More Than Cold
Some things are better left unfound. "Mark yawned, sipped his fourth cup of coffee of the night and found that familiarity was breeding contempt. This instant shit was just about tolerable out on the rigs, but he’d hoped for more from his first night of leave in over six weeks. Some company would have been a start. Kate was supposed to have been there well before him, making the place homely, stocking the cupboards with fresh food, good wine, good beer and he had hoped, good coffee. Not that he gave a shit about groceries at the moment. She was late. Really late. The supposedly cosy interior of their rented cottage was seeming lonelier by the minute and the empty chair on the other side of the kitchen table just amplified the effect. The nature of his work meant they had to deal with long periods of separation at times but it was an agreed rule that neither of them would ever lengthen that absence if it could be avoided. More than that, the thing that was really nagging at him was that generally Kate, like many so others he supposed, was barely able to let a minute pass without checking for or sending a text, yet she was now some ten hours late and he still hadn’t heard a thing. He glanced at his phone again, just in case, and tried not to notice that the clock on his phone read a little past four am. There was currently no signal. Not even the single rogue bar that had been teasing him throughout the night. A flash of thigh here, the promise of mobile coverage there. He traced the grain of the table with his finger and once again tried to run through the list of benign yet logical reasons as to why his darling wife was almost half a day late. Traffic was an obvious possibility or perhaps she’d got lost and decided to stop off somewhere for the night. Maybe the car had broken down and a kindly AA employee was at this very moment organising a replacement so that this lovers’ reunion wouldn’t be ruined. And then came the drunk drivers, faulty brakes, crazed hitchhikers and multiple car pile ups..."
When a bank forecloses on a company it's a case of numbers of a spreadsheet, but for those giving and receiving the news... things are more immediate. Bad news travels fast, so we had to travel faster. This, in essence, was the notion that guided us. You get it, you give it, you move on. Do it right and you’re away before things get messy, before the condemned have had time to let the reality of their new circumstances sink in, before that hollow look they get in their eyes has had a chance to take root in your memory. Do it that way and it’s smooth and efficient. Do it that way and it’s as close as something like this gets to being a job well done. And that’s generally how it went. Most of the time. This particular call came in late morning one Christmas Eve and swiftly killed off any hopes I’d had of any early finish. That disappointment was then exacerbated by the fact my car wouldn’t start, having been left parked up with the lights on for a few days. I’d been drinking most nights, medicating a malaise that often reared its head around that time of year. Happily, my thirst meshed well with the festive season. Our office’s underlying culture of functional alcoholism always received a shot in the arm that time of year. Yet, that morning as I sat in the car park turning the key in hope and then without, I wasn’t feeling all that functional. Jump leads and attempted push starts proved useless. The battery didn’t need so much a mechanic as a coroner. I was calling a taxi to take me to the train station when Russell Boyd sauntered over, all three-piece suit and Italian loafers. He sparked up ceremoniously and took a long pull before acknowledging me. It never did to be too cosy with the underlings. “Shouldn’t you be out bringing comfort and joy to the masses?” he asked. I explained the situation. Russell’s smoke curled in my direction. “Where to?” “Grantham, Lincolnshire.” “Sounds a shithole.” He paused a moment, as if sounding out a thought and finding that it pleased him, “I’ll drive you.” I laughed and waited for the punchline. It came in the form of the central locking system of his gleaming, bottle-green Jaguar yipping eagerly to attention..."
