making little work of the heavy contents, and carefully walked out of the door. He was thorough, you could give him that, he had made sure to ask Sam several times if that was everything, just in case she had forgotten anything. But she was positive, every left here would be there by design, no longer necessary, far too large for the new apartment, too painful to keep.

As the man carried the box down to the elevator Sam took the time to make one last walk around the old place. The walls,  strangely, looked almost exactly the same as they did when they had moved in four decades previously, the crumbling walls almost eternal in their decay, as if the accrued coating of post-its and school drawings somehow preserved it.

She found that everything she looked at was filled with memories. There was the wrought iron bed, where she and Tom had first made love as husband and wife. The solid oak kitchen table, where you were more likely to find a pile of unfinished manuscripts, rather than the dinner. Broken toys, empty chests, the callously discarded detritus of a life now moving on.

As she walked back to the door, she saw a glare coming from the far wall of the living room. It was the grand mirror, far too large to fit in the new place, lowered to the floor to aid the removal of some other artworks. It was antique, probably valuable. But Sam had no need of money, let the new tenants deal with it.

The look of it, the way it was standing there, somehow opened up the vaults of her memory. She was suddenly back, some thirty-two years earlier, looking at the newly purchased mirror lying there, waiting to be lifted into position.

Sally, she must have been only five at the time, was fascinated. She kept on running past it, holding something different and then screaming in delight as her Doppelganger had done the same. She then started dancing, spending a good three hours swaying with her mirror twin before collapsing on the floor in a fit of giggles. Sam could not recall ever seeing her happier, either before, or definitely, since.

Smiling to remember that one, of so many moments, Sam then took out her keys, removed the door key from the ring, and placed it on the old table by the door. She then stepped out over the threshold paused for a moment, as if to say something but in the end failing and closed the door behind her.

Picture it and write: The Lotus

Here is my contribution for this weeks picture it and write from ermilia’s blog, here. The picture isn’t mine, I just used it for inspiration. Anyway, enjoy.

The lotus

Frank had had a terrible year. It had been a non-stop deluge of foolish requests and inane bureaucracy. He needed a holiday, now more than ever. As it was the done thing, he had booked a travelling holiday through Europe, in an effort to catch all of the sights and culture that he could. He had never seen the point in it, holidays were supposed to be about relaxing, but this was supposed to be what you did when you were young and he still liked to think that he was young.

He started in Berlin, a morning flight, which gave him most of the day for sight-seeing. He figured that if he got most of the “must do” stuff out-of-the-way on his first day, then he would be able to relax and rest for the second before he had to take the train and move on. That way half of his holiday could be spent relaxing.

He spent the day wandering around the city, visiting the museums and ticking off the names in his guidebook, most stuff he gave only a cursory glance, never stopped to take anything in, but he was there, and most importantly, he had the photos.

That evening, Frank found himself in the hotel bar nursing a whiskey, waiting for an acceptable time to go to bed. There was a DJ after setting up and there was music blaring through the large room. Crud mostly, american pop and eurodance.

“You don’t look happy!” Frank heard a voice behind him say, it was a woman, speaking English with a hint of an american accent. He turned to reply when he found himself unable to speak. To call her a vision would be an understatement. Long blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and soft white skin over a blood-red dress, curving in all of the right places. Frank was still trying to get his breath back when she continued “You can take your chin back off the floor. Ha Ha! You’re funny. My name is Erika, with a “k”, pleased to meet you”

Somehow that snapped Frank out of it and he was able to ask if she wanted a drink. “I would love to take you up on your offer, but the music here is terrible and I am going now. I have a friend who is having a party at his club. Would you like to come with me?” Whatever notions Frank had of taking it easy were long gone and without question, he agreed to follow Erika out of the hotel and into the night.

The taxi ride took longer than Frank expected and he had to fill the silence with talking. He talked mostly about his job, how stressful it was, how much he hated it. Erika also talked a little about herself. She was american, had come over as a language student and was finding the living there tough. She had met this friend of hers, Josef, only recently, but his club was great for letting off steam, perhaps Frank could us it too?

