Silence Is an Empty Space


silence empty space.jpg

(1000 words)

She was brought up among people who couldn’t understand her. Why, at the age of three, she would demand crayons to draw stick men – almost an obsession. Gradually they took on eyes, noses, mouths – now neat but at the same time scary. Then facial expressions, ears, hair, feet and hands, and clothes.
Then aged four, Elizabeth would shut herself away, writing words, gradually stringing them into sentences, accompanied by little pictures in green, red and yellow crayon. ‘The cat sat on the mat,’ ‘The bat sat on the cat.’
“Lizzy, why don’t you want to go and play with your friends. Little Josephine next door, she likes you. I’ll take you to the park together.”
“It’s OK, mum,” she’d say, now five, going to her room and writing and drawing on her notepad. ‘The black-as-soot vampire bat dive-bombed the funny tabby cat.’
But the kids at school didn’t want a ‘clever clogs’ in their class and she knew her mother and father had to struggle to feed her and her two siblings. Writing, painting and drawing came low on their menu of survival. And so Elizabeth learned to dumb-down her precociousness, to be more like the other kids. She’d read instead, soaking up the art of Shakespeare along with the imagination of Ray Bradbury and the horror of H P Lovecraft, and take her little Jack Russell, Winnie, for walks.
Now it was 2018 and she was sixty years old. She traced the lines on her cheeks and jaws in the mirror, wondering where the time had gone? Wondering what had happened to that little girl with the world at her feet?
She felt her eyes moisten as she remembered the death of her mother. Something imprinted on her mind forever. It was the day before her fourteenth birthday when she’d watched her mother’s back going out of the door. Her mother wore a red coat with a fur trim and a matching red hat. “I’ll just be ten minutes love, be good!”
It had been December 1972 – she remembered Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain was playing on the radio – and her mother was wearing black leather boots; there’d been snow on the ground. She was just going for some cigarettes but she never came back. A van had skidded on ice and careered onto the pavement, crushing her against a post box. Elizabeth wiped her eyes, putting out of her mind the awful week of visiting her mother in hospital, whilst she fought, in vain, for her life.
Dad had taken it badly. He would come home from work and drink himself into oblivion. She’d had to look after her two younger siblings – her sister, Sally, four years younger than her, and a brother, David, six years younger.
An aunt had made an occasional appearance but they’d had to survive on their own, so she’d taken a job at sixteen. Working on the checkout at Woolworths. But she’d done well there. Promoted to supervisor a year later, then to branch manager a couple of years after that.
Then had come Kenneth. She sighed. He’d seemed so wonderful. She knew she was no glamour queen and she’d been flattered with his attentions.
“Ken, darling, guess what?”
“What, sweetheart, did you hear from your dad?”
“No, better than that. I’m pregnant!”
And so little Abraham had been born. Only to be diagnosed with severe autism a few years later when it was found he could barely read or write. Then Arthur. He too had been autistic, though not so severe. But she’d loved them both and done all she could to help them grow up and develop. When Abe was ten had come the second great shock of her life. Ken had suffered a heart attack in the street and dropped down dead at the age of thirty-six.
She pulled down on her left cheek, just below the eyelid. Licking a finger, she rotated a contact lens, trying to improve the focus. Her hair was blonde with just a touch of grey in the odd place, still natural. She presumed it wouldn’t be long before she’d need chemical help. It was just these damned ‘marionette lines’ on her chin. She’d only recently learned the term but now, whenever she looked in the mirror, she thought of an ageing Lady Penelope from the puppet show Thunderbirds she’d loved as a child.
She looked once more at the envelope she’d rested on the toilet cistern and shivered. It was stamped ‘Mortimer Frampton.’
Sarah smiled. “Lizzy, you should get out more!”
“I’m OK, I’ve got my quilting to work on.”
“Jan and I are signed up for a creative writing course at the Walled Garden. What about you? You could come too.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I … I used to write, when I was a little kid, then … then life got in the way.” She gave a hollow laugh. No point in telling Sarah her life story. “I’ll think about it.”
“Lizzy, you always say that!”
But she’d done more than think about it. Writing had become a part of her life now, a world she could retreat to, away from the mundane, grim reality. A year down the line she’d submitted a children’s story to half a dozen publishers, thanks to her tutor’s encouragement, but not really expected a reply.
That was eight months ago. She’d given up hope, but now, today, this. And Mortimer Frampton, the most prestigious of the lot! She took their reply and held it up to the light, as if hoping to see the response through the thick cream envelope.

She rubbed the smooth paper against her cheek, then took it into her bedroom and switched on the shredder. It would break her heart to read a rejection letter and anyway, she didn’t need fame and fortune. She’d grown used to the solitude and the silence and, after all, there was her quilt to work on.

—-

To purchase the stories up to June 2017 in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

NOW AVAILABLE – AS OF 7TH DECEMBER 2018 – TO CUT A SHORT STORY SHORT: 88 LITTLE STORIES!

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 500 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 250!

All Apologies: A Writer’s A–Z


where i write

(You can use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to menu)

A – Audiobooks

“What, little me have an audiobook published? You gotta be kiddin’!” Or words to that effect. But why not? If you’ve managed to publish something on Amazon (see Y) register your title with ACX and wait [patiently] for the auditions to roll in. With a split-royalty deal you won’t even have to pay a penny upfront either!

B – Belief in Yourself

This is important, up to a point. But can you actually, really, honestly, I mean, when push comes to shove – write? Have you had good feedback from other writers, competition judges etc. or is your knowledge of spelling, grammar, punctuation, manuscript layout and all the rest of it, like a pile of poo? If so, there’s no need to throw yourself under the nearest trolley-bus. You still have a story to tell. Everyone does. Record it on audio and find a ghost-writing buddy (or employ someone if you are a Billy No Mates type) to turn it into the latest smash-hit feelgood autobiography/screenplay/TV series.

C – Computer Problems

How many times have you heard this one? Computers are so cheap now, secondhand (‘used’) under a hundred quid, it’s sometimes easier to stop throwing money down the drain on repairs to your top-of-the-range MacBook Pro and buy yourself a cheapo Windows laptop instead. Microsoft Professional Plus 2016 (including Word) can be had for under £15 on Amazon! At least you’ll be able to write again.

If it’s a case of software problems, I’ve found it’s usually ‘operator error.’ Get someone who knows what they are doing to look at the problem(s) with you. And you could always look at the manual (if there is one), you know.!

D – Dogs

‘I have to take the dog for a walk’ is a common excuse. OK, fair enough, your little pooch needs to stretch its littler legs from time to time. As well as poo on the grass, pee on fences and sniff other dogs’ bums. But while your mutt is doing those mundane doggy-matters, you could be listening to an audiobook on writing. Sol Stein’s one takes some beating. So, you could be brushing up on ‘show versus tell’ and ‘points of view’ whilst dear little Fido is running around fetching sticks or peeing on (more) fences.

