She stood for…

This was another one that came from nowhere, in 15 minutes, from what first appeared to be the most unpromising of prompts. I find these to be the most interesting exercises because they take my writing down totally different paths.

She stood for the thing I hated most – weakness. She sat behind the desk, hair freshly washed and styled, wearing a prim floral dress and made a pretence of consulting her screen and being terribly busy. Why did the force even employ somebody like this? When I’d entered the room she’d checked me off a list, said “Please take a seat, Colonel Tyrone will see you shortly”, offered me coffee and gone back to her ‘work’.

I’d already been sitting there for nearly half an hour, and the sound of her typing was driving mad. The little sighs and tutting noises, the creak of her chair… Where was this Tyrone person, and why was he making me wait so long?

I’d been told nothing in advance of this meeting, simply that I was being considered for a new unit and to present myself to a certain office at a certain time. And not to take my datapad with me.

So here I was in this bloody office with its deep blue carpet and that bloody woman – what was she doing now? She’d taken her handbag from under her desk and was touching up her make up. Probably primping herself for a bit of lunchtime sex with Tyrone. Assuming the fucker ever actually did turn up. The woman took out a comb and started rearranging her dark auburn locks, and I sighed. I’d had just about enough of this.

“Excuse me?” I said.

She looked at me quizzically.

“Colonel Tyrone does know I’m here, doesn’t he? Only I’ve been waiting…”

“43 minutes and 18 seconds”, she said crisply, dropping her hairbrush on her desk and standing up.

“Er… I’m sorry?”

“You should be, Lieutenant”. By now she was standing in front of me, a bit too close, looming over me as I sat in the ridiculously uncomfortable chair.


“You were invited here by the Colonel because this unit needs new people and because you’re reputedly one of the best”, she said, cutting me off again when I tried to speak. Who the fuck did this bitch think she was?

“Now, Colonel Tyrone is very busy and you’ll be seen as soon as possible. So I suggest you just be patient.”

That was definitely the last straw. I started to rise out of my seat, ready to storm out of there and never come back, specialist unit or not.

Then I froze. I’d not been looking at the woman’s face, but more at her feet, encased in ludicrously high lilac shoes, and as I’d begun to raise myself from the chair I’d seen the skin on her feet move. I’d seen it move as a result of the shifting of tendons and muscles under the skin. And I recognised that movement. I’d done it and seen it myself thousands of times before – the very slight movement that indicates somebody shifting their balance to counter an attack.

I eased myself back down into the seat, and this time I did look at her. Really looked. Underneath that girlish floral dress, she was lithe as a whip, but muscled too. I looked at her wrists, her calves, her forearms, her neck. I took in what I was seeing, in probably just a few milliseconds, then I looked her in the eyes. Bingo.

They always used to say that the eyes were the windows of the soul. And if that was true then before me was one very tough soul.

I relaxed back into my chair and smiled at her. She was very good – there was absolutely no reaction from those bright blue eyes. No widening, no twitch. Just the same smooth, professional expression secretaries have always employed.

“No problem, Colonel”, I said. “I’ll just wait here until you’re ready.”

She threw back her head and laughed. “Conroy told me you were good”, she said, then put out her hand. “Welcome to the unit, kid.”

Writing exercise #9 – The Castle

She walked slowly up the drive in the quiet morning mist, the gravel crunching beneath her boot soles; loud no matter how much care she took in placing her foot down. Her breath was shallow and too hurried. She stopped and forced herself to relax, automatically doing the movements she’d practiced hundreds of times. Shoulders down and back, jaw and fists unclenched, feet relaxed, deep breath in through the nose… inhale… exhale…

She felt exposed and a little ridiculous standing here on the gravel, surrounded by beautifully kept gardens and exotic trees. She knew she was probably being watched, but she maintained her stillness anyway.

“Never be afraid to stop and think”, Master Shen had said. “Thinking again rarely got anyone killed. Rash actions often do.”

She didn’t think she was being rash here. All the same, she felt the need to hesitate, to pause her movement as though her trajectory at her original speed had been somehow wrong. She tried, without moving her head – or even her eyes – to decide where the watcher was located. Perhaps more than one. She knew they were seeing a skinny figure in a long, loose black coat, unbelted, over loose black trousers and boots. A broad-brimmed black hat above her white face and long brown hair. Hands held loosely by her sides, waiting. A crow, perhaps, from a distance, or a magpie for that flash of white. Or a woodpecker, she thought wryly, moving one hand to unbutton her coat so the red fabric of her jacket was visible.

Fully revealed, she continued moving towards the building, now stalking arrogantly as if she had been in the grounds of this castle many times before. As if she owned the part ruined, part expensively renovated construction before her.

She passed an ornamental fountain, its waters falling quietly into a large green-tinged marble basin. And then she was in front of the huge doors – no fortress portal this, but impressive nonetheless, with huge black studs in the paler wood. There was a massive black ring set into the centre of each door, but before she could even begin to reach out for one of them, the doors opened inwards, revealing a tall, thin, grey-haired man wearing clothing not entirely unlike hers, in colour at least.

“I’m expected”, she said, proffering the stiff white card of the invitation.

“You are indeed miss”, he said with something approaching a bow. “Welcome to the Castle.”