What if the dead could apologise for leaving you? "The first thing you have to take in – if you're fairly young, that is – what you have to try to imagine is a world where people never heard anything from anyone among the departed. There was no message, not of any type … So, from a world in which there was no such communication, to one in which sooner or later just about everyone would get word. When the phone calls started it was amazing…"
'There are two kinds of people in this world.' Laxmi, a girl from the lowest caste of a village in the remote west of Nepal, is told that she is the unlucky kind. But, resourceful and fiercely protective of her sister and neice, she is determined that low birth will not ruin their lives. - All profits from this story go to aid work in Nepal. -
Grow and Warm the Earth
Everyone hits Paul Doe, the teacher's pet. But what happens when you don't? "I hate geography. Meacher gives me the creeps. He has a high eye-brow smile that is permanently slapped across his boat-race, like he’s posed for a picture and the flash has frozen him in time or a cow-prod has taken him by surprise. He’s got sharp little pincer teeth that threaten to punch holes in your neck if you don’t know a stalactite from a stalagmite. You can hear, then feel his smile before peering up to find him leering down at you doodling in the textbook. The clock is limping by like a crippled tortoise and it’s freezing in 2B. Snow settles around the window seal and icicles have begun to appear from the top of the arched frames. Still too long to go. My mood doesn’t change when Paul Doe pipes up with his usual arse-kissing comments. “Carbon dioxide from burning fuels causes global warming, a process capable of changing the world’s climate significantly.” Bloody text-book whore..."
The Green Man
Looking for a fresh start, Maison moves to a remote country village. But instead of finding the peace and tranquility she'd hoped for, she discovers something rather more sinister in the shadows of England's green and pleasant land. "She let go of the tree then looked at it closely. It was gnarly and seeping sap but just a tree. She moved around the trunk, her boots sinking into the soft earth. As she touched the ridges and bumps she expected to feel the reassurance that the tree was ordinary and the same as all the others, but instead she felt sick, a wave of revulsion washing over her as she moved away from it. Instinctively she wiped her hand on her parka. At first she didn’t understand what she was feeling but then she saw it. Gouged deep into the wood was the outline of a face, eyes fixed down and staring directly at her."
The Best Laid Plans
Helen is someone who takes hosting Christmas very seriously. Everything is planned to the last detail. But things don't always go the we plan them to. “It will be fine darling, stop stressing.” Helen knew she was driving Jake mad with her worries about Christmas. She must try not to fuss. “I’m not stressing. Honestly. It’s just that with your whole family coming… And there’s so much to do. And your mother is so good at entertaining, and cooking…” She trailed off, thinking but not adding, and so good at criticising, and knowing better, and pulling rank and making me feel small. “Yes,” said Jake, “but she has nothing to do but worry about matching napkins and the latest fashion in hors d’oeuvres. You have a full-on job and patients to worry about.” "It was the first time she and Jake had hosted Christmas. Usually they went to New York and had a picture-perfect festive celebration with absolutely everything working like clockwork. The decorations were always colour-themed. So far they’d had a silver and blue Christmas; a black and red one and last year candles, crackers, table decorations and napkins were all green and gold, the wine glasses rimmed with a green ivy motif under a heavy gold band and the champagne had flecks of gold leaf floating in it. Even the soap in the loo was green and shaped like a Christmas tree. It sat in a gold dish..."
Providence is a collection of three short memoirs. The stories reveal a mother haunted by the loss of her family. Her child becomes a woman, shaped by the loss of her ancestors, deepened by the compassion for the suffering she witnessed and the resilience that grew from it. “The mind is a fickle bedfellow. It will seduce you one moment with the smoothest of concepts and when you are disarmed and wanting, it will deconstruct you. This world offers us the full smorgasbord — the sweetest fruits and the most bitter, the healing balms and the poisons. There are parts of us we can nourish and they will grow stronger. It was the searing pain of my mother’s passing when I was 21 that turned me irrevocably toward the pursuit of an inner richness, something that was constant and secure because it lay within me”.
Kallikids Short Story Competition Winners 2015
March 2015 marked the opening of the first annual KalliKids Short Story Competition. With help from KalliKids' ambassador and best-selling author, Joanna Rees, we set "Shine" as the theme and gave entrants the freedom to adapt "Shine" to whatever it meant to them, with a limit to each story of 500 words. We received over 500 entries from children throughout the UK, and were delighted to read such a creative mix of short stories with themes ranging from singing competitions to doomsday thrillers. We were captivated from start to finish. The 12 stories included in this book are the winners and runners-up from each age category, a real achievement for these truly talented young authors. Thank you and well done to all the children who took part, and the schools that helped to make this competition so special.
