The Biggest Bang

Suitcase_nuke
(800 words)

Any one of them could have been chosen. Thanks to the pale skin of his Scottish mother, Annag, it had been Sayid, better known as ‘Sandy’. He pulled into the car park, turned the ignition off and smiled at his Caucasian reflection in the mirror. No-one would know that his father was Syrian and in this most English of English towns, that was important. Extremely important. He took a deep breath. Then another deep, deep breath. After all, he was about to change history – for all time.
He opened the window and breathed unseasonably warm air. It was late March but the weather was springlike. Adjacent to the car park was a picnic area and beyond that the river. Beneath the picnic tables, ducks waddled lethargically, searching for scraps. Then, the paltry pickings exhausted, they would jump into the river and drift lazily downstream, under the bridge into the car park, to an area where there were tiers of low steps designed for river birds, to sun themselves and wait for bread-laden grandmothers with young children in tow. Sayid’s mind boggled at the thought. Steps designed for ducks! Yes, they probably had their petty disputes with other ducks and river-dwelling creatures but what could they know of his God and the hatred of mankind that could drive a man to do what he, Sayid Hussain, was about to do, to appease him?
How could it have been so easy he wondered? The mission had taken years of planning, although he knew almost nothing of it. Over the past two years, parts had been flown into remote airstrips and brought by small boats to lonely coasts. Then assembled in secret laboratories. Instructions were given in envelopes, personally delivered by anonymous strangers. Infringement of any rule meant blindness, the offender’s eyes gouged out. But as he enjoyed the warm river air and looked about there was no-one. So much for British Secret Services – pah!
He tore open an envelope. Inside was a number, nothing else. He called it. To his surprise an English voice answered. “Who’s that?”
“Sayid.”
“Where are you?”
“Tesco’s car park in Maltby le Fen.”
“Any problems?”
“No.”
“There’s a pocket on the outside of the suitcase. Inside it, there’s a calculator. Write this code!”
Nervously, he scrabbled for a pen.
The man gave a six digit code.
Sayid’s pen stopped working. Sweating profusely, he managed to scrape the code into a road map.
“Repeat the code please.”
He read the engraving, his heart pounding. “400708.”
“At exactly eleven o’clock you type the code into the calculator and press the ‘equals’ symbol. You understand?”
“Yes, I understand. What’ll happen?”
“You know what’ll happen.” The line went dead.
He sat breathing hard. The number was simple to remember. Alhamdulillah! He felt thirsty. Why hadn’t he brought any water? Well, still twenty minutes to go. He went into Tesco and took a bottle of water from a fridge at the customer service desk. A woman in dark blue with blonde hair and huge breasts served him and smiled. “Not going to see the Queen then?”
“No, I’ve got to go to, er … a meeting.”
“Well, it sounds like a lot of trouble anyway. Nearly all the roads are blocked off and the car parks’ll all be full.”
She was talking about Louth, five miles away but close enough! The monarch was visiting St. James church to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the highest parish church spire in Britain. ‘Two birds with one stone’ was the thinking, apparently.
Back at the car Sayid noticed an ancient attendant wandering aimlessly a few cars away. On a bench by the river twenty metres away an old white-haired woman munched on a sandwich. Two schoolgirls were laughing at a picnic table, looking at their phones. All clear!
Better get ready. If it went off a few minutes early, irrespective of his controller’s instructions, what would it matter? He laughed at the irony.
He opened the boot and fished in a pocket of the large, very heavy suitcase. So heavy that the suspension had needed reinforcement.
“Excuse me sir.” The car park attendant appeared at his elbow. “Would you raise your hands please?” Sayid saw the man held a squat black gun.
“There must be some mistake,” Sayid laughed as he began to type the code into the calculator.

Suddenly he found himself looking down on the scene from above. His body lay in a pool of blood by the car boot, half the head blown away. By the river he saw the ‘old white-haired woman’ holding a powerful sniper’s rifle. Close at hand the two ‘schoolgirls’ both held revolvers. He felt no emotion, just a deep peace. Thoughts of the mission evaporated, paradise awaited…



