Sunday 24 April 2011

A Possible lead

by Kirsty Ferry

Babyccino -shot of hot, frothy milk enjoyed by small people...

It was raining and Jack was supposed to be going on an Easter Egg Hunt with Imogen and Lucy. He hovered by the kitchen door listening in while Mum spoke to Aunty Nicki.

‘So what do you want to do about it?’ Mum was saying. She nodded, agreeing with something. ‘Yes. You’re right. It is a bit wet out there.’ She peered out of the kitchen window where a woodpigeon was picking at a slug. Jack wondered if the woodpigeon’s feet were getting very wet. It was standing in what used to be the rose border. At least, it was the rose border yesterday. It was just mud today. ‘Yes, we’ll do that then. See you in twenty minutes,’ Mum continued. Jack pricked his ears up and bobbed hopefully from foot to foot.

‘Are we going on the Egg Hunt?’ he asked.

‘No. The girls are wearing spangly shoes and don’t want to get them wet,’ said Mum. Jack grimaced. The girls were OK, as far as girls went, but they had started to talk like Americans and Imogen had started chewing bubble gum. But she couldn’t actually blow bubbles. ‘We’re going to the garden centre and we’re going to have cake in the tea shop,’ said Mum.

Jack did a little victory dance. Cake was good.

‘OK,’ he said. ‘Let’s go. What are we waiting for? You are very slow today.’

They pulled up in the car park half an hour later. It had taken a while to decide what to take in the car. It was five miles. A long time to be sitting in the car, with nothing to amuse a person.

Jack squashed his face against the fogged up window.

‘Can you see them?’ he asked. He stuck his tongue out and pressed the tip of it against the glass. It felt cold and shiny and wet.

‘Not yet. I’ll phone them.’

‘Good idea Mum,’ Jack said. His voice was quite muffled as he still had his tongue on the glass. He pressed his face against the window, and began to pull some hideous faces. He could actually see the girls now, waving at him and pulling faces through their car window.

‘Hey Nicki, where are you?’ he heard his mum ask. ‘You’re where? Oh. OK. Ah. I see you now…’

‘We already saw each other,’ said Jack. ‘Is it time for cake now?’

It was nice and warm inside the Garden Centre. The children shook out their wet coats and bodies and Jack thought that puppies had the right idea. It dried you off quite well.

Aunty Nicki was already heading to the tea shop.

‘Can we look at the Guinea pigs?’ asked one of the girls. Jack pulled a face. Whoever had spoken had put on a horrible, wheedling baby voice.

‘We’ve promised them Guinea pigs this year,’ explained Aunty Nicki, hovering very closely over the scones. ‘Would Jack ever want a pet, do you think?’

‘I would like a rabbit,’ piped up Jack. ‘I saw one here at the Bunny Talk. But I got stung by a wasp. And I would have to Muck It Out. Ooh. You have a double chocolate muffin.’

It wasn’t really fair that Mum told him to get off the muffin in quite a cross voice.

The high stools in the teas shop which overlooked the lower part of it were an excellent vantage point. The children could see everyone. Imogen even saw a strange girl looking back at them.

‘What is she staring at?’ muttered Imogen. Lucy and Jack stared at the strange girl. Then Lucy pulled a face. Jack thought it was really clever, they way she could stick her tongue out and pull her nostrils half way across her face at the same time. The strange girl’s face sort of crumpled and she looked away.

‘Oh! Watch this,’ said Lucy. She lay almost flat across the stool and her long blonde hair went swish, swish, swish on the floor as she shook it from side to side. Jack was impressed. Lucy was being really good today. Normally she was really annoying. Sometimes, she even sat in the coat cupboard and refused to come out and play with them.

‘Shall we go and look at the guinea pigs?’ asked Lucy suddenly. ‘I know where they are.’

‘That’s a very good idea,’ said Jack.

‘Let’s go, kids,’ said Imogen. She was talking in that American voice again. They all slid off the stools and slipped away from the tea shop. Lucy was right. She knew exactly where the Guinea pigs were. The children leaned over the Guinea pig pen and the animals tried to hide in the corner.

‘That’s a marmalade one,’ said Imogen knowledgeably. She pointed at a hairy, ginger pig. Jack wasn’t sure which bit was its head and which bit was its bottom.

‘A marmalade one?’ Jack asked. Then he cackled, ‘I can spread it on my toast!’ The girls stared at him in horror.

‘That’s not kind!’ sniffed Imogen. ‘You can’t eat them.’

‘You get pork from pigs,’ said Jack. Imogen didn’t reply. She just went a funny colour.

‘I’m going to ask my mum,’ she said. They turned away from the Guinea pigs and headed back to the tea shop, arguing about eating baby animals.

Jack’s mum and Aunty Nicki were still sitting at the table chatting over their scones.

‘Mum. Can you eat pigs?’ asked Imogen loudly.

‘Yes. You can eat pigs,’ said Aunty Nicki.

‘I said so,’ nodded Jack. ‘And marmalade goes on toast.’

‘Marmalade is very good on toast,’ replied Jack’s Mum.

‘Then I am never coming to your house for tea again!’ cried Imogen and burst into tears. Jack stared at her in horror. Girls could be actually quite embarrassing. Imogen was causing a very big fuss in the garden centre. It was like she actually wanted people to stare at her. Aunty Nicki turned to say something to her, when she stopped and her mouth opened and closed a bit, but no words came out. Jack thought it looked rather odd and stared at her curiously.

‘Where’s Lucy?’ Aunty Nicki asked: quite suddenly. Jack looked around the tea shop. Lucy wasn’t with them there, that was for sure.

‘Um,’ said Jack. He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Has she gone home, perhaps?’

