Dreams on Board

cruise fashion show3 (2)

(650 words)

“‘Clothes horses,’ that’s what she calls ‘em.”
“Uh huh.”
“That’s all they do, walk up and down the deck, flaunting themselves.”
“Uh huh. That a problem, sir?”
“Who, me? No … no, it’s just that she … that’s my wife, Josie, doesn’t like me looking at them. Says I shouldn’t ‘gawp at other women’s anatomy’!”
The bartender wiped a glass, smiling wryly. “Well, you have to admit, sir, they’re lookers.”
“They sure are. Those crazy long legs, long blonde hair, low cleavage showing their ripe mangos! What are they, dancers in the shows or something? I never see ‘em during the day, just the evening, ‘bout seven, I guess. Up and down, up and down they walk, eyes straight ahead. Till about eight.”
“D’you ever get to speak to one?”
“No, no, I mean, well they look too, er, haughty, I guess you’d say.”
“Well, you’re wrong there, sir, it’s not such a big deal. Say hello, pay ‘em a compliment. You’ll get a great big smile. And she’ll be happy to chew the fat with you!”
“Really? Well, I guess I’d like to, but there’s Josie you see, she wouldn’t like it. Can’t say as I’d blame her.”
The bartender put down the glass he was polishing, took another one from a shelf and poured a large shot of bourbon into each. “Here you are, sir, on the house!”
“Why, that’s kind of you!”
“You’re welcome, sir.” The bartender took a sip. “Look sir, I’ll let you in on a little secret.” He winked.
“Yes?”
“Those gals, they ain’t human.”
“What?! Whaddya mean, they aren’t human?”
“They’re robots. They’re goddam robots!”
“Come on, you don’t expect me to believe that!”
The bartenders smile vanished. “God’s honest truth. Cross my heart.”
“That’s amazing. They seem so … real!”
“Oh, they’re human-looking all right, right down to their sweet little beavers. And you can try ‘em out too, although it don’t come cheap!”
“So, what, … I mean, why?”
“It’s the company. They don’t advertise it, but word gets around. Come on these cruises, ogle the women, parading their wares every night. Have a few beers and back to your cabin with one, or two if you’ve got the dough, and they’ll do anything you want. And I mean anything!”
“Wow!”
“No one gets hurt, the gals make it clear that they’re there just for customers’ entertainment, nothing more.”
“But, I mean, don’t guys realise the girls aren’t … well, human?”
“They aren’t told, but if for any reason they find out, they keep it to themselves, or … no more pussy on these cruises! No one’d believe ‘em anyway … Well, lookee here!”
A tall, slim woman with curly red hair, prominent breasts and a glossy smile walked into the bar.
“Oh, that’s Josie,” said the man.
The bartender’s jaw dropped.
“A large white wine, a large Bud, and whatever you’re drinking. You look like you could use one!”
The bartender busied himself behind the bar, shaking his head.
Josie joined her husband at the bar. She flashed the bartender a gleaming smile, revealing ample cleavage as she leaned forward to take her wine. “Thanks, hun.” She blew him a kiss, then headed to a table in a corner.
The man grinned at the bartender. “Yes, guess I’ll stick to good old flesh and blood!”
“Of course, sir. I don’t blame you. By the way, the company’s just decided to do a half-price cruise in a couple of months’ time. Quite a few of the, er, ‘extras’ will be half price too … if you get my drift.” He winked, producing a flyer and putting it on the counter.
The man quickly perused the brochure, paying special attention to the price list. He glanced over at his wife, busy with her phone, then folded it carefully and put it in a back pocket. He nodded to the bartender and, smiling to himself, went to join her.

 

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Arse from His Elbow

Most Flexible Woman Meet Zlata 10

(550 words)

“Promenaders, they get on my friggin’ nerves! Pull over, Jacko.”
The sleek black police car pulled up, just ahead of a man, tall, leaning forward as he walked, as if forward motion was the only thing preventing him from toppling over. He had a distinguished face, probably handsome when young, thinning grey hair, silver steel-rimmed glasses, and a long nose. He looked up with surprise.
Joshua got out of the police car. “Hi, Buddy, what are you doin’?”
“Who, me? Just walking.”
“Why? Don’t you know what’s on tonight? The final of The World’s Got Talent!”
The man’s face looked blank. “I don’t watch TV.”
“Don’t watch TV, you cannot be serious! Come on, man, everyone’s glued to the screen right now!”
“Well, not me. I just wanted some … fresh air, exercise, you know.”
“Actually, I don’t know, buddy. Think about Little Thelma, right now probably singing her heart out with The Nation’s Favourite Song. And you say you don’t wanna watch her!”
“Who’s Little Thelma?”
What?!” Joshua looked shell-shocked. “What?! You don’t know Little Thelma? You must do, buddy! C’mon, you’re kiddin’ me!”
The man remained silent.
“Hey, Jacko, c’mon out here. We’ve got us a live one!”
Jacko got out of the car and the two black-clothed cops stood up close, their sweaty bodies invading the man’s space by design. Jacko took out a notebook and pen. “OK, buddy, name and address?”
“What, why, I mean, er ….”
“Look, buddy, either you cooperate or you’ll be spending the night in the cooler.”
“It’s Matthew. Er, Matthew Morris.” Stammering, his thin lips revealed his street and house number.
“Why, that’s over two miles away!” said Jacko.
“Yes, I’ve been walking for forty-five minutes.”
“Forty-five minutes! Well, you’ll have missed Suzy Chang and her dancing poodles, not to mention Jigsaw, the world’s greatest contortionist! Come on man, tell me you’re kiddin’ us!”
Mathew Morris looked up and down the empty street, nervously. It was growing dark and he could see flickering coloured light coming from unlit houses along both sides of the road. Suddenly he felt emboldened. “Look, I’m simply going for a walk. When I get home, I’m going to work on an essay I’m writing – on Totalitarianism – and then I shall sit by the fire, drink a bottle of beer and read some poetry before supper!”
Jacko raised his eyebrows. “Meanwhile, everyone else in the world has a TV or can get near one and is cheering on their country’s top star! But not Mr Mathew Morris, no, an essay is more important than Luther Steel’s ventriloquism, Totalit … whassname, more important than Silvia de Fuego’s amazing juggling, and goddamn poetry, if you puhleeze, more important than Fanny de la Mare, the world’s greatest compère!”
“I’ve had enough of this joker.” Joshua took out a radio and pressed a button. “Never heard of Little Thelma. Pah! Hello, Control, we need an ECT squad down here, now. Gotta guy who needs some serious rewiring!”
A raised voice came from the radio.
“Oh, my sweet Jesus!” Joshua turned, ashen faced. “The show’s been taken off air! Jigsaw got his elbow stuck up his arse, Little Thelma forgot her words and is having a nervous breakdown and Suzy Chang’s going crazy with Silvia de Fuego for juggling her poodles!”