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New Forest Frolics

mouldy caravan
(1750 words)
“Look Trudy, it’s your decision but I’d put my foot down if I were you.”
“I know mum, but Sally’s set her heart on it, been going on about it for days.”
My daughter Trudy, 51, blonde, divorced, and ‘pleasantly plump’ to put it kindly, had, for once, asked for my advice. Sally, my sixteen year old granddaughter, had been invited on a caravan holiday and Trudy had qualms about letting her go.
“Funny things can happen on caravan holidays,” I said.
“Well, she’s only going with Jack and Joanna, oh, and Bob of course, he’ll look after her, it’s just…”
Bob was Sally’s brother, my grandson, Jack was a schoolfriend and Joanna his sister, all quite ‘sensible’, admittedly. “The other boys on the campsite. I know,” I said, “they’re randy sods at that age. They’ll do anything to get girls into their caravan, get them on the wine, and before long the lasses’ll be dropping their knickers!”
“Don’t hold back mum!” laughed Trudy.
“Look, make some tea, there’s something I need to tell you…” I replied.
I sipped my tea. “When I was Sally’s age, I went on a caravan holiday. I went with your uncle Robert and Timothy Ward, a classmate. His sister came too, Tammy, so there were four of us.”
“That sounds cosy mum.”
“Well, Robert had booked a caravan in the New Forest. It was on a very small site, just three caravans. Well, we’d just started walking when the heavens opened! I remember we’d got the train to Ashurst and then we had to walk five miles in the rain. We got soaked, despite our so-called waterproofs! Rob had a map but the paths weren’t all marked. We went down a long track that just fizzled out and had to walk all the way back. All the undergrowth was sopping wet. That was horrible!“
“Sounds awful.” Trudy pulled a face and sipped her tea.
“Finally it was just starting to get dark when we found what we thought was the site, but there was only one caravan, and it was mouldy and dilapidated.”
“Oh my God! What did you do? Couldn’t you phone someone?”
“Trudy, this was 1965! There weren’t mobiles, or probably even a phone within ten miles!” I rolled my eyes. “Anyway, it was still pouring with rain, we were wet through and the door wasn’t locked, so we decided to get out of the rain at least. Inside it was damp and smelly but Tammy got some oil lamps burning and there was an oven too. She lit it and it warmed the place up.”
“What were caravans like in those days?” said Trudy.
“Well that was the funny thing, this caravan seemed much older, even had magazines from the 1930’s, nothing modern, well, modern for the sixties! I’d taken my tranny – transistor radio – they were all the rage then, but could only get old wartime type music. It was weird. Anyway, there were two long seats at one end that would convert to single beds, and a table you could fold down over them. At the end where you went in there was a sofa. I remember it was very worn and there was a teddy bear at one end! That was a double bed.”
“Was there a toilet?”
“You’re joking! No, it was the bushes. I remember poor Tammy was dying to go and us throwing soggy toilet rolls at her!”
Trudy smiled.
“In the middle, on the side opposite the door there was the oven, a sink and some cupboards, and on the other side was a wardrobe with a big mirror, covered in mildew. So we made some tea and me and Tammy went to put some dry clothes on. Thank God for waterproof inner bags in our rucksacks!”
“Were you worried?” Trudy asked.
“You don’t worry much at that age,” I said. “It was a big adventure.”
I took another sip of tea. “Well, you could fasten the wardrobe door to the other side to form a partition, so we did that, and just as me and Tammy had stripped right down, Tim opened the door! We were young girls, larking about and I remember Tammy yanking my bra up and exposing my… um… boobs!”
“Mum!” Trudy blushed.
“Well, it was a ‘we’ve shown you ours, now show us yours!’ type of thing. Tammy was saying, “I want to see what that hard lump is in your trousers Rob, or is it your pocket knife?!”
Trudy laughed.
“Well, just then someone knocked on the door! We almost died! A man was shouting that he needed someone to help, there’d been some sort of accident. We told him to wait whilst we got dressed. Then we opened the door and it was a Scoutmaster.”
“I suppose Scouts camp there quite a bit…”
“Well, he was kind of creepy, and one of his eyes, had, what d’you call it, when it keeps flinching?”
“A tic.”
“Yes, that’s right. So he said he needed help, a boy had got burnt cooking sausages, and the others were squeamish, that’s what he said anyway. In the end Tammy went with him, we weren’t happy, but he said he’d look after her. He said his name was John but to call him ‘Mac.’ ”
“What happened then?” asked Trudy.
“Well, we cooked some food, bacon and egg I think, and then played cards. Tammy still wasn’t back. Then Tim found a bottle of whisky, can you believe?! He said it was nice with water. Before we knew it we were halfway through the bottle and onto strip poker!”
“Exactly, this is why I don’t want Sally going to a caravan!”
“You haven’t heard the half of it,” I replied. “Well, we were all more or less down to our underwear when the whisky and all that walking hit home. We just wanted to go to bed!”
“Just as well mum!” laughed Trudy. “Had Tammy come back?”
“That’s just it, she hadn’t but I suppose we were too pissed to worry much. We thought she’d probably stayed for a camp fire sing song and a sausage sandwich. Anyway, we were getting the bedding out – it was a bit smelly, but the blankets were quite thick – when Tim found some strange bits of cloth, like leather it was, pinky grey and semi-translucent, I think you’d say. We thought it was some kind of leather for cleaning the windows but it seemed too big and the odd thing was there were three of them. Rob said one for each window!”
“That night it turned out we all had the same dream! We saw a boy standing in the moonlight in the caravan, he seemed to be painted red. We got out of bed to see if he was OK. He took our hands. His were hot and sticky and we couldn’t pull away. He was laughing. I think we all woke up at that point.”
“I’d have been so scared mum!” said Trudy.
“Well, the next thing I remember is waking up quite early. My head was aching – probably due to the whisky! Then someone was pounding at the door and it was Tammy. She looked as white as a sheet, she’d no skirt and her panties and legs were covered in blood.”
“Oh my God!” said Trudy.
“Well, we didn’t know what to do, there was no-one to call for help and she seemed hysterical, crying and saying that the Scoutmaster had put a knife up… well, up… inside her, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh God.” Trudy covered her face.
The boys decided to go for help, I locked the door and tried to clean her up and calm her down. I couldn’t tell what.. damage…he might have caused. After a while she went to sleep and I didn’t see any fresh blood.
“What happened then?”
“Well, it was really weird. Tammy woke up after a couple of hours and seemed OK! She said we should go and look for the real caravan site. So we put our gear on, took our backpacks and walked down to the main track, about a mile away. Well, just before we got to it, a Land Rover came round the corner with a policeman, Rob and Tim in it! It was being driven by a forest ranger, Tom I think. The policeman, Sergeant Hogan I remember, seemed quite annoyed to see Tammy walking along normally!”
“Well, you can hardly blame him, after what the boys must have told him,” Trudy said.
“We all got into the car and Tom drove us back to the caravan. Well, we couldn’t believe it. Instead of the mouldy old one we’d slept in, there were three brand new caravans! Rob and Tim’s stuff was outside one of them. Rob found the key he got when booking and we all went inside. It was lovely, everything new and sweet-smelling. The owners had left a card and a vase of flowers for us too.”
“What did this Sergeant, er Hogan, have to say?”
“Well at first he thought it was all some kind of practical joke. Tammy said she’d had a heavy period that had been made worse by all that walking about. She was very embarrassed. Anyway, he and Tom just left us to it.”
“That is seriously weird! What d’you think happened?”
“Well, it sounds odd I know but we think we went into some kind of time warp. The sergeant said there was a Scoutmaster in the 1930’s who’d taken some boys camping there, as he did every year, but one year three of them slept in a caravan for some reason. His name was John McIntyre. Well, they say he went there in the night, drugged the three boys and skinned them alive. Then he cut his own throat.”
Trudy turned pale.
“Another boy found them in the morning. They say he went mad…”
Trudy opened her mouth but nothing came out.
“There’s something else you should know. Your dad was staying in one of the other caravans. He was nineteen at the time. Well….”
“What?”
“Well, you were born nine months later!”
“Good God mum, I know you said you and dad had met on holiday, but I thought that’s when you were in your twenties.”
“Well, now you know.”

