Monthly Archives: November 2014

Terroir

Rose sat outside the farmhouse, resting in the warmth of the afternoon sun, a glass of wine her solitary companion on the small, wooden table in front of her. She usually spent the late afternoon here. It gave her a clear view up the unmade road that led from the front gates up to the side of the house and barn. The storms last winter had broken up the rough gravel track but there were more pressing things to fix around the property. It had been a never ending list since she’d taken on the farm and vineyard. Besides, the state of the road meant visitors had to approach very slowly and she appreciated that.

Rose had arrived, alone, in Lauzertes four years ago, driving down to South West France in her battered Volvo, the remnants of her previous life packed up in the boot and across the back seats. She had a few leads, potential places to live that she’d found online, but had known the first time she saw Tuq Del Bouys that she’d discovered the right home. Remote, peaceful, quiet. A vineyard with room to grow. They’d described it as rustic but ramshackle was closer to the mark. She didn’t care. There was no hurry. It was a place you could get lost from the world.

She took a sip from the glass in front of her. Her first year’s vintage. On the tongue it was pleasant enough but left a slight but distinct aftertaste. Bitter. She’d always been amused by that.

The scrape of the gates to the main road disturbed the quiet and Rose looked up to see a figure getting back in to a Renault – always Renaults – and starting back up their car. As it cautiously picked its way up the gravel track towards her she had time to make out that it was Stephan – Monsieur Gillot to his customers. He owned a shop over near to Moutauban, almost an hour away. He’d been trying to sell her wine for the past few months and had become a persistent, regular visitor. Rose disliked regular visitors.

“Bonjour Monsieur Gillot” she called towards the car, its door opening.

“Please Rose, like I have said before, call me Stephan” he said walking over towards her. “And no need for French.”

“I need the practice Stephan” she laughed. “Je suis encore très mauvais dans votre langue”

“No, no” he smiled back. “Really, you are not”. Rose could scarcely fail to notice the insincerity in his face. In truth she had made very little effort to learn French in her time here, managing by having as little interaction with anyone as possible. “I like to practice my English. Please ?”

“Okay Stephan, you win. At least let me offer you a drink ?”

Stephan took this as his cue to take a seat beside her. Rose briefly excused herself to disappear inside the farmhouse to find another glass. He would want to taste some of her wines again so she pulled out bottles from each of the years she’d been in residence.

“I hope we can perhaps talk about some business ?” called Stephan from outside.

“Just a moment” she shouted. Trying to gather up four bottles, two in each hand, Rose realised she would struggle to take a glass out at the same time. She tried to balance one of the bottles back up on a work surface but managed to let it slip from her fingers; it smashed on the floor, blood red wine seeping across her flagstones, flecked with fragments of glass.

“Everything okay ?” called a concerned sounding Stephan. Rose picked up the biggest piece of the broken glass, the neck still had about half of the bottle attached to it, its jagged edges now dripping with her plum coloured vintage from last year.

“I’m fine” she called back. “Small accident. Just coming Stephan”. She decided to leave the remnants, put the broken neck of the bottle back on the work surface and took everything else out to her expectant guest. Smiling she poured Stephan a glass from a bottle produced in her second year.

“Sante” he proclaimed, tipping his glass towards her.

“Cheers” she smiled back. Stephan drank deeply from his glass, no sniffing, no sipping, a hearty gulp.

“It is good” he declared. “Tell me again Rose. What is this one ?”

“Year two” she said. “I call it ‘Tourneville’, you can see the grapes just over there.” She gestured towards part of the vineyard across from where they were sitting.

“Tourneville ?” said Stephan. “There was a gendarme in the town of that name, wasn’t there ?”

“Yes” said Rose. “Yes there was. Such a loss. This is just my small tribute really.”

Stephan took another swig. “Well, it is certainly good. A big improvement on your first year if I remember rightly.”

Rose laughed. “Yes, a big improvement on Smithson.” She caught his inquisitive look. “My husband’s name, well my married name too. I have, of course, taken to using my maiden name again.”

“Another tribute ?”

“More a remembrance” said Rose. “Poor old James wasn’t alive when I made the trip down here.”

