Tuesday 29 May 2012

Autumn Leaves

Dorothy Davies

Cold tea

Ellie studied the pattern made by the golden leaves which had drifted from the multitude of twigs and branches on the ancient horse chestnut trees. Ever year Nature created a carpet to walk on, every year the pattern was completely different.  Yet no one seemed to notice, no one seemed to appreciate the talent, the artistic flair shown by the different designs.
Autumn leaves.  In Autumn everyone leaves.  She shivered suddenly as a cold breeze played with her hair and tinged her cheeks with colour.  Everyone leaves. In Autumn her father had left, walked out of the door to go to work and never came back.  Left them bemused and concerned; then afraid and finally desperately lonely.  No police ever came to report a body; no visitor mentioned his not being there.  It was as if he had never been.  Like Autumn leaves, he had come and gone and few had mourned his passing.  Ellie remembered the aching loneliness more than the sorrow, if she had experienced that emotion at all.
            Her brother had left in the Autumn, with back pack of books, writing pads, pens, pencils, all the paraphernalia imaginable to study.  Virtually no clothes, she recalled, only books and writing things.  She had commented on it at the time and had nothing in return but raised eyebrows and a look which said ‘don’t be stupid.’ So she didn’t.  She let him walk away to University without so much as a hug or a kiss on the cheek or a wish for his future.  She had not been on his wavelength at any time during their joint lives; a goodbye would not have made any difference to the way she felt.
            They were two then, two people in a house made and furnished for four.  Two people who managed to avoid speaking about the things which mattered, the way they felt, the loneliness they endured, the hollow holes in their lives, but instead spoke of late mail delivery, the quality of the food in the local supermarket, the fact that next door were playing their music loud again, even though they had complained.  Several times, in fact.  Trivial talk.  Light talk.  As light, as ephemeral as the Autumn leaves which fell, rotted, became one with the earth and enriched it.  Their talk would not enrich anything, it added nothing to their lives, to their understanding of life and how to live it, their need to overcome their inhibitions and talk of pain and hurt and suffering and emptiness.
            Autumn was an aching time of sadness, melancholia, withdrawal; the windows full of Halloween trivia, as trivial as the talk which sometimes passed for companionship.  Autumn was a time of sharp frosts, of rich scents of bonfires, of fruit, the true Harvest Home, the season of richness and of ending.  Autumn was a time of dying.
            Her mother had died in the Autumn.  One day she had sat down in a chair, complained of not feeling well, touched her head theatrically as if in a silent movie melodrama – and stopped breathing.  Ellie had, for the longest time, done nothing.  She had watched the life empty out of a body and depart and she stood and did nothing.  Did not dare to touch the hand, the arm, the shoulder or the face for fear of drawing the life back, for she knew, without being told, that the life had wanted to go, that since her father had walked out of the door and not returned, life had become as melancholy as the season itself, but lasted all year.  Only when she grew stiff and her legs ached with standing did she move to the telephone and dial the local surgery, repeating the information to the bored hassled impatient receptionist.  Yes, she would wait for the doctor to come.  Yes, she would wait for a call.  No, it was not a problem.
            Only then did she sit down, tucking her feet under the chair, hands in her lap and stared at the person she had called mother but for whom she had no affection whatsoever. Somehow that had dried up, fallen from the branch of family life that was her, drifted to the ground and become compost which, sadly, had produced nothing. At least the Autumn leaves produced fungi and new shoots for wild creatures to sustain themselves.  Ellie felt she had been unsustained for many years.
            When the men came and took the body away, leaving her with nothing but memories, Ellie blinked a few times, looked around the room and began to catalogue in her mind that which she would keep and that which had to go.  There was much to do, so much to do, but she did nothing but look around the room and make her decisions.  That would go to the charity shop, that would go to the antique dealer, that would go –
            Ellie walked on in the glorious Autumn sunshine, aware of the colours, aware of the brightness of the day, watching other people enjoying the weather, envying the thickness of their padded coats, their boots, their hats and scarves and gloves. Such things she had once and had no longer but the memory of their warmth, their comfort, their sheer – pleasantness, had stayed with her. It was a day for walking and many were doing just that.  No one glanced at her as she passed them, absorbed in their own lives, their own words, their own memories.
            Ah, that word.  Memories.  They came with the ability to cut, to hurt, to heal, to please, to fill the heart with joy.  There were few of the latter and many of the former.  Why was life like that, why was it so hard to find the good in life and so easy to remember the bad?  Surely the golden days should stand out, days like today, when the weather was perfect and the carpet freshly laid for all to see and admire?
            Everything has to end.  Everything has an end.  Ellie had reached the end.
            She walked and the Autumn leaves were not disturbed by her passing over them.