Trudy stood up and brushed her blonde hair back. “Right, that’s it. Sally’s definitely not going on any caravan holiday!”



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Clarissa’s Missives – Part Two

anatolian3


Link to part 1:  Clarissa’s Missives

(1100 words)

I awoke. Had I heard a noise? Naked, I was snuggled up to Clarissa’s equally naked back, one arm around her, my face up against her nest of blonde hair. Then the sound of clomping boots and laughter. My heart thudded. The bedroom door crashed open and someone turned the light on. “Oh, look. Your sister’s got herself a new boyfriend!”
There stood Clarissa’s sister, Helena, and three young men, all clad in walking gear and carrying rucksacks. “No prizes for guessing what they’ve been up to!” said Helena. They all roared with laughter. “Hey, he’s no spring chicken is he!”
Bloody cheek. Had she looked in the mirror recently? I shook Clarissa’s shoulder but she didn’t move. “Clarissa, Clarissa!”
I jerked awake to find myself shaking a pillow. Light came through unfamiliar curtains. Where was I? Then memories began to filter back. Wine. Yes, I’d drunk several large glasses of wine, I remembered that.
Clarissa had shown me into a very large, comfortable lounge with a grand piano, then she’d gone to make some tea. We’d sat and chatted happily – her ex-husband, my ex-wife etc. Then she’d gone over to the piano. I’d listened, entranced as her fingers, long and slender, caressed the keys, drawing out mellifluous melodies and harmonies.
“That’s lovely, Clarissa.”
She turned and smiled. “Oh, thank you, it’s not hard actually, it’s a Nocturne by Chopin.”
I’d brought a guitar as she’d suggested, a Japanese classical guitar bought from Ivor Mairants’ music centre in Soho, back in the dim and distant days of my youth.
She passed over some music. “I found some duets.” Then, “I’m so pleased you could come over Stan, er, sorry, John.”
“That’s OK. Just call me Stan,” I laughed.
She blushed. “Should we look at the first one?”
I examined it – ‘Island Melody’. Suddenly I felt my confidence dwindling. “I’m not sure I can sight-read this,” I said. “I think I’d need to look through it first.”
“Oh, nonsense, you’re a guitar teacher. Just have a go!”
The first page was a series of arpeggios, broken-chords as they’re sometimes called. The first one looked like C. That went for a few bars. “Oh, OK, but can you go slowly please?”
She smiled. “Yes, don’t worry!”
She counted us in, not especially slowly, and we began to play. Her part consisted of syncopated chords and a lilting melody. It sounded like she was no stranger to the piece.
My heart was pounding and my throat felt dry but I managed to keep the notes going, whether they were the right ones or not I wasn’t sure.
She stopped. Had we reached the end of the page? “That was lovely John, er, Stan. It’s a C9 chord in bars one to four. I think you played C major 7.”
“Probably,” I said. It was alright for her, she already knew the damned tune!
Suddenly the phone rang. Clarissa crossed the room. “Hello…oh, Helena….isn’t there anyone who can fix it?…are you sure?….well, isn’t there anywhere you can stay?…”
She spoke for several minutes then turned to me, looking disappointed. Helena and her friends’ ‘support vehicle’ had broken down and they’d deemed it too risky to undertake the 42 mile ‘Lyke Wake Walk’ across the North Yorkshire Moors without it. Unsurprisingly.
“I’m so sorry John!”
Ha, she got my name right!
“I’m going to have to go and pick Helena and her friends up. It’s OK, you can stay. There’s plenty of wine in the fridge and you can sleep in the guest room. It’s just through there. Oh, can you take Boris and Henry out please?”
“Who?”
“Oh, they’re my dogs. They’re Anatolian Shepherd Dogs.”
“What?”
“Oh, they’re originally from Turkey I think. They’re a bit big. They’re in the TV lounge at the minute. You’ll have a chance to practice that music anyway!”
Memories of Boris and Henry came back. “A bit big” was an understatement. They were huge. Hurriedly, Clarissa had shown me their leads and directed me to a nearby park. In fact they’d trotted along quite obediently, drawing admiring comments from the few passersby. By the time we got to the park I felt like an authority on Anatolian Shepherd Dogs.
With embarrassment I remembered Boris squatting to deposit a huge steaming turd on a path. What to do? Well, it was growing dark and who would know it was ‘my’ dogs? Suddenly a woman dressed in green tweed and grey leggings appeared. She was about sixty, had grey hair and waved a stick in my general direction. “Hello young man, I hope you’re not thinking of leaving that dog poo there!”
“Oh, of course not,” I replied, “it’s just I don’t have anything to pick it up with.”
“Well you could always use your hands!” she exclaimed.
“No, I meant those little plastic bags people carry.”
Evidently a self-appointed dog poo warden, she reached into a pocket and pulled out a bundle. Under her stern gaze I was forced to put my hand in a bag, and put it over the hot, squishy stinking ‘poo’. It felt like it was in direct contact with my hand.
“Now pick it up!” she exclaimed.
I did so, noticing a little left on the pavement. I hoped her eyesight wasn’t too keen. I turned the bag inside out, tying it with the special tie, feeling quite proud of my ‘capture’.
“Now put it in the bin!” She waved her stick in my face and then pointed with it to a red bin about 10 metres away. Obediently I went over and deposited Boris’s ‘doings’. I smelt my hand. Hmm. It didn’t seem to smell. Even so I couldn’t wait to get back to Clarissa’s to give my hands a good scrub.
Now as I lay in bed I could hear a loud whining sound from somewhere. No doubt Boris and/or Henry expressing their desire to head to the park for another titanic ‘poo’. Reluctantly I got up. But surely Clarissa would be back by now? I headed for the lounge and saw a flashing light on the answerphone.
“Hello John, it’s me, Clarissa. The weather’s been awful up here. They’d managed to find a guesthouse after all, so I stayed too. I don’t think I’ll be back until midday. Can you take the dogs out again please darling? I’ll phone again later. Thank you so much!”

