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Brindley Hallam Dennis
Morning walks, an irrational fear, and a story of past, lethal transgression revealed. "A few years ago I took a cottage in West Cumbria for a week to get some peace and quiet while I worked my way through a large number of documents. I'd been called in as a specialist by the legal team of a multi-national that was defending itself against a negligence claim. Finding the smallest shred of evidence to suggest that the so-called victims have contributed to the disaster can save you thousands in damages, tens of thousands, millions even, if it's a class action. The cottage was one of three old quarrymen's cottages sitting on a hillside beyond Rowrah in the back of end of nowhere, where the remains of old railway lines wind their way between the rounded foothills of the English Lake District. I worked long hours that week, breaking off for a sandwich at lunchtime, and driving down to the local pub for supper, and then doing another couple of hours before I turned in. One treat I allowed myself was a brisk walk in the mornings, after dawn, but before the sun had crested the curved summit of the hill behind the cottage..."
"I killed my little brother. When he was two, and I was six, I crept into his bedroom and suffocated him with a pillow while he slept. ‘No you didn’t, Nadine,’ said my mother, ‘It’s a dream.’ ‘It’s a dream about guilt,’ my psychiatrist said, patting me on the knee. ‘You mustn’t blame yourself, my dear, it wasn’t your fault.’ On Tuesdays, I go to the Community Clinic for my weekly meeting with parents who are thought to present a risk to their children. Publicly, it’s called a ‘parents’ support group’ so they have a cover story when they come into reception. But these mums and dads are under no illusions; they watch me scribbling notes and know my risk assessment will dictate their future. If they give the right response, the courts may grant them a family life; the wrong answers and they won’t see their children again; something in between and they could get one afternoon a fortnight at a contact centre where, corralled by cuddly toys, they will try to engage their little strangers in a parody of play, under the watchful eye and busy pen of a social worker. While this process grinds slowly forward, the children who are being protected will metamorphose into sullen teenagers with unmet needs who will probably follow the pattern of their parents, having children of their own who will be in need of protection; and the cycle will start again..."
During her anniversary holiday in Egypt, Judy decides that one honeymoon is one too many, and it's time for a change... "Muttering under her breath, each angry phrase driving her forward, she marched through the lobby and out of the door. What an anniversary. Call this a second honeymoon? After just a few steps, her forehead started throbbing and a wave of nausea pressed against the back of her teeth. Behind her, the door swished open and the cool breeze of air conditioning hit her legs. The concierge called, ‘Taxi, madame?’ Swallowing the nausea, shaking her head, she kept walking across the hotel forecourt. Ahead, the tops of the Pyramids were just visible above the line of stationary traffic. The stench of diesel burned her nostrils. Perspiration trickled between her breasts and her sunglasses slipped down her nose. A wizened man in a galabeya blocked her way. ‘Carriage, lady?’ She followed the reins, held in one hand, to an emaciated horse. She stepped around him. ‘No, thank you.’ ‘Pyramid? Sphinx? Special fix price.’ He walked beside her, yanking the horse along behind him. She stepped off the pavement, weaving between vehicles, losing his voice in the cacophony of revving engines, blaring horns and shouting. It felt so different to the first time, their real honeymoon. Everything had changed. Or perhaps not. Maybe it was her memory that had changed the original, coloured it in with a rosy tint, like touching up an old photograph. Whatever made her think a second honeymoon could save this marriage? The belly dancing outfit was the final straw. It was over. Time to call time. At the thought of calling time, she pictured Kevin as she had left him, slumped and scowling, in the balcony bar. The whole thing had been a mistake..."
Dan has persuaded Amanda to accompany him on a cruise of the Faro Islands, to see the eclipse. But are they being followed? In this chilling tale, we find Dan must make hard decisions, in order to safeguard his marriage. "It’s our first night on board so we dress for the occasion: me in my best bib and tucker, and Amanda wearing her plungiest neckline with the white gold pendant I bought her for Christmas. We’ve barely sat down to dinner when I hear, ‘I don’t believe it!’ which makes me think of that character on TV, but the chap bouncing towards us looks too young to remember the sitcom. He stops in front of our table and smiles at Amanda. When she doesn’t speak I look at her and see she’s staring down at the table. The skin on her neck is a mottled pink. Perhaps she’s seasick; but we’ve barely left Newcastle and the North Sea is like a millpond. Thinking this must be an acquaintance of hers, I stand up and hold out my hand. He grabs at it with a sort of damp, two fingered slide, saying, ‘Felix, you must be Dan,’ while his eyes slip over me and back to Amanda..."