 

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Sycamore the Wise

cute-hare-leveret

(950 words)

The sun was setting over the field and Sycamore made his way to a small spinney in one corner, stopping on occasion to perk his long, furry ears up, and to feel the warm summer air playing on his long whiskers, whilst he sniffed the evening breeze. All clear! He entered the trees and heard the quiet guttural calls of his mother. He found her in a depression in a bed of moss with his two brothers and sister in attendance.
“Sycamore, what took you so long?”
He’d fallen asleep after feasting on a pile of carrots he’d chanced upon. “Sorry, mother, I thought I smelled a fox, and lay low for a while.”
“Hmm. Well, anyway, you may now all suckle from me.” She stretched out on the moss, exposing her belly and four enlarged nipples, which the leverets quickly latched onto.
Sycamore was in heaven as he drank the warm, sweet milk, feeling his mother’s warmth and his siblings’ closeness.
When they had finished, their mother lapped up any urine they had expelled, so as to cover their tracks. Then her voice became serious. “Now the moon has gone through one cycle, it is time to make your own way in life. I will no longer be here to suckle you, and you must continue to wean on the fruits of the woods and farmers’ fields.”
“But will we still see you, mother?” asked Blackberry, Sycamore’s brother, with a tear in his eye.
“Yes, son, I will still frequent the same woods and fields, but it will only be a few moon-cycles before you will father leverets of your own. And just a few more before Bluebell, your sister, gives birth to her first litter.”
“How exactly does that happen?” asked Sycamore, bemused.
“You will find out son, never fear!”
An older hare lolloped onto the moss. His coat had many curls and grizzled areas.
Mother cleared her throat. “Now, I want to introduce someone to you. This is Uncle Ditch.”
“Hello young ‘uns, well, you have all grown so much this past moon-cycle that you are now free to go further afield. I will stay close but never wander more than two fields from me. If you get lost, then I will come to this spot at sunfall. Meet me here.”
The young hares nodded, feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension.
“Now, you know about foxes, owls and eagles, and man, with his fire-sticks, traps and poisons. But I need to warn you of one further thing.”
“What’s that?” chirped up Hedgerow, the other brother.
“Patience, Hedgerow!” laughed Uncle Ditch. “Well, you’ve seen a slow-machine, something that moves around the fields on its own with a man in it, turning the earth with a lot of noise?”
“Yes,” they all answered.
“Well, beyond these fields lies a track, made by man from something black and hard. From time to time a machine will come along, much faster than the slow-machine, and at night, with two huge glaring golden eyes, bigger even than the eyes of the biggest owl in the forest! And how they shine!”
Sycamore felt a shiver pass through his fur. “Will they attack us?”
“No, but if you see one, you must run. Run as fast as you can, faster than the wind, faster than the clouds that scud across the sky on a stormy night! And pray to the Great Hare for deliverance!”
Just then a young buck hare appeared.
“Greetings Juniper,” said Uncle Ditch.
Juniper bowed. “Uncle Ditch, I have terrible news. Chestnut, he … he’s gone to the Great Meadow in the Sky.” He began to cry.
Sycamore felt his eyes watering, even though he had never met Chestnut.
“What happened?” asked Uncle Ditch.
“He was on the black track when a fast-machine came along with its golden eyes blazing. He ran and he ran and he ran, but it caught him. He was mortally wounded. There was nothing I could do to save him.”
“His soul will go the Great Meadow, and his flesh will feed the crows,” said Uncle Ditch sadly.
Sycamore piped up, “If we hares cannot outrun these fast-machines, then why do we even try. Why don’t we run away and hide until they’ve passed? … Ow!” he exclaimed, as his mother whacked him around the head.
“How dare you question Uncle Ditch and the wisdom of our kind!” she scolded. “You will do as you are told!”
Sycamore felt all eyes on him. He felt indignant but acquiesced. “Yes, mother, sorry.”
But as the meeting wound to a close he told himself that he would never try to outrun something that could go faster than him and would never get tired. Where was the sense in that?
By running and hiding until the fast-machines had passed, Sycamore lived to a ripe old age. But eventually the time came, as it does for us all, for his soul to leave the old, faithful body that had fathered many, many leverets, and to pass on to the Great Meadow in the Sky. There, he was overjoyed to become reacquainted with his dear mother again, and with so many other relatives and friends who had also passed into spirit.
Now they are free to run and feast on lush grass and crops, safe from the threat of predators and fast-machines, and under the loving care of The Great Hare.
So, if you are driving at night and a hare runs in the headlights in front of you, then please be kind and drive slowly until it has run off the road. Not every hare has heard – or chosen to pay heed to – the teaching of Sycamore the Wise and his descendents.