E – Editing

Just like a carpenter can knock out a table in five minutes (maybe a bit longer) they will then spend HOURS sanding, planing, polishing and whatever else carpenters do. It’s the same with us wordsmiths, one can knock out a short story in half an hour or so (assuming you can type properly. You can, right?) but then it might take one to two hours in total (or more) to spruce it up. Ditto a short chapter or a scene.

Look, the eagle-eyed reader will immediately spot typos, repeated words, redundant phrases, mistakes, words you’ve used before in close proximity – you get the idea. So it pays to learn to enjoy editing and get good at it!

Second draft = first draft – 10%, so says Stephen King (although maybe a case of ‘Do as I say …?’) but it’ll tighten up the writing as well as weed out the evils above. Whether third draft = second draft – 10% etc. he didn’t say.

Marcy Kennedy’s books are a help too.

Also, many report that it’s easier to edit than it is to write from scratch when you are tired.

F – First Draft

“I’m afraid my first draft won’t be any good.”

“First drafts aren’t supposed to be any good, just write and let the creative juices flow (you idiot)!”

You can sort out all the typos and clunkiness later. As someone once said, ‘You can’t edit a blank page.’ Kudos to that man!

G – Grandkids

(One for the ‘silver surfer’ generation) See K – Kids below.

H – Hiatus

“I’m stuck on my book.”

A common excuse. But it doesn’t stop you writing something else in the interim – could be short stories, poetry, memoirs, etc.

K M Weiland’s books are pretty useful for unsticking yourself too.

N.B. the plural of hiatus is hiatuses or hiatus – for those sitting there, smirking to themselves, thinking the author had got it wrong.

I – Ill Health

“I have back pain/arm pain/wrist pain/no hands (etc.) and can’t physically write.”

Why are you reading a list of apologies for not writing then?!

J – Judge’s Criticism

You’ve just had your lovely competition manuscript returned with a scathing critique that your dialogue isn’t natural, there’s no characterization, the plot is non-existent/terrible and the ending is awful. What can you do? The most useful tactic is to put your head under a pillow and cry for two hours. After you’ve recovered – this may take several days/weeks, but therapy is normally not required – read the judge’s notes again with a clear, calm head, reminding yourself that they were just trying to give well-meaning advice.

Then, 1. Scream long and loud. 2. Decide to give up writing forever. 3. Change your mind and decide to improve in one area targeted by the kind-hearted judge for your next Earth-shattering entry. Repeat for five to ten years until you finally get on the shortlist.

K – Kids

Noisy, demanding, irritating little buggers, and that’s just their friends. Seriously, this is a biggie. You have to find some ‘me time,’ either when they are at school or by insisting that you are not disturbed. Well, you can live in hope. Or get up two hours earlier than them – that’s what’s recommended by some writers (ones who don’t have kids).

L – Love

“I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.” Forsooth. You’re madly in love and you can’t possibly write anything other than love letters, love poems etc. etc. Don’t worry, dear, forget about writing anything else for now, until it all fizzles out (it will).

M – Madness

Possibly conducive to becoming a writer in the first place but unlikely to contribute to useful relationships with industry bods – or sales, for that matter. Seek treatment. (See also L – Love above).

N – Nowhere to Write

Get in the car, drive to a park, the countryside, Tesco car park (as a last resort), open the windows for fresh air (except in Tesco car park) and do twenty minutes on your laptop. If you haven’t got a laptop you can scribble on paper. Like what Shakespeare did.

If you haven’t got a car, see K – Kids above.

O – Old Habits

Die hard. Like putting two spaces after a full-stop (‘period’ for our transatlantic friends). Look, the typewriter died out fifty years ago (give or take) and little things like that drive (some) editors and readers nuts. So get with it, dear!

P – Punctuation

“I don’t know how to do commas and stuff!”

“Well, there’s this thing called the internet ….”

And/or go to Amazon or your local [charity] bookshop and buy a book on punctuation and read it!

(See also O – Old Habits above)

Q – Quitting

Sometimes when you’re writing and things ain’t going so well, it’s time to just pull the plug and quit. Fixing those clunky phrases and bits of dialogue that no one would ever say won’t seem so foreboding in the clear light of the morrow.

N.B. Quitting should come at the end of a writing session, not the beginning.

R – Reading

Recommended by most writers (Stephen King is big on it). Otherwise, how do you know what ‘good writing’ is? But reading can become an excuse to not actually write anything. Ditto talking about writing, dreaming about writing, wishing you were writing ….

But, y’know, it pays to spend some time reading books about writing. Sol Stein says that writing is unusual in that some are reluctant to learn – or oblivious to – the craft of writing. Check out Solutions for Writers by SS for the lowdown.

S – Social Media

Yes, we all want to see what our friends are up to and gape at videos of pussycats climbing up poles and jumping down onto targets etc. Facebook is great but it won’t progress your short story or novel will it? Ditto Twitter and the rest of ‘em.

T – Time

“If I only had time, only time …” (feel free to warble along, fans of John Rowles). Together with Writers’ Block this is the biggie. ‘I don’t have time,’ cry countless wannabee writers. You never hear them crying, ‘I can’t be bothered,’ or ‘I don’t have the talent,’ or ‘I don’t have the patience.’

As an instrumental music teacher for over twenty years, the author has heard a boatful of excuses for not practising, very, very few of which have been valid.

And how much time do you actually need? Well, you can write something worthwhile in fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes a day is one hour 45 minutes a week, 7.58333… hours a month …. You get the idea. And guess what? There’ll be days when you can do more than fifteen minutes!

“How do I find fifteen minutes then?” you [may] ask.

In four words – TURN THE TELEVISION OFF!

U – Underscoring

Those nice red marks put in by well-meaning (but mean) judges and editors to curb your verbosity and highlight howling errors. Bite the bullet and take their advice. They’ve been at it longer than you, and you know what? They know what’s what.

V – Vocabulary

“My vocabulary’s too limited!”

Well, is there anyone who doesn’t like Ray Bradbury? Oh, there is. Oh, well the author is not one of them (although he never could get past page two of Dandelion Wine).  But you know what? Good ‘ol Ray (hope he wouldn’t have minded the familiar address) didn’t go in for long, complicated and obscure words (a la Edgar Allen Poe). He used a relatively limited vocabulary, but, ahh, did he know how to use those words!

Indeed, Shakespeare was pretty much like that, even though ‘half the words are in crummy old English,’ to quote a nincompoop on the internet! [Actually Elizabethan English.]

But if you do want to expand your vocabulary, sign up for Dictionary.com’s ‘word of the day’ (and etymology thereof).

Finding synonyms for words you already know is a help too. Use a thesaurus online (or a good old-fashioned book, if you insist) to find a substitute word per day that you are unfamiliar with.

List and keep using those new words. In three years, you’ll have a thousand new words (at least) ready to spring to your adroit mind and lissom digits.

W – Writers’ Block

Well, the granddaddy of all reasons to hold fire on putting pen (or pencil) to paper, or fingers to keyboard. Seems to refer to a general inability to think of what to put down on paper/screen.

Well, as Della Galton says in her Short Story Writers’ Toolshed, she’s never come across anyone with secretary’s block, gardener’s block or washer-upper’s block. So why is writing special?