Dorothy Davies lives on the Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England.  There she works as an editor, writer and medium, channelling books from the rich (and not so rich) and famous from all eras of history, ancient through modern.  Her novels are available from Amazon. She edits and features in Static Movement anthologies.

Thursday 10 May 2012

The Reluctant Hero

Dorothy Davies
Hot Chocolate
In the theatre of war anything could happen, but because not very much had happened, the men on the patrol boat had become somewhat complacent about keeping watch.  John Kay, the officer in charge, was below decks, resting after hours of being on watch, when the crash happened. 
‘What the hell...!” John raced up the companionway and out onto the slanting deck, attempting to grab the handrails as he went, not wanting to lose his footing until he could see for himself what the problem was.  There were men in the water, floundering in the bow wave of the ship which had apparently just rammed them.  There were men clinging to the guardrails, but not for long for even as he looked around, the boat tipped almost on its side and threw them all into the relatively warm South Pacific waters.
John kicked out for the surface, spitting water and trying to clear his vision.  The boat had overturned so he reached out, clinging to it as best he could, shouting for his crew.
            ‘Here! To me!’
            One by one names were called as survivors managed to make their way to the keel.  Two didn’t respond.  John called out again and again, hoping the missing ones would hear but no one answered.
‘Damn it to hell!  Who didn’t keep watch then?  Who let them sneak up on us?  Who’s responsible...’ Stupid question.  He was. The officer in charge always is, no matter what the circumstances are.  He felt tears prickling his eyes for the missing men but blinked them away, pretending they were affected by the sea water.  Enough.  He had to deal with the living, later he could grieve for the dead.
 Most of his men were in reasonable shape apart from one, Pedro, who was badly burned and could not do anything for himself.  John held him by his lifejacket, making sure the man did not float away.
            ‘Someone has to know what happened to us!' he shouted, not because he could not be heard, but because he wished to encourage his men, to put some hope into them, to give them the strength to hang on as long as possible. ‘Someone will order a ship for us!’
            No one spoke.  They needed their strength to hang on to the keel, for the sea was doing its best to try and tug away, as if looking for more sacrifice, as if the two already claimed were not enough.  They looked at one another, at first with the brightness of anticipation of a destroyer, or a lifeboat of some kind, heading toward them.  They scanned the horizon endlessly, but it remained ominously empty.
            Hours passed and still they clung on, both to the keel and to hope but it became very clear that both were sinking, the keel had the weight of the ship pulling it down and the men had the weight of disappointment and rapidly receding hopes pulling them down too.
            Evening closed in and John had to make a decision.  Dare they let go the keel, which was sinking very slowly, to swim to the nearest island, which he knew was a long way away?  Or should they continue to hold on as long as possible in the hope the rescue would come?   
            There was only one thing to do.  He swam round the keel and spoke to the men one by one.  He said the same thing to each one: ‘there’s an island north of here but it is a very long swim.  Are you prepared to make it with me?’
            One by one, with his encouragement, they said yes.
            ‘What are you going to do about Pedro?’ one asked.
            'Take him with us, of course.’
            ‘How?’ asked another crew member.
            ‘Leave that to me.’  John did not want to burden them with what he was going to do; he needed to ensure they were full of enthusiasm, as far as possible, for the ordeal ahead.  He had some idea of how long it would take, he didn't tell the men because he knew it would defeat their hopes and deflate them before they set out.
            ‘Come,’ he told them and, pulling Pedro along by the lifejacket that John clenched in his teeth, they began the long journey.
            It took five hours.  Five long relentless hours of pushing against the currents, of being hungry, thirsty, shocked, exhausted, kept going only by following John who could not speak to them but who regularly turned as best he could to wave to them and motion them ever onward. 
            John began to believe the journey would never end.  He sent out with great hopes, even though he knew it was going to be a long time, but the sheer tedium of the journey, the agony of keeping his jaws so tightly closed, the dread that he was actually towing a dead person alongside him, the ever present worry that the rest of his crew would not be able to make the distance with him, combined to put the fear into his mind that he would never ever reach the island, that his navigation was so far out that they would be swimming forever until one by one they gave up and simply sank below the waves.
            Just when he reached the absolute end of his reserves of energy and strength, they found themselves on the dry earth of the island.  There was no water, no food, no shelter, but it was enough to be out of the sea and able to rest.
            John went back out into the ocean twice, looking for lights, for any indication that a ship was coming for them, but saw nothing.  He was incapable of going out for a third time, so one of the other men made the effort but came back saying he could see nothing.  After that they abandoned any effort and decided to take care of themselves.
            They all fell into the sleep of totally exhausted men, including Pedro, who was somehow holding on to the threads of life, much to John’s surprise and intense pleasure.
            Next morning John and one of the crew members swam to the next island, where they fortunately found a small boat stocked with water, some biscuits, and candy.  They rowed the boat back to the men who had been discovered by locals, and have been taking care of.
            In a moment of inspiration, John took one of the coconuts they were offered and carved a message into the shell saying that there were survivors from his wrecked patrol boat and that the natives knew the position of the island.  One of them offered to take it to the nearest place where help could be summoned.
            John was called a war hero for they said without him none of them would have survived.  He had encouraged, guided, and led them to safety.
            John said there is no such thing as a war hero; it was just a man being in the right place at the right time and, without thinking, doing the right thing.  He held that point of view to the end of his life.
            That coconut was turned into a paperweight which sat on the desk in the Oval Office for the entire time he was President of the United States.