No One Ever
“Many who waded through the water coloured it with their blood, wine-red – a new meaning for the wine-dark sea of legend…” The battle of Marathon, fought in a time of treachery, danger and intense fear and superstition, was a military disaster for the Persians. But it was not the end of danger for Greece, and the courier’s famous triumphant journey, commemorated in the Olympic race, carried a frightening secret: “His own shadow, long and thin in front of him, was like a rope pulling him towards Athens; as he neared his destination so it gradually shortened, so the sun rose, so the enemy fleet moved towards Phalerum.” What of the Athenian runner himself? Surely, there was no way he could have known how his feat would be celebrated: “Thousands upon thousands of people running. In all the known world, and even lands beyond.” He would surely not have known or cared how fast he was running. And he would not have been able to predict that two messengers, not one, would be named in the annals. Or would he?
Last Day of Summer
September 10th 2001 - Chris and Annie are on the final leg of their road trip around the USA. Heading towards New York, the frayed edges of a relationship spawned from post-graduation euphoria are beginning to show as they confront the end of their summer and the swan-song of their youth. Aware that their lives are going to change, they face up to an uncertain future, completely unaware of the global events into which they are about to be propelled.
Do They Know it's Christmas?
Set in Edinburgh's 'Sick Kids' Hospital, this heart-warming seasonal tale tells of a cleaner's interest in the Ebola crisis during the festive season in 2014, a seemingly lonely young girl, and the connections his kindness enables. ‘I held the tip of the pen against the window. Jeez, I’d not drawn a thing since primary school. It was a bit squint but you could tell it was a star. The expression on her face didn’t change but I saw a wee click in her eyes. I started on a Christmas tree.’ A story written as part of Linda Cracknell’s writer’s residency at Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children, illustrated by Cate James. All author’s royalties go to the Sick Kids Friends Foundation http://www.edinburghsickkids.org/ Scottish Charity No. SC020862.
Voiceless It Cries
With a subtle spice of gingerbread in the air, a lonely woman walks where the wind guides her. A suburban fairy tale, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's early works. "Back then they were hers, the twins, and not their father's. There comes a point in most boys' lives when they learn to hate. Besides, her sons were clever from the outset: they knew better than to listen to fairy tales..."
Where the Four Winds Meet
Where the Four Winds Meet is the first novella in a Trilogy. This story reveals the emotional journey through time of one man as he tries to discover how his biological father really died. ‘I’m fifty-two years old and today I saw a picture of my father for the very first time. Can you imagine how that feels?’ Bobby is about to open Pandora’s Box to unlock the secrets of his past – but is he prepared for the turbulent secrets which are about to be revealed about his biological father? ‘You know when I was in Germany? A woman came to me and she said, “‘Your husband’s given me a baby as well.’” How will the two immensely different scenarios, one good, one bad, impact upon the present and especially upon his two sons, a moody wannabe rock star and a ghost buster who falls for a mental medium? ‘He was a wonderful man you know, your father. Such a lovely brother to have.’ Bobby uncovers what he believes is the truth and resolves to let the past go – until it surfaces once more to haunt him.
Tell Us a Joke
“Once I roared out of the dark days of winter like a young lion, stored up the triumphs and heat of the spring and summer to see me through the coming cold and dark.” But Nigel is past his peak now, long past, and a string of trivial incidents during a boozy day in the pub bring it home to him. Memories of the past are no solace when you don't get the respect you think you deserve.