Answer, it isn’t. You just have to use a bit of initiative. It’s no good sitting staring at a blank screen or piece of A4. [Puts knotted handkerchief on head, adopts ape-like stance and shouts in best Gumby voice] Blimey! I mean, blimey! … blimey! [ad nauseum] Blimey … I … mean … you’ve … got … to … have … an …idea … of … what … to … write! Blimey … it … stands … to … reason. [Thank you, professor J.M. Gumby. *]

How hard is that? There are thousands of ideas on the internet, plus countless books and magazines on writing. Or try the universal prompt recommended in practically every writing book going – What if?

Here goes … er … What if a man goes to sleep and wakes up to find he’s been transformed into a giant insect! Whaddya mean, that one’s already been had?! OK, OK, let’s have another go. Er … What if a man goes to a school reunion and everyone is curiously offhand with him …. There, that took under ten seconds. What happens and how does it end? Haven’t a clue! Get writing with that idea and you’ll soon find out! About two to three thousand words should do it. Perfect for the monthly Writers’ Forum Story Contest. I mean … Blimey!

*appears, courtesy of Monty Python’s Flying Circus

X – X-rays etc.

OK, OK, yes, very predictable I know. But Xylophone Practice didn’t seem so appropriate and, anyway, Patrick Moore managed to do pretty well, writing an impressive 112 tomes whilst doing so. Not to mention endless tours telling us for the million + nth time that the Sun goes around the Earth, or is it the other way around? I can never remember.

Anyway, yes, X-ray appointments plus general out-patient and in-patient appointments do interfere with daily writing practice, it has to be admitted. But, hey, waiting rooms are a damn good source of characters and story ideas if you keep your eyes and ears open. Well, perhaps not ears so much; some ‘people’ don’t seem capable of talking in anything less than a shout. (See also W – Writer’s Block above).

Y – Yttrium

Only joking! Y is really for Why are you not a published author? Seriously, it’s simple now to self-publish on Kindle. All you need is a measly 2500 words or so. And it’s not that much harder to publish a paperback (although you’ll likely need a few more words). Check out https://kdp.amazon.com/.

Bear in mind, however, that self-publishing and actually selling your cherished efforts are like calcium carbonate and fromage.

Z – Zzzz

That moment when you can’t see the text for the red squiggles that Word so helpfully puts in, and your head starts to droop. Time to call it quits. Tomorrow’s another day.

—-

To purchase the stories up to June 2017 in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

NOW AVAILABLE – AS OF 7TH DECEMBER 2018 – TO CUT A SHORT STORY SHORT: 88 LITTLE STORIES

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 500 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 250!

TCASSS FREE on Kindle, Mondays in Dec.


 

TCASSS II final cover

To help promote my book, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II – 88 Little Stories, (pictured above) which will be published in early December in paperback and Kindle e-book form, I’m running a five day promotion on the KINDLE VERSION of the CURRENT EDITION, To Cut a Short Story Short, 111 Little Stories, which features the ‘best of my blog’ up to June 2017, plus an extended ‘bonus story,’ NOT featured on the site.

It is FREE to obtain EVERY MONDAY IN DECEMBER, from 08.00 GMT (UTC) for 24 hours.

You can also purchase the audio version (read by experienced narrator, Angus Freathy, and highly recommended!) at a vastly reduced price to accompany the Kindle book!

To obtain your free Kindle book, simply head to your local Amazon store, any Monday in December 2018, and search for Simon J. Wood and/or To Cut a Short Story Short, then click on the ‘Kindle edition’ box. The U.S. and U.K. links are given below, for convenience.

N.B. If you don’t have a Kindle reader you can download a FREE Kindle app from Amazon that enables you to read Kindle books on your computer, tablet or phone. I have it on all my devices and it’s very good.

To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories on Amazon.com

To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories on Amazon.co.uk

From the description:

A young magician in a pub opens his hands to release a cloud of tropical butterflies; a female bookseller is forced to attend a dance in drag to atone for a misdemeanour; a lonely man searches for a mysterious woman on a cruise; four school friends experience terror on a caravan holiday, and a macabre stranger wanders the streets at midnight, stealing dreams.

Ranging from just 100 up to 4000 words, these and 106 other memorable little stories are found in this eclectic and tantalising collection by Simon J. Wood.

I hope you will enjoy To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories. If  you do, please leave a positive review on Amazon and don’t forget to tell your friends!

 

TCASSS II final cover

The new edition, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II, 88 Little Stories contains the ‘best of my blog,’ from July 2017 to November 2018. Every story has been checked and edited/revised as applicable and the book has over 300 pages.

It contains approx. 85,000 words, 7000 of which comprise two stories that will NOT appear on my blog – Billy Bunter’s Christmas Surprise [a tribute to Frank Richards], and In Dulci Jubilo, a heart-warming and heart-breaking story of a young girl’s transplant operation. It is a riveting account, based on a true story, that has had rave reviews from all my pre-publication readers.

To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II – 88 Little Stories, will be published in early December on Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle e-book form. I would especially recommend the paperback. It is of lovely quality, with smooth cream paper and a good size font, making it easy to read, and the whole feel and appearance of the book is great. I am VERY pleased with it!

From the description:

A husband, trying to rekindle his marriage in a lonely seaside village, meets a strange young woman from his forgotten past; a man taking a garden gnome to a museum gets an unwelcome surprise; a lonely widow encounters an enigmatic character from an embryonic pop group; a group of scientists make an horrific discovery at a big cat conservation centre; and a baby hare comes of age with a momentous idea.

Continuing in the spirit of To Cut a Short Story Short, [volume one], these and 83 other stories, varying from 100 to 5000 words, are found in this eclectic and scintillating collection of ‘flash fiction’ by Simon J. Wood.

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To purchase the stories up to June 2017 in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 500 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 250!

 

 

The Psychic on the Hill


morgan-greer tarot var cards

(1700 words)