Darling! Well maybe I would take those hulking great hounds out just one more time after all, although armed with some ‘dog poop bags’ this time…



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Full Fathom Five

princess-vs-carnival-fleet


(1300 words)

I stood at the railing, gazing out to the haze of the distant level horizon. The sea was calm, low deep blue waves undulating slowly, barely hinting at their potential ferocity. Ahead and far below me was the bow of the cruiser, where people, ant-like, sat by an unusually empty pool. I sighed and thought of Janie. Bitch!  We’d had problems, sure, who doesn’t? But her leaving had come as a shock. It was Valentine’s Day, of all days, and I’d ordered some Adrenaline roses, her favourites. Unexpectedly, a silver BMW had pulled up, and I’d recognised Andy, her gym trainer, his dyed-blond hair swept over in an attempt to look youthful. Obviously it had worked. Janie appeared. “Look Steve, I don’t want a scene. I’m leaving. Me and Andy… I’ll be in touch about my things.” She’d looked embarrassed and hurried out, clutching her sports holdall, before I’d had time to reply. I watched her get into the car and kiss him. They drove off without looking back. Just then the flower delivery van had turned up. I’d taken the roses and thrashed them to pieces in the back garden with tears streaming down my face.
“Full fathom five thy father lies, of his bones are coral made.”
Surprised, I looked around to see a young woman with medium length blonde hair and sunglasses. She wore a jade green dress with a modest neck line.
I couldn’t help myself. “Those are pearl that were his eyes, Nothing of him doth fade.’
“But doth suffer a sea-change,” we both said, in unison.
She laughed. “I don’t think there’s many on this ship who know Shakespeare!” Her voice was husky. “Why aren’t you on the island?”
“Oh, I fancied some time to myself.” I’d accompanied my mother on this cruise, naively not anticipating the non-stop queuing for lifts, queuing to embark and disembark, crowded pools full of rowdy children, and endless bars, cafes and restaurants thronged with people.
“I know what you mean. My name’s Jamie by the way.”
“Hi, mine’s Steve.” Jamie, Janie. Hmm.
She shook my hand, her palm was dry and warm and her long slim fingers wrapped around mine and squeezed. Her nails were short with a clear varnish and she wore a curious gold ring in the form of a coiled snake with two tiny purple stones for eyes.
We stood in companionable silence, gazing in awe at the endless sea. A warm breeze blew her blonde hair back showing high cheekbones and full lips, lightly made up. She was tall and slight and her skin was tanned. I felt self-conscious of my own pale flesh and paunch, trying to hold my stomach in below my white T-shirt.
“Are you with anyone?” she asked.
I told her about my mother – aged, irascible, partially deaf and between cataract operations. Mother had said she was looking for a sugar daddy. I’d asked Jamie if she knew of any blind 90-year olds on board.
She laughed as if I’d told the world’s funniest joke. “I’ll keep an eye out! Sorry Steve, I have to go. Look do you know ‘Arabella’s Sushi?”
I said I’d heard of it. It was a bar that moved between decks every day. A novel idea that appealed to me.
“Would you like to meet tonight? It’s on deck six today. Say 8 p.m.?” she said.
“Yes, that’d be lovely,” I replied, trying not to sound too desperate.
That evening I’d showered and spruced myself up. In a pastel orange shirt, cream linen slacks and, holding my stomach in I thought I didn’t look too bad.
I arrived early, feeling rather apprehensive, to find the bar wasn’t crowded, even though the throngs had returned from viewing Roman ruins – only a few tables were taken. I got talking to an attractive Filipino waitress. She was friendly, seemed happy to chat and told me they worked seven days a week whilst on cruise. For no reason I found myself asking if anyone had ever gone overboard. Her face changed. Yes. On the last cruise. A young woman, that’s all she knew. But it was bad luck to talk about it. I apologised and her friendly demeanour returned. Suddenly I realised it was twenty past eight. No sign of Jamie!
I’d waited until nine and then, despondent, had given up, returning to our suite to find mother with another ‘old bag’, although somewhat more presentable. She introduced me to her as Iris Brummage. Apparently she was a retired professor of mathematics. Mother, being a fawning snob, had latched onto her.
I went out onto our balcony and sat looking out to sea, disheartened. What the hell had happened to Jamie?
The days passed. Mother went off the boat most days with her new friend and I felt as if I was the only person on his own. Everywhere were couples or families with young children. I scanned the crowds for Jamie, even asked in every cafe and bar I went to, but no-one knew her. In one cafe however, a waitress had looked at me strangely. “On a cruise, people aren’t always who they say they are.”
One day, looking down from our fifth-deck balcony, I thought I saw Jamie’s blonde hair and jade green dress far below on the lower deck. I’d raced through corridors and down endless staircases, eventually coming out where I thought I’d seen her. I looked in vain, finally asking some sunbathers, who said they didn’t remember her. They regarded me curiously, seeing me sweaty and anxious.
In my time on the cruise I found the other holidaymakers generally friendly and easy to converse with. However I soon grew tired of the endless chat of what deck was I on, what was my cabin like and what shows had I seen? None! Then would come interminable stories of previous cruises. They were well-meaning but I wanted someone on my own wavelength. I longed to hear Jamie’s husky voice laughing and to see her sunny smile again.
It was towards the end of the cruise when I found myself wandering along a part of our deck I hadn’t visited before. Not hard, considering the size of the place. Floating city was about right, and I never did learn to find my way around. Hearing music, I passed into a large open space with a bar at either end and chairs dotted around, where a pianist, drummer and guitarist were playing jazz. To my surprise mother and Mrs. Brummage were there. Mrs. B waved and smiled. She wasn’t so bad I supposed. I ordered a lager at the bar nearest the band. The barman was another Filipino, middle-aged and sympathetic. I asked my usual question. Had he come across a young lady called Jamie, early thirties, tall, slim, blonde?
“No, sorry sir, so many people!” He gestured, opening his arms, laughing. Then, “only Jamie I know is pianist here.”
I looked at the man on the piano, young and slim, currently drawing out mellifluous melodies with apparent ease.
“D’you know him well?” I asked.
“Not really. He and Alan, the drummer, well… they, are, er… together, if you know what I mean.” He smiled wryly.
Mother and Mrs. Brummage came over. Mother spoke. “We’re going to Hairspray. D’you want to come?”
I looked at the pianist again. His tanned face, handsome yet effeminate, looked around and through me, as if I were invisible. I felt a jolt of recognition. Then he looked down again, watching his slender fingers fly. I walked past the piano, feigning nonchalance, observing him askance, then froze, seeing a familiar snake-like gold ring. How fitting! I felt sick.