Dorothy Davies lives on the Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England.  There she works as an editor, writer and medium, channelling books from the rich (and not so rich) and famous from all eras of history, ancient through modern.  Her novels are available from Amazon. She edits and features in Static Movement anthologies.
 Her latest book, I Bid You Welcome, is available from
Check out my writing website:

Thursday 3 May 2012

Cleaning Up

Alan Cadman

A satisfying glass of Sangria

Mark had nearly finished his familiar trudge around the local streets; a few more yards and he’d be home. When he turned the final corner, he recognised the person facing him straight away. The hair was a lot thinner, and going grey, but there was no mistaking the gaunt frame and weasel eyes. He frowned at the self-styled wide-boy from his teenage years.

Darren Fisher leaned against the wall of the Red Lion and stubbed out his roll-up. ‘Look what the cat’s dragged home, if it isn’t Mark Grainger, do you remember me?’

‘Hello, Fish,’ Mark said, trying to move on.

Fisher put his leg out to stop him. ‘Haven’t seen you for about fifteen years, me old mate.’

Mark hoped it would be another fifteen years before he saw him again. He remembered when Fisher targeted houses, and old cars, that were easy to break in to. Sometimes he’d steal garden tools, maybe a pushbike or two; anything but face an honest day’s work.

Fisher adopted his trademark lop-sided grin. ‘I see you’ve gone up in the world then?’

Mark propped his ladder against the wall and placed his bucket on the pavement. ‘At least it’s a proper job. What’ve you been up to for the past few years?’

Fisher narrowed his eyes. ‘This and that . . . got a few contacts in the West End, haven’t I?’ He put his hands in his pockets. ‘The old gal’s been a bit dodgy on her pins lately. Thought I’d come back home for a while and look after her.’

Mark couldn’t believe what Fisher had just said. He’d seen his mother sauntering around the market that very morning; probably, he thought, on one of her shoplifting expeditions.