“What does he do all day, d’you think?” Alison said, standing at our bedroom window, looking out across the valley and up at the dilapidated farmhouse on the hill on the far side.
I swivelled my chair around at my writing desk. “Didn’t you hear? Jenny says he’s a clairvoyant, does readings over the phone for people.”
Alison looked in the mirror, restlessly brushing her long chestnut-brown hair. “What? How does that work, then?”
“I don’t know how he does it, but they do tarot readings and stuff over the phone, don’t they?”
“Hmm. That’s interesting. What, you mean people pay for it, without him seeing them?”
“That’s what Jenny says. She cleans for him on Fridays, didn’t you know? Says he seems a nice bloke, keeps himself to himself. ‘Very spiritual,’ that’s what she says.
D’you think he’d give me a message from mum?”
I sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe. Why don’t you give him a call?”
In slow motion, her long, slim fingers replaced her hairbrush on the dressing table. “OK, perhaps I will.”
So that’s how it had started. Seems Roger, as he was called, didn’t want to do face-to-face stuff, would only work over the phone. That seemed odd to me. But I’d asked around and he was by no means alone. The internet was full of people claiming to contact the dead over the phone for you, and it wasn’t cheap either.
But now Alison would phone him at least once a week, for advice from her mother, grandmother and other deceased relatives and friends.
She seemed to be shelling out money left, right and centre on her credit cards but I had to admit she seemed much happier nowadays, so in that respect it was worth every penny. She hadn’t been the easiest woman to live with this past year, since her mother passed away.
“It’s all a big fraud,” laughed Jonathan, one of my drinking buddies at the pub, as he returned to our table with a tray of pints of beer. He clumsily handed them round, spilling beer to form a growing puddle.
“When you die, you die, that’s the end!” said Frank, my next-door-but-one neighbour. He took a large gulp of beer, leaving a moustache of froth on his upper lip. He wiped it off with the back of his hand, then wiped his hand on his trousers.
“What about God, Jesus, er, all that Bible stuff?” said Richard, an accountant and captain of the pool team.
“Invented by man,” said Frank, letting out a large cheese-and-onion belch that I could smell from the other side of the table. “Look, it’s like ancient man couldn’t explain stuff – thunder, lightning, eclipses, that kinda thing, so they had to invent a supernatural reason.”
Paul, a postman and general know-it-all, chimed in. “Every country’s got a religion and all those religions say you live on. In Heaven or whatever. Stands to reason they can’t all be wrong!”
Frank laughed. “Every country’s got tales of ‘little people’ – goblins, elves, dragons, mermaids – you name it. ‘Stands to reason they can’t all be wrong,’” he said in an affected voice, mimicking Paul.
“Who can’t be wrong?” asked Edna, the landlady, reaching across to pick up some empty glasses and exposing two huge pink orbs struggling to remain in her low-cut T-shirt.
“Oh, never mind,” said Frank. He guffawed. “You don’t get many of those to the pound,” nodding his head in the direction of Edna’s breasts.
“Oh, I do like a man with originality,” laughed Edna, good-humouredly.
When she’d gone, Paul said, “Well, there’s one way to find out whether Roger’s genuine or not isn’t there?”
“What’s that?” I asked. “Phone him for a reading, you mean?”
“No, I mean, one of us can go up and see him in person!”
I rang the bell apprehensively, glancing around at the stained, curtained windows, then down at the lush green fields in the valley. Well I could understand why Roger wouldn’t want people coming around to such a dump!
There was no sound from within. I felt the urge to flee but I’d drawn the short straw. I couldn’t show my face again without getting some kind of result. I rang again. Nothing. All was silent, save for a chill breeze rattling around in the ramshackle wooden porch. I rang a third time then took several paces back and looked at the curtained windows. Nothing moved.
I walked around the extensive buildings, tracing my fingers over the ivy-covered brickwork, noticing the occasional conspicuously-clean window, the handiwork of Jenny, no doubt. I came to a rough driveway, all broken tarmac and potholes. But no sign of a car. There was a lean-to garage with filthy cream panelling but it was locked and there were no windows. A little further on was a green wooden door. It looked serviceable. I went to knock but instead, on impulse, turned the handle and it opened! Inside there was a curious smell, perhaps resembling the odour of an Egyptian tomb opened for the first time in a thousand years. “Hello,” I called. “Hello!” The only response came from a grandfather clock, ticking at the foot of a staircase in a wood-panelled hallway. All quiet, no one at home.
I headed up the stairs, noticing the remnants of a paisley pattern on the ancient worn carpet, itself of an indeterminate pinky-grey colour. I peered into the bedrooms. There were six, five of them shrouded with white cloths. The sixth was obviously the one Roger used, and quite neat and clean too, surprisingly. Obviously, the money spent on Jenny’s elbow grease was paying off. Then through a side door in the bedroom I spotted some office equipment. I stood and listened. All was deathly quiet. I walked through to find a small switchboard with a computer connected to it, sitting on the green leather of a large mahogany desk. By a phone was a pack of cards, face down. A single card, likewise face down, sat alone, right in the centre of the desk. Beyond was a bay window, gazing out over the valley, and our house clearly visible in the mid-distance. I noticed Allie’s knickers and bras visible on a washing line at the back.
The phone rang, making me jump. An answerphone kicked in and I heard a woman speaking with a Welsh accent, asking if Roger would be available at ten o’clock the following night to give a reading? Suddenly, the connected computer sprang into life and I stood there with my jaw heading progressively towards the floor. A map of Britain appeared, then it zoomed in on a county, then a town, then a street, and finally a house. A column on the right gave data about the house price, its occupants, their ages, occupations, income, and photographs of them too. There were Facebook and DVLA sub-screens giving information about Facebook friends, groups and interests, and the date of manufacture of their car, the tax status and renewal date and the date the next MOT was due. And that was for starters! I didn’t know what program he was running but I guessed it didn’t come cheap or whether it was even legal for the public to see. I half-expected it to say what they’d eaten for breakfast that morning!
The call ended and the screen went blank. Wow, well would I have a story to tell my friends!
I picked up the cards and flicked through them. It was a tarot deck, I recognised the suits – cups, rods, swords and pentacles – and some of the trumps – The Devil, The Hanged Man, and Death. I wondered why he bothered? I tapped them back into a neat deck and put them to one side. And what of the single card? I flipped it over. Hah! What else could it have been but the only unnumbered card – a man resplendent in a black tunic with a bold floral design, carrying a stave with a tied kerchief at one end, accompanied by a small white dog, and about to step off a cliff whilst gazing skywards in innocence – The Fool.
“Insurance.”
My heart missed a beat and I whirled around, startled.
Roger gave a disarming smile and sat down in an armchair. “Take a seat.” He gestured towards a burgundy leather sofa. “I was in MI6. Old habits die hard. I don’t need any of it, really, but … sometimes the er, connection is weak and a few salient facts can help reassure the client.”
“It’s hardly ethical though, is it?”
“Ethical, what’s that? One person’s view versus another’s. Look, there’s cold reading, hot reading and mediumship … I use ‘em all to give accurate readings. Whether the info comes from spirit or MI6, what does it matter? Anyway, MI6’s data stops with the living! Look, I’ll do a reading for you, right now. He got up and sat at the desk shuffling the tarot pack. Just you, me, the cards and any spirit friends who care to pop in. If you’ve got time of course?”
Well, I’d learned something very interesting from Roger. The DVLA information was in the public domain. Just punch in a registration number on their website and get a big list of data about any car! I pushed my way through the crowded bar and the curtain of beer-aroma towards my buddies.
“Here he comes, the man with all the answers!” laughed Frank.
I sat down and reached out for a pint of beer waiting for me.
“What did you get?” asked Paul. “Did you see Roger?”
“Yes, I saw Roger. Well, my mum visits me and makes the lights flicker, my grandfather thinks Allie and I should be starting a family and my granny says I should ask my sister-in-law for her ring back, she wants Allie to have it.”
“Hardly proof of life after death! Didn’t you get any hard evidence?” asked Frank.
“Yes, your MOT was due a fortnight ago and your car tax is six weeks overdue!”
He almost choked on his beer.

