Runs on the Board Flash Fiction All The Rest

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Today is my last day of sharing work from the Runs on the Board commission. As with many projects I get involved in I write many more pieces than get used/published. These are the stories that didn’t get into the book due to space constraints, but I’m still proud of the way they capture my experience of witnessing the passion of over 50s cricket in Yorkshire.

Cow Corner

Law 13-Wisden 1963

 

In cow corner the calf and his mother stood staring into the distance, waiting for the fruit to be struck onto the short, already cropped, grass. Above them the scoreboard clicked the overs, marking the changing day. No strikes disturbed them. Slowly, over the innings, the calf and his mother turned to stone.

END

 

Solstice

Law 31-Wisden 1963

 

As we get older weeks pass by faster. Six suns rise, six short days, the linseed soaked atmosphere spinning Sol out of sight. The following week the six suns rise from the other hemisphere. The year carries on until a solstice strikes the turned wooden trilithon, heaves it from the dried out earth and the year begins again.

END

 

The Semi-retirement of Gunter Chain

Law 8-Wisden 1963

 

He is taking it easier these days. At one time, in his prime, he measured fields and moors across the country, dividing the land for men to render in coloured inks on thick parchment. Now machines do that, the maps living in the 1’s and 0’s of the digital world. Surveyors have no need of his links on commons and meadows. Instead, each weekend, he checks the distance from wicket to wicket in grounds across the county. He is glad of a job he enjoys in a land changing too fast for him to keep pace.

END

The Spirit Of The Game

Preamble-2000 Code

 

Finding the Spirit of the Game wandering lost through the woods the cubs took him back to the den.

Unsure what to do they gathered the grandfather foxes, who walked in circles around the faint and translucent shade.

Taking the initiative the first grandfather fox gave the Spirit his sight, still keen, so he could tell the difference between a Yorker and a Doorsa.

The second gave his sharp, pointed claws to dig in so the Spirit could hold his ground, or gain purchase and run.

The third gave his hearing so the Spirit could hear snicks and death rattles alike.

The fourth gave his grey and scarred pelt to keep the Spirit of the Game warm while he waited at deep leg for his turn to bowl.

The fifth gave his instinct so the spirit knew when to move under a catch.

The sixth gave his whiskers so the Spirit could sense the narrowest of gaps to drive the ball through.

And all gave their tails, six in total, so anyone who met the Spirit of the Game would know his great age, and the wisdom that  came with those years.

END

In Japanese folklore fox spirits, or kitsune, can appear as older men. They gain the ability to grow more tails when they reach 100, and are noted for having as many as nine.

 

Third Man

Law 35-Wisden 1963

 

The past is close here. Third man stands with his feet in the terminus of the gully, shoes damp from the standing water in the base. Any rubble from Morzinplatz is long forgotten, now buried deep under the pitch, filling the scar quarried into the earth. The wrist spinner runs up. His watch flashes, arm the pivot of the Weiner Riesenrad, and the ball streaks down the pitch like a shaft of light in an Innerestadt doorway.

END

Set in post war Vienna The Third Man is a classic British film noir, starring Orson Welles.

 

Time and Tide

Law 11-Wisden 1963

 

Draping their nets in the corner of the field the fishermen wound up their clockwork arms, escapement wheels clicking in their joints. They launched small, balled, fish into the depths. Later the nets would shelter upturned boats used to protect the trampled grass from the dark, bubbling ocean of the June sky.

END

 

Watch

Rule 45.2-Wisden 1963

 

Outside the pavilion there is a gentle mumble of conversation from the spectators. The zip of his kit bag sticks for a moment, before parting its jaws. At the bottom, underneath his gloves waiting like swollen field spiders, he finds his watch.

The strap is made of cracked red leather, stitched with white, thick twine. The dial is not circular. Instead it is shaped like a long extinct ammonite, extended or contracted by holding a tiny handle on the end. Hours are absent, the face marked with the numbers one to thirty, the space between each numeral divided into six. The later numbers are obscured as the handle is grasped and the dial telescopes in on itself. On the face two numerals sit edged in gold. Turning the crown they move up from one to eleven before returning to one again.

He straps the watch to his wrist, hides it below the swollen gloves and walks out to open the batting.

END

I hope you’ve enjoyed these stories, and thank you for reading.