“Such a shame” said Stephan. “If you don’t mind me asking Rose, how have you developed the terroir here so well ? Each year, subtle notes and differences in your wine. Our climate has been so good each year but the same. You must be a magician with the soil.”

“I’m sure it’s just luck” smiled Rose. She stared at Stephan intently. Why must they all be so interested in her ? “You mentioned business ?”

“I would love to stock some of your wine in my shop” said Stephan. “I know people were a little suspicious at first – who is this English woman thinking she can make French wine – but it is so good. It will sell.”

Rose sighed. “I’m not sure Stephan. We discussed this before. I like things quiet here.”

“I will not take no for an answer” he declared, folding his arms in mock defiance. Rose stared at him again. So many questions. So many visits. “Okay” she responded, rising from her seat. “Let me fetch you some bottles.”

She was gone for a few minutes. Stephan called out questions about years three and four: ‘Durand’ and ‘Fournier’. Just local names she’d heard and liked she shouted back. An effort to get to know the community. She walked back out of the farmhouse and Stephan looked up at her expectantly.

“So, Rose, how many have you for me ?” he asked.

“Just one Stephan” she responded suddenly bringing the broken bottle up hard and sharp beneath his chin, the glass embedding itself in his throat. Blood flowed from his jugular, neatly funneling back down the bottle and began to pour from the uncorked neck.

Year five. The climate might worsen next year so her grapes might need strength. Persistence. ‘Gillot’ would give the soil persistence.

……

This is the seventh story in my series of 42 shorts that I’m writing to raise money and awareness for Mind, the mental health charity. Please share it if you liked it (or even if you didn’t…). If you’re interested in donating to a great cause then please visit my fundraising page: https://www.justgiving.com/42shorts/

Dawn Of The Dead

They waited in a corridor, sitting on one of five small metal chairs arranged along the wall facing a door. “Working Title” was printed on a piece of paper stuck to the wall next to the door.

Three of the seats were occupied, a young woman and older man with heavily disfigured faces and dressed in rags were sitting together talking at one end of the row whilst another woman perched at the other. Cautiously, curiously, she stole glances towards her fellow auditionees until she couldn’t wait any longer.

“Sorry to interrupt but they didn’t tell me we were supposed to come already made up.”

There was a delicate pause.

“It’s not make up.”

Blushing she turned away and concentrated hard on staring at the door opposite. The other two resumed their conversation.

“I was in Shaun Of The Dead” said the man, simultaneously nodding towards the woman that had interrupted them with disapprovingly raised eyebrows. Or one eyebrow at least. The other was missing along with its eye.

“Really ? What was the part ?” asked his companion.

“Zombie 63. Talk about being typecast. I was in that scene near the end when we all tried to get in the pub.”

“Much work since then ?”

He gave out a sigh, shaking his head. “Bits and pieces. Episode of Casualty when they needed some accident victims. Obviously I still get a bit of live work round Halloween but it’s been tough. I knew times were changing when I worked on Shaun to be honest.”

“How so ?” The woman leaned across more closely in concern.

“Well, a few of the extras were chatting between takes, you know, like you usually do. Turns out guy next to me was Chris Martin.”

“Chris Martin ? Singer with Coldplay Chris Martin ?”

“The very same. He was a nice enough guy – made a few jokes that he wrote “Yellow” about his experiences of zombiefication. Yeah, like he’d know. He was just there because he’s mates with Simon Pegg or something but it wasn’t right. One of us could have had that part. That was when it all changed for me.”

He looked down at the floor before taking a deep breath. “Sorry, where are my manners ? Here I am moaning away and I haven’t even introduced myself properly”. He extended a hand, two fingers bare of flesh. “George, pleased to meet you.”

She shook it – neither gripped hard just in case anything else fell off. “Dawn” she said with a smile. “You missed out on much since then ?”

“God yeah” he nodded. “I was up to do the motion capture for some video game, ‘The Last Of Us’ it was called. Usual post apocalypse, everyone’s turned into zombies sort of thing. They needed someone with a really good slow, shuffling gait. Bit of a stoop. You know the drill.”

“You’d be perfect for that” she encouraged.

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you ? Overlooked me for a human.”

“A human with a stooping, shuffling gait ?”