—-

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Green and Pink


stressed-out

(1150 words)

Lawrence from IT had always seemed so quiet. We tried hard not to stare when he arrived one morning with two black eyes, a bandaged ear, and his hair dyed green. He avoided eye contact with us and sat at his desk, turning on his computer and staring at the display as if it were showing the latest Oscar winner.
My phone rang. I answered. “Hello, Julie Dawson, accounts.”
“Jules, where are the sales figures? They were supposed to be on my desk by nine!”
I suddenly remembered there was a big sales meeting at twelve. My mouth went dry and my stomach felt hollow. Due to problems with my family and trying to find the rent, I’d totally forgotten the urgency of this week’s figures. “Sorry Janet, I … I’d forgotten you needed them earlier. I … I haven’t quite finished.”
“Well, I need them by eleven at the latest!”
“I’ll have them finished by then, they’re … they’re almost done.” Not exactly true but hopefully it’d keep her sweet.
“Another thing, Julie. The printer here’s playing up. Print them out and bring them to my office. Before eleven!” She hung up.
I kept my head down, working solidly on the figures, vaguely aware of the green head opposite peering around from time to time. Once I looked up and found myself in eye contact with Lawrence. I blushed furiously and returned to my task.
I looked at the clock. Ten fifteen. Then at the spreadsheet I was working on. I felt a hot flush sweeping over me. Sweating profusely, I became aware of someone standing before me. I looked up at Lawrence.
“Julie, don’t ask. But you look stressed. Can I help?”
“Jan wants the sales figures by eleven or I’m in the shit. I’m only up to week two.”
“E-mail me the raw data for week four. I’ll compile the figures for you. That help?”
“That’d be fantastic, Lawrence. I owe you one.”
“It’s fine, Julie, don’t worry about it” He smiled, exuding friendliness and camaraderie, such that I quite forgot his appearance. I admitted to myself that I’d always rather fancied him, but he was engaged – to Maureen in shipping.
The clock showed ten thirty and I was ready to print out my three weeks’ worth of figures. Hopefully Lawrence had done his one week. Then my heart sank. Two police officers had entered the office, down at the far end and appeared to be making a bee line for him. Without me being able to check on his progress, they escorted him to a side office and he was now locked into an interview with them.
I went over to his computer and found the file he’d been working on. Bless him, there was only one column of data left to be analysed. It’d take me no more than five minutes. The phone rang on my desk. I deliberated, then walked across and answered.
“Jules, I know I said eleven but I’ve had old man Kowalski on the blower, chewing my ear off. He wants to look those figures over pronto, before the big guns get together. Where are you with them?”
“Ten minutes max, Janet, I’ve just got a couple of columns left, then all ready to print.”
“OK, don’t be late!” She hung up.
Trying to stall a rising panic, I went over to Lawrence’s desk to find a blank screen. I hit a button and, to my horror, a log-in screen came up. Oh, my God. What was his bloody password? I tried a few likely ones, then started to ransack his desk, looking everywhere in vain for a list of password hints. The clock showed ten thirty-five. Nothing for it. I ran to the office where he was being interviewed, knocked on the door and entered without waiting for a reply. “I’m sorry to interrupt but I need Lawrence – Mr. Marsh’s – password. It’s urgent.”
The officers looked nonplussed. “Er, sorry, madam, this is an official interview ….”
Lawrence interrupted, red-faced. It’s ‘paper lace,’ all one word, but ‘fours’ instead of ‘a’s. Paper is uppercase, lace is lowercase.”
“Paper lace. That was a crummy pop group in the seventies!”
He looked sheepish. “Well, my mum liked them ….”
A few minutes later, back at my desk, I hit the print button, wiped the sweat off my face with a tissue and took three deep breaths. I’d made it! With my hands still shaking, I went into a side room where the printer lived and, instead of the sizeable pile of sheets I’d expected, was dismayed to see a flashing ‘out of paper’ light. Shit!
I went to a nearby stationery cupboard. There were normally two or three boxes of paper, ten reams per box. But today there were none. I raced out of the door to the next office and crashed into Janet.
“For God’s sake, Julie, look where you’re going!” She glared at me. “Where’s that report?”
“The machine’s out of paper, I just need to get some more.”
A phone went in Janet’s hand. “Hello … yes, Greg … yes, I’m getting it now … yes, I know you did … yes, I know, sorry … yes, five minutes, Greg, sorry.” She turned to me. “I don’t want excuses, Julie, you’re on a warning. One more and you’ll be picking up your papers. Understand?”
I’d been sent to help out in the copy room till lunchtime, photocopying mind-bogglingly-boring reports with Freda, the company gasbag, a lady with nothing good to say about anyone. I was so glad to get out of there at lunchtime I headed into the high street, giving the canteen a miss. I eyed O’Neill’s bar longingly. But I daren’t go back intoxicated, even slightly, unless I wanted to pick up my papers at five o’clock!
“Hello Julie.” It was Lawrence.
“Oh, hi. Thanks for your help. Got there in the end, but that old cow, Janet, gave me a sodding warning!”
“Snap!”
“What d’you mean?”
“After the police left, she called me in and said I’d been seen fighting and bringing the company into disrepute!”
“Were you?”
“No! Well, yes, in a way. Two young black guys on bikes were trying to steal a girl’s mobile. I tried to stop them.” He smiled wryly. “I came off worse. But they didn’t get her phone.”
“Sounds like you should be getting a medal, not a warning!”
“That’s life, I suppose. Fancy a drink?” He gestured towards O’Neill’s.
“Aren’t you having lunch with Maureen?”
“Haven’t you heard? She’s ditched me for Roy.”
“Oh.” Roy was the shipping manager, a portly bachelor and arrogant man-about-town sort. But wealthy. My heart skipped a beat. “Oh, all right, why not?” What the hell, I’d just have a small pink gin, I could sober up in an hour. “You can tell me how you got your green hair!”

Lawrence laughed. “OK, but you won’t believe me!”

—-

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Timothy the Armchair


funny armchair(950 words)
“Oh, look, darling, we simply must get rid of this ghastly furniture!”
Reginald Wright rolled his eyes. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Well, it doesn’t match for starters! And this green – thing – is ancient! Look, let’s order a new suite from McIntyre’s. They can do us a custom job. Top-of-the-range leather and how about a deep ruby-red? It’d suit this room to a tee!”
Reginald held his tongue. Melissa was always right. Why argue? Her mother had died and left them a respectable sum. Now Melissa had her eyes on this old pile, Dalefern Manor, along with it’s almost-equally-old furniture. He replaced the dusty white sheets over the suite. “Fancy a snifter at the Coach and Horses?”
“That’d be nice, Reggie my darling, but look, let me call round at McIntyre’s first.”

Reginald sighed. “Whatever you say, dear.”