‘Don’t be silly,’ said Imogen, her tears magically drying up. (Jack thought she had maybe put the tears on for effect, but he couldn’t be sure.) ‘Mum still has the car keys. And Lucy’s feet are too short to reach the pedals anyway. She tried last week.’

‘I have to find Lucy!’ cried Aunty Nicki. She pulled the chair back from the table with a nasty scraping noise that made everybody stare and she started running around the cafe asking people if they’d seen Lucy. Everybody was shaking their heads. Mum started gathering the coats and bags up and looked a bit stressed. She herded Jack and Imogen up and made them stand very close to her, which Jack found rather unnecessary. Because they weren’t actually lost, were they?

Aunty Nicki rushed around the corner and started shouting at the lady on the counter. She shook her head too, and pointed at another lady. Then Aunty Nicki ran off in that direction and Jack, Imogen and Mum shuffled off after her. Mum was looking around as well, craning her neck, trying to see Lucy amongst all the people sheltering from the rain in the tea shop.

‘Did you see Lucy run off anywhere?’ Mum asked Jack in a low voice. He stared at Mum.

‘No, Mum. Lucy didn’t run off,’ he said. It was quite true. Imogen and Jack had left her by the Guinea pigs, perhaps, but she certainly hadn’t run off whilst she had been with them.

Just then, a booming, crackling voice came over the tannoy. It was calling out and asking people if they had seen a little girl with long, blonde hair, wearing a pink coat and sparkly shoes anywhere. If so, could they please bring her to the Customer Information Desk. Jack and Imogen looked at one another.

‘That girl sounds a lot like Lucy,’ said Jack.

‘She does,’ said Imogen, nodding in agreement. ‘Maybe that girl stayed behind to look at something as well... oh.’

‘Oh what?’ asked Jack. They were squashed together between Mum and Aunty Nicki, standing beside the Customer Information Desk.

‘Perhaps she’s still looking at the Guinea Pigs,’ suggested Imogen. Jack thought for a moment.

‘Yes. She could be. We’d better tell your Mum,’ he said. Imogen nodded and tugged at Aunty Nicki’s coat.

‘Mum. Mu-u-um. Mum!’ she said, trying to get her attention. Aunty Nicki kept shaking her off and trying to talk to the lady on the desk. She just wasn’t listening.

‘I think we should maybe have a look ourselves,’ said Jack. ‘And then we can bring her back.’

‘Yes. Let’s go back to the piggies,’ said Imogen.

The children wriggled their way out of the squashy place and headed off towards the Guinea pigs. Jack huffed as he was dragged back by the collar of his tee-shirt.

‘Ouch, Mum!’ he said crossly. ‘That hurts.’

‘Stay here,’ commanded Mum. ‘Where do you think you’re going? We’ve already lost Lucy today.’

‘We think we might know where she is,’ said Imogen. ‘We have remembered where we last saw her.’

‘Nicki!’ said Jack’s Mum. ‘We might have a lead.’

‘Where is she?’ asked Aunty Nicki. ‘Can you remember where she went?’

‘We think she is maybe near the Guinea pigs,’ said Jack importantly. ‘That’s where we last saw her anyway.’

‘What were you doing over there?’ squawked Aunty Nicki, bending right over Jack.

‘Looking at the piggies,’ said Jack, bending backwards, away from her. ‘We said so. We said can you eat piggies and you said yes, and...’

‘OK, OK,’ said Aunty Nicki. She looked at Mum and straightened up. ‘Will you...’

‘Yes,’ said Mum. ‘I’ll wait here, just in case. You go and check the animal section.’ Aunty Nicki nodded and raced off across the Garden Centre.

‘Can we...?’ asked Jack.

‘Yes. But hurry up and catch Aunty Nicki,’ said Mum frowning. ‘We came out with three children; we want to go home with three children.’

Jack and Imogen raced off after Aunty Nicki, weaving in and out of the other shoppers until they eventually reached the animal section. Aunty Nicki was standing there looking around her, trying to spot Lucy amongst the small children that were milling around the pens. Jack looked inside a hutch and Imogen checked the dog-bed section, just in case, but they couldn’t find her.

Then they heard a small voice, quavering from a stand half hidden behind bales of rabbit straw.

‘Help. Help me. Please help me.’ Aunty Nicki barged through the bales and came to a stop. Jack and Imogen rushed up behind her and bumped into one another as they pulled up short.

‘Lucy Pemberton!’ cried Aunty Nicki. ‘What are you doing there?’

Lucy was standing amongst the dog chains and leashes.

‘I’m trapped,’ she moaned. ‘Oh, please help me.’

Lucy raised her hands and stared at her mum with swimmy, green eyes. Her wrists were tangled up in a metal chain dog leash. Somehow, she had wound it around her hands, and trapped herself inside the leash like a handcuff. It was really, really knotted up and the more she pulled the tighter it was getting.

‘Lucy!’ cried Aunty Nicki and started to untangle her. She spent absolutely ages sorting it all out.

Jack and Imogen watched approvingly.

‘That is a very good idea for a game,’ said Jack. ‘Policemen. A policemen game.’

‘Or a spy game,’ said Imogen, folding her arms.

Jack nodded.

‘My mum was right, though,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘We did have a sort of lead on where Lucy was, didn’t we? And it was, actually, a proper doggy lead, wasn’t it?