—-

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Myrtle Shaw Investigates

cricket-1_1969683b

(1300 words)

Myrtle Shaw sat on a well-cushioned, folding chair, sipping champagne. It was six o’clock in the evening but the sun was still quite high, casting a comforting summer warmth over the thin crowd of spectators. To her back was a wall of the ancient stone church, St. Mary’s, and in front of her, white-costumed figures stood, ran, and enacted their roles on the smooth grass.
“Ooh, this champagne’s going to my head.”
“That’s the idea!” laughed Major D’Arcy-Smith, her erstwhile companion and ever-hopeful suitor. “Would you like some more?” He took a heavy green bottle, glistening with water droplets, from an ice-bucket.
Myrtle was in her seventies, but sprightly, her skin well-toned, and her brown hair still its original colour, untinged by chemical potions. Her eyes were green and she only wore glasses for reading, and, of course, for examining clues. “Just a drop, Tom.”
A cheer went up as a young man from the home side threw himself along the ground to catch a ball.
“By Jove, Myrtle, did you see that? Young Bill Smethurst made a magnificent catch!”
Just then, the peaceful summer’s evening at Saltby St. Mary’s cricket pitch was shattered by a scream, as Millicent Dawson appeared from the church. Her face was red and her eyes were wet. “Oh my God, Myrtle. Reverend Hughes has just been … just been stabbed!” She began to sob.
Carpe Diem,’ thought Myrtle jumping to her feet. The champagne effect cleared instantly. “Tom, look after Milly, will you?” She put down her glass and headed through a gate in the wall, past rows of haphazardly-leaning and undecipherable gravestones, and through the vestibule into the cool, silent depths of St. Mary’s.
Coloured light, filtering through the stained-glass windows above the altar, played on the upturned face of the Reverend Nicholas Hughes. She felt for a pulse and lifted an eyelid. No sign of life. Blood still seeped through his cassock, forming a sticky red pool on the ancient stone floor. She searched his clothes. Nothing out of the ordinary and no sign of a weapon anywhere.
She heard the door open, and heavy footsteps.
“Hello Myrtle.” It was Inspector Jack Johnson from Thicksby. “I was just passing when I got a call on the radio. Quite fortunate as it happens … He hasn’t been dead long, by the looks of things.”
“No more than half an hour, I’d say,” replied Myrtle.
“How many ways into the church?”
“Well, unless someone climbed over the wall, and it’s about five feet high all the way round, there are just two gates, and I’ve been sitting by one for the last hour. I don’t recall anyone going past me, just Milly coming out, but then I was watching the cricket. Some of the time, anyway.” She smiled wryly, barely disguising her lack of enthusiasm for the game.
“Murder weapon?”
“Probably a kitchen knife, but no sign of it in the church.”
“The crime boys will be here in a minute. They’ll seal everything off.”
The next day, Inspector Johnson stood in Myrtle Shaw’s drawing room. Antique furniture graced an emerald-green Axminster carpet. A bookcase stood against one wall, whilst Regency windows looked out onto manicured lawns.
Johnson perused the bookcase. There were several shelves of detective stories. Agatha Christie, Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Ngaio Marsh. Why was it always damned women who wrote detective stories? “We’ve taken statements from everyone there. Three people are reported to have entered the church in the previous forty-five minutes.”
“Uh-huh. Who?”
“Well, Johnny Hughes – the reverend’s son, your friend, Millicent, and an unidentified chap, middle-aged, unshaven and of scruffy appearance, apparently. All three were seen entering through the gate by the road. The men left the same way.”
“I see, and have you interviewed them?”
“Yes, Millicent said she’d gone to see the reverend to discuss the music for the flower festival, she’s the organist there as you know. Johnny had gone to ask his dad for money. He was quite upset. Apparently, he hadn’t seen his father for three years, but says he’s fallen on hard times. Reverend Hughes didn’t see eye to eye with him, though, and wasn’t forthcoming with any cash.”
“Hmm. Not very Christian!”
“No, so he had a motive, of sorts. They’re searching his house today.”
“Mm. What about this ‘unidentified’ chap?”
He was reported by Milly’s sister, Doris. She’d been waiting for a bus, saw the chap go in and come out a few minutes later. She thought he seemed in a bit of a hurry. Walked down to the Green Man car park, got in a car and drove off.”
“Description of the car?”
“Red.”
“Is that all?”
“She thinks!”
Myrtle had arisen at eight, somewhat late for her, and after tea, toast and marmalade, her unskipable morning routine, she sat in the study, feeling the warm sun through the windows on her arms as she wrestled with the Times’ crossword. Seven across. ‘All flats are available on such a scale.’ Nine letters, second letter H, penultimate letter I. Hmm. She chewed her pencil. Ah-ha! The answer came to her practised mind. She filled it in with satisfaction. Then a thought took hold, a thought that grew and grew, until it would not go away.
“Good morning Madam, I’m afraid no one’s allowed in the church. That’s why there’s all this tape around it,” the policeman said, barely suppressing his sarcasm.
“Yes, I’m perfectly well aware of that, constable, but I’m a friend of Inspector Johnson, and I’m sure he won’t mind me taking a peek. I’m Myrtle Shaw.”
The constable’s demeanour changed instantly. “Oh, in that case madam, I think it could be permitted. But be sure not to touch anything. Please,” he added obsequiously.
“Of course not,” said Myrtle, intending to do just as she pleased.
Once inside the quiet, cool interior of the church, she approached the organ and turned it on. She began a chromatic scale, playing every note on the higher of the two keyboards. Up and down. Then the lower keyboard. Almost immediately, she smiled. She continued to the highest note, then back down to the lowest note, nodding to herself in approval.
Just then the door opened. “Hello Myrtle, I just had a call to say you were here.” It was Inspector Johnson. “I heard you playing. Not very tuneful, if I may say so!”
“Hello, Jack, actually it wasn’t supposed to be.”
“Well, we’re no nearer solving the crime. We can’t trace the man Doris claimed she saw, and the reverend’s son is sticking to his story. We’ve found nothing to implicate him from a forensic point of view. What about you, Myrtle, I don’t suppose you’ve had any ideas?”
Myrtle smiled. “Well, actually, Jack, I remembered seeing the reverend taking tea with Dora, the lady who does the flowers, last week at Meryl’s Cafe. They were holding hands under the table. I thought it most improper! Then I realised that Millicent Dawson had been spending an inordinate amount of ‘practice time’ here in the church, allegedly working on Saint-Sans’ Organ Symphony, for a performance later this year.”
The inspector looked perplexed. “All very good, Myrtle, but where exactly is this leading us?”
Myrtle reached out to the keyboard and played a low A flat. Along with the sonorous note there came a slight, almost imperceptible rattling sound. She smiled. “It was a crime of passion, Inspector. My friend, Milly … Millicent, and the reverend, they were, er …. Anyway, I think you’ll find this organ pipe worth looking into!” She held down the note once more until a metallic rattle became quite audible, then launched into Bach’s Cantata and Fugue in D minor.
The inspector gasped. “Myrtle, you never cease to amaze me!”