Timothy was an armchair, nothing more, nothing less. For fifty years he’d stood in this living room, with its high Georgian ceiling, chandelier and huge fireplace with towering bookcases on either side. There were three bay windows. One gazed out onto a driveway, with an ancient stone church beyond, another onto a neat front lawn and trees, and the third onto a croquet lawn. He’d heard that beyond the croquet lawn were more lawns, leading to a large circular pond, covered with wide green lily pads and inhabited by secretive carp and tench. Something he yearned to see, but knew he never would.
Once he’d had a sister – another armchair – and a brother, a beautiful sofa, both clothed in deep-green studded leather, as was he, although his was now rubbed and worn. He remembered only vaguely a workshop, the zinging of circular saws, the hammering of leather mallets and the overwhelming, sweet smell of sawdust. All to the shouting and laughter of the fellows there. His creators. God – collectively, he supposed.
Then came a brief period standing in a showroom with his siblings, proudly commanding a larger area than any of the other suites, much to their chagrin.
Then had come his first owners. Sandra and Kenneth. They’d poked and prodded him, dumped their fat backsides down on his tender leather. Bounced up and down, disturbing the inertia of his springs. Ummed and aahed, haggling over the price, as if he and his siblings weren’t worth every penny! Then finally they’d been carefully wrapped, put in a large lorry and brought to this house.
So many memories over the years! Generations of excitable children jumping on him. Rambunctious visitors laughing and shouting at noisy Christmas get-togethers. Shouting and yelling of a different kind during spring-quivering family rows. And all those bottoms! Sometimes clothed in harsh tweed, other times soft, warm and naked. And he blushed to think how some had abused him. Wine – and worse – spilt over his beautiful leather on more than one occasion too!
Then one sad, sad day his brother and sister were taken away and replaced with a three-seater, cloth-covered sofa and armchair, the latter with a control to lift the mistress, Hannah, out and support her arthritic legs. At first, they had remained aloof and, in truth, he’d regarded them with disdain, but as the weeks, months and years rolled past they’d become friends.

But now Hannah and Derek were gone, to the great workshop in the sky, he presumed, and he and his friends, Olly the sofa, and Mavis the reclining chair, had been draped in white sheets and left to ruminate.

Timothy awoke with a start. There was a deep rumbling sound of an engine, a slamming of vehicle doors and men’s voices. Sounds he recognised only too well – a removal lorry!
“Olly, d’you think they’re taking us away?” said Mavis, in a tremulous voice.
“Oh, dear Mavis, I think perhaps so. You heard what that awful woman said about getting furniture from McIntyre’s. Timothy, what can we do?”

Timothy didn’t know what to say. It seemed there wasn’t an awful lot they could do.

“This sofa and that chair, the reclining one, they’re to go. And this green leather thing. Just a minute. Darling … Darling!”
“You called, dear?”

“Yes, d’you you really want to keep this awful old thing? You could have a lovely new one from McIntyre’s!”

Timothy felt the shock of Reginald’s bulky frame crashing onto his springs, bouncing up and down, stretching and exercising them. But exercise they were still most capable of doing, even after all these years!
He’d been carried upstairs, somewhere he’d never been before, down a corridor and into a study. The walls were lined with shelves and there were boxes and boxes of books everywhere, waiting to be unpacked.
A piano stood in a corner with a beautiful carved stool covered in pink leather. Reginald stood up, patted Timothy fondly and left the room, smiling to himself.
The piano stool addressed Timothy. “Well, hello, big boy! My name’s Susie, are you going to be in this room with me?”
Timothy blushed. “Well, yes, er, I think so. My name’s Timothy.”
Susie giggled. “He’s a bit of a porker, that one – Reginald – isn’t he? By the way, do you mind if I call you Tim?”
“Oh, er, all right.”
“Oh, how lovely! You and I will be great friends! I can tell you stories of pianists who’ve sat on me and you can tell me of your adventures downstairs!”
Timothy looked out of the window and his springs almost burst with happiness. For there in the distance was the one thing he’d yearned to see all his life; the round pond, with its lily pads and its silver water, rippling and sparkling in the early morning sunshine.

—-

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Your Head in Our Hands


Cryonics-on-humans

(900 words)

“Remove any doubts from your mind, Mrs. Hawking. Our facilities here at Newton Cryonics are state-of-the-art. True, there may have been one or two, er, hiccups at the beginning, elsewhere, but you can have total faith in us, our cryogenic process has proved its reliability.”
“Alfred’s finding it hard to breath now. He’s not got long ….”
“Ah, good, now Miss Kelly outside will go through the protocol and form-filling with you. There’s just one thing. Did he want the full body or just the head?”
“Oh, what would you recommend?”
“Well, for most it comes down to price. Keeping the whole body at minus two hundred degrees is considerably more expensive over the long-term than just the head.”
Mrs. Alexa Hawking looked out of the window at the huge concrete hemisphere ensconced among neat lawns and flowerbeds that stretched out ahead. She fingered her white hair nervously. “Oh, just his head …. How long …?”

Dr. Zanoun gave a wry smile. “I can’t give you any definite figures, Mrs. Hawking. It could be a hundred years, it could be five hundred ….” He made a gesture as if juggling invisible balls. “But rest assured, your husband’s head will be safe in our hands.”

‘Hello, message for Dr. Jared Wise, Dr. Abraham Klein wishes to see you urgently.’ A soft, artificial-intelligent voice came into Jared’s mind. He tore his gaze away from an enormous round window, through which he’d been watching multi-coloured sky-pods dart between towering pyramidal blocks a thousand stories high.
Jared walked down a gleaming white corridor whose windows gave over the city below, into Klein’s enormous circular office, also in brilliant white. Huge oval windows behind Klein’s desk and in the ceiling far above showed puffy white clouds in a bright blue sky. Dr. Klein looked worried, Jared thought, very worried.
“Take a seat, Dr. Wise.” Klein gestured to a sumptuous white chair and retreated behind his desk, also white. He sat down and rested his chin on the inverted V of his fingertips. “There’s a problem.”
“Yes? With the heads?”
“Yes, with the heads.”
Jared knew that today was the second day of reanimating cryogenically frozen heads. Attaching it to a physical body was something else again, but that could wait. Once contact was established, the ‘patient’ could be reassured and placed back into their deep-freeze limbo until … whenever.
“Meaning … the process ….”
“The process is fine. We’ve done three. They’re testaments to the reign of Dr. Zanoun and his colleagues from way back when. They were brought back over the optimum time, you know, just up to the temperature where we could get the brain to function, then they were given twenty-four hours to … er, acclimatise. Look, I’ll not beat about the bush. There’s something wrong. They’re fine, they’ve got memories, they can reason. But … something’s missing.”
“Uh?”

“And, Dr. Wise, one of them is asking for you. By name!”