Bio

Kirsty won the English Heritage/Belsay Hall national creative writing competition (2009) and the Wyvern Publications Burning Flash Fiction Competition (2010). Her work has appeared in First Edition, Peoples Friend, Ghost Voices, The Weekly News, Bridge House Publishing’s Devils, Demons and Werewolves, Wyvern’s Mertales and will be in BHP’s forthcoming Angels and Wyvern’s Fangtales anthologies.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

My Special Earl Grey

by Susan Jones

He’s not tall dark and handsome, more medium grey and gorgeous. He lives in Millions Castle overlooking the Penerhalo Bay in a country called Bizorello, well known for its beauty and splendour. He discovered Bizorello when he was a young astronaut on an everyday moon voyage. Unfortunately for his family, but fortunate for me, he was catapulted onto one of the silk sandy beaches of Ancient Bizorello.

On discovering the redundant castle, Demetrio took residence, and the villagers rallied round to help him create a magnificent flower garden. There had long been a notion among Bizorellians that a saviour would come from afar, which summed up the ungainly arrival of Demetrio.

I had dreamed all my life of my romantic Earl who would be the perfect Gentleman; one who knew how to treat his lady. As a rippling breeze lifted the scent from the wonderful hollyhocks and roses that had been planted all those years ago, now maturing in serendipity, Demetrio sliced lemon into tall glass cups. Then me and my special Early Grey drank to his everlasting rule (but only in his gentle way) over Bizorello.

Relaxing back in the afternoon warmth and humidity there was no need for words. Just the flavour of the drink, and the twinkle in Demetrio’s eyes was enough.


Susan Jones has a website www.susanjanejones.com

Also you will find her blogging on www.susanjanejones.blogspot.com

Monday 18 April 2011

Natural Justice

by Peter Horstead
Caffè macchiato

'I'm just going up to see to the pheasants up at high wood, love. I'll be back for supper in about an hour. Bye.’
The farmer went up to high wood everyday to check on the two hundred, or so, pheasant poults kept in pens in the rides of the old wood. He picked up his shotgun and cartridge belt, left the farmhouse and went out to his quad bike. He pushed the shotgun under the short rubber bungee strap that held his old wax coat on the rack at the back of the bike, an old fashioned visored crash helmet was held on the rack by its chin strap. He buckled the cartridge belt around his waist, kicked the bike into life and set off.
He followed the track that took him across two fields then up the steep hill along side the ancient limestone quarry, through the last gate and into what was called ‘top field’. Here the track dipped beneath the dark green canopy of high wood and wound through to the centre of the wood to the net pens where the poults were contained. He went about his business with the pheasants, checking the pens were still fox proof and that they had water and feed. When he had finished he rode quietly out of the wood and pulled up in the cover of some scrubby blackthorn bushes a little way down the hill from the track.
Rabbits had pock marked the hillside here with their burrows, and normally at this time of the day they would be feeding on the slopes of the hill around the warren. To discourage foxes and stoats from coming to the area and predating his pheasant poults, the farmer tried to keep the rabbit population low by shooting and occasionally netting them with the aid of a friends ferret. The birds were worth good money later in the year, rich city folk paid well for a day’s pheasant shooting.
He took the shotgun from the bike and loaded it with two bright orange pellet filled cartridges, put the gun under his arm and carefully moved through the bushes to try his luck at potting a couple of conies. There were none in sight, but gliding up the hillside towards him was the unmistakable image of a buzzard, keenly quartering the hillside for prey.
‘Bloody buzzard! You'll not be having my birds, you bastard.’
The buzzard would, of course, take young pheasants if they strayed out of the wood, but they couldn't and wouldn't break cover until they could fly. So the buzzard was no threat to the farmer or his poults, yet. But the unwarranted hatred by most gamekeepers of hawks and falcons was set deep in his soul.
The buzzard’s mate was riding the thermals four hundred feet above. Circling slowly, lazily sliding across the sky. She observed everything that was happening below, through eyes so keen they could even see her mate’s breast feathers stirring in the early evening breeze so far below.
She saw the flash of flame and burst of smoke appear from the bushes near the warren. The familiar sounds of a shot reached her as another gout of flame and smoke belched from the gun followed by the echo like effect of the second shot.
She watched in the clarity of slow motion her mate’s head snap back and a fine pink mist erupt as the pellets blasted through his body and brain. She watched the wings of her mate of ten years, crumple and fold as he dropped into the hillside in a slow deathly spiral. She saw the dusty impact as his broken body came to its last resting place. Her plaintive mewing call sounded like an agonized cry piecing the still evening calm.
The farmer fisted the air in celebration at the success of his hunting prowess. After putting the gun back on the rack of the bike he walked the short distance to the broken body of the buzzard, nudged it with his foot, as if he was afraid it would rise up and retaliate. When he was sure it wouldn't, he bent and picked it up by the legs. Fleetingly he admired the beauty of the bird’s plumage and form, and even paused to finger the hooked talons that tipped the reptilian-scaled yellow legs, thinking how vicious they were, how much damage they could do to flesh and bone. He would hang the body from the barbed wire fence enclosing the wood, as a warning to other predators. Gamekeepers had carried out this practise for decades, and the fence already held its gruesome harvest of desiccated stoat, fox, sparrow hawk, crow and magpie.
The violent blow to the back of his head threw him forward on his hands and knees, the dead buzzard spilling to the ground from his hand. He had no idea of what had hit him. His first thoughts were that he had been shot and the warm wet bloody mess that came away on his hands as he felt his head, seemed to confirm this obvious answer.
He looked round frantically to try to find the source of the danger but couldn't see anyone at all. It was then he heard the anguished scream of a buzzard, looking up he saw a second buzzard in a circling climb above him.
She had dropped in a stoop from four hundred feet and had flared out at the last possible second hitting him at her maximum speed with her outstretched, two-inch long black deadly talons.
He staggered to his feet and tried to make his way back to the quad bike. He put his hand to his head again and felt the furrows that had been gouged in his scalp. Blood was flowing down onto his shirt collar and running down his neck. A red anger clouded him as he finally realised that the second buzzard had attacked him. He ran the last few paces to the bike, snatched up the shotgun and tried to reload it. He would soon finish off this bastard! But the bird had not finished with him; in fact she had only just started.
She hit him as he tried to bring the gun to bear on her plummeting dive. Her talons ripped through his shirtsleeve and slashed through the muscle and sinew of his forearm cutting down to the bone. The gun exploded and spun from his grasp. He squealed in pain and shock. This could not be happening. A bird was attacking him! He had lived all his live in the countryside and these things did not happen.
The blood from his head was now starting to soak the front of his shirt and he was beginning to feel the first pangs of fear, and knew he needed to protect his head from possible further attacks. He fumbled with the strap of the crash-helmet trying to release it from the rack on the bike, the bird dived at him again but this time he had seen her coming and as he released the helmet he ducked down beside the bike as she screamed close above his head and back into the sky. He started to try to put the helmet on, but in his haste the chinstraps had become tangled and he only managed to get the helmet half on the back of his head. He was still crouched by the side of the bike when she hit him again.

