When I worked on radio in the south of Spain I presented and recorded four series of Authors in the Sun showcasing local writers and their short stories. I ran a series here on the blog in 2017 which was much enjoyed and showed off the skills of some amazing writers.
I would love to share your short stories here too this summer and details of how you can participate is at the end of the post.
Today Rob Shackleford, author of two time travel novels shares a story that will have you scratching your head…..
By Rob Shackleford
When I was a kid, things weren’t as structured at school as they are now. Then, children would either walk or ride a bicycle to school and, rather than being met by crowds of paranoid parents carefully scrutinising the surroundings for paedophiles, at the ring of the school bell at the end of the day there would instead be crowds of children milling as they walked home, bare-foot, from their day of not only education, but also fun, laughter, and life.
My brand new school was at the bottom of our street. Built to cater to the needs of a rapidly growing working-class suburb at the edge of the Australian city of Brisbane in the mid-1960’s, the school consisted of two or three stark, steel and timber frames built on stilts. Underneath was a concrete play area and places to sit while eating ‘little lunch’ or ‘big lunch’, while above were the classes, framed with walls of louvers to encourage air circulation. The teachers, mostly men dressed in white shirt and tie, long socks and seersucker shorts, struggled to keep the attention of children who visibly wilted in the stifling heat.
The thing I remember most was the dust. In my second year of school I was one of the school’s first students. There were no fences, so many of the children would take off into the surrounding bush at their big-lunch to play. Compared to today’s standards, it is amazing how any of us survived.
What was most distinctive was the ‘Oval’, the flattering description for the sports arena upon which Rugby-League football and cricket were played. Like the rest of the school grounds, the oval completely lacked any vegetation. Bulldozers had torn the grounds from the raw Australian bush, leaving the skeletal remnants of trees in mounds about the borders of the school grounds, while the top soil, in the baking hot sun, became the finest, powdery grey dust.
The dust was fantastic!
We would walk barefoot through the dust and each footfall would puff up a little grey cloud. We were always bare-foot, not because of poverty, though most families struggled financially, but because everyone, even the girls, preferred to go barefoot. Shoes were a luxury worn when we went to church and I remember the joys of carefully polishing the family’s shoes to a mirror shine on Sunday morning. But at school, the uniform black church shoes were always removed, even in winter. It was what we did. We would run and play barefoot, big toes scabbed as the end was eventually stubbed off, to hand with a bloody, skin hinge. I still have old black and white school photographs of children with tufted hair and bare feet sitting, smiling proudly.
What was the best was that the dust was talcum powder fine and would catch even the slightest zephyr. Often a whirlwind or willy-willy would rise when the bare ground was heated by the baking sun. The swirling column would hungrily suck the dust into a dense, grey tower and into this the boys would run, screaming in excitement as the dust caked our hair and faces and completely impregnated our clothes. At other times a rapidly approaching wall of grey would be carried on a stiff breeze. The fun was to get in front of it, backs to the wind as the dust hit with a tickly sand-blast on our bare legs and arms.
My mother always complained at how filthy I was at the end of a school day as eyes peered racoon-like from my dust-caked skin. My shirt would smell of dust and sweat and, instead of being good for the required second day’s wear, would have to be washed in the old wash-tub and ringer in our outdoor laundry.
The dust was also the place where we played marbles. Marbles was predominantly the game for boys and we would clutch our precious multi-coloured glass spheres in the pockets of our dull grey uniform shorts. On more than one occasion I would scab a marble off someone and end up with half a dozen to take home as it was a ruthless, winner-take-all affair. Games of runners, circles, and holesey were played. Scooping marble holes in the playground only added to the dust and aggravated the teachers whom I am sure had visions of a distant, more civilised, vegetated school. Sometimes marbles were banned because of the lunar landscape of the marble playing area. The bans never lasted.
One day, in the bare space that was the parade ground, I found a coin. The parade ground was between one of the school buildings and the marble ground and in the wisdom of the education department had been covered by bauxite. The small, rusty red spheres of aluminium ore packed the ground in a vain effort to alleviate the suffocating dust. From what I could tell, no-one thought to control the dust with vegetation. The bauxite stones were too small to throw at each other, but were the best ammunition for a sling-shot, or shanghais as we called them, as the small stones would fly true because of their spherical perfection. Many a ceramic power-line insulator fell victim to those babies, shattering when struck with a truly well aimed pebble.
Anyway, back to the coin.
I remember this well as it was only a couple of years after the Australian government had sacrificed one of the trappings of the British monarchy and initiated our own decimal currency. Giving away the Empire’s Pounds, Shillings and Pence in 1966, one of my first memories of school was that later in the year, new coins would be introduced. We marvelled over a tiny, shiny copper one cent coin and the bigger two cent coin. I could be forgiven for thinking, based on the doubling of coin size per cent, how massive ten or twenty cent coins were going to be.
It was big-lunch and was baking hot. I had consumed my lunch, which was dreadfully wilted, having been stored a semi-transparent Tupperware lunch box which, because our schoolbags were often in the sun, gently steamed my blue-cheese and lettuce sandwich into an almost inedible soggy mess. To make matters worse, my mother always placed a few sweet biscuits in the same lunch box, so they always took on the blue cheese taste. It could have been worse, as sometimes my mother inexplicably made liverwurst and onion sandwiches for us for lunch which, in the summer heat, created fumes that could kill cockroaches.
So it could be understood that I was rather … peckish.