Runs on the Board Flash Fiction Part 4

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These are the last of the stories in the Runs on the Board book. Tomorrow I’ll share other pieces of flash fiction written for the project. Out of all the pieces I wrote inspired by the cricket matches we watched, I think that 53.71704 N  is my favourite. It combines cricket, myth, and landscape. It also influenced the way I frame my newsletters.

 

Beating the Bounds

Law 20.1-Wisden 1963

“If flags or posts are used to mark a boundary, the real or imaginary line joining such points shall be regarded as the boundary”

 

These men from across the county, wearing white knit mummer’s guize, are of the travelling parish of the three trees. This is a fragile ward able to be dissolved by rain, or worn through by the fading of dusk.

Sometimes, the parish is found below chiselled stone moors or pressed against the inside of a walled garden. On other summer days it weighs down on the corrugated earth of a thousand years. The boundary is vulnerable, soft and porous and must be walked to remember its course.

Like Yeoman Warders, in Pathé’s newsreel gaze, these men step out in ones and twos with willow under their arms. Pausing, they let linseed soaked wood rest between white flags. Each second motionless pins the boundary to the grass before the walkers set off once again.

Moving anti-clockwise they pass the black faced house, whose sightless windows flicker with white numbers, while one man faces eleven. By the ground tethered sail they wait while pace plays out and the grove at the centre is defended. On the far side of this smallest of parishes they walk tight between fence and flags. Not once do they cross the stuttered line, all the time marking the circuit with spiked steps. The men in white knit mummer’s guize return to the lime-washed hall, where they wait for their turn to stand in front of the three trees.

END

Distracted by Shadows

Law 41.6-2000 Code

“While the ball is in play and until the ball has made contact with the striker’s bat or person, or has passed the striker’s bat, no fielder, other than the bowler, may have any part of his person grounded on or extended over the pitch”

 

Waiting by the pavilion the shadows attached themselves to the spikes of players walking out to take the field. Each time the sun emerged from behind strands of cloud the shadows became young once again.

They played their own game, leeward of these men whose height did not change with the lengthening of the day. The players ignored their tissue paper companions. Except when the shadows lay across the footworn pitch and the unchanging men turned to statues, as if waiting to catch the shadows moving on their own.

Staying still the shadows wove themselves into the grass. They kept their arms solid and their legs planted, even as the afternoon stretched them across the cracked ground. Then, when they heard the snick, the shadows ran for the ball, elongated by the shifting sky.

END

53.71704 N

Law 9-Wisden 1963

“The popping crease shall be marked 4 feet in front of and parallel with the Bowling crease. Both the Return and Popping crease shall be deemed unlimited in length.”

 

Kneeling on the worn turf he brushed thin whitewash onto the ghosts of old popping creases and reincarnated the line once again.

Reaching the return crease the line became too faint to see, picking up speed as it headed toward the boundary. Outside the ground it coasted across the moors, drawn on by the scent of the sea. Listening to the songs of fallen rocks before slipping under the water.

The crease continued. It could have floated on the waves, or plunged through the water where nets and lines draped from boats. Instead it sank to the sea floor. Drawing itself through Doggerland the crease marked across long drowned valleys and long forgotten forests, now only remembered as archaeologist’s survey data.

Making landfall on the island of Nordeney it passed to the north of the hospital. None of the ambulances noticed the fine, thin, mark under their wheels.

Travelling across North Germany the crease continued east, passing through the heart of forests so dense only trees whisper folktales about them.

In Belarus it touched the northern shore of a small lake, watched from under the surface by three reed dressed sisters with sand coloured eyes.

Making harbour at Portage Bay on Wislow Island the crease mixed its flecks of whitewash with the cooled, grey dust of Makushin Volcano.

Through Canada the crease stayed in open country, to the north of Hwy. 37. The road markings whispered to stay with them. To press itself to the tarmac where they hid when the season of darkness came, but the crease paid them no heed and carried on its route.

Outside Edmonton dawn turned the sky rust and corroded through to the day behind.

From the western side of Lake Michikamu the Toad Man whispered,

“You will always stay here in the Lake.”

The crease shuddered fit to blur its edges, but kept on moving.

Avoiding the  grasp of fish jaws and blind ocean dwellers the crease made landfall in Ireland. In Muckloon it saw the shell of George Moore’s house and heard from deep inside the hill the song of Drithliu, a sound like trees burning in autumn.

