A picture speaks a thousand words. At least that’s what they say if you are a creative writer like me. I met Lee Kirby and Chris Turner, two photographers and filmers from London, when they visited Brussels back in 2014 to report on the Byrrrh, a DIY skatepark my friends had built, for The Quarterly. It was a rather spontaneous collaboration with positive results for everyone. A short video and article followed and the Byrrrh is still alive and kicking today – albeit at a new and improved location.
Not long after their initial visit, Lee contacted me with a proposition to write some fiction based on a random selection of photos he had taken whilst in Brussels. The short story could be no longer than 1000 words with the possibility of being published by Gather.ly, a new creative platform based in London. The brief was quite simple:
Use the photographs we provide as a starting point for any story you wish. Poetry or prose, fiction or fact; the only restriction is
that your piece can’t be longer than 1,000 words. We want you to shape your story in your own unique style.
I was down to help and penned this story in one sitting. It can happen like that. I think Lee was expecting something different, probably linked to his recent visit and all the skating and parties he enjoyed. Instead he got this twisted tale of a war-scarred sniper. Oh well.
Even though we didn’t get published, it was a fun project. This is an example of my creative writing. If you have an image and need a thousand words, don’t hesitate to contact The Creative Righter!
Gather.ly Pictures that tell a thousand words – Submission
The sound was so soft yet so deadly
14 October 2014
The charger clicked into place. The sound was soft yet so deadly. The old man’s hands gently stroked the long barrel of the rifle, caressing the smooth metal and warming the surface. He was allowed to keep his rifle as a token of gratitude and respect for saving and protecting his platoon as they pushed through the bush of Central Africa. He was the sniper, sent ahead away from the crowd to spy upon the enemy and pick off any potential targets that posed a threat. It was probably the loneliest position to play in a battle, but it was also one of the most important. The old man took pride in this fact.
Once the war was over, his brothers in arms embraced new lives and never looked back at the experience or lessons learnt from war. The squadron leader went on to run Belgium’s biggest food processing factory. The illuminated ZIEGLER sign(1) still lit up the skyline of Brussels’ Canal district like a shining testimony of leadership.
The old man had found it hard to disconnect from a life at war. He remembered his last days as a mercenary, entrenched in a smouldering building block looking out for his fellow soldiers as they approached the abandoned communications centre (2) of a beaten and banished enemy. The war was over but his mind was still at work looking for targets.
11:43 AM 14 September 2014 – Brussels – YMCA Hostel
Lee sits on the windowsill smoking a cigarette, watching Chris upload yesterday’s footage to the computer(3). Chris’s skateboard lies on his unmade bed(4).
Lee: Hurry up mate! I told Youssef we’d meet him half an hour ago.
Chris: Ease up Lee. We only woke up half an hour ago! Besides, we’re just next to the skate park anyway. You can probably spot him if you stick your head out of the window.(5)
Lee turns to blow smoke out of the narrow safety window and looks at the tall tower block(6) that dominates the horizon. He turns back to face Chris who is grinning.
Chris: Have you seen my mini fisheye lens? I can’t find it anywhere…
Lee: Have you checked your jacket pocket? *Pointing towards Chris’ denim jacket* You had it with you last night at the bar. You’ve got to show me those clips you got of that bloke in the flat cap(7). He was hilarious!
Chris: *Laughing* Ha! Yes! What a legend! That dude had the funniest stories, like that one about paying off a pimp in Amsterdam with potatoes because he didn’t have any money for the hooker. Ha! Apparently the pimp ran a chippy next to his brothel because he said customers always felt peckish after a bit of rumpy-pumpy.
Lee: *Immitating the story-teller’s accent – badly* “I brovide ze fritches, You provide the bichkes!”
Chris and Lee burst into laughter. Chris pulls his mini fisheye lens from the breast pocket of his denim jacket and shows it to Lee.
Chris: Found it! Alright let’s go!
Lee: Yeah, and maybe get some chips on the way…
The old man looked up at the blue sky from his balcony(8); a great day for target practice. The transition from summer to autumn was always the best time of the year for snipers because the light was still good, but the trees were starting to thin and provide less shelter from his crosshairs. One clean shot at 500 yards probably wouldn’t sound louder than a twig snapping under a soldiers boot. Spying through his viewfinder, the old man focused in on an old lady crossing the parking lot(9). The shot was perfect as her feet followed the exact line of the telephone wire strung up ahead. This was God’s work, the old man thought to himself. The Almighty understood that the old man was on the same level as Him. They both had the power to take a man’s life. The old man felt he was better than God because God made people suffer before they died. His fellow brothers in arms did not die sudden painless deaths. Most of them suffered in long gruelling agony as limbs were torn apart and blood poured steadily from their bodies. The old man was an antidote to all of their suffering. A single shot delivered with surgical precision sent a person directly from this life to the next. God could not do that, only he could.
He pulled away from the scope of his rifle to turn and watch his neighbour across the street. The man stared back from his balcony, a cigarette consuming itself slowly between his fingers(10). The neighbour was never a threat. He had seen the old man aiming his gun at people below on many occasions but said nothing. If anything, he was an accomplice. The neighbour turned towards the concrete playground that lay a couple of hundred yards away teeming with misled youth and street urchins(11). He turned back towards the old man with his blank stare again. The old man read what the neighbour was saying: “Get rid of them! Those noisy bastards show no respect! They’re just a bloody nuisance, that’s all!”
Slowly the old man resumed his position and took aim at a couple of young boys rolling across the esplanade. One of the boys reminded the old man of his many kills: A clean-shaven head and wide eyes like those of the innocent recruits Generals had sent to the front. The second boy wore a denim jacket and carried a large backpack, probably containing a radio unit to call for back up or support. They each carried their skateboards like automatic rifles swinging under their arms. The boys stopped beside a ledge and put the gear down. The one with the backpack took off his jacket to reveal a crisp white t-shirt(12). The other lit a cigarette. Slowly the old man’s thumb found the trigger and slowly cocked it back until it clicked. The sound was soft yet so deadly.
Photos by Lee Kirby