—-

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Nine Miles to the Silent Woman

derelict ship interior

(1000 words)

I was sitting at a bar with Tom, my ex-husband. He was being pleasant, that’s why I should’ve known it was a dream.
“I think Toni should go back to art school,” he was saying, as an alarm shattered the illusion. I fumbled for my phone under the pillow as the clouds of sleep reluctantly rolled away.
Any messages? Just one, a destination alert. ‘9 miles to The Silent Woman.’ What the hell?! My mind began to clear. The Silent Woman was the name of an old liner, moored out at Saltfleetham, converted into a museum and restaurant. Ironically, Tom and I had once gone there. I remembered the evening. Warm, a gentle sea breeze blowing through the open windows. Enchanting, tinkling piano from the resident pianist, and Tom on his best behaviour, all smiles and charm. And all the time he was seeing Nicholl, the bastard!
Anyway, that was three years ago. Why on Earth should I get a destination alert for that now?
I wasn’t working today, so I’d set the alarm for 9.30. Best get up. Suddenly, I heard the sound of a door closing downstairs. I froze. There was no one in the house, just me.
I reached into a bedside cabinet and took out a kitchen knife. I quickly pulled on my underwear, some jeans and a sweater, then, with shaking hands, I crept down the stairs, startled at the loudness of my breath, and the thumping of my heart. On the second last step it creaked and I heard a noise from the kitchen. Adrenaline pumping, I threw the door open, brandishing the knife. There, on a worksurface, was Cudgel, my neighbour’s ginger cat. Caught in the act, pulling open a cupboard door in search of food, he turned and meowed, then sat and started to lick a paw, as if to protest innocence. I noticed the window was ajar. It can’t have been closed properly, and the cat must have opened it further. Suddenly, Cudgel looked up, his ears flattened and he hissed at something behind me. I whirled round. Tom!
His handsome face wore an evil grin and he grasped the wrist of my hand holding the knife.
“Ow, you’re hurting me!”
“Waving a knife at me isn’t a very nice welcome!”
He turned my wrist around, squeezing harder, so that the knife was now pointing at my stomach. He was strong, something I’d always admired in him, but now he seemed to possess superhuman strength.
‘Stop it, Tom!’
I felt the knife tip puncturing my skin as it pressed through my sweater. Then something began to beep, the kitchen faded and I found myself in bed, dripping with sweat. 9.40. I must have pressed the ‘snooze’ button.
Later, I gunned my little Toyota into sixth gear and put my foot down on the last five miles of road out to Saltfleetham, a straight stretch, where the endless brown marshes reach out interminably on either side. On the horizon I could just see the dark blue ribbon of the North Sea, next stop the fjords and islands of western Norway, 400 miles away. I’d fancied taking a run out to The Silent Woman, assuming it was still there. I hadn’t bothered to check. Let that be part of the mystery!
As I drove down the coast road my jaw dropped. It was still there but it looked rusty, derelict even. I pulled off into an area of low dunes and took my shoes off. I walked across the beach, listening to the waves breaking, feeling the sand between my toes and smelling a scent of wet seaweed in the air.
There lay The Silent Woman, dark blue at the bottom of the hull, but now its white sides were streaked with vertical swathes of rust. The once gleaming-white bridge covered with large brown patches and its windows broken.