Crossing the Irish Sea the crease found itself at the junction between the M65 and M6, where it nearly ended up heading toward Lancaster. Realising its mistake in time it continued on, back across the county border.

Passing through Luddenden Foot, where there is a full moon every night, the crease felt on safer ground and accelerated on.

Breaching the ground’s boundary the unseen line came to rest against the return crease, where the groundsman applied the last brush of whitewash onto the ghosts of old popping creases, reincarnated once again.

END

 

Corridor

Law 31-Wisden 1963

 

A light flickers in the panelled ceiling above me. No, not one. Two. Three maybe. The rhythm is syncopated, slightly uneven. Just when I think I’ve nailed down a pattern it throws in an offbeat. The candle dim glow doesn’t quite reach the walls. I know there is no entrance behind me in this corridor, nor an exit in front.

I can just make out three doors in the long wall to my right and, if I squint, one to my left. I walk along, running my hand over the frames and the doors themselves. All feel in need of sanding and several thick coats of varnish. No-one takes care of this narrow ginnel.

An inquiring mind gets the better of me and I open the first door, by my right shoulder. The scene is warm, not the height of summer, the sun dressing the field in a fine webbing of heat. The grass is empty apart from the echo of footsteps crossing the outfield toward the pavilion. I follow the sound. The scene changes. Now the view is from inside the changing room. Outside I can see my team-mate (at that moment I can’t remember his name). Next in the batting order he takes his position and taps his bat against the popping crease. I try to close the door, but the wood is warped, or the frame has shrunk. A little pool of light leaks through onto the corridor floor and I step to avoid it.

Though doubt sets in I open the second. There is nothing to see. The view is scrubbed out. The emptiness of a scoreboard waiting for the white to appear. There is only noise, the repetitive echo of the fielder’s appeal. I was wrong. There are no options left through this door. I lift it closed, preparing for this one too to be warped against my efforts, but it shuts easily. Moments later, as I step away, it swings open once again and I can hear that appeal looping on itself.

The third doesn’t wait for me to turn the handle, instead drifting open. The scene is from my perspective. I am unbuckling my leg pad as if all the games ills are stitched into its gambeson-like surface. Once undone I drop it into the kitbag and rub my shin before leaning on the window frame to watch the rest of the game I will no longer take part in.

My curiosity is depleted. Little is left, yet there is a little. With a pause to take a breath I open the single door on the left. The view is toward the boundary. The flattened patch of grass beyond the line of flags tells me all I need to know. The scene through the door pivots and is now staring at the white coated umpire whose arms grow vertical as if hydraulic. I have no intention of closing this door.

Turning, I stare deep into the gloom at the end of the corridor. A single red pixel appears in a sea of between-station noise. With four doors open around me I wait.

END

Runs on the Board Flash Fiction Part 2

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Here are the second group of stories I wrote for the Runs on the Board commission. (To find out more, please see yesterday’s post.)

 

Never Play Chess With A Cricketer

(With apologies to Henry Normal)

Law 17-Wisden 1963

“The umpire shall allow such intervals as have been agreed upon for meals, 10 minutes between each innings and not more than 2 minutes for each batsman to come in.”

 

Kasparov would have won the chess game if the cricket player hadn’t thrown away the board, placed the chessmen on the green baize of the card table, and insisted the Russian could only change the position of his pieces after every six turns.

Kasparov waited for his opponent to hit the timer to mark the end of his turn. Instead the cricketer picked up the small double faced clock and threw it out of the window.

Halfway through the afternoon the cricketer called for tea, dropped cake crumbs all over his opponent’s pieces and sipped noisily from his cup.

Every time Kasparov attempted a flanking pawn advance the cricketer called it wide and removed one of the Russian’s pieces from the field of play.

When the grand-master picked up his Queen to move in for checkmate a draught extinguished the candle and the cricketer announced that day’s play at an end due to poor light.

After twelve days the game was declared a draw when Kasparov had to return to the docks before his boat left for Russia.

END

Between Galaxies

Law 5-Wisden 1963

“The Ball shall weigh not less than 5½ ounces, nor more than 5¾ ounces”

 

Each bowled ball was a red dwarf, long burnt out in the spin of energy as the bowler released it toward the wicket. Each conversation and pavilion debate was an echo, like thousand year old starlight travelling between galaxies.