Naz and the Djinn
'I've never been in so much trouble in one day! I've been in more bother today than the whole of my life up to now, and all I did was pick up a mouldy old bottle and take the stopper out!' When Naz opens an old bottle he finds on the beach, he gets the shock of his life: out comes Azrael, the Djinn, who has been trapped inside for thousands of years by a magic spell. The spell can only be broken, and Azrael set free for ever, by smashing the seemingly unbreakable bottle. Azrael demands Naz's help to do it. The two set out on a hilarious quest which includes a steamroller, a purple toad, a snooty girl and a troupe of Boy Scouts. All the while, Naz tries to stop Azrael causing too much mayhem, and it isn't long before he wishes he'd never met the Djin at all. Naz and the Djinn is a fun-filled read which offers a modern twist to a traditional tale and will delight readers from 7-11.
David wants to give his wife Kate everything she didn't have before meeting him: security, a nice home, another baby. He wants to be a good step-dad to Josh and erase the memories of Tom, Kate's first love and Josh's father. But none of this seems enough for Kate and after the birth of their daughter she slips into depression, her only solace the run-down summerhouse at the bottom of their garden. When David discovers what he thinks is her betrayal he sets out on a path of destruction. In late 2014 The Summerhouse, a novella, was shortlisted for Gateway's New Fictions prize. "As an animal would its territory, Kate marked the summerhouse with her scents: coconut and vanilla body lotion, coffee and cigarettes, a citronella candle used to deter bugs, the new wood of pencil shavings mixing with that of the rotting window and door frames. Some smells she carried with her all the time – I could tell where in the house she’d been by sniffing the air for the musky aroma of joss sticks which clung to the materials she wore. Her skin always tasted of coconut and her hair of smoke. She hadn’t used it at first what with feeling so lousy throughout the pregnancy and I was all for pulling it down to tell you the truth. But she got so upset if I so much as hinted at it that I learnt to steer clear of the subject. You couldn’t see the summerhouse from the house so it didn’t matter that much, I suppose, but it bugged me that she could get so worked up about what boiled down to an ugly, damp outhouse obviously built by some toff so he could sneak out and screw one of the maids."
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..."
Stop, Look and Listen
Stop, Look and Listen is a short collection of flash fiction pieces. It features Escape, a story about a son who wants to keep his parents together for the sake of his father, Mannequin, a creepy tale about a husband and his wife's disappearance, as well as the titular story Stop, Look and Listen, an exploration of life through instructions. The collection also includes other pieces by Akeem Balogun that have appeared in various publications throughout his writing career. Stop, Look and Listen is an enjoyable read that will appeal to all fans of the short story form as well as to any reader who is entertained by writing that is precise, fun and thought-provoking.
Stealing the Dark
Jane A Adams
He removed the book from the evidence bag and lay it down on the wooden table of the interview room. It was, he thought, a sad little volume, filled with the faces of the long dead, stiffly posed and their eyes gazing from the book at a world at a world so changed it made him wince to think of it.
The Wandering Woman
The spray of the sea brushed his face like the soft caressing fingertips of a beautiful woman. His ship, the Red Shadow, was making good time as it cut through the sea’s waves, sending up small geysers of salty water. The open sea, a brilliant cascade of sparkling azure gems, lay before him and a healthy gust of wind was filling his sails.
Our Lady of the Iguanas
How will Graciela cope with the spells and the men now Granny is gone? Bring on the Iguanas.... "The alarm snake swayed above her bed. He hissed until Graciela opened her eyes, then spiralled back into the roof. Job done. Graciela could take her time in the mornings now there was no old woman to clean up. She fetched water and washed, lifting her hair away from her neck and spearing it with pins of shell. She struggled into the blue cotton dress and wrapped her shawl around herself, so that nothing could move. The straw hat, big as a planet, waited on the rocking chair. Granny’s voice whispered, Wear the hat, Graciela. Wear it as your crown."