 

There was a gangplank. I ignored a chain and warning sign and trod the boards gingerly until I entered a strange world. Endless empty corridors, echoing to the sound of the waves, and strewn with rubbish. I passed dilapidated cabins, a ballroom where sunlight reflecting from the sea swirled over the high ceiling, and bars where the stools were covered in mould and the shelves bereft of bottles.
Then I heard something that froze my blood, the sound of a piano. A single note played repeatedly, at irregular intervals. I headed down a corridor towards it to find the restaurant we’d visited. And at the piano, lost in thought, Tom!
He looked up. “Hello, Jeanie, it’s good to see you. We need to talk. It’s been so long.”
I felt indignant. “Well who’s fault’s that, Tom? You and Nicholl … well it’s not easy for me.”
“Well, Nicholl and me, we just … clicked. It was fate I guess.”
“That’s what you said about us when we first met.”
He began to play the note again, faster and harder.
“Stop it, Tom!”
The note turned into a beep, and I awoke once more. Goddammit, what was happening to me? The phone said 9.50. Right, out of bed now. No more snooze alarm!
I stood under the shower, feeling the hot water washing my sweaty body clean. I threw a dressing gown on and headed to the kitchen to make coffee. I saw a flashing light on the answerphone and pressed the ‘play’ button.
“Hello, Jeanie, it’s me, Tom. Look, I need to speak with you. I want to help with the children’s school fees and expenses, no strings attached. I’d like to meet. I can bring my lawyer if you want a chaperone. Do you remember, we once went out to a restaurant on an old liner moored at Saltfleetham? The Silent Woman, I think it was called. How about there? Let me know. Please.”
I rushed to my phone. 10.15. I searched my messages. Nothing. No destination alerts! Smiling with relief, I dialled Tom’s number.

—-

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The Mound Folk

standing stone

(850 words)

With a heavy heart, I’ve decided to set down here an event from my distant youth, one that’s been troubling me for many a year. I’m now five years short of my century, not long for this Earthly plane and I need to get it off my chest.
Well, it would have been back in about 1933, those inter-war years I so fondly remember, when hope burned in all our breasts, and optimism exuded from every pore. We’d gone on a school trip to South Wales and were staying in a youth hostel, a converted lifeboat house. I remember the normally wooden or steel launching ramp had been concreted over for some reason.
Anyway, youth hostels were known to be austere in those days, not tarted up to fourth-rate hotels like they are now. This one was more austere than most. Bare stick-like furniture, cold, damp and no hot water or electricity. So, in the evenings we’d congregate in a corner of the refectory where logs blazed in an open fire and there was table football and darts.
Well, I loved table football, the excitement of pushing and pulling the rods to position the players, the powerful flick of the wrist to send the ball flying and the split second reactions needed to block a ball from your goal. All to the excited shouts and laughter of a bunch of schoolboys.
So, there we were, on our first evening, about to start our evening meal. Curiously, I can remember it even now. Parsnip soup and bread, followed by beef stew with dumplings, potatoes and carrots, that we’d spent an hour peeling beforehand. First, though, the hostel manager, ‘Skipper,’ asked us to bow our heads as he said grace.
In the silence I could hear waves crashing on the rocks outside, and the quiet hiss of gas lamps. When Skipper had finished, he cleared his throat. “… and, listen carefully, no one is to leave the hostel in the hours of darkness.”
“I hope that doesn’t include me,” laughed our teacher Mr. Hughes, “I thought I’d take a walk down the coast to the village pub, … just for linguistic studies, you understand.”
We all laughed.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Hughes, that does include you, sir, it can be dangerous out there, er, … the wind and the waves ….”
“He doesn’t want us to bump into any Mound Folk, that’s what it’s about!” Joseph, my class mate, whispered from his bunk in the dormitory. From the snoring and heavy breathing surrounding us, it sounded like we were the only two still awake.
“What are you on about?!”
“They’re elves, tall and thin. They live on the moors hereabouts, under those mounds you see sometimes.”
“How do you know?”
“Sally, the lady who brings milk in the mornings told me. At night their menfolk make jewellery, pots and pans, and fashion swords. The women bake and brew and herd their cattle. And they love to dance! Sally says they play the fiddle like you’ve never heard. Even the trees and stones have to dance! If you hear it though, you can’t stop dancing, unless someone cuts the fiddler’s strings. And if it gets light before you stop dancing, well, you turn to stone!”
“Do you believe that?”
“Well, I’m going to find out!”
“No, Joseph, don’t, you might … get lost … or something.”
Not one for following rules, he’d pulled on some clothes and crept out of the hostel via a back door Sally had shown him, locked at night, but the key left in the lock.
And that was the last time I ever saw him.
In the cold light of day, I awoke. I could hear waves thundering on the shingle outside but there was dead silence in the dormitory. Then I looked over at Joseph’s bunk and was horrified to find it empty.
I couldn’t sleep after that and I found Mr. Hughes, bedraggled and unshaven in his bed, and told him Joseph wasn’t there. There followed a day of frantic searching, us boys at first, then the local bobbies, then even the army were brought in.
There was no sign of Joseph. Eventually it was assumed that he must have fallen into the sea and drowned. A tragic accident. A memorial service would be held and a tree planted in his name.
But on our last day there, we’d had some free time and I walked up onto the moor and to one of the mounds Joseph had referred to. There was a stone obelisk, nearly five feet high. It looked quite new, the sides showing no sign of wind erosion.
I circled the stone, pulling my collar up against a high wind, and wondering. Then, as I turned to walk back to the hostel for lunch and the bus home, I heard a high-pitched wail. It could have been the merciless wind whipping the bare turf, or perhaps a gull high above, being thrown across the sky, or maybe even the sound of a small boy crying out desperately from his stone prison – for help that could never come.