I returned to mother, “Yeah, let’s go. I can’t stand jazz…”



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Don’t Know What to Write?

island-menschen-vor-dem-dettifoss-20080807_133623


(800 words)

Journalism was my husband’s profession. His name was Alan Worley and the ‘six honest serving-men’ gave his work the acuity and aplomb that propelled his novel, ‘Uprising in Eden,’ a tale of human duplicity in the garden of Eden, to fame. Following its prodigious success, he’d pulled the plug on his newspaper work and devoted himself to lecturing and giving readings, although after a year they had dried up. After all, one can only talk about the same stuff so many times, before running out of people who want to hear it. Then Alan had withdrawn from public life to work on the novel’s successor.
Every morning he’d go into his study with a breakfast tray and lock the door. Save for answering the call of nature he’d stay there until he’d written two thousand words. Sometimes I’d hear a call, “Jude, get me some more toast, and don’t burn it!” other times, “that tea was foul, too much chlorine in the water! Make me some fresh with distilled water.” I was charged with buying it and heaven help me if we ran out!
One thing he always said, “if inspiration doesn’t strike, I’ll write ‘I don’t know what to write,’ just to get my pen going.” Yes, he was of the old school, “none of your new fangled computer gubbins for me, thank you very much! Shakespeare didn’t need a bloody computer!”
Then, his writing done for the day, he’d take our dog for a long walk. After tea he’d work on his model train set and watch TV. Save for our annual two week holiday in Iceland that was his routine for the next twenty years, Christmas Day and his birthday included.
He never published another book. “For God’s sakes Jude, it’ll be ready when it’s ready, stop yammering on about it!” Money grew tight and we had to forgo the waterfalls and lava fields. Then liver cancer struck. Three months later we were burying him in a lavish ceremony, attended by literary lions who likely neither remembered nor cared about him…
“Hey, Steve, I just got a call from Jude Worley, Alan’s widow!”
“Who?”
“The guy who just died. Uprising in Eden!” said Martin Simmons, CEO of Whartons Publishing.
“Oh, yeah, what happened with him?”
“Well, Bill gave him an advance on another novel but Worley never came up with anything, a big fat nada! Bill just let it go in the end. He got his golden handshake, why bother about a has-been novelist? He’d made us big bucks in any case.”
“What did she want?”
“Says he left a cabinet full of writings from the last twenty years and would we be interested in coming to have a look?”
“Jesus Christ! Yes, tell her yes!”
The staircase is narrow and the carpet, faded pastel-green. The landing is silent save for the low tick of a grandfather clock. “It’s through here,” I say, leading the two men into the study.
“Good Lord, this is like a time capsule!” says Martin. Nothing in the room looks like it’s been purchased within the last thirty years. In the corner of the room stands a large steel cabinet.
“It’s locked,” I say.
“Do you have the key?”
I go to an ancient desk and take out a sealed envelope. “He made me promise never to open it. He said to have the cabinet destroyed after he died.”
“Why didn’t you?”
I sigh. “Money…”
“Look, go downstairs, just relax, we’ll give you a shout.”
Well, they can’t have been up there more than ten minutes when I hear a call, “Mrs. Worley!”
“Coming!” My hands are shaking. My gut tells me those manuscripts must be pretty valuable. I imagine standing by the thundering waters of Dettifoss once more. Watching water boiling out of the earth and exploding a hundred feet into the air at Strokkur.
I tramp up the worn staircase, past the old grandfather clock and into Alan’s study. Both men, Martin and Steve, are standing by the desk, which is now piled high with manuscript books. There’s something odd in their demeanour.
“Mrs. Worley, do you know what your husband was working on?”
“Well, he didn’t talk about it and I didn’t like to pry. Do you know if he wrote many novels yet?”
The men exchange glances. Martin hands me a volume. “Take a look.”
I open the book with eager anticipation. Then I understand. Tears course down my cheeks. “Sorry.” I dab at my eyes and whisper, “Are they all like that?”
“I’m sorry Mrs. Worley, really sorry,” says Martin. “Yes.”

I look down at the page again, now stained with tears. On every line, of every page, of perhaps one hundred volumes, is one line, endlessly repeated. ‘I don’t know what to write.’