Water off a Duck's Back
Except for the duck, the wedding is unremarkable. It’s a celebrity marriage, but all the usual things happen, and in more or less the correct order. The caterers are too early, and the flowers are late. The best man—who is not Rowan’s best man but the brother of the bride—pretends to lose the ring. Gloria has a last minute fight with her mother over her intention to honour, but not to obey in her wedding vows, and one of the bridesmaids eats too many chocolates and has to go home. It’s at the reception that things start to go seriously awry. And almost everything can be blamed, at least in the beginning, on a small, male mandarin duck. "The duck had been there since the early morning. Gloria told Rowan that she had seen it from her bedroom window. She’d woken early because the new wind-chimes in the Versailles potted orange trees had disturbed her. The duck had been swimming in lazy circles on the turquoise surface of the swimming pool and, apart from noting a pleasing splash of bright orange against dark aubergine that might have a place in a colour scheme somewhere in their new ranch house, she gave it not a moment’s more thought. This was a mistake ..."
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..."
Home to Roost and Other Stories
JD Mac Namara
A collection of almost true stories concerning the doings, nefarious and otherwise, of the unique people of Erris, where the next parish west is America and where nothing is quite as one might expect... "Erris is a land on the edge of northern Europe and one of its least inhabited regions. It is regarded as a mysterious land alive with legends; legends which have been preserved and embellished through the centuries by its uniquely independent people. In his book ‘A tour in Ireland 1775’ Richard Twiss wrote’ I did not visit Erris since it is inhabited by some form of savage native and there are no roads.’ The people are far from savage and these days Erris has a few roads. Erris has vast stretches of unspoilt bog land, golden beaches and coves, secluded bays, crystal clear streams and lakes magical landscapes and spectacular cliffs. Gaelic dialect is spoken by some as their first language but when strangers are around the craic is in an English which can be pure poetry. Erris is a land of turf smoke, good strong tea, Guinness, Whiskey, both legal and illegal, soda bread, warm hospitality and a great welcome for strangers lucky enough to visit what used to be known as the back of beyond. The back of beyond it is no more, Knock has an international airport and even Belmullet has a death defying airstrip for bold pilots. The main highway has improved thanks to the European Union and there is even a fine golf links and a luxury hotel in Belmullet. But most of all, Erris is the sum of its people. Long may they thrive..."
The arrival of DS Stephen Forest on her doorstep, takes Grace by surprise. A police investigation into the murder of a local surgeon, and a middle-aged, middle class woman living in rural respectability, seem unlikely to be connected, an impression DS Forest appears to share, at least initially....
From a gently insidious dystopian future, a woman looks back on her life and the true love she knows she missed out on. Finally, she remains undismayed, confident that the human span isn't everything... "Along a lane threaded through the night… threaded through space: so the colours and shapes had sung for over forty years. Of daylight inside darkness. Of reassurance. Of permanence beyond the transitory. Though its mysterious and variegated surface could not alter, its effect each day, was often subtly different. Kathleen had never tired of this painting, and it always narrowed the distance in years and personal space between her and the painter she’d once known. Several times they’d met when they were young, and so close in mind had she felt, that to her they’d stayed friends in a hidden parallel ever since – despite only an occasional letter to break the silence. Perhaps the song of these colours and forms welled from sentiment? Perhaps she’d buried her love in this painting… and its shifting planes, stood in for the man who would rarely have claimed more than partial responsibility for the work he signed? Moving away from the dark glass, her reflected face left the rim of the impulsive, breathing world beyond – a landscape frequently more promising than the intermittently anxious horizons outside. Passing an empty, unexpectant chair, she had only wished before nightfall, to check the latch. Now, she needed to open the door, to renew her faith in the real world. Along a lane threaded through the night… threaded through space: so the colours and shapes had sung for over forty years. Of daylight inside darkness. Of reassurance. Of permanence beyond the transitory. Though its mysterious and variegated surface could not alter, its effect each day, was often subtly different. Kathleen had never tired of this painting, and it always narrowed the distance in years and personal space between her and the painter she’d once known. Several times they’d met when they were young, and so close in mind had she felt, that to her they’d stayed friends in a hidden parallel ever since – despite only an occasional letter to break the silence. Perhaps the song of these colours and forms welled from sentiment? Perhaps she’d buried her love in this painting… and its shifting planes, stood in for the man who would rarely have claimed more than partial responsibility for the work he signed? Moving away from the dark glass, her reflected face left the rim of the impulsive, breathing world beyond – a landscape frequently more promising than the intermittently anxious horizons outside. Passing an empty, unexpectant chair, she had only wished before nightfall, to check the latch. Now, she needed to open the door, to renew her faith in the real world..."