“No, he was six foot, back as straight as an ironing board. It was embarrassing watching him hunch himself over and act it out.”

“What about other work ?”

“Well, the zombie stuff isn’t really what I wanted to do. Just seemed easiest, you know, what with actually being a zombie. After those parts started getting taken by humans I thought maybe I could audition for some human roles.”

“Sure, why not. Don’t blame you if they’re taking the stuff that’s natural for you.”

“That’s what I thought. Before I turned…”

Dawn stopped him. “Out of interest – bitten ?”

“Yeah, bitten. Woman in a club. I’d had a few drinks. Thought she looked a bit rough but didn’t realise she was undead until it was too late. Anyway, before I turned I’d always wanted to do Shakespeare. Marlowe. Serious stuff.”

“Any luck ?”

“The closest I got was Richard The Third.”

“I that am stunted and deformed ?”

“Afraid so. I sort of hated myself for it, felt like I was playing to the stereotype I guess, but it was the obvious way in.”

“What happened ?”

“I think they were ready to offer me it but we tried a dress rehearsal with the full regal get up and the crown and, unfortunately, my ear had disintegrated the previous week and it just wouldn’t stay on my head. Gave it to some bloke off the tele. Think it was that one that was in Doctor Who.”

“David Tennant ?”

“That’s him. His accent was dreadful. I remember thinking that it’s not okay for Richard The Third to have some minor putrefaction around his ear but he can be Scottish.”

“Surely there’s something we can do about this ?” demanded Dawn.

“I can’t see it getting better. Too much prejudice around getting a human role, not to mention everyone getting twitchy about being bitten – as if we’re just going to start taking chunks out of them…”

“Well… it does happen sometimes…” mused Dawn. The other woman, who had sat rigid since her earlier interruption, coughed an excuse and walked rapidly away down the corridor.

“Okay, sometimes” acknowledged George. “But it’s not like we’re mindless. You know what ? The best chance for work now I reckon is if bits of you start falling off.”

Dawn looked at George quizzically.

“Think about it” said George. “They always need a selection of zombies for the big scenes and they like a bit of variety amongst their undead. Some with distended flesh, some with bandages – the humans can do that with make up.” He leaned in conspiratorially. “But they always like a couple with limbs missing so I reckon if I could lose a leg or something then I’d get much more work”.

Dawn looked skeptical. “Seems a bit radical George. Any of your limbs close to coming off ?”

George smirked and rolled up his sleeve. Just below the elbow his flesh had rotted away to the bone and his lower arm had a distinct dangling quality about it. At that moment the audition room door swung open and a head briefly appeared, called out “George Moorer !” and then disappeared again.

“You’re up – good luck” said Dawn. “Which part you after anyway ?”

“Miscellaneous Zombie” said George standing up. “Not sure I’ll get it, loads of humans have been in before you arrived. Some of them will have been after the lead though – some guy that starts hacking up the zombies with a chainsaw or some such nonsense. Anyway, great to meet you.” He extended his arm again. Dawn half got up to shake his hand, grabbing at it a little too enthusiastically.

“Knock ‘em dead” she said. “Or, you know, knock ‘em undead !”. George turned towards the door but Dawn still had hold of his hand. There was a brief tearing noise and she was left standing there clutching his lower, right arm as the rest of him walked towards the door.

“Er… Sorry, George” she called. He turned back and looked down at his misplaced appendage. “I think you left this…” she offered apologetically.

George smiled and gently took back his missing part.

“Chainsaw, remember ?” he winked. “I think I know just the piece to nail this audition.” He coughed, solemnly holding up his severed limb so that the fingers, beginning to mortify, pointed directly at Dawn.

To be, or not to be, that is the question-

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms – or an arm at least – against a sea of troubles

And by opposing, end them”

With a dramatic flourish he bowed to Dawn, turned on his heel, and swept into the audition room.

 

……

This is the sixth story in my series of 42 shorts that I’m writing to raise money and awareness for Mind, the mental health charity. Please share it if you liked it (or even if you didn’t…) or if you’re a zombie (or if you’re not). If you’re interested in donating to a great cause then please visit my fundraising page: https://www.justgiving.com/42shorts/