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Gone Fishing

boys-fishing-dutch-lake-bc-stephen-s-yaeger

(700 words)
Persistence was wearing us down. “Hey, guys, let me come fishing with you, I promise I won’t muck about again.” Jeff must have said that twenty times. Martin and I exchanged glances. Jeff had come on an early morning trip to Hertford canal with us once. We’d cycled along empty lanes, the sun sparkling in the green canopy overhanging the road, past the infamous Clibbon’s post, marking a highwayman’s grave, and down to the deserted canal, where mist rose, steaming and ethereal. After an hour of catching nothing more substantial than minnows Jeff had spent his time throwing stones at ducks and carving his name into a memorial bench. Never again! we’d agreed.
Now Martin and I had special permission from Mr. Smith, a local farmer somehow known to my mother, to fish in a small pond in one of his fields and we’d been reluctant to let anyone else in on our ‘secret.’
That weekend all three of us were dropped off at the farm. There was a small stile into a field and we were relieved that the usual herd of Jersey cattle was absent. The huge brown beasts would gather round us, swollen udders swinging, their enormous black eyes curious, and their wet noses brushing against our arms as we passed through the field. Then one or two would stamp the ground with their hooves. That’s when we’d start to feel nervous. Stay calm, cows don’t attack people!
Today we were spared that ordeal and walked through the empty field and into a small wood, on the other side of which lay the pond, circular and open, with some tall trees standing at one end. The water reflected fluffy white clouds, laughing in the cerulean sky. We stationed ourselves under the trees, setting up our rods and fitting squirming maggots onto hooks, then cast our floats. We stood in the peaceful, warm pond-air, watching them bob gently in the dappled water. A water strider alighted by my float, resting on the mirrored surface. Was it observing me and wondering?
After perhaps twenty minutes my float trembled. My heart beat faster. More trembling. Come on, bite! Suddenly the float bobbed right under and I whipped the rod back, feeling resistance and the vibrating pull of a fish, transmitted by the thin nylon monofilament line. Excited, I could see flashing gold beneath the surface. The fish pulled some line from my reel but it didn’t get far away, and I reeled it in – a small crucian carp.
“Hey, well done!” Jeff slipped a landing net under the fish and lifted it out of the water to a cheer. I weighed it, 14 ounces, nearly a pound, golden with reddish fins, almost disc shaped, slightly bigger than my hand. It gasped and a black eye regarded me with an alien intelligence.
“Don’t worry!” I said to the fish, popping it into a keep net, and wiping its slime onto my jeans.
The morning passed pleasantly, we all caught two or three fish, all crucian carp. Were there any other fish in there? We never found out. Then we sat on folding fishing stools and took out our sandwiches.
“Hey, let’s light a fire.” said Jeff. “We can have toasted sandwiches!”
Martin and I exchanged glances. “Don’t be stupid!”
Jeff didn’t say anything, instead throwing bits of his sandwich at a solitary duck.
The following weekend was warm and sunny and the little pond beckoned, peaceful and idyllic. Martin and I decided to go alone. This time though, the cattle were in the field and we steeled ourselves to walk through them. “They’re harmless, just inquisitive,” laughed Martin.
“I just wish they weren’t so big!” I replied.
“Oi!” a shout came and we saw a man walking towards us. The cattle ignored him so we surmised he was a farmer. “Where d’you think you’re going?”
“Down to the pond. We’re allowed.”
“Sorry, lads, not any more you ain’t. Mr. Smith’s not letting anyone fish there no more.”
“What! Why not?”
“Some lads went down there in the week and started a fire. It’s marked the ground bad, and they left their rubbish behind.”
We trudged home, feeling despondent and betrayed…



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Elf Service

iceland-lava-field

(700 words)

‘Boxes,’ was my first impression, looking out of the coach window at the Icelandic houses along the road. White boxes with corrugated pink and red roofs, like Monopoly hotels, deposited haphazardly by some unseen giant hand.
“There’s no gardens,” said Fiona, my ‘other half.’
“No, that’s true.” There was grass around the houses but no enclosures.
She continued, “I suppose it’s the weather. Gugga said winter lasts eight months and they only have three hours of daylight sometimes.” Gugga being our guide.
“Maybe.” Surely there were plants that could stand a bit of ice and snow though? It was late afternoon in October, the start of winter, and we were on the ring road, ‘Route 1,’ heading back to Reykjavik along the south coast. It had been a bright day, spring-like even. In just two months’ time though, temperatures would scarcely be above freezing and the 800 mile road could be treacherous.
The coach pulled up and we trouped out to gawp at an area of low cliffs with exposed basalt columns. Hundreds of hexagonal grey columns stood neatly in rows, five to fifteen feet high. Gugga told us how visitors had once heard beautiful singing coming from among them. Elves it was believed. With her short orange hair and green trousers she looked rather like one herself.
“Is there a National Elf Service?” a plump German lady asked, smirking.
“No, but there are several elf and troll museums,” Gugga replied, with a straight face.
An hour later and the coach stopped for us to stretch our legs. The sun was sinking, and in all directions to the distant level horizon lay a grass and moss-covered lava field. A gentle, cool breeze swayed the grassy knolls, and the curiously knobbled rocks themselves resembled a sea of crawling amorphous creatures.
Back in the coach I’d just taken out my trusted Lonely Planet guide when Erik, our driver, made an announcement over the speakers. “Hello everybody, sorry, there’s a problem with the fuel feed. They’re sending another coach…”
“Don’t worry, just have a little sleep until it gets here.” Gugga smiled reassuringly.
Night had quickly fallen and only emergency lights were on. We sat in the gloom, gradually aware of the falling temperature. Where the hell was this promised coach?
Fiona huddled up to me, smiling brightly. “I’ve got you to keep me warm!”
“Look, it’s snowing,” someone said.
Sure enough, large flakes were clinging to the windows like white moths.
“Hey, there’s lights out there!” an elderly American lady exclaimed.
“What?!” said Gugga. “There can’t be!”
Erik turned the emergency lights off. Now it was almost pitch black in the coach. We glued our eyes to the windows, trying to see out in the gaps between the snowed-up areas. Sure enough, there seemed to be tiny dancing lights, although how far away it was impossible to tell. Surely it couldn’t be walkers? The lava was exceptionally hard to traverse.
“I’m going out,” said Erik.
“No, stay here please,” said Gugga.
A couple of minutes went by and the lights drew closer. Suddenly Erik turned the headlights on. “Huldufólk!”
We stood up, jostling each other to see a group of tiny men, perhaps two feet high. They were old fashioned in appearance, wearing green tunics with black belts. They carried spears and wore low, rounded hats. They seemed unperturbed by the headlights and marched across the road, looking straight ahead.
Mein Gott!” exclaimed the German lady, her bulk having claimed her a prime viewing position. “Das Hidden People!”
Before disappearing into the lava field on the other side of the road, the last one turned towards us. His face was broad with a bulbous nose and he sported a grey beard. He made a strange gesture, then turned back to follow his companions.
We stood in awe, then suddenly the engine roared into life. Erik laughed and shook his head. “We can go!” The coach pulled off and we all relaxed.
“Did anyone get any photos or video?” asked Gugga, excitedly. “For the museums. Proof at last!”
Fiona and I looked at each other, feeling foolish. We looked around, then we realised we were not alone, no-one had…