My father, appliance repairman Ed Hart, had been dating a reporter from the local news for over three months, ever since he and my mother separated. They met when Channel Four’s "Eye on You" News interviewed me at the Northern Virginia Sixth Grade Science Fair about my winning project, The Worm Farm--a kitchen composter made from a recycling bin filled with dirt, biodegradable household trash, and a hundred worms.
Amber didn't like the house. The frontage faced north and two large conifers cast a sterile shadow. The beams were faded, the chimneys pointed to the sky like accusing fingers, and the roofing oppressed the aged dormer windows that sat in their rimless sockets gazing out a shadowed world through leaded frames. Yet she'd never really had a particular reason to dislike it, until that is she saw the woman with the baby at the window and heard its feeble, sickly cry.
We Apologise for the Delay
Aliens on the Underground... London Transport would like to apologise for the delay on the Central line this morning. This is due to the discovery of a nest of… um… The message clicked uncertainly into hissing. The listening intensity of the passengers increased as they waited, but the driver did not continue. Ade closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable explanation. A couple of lanky adolescents in school blazers eyed each other and started giggling. ‘Nazis?’ said the redhead ‘Vipers?’ responded the blond, although they both knew what had been found. The train idled a few more feet into the tunnel.
The Cover Story
Brindley Hallam Dennis
Apparently, this story was going to be 'disqualified with merit' from an Earlyworks Press competition...but that was too ridiculous...so they gave it Second Prize! It's on of the stories in Talking To Owls (Pewter Rose Press) and you can hear it read on Vimeo.
A Rat's Tale
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Doctor Dominic du Mortier and I am a hundred and sixty one years old. No no, stay where you are please. It’s not that I’m unwilling to shake your hand, please don’t think that. It’s really more a case of my being unable. Permit me to explain. I am beyond reach. And behind glass. And a rodent. Nothing special you understand – just a Rattus norvegicus, or a common brown rat to you. Oh yes, and dead. Did I mention that?
We lived in Sliema at 197 Prince of Wales Road in a two storey apartment reached from a ground floor staircase that curved high and tight upwards. There was a graceful banister that ended in a tight curl at the bottom and it was my ambition to slide down its entire length, but it was forbidden. What if I fell off ? What if my little brother copied me ?
Beyond Her Scream
‘Beyond Her Scream’ is the story of a mother-daughter relationship strained by the effects of FGM. It is set against a background of cross-cultural differences and contrasting worldviews. It contains some graphic descriptions which may not be suitable for younger readers. “The sound of her scream stung my mind like a cat-o’ nine tails. Agony. I’d subjected her to such agony. No-one should ever have to endure that, let alone one’s own daughter.”
A woman and her young daughter are invited for morning tea at a the home of her ex-husband and his new wife. A story about the distance between how people want things to be and how they really are. "The four of us sit under Sally’s pergola having morning tea—an attempt to be civilized and mature. There is a slight chill in the air but a stream of sunlight weaves through a tangle of aged wisteria and knotted grapevines above us, warming our heads and chests. And as if orchestrated by Sally herself, birds flit and sing. But morning tea is a bad idea. It is Sally’s idea and they are her words: civilised and mature."