This time she smashed into the back of the helmet and caught him totally off balance. His uncovered face was driven violently against the handlebar of the bike. He felt and heard the crack as his nose shattered against the metal, blood sprayed over the front of the bike and mixed with the blood and gore on his shirt. He sobbed in pain and frustration and managed to pull on the helmet and slam down the visor. He scrabbled with the rubber bungee strap and ripped free the waxed coat, it would offer him some protection from this murderous attack and he hurriedly pulled it on, started the bike and roared towards the gate out of the field. The visor had become smeared with blood, so he jerked it up and twisted to see where the demented bird was but he couldn't see her. As he pulled up to open the gate she came again from behind him. This time she hit him on the left shoulder. The power of her attack cut through the waxed jacket as if it were paper, slashing into flesh and muscle. He screamed in pain as she ripped into him.
Her tormented cry echoed across the valley and pierced deep into his soul, he was suddenly very, very afraid.
He realised he had to get the gate open quickly, before she attacked him again. He had to escape down the track back to the farmhouse, which seemed to be a very long way away at this moment in time. Sobbing in pain, fear and frustration he ripped open the gate. The bird was not going to give up on him until he was under cover, he was certain of that now. How could this be happening? His head, arm and shoulder were pumping blood. His heart was pounding in fear and horror at the situation he could never have imagined was possible. He scrambled back on the bike and accelerated away down the track, the bird screaming above his head. The next attack didn't draw blood but rattled his head as she hit the back of the helmet again. He was doing close to sixty miles an hour down the rutted track as she hit him and his speed had taken some of the sting from the attack. But this bird was not about to give in; she was a very intelligent member of her species and she learnt by experience.
As he roared down the track he kept twisting from side to side to see where the next frenzied assault would come from.
The bird was a killer; she did it every day to survive. It was natural to her. She had to be devious, clever and persistent. She knew how to hunt, how to stalk, how to ambush, how to deliver that final killer blow. She knew that the eyes were always a vulnerable part of her prey.
The farmer kept twisting his head round, frantically searching the skies above him, to try to find her but as he looked forward again she appeared as if from nowhere right in front of him. She had come out of the low setting sun. He didn't even have time to put up his hands in defence. She smashed into his face below the upraised visor. He was speeding at sixty miles an hour in one direction and she was hurtling towards him from the other direction. The black needle sharp scimitar-like talons entered his eye sockets like bullets, they were momentarily held there by the sheer force of her attack then ripped out as her momentum carried her on. His hands flew to his ravaged face; the uncontrolled bike was flung to the right as it hit a hardened mud rut. His terrible scream startled the stillness of the early evening and continued as the bike smashed through the dilapidated fence that had for several decades kept man and beast away from the edge of the quarry. His scream carried on until ending abruptly as man and bike smashed onto the limestone boulders some two hundred feet below.
From a further hundred feet higher, the bird’s keen eyes watched the slow tumbling scene below until its inevitable conclusion. She saw the dusty impact as his broken body came to its last resting place. Her mournful, mewing call cut through the still evening air, like the sudden pain filled cry of a baby.

Natural justice had been carried out.


Enjoyed Natural Justice? Then try ‘Phip’s Journey’ the story of a Cockney Sparra’s transformation into a country spadger. Another wildlife story. Available on amazon.co.uk Kindle ebooks, by Somerset writer Peter Horstead. More information available at peterhorstead@aol.com

Thursday 14 April 2011

Penny Carter is Unwell

By Charlie Britten

Cappuccino

Penny woke early. With the morning sun streaming through the office windows, she hummed to herself as she tidied her desktop and put her files into folders. But today it was a real effort to get started, and she didn't feel her usual energy, even at the touch of Greg’s silken fingers.

‘Maybe I have a virus,’ she thought.

That evening she visited Dr Norton. In his turquoise bow-tie and flapping white coat, she thought he was quite the genuine article - until he said, ‘We'll have to take your top off.’

She didn't like this one bit. As he groped around looking for leads, she asked, ‘Is it my memory, Doctor?’

‘Unlikely.’ He peered over his half-moon glasses. ‘I hope you’re not using that stuff off the internet.’

‘But it’s free, Doctor.’

‘You’re just run down. What you need is lots of fresh air and plenty of exercise.’

But next day Greg told her that she was slow. The shame of it. Then he shoved his memory stick into one of the new laptops and printed his sales brochure on her colour printer, the one she was quite attached to. She returned to the doctors and saw Dr McAfee this time.

‘Doctor, I’m so worried.’

Dr McAfee was Scots; his red beard clashed with his pink shirt. ‘Aye.’

‘Is it my age, Doctor?’