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A Girl Like Alice

Takao Trick Art Museum

(650 words)

With any luck it would blow over. I wouldn’t miss her, though. In fact, now I thought about it, I could quite happily live without Alice wandering around the empty, echoing corridors of Thurkett Grange, dressed in nothing more than a long-sleeved shirt – pale green stripes on white – with her small, hard breasts showing through the material like two cherry tarts. As often as not she’d be humming tunelessly, frowning, pacing up and down, sometimes muttering to herself. And as for ‘Steve’!
I couldn’t even be sure how we came to be together. I’d met her somewhere, a restaurant, a party, my mind’s hazy on that point. She had a lean, smooth face, with mediumly-full lips, neat white teeth and large grey eyes, all framed by an inverted ‘v’ of tight curls in straw coloured hair, cascading down to her shoulders.
She wasn’t especially pretty, but attractive, if you know what I mean.
“Hello, I’m Alice, who are you?”
“Stephen, … well, people call me Steve.”
She’d seated herself opposite me, plonking a large glass of lemon-coloured wine down on a table between us, so that some splashed onto the tablecloth. She giggled. “Whoops! … That’s a coincidence, my cat’s called Steve!”
“Why did you call him Steve?”
“I didn’t. He told me that was his name.”
I laughed. “Sounds like an unusual cat!”
“Someone said you live in the old manor house. On your own. Do you get lonely?”
I’d blushed. Truth was I did sometimes. Since Lorraine had left a year ago. “Not really.”
“Can I come and see the place?” She smiled a quizzical, endearing smile, smoothing her short black skirt down over long slim legs with orange-painted fingernails.
So, as a patron of the county art society I’d shown her round my gallery, which housed a number of the society’s finer works.
She’d traced her fingernails over a moody seascape, executed in oils.
“Careful! That’s a valuable painting!”
“This was painted by my uncle Maurice. He lived out by the coast – in Mablethorpe.”
“Really?” Maurice Sotherton had indeed lived in Mablethorpe and the painting was signed just ‘M.S.’ “That’s a coincidence.”
Then the library. Thousands of volumes rubbing shoulders from floor to a high ceiling where light entered through small leaded windows in the sides of a white-painted cupola.
“I wrote a book once,” she said.
“Really? What was it about?”
“It was called The Seven Spiritual Laws of Excess … it was supposed to be funny.”
“Did you sell many copies?”
“One. To my husband.”
“Oh ….”
“Actually, you know him.”
“I do?”
“Tom Prince. You play pool together at the Blacksmith’s Arms. Or did.”
Well, that was strange. I did know Tom, a friendly guy, aged about thirty, but we’d mainly played for different teams. Then one day he’d vanished. No one knew where he’d gone and his house was looking rather dilapidated. I’d never heard him refer to a wife.
But all that was in the past. Alice had left as suddenly as she’d moved in, taking her vociferous Siamese cat, Steve, with her. I could honestly say I missed him like a hole in the head. But Alice? Well, she wasn’t all bad. We’d had good times together, not just in bed. She was a font of bizarre and irrelevant knowledge and a frequenter of odd galleries and museums. The type that lay hidden down ancient cobbled alleyways and which hardly ever seemed to open.
My finger hovered over her number on my speed dial. I reckoned it wouldn’t do any harm to give her a call. Just to see how she was doing, nothing more, you understand. Here goes! I pressed the number just as the doorbell rang. I thought I heard the yowl of a cat. Another damned coincidence! My heart beat a little faster and I found myself smiling. ‘Better the Devil you know’ came to mind.

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Evil versus Evil


evil vs evil

(900 words)

Justice of the rough variety was the order of the day at my old school.
“Hey, Johnny, Billy Stone’s going to get you after school.” It was Tony ‘Smiffy’ Smith.
“What?!”
“Says you’ve been messing about with his sister and he’s going to give you a fat lip.”
I felt a sudden queasiness in the pit of my stomach. “I talked to her at the bus stop. That’s all.” Susan Stone was pretty, intelligent and friendly, everything her brother wasn’t. I often wondered if they had the same parents.
“Says he’s going to knock your teeth so far down your throat you’ll have to stick a toothbrush up your arse to clean them.”
“Hah. Let him try!”
“Oh, you think you can take him on, do you?” Smiffy laughed. “He’ll pulverise you!”
I sat in the toilet, literally shitting myself. There’d been this kid, Denis someone. Rumour had it that Billy Stone had taken a dislike to him. True, Denis was pale, spotty, wore thick-lensed glasses and had a high, annoying voice, but live and let live was what my parents had taught me. They said Billy had accused Denis of bumping into him at the bus stop. Apparently, Billy then punched Denis in the gut. When Denis bent over, gasping for breath, Billy had kneed him in the face, busting his nose. Denis had gone down and for good measure, Billy had kicked him ‘where it hurts,’ leaving Denis howling in agony and blubbering like a baby. It was all over in ten seconds.To add insult to injury, Alex Rawlinson, one of Billy’s gang, was said to have held Denis’s school bag open whilst Billy urinated into it.
To avoid a further beating, Denis had sworn he’d tripped and fallen over onto his face. He’d left the school shortly afterwards.
Then there’d been a playground fight with Ginger Tomkins. Ginger wasn’t a pushover like Denis, but I’d witnessed it myself. Surrounded by a mob of baying schoolkids, Ginger had managed to trade a few punches before Billy had headbutted him in the face. Ginger had gone down as if poleaxed, leaving Billy to ‘put the boot in,’ as was his custom.
Ginger had subsequently spent an agoninising week, bandaged-up in a hospital bed. When questioned by the teachers, though, he swore he’d ‘fallen down the stairs.’ Billy evaded punishment once more.
That night I took a totally different route home, planning on telling mum I was coming down with flu and hoping that a few days off would give Billy a chance to pick on someone else.
I borrowed a mate’s bicycle and rode to a nearby railway station, a bare platform with a small waiting room and a toilet. It was totally deserted. I looked at my watch. The train wasn’t due for ten minutes so I elected to leave the bike and use the toilet. When I came back my heart sank to my ankles. Sitting on the bicycle was Billy Stone! I turned, thinking to run across the track but marching over it towards me, grim-faced and determined, were Smiffy and Alex.
Billy slipped something silver and metallic over his fingers. “Come on Johnny, let’s see what you’re made of. Smiffy says you ain’t scared of me!” He gave a harsh laugh, punching the knuckleduster into his other, cupped, hand.
I was in the direst of dire straits.
“Listen John, there’s some advice I want to give you. You’re young but it’s as well to know the score. There are evil people in this world and sometimes you have to fight evil with evil.”
I was eight years old, standing in my grandfather’s study. Books lined one wall. Many were ancient, leather-bound tomes. My grandfather selected one, opening it at a diagram of a pentagram in a circle. The circle enclosed many bewildering concentric circles, and the page was covered in strange symbols and hieroglyphics. “I got this book from a great magician. His name was Aleister, a real magician. Know what that is, John?”
“No.”
“Someone who can summon beings not of this Earth – angels, demons, and other, er, lesser entities, to do his bidding.”
“Oh.” I didn’t really know what he was talking about.
So, I’d been given half a page of Latin to learn, a call to the demon, Valefar, a spirit said to bring protection and retribution. I’d been scared, but grandad said not to be. If I said the verse right, angels would control the demon. “And make sure you keep this to yourself, Johnny. If you tell anyone, anyone at all, mind, it’ll weaken the magic, understand?”
Now in desperation, I recalled those Latin phrases and recited them furiously under my breath, whilst Billy circled, a cruel lopsided grin on his face. Suddenly I thought I saw something behind him, a dark shadow flitting past, then with a raucous screech a huge black bird came from nowhere, swooping down on him and latching on to his head where it pecked repeatedly at his face. ‘Get it off, get it off!” he screamed, whilst Alex tried to swat the bird with his satchel. He made contact and it flew off, leaving Billy clutching his face, blood streaming through his fingers. “I can’t see! I can’t see!”
I retrieved the bicycle and rode away, grinning like a Cheshire cat. I’d take the scenic route home. Justice had been served!