Cut Back Flat
Double the rent or half a flat. Your choice. "Cut Back Flat ‘Bit of building work, Miss. George sent us round.’ George is the landlord, and for a moment I entertain some unlikely concepts. Things like upgrade and home improvement run through my mind, pushing darker thoughts down. There are two of them, both men obviously. They troop into my flat in a pile up of battered metal boxes and lengths of sawn timber. One is older, in his 50s, sort of lumpy, not fat but fleshy with exaggerated features. His shoulder length hair is slicked back to the point of recession. The other one could be my age, but is probably younger. He has that gaunt look acquired through serious and dedicated smoking, yellow fingers and teeth to match. They are both in white overalls, though the younger one has somehow rolled his down and is wearing them like hipster jeans, an inch of toned stomach between the waistline and his black tee shirt. He grins lopsided when he catches me looking. They start in the front room with a line drawn down the middle of the bay window. The column of concrete which divides the four panes is struck through in no time, but then the radiator underneath poses a problem, and they are seized by a fit of contemplation. There is a lot of head shaking. Teeth are sucked, pencils gnawed. They unroll a set of plans, consult in mumbles and hisses. More head shaking, loud exhalations through pursed lips. I try to get a look at what’s on the paper, but from my tentative perch on the sofa, the maze of lines bears no resemblance to my mental framing of home..."
Ceinwen E. Cariad Haydon
A story about friendship, loss and seemingly supernatural forces that may or may not be the product of a disturbed mind. "I came to in my own bed, as the August dawn was breaking. I sat up slowly, and next to me on the camping mat on the floor, was my best mate, Shell. The pain behind my eyes made me shrink from the light as I tried to remember the night before. We’d been on the beach, just the two of us. No wait, her brother, Ben, had been there as well. He’d been in a bad way. He’d lost his place on the ‘Back to Work’ scheme for turning up late three days in a row. That meant his benefits would stop. We’d gone out to the local dunes at Druridge Bay, with cans of Magners to try to cheer him up. And, if I’m honest, to keep an eye on him. I stumbled out to the bathroom and heard my mum call, ‘Jo, I’m off to get the bus to Newcastle. Could you give Shell’s mum a call, she wants to know where Ben is. ‘Bye, love.’ The front door slammed shut. Ben. Where was he? I remembered his face twisted with gloom and booze as he’d told me and Shell to get lost and go home. He wanted to be on his own. At the time I’d thought, ‘Sod you.’ Me and Shell’d been rock solid with him and he’d brushed us away like we were nothing. Just flies on his face. Shell must’ve thought the same. ‘Come on, he’s one stupid shithead,’ she’d slurred. Then she linked her arm into mine and yanked me away towards our estate. ‘We’re not the problem here, he is.’ ‘Too bloody right,’ Ben yelled after us. ‘Too bloody right, you’ve caught on at last.’ The wind picked up as we walked away and drowned out the sound of his voice. I don’t know if he said anything else. We swigged the dregs of our cider as we swayed back home, tearful but sure we were right to leave him to stew in his own bad temper. After a quick pee, I guzzled tap water from my cupped hands and splashed some on my face. Then I zombied back to my bedroom and lay back down on the bed. A crow squawked outside my window and the screech split my head in two. I buried my face under a pillow but it made no difference, the pounding didn’t stop. I must have dozed off again because the next thing I knew it was midday. The hangover was still alive and vicious in my skull and part of me wondered if I was dying. Then the recollection of my mum’s words brought me out of myself. ‘Could you give Shell’s mum a call? She wants to know where Ben is...”
An affair years before leads Meg into an adventure ending with success and catastrophe. "Meg ran with abandon, uncaring of kerbs, of hedges overhanging the pavements, disregarding cars, crossing junctions, running until her legs ached and she collapsed, heart pounding, onto a bench looking down at the dark water of the river. Her hair a mess from the rain, she gasped for breath. ‘It can’t be. He would never have hurt anyone,’ she sobbed. Yet he had hurt her, not in her body, but with the long lonely hours she had waited for the telephone to ring, pretending to her husband she was reading a book, to his pleasure as he thought her ill-read; fearing he would ask her about the book on which she had no opinion or interest. Her then husband was not Oswald, it was her first marriage to a much older, professor of a subject so arcane she had never understood its purpose, the husband that had left her a childless widow at thirty-five. The picture on the screen was ‘Danny’, she knew it in her heart. Only she called him Danny, the young man who had come to the university knowing nothing of life, shy and nervous, whose delicate fingers could spin a cricket ball to such effect he was in the university team from the moment the coach saw him bowl a few balls in the nets. Danny, that far-off figure seen from her picnic place on the boundary on warm summer days; yes, he had hurt her when he took up with the rich set and went off to heaven knows where with nubile young things ogling the lovely stranger that had come to town..."