The arrived at an address, to be greeted by an old office block, there was light and noise emanating from the tenth floor. Erika, holding Frank’s hand, lead him through the door.

The party itself was all that Erika suggested and more. Frank hadn’t seen the like since his own student day, people filled a wide open-plan room, dancing to the techno music. Everyone had a smile on their face. As he walked in, someone handed them both a bottle of beer, there was no charge. Frank really found himself getting into the music and he and Erika, who must have been at least ten years his junior were soon moving very close to each other.

After only a few minutes of this, Erika said that she was getting a little tired and that she was going to head to the bathroom. As she made her way to the toilets, Frank found himself an old couch to sit in and finish his beer. He noticed other women giving him the Eye, but he politely refused them all, happy enough to wait.

After about twenty minutes there was still no sign of her. He got off the seat and made his way through the dancers. There was not much of a queue near the toilets and he wondered what to do next. It was there that a door opened next to the elevators and the sound of laughter and a pungent smell came out. One of the voices sounded familiar, it was Erika.

Frank looked in through the door. There was about ten people in a circle, sitting or lying on blankets or large pillows. One of the other men passed something to Erika, it was a pipe of some sort. As Frank watched, she used a lighter to fire one end as she inhaled deeply. She then, lay back on her pillow, the white smoke, holding around her mouth before it was exhaled in a billowing cloud. She opened her eyes and looked straight at Frank. “Come in” she smiled at him, “say hello to everybody”.

Frank had come this far, he couldn’t stop now, he sat beside Erika, on the cushion she had offered. A dapper man on the other side of the circle, was Jason, their host, she didn’t know the rest, but they were eager enough to offer Frank their names. Frank didn’t know how it was possible but Erika draped herself more over the pillows “When I am getting stressed” she said “When I am feeling that I cannot cope, I come here, I smoke a little, and I feel soooo much better.”

Frank could not keep quiet “You know what that is don’t you?” She didn’t seem phased though “Yeah! But I’m not addicted, I just need it if I’m feeling a little down with study. I can quit whenever I choose”

She then offered the pipe to Frank. “You told me how hard things were for you. You should take some, it will help you. You can trust me, we can make all your troubles fade away.”

Normally Frank would just have run at an offer like that. But this time, looking into the seductive, pleading, blue eyes, asking him, looking at the others, he did not find it quite so easy. His job was terrible, his life was dull, he found that, against all he thought he knew, he was tempted, ever so tempted, to take it.


I have come to the conclusion over the years that if given a choice, young people, teenagers especially, will always do the most monumentally stupid thing they can rather than what is right and proper. I have of course my own history as a young fool, confirmed in numerous police reports and newspaper cuttings at home to back this up. Still, I would like to think that I have mostly put these errant behaviours, mostly, behind me.

In fact I have been so long as a ‘mature responsible citizen’ (pffffftttt!) that I had almost forgotten the wild ride that is young life. That is at least my excuse for what had happened. It was a slow day in the shop, there hadn’t been too many punters in as of late and we had already cleaned the place to within an inch of its life, so we sat around chatting, reading, whatever while we waited for another wind-borne customer to come in.

Dave had been with us for most of the summer. Not even drinking age he had gotten a place in some college in the city to study fancy gardening and was working for a bit of cash and ‘to get some experience at the coal-face of the industry’ whatever that meant. He was reading a magazine on cars or some such, hanging around in case any of us old fogeys needed some heavy lifting. He had the endearing habit of reading off whatever it was he was reading to us if interested him, until we got annoyed and threw stuff at him, oh what fun we had.

“It says here” Dave announced after we had all gotten thoroughly bored “That you can increase the power of a petrol engine at least six fold by adding these new additives to the fuel tank” That generated a mild interest in the rest of us and we responded with a “that’s nice”

Dave thought our mumble meant intense interest so he continued “These nitrogenous additives were shown to increase the rate of combustion giving greater impulse per engine cycle. Hear that, it says that it makes things more fuel-efficient.”

Again we didn’t really care but Bill, the hardware supervisor said “With petrol the price it is we could use something that makes it go further.” Then I just had to get in on the action “Yeah Dave! You could really make some money out of something like that, a lot more than you would ever make in this game.” If only I had known I would have kept my mouth shut.