Mark thought back to the time when Fisher used to go missing from the estate, where they both grew up, for months on end. He would turn up in the pub, unexpectedly, and brag about all the money he’d made. No one believed him. Speculation grew where he really had been, or detained, as someone had suggested. The more self-respecting locals regarded him as nothing more than one of the petty thieves in the area.

Fisher flipped open his tobacco tin and started rolling up another cigarette. He looked at Mark’s ladder and bucket. ‘You could be useful to me, especially in your job this time of year.’ He glanced at the cloudless sky and shaded his eyes from the sun. ‘I could put some work your way you know.’

‘You want your windows cleaned?’

Fisher struck a match, lit up again, and blew smoke through his nostrils. ‘Don’t be daft. You trying to wind me up?’

Working for Darren Fisher was the last thing on Mark’s mind. ‘I’m too busy, Fish,’ he lied.

‘Too busy earning a few quid on this poxy estate cleaning windows? Want to earn some real money? Bet you could do with some.’

‘Yeah of course I need the money, with a wife and kid to support now. I don’t know, Fish.’

‘You won’t be breaking the law, no need to look at me like a frightened cat. I’m in the big-time now. It’s all above board what you’ll be doing.’

Mark bit his fingernails. He wanted a good holiday with his wife and young son, but nothing had ever been “above board” with Darren Fisher. Mark used to be easily led, and had helped Fisher, with his dodgy dealings, in the past. He wasn’t a teenager any longer and had more responsibilities to take care of.

Undeterred, Fisher explained what he wanted him to do. He slapped Mark on the back.
‘I told you it was easy, didn’t I?’       

Mark didn’t answer, but turned the proposition over in his mind. Against his better judgement, extracting money from Darren Fisher, for doing so little, began to appeal to him. He thought it also might give him the chance to help Fisher disappear for a little longer; with no recriminations. Yes, it would be good to pull a fast one over that loser. The temptation gnawed away at him.

‘One more thing,’ Fisher paused for effect. ‘I’ll need you at the airport as well.’

Mark raised an eyebrow. ‘The airport?’

Mark locked his front door, patted his pockets for Sterling, Euros and passports then tried the door again. All the windows were secured. He rattled the side gate for a second time, as his wife and son waited patiently in the taxi. The family were all looking forward to their unexpected break in the sunshine.

Ron, the driver, engaged first gear and drove out of the side street. They hadn’t gone far when he announced, ‘Whoops, here we go again, another dawn raid by the local Plod.’

Mark glanced at his wife first then peered out of the taxi’s window. Police vehicles were parked outside a terraced house; the one with an overgrown lawn and shabby curtains. Some of the officers gathered by the front door; others sneaked around the back.

‘Isn’t that Darren Fisher’s place?’ asked Ron, ‘I heard that toe rag was back on the scene. I didn’t think it would be long before he had his collar felt again.’ He slowed the car down. ‘They’re going in. I don’t think it’s his mother they’re after for nicking tights from M&S.’

‘Put your foot down, Ron, we’ve got a holiday to enjoy.’

‘Lowlife, all of that family,’ Ron went on, as they sped away, ‘even the old man’s doing time for nicking lead off the roof of St. John’s.’ He shook his head. ‘At his age as well.’

Mark didn’t respond.

‘There’s been a few burglaries round here since Darren Fisher came back on the scene, bit of a coincidence if you ask me,’ Ron said.

Mark shifted in his seat and wished Ron would change the subject. Taxi drivers, he thought, armed with a big font of local knowledge they can’t wait to impose on you; he tried his best to stay calm.

‘It’s the holiday season again, isn’t it? People are more careless this time of year. Take London for example,’ Ron explained further as Mark rolled his eyes. ‘Over 5,000 homes, last year, were burgled by thieves, who entered through unlocked front doors?’ The taxi slowed down at traffic lights. Ron glanced over his shoulder. ‘You can’t believe some people can you? Spend loads of dosh on security systems then forget to activate them, all because they’re in a rush. I think that’s what’s been happening on the new development. Expensive area, you know.’