Clouds of Glory
Back in the early 1970's, three ten-year old friends go up town to cause trouble. "The first thing I heard from outside was half-shouted laughter. Shadows moved on our wavy glass. The aluminium letterbox flapped as I wrenched the rain-swelled door open. I knew who it’d be. The time was right. “Comin’ up tahn?” One of them asked, grinning, the other thinking it with a half-smile but looking sideways down the street, uneasy. Kev was always like that. Like all the worst of his past was about to catch up. Happily uneasy though. Adrenalin always flowing. Always on the watch for opportunity . . . Mark grinned again, twitching his arms in his cherished plum and black PVC jacket. He often claimed it was leather, I didn’t mind. My uncle had reckoned leather was silent: “PVC sounds different,” he’d asserted dismissively, probably narked at being shown-off through a gap in the curtains, asleep on the sofa, some weekends back: “That’s my uncle!” I’d announced outside the house to a few mates. But what did he expect, my mother’s brother? At least I’d said it with pride. It wasn’t as if you could see anything but his head. Up in London he worked at Heathrow, and this fact along with the rarity of his presence, made him a minor god . . . and basically, (dog ends circulating in his mug of cold tea), he always lounged till noon on Sundays when he stayed with us; delaying till the whimsy to rise overcame his inertia. Only then, after occupying the solitary bathroom for what seemed hours, would he be ready to head to the pub – him and my dad. Oblivious of time, there they’d soak until the Yorkshire puddings sank and our dinner was dead. Dinner my mum made specially for his visits..."
My Mind's Eye
Anna Maria is an opera singer who, following an accident, has forgotten how to sing. She starts to find her voice again in the most unlikely place and with the most unlikely people, in a place of sanctuary where the strangest character of all is a young boy whom only she can see..... "As I move through the wood, the pylons above my head tick like giant cicadas in the damp late August air. It’s almost dawn, still dark and everyone else is sleeping, apart from the devout few who get up every morning to pray or to do whatever it is they do to save their souls, our souls. We are the outsiders here, the ones who are sick, who came here for healing. I hope they pray for us, I know we need it. Since the accident I feel safer in the dark, before the daylight finds me again. There’s no one here, no sound but my own breath biting back at me, my soft footfalls echoing my thoughts, repeating the fears that haunt me now wherever I go..."
Trevor the superhero spider
Trevor is a superhero, however he is also a spider so his superhero powers are in proportion to his size. Trevor and his friends come to the aid of the owners of the house they all live in when Mr and Mrs Fairbanks are persecuted by Mr Bartson of Bartson Holdings U.K. (Ltd) and his heavies.
An Airtight Box
During intermission of the “Tosca” benefit performance, ex-President Clinton, without Hillary, stepped outside the door of his Kennedy Center box, wondering what it would be like if someone shot him, maybe in his good lung, or maybe, if the attacker had lousy aim, even in the groin.
Supply and Demand
He had looked at the screen for so long now that when he turned his attention to the room around him, everything was smudgy and made of shadows. The air was thick and warm; his living room was a static page.... A man struggling to get over his girlfriend leaving, turns to eBay auctions as a source of comfort, what he finds is quite unexpected though.....
An injured climber shares a gully with a dislodged boulder. 'I began to check through the possibilities for both of us. Yours were limited. Stay or move. Mine were limited. Hold on or fall. We were like strangers who are thrown together by fate into an intimate embrace.' Runner-up in the John Muir Trust Wild Writing Competition.