Dave stayed quiet for a second and announced that he needed to go out for an errand and that he would be back in a minute. When he returned he rushed through the shop carrying something in a bag and muttering that he had to check something out in the yard. We were only glad that he wasn’t talking to us anymore.

About half an hour later Dave ran in again and asked us to come out and see what he had been doing. There had still been no increase in footfall so we were glad to do something. In the yard Dave had a small petrol canister, a number of plastic containers and a funnel. He was holding an old leaf blower that had been left there years ago and never collected. He explained what he had been doing.

“I think I might have found an additive that would work” He announced excitedly, “It says in the article that the additives most important part was nitrogen. Well I’ve found an old bag labelled nitrogen in the shed and I was able to mix it with this petrol.” That gave me a pause for thought, but I couldn’t remember why so I let him continue “I have timed that a full tank will make this leaf blower run for approximately ten minutes. I have now filled the tank with petrol with additive. Could one of you time how long it lasts, if it is more than ten minutes then we would be on to something.”

One of the lads duly got out his watch and started fiddling with it before giving Dave the thumbs up at which time  he started the engine. I only later realised why I had the pause for thought as Dave explained himself. The old bags of ‘nitrogen fertiliser’ that we had stored in the back couldn’t be sold because they contained mostly ammonium nitrate, a chemical that had gotten a bad rap lately due to certain subversive elements using it for illicit ends. Ammonium nitrate added with anything that burns, petrol included, makes an explosive. But I didn’t remember in time and wasn’t able to stop him.

Right after Dave starting the leaf blower the next thing I remember is lying flat on my back in a pile of smoke, with the smell of burning hair in my nostrils. I could barely make out a pillar of smoke going up into the sky. It turned out that that leaf blower was made of stern stuff and when the contents of the tank went, the force went straight through the nozzle, blowing us over and sending the leaf blower and Dave into the air.

The young lad had enough sense to let go and landed roughly in a vegetable patch three gardens over. Pretty fine except for some minor burns and a broken wrist. The leaf blower sailed nearly a quarter-mile into the sky and landed in the canal on the other side of town. The cops were called as well as the bomb squad to dispose of the rest of the ‘additive’. We all got some serious questions and a stern telling off.

Dave himself was staid for the rest of the summer, but I’m told that as soon as the cast was off he was back to his old tricks and whenever I had to work with young people again I made a point to remember the foolhardiness of youth and what ever you do, whenever a young person is involved, to stand way back.

Picture it and write: Walkabout

Hello everybody. Here is my weeks offering for picture it and write from Ermilia’s Blog here. The picture is not mine, I simply use it for inspiration. Anyway enjoy.


It was getting stuffy in there, I was fed up. Being told what to do, where to go, who to talk to. It is almost like I’m not in a free country anymore. I wanted out, I wanted to go for a walkabout.

I supposed I could have asked them if I could have gone out. But it was likely that they would say no and I would not have been able to abide that. I was able to sneak out by following right behind someone else as they walked out through the door. If anyone saw me I suppose they must have ignored me. Just another Joe walking out of there, nothing to get all worked up about.

As soon as I made it out of the main door I started to run, pushing the man in front of me out of my way. I hope he didn’t hit his head against the steps going down, I don’t know, I never looked back. I made my way straight to the main exit, scared all the time that the guards would find me and try and bring me back. But no one stopped me. When I shot through the gate, I was home free.

Oh it felt good to be out of there, to breathe free air, to feel proper sunshine on your face, sunshine not filtered through glass. I was so buoyant that I started to run, my legs almost leaping from the pavement with each bound. No guards, no nurses, no pills taking away my free will, it was good to be alive.

I first tried to keep near the main road, I found that I was getting looks from people as I walked close to homes, but when I saw the police car driving along, I knew that I had to get away from the road. I remembered a park near from where I was. It ended on the bank of a river and that went all the way to the countryside and sweet, sweet freedom.