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The Shell People

crowds
(850 words)
Action is required. The Shell People are multiplying! Infiltrating to higher and higher positions in organisations – political, social, and industrial. I turn to my controller, Digby. He is tall, gaunt, wearing a heavy brown woollen overcoat and matching Homburg hat, as is his wont.
“What’s the plan?” I ask.
Digby smiles and I’m reminded of his uneven, yellow, smoker’s teeth. “The Magician’s on his way, and we’ve two drones patched into the security screens.” He indicates a row of monitors, currently scanning the football crowd. The Director’s decided we need them alive, find out what makes them tick, dissect them while they’re still breathing if we have to.” He gestures to my ‘rig’ – in an aluminium flight case propped in a corner. “This time you’ll have M99 cartridges. Etorphine.”
I shrug. I just do what I’m paid to do. Even so, I know the heat is on. The rumours are spreading. The papers are stamping them down, ‘wild conspiracy theories, vile trolls,’ all the rest of it, but how much longer can they keep the lid on?
Yvonne, my wife, knows I’m with security, but she doesn’t ask too many questions, just smiles and raises her pretty eyebrows. “I wish I knew what you’re up to, John, you don’t have to tell me everything you know.”
The door crashes open. Wild grey hair and a grey beard surround a lined, leathery face. “Hello, Digby, sorry I’m late, bloody car battery was flat.” Piercing grey eyes look me up and down. It’s the Magician. “I see a lot of yellow and red in your aura, John, you have a nice energy today.” He smiles a smile that knocks decades off.
The volume is building outside, Dire Straits’ Walk of Life is playing over the PA. I take my rig outside and up a fire escape, the noise of the crowd hitting me like a slap to the face.
Earlier, I tell Yvonne, “Look I’m not supposed to speak to anyone about this. If you tell anyone, anyone at all, and it reaches the Director, well, they’ll be fishing me out of the canal. Understand?”
She nods earnestly.
“Well, there are these … ‘people,’ we call them the Shell People, cos that’s all they are really, a shell, they’re not … human.”
“What?!”
“Just listen. We don’t know where they’re from, whether they’re aliens or from another dimension or whatever, but they’re masters of identity theft. And they’re telepathic. They’re infiltrating organisations and putting antisocial ideas into people’s heads. Some may even have been elected to parliament.”
“That’s incredible!”
“Well, we’re not sure what they’re up to, but their aim seems to be to cause instability, to make people unhappy with their lot, in short, to foment unrest.”
Yvonne sits open-mouthed.
“And our job is to stop them.”
“How?”
“Well, one thing we’ve learned, they don’t have an aura, you know, that psychic coloured thing around us. So, we’ve got this guy, The Magician, he’s got incredible psychic abilities, he looks for people with no aura. Crowds are good for that.”
“Then what?”
I mime, pointing a pretend-rifle at Yvonne and pull the imaginary trigger.
There’s a roar from the crowd and the thud of the ball being kicked. Up here, it’s windy, but I’ve got a sheltered spot. I’m lying down on a thermal rug and I’ve pads on my elbows to protect them. After what seems an age I scan the crowd through the telescopic sight, feeling bored. I observe a good-looking girl in red. She leans forwards, and I adjust the rifle to look down her dress, pleasantly surprised to see she’s not wearing a bra. As her heavy, bare breasts swing forward, a burst of radio in my ear brings me back to earth.
“John, The Magicians spotted one. He’s 99% certain. Up in the second box from the right at the far end. Young woman with a white fur jacket and hat.”
Well, she’s easy to spot. Attractive, looks well-to-do, but seemingly ordinary otherwise. I’m worried about the other 1%. “Is he sure?”
There’s a short delay, then. “Sure enough. Go for it, John. We’ve got our St. John’s guys ready.”
Yes, I bet they had. Ready to rush in and ‘rescue’ a lady who had mysteriously ‘fainted.’
I get her neck in my sight. There’s a fellow gesticulating next to her. I recognise him as a club official although I forget his name. Owns racehorses if I remember correctly. I tense, finger on the trigger, waiting for the moment.
The moment comes very soon. There’s a deafening roar as a goal is scored. On autopilot, I pull the trigger. Watching through the telescopic sight I see the dart hit her cheek, I’ve misjudged the wind. Her pretty smiling face collapses inwards like a punctured football and for a split-second I see bulbous red eyes, and the glistening, waving legs and antennae of something that resembles a five-foot-high earwig. Then the human form returns and she’s fainting into the arms of the concerned official. I see our guys entering the box in their St. John’s Ambulance getup.
What I saw makes me feel sick to my stomach, but she’s in the hands of the dissection boys now. Job done.