He shook his head as he looked through her history. ‘None of us are getting any younger, dear.’

‘I've heard some terrible things.’ Penny went black, then white, then black again. ‘In some offices they replace all hardware on a three year rolling programme. I can still see the look on the inkjet printer when they carried him away. He was only two and a half.’

‘Wouldn't happen now. Not during the economic downturn.’

Penny’s fan whirred in relief.

‘What you need is a good clear out.’

‘Oh. The little orange sachets? I order them for Greg online. Quite embarrassing,’ she added in a whisper.

‘Same sort of thing. We call it a defrag.’

‘Will it hurt?’

‘No, no. I'm just going to rearrange your files and folders-’

‘I do that myself, every morning.’

‘Let me explain. I'm going to push them closer together to make more space.’ He arched his eyebrows. ‘Your Greg should do this for you every six months.’

‘Greg’s forgetful, Doctor.’

‘You’ll feel like a new woman afterwards.’

The following morning Greg rushed into the office, crying, ‘Penny. Quick. Mr Large wants to see the sales presentation. He’s coming now.’

‘Okay,’ she said, opening PowerPoint.

‘As fast as you can. Please, Penny. I know you haven’t been yourself but-’

‘I'm fine, thank you, Greg. There you are.’

‘Oh, well done, Penny.’

‘The New York office must see this,’ said Mr Large, after she had whizzed through slides, animations and videos.

She booked Greg’s business class flight and luxury Manhattan hotel. If only she were a notebook, she could go with him.
************************************************************************************

CHARLIE BRITTEN - BIO
Charlie Britten enjoys making readers laugh. Her work has been published in ‘Radgepacket’, ‘Myslexia’ magazine and ‘The Story Behind the Story’ and online at ‘FictionAtWork’ and ‘Linnet’s Wings’. She writes because she loves doing it and, like every other author, she is writing a novel – a serious one, about the Cold War. In real life she lives in eastern England with her husband and cat and lectures in IT at a college of further education.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Wolf's Rain

by Sam Davis

Double Espresso

Out of the eternal darkness shone the light.

Out of the eternal darkness the sorrowful rain fell.

For most, the rain burned the skin, for the wolves it gave them power.

The pitiful humans receded into the shadows and devolved to apes.

However the wolves’ power, enriched by the radiant moon, grew until they took on a human form. This would come to be known as the Wolf’s Rain.





Ever since the rain fell I felt strange, incomplete, longing to howl at the heavens just to find a place to belong. My eyes represent my split being. My left eye, red in colour, perceives the world as it is in an ambient light. My right eye, yellow in colour, pierces the souls of any who dare gaze at it; only able to dwell on the torn memories of my shattered past.



I sat in the bar pondering my purpose in this world. I closed my eyes and listened to the banter, the sadness , the joy and slurred conversations around me. I couldn’t help but bare my teeth and growl. I hated them all; the people, the noise, the stench. All of them had a place in this world unwanted or not, but not me. What am I? Why not me?

“WHY NOT ME?” I howled to the sky.

Judgemental eyes turned to me; I glared back with my right eye.

Immediately disheartening those at the bar,they turned away in fear. I downed the last of my drink and stumbled out into the calm daunting night. A cold eeriness climbed my spine.

Something was wrong; horribly wrong.





Author Bio:



Sam Davis is a pupil at St. Gerards School in Bangor, North Wales. He is 14 years old and reads lots of books. Sam writes short stories and poems- when he can find the time of course!



A special word from the editor- Sam was one of the pupils who took part on a PAWS workshop (Publishing & Writing Animal Workshop Scheme) with Paws n Claws Publishing in which the children were asked to write a story about a wild animal- it's part of a project supported by the Born Free Foundation. Highly impressed with the standard of this short piece, Sam was asked if he would like to have it published online for CafeLit. I hope you all appreciate the skill in the writing for a writer so young. Perhaps this might also encourage other young talented writers to submit.

Friday 8 April 2011

Shells

Bill Haddow-Allen



Mint tea



‘We’ve been here before.’

Mary was sure she recognised the voice. She was alone. On the beach of the remote bay. Alone. And yet, above the sound of the ocean, she heard the distinct voice. She was used to the changing voice of the sea in its various moods, its eternal, incomplete rhythm. Sometimes she wondered if the voices were from the sea. Or maybe just memories; as if the sea made her hear them. She searched her mind for a face or a name for the voice but was frustrated by the curious nature of memory, the tippytongue-ness, the way the mouth begins to articulate a name but the names and faces float just out of reach…

A dark clothed stranger stood high on the dunes at the far end of the bay.

…and she had that unsettling feeling of déjà vu, as if she hadn’t been here before; but she lived here, in the big white house overlooking the bay, had fallen in love with the bay and the house on the cliff when she had spent her summers here as a child and had known then that this is where she would live. She walked the beach every day because she loved the mystery, the spiritual-ness of the shore

High on the dunes the stranger saw the lighthouse flash and remembered the last time he had seen it. Forty odd years of time collapsed into an interval between blinks. As a child he had counted and was thrilled when...eleven…twelve…thirteen always coincided with another blink from the lighthouse, thirteen intense seconds when time was the prisoner of the child. He had gone to sea in his yearning youth and had been drawn back to the bay by a longing, a compulsion to plant his feet here where he had spent so many happy summers as a child. Then he saw something blue - and a big hat - the figure of a woman in the distance. He watched her stroll along the shore in his direction.