Getting free sure does take a lot of energy. All of this walking and running takes a lot out of you. It was very hot and I really needed a some water. Thankfully, there was a pond in the middle of the park. I was able to duck my head into the middle of it and drink my fill. When I got back to my feet I noticed that several children were pointing at me, saying that I shouldn’t have been drinking that dirty water. I was going to argue with them about how they take all of the toxins in their food and drinks but I saw that some of the parents were starting to come forward and, even more worryingly, run out to get help. So I decided to make my exit.

I made it to the river and hid under a low bridge while I waited for the sun to set. I figured that it would be foolhardy to make a break for it during daylight. I was also getting hungry but I knew that if they got so worked up over how I was drinking what I needed, then eating would probably drive them over the edge. So I knuckled up and waited.

With darkness I was able to move more freely, provided I avoided staying too long under lights. The maze of city buildings turned to open countryside and I found myself even happier than I was before. This was where I belonged. Not cooped up under someone’s control, but free, with nature.

I was still hungry and I didn’t have any money on me so I figured I would have to improvise. No sooner had I started looking but I found a farmhouse with a big vegetable garden. There was a lot of food there and I figured that they couldn’t possibly eat them all so they must be able to spare a little.

I kneeled onto the soft earth and started to dig up some carrots. The soil was dark and heavy, it seemed organic. That was excellent, it would do me good to finally eat something free of chemicals and nerve agents. I bit into one of the stringy root, it was delicious.

My revelry was short-lived I heard a dog barking and turned to see several faces and a dog looking at me through the window of the farmhouse. They were pointing at me and then back at the television. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it was bad, so I started to run again.

I ran over fences and hedges, crops and pasture, and when I finally stopped to catch my breath, I felt that I must have lost them. It was only then that I noticed the light in the sky, a rapid drumming coming from it, a helicopter.

Cars could be heard in the distance. I saw the reflection of the flashing lights before I saw them coming through the gate. I knew I couldn’t get away so I stood still, there is no use in fighting what you can’t control.

The cops stayed well back from me while two nurses and Doctor Planter spoke quietly about how they missed me back in the hospital, slowly and securely grabbing my arms and putting on the straitjacket.

In the end I was glad to get the jacket on and back into a warm van. I was starting to find myself a little too cold. The next day I was told how bad I had been running away, how bad it was for my ‘treatment’ but I didn’t really listen. I was thinking about what I had learned, about the money, clothes and food I would need should the opportunity arise another time and I would get to go walkabout again.

Six Word Stories 2

Southern Belle, Black Man, Instant Scandal.


Stray dogs in pound. Must adopt.


Seek justice. Demand revenge. Find nothing.


I hit back. He fell, dead.


On plane. Man with gun. Hijack.


Bomb squad comes. Leaves in pieces.

Listen and write: Keepsake

Hello. Here is my contribution for Listen and Write in Ermilia’s Blog here. I hope you enjoy.


I was going through Grandpa’s old stuff in the days after the funeral. We were all supposed to do it but everybody else was still too shell-shocked to. All his possessions, everything he had, had been placed into a pile of boxes “just in case” he came back from the nursing home. My instructions were deliberately vague. I had a list of certain items that various aunts and uncles had been promised before Grandpa passed on. Everything else was supposed to be sorted out and kept or thrown out as required. Nearly every item that I took out held a memory, each feel, each smell reminded me of my visits to see him in my youth. The deeper I got though, things started to get more mysterious, things from before I knew him, things from his past. Right at the bottom, as if hidden by all the rest of the clothes and knickknacks I found something that really got my attention.

It was a box, covered in cloth with an ornate pattern on it. When I opened the box it held a book,  a diary. It looked well-worn, the pages slightly yellowed with time. I opened the pages and looked over them. On the first page it said ‘Property of Joanna Smith‘ in a clean script. I didn’t recognise the name, it certainly wasn’t Grandma. I flipped over a few pages and started to read an entry.

April 13th 1952; I was out with Jonny at the fairground today. They had all sorts of rides and games to play. So many noises and colours, it was so exciting. Jonny tried to get me to go with him on the Ferris Wheel but I was too scared. He didn’t seem sore about it though. I was able to hit five ducks in the shooting gallery and won a teddy bear. He gave it to me. He is very generous like that.’