Jared stood in front of a cylinder of invisible liquid. At the level of his face floated an aged human head. It reminded him of a realistic wax head, the kind of thing they used to have in those wax museums in the old movies. The only difference was that this head was hairless. Suddenly, its eyes opened and blinked, looking directly into his. The thin lips twitched, then formed the semblance of a smile. A voice came through a transducer – pleasant-sounding, affable. “Hello Jared.”
“Hello …,” he glanced at a label … “Mr. Hawking.”
“Please, call me Al.”
“Well, welcome, to the year 2612, Al. There’s been some changes since you were last … around.”
“So, I understand.”
“What do you remember?”
“I have memories of a hospital. That’s all.”
“After you died?”
“Nothing, not till yesterday.”
“Well, you understand you’ll have to go back into cryo, Al. Till we have the technology to put you back on a body.”
“Time doesn’t matter to me, it’s a great adventure. But there’s one thing.”
“What?”
“That thing from yesterday.”
“What happened?”
“Well, a being, an … angel, I believe, came to me. He spoke about you.”
Jared started to worry. The process couldn’t have worked right. He’d need to discuss this with Dr. Klein right away.
“Yes, you see. You’ve got my soul. It passed into the world of spirit when I died and eventually reincarnated … into you! The angel told me.”
“What!”
“I’ve got memories. Memories of Alexa, my wife, my job, I worked in the fire brigade. Kids, we had three, Ginnie, Dawson and Arnold. But you know that too, deep inside.”
Jared had a flash of memory – burning buildings, sheets of orange-red flame, a fire-engine careering through streets with sirens blaring, men in reflective uniforms running. He could smell the smell of fire and smoke and that thing he hated most – burning flesh. And Alexa, twenty-five, a sensual young brunette mashing her lips on his, her heavy hard-tipped breasts against his nakedness …. He forced himself to come back to reality, of a kind. “Well, how can I help?”
“I want it back!”
“Sorry, you’re the one who chose not to die properly!” It was his soul now. He turned the audio channel off, then pressed a button to restart the initial stage of the cryogenic process. Not daring to look at Al’s face again, he headed back to Dr. Klein, wondering what on Earth to say.

 

—-

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Saint Peter


Pair-Antique-18th-century-English-George-full-0-720-36-f
(1050 words)
“Take your shoes off please, Peter, dear. We don’t want to tramp sand over Mrs. Johnson’s carpet, do we?”
Peter smiled and eased off his stained white trainers with the toes of his opposite feet, kicking them into a corner.
Mrs. Johnson bent down to retrieve them, recoiling slightly and holding them at arm’s length as she gingerly placed them onto a polished mahogany shoe rack. She stood up, brushing down her beige Aran-wool cardigan over her large, lumpy breasts. She spoke in a deep, throaty voice. “Do come through to the lounge. I’ve heard so much about you, Peter.”
“Oh, yeah, right, thanks.”
“My husband’s still at the church. He’ll be along presently. When he’s finished the service.”
We proceeded along a deep-carpeted corridor. Photographs of smiling family members hung on the walls and a tall grandfather clock ticked ponderously, attempting to keep the silence at bay.
Peter sat on a red-leather sofa with his back to a bay window, overlooking a neat garden which receded into the distance. He wore blue jeans; a black leather jacket and his long hair was washed and in a neat pony tail. “This room’s very nice Mrs. Johnson.”
“Oh, thank you, yes, there are many family heirlooms, as you can see. She gestured around at glass cabinets. All under lock and key!” She blushed furiously. “Oh, er, I mean ….”
“Of course, Mrs. Johnson.” Peter gave a charming smile. “You can’t be too careful around here.”

I’d met Peter at the drug rehabilitation clinic where I work. People imagined living by the coast in a quiet seaside town to be idyllic, but the reality was rather different. Little work, a lot of young and not-so-young people with nothing to do, save drink, take drugs, and steal things to buy them.
They’d found Peter at the bottom of a fifteen-foot dyke one night, out of his head on alcohol and heroin. Quite by chance, a dog walker wandering late at night had heard muffled shouts and investigated. Someone had been lowered on a rope and hauled Peter out, dazed and unaware of what was happening, cursing and shouting abuse at his rescuer. The nights were cold and he’d only been wearing jeans and a T-shirt. He could easily have died from hypothermia.
So, he’d come to us for methadone treatment and gradually turned his life around. He’d cut down on alcohol, quit living on the beach in a ramshackle caravan and been given a council mobile-home. He’d even got a job at the small resort down the coast, taking fares for the rides at the fairground there. Chatting to customers gave meaning to his life, he would say, and “I don’t want no stuffy office job!”
Now the vicar had asked Peter to consider giving a talk to young people about the dangers of drugs. It had to be said that they didn’t seem like addicts in the making, but around here, you just couldn’t tell. Peter, himself, had once been an angelic choirboy by all accounts.
“Would you like some tea, Peter, dear?” asked Mrs. Johnson.
“Yeah, thanks, that’d be nice. D’you want a hand?” He made to get up.
“No, no, that’s fine. Just stay here with Mildred, I won’t be two ticks.” She disappeared down the corridor.
After she’d gone Peter got up and walked over to a glass case housing porcelain figurines, peering into it through small leaded panes. I knew at least two of them were from the reign of George the Third and the collection had been willed down to Sue in the testaments of her forebears.
He turned towards me. “So, any idea how many kids I’ll be talking to?”
“Oh, I think it’s mainly the older children from local churches, maybe fifty to a hundred. Are you nervous?” I laughed.
His face took on a serious demeanour. “No. I just want to get the message across. I don’t want to see any of ‘em wasting twenty years of their lives on junk, like I did.”
I glowed with pride. My faith in him had proved justified.
“Could I use the loo, Mildred?”
“Yes, of course, go down the corridor, it’s the door next to the clock.”
He left and I followed shortly, joining Mrs. Johnson – Sue – in the kitchen. She was bustling around, preparing ham and tomato sandwiches, and putting dainty fairy cakes on a cake stand. A large brown earthenware teapot stood on a wooden tray, exuding warmth and the fragrant smell of tea. We chatted about the forthcoming jumble sale. Just then Sue’s husband, the vicar, appeared at the kitchen door. “Hello, darling.” He kissed Sue’s cheek. “Hello, Mildred, lovely to see you. Is … he here?”
“Yes, he’s waiting in the lounge. He seems a nice young man,” said Sue.
He sounded worried. “Look, has some fellow just been here, trying to sell something?”
“What? What on Earth makes you say that?”
“Well, I almost bumped into a man carrying a suitcase just now, it looked like he’d come out of our drive, I wasn’t sure. He went the other way, towards the main road.”
“What did he look like?” she asked.
“Oh, about thirty-five, jeans, black leather jacket, I think he had a what d’you call them … a pony tail.”
My heart sank to my knees. I felt a pain in my gut, I couldn’t breathe. Like the time my ten-year-old brother had punched me in the solar plexus at the age of eight ‘for practice.’ I’d gone down like a ninepin, wheezing and gasping in agony for breath. Mind you, dad had strapped his backside until it was red and raw. He could scarcely sit down for a week. Happy days!
“There was a suitcase in the lounge, woollens and shoes for the jumble sale,” exclaimed Sue.
We raced down the corridor to the lounge. The cabinet that had held the porcelain figurines was empty. The wooden doors hung open, splintered where they’d been jimmied.
I knew those pieces were of great sentimental value as well as being worth thousands. With tears of shame flooding my eyes, I realised that Peter had taken us all for a ride. He wouldn’t be taking any more fares at the fairground, that was for sure.