Mary meandered over the patches of dark and light on the washed smooth shore. She could see where the to-ing fro-ing sea had made ridges, like a map of mountains with valleys of dry sand.
The past became the present for a fleeting moment when she suddenly experienced the gritty taste of sand in egg sandwiches and smiled at the memory of her picnicking parents in past picture-postcard days watching her play at the sea‘s edge.
She eyed the stranger. The high exposed planes of the dunes always made her think it was as if the land had broken off and fallen into the sea, and she watched him descend them in a sliding lope, leaving elongated troughs down the pyramid of silvery sand onto the beach, watched him walking, stopping, walking, getting nearer to her.

Memories inhabited the air for the returning seaman as if they had been waiting for him. He remembered a little girl. He tried to remember more...yes...we would be about ten.
He watched the woman wading at the sea’s edge picking up shells - scampering when odd waves raced further up the beach. He could see now that her big hat was made of straw and tied under her chin.

In that first childhood summer a boy had ‘rescued’ Mary when she was lying on the beach near to the sea. The boy had thought that she was dead, or ill, or had fallen asleep and in danger of drowning. She was just hugging the earth. They had laughed about it. He, too, spent summers here, and they spent blissfully happy days exploring together, summer after summer, and he talked of how he would go to sea and...

Waves pitched and toppled in the retreating foam of the seaman’s recollections...they had left notes for each other in their favourite cave…

…and Mary was remembering how she had held on to the boy’s hand in the caves because she had been scared. What was his name? She remembered the briny smell inside the frightening caverns, and the flotsam left by the sea every day, like presents for them to find...

...the boy had taken her deep into a cave once and run away and now, above the sea, the seaman heard her echoing scream and felt a pang of guilt.

Mary ambled along the beach, getting closer to him, this intruder visiting her shore. She stood still; listened to the sea and to the screeching terns, and watched a long unbroken roller prowling out to sea, the slate sea like taut skin on muscle as if it was alive.
She hadn’t thought of her ’rescuer’ for many years. They had spent every summer here until ...
Before the memory of that day could flood her mind she remembered that their first real date had been on the bus up the coast to the harbour...

…He remembered the girl - how pretty she was - but couldn’t remember her name, but felt now in this moment the warmth of her hand in his when he had pulled her away from the shrieking gulls clamouring in the harbour, some swooping to snatch hot battered fish from her newspaper…

... she remembered how she had squealed when she saw the silver glitter of twitching fish spilling from nets onto the quayside near to her feet…

Mary watched the stranger throwing stones - watched them arc-ing and kissing the sea, arc-ing and kissing and arc-ing...

...for the stranger time stretched during each soaring arc and in these moments he was at sea again, remembering how ships would pass a mile to starboard full of anonymous people unaware that other souls were skimming briefly into their existence.

Mary thought again of the primary colour summers of her childhood which had lasted for ever, but seemed now to have gone in a blink; and that last summer - that summer as a lipsticked teenager. The roller that had transfixed her smashed onto the sand in front of her with a violent thump, and for a moment she shared the sea’s simmering anger.

The seaman remembered how his little girl of all the summers before was suddenly grown up in that last summer. He wandered along the shore toward the woman and they were very close now, these two strangers on the great expanse of this remote bay.

Mary caressed the bladders of the seaweed in her fingers and remembered the sandcastles the boy had built for her - and how sometimes she had stamped on them in a fit of pique ...

At his feet, a section of tree from an unknown forest had been deposited on the shining wet sand. Two branches had grown side by side like thighs and countless caresses of the sea had smoothed and shaped them...

...and the tang of seaweed always reminded her…of sex…

… a wave came and licked and lapped and swirled around the trunk’s erotic curves and he remembered the warmth and shape of her body - that first exhilarating experience of longing youth…

Mary strolled a small semi circle around the stranger, not too near nor too far, giving him space, thinking that if she caught his eye he might speak. Handsome, she thought, sneaking him a look as she walked by. She lingered, hitching up her long dress and wading into the rippling skirt of the sea.

...the reverie of his first love was still warm in the stranger’s mind when he looked to where the woman was and met her enquiring gaze. He counted between the blinks from the lighthouse…one… two…three...mmm, trim - like the cut of her jib...eight, nine...good looking...ten...wonder if she will speak...twelve… thirteen.

They each turned away and walked.

For a few years Mary had wondered if her seaman would ever return. The day before their last day they had gone to their cave, that echoing cavern of childhood awe, and lovers’ tryst. She had worn her mother’s make-up. And he had looked suddenly so grown up. They had smoked cigarettes and drunk wine, and he had groped and fumbled and she had given in to his pleas.

After that first sexual experience in their cave they had walked along this same light and dark beach, many waves ago.
I must come earlier tomorrow, thought Mary, remembering their last few hours. They had watched the huge red ball rise out of the sea and hover, and it had bled like wet watercolour paint into the sinless white soul of the day and they were so happy in that moment, before they had to say goodbye.
I hope he is happy. He got what he wanted, the sea.

The seaman looked back as he walked to the dunes. The woman was writing in the wet sand near the sea’s edge, behind her the arc of the earth a single thick brush stroke of inky violet on the horizon.

Mary had remembered something else they used to do, she and that little boy. She waited for that odd wave - the seventh, or tenth, she could never remember - that odd wave that rushes further up the beach than the others, and when it came it washed away the letters she had carved with her finger.
She saw the stranger on the dunes.

The seaman waved. He listened to the sea and the gulls for a moment and thought he heard the shrieking of happy children. He took one last look.
At the beach.
At the woman.
At the lighthouse.
Blink.



Bio:

Bill has poetry published, and two short pieces in Daily Flash anthology, as well as numerous stories on various web sites. In everyday matter of fact situations bill sees in the dark beam - the flickers therein, the mystery and depth of the unspoken.
You can contact him at shamfer@googlemail.com

Art work: Marie Fullerton

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Hope

L.G. Flannigan



Espresso Romano



The bruises and cuts have gone, but I see the scars, still feel the pain, the shame and five years on I still question if I’m to blame. The jeering refrain of his words, a lingering hint of his breath, a mix of stale cigarette smoke and ale when I inhale, his taste on my lips, his hands touching me, holding me down…memories of it make me retch. From the pit of my stomach I purge but the hurt remains, stains my soul, no longer whole.