 

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Mediumship Development – A Personal Experience

become a medium

Readers of this blog may have noticed a certain psychic/spiritual theme to many stories. Well, I think I’ve always had an interest in things supernatural, but recently I had the opportunity to join a ‘development circle,’ so I thought I would share my experiences, for those with an interest in such things. In the ‘spirit’ of my Madeleine McCann article, I’m going to keep it short, to 750 words in this case, otherwise it could easily go on to ten times that!

Well, I’d heard the term ‘sitting for development’ and ‘development,’ but never realised what it meant. In a nutshell it means developing the ability to communicate with the dead!
I’d been to some demonstrations of mediumship in the last three years. It was all new to me then.
“I feel I’m with the lady in blue over here. Can you take the name, Alec?” The medium, a youngish man, asks attentively, whilst caressing a large crystal.
“Yes,” replies the lady, about sixty, smartly dressed and large in size. I’ve found women at these things always seem to be fairly massive.
“He’d be about five foot eleven, is that right?”
“Yes.”
“I’m feeling a sharp pain in my chest. I believe he’s showing me he died of a heart attack. I think it’s your father.”
“Yes,” the lady dabs her eyes with a tissue.
The medium smiles in his best sympathetic manner. Inside he knows he’s onto another successful ‘reading.’ All in a day’s work. Job done.
It was at one of these demonstrations when the (same) medium gave detailed information about a young lad who had lived next door to some friends I’d gone to the meeting with, a husband and wife, when they lived in France. He named the boy as Etienne, saying he had always been sick and died of cancer at the age of six. ‘But he says he’s well again now.’
My friends confirmed the account as being completely correct. So that was the turning point for me. Irrefutable evidence of life after death. How could he possibly have known about that lad, never mind all the other accurate ‘readings’ given that evening?
I felt quite a bit happier after that, knowing I was never going to die! Well, I’ll leave the ‘Earth plane’ for a sojourn in the wonderful world of spirit, but, as Arnie says, ‘I’ll be back’!
One surprising thing I’ve learnt is that recently-departed spirits haven’t changed much, if at all. If they were argumentative and swore a lot, well that’s what they’re still like. It presumably takes a few more lifetimes to ‘purify’ them.
So nearly three years later I’m sitting in a [literal] circle with a medium and several students, wondering what’s going to happen! The medium, a ubiquitously large lady with a down-to-Earth manner and pleasant demeanour, says we’re going to work psychically. As opposed to ‘with spirit.’ I don’t even know the difference but go along with a ‘guided meditation’ (“The sky is blue and the sun is warm and you are walking along a country road. Then you spot an old antique shop and decide to explore …”) and an exercise based on ‘scanning’ my partner, trying to keep my mind still, and desperately hoping for some kind of ‘impression.’ Suddenly, as my hand reaches a point on the lady equating to an age of 45, I visualize a penguin! Feeling foolish I say, “Did you have anything to do with penguins when you were about 45?!”
To my great surprise, she says, yes, she visited an island in Australia covered with penguins!
My first ‘result’!
Ah, but now I understand what it’s about. ‘Psychic’ means using the mysterious powers of the mind (psychometry, remote viewing, precognition etc.) – ‘ESP’ – but Spiritual, in the mediumistic sense, means contact with actual spirits.
But who are these spirits you may well ask? Well, they are spirit people who have reincarnated enough to learn what they needed to learn to now act as guides to newer ‘passed-over’ spirits and to mediums and hopeful wannabe mediums.
So, ‘development’ in the sense of ‘development circles’ is all about making contact with these ‘higher beings.’ In fact, we learn that some of them have always been with us, we just didn’t know it. But after months and years and decades (depending on initial talent or lack thereof) you can learn to quiet the mind and let ‘spirit step in’ and make contact with them.
This is done by receiving ‘impressions’ through the five ‘clairs,’ Clairvoyance (‘clear seeing’), Clairaudience (‘clear hearing’), Clairsentience (‘clear feeling,’) Clairgustance (‘clear tasting,’) and Clairalience (‘clear smelling’).
By learning to correctly interpret these impressions on the ‘mirror of the mind’ (to quote Harry Edwards) the higher beings or ‘guides’ can then connect with you and impart ‘spiritual’ information as well as organising the departed to communicate through you, when/if you reach a high enough level of ability.
Anyway, early days right now. I’ll post an update in a year’s time – when hopefully I will have made the acquaintance of a guide or two!

 

Recommended Books

Gordon Smith: Developing Mediumship: Down to Earth and anecdotal advice.

Doris Stokes: Voices in my Ear: Biography of a famous medium, quite harrowing in places.

Michael Newton: Journey of Souls: Brilliant analysis of the afterlife and its processes, obtained by deep hypnosis.

Harry Edwards: Life in Spirit: Advice about all aspects of mediumship and healing.

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If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 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 200! 

—-

To purchase the stories (up to June 2017) in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook form, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 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 200!