I though about the name Jonny for a minute and remembered that Grandpa’s name was Jonathan. I turned a couple of pages and read again. There was a large photo of a house.

September 15th 1952; This is the house that Jonny says he is going to buy for us when we get married. It is just a dream, central heating, electric cooker, all of the mod cons. I ask him how will he be able to afford it but Jonny just says that it might be a lot of money but we will have the whole of the rest of our lives to pay it over. I like how he has such great notions for the future.

Who was this woman? I had never heard about her before. I looked a bit further on. There were more photos, clippings from newspapers and finally, a picture of my Grandpa as a young man, with his arm around a young woman, this was presumably Joanna. There was writing underneath the photograph ‘January 1st 1953; I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. Jonny proposed to me last night. Right at the stroke of midnight, he can be so romantic  sometimes. I love him so much. I can’t wait to start our life together.‘ There was more. Underneath Joanna’s delicate script was another persons handwriting. I recognised it as Grandpa’s. ‘I look forward to spending my life together with you Jo. I love you so much

I turned the page to see what else was there. But it was empty. I tried a few more pages and still, nothing. There was no more about Grandpa or this mystery woman.

I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had read, neither my Mother or my aunts or uncles knew anything about anyone called Joanna. In the end I asked old Jim Fitzgerald, who had known my Grandpa most of his life. When I mentioned Joanna’s name to him he went a bit wistful and said. “Joanna was from the same town as your grandfather, they grew up together and they were very close. He even ended up asking her to marry him. But she got killed when a car she was in skidded on some ice, January I think it was. He was all heart broke about it. Ended up moving here right after it.”

Jim kept on talking. About how he had then met my Grandma and had my mother and all my aunts and uncles but I didn’t really listen to him. I could only think about the diary. About the blank pages. How they had been as worn and dog-eared  as the parts with writing. As if someone, my Grandpa, had spent a lot of time looking through them. Thinking about what might have been, if things had gone differently. Thinking about the pages that were destined to remain, unwritten.

Picture it and write: The Keeper

Hello, this is my offering for this weeks picture it and write from Ermilia’s blog here. The picture isn’t mine, I just use it for inspiration. Anyway, enjoy!

The keeper

The old man walked along the endless corridor, the tattered end of his old robes rubbing against the polished paving stones. He was getting slower but he did not rest, he could not rest. To the untrained eye, each of the solid iron doors that lined the corridor looked identical, but he had been there a long time, he could tell at a glance. Each door had a feel to it, a mood that could tell what was inside it. Many were never to be opened, not important, or too important. As he made is rounds, the old man turned his attention from door to door, searching for something. He wasn’t sure what he was after, but he would know when he found it.

The old man had passed by many doors until he found one that grabbed his attention, Looking straight at it, growing more and more excited. He touched the cold cast-iron metal, held his ear to it, listened. “Yes, Yes” he whispered to himself “This is it. This is perfect.”

He stood back and stuck his hand into the deep pockets of his robe. Out came a fist full of keys of all different shapes and colours. He started to search through them, reading the writing that was on all of them. Some looked brand new, as if they had hardly ever been used, they had words like hope and excitement on them. Others had been used so often that the lettering had worn enough to be almost unreadable yet despair and fear could still be seen. All of these were looked at by the old man and rejected, returned to the deep pocket of the robe.

It was near the end of the keys that he found the key he was after. It was fairly worn, as if it had been used a lot in the past, but there was a thin layer of dirt on the metal, telling that it hadn’t been used much recently. Rubbing it with his thumb, the old man showed up the lettering, ‘Love’. He took the key and placed it in the lock. It turned, slowly but opened. He then used all of his strength to pull the door open. Catching his breath he then peaked in from behind the door and smiling begged what was there to come out.

Martin sat in his chair, listening to the clock. Visiting time was almost over and it was another day with no showing by any of his family. He had given up looking at the door and had instead asked the nurse to turn his chair so he could look out over the garden. His mind quickly started to wander and he found his thoughts filled with memories of his wife, Cassie, long since gone. He had had some good years with her, far more than bad but he never thought much about her any more. It was nice to have her in his thoughts again, a slight smile came to his face, he felt good.