I have to believe I will survive, carry on, otherwise why am I here, why do I exist if not to persist and see it through? I need to resolve the anger I feel burning deep inside, the rage he unleashed…inflicted, filling me up making it impossible to eat, to breathe, to believe that I will heal.

The overwhelming fear I feel is real; his evil lurks in the shadows of my mind, outside my flat, at dusk I think he waits. He haunts my sleep, darkening the circles under my eyes. Deeper he taunts me; taking me to the brink of…I dare not utter that word…besides I must not sink, he cannot win. My skin crawls at the thought of his grin as his blows rained down, his satisfaction at my pain, how he laughed at my vain attempts to fight back…the pleading he unheeded, his lack of respect leaving me worthless at his cold heartlessness.

I trusted him once…a long time ago. I fell for his confidence and charm, his smokescreen hiding what harm he could, would enforce on me. Had he been honest, admitted he’d tear me to shreds leaving me for dead, would I have believed him…walked away instead? His ever shifting track fuelled my excitement, running in my heart I foolishly remained; my compliance may be partially to blame. His stronghold stifled my breathing, strangling my very being until I was dying in pain. His rage, a flaming forest fire, scorched my life turning it into dust, ash, treating me with contempt, disdain.

My embers, glowing scarlet and golden needing to resurrect, rejuvenate, live again but to move forwards I have to let go of the past else it’s all fake, a show, I won’t last. On my own, alone, desolate…I do not grow; taking only faltering steps upon my life’s path so consumed by the aftermath that was him. I’m not sure I can do it by myself and whom do I ask?

The heavens answer my call, my screams of desperation, sending someone to catch me as I fall. I am drawn to his unconditional love and there is something heavenly, something unearthly about him, the way he sees through my facade to the emotional scars, with his strawberry blond curls kissing his neck and his sapphire eyes sparkling stars. He sees the sadness, the pain, the hurt, the lilting gentle tone of his words washing away the ingrained dirt. I can tolerate the touch of his delicate hand, as tender as his words, wiping away my tears of emotion and healing the wounds of my soul broken…his wings envelop me and my soul sings. The warmth of his heart, his essence, his very presence brings comfort to my spirit, quiet, calm, rids me of the alarm which has invaded every part of my existence for too many years, causing countless tears. He helps me forget, reverses the regret, absolves my blame, the shame, the nightmares…the night sweats, he turns the sunset into sunrise, sorts truth from the lies, breaks the very ties…that bind me to the past and with that, at last I look to the future, now brighter, with my heart lighter knowing he holds my hand, walks by my side, as my guide, our hearts beating together, forever with me.

My angel…he gives me hope.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Credit Crunch Flowers

A Story for Mothers Day By Charlie Britten



Mocha





‘Spring planter, then? It’ll get there for Mothers Day, won't it?’

‘Should do. It’s only Friday today, sir.’

It would never do for the gift to arrive late, be too big or too small or the wrong sort of present, daffodils when she had them in the garden, chocolates when she had given them up for Lent.

Steve’s shoulders tightened. Another Mothers Day at the King’s Head. Already, he could feel the rough tweedy, texture of his one and only suit against his neck. He could see his children wearing the ‘posh’ clothes Mother bought them for Christmas, Sophie’s ginger curls tumbling over pink floral print and lace, and the label on Tom’s designer dungarees poking out behind soft baby hair. Tessa would wear her weddings and christenings trouser suit, the one she had found in the charity shop. She looked good in it anyway.

He would find Mother sitting in the pub lounge, in pearls and a silky top, her gathered skirt spread out over the chintz-covered sofa, Dad standing at her side, her coat draped over one arm and her scarf on the other.

‘You’re looking wonderful as usual,’ he could hear himself saying as he kissed her cheek, softened by years of expensive face-cream.

But it was still Friday.

As he replaced his credit card in his wallet, Steve glanced at the clock on the staffroom wall. He was supposed to be in Room C44 one minute ago and, right now, taking Class 4J’s register. The principal, Jan, was becoming paranoid about punctuality and taken to lurking in corridors to check. ‘Because of the Ofsted inspection next term,’ she said.

Grabbing a pile of marked work, Steve charged out the door and leapt up two flights of stairs, several steps at a time. At the bottom of the stairwell, one of his colleagues was calling ‘Don't run’ to a group of excited and excitable Year 7s.

Only as he arrived in the classroom did Steve realise that he had forgotten something. ‘You must develop strategies for being better organised,’ said Jan. ‘You can't do this sort of thing when Ofsted are here.’

‘Gemma, switch off your mobile,’ he said, trying not to think about his nice little worksheet on Pearl Harbour. He could see it now, staring up at him reproachfully from his desk in the staffroom. But the quiz on Hitler which he found on the internet while the teaching assistant collected up the homework was just as good.

Steve returned home that evening with a warm glow. ‘I ordered Mother a spring planter. £34.99,’ he told Tessa.

‘Steve,’ she cried. ‘That’s really expensive.’

‘Everything goes up just before Mothers Day.’

Tessa’s present to her mother stood on the window-ledge, already wrapped up. Several months ago she had bought narcissi bulbs from the local market and, with the children’s help, planted them in pots. Now fresh white buds thrust their way through tall thin leaves.

‘I paid on the credit card.’