Opportunity could be about to knock for a young musician. "Jon had experienced enough knocks in his eighteen years of life not to want to invite more. Losing his Dad had been bad enough but then Mum remarrying a tosser who ran a shop was another kick in the whatsits. Apart from all the personal stuff, he got really bad hay fever. A flower shop, for fuck’s sake, it couldn’t have been worse...."
Brindley Hallam Dennis
On the road, escaping from a confrontation a young man unexpectedly returns home, but when his friend retells the story, does he get it right? "Billy and Geoff had gone down to London, with a few of the others. They were staying over in somebody’s house, so they were on their best behaviour. But the folk they were staying with turned out to be OK. Because no-one had eaten yet they all went down the local pub, which served chicken in a basket which was all the rage in those days. Now, Billy was having difficulties with his woman at that time, and Geoff was fooling around with anyone, on account of having comprehensively fallen out with his own woman a few weeks before. So, what with the drinks, they were getting on each other’s tits. Then Geoff started giving Billy hard beans about the way he was treating Sam – that was Billy’s woman – and saying that if he wasn’t careful somebody else would do the Doctor John on her, somebody else will, you know? So Billy told him he could effing well have her, and he took himself off into the night..."
Rebirth in Earth
An estranged daughter goes to her father's funeral. "I am sitting on the fourth step curling my toes around the stair where the carpet is worn; the naughty step. I was left there once, forgotten; so I’d picked at the wallpaper. And here it is now, the same ripped hole. It’s almost time for my father’s funeral. A man who insisted on a vertical burial underneath a tree. This, of course, is understandable – he was a sixties teenager and wore a garden in his hair. I now imagine his body being lowered into a hole feet first, then being covered with soil, then being topped off with a baby oak. I can see the roots winding themselves around his neck. While picking at the wallpaper, once again – it’s been twenty years – I hear a van arriving. So, rising from my naughty step, I turn and give it a little pat before descending to heaven knows what. The van is yellow like my plumber’s, except this one has REBIRTH IN EARTH written on its side – thankfully with no painted flowers. Dad is inside the van, inside a cardboard box painted blue with lots of clouds on it. It looks like a screensaver..."
Beware Green Eyes
Ceinwen E. Cariad Haydon
A young girl's ghost friend turns out to be a liar. A story for readers of 9 years of age or older. "It all started on a Friday in February when I stayed home from school with a bad cold. I’d had my twelfth birthday the week before and I’d got a chill at my ice skating party. The rink was a temporary one put up in the town centre each year from November through to February half term. My birthday had been the last day. At least it hadn’t snowed, I could remember at least three birthdays when my celebrations had been cancelled because of the weather. So, I was off school and for the first time I was alone in my house for a whole day. Mum and Dad had gone to work and my younger brothers were at school, even though they’d made a drama of coughing and spluttering their way through breakfast as they made a play to stay off too. I think that buildings sound different when people go out and they’re empty, or almost empty. I was still there of course, but I was tucked up on the living room sofa and lying quite still. I heard the central heating pipes knock and moan gently as the hot water passed through them. The clock on the mantelpiece quartered the hours into minutes and seconds with brisk, quiet ticks. The eaves dripped and splashed as ice melted in the reluctant, shy sunshine of the early spring day. I watched a spider as she spun her web in the corner of the window that looked out onto our garden and I swear I could hear the silken skein being stretched into a silvery geometry all of its own. The fridge buzzed and slept and buzzed and slept as the thermostat regulated the temperature. I was mesmerised by the insistent hum of home and the liquid gurgling of my gut. I’d slept the night before with my nose blocked and my mouth open and swallowed a lot of air that was now singing its own tune. I must have drifted off but then my doze was interrupted and I sat up with a start..."