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The Rump of Midas

art-studio-2
(700 words)
Christmas was coming and the only thing I had to look forward to was saying goodbye to the house I’d lived and loved in for twenty years, and moving in with my old mother, an irascible lady of ‘erratic’ tendencies and appearance.
As the removal lorry drove off, I went into my old teaching studio and gazed round at the empty walls, so recently filled with sketches and paintings. Twenty years. That’s how long it’d taken me to build up my art teaching business, working in schools and colleges part-time and teaching late into the night in my studio. Then two years ago, Lorraine, my wife, my ‘other half’ supposedly, had left me for her gym trainer, ten years younger than her. Without her additional income I’d struggled against mounting debts and finally, unable to afford the place any longer, thrown in the towel.
I reminisced over some of the talented students I’d taught as I collected some cases of things I didn’t trust to the removal men. I took them out to my little Volkswagen Passat, and closed and locked the studio door for the last time. With a sick feeling in my stomach, I posted the keys through the letterbox. The estate agents would take over now.
I heard a ‘miaow’ and saw Midas, a semi-feral cat who had hung around for the last couple of years. He would venture into the kitchen on occasion to feed from a bowl of scraps I’d sometimes put down for him. ‘Goodbye Midas, I’ll miss you,” I said, surprised to find that I meant it. Unexpectedly, he followed me to the car. I opened a rear door. He took a long, lingering sniff at the sill, then suddenly jumped onto the back seat and curled up. Hmm!
Mother hated animals. “Pets are parasites,” she’d say, and “vets just want to rip you off.” She’d say she felt sorry for people with pets. “They’ve no-one to love or who loves them, so they have to resort to animals.” There wasn’t much point in arguing. She was always right.
Once ensconced at mother’s, I’d found Midas to be good company, he’d even progressed to sleeping on my bed, much to mother’s annoyance. “He’ll ruin all the bedspreads with cat hair!”
One day some Jehovah’s Witnesses came calling. Mother had no time for religion (or anything spiritual for that matter) and gave them short shrift. I was watching from my bedroom window when suddenly Midas sauntered round the corner towards them and sat grooming himself. “Good heavens, do you see those markings?” said one.
“I do indeed, praise be!” The other man fished out a smartphone and took some photos of Midas, who continued grooming, unconcerned. “You don’t mind?” he asked mother, still standing in the doorway.
“Be my guest,” she snorted. “Wretched animal!”
The following day a large black car rolled up and an equally black minister of some obscure church got out. He wore gold rings on his fat fingers and was attended by a lackey carrying a casket. Mother scurried out.
“Good day madam,” said the minister.
“Good day sir,” Mother replied obsequiously. “Can I help you?”
“Well, I was wondering if you would accept an offer for your cat…”
Mother almost collapsed with shock. “What??” She regained composure. “Did I hear you correctly sir?”
“Well madam, your cat has an almost perfect image of our Lord and Saviour on his, er, rump!”
“Wha-?.. Y-yes, he does!”
“And our congregation is very, I say, extremely keen madam, to welcome him to our church.” Almost as an afterthought he added, “and we need a cat to keep the mice down.”
“Good work, Carol, that holly and mistletoe drawing’s coming along nicely,” I said.
She closed her sketchpad, smiled sweetly, and brushed her long blonde hair back with one hand. I opened the door of my new studio, paid for by the good minister. At the door she hesitated, “I, um, don’t suppose you’d like to come and see some of my work, it’s not much, just some old oils and drawings I did at art school.”
“That’d be lovely, I’d really like that.” I said. Praise the Lord!

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Zip It!


awards-eicc

(900 words)