‘Perhaps as well. Because we’ve got just £82 until payday the week after next. Don't you ever think about these things?’ She grabbed a battered library book lying on the kitchen table. ‘I'm going to read the bedtime story. Can you make your own cup of tea?’ A few moments later he heard her voice working through ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ by Judith Kerr, as if she had never read it before, and the Sophie and Tom hadn’t demanded the same story every evening for a fortnight.

He was about to switch on the kettle when he realised it was empty; he opened the lid and refilled it from the tap. Pity he couldn't do the same for his and Tessa’s bank account.

‘You must join the family business,’ said Mother, from under her big hat on his graduation day. Steve’s two brothers earned fat salaries and bonuses working at Eastham’s, his father’s motor dealership.

‘No, Mother. We’ve been through this before!’

‘You’ll never earn any money from teaching.’ She might have come round to the idea if Steve had taught at what she called a ‘nice school’, but Robert Bottomley Community School, known locally as ‘Rock Bottom’, was anything but.

When Tessa returned downstairs, she came up behind his chair and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. ‘I'm sorry I got cross.’

He pressed her palm to his face and kissed it. ‘I didn’t realise we had so little in the bank.’

‘Oh, we’ll cope. We always do.’

The following afternoon they took the Sophie and Tom swimming. As they queued at traffic lights on the way home, Steve noticed rubbery, overpriced tulips in tight cellophane packets in the local garage forecourt. Further down the road, the supermarket was selling yellow and blue things in pots, and, as they turned into their own road, Sandy at the convenience store was sticking ‘reduced’ labels on to Mothering Sunday bouquets. But Steve had done his duty. Expensive as the spring planter was, it would keep Mother happy.

Back at home he felt that familiar knot forming in his stomach: Mothers Day lunch. He lingered in the living room watching a film, but, when he crept upstairs after midnight, in his stockinged feet, Sophie called out to him, ‘Daddy! Daddy!

‘Ssh. Go to sleep.’

‘Mummy’s Day tomorrow, Daddy.’

‘Yes, darling.’ He pulled the duvet over her.

‘At school, we made tulips with egg boxes and straws.’

‘Yes, darling.’

‘But I gave mine to Mummy on Friday. What am I going to give her as a proper Mummy’s Day present?’

Steve started. Horror and embarrassment welled up inside him in equal measure, trickling down his face in panic-driven sweat.

For a moment, he thought about jumping into the car and dashing round to the supermarket. Already in his mind he was opening the front door, unlocking his car, driving down the road... round the corner... along the main road, at the roundabout now, the red supermarket sign looming in front of him. Hang on. They shut at ten on Saturdays.

And the convenience store shut at eight.

And the garage would now be selling petrol only, through a payment hatch.

‘Tom’ll have to give Mummy something too.’

He couldn't sleep. How could he, having ordered that over-priced spring planter for Mother, but nothing for his darling Tessa?

Then there was the bank account or lack of it. And his credit card, which was almost maxed out.

He fell asleep in the small hours, an uneasy, guilty sleep, only to awake, after a pitifully short time, with the dawn beating through the curtains and the sound of Sophie awake and playing in her room. Wearily he climbed out of bed and found her standing on a blue plastic chair, staring out the bedroom window. ‘Go to sleep, Sophie.’

‘Daddy, we could pick flowers for Mummy.’

Steve’s tired brain clutched at this straw. ‘Pick them? Where from?’

She pointed through the window, at daffodils and narcissi in neighbours’ gardens.

‘No, Sophie. We can't do that.’

‘Why can’t we, Daddy?’

‘No, Sophie.’

‘It’s Mummy’s Day.’

Why not? They were desperate. It wasn’t yet light and everybody would be in bed. Nobody would see. Or would they? Mrs Barnes was always up early walking that dog of hers, and Sam, on the corner, who worked nights, would be on his way home.

‘Rock Bottom teacher found guilty of stealing daffodils.’ He could see the headline in the local paper now.

And Jan. ‘How could you? When we’ve got the Ofsted inspection next?'

Sophie sat on the floor, legs outstretched, pushing her feet into her favourite trainers, the ones with pink teddy bears on them. ‘We’ll cope.’ Tessa’s favourite phrase.

‘We can't pick flowers from other peoples’ gardens, Sophie.’

‘There are no flowers in ours, Daddy.’

There were not. Their plot was tiny, most of it given over to lawn and swings. Steve was no gardener, unlike his father who spent every available moment outside. ‘He does it to get away from Mother,’ said one of Steve’s car salesman brothers. Dad gardened in all weathers, weeding, pruning and planting... planting bulbs. ‘Sophie, can you get dressed yourself?’

‘Yes, of course I can. I'm five.’



****************************************************



‘Thank you very much for the spring planter, Steven,’ said Mother. Her petticoats rustled as she sat down for lunch at The King’s Head. ‘It must have cost a lot of money. You really shouldn’t have.’ She turned to Tessa. ‘What did you get for Mothers Day, dear?’

‘Daffodils,’ Tessa replied, at the same time prizing a heavy silver fork from Tom’s small fingers.

‘I'm very fond of daffodils. Dad has put in a lot of bulbs over the years.’ Mother adjusted the three strings of pearls around her neck. ‘But the deer must have come into our garden again last night because, when I looked out the kitchen window this morning, most of our daffs seemed to have disappeared.’


***********************************************************************

Charlie Britten Bio:


Charlie Britten enjoys making readers laugh. Her work has been published in ‘Radgepacket’, ‘Myslexia’ magazine and ‘The Story Behind the Story’ and online at ‘FictionAtWork’ and ‘Linnet’s Wings’. She writes because she loves doing it and, like every other author, she is writing a novel – a serious one, about the Cold War. In real life she lives in eastern England with her husband and cat and lectures in IT at a college of further education.