In the dust of the parade-ground at Watson Road State School I found a two cent piece. The year was 1968 and I was in Grade 3 and about eight years old. I was not used to pocket money, and not really used to having coins at all. So on finding the precious copper coin I enjoyed studying the details, the stylised head of Queen Elizabeth and on the other side the crisp, artistic rendition of a ‘Frilly’ Lizard. I had never actually seen a Frill-Necked Lizard as the reptiles that inhabited our neighbourhood were actually bearded dragons; grey, spiky and rough, like the iron-bark trees that naturally forested the area. The bearded dragons would sit, unmoving, on the trees and were almost invisible. Once spotted they were great fun to catch and, as they swelled and opened their yellow mouths in threat, used to chase girls.
On examining the coin I was struck by what I thought was strange, that the date on the coin was all wrong. Here it was, 1968, and the date on the coin was 1972.
That could not be right!
I called over my friend, Tony Purser. He was quiet and placid, a good friend. When called over he looked at the coin, wrinkled his nose, and shrugged his shoulders. Not the response I preferred, so I called to another friend, Greg Blank. He was more vocal. “Ohhh bullshit Shack, how can a coin say 1972?”
That response was more like expected but did not satisfy me for long as, once proved and discussed for a minute or two, he also simply shrugged his shoulders and went back to his game of marbles.
What to do with such a coin? How could a coin from four years in the future be found in the year 1968?
I held on to the amazing coin for a few minutes, pondering the possibilities, on how such a strange thing could be. I have often thought about the coin since, for in my hand I held a coin from the future. Did someone from the future have the coin drop inadvertently from their pocket in a moment of carelessness or, just as improbable, were some coins prepared in advance by the government and accidentally released by the banks and given as a part of an unsuspecting worker’s pay-packet?
It was a conundrum.
Perhaps with the reasoning of an adult I would have approached a teacher on playground duty, or even taken it home to my parents so the newspaper could have been informed. It would have served me no useful purpose to keep the coin in storage as, in four years, the coin would be just another two cent piece. After all, I was only eight years old and with a limited capacity of fascination for such things, while a ball-bearing used as a marble was clearly much more interesting.
I recall sitting and thinking as I looked at the amazing coin. Yes, the date was absolutely certain. The 1972 was crisp and clear, the carved artwork easily defined.
It was only two cents. Not even worth much, even to me. It wasn’t long before I knew exactly what to do.
Forget about the mystery of how a 1972 coin could have been in possible 1968. The coin was soon traded at the tuck-shop, our school shop, for a couple of Jatz crackers spread with vegemite. They were the only worthwhile thing that two cents would buy and while I decided, in the stifling heat, that I was not particularly hungry, as a normally penniless eight-year-old I simply had to spend every cent that fell into my eager hands.
Snack consumed, the mysterious coin was forgotten and I went back to playing marbles in the grey dust.
©Rob Shackleford 2021
Books by Rob Shackleford
One of the recent reviews for Traveller: Incepto
In accidental time travel books you usually have to put up with a lot of antics, but this one is more about exploring two worlds throughout history – the ancient and the modern, contrasting their ways of life. The life of scientific research is bolstered by detailed scenes and precise narration, grounding us in a relatable scenario.
Add to this atmospheric descriptions of far-flung characters’ travails, and I was more than a little intrigued.
The set up allows the reader to ponder the potential for traveling through time, and how it changes the perspective of the busy, often distracted modern consciousness.
While the storytelling is controlled and the authorial voice is subdued, it easily gets its point across and captures the majesty of its setting. Not only that, it possesses the intellectual depth I’m looking for in a piece of fiction. Primarily, it is a dramatic interweaving of ideas.
A requirement I have while reading time travel stories is that I must learn something about history along the way, or receive a poignant satire of history. The Saxon England encountered here taught me plenty. It managed to be entertaining at the same time.
In the beginning, we are presented with mysteries, and with a little patience will are rewarded with answers. It contains effective action and an engaging plot. The moment by moment experience offers a well-written alternative to a lot of similar books out there. Though I’ve seen the concept done before, I’ve never seen it done exactly this way. It is a book best jumped onto like a ride. A true reading experience.
I always find scientific aspects of a story to be of minor importance, except when they’re done masterfully. The sciency moments here were not overwhelming or intrusive, but functional and lent a cinematic quality to the whole. Clearly, some research has gone into it, which is always a plus.
Characters with challenging decisions to make, and a small learning curve for the reader to adjust to in the shifts in narration at the start, all require active participation from the reader. All in all, Traveller Inceptio is still a very safe bet for your S-F fix.
Read the reviews and buy the books: Amazon US – And: Amazon UK – Follow Rob: Goodreads – Website/Blog: Rob Shackleford – Facebook: Rob Shackleford Author – Twitter: @robshackleford – LinkedIn:Rob Shackleford
About Rob Shackleford
An English-born Australian, Rob Shackleford has lived in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, with a varied career that has included Customs Officer, Scuba Instructor, College Teacher and management roles in too many places.
With degrees in the Arts and Business, he is mad keen on travel, Scuba diving, Family History, martial arts, astronomy, and playing Djembe and Congas. Despite that, he is actually not that boring.
Rob is father of two and has made his green escape with his lovely lady into Australia’s Gold Coast hinterland.
Thanks for dropping in today and I am sure Rob would love your feedback.. thanks Sally.
If you have a fiction short story to share with us then here is what I will need. Please send to email@example.com
- A word document with your edited story. A new story or one you have written and published on your blog.
- 1000 to 1500 words.. but if it is slightly shorter or longer that is no problem. It can be any genre except for erotica as I have younger readers.
- If you are an author or blogger who has featured here before I don’t need anything else.
- If you are new to the blog then I will need an Amazon page link, blog or website links,three main social media links and a profile photograph.
I look forward to hearing from you and sharing your writing here… thanks Sally.