 

—-

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The Medium is the Message


fortune teller mask

.

(600 words)

“Hello Sherina, yes, I’ve received your payment, how can I help?”

“Well, the world’s divided into two kinds of people. Those who hear voices in their heads and those who don’t. Some get paid for it and some get locked away!”

“Ha ha, yes, I get paid for it, dear!”

“Oh, getting on for thirty years!”

“Well, we have ‘guides’ – people in spirit. They co-ordinate who comes through.”

“Yes, they do a great job, it can get pretty busy! OK, I’m hearing the name Dianne, it’s a female energy, I’m feeling a lot of love, is it your mother, dear?”

“All right, I’m feeling a sharp pain in my chest. Did she have heart problems before she passed, perhaps a heart attack? Ah, I feel she passed quickly.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, dear, but she’s with me now, she says she’s fine now, and she sends her love … Sherina, are you OK, love?”

“Ah, yes, she’s just come to say hello, to let you know she’s fine!”

“Well, she’s showing me a garden with two swings, and two dogs, one’s a rough collie, black and white, the other’s a big brown thing, I’m not great on dogs!”

“Oh, yes, it is! He’s got a long muzzle and a big black nose.”

“Yes, my love, she’s bringing that through as a memory link, then. From when you were little, then … You’ve got photographs on the mantlepiece of her, she’s showing me?”

“Yes, have you noticed them being moved?”

“She’s been there and moved them, my love. To let you know she’s still around.”

“Yes, she’s often with you. Did you know?”

“Well, now you know, perhaps you’ll be more aware of her?”

“Ha ha. On, no, spirit won’t intrude if it’s private. Like if you’re in the loo!”

“But she’s saying she’s not keen on, Ian, is it? Yes, is he a boyfriend, dear? She’d question his motives.”

“That’s right. And sometimes he brings a friend, she’s saying.”

“Yes, well we won’t go there, dear!”

“No, it’s not for me to judge dear, I’m just the go-between. But, maybe listen to what mum has to say, eh?”

“Yes, and can I give you Andrea?”

“OK, well, she’s telling me that Andrea’s not to be trusted, do you understand, please?”

“No, don’t sign anything! That’s what she’s telling me, anyway.”

“Well, it’s up to you. I’m just the messenger. Perhaps speak to a financial adviser, love?”

“Ha, well you can choose your friends, but not your family, in-laws included!”

“OK, now, I understand you’ve been having bad headaches?”

“And it’s something you’ve suffered from for quite a while?”

“Well, she’s saying to try shamanic healing, she thinks it’ll help.”

“Just look online. Where are you, my love?”

“Oh, there’ll be a few around there. As I say, just check online, OK?”

“And can I give you October for a big anniversary or birthday?”

“Oh, yes, birthdays and anniversaries are still important to those in spirit, dear. They can go anywhere, at any time, and join in the fun!”

“Ha, yes, she’s showing me a big cake, it’s got a lot of candles on it!”

“All right my love, and mum’s giving you a bag of sherbet lemons! I was never too keen on those, they used to scrape the roof of my mouth!”

“Ha, that’s why she’s giving you them then!”

“All right, my love, I’ll leave you with her love and say God bless.”

“You’re very welcome, my love. And remember what she said about Ian and his … his, er, friends, eh?”

“All right, my love, Goodbye. Thank you.”

—-

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Tangled Lives


tangled roots

(700 words)

I felt embarrassed. “Eavesdropper, moi?”
The girl looked at me accusatorily, but with humour behind her pale grey eyes. She wasn’t pretty, not even attractive really, but she had ‘something.’ Her skin was quite dark, healthy looking, and she wore silver-rimmed glasses. Maybe it was her generous shape. Perhaps it conformed to a subconscious template we males lust after?
“Well, what were you up to then?” She glanced back at her friend, a fat girl with bright blonde hair, presently shovelling spaghetti Bolognese into her face, then looked me square in the eyes, raising her eyebrows.
“OK, perhaps I was … a bit. I’m a writer; it’s a way of getting realistic dialogue … and ideas for stories.”
“What did you hear then?”
I laughed. “Not much really, just that you both sound desperate for a man!”
“Cheeky sod!” She blushed. “Perhaps I am. Have you written many books then?”
“I’m working on a novel.”
“Oh.” She sounded disappointed. She looked around, as if she were thinking to re-join her friend.
“Wait. I’ve written some stories. Look! I hurriedly took out my phone and found my book on Amazon. Look, that’s me, David Bird. Stories from the Undergrowth.” There was a little picture of me.
She looked from me to the picture, and to me again. “Wow. So, you’re a famous author!”
“Sort of!” I thought it prudent not to tell her it was self-published and that sales were currently in single figures.
Her eyes lit up. “Look, it sounds exciting. Maybe I could help?”
“Ah, I dunno.”
“Look, I’ll go around the bar, see if I can hear anything interesting. I’ll pretend to look at my phone, OK?”
I decided to humour her, I could always make my escape. “All right, thanks. What’s your name by the way?”
She smiled. “Leanne, I wondered if you’d ask!”
“Pleased to meet you, Leanne.” I shook her hot, clammy hand.
.
There was a restaurant area, about half full, and a large bar, separated into three levels, presently quite crowded, where you could also eat food. I’d discovered this was a good place for eavesdropping, and two stories in my book owed their genesis to it.
In a far corner I could see a middle-aged couple who looked like they were arguing. She was large with long platinum hair, small oval black-rimmed glasses, and a lined, saggy face. He had a short grey moustache and beard, and a skull that would have made a billiard ball envious. I wended my way towards them, aiming for a nearby cigarette machine, simulating a conversation with a talkative partner on my phone, giving time to eavesdrop on a tête-à-tête worthy of a modern-day Rabelais.
“All I’m saying, Jack, is to put your foot down a bit. She’s living in our house and while she’s still at home, she should abide by our rules.”
“I know, darling, but she’s twenty-four, she’s got a life of her own now. It’s not easy communicating with her, you know.”
“Maybe, but she comes back at all hours, drunk usually, crashing and banging about. And then there’s her … well, I hesitate to call them boyfriends.”
“Well, we were young and randy once!”
“Well, maybe you were. I preferred to keep my knickers on – unless I was having a piss or a shit.”
“Yes, I noticed!”
“Never mind that, something must be done, Jack, d’you hear me?”
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Leanne beckoning from across the crowded room. She looked worried. I went over to her. “Did you get anything?”
“Yeah, some men playing pool, ‘round the corner. They were talking about beating someone to a pulp.”
“Oh, my god, did they say why?”
“Yes, apparently some guy is shagging one of their wives.”
“Did they say who?”
“Yes, one David Bird esquire!” She glared at me.
I felt my stomach go queasy. “Look, I think I’d better go. It was great meeting you.”
She looked concerned. “I think you should. Will I see you again?”
Just then, Jack came over. “Leanne!”
“Oh, hello Dad, fancy meeting you here!”
That seemed as good a time as any to take my leave.

—-

To purchase the stories up to June 2017 in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 500 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 240!