END

 

Moonlight (Grey Fox 1)

Law 12-Wisden 1963

“The Batsman may beat the pitch with his bat”

 

The grey fox walked onto the empty field, stepping through the pools of moonlight. He did not bite at the glow like his younger brethren who chewed up turf and dirt, leaving divots in the once pristine earth. Instead he turned and brushed the white light with the tip of his tail, pinning the crease to the grass and waiting.

END

Uncertainty

Law 13-Wisden 1963

“The choice of innings shall be decided by tossing on the field of play”

 

Uncertainty sits by the pavilion, raincoat not blocking out the scent of sun-cream on his skin. He holds a thick yellow book. One hand is smooth and tanned, the other dry and creased. Drought cracked. Around each wrist he wears a single stitched band. Underneath his nails are snags of turf.

The batsman recognises Uncertainty’s eyes first, the same colour as skies that have haunted many games he has walked out for. The type of sky that can scorch the ground to dust or drown it for a season.
He walks over and Uncertainty smiles the easy smile of an old friend. The batsman leans forward on his bat, keeping it just out of reach.

Uncertainty puts aside his copy of Wisden. The batsman catches a glance before the cover closes. The pages are blank.
“Will the game go our way?” The batsman asks.
Reaching into his pocket Uncertainty brings out an old, tarnished coin and tosses it into the air. As it lands upon his left hand he covers it with his right, never showing it to the batsman. Instead he gives the same non-committal smile he has for the past 40 years, gets up off his seat and walks into the pavilion.

END

Runs on the Board Flash Fiction Part 1

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In 2013 I was commissioned to work with photographer Lucy Carolan on Runs on the Board, a Cultural Olympiad legacy project based around the Grey Fox trophy, an over 50s Cricket tournament held in Yorkshire.

As I had no real prior knowledge of cricket, my approach was to interpret the language of the game through my own filter of myth, folklore and magic realism, relating each story back to the laws of cricket. (If you want to read about Runs on the Board from the perspective of a passionate cricketer I’d recommend reading the quotes from Nick Ahad, the writer for the second 2013 creative team, here in this article).

As with many things the stories are no longer online, so I’m sharing them here over a series of posts. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Planting Time In Season

Law 10-Wisden 1963

“Unless permitted by special regulations, the Pitch shall not be rolled during a match except before the start of each innings and of each day’s play”

 

“Our groundsman puts a lot of time into the ground.”

Collecting moments during the week the Groundsman saves them up for when he walks over the outfield, and the worn turf between the creases. He keeps them warm in his shirt pocket. There is no pattern to the moments he chooses, though each is selected with care. An instinct that comes through many years on the roller. Making his way from the pavilion he carries five minutes from a bank queue and half an hour waiting in for a delivery. In the weeks when he has not collected enough seconds to plant the ground he rings around the players. They donate time spent on hold or waiting to get the barman’s attention. With an orchadist’s touch he lifts each moment out, moves a blade of grass to one side and slides it into the soil.

After he has mowed the grass and rolled the pitch the groundsman stands on the boundary satisfied, watching the sprinklers water the outfield, the moments planted shimmering in the spray.

END

 

Vestigial Chicken Feet

Law 4-Wisden 1963

“All runs shall be recorded by Scorers appointed for the purpose”

 

The grandchildren of Baba Yaga’s hut crouch on the edge of cricket grounds throughout the country. Out of sight their vestigial chicken feet cling to the soil. Some bred with local buildings, sheds and outhouses. Now their skin is brick and lime planking rather than barked lengths of knotted fir trees. Baba Yaga’s twice turning hut was scented with kvass. Its descendant’s timber is soaked with the steam of steeped tea. All have flickering eyes that record every batting stroke and catch played out in front of them, and they never forget.

 

Baba Yaga’s hut is almost as well known as Baba Yaga herself. Standing on two chicken legs the hut would turn to face the woods when Baba Yaga was flying the world in her mortar and pestle, pivoting back around upon its mistress’ return.

END

 

Willow

Law 25-Wisden 1963

“The ball shall be held to be “dead”-on being in the opinion of the Umpire finally settled in the hands of the Wicket-keeper or the Bowler or pitching over the boundary”

 

With a gardener’s steady hand he planted the willow shallow in the short grass. Roots take well here. Branches sprouted in all directions, each bearing a single red fruit, skin like bruised pomegranate. He chose one curving bough and watched it arch to the left. Those rejected crumbled to dust on the breeze until the one remaining fruit settled in the grass. Seed to windfall in a glance.

END