The Great Writer poured another whisky and gazed out through the Boston Grande penthouse window and over the Boston skyline. He filled his glass with soda. Better take it easy on the booze tonight!
Down in the basement was the laundry where he’d worked after leaving school, loading sheets and tablecloths into the huge washers. With revulsion he remembered the maggots that festered on the seafood stains.
Twenty years and ten best-selling novels later he was back and installed in the penthouse at the behest of Saul, the owner. “It’s great to have you stay here Lenny, we’ll pick up the tab for the rooms, you just pay for the food and drink. It’ll be cheaper for us that way round!” He winked.
Laura and the kids were headed for the cinema, thank Christ, leaving him free to concentrate on the thankless task of reducing his latest manuscript down by twenty thousand to a hundred thousand words. In front of him was his MacBook with the novel’s title page on the screen.
Dominic Eckhardt, his publisher, had spoken. “Look Lenny, J K can do it, she can do anything now, walk on water probably, if she wants. It’s still down to me at Brampton’s though and Francis tells me we need to make the new titles shorter.” Francis being the chief editor. “Look Fran’ll do it on the house, save you the aggro, give you a chance to take Laura and the kids to the lake cabin.”
Lenny had hesitated. Hmm. He didn’t want to cede control to some has-been novelist cum editor!
He took a large gulp of whisky. Even diluted he felt the alcohol touch his brain with feathered fingers. Go easy this time!
Where to start? Ok, start on page one, cut out scenes, tighten up description? Or just knock a whole chunk out. He took another gulp. The second would be easier, maybe scrap the whole business about the vampires taking over the petrol station? He knew it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, just that he could picture it so clearly. And that bit where the family got doused in petrol. He could just see the film adaptation. Wow!
Goddamit! He’d become aware of an aimless tootling coming from somewhere, next door or the floor below. Come to think of it, it had been at the edge of his mind ever since he’d sat down. He hadn’t come to the best suite in town to have his work ruined by some damned fool tootling on the recorder or flute or whatever! He stood up and went out into the corridor. Yes, it was on the same floor, he was sure. Surely it wasn’t some ethnic nonsense? No, it was too tuneless even for that!
He left the penthouse and walked the long walk to a smaller apartment on the top floor. He pressed his ear to the door. Ah-ha! He rang the bell. No reply. He kept his finger pressed down. Finally the door opened and Lenny recoiled at the aged features of his old arch-enemy. “Good God, MacLeash, you’re still here!”
The flushed face with it’s heavy lines and red bulbous nose stared back. “Lenny! I heard you’d got famous!”
“Oh, you learned to read did you? You old bastard, you treated me like shit!”
“Look Lenny, you don’t know the pressure I was under to get that goddamn laundry done! We couldn’t have no slacking, not even for a second!”
Lenny noticed a recorder in the old man’s hand. “And what’s with that racket, I’m trying to work!”
“It helps me stay calm. It’s a kind of meditation. I just blow and let whatever comes out come out. You can’t stop me!”
“Look, one call to Saul and you’ll not only stop, you’ll be out on the goddamn street!”
“OK, OK. Look I’m sorry, I’ll stop and I’m sorry about that laundry business. Hey man, it was twenty years ago! Look, I’ll help you out, if ever you need me.”
“Fat chance! Just lay off that damned flute!” Lenny stormed back to the penthouse door, fuming.
A year later, and Lenny was back at the hotel. This time for the prestigious Boston Best-Seller Awards. Dominic had got his hundred thousander, and it’d topped the charts for the last six months. Now he was waiting in the wings, ready to be called on stage. Laura and the kids were with Dominic and Francis at one of the front tables. He’d checked his appearance in the dressing room mirror, white suit, white shirt, red bow tie. He looked good! Then a quick visit to the bathroom and now, any second and he’d be facing the audience and cameras. He’d rehearsed his lines until he could say them after a whole bottle of whisky. Relax!
He felt a tap on his shoulder. MacLeash! “What the hell do you want?” he said through gritted teeth, whilst smiling like a ventriloquist for anyone watching.
MacLeash made a discrete motion at the fly in his black trousers. Lenny looked down. Shit! He broke out in a sweat as he surreptitiously drew his zipper up.
An announcement boomed out. “Ladies and Gentleman, this season’s number one author, Mr. Lenny Queen!”
Lenny strode onto the stage to rapturous applause, heaving a sigh of relief and quickly remembering to turn his smile back on.

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Black Swan, Green Lizard

magician

(700 words)

When I’d called into the Black Swan’s usual Tuesday evening music event, I hadn’t really expected to be snowed on.
A local pianist was noodling on the piano whilst a young chap, with short black hair and a comb-over dyed purple and green in part, was brandishing some brass rings at a table.
“We’ve a magician tonight, Andrew someone,” smiled Elizabeth, my favourite barmaid. She wore false eyelashes above her big brown eyes that looked like two caterpillars.
“I thought it was Banjo Bob tonight.”
“No, that got cancelled. He’s suffering from alcohol poisoning. Fred arranged this at the last moment.” Fred being the landlord, a portly chap with a grey beard and suspiciously black hair. But a kindly soul at heart.

There weren’t many there, perhaps fifteen in the small bar but I noticed Brad, the aged ex-‘pop star’ and pub bore, and the stalwart Billy ‘the builder’.

Andrew held the rings up and with successive passes of his hands first separated them, then linked them. He smiled. “Anyone want to try?”
“Can I?” I said, surprised at myself.
There were five rings, about four inches in diameter, two loose and three linked. Try as I might I could not separate the linked ones or connect the loose ones, to general amusement. Andrew took them and with a couple of quick passes of his hands linked all five rings to a round of applause.
“That was bloody clever,” said Brad, grudgingly.
“Pick a card,” Andrew asked an attractive girl of about twenty, seated opposite. I suddenly realised why he had chosen that table as she gave a pearly smile, whilst her low cleavage showed moon-like breasts. She obliged with ornately calligraphed nails, turning up one corner to show the nine of hearts to our side of the table.
Andrew slid it back into the pack. After a quick shuffle, he produced the nine of hearts. There was a polite ripple of applause. Then he opened his jacket to show a tee-shirt with a huge nine of hearts card printed on it. A collective gasp of surprise went up.
“Anyone want any more drinks,” shouted Fred, with an inane grin.
Andrew fetched an aluminium case full of packs of cards and props of all kinds. Someone asked what they were worth. “Oh, a few thousand quid,” he said, brushing the green and purple quiff out of his eyes. I exchanged a glance with Liz but she didn’t respond. She only had eyes for the magician.
After a number of increasingly impressive tricks, the usual indifference of the clientele seemed to have evaporated. Andrew cupped his empty hands, then opened them to show a green lizard. Its scales sparkled, flashing silver and red.
“Wow, is it real?” said Elizabeth.
As if in reply, a beady black eye blinked and a long blue forked tongue flicked out.
Andrew’s hands closed on the lizard then opened again and a crowd of tropical butterflies flew out, dazzling turquoise, bright orange and shimmering purple. They flew around the bar to enthusiastic applause.
Suddenly, all the lights went out. It was almost pitch black, then the faintest yellow glow appeared from somewhere. In the dim light we could make out a very old man where Andrew had been sitting. His eyes were black hollows and he wore an ancient suit and hat. In front of him was a battered suitcase. Amazed, I watched as he opened it and two white mice climbed out. Then I felt something wet on my neck. I looked up and saw it was snowing. Large silver-white flakes were spiralling onto the tables, into our drinks and onto our hair and clothes.
“This is unbelievable!” Elizabeth spoke, shattering the silence.
Suddenly the faint glow vanished and the lights came back on. Andrew was sitting there with his aluminium case closed in front of him. He smiled, stood up and bowed to rapturous applause. Without a word he picked up the case and walked out of the bar.
We stood looking at each other. No one spoke.
Then, “sleight of hand. Anyone could do it with time on their hands to practice. That’s all it was,” said Brad…


Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 100! 

 

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