‘Only half an hour commute to the city as well,’ Mark’s wife said, ‘all made of money, that lot, if you ask me.’

Ron swung the taxi towards the dual carriageway. ‘I think Fisher’s involved someway, been trying a few door handles. He couldn’t do it on his own of course, hasn’t got the brains. He’d need an accomplice to tell him which house to go to, while the owners are on holiday. I’ve heard that airport scam has reared its ugly head again as well.’

‘What scam’s that then?’ Mark asked.

‘You know the one, when people write their full names and addresses on their suitcase tags,’ Ron shook his head, ‘even put mobile numbers on sometimes. Combine that with the front door walk-ins and you’re on a winner.’

Mark cleared his throat. ‘Really?’

‘I suppose you’ve got to feel sorry for the holidaymakers, though,’ Ron added, ‘imagine lying on the beach on the Costa Blanca. Your mobile bursts into life. “Hello, mate, this is your local friendly thief. I’ve just burgled your house.”’

‘Whatever you say, Ron, whatever you say,’ Mark said, shifting in his seat.

‘Come on, I’m serious. It really has happened you know. I’m not making it up.’

The drop-off points for Heathrow came in to view. ‘Where did you say you’re going to again?’ Ron asked.

‘Benidorm, for two weeks,’

Ron curled his upper lip. ‘Well whatever he’s been up to, Fisher won’t be going anywhere nice today, will he? The whole family are disliked on our estate, even by some of the other crooks. I wouldn’t be surprised if the police haven’t had a tip-off.’

Mark glanced at his wife, who looked at the back of Ron’s head and smiled. ‘You’re probably right,’ she answered, trying not to laugh.

Alan has been writing short stories for four years. Before that, he was the editor of a civic society newsletter for seven years. His first cheque, for fiction, arrived on Christmas Eve 2009. Almost two years later he made the short list for one story and became a prize winner for flash fiction; both awarded by the same best-selling UK magazine for writers.

Tuesday 1 May 2012


Roger Noons 

'Wicken' -- a beer brewed in The Fens

Visitors to the village were surprised that it could sustain a specialist cycle shop, but being in the middle of the Fens, a notable flat landscape, everyone owned and rode some form of self-propelled machine.  There were bicycles, tandems and one or two ’trikes’, of all types and makes. As there was no school in the village, a cycle was essential for every child of school age. The nearby town had a cycling club with a considerable membership and organised races and time trials. Many of the local people were not that well paid, that they could afford to discard bikes when they began to show signs of their age. There was therefore plenty of business for Ralph. He was always busy, and his workshop often full of machines, either awaiting repair, or collection.
    Some small traders had machines which pulled carts, which carried their essential tools and the materials used in their trades. Eric James was one such worker. His trade was the sharpening of knives, scissors, shears and blades for lawn mowers. He could also re-tip drills and bits. Ralph had modified a cycle, and fashioned a wheeled bench containing the grinding discs which were required by Eric.
    Eric was therefore, one of Ralph’s regular customers as well as being a friend. He called into the shop most days and also joined Ralph on one or two evenings each week in the Hockwold Arms for a glass of beer and occasionally, supper. They each lived on their own. Eric was alone because his wife had left him. Their children had grown up and moved away, and she desired further excitement in her life. Eric enjoyed a simple lifestyle, pedaling around the fens, earning a few pounds here and there, and spending most evenings in his cottage with a book. His idea of a night out was a game of darts and a pint at the local pub.
    Ralph never explained why he was on his own. He was often teased and whoever did the teasing received the same reply. ‘I have a lady friend. Her name’s Louise. She will be coming to join me one of these fine days.’
    ‘What’s she like?’ Eric would often ask, but always got the same answer.
    ‘You will be the first to meet her when she comes, my friend. You’ll just have to be patient like me. But she’ll come, don’t you worry.’ Ralph pushed his spectacles up to the bridge of his nose and nodded, so that was an end to the matter.
    The villagers would often discuss Ralph and his Louise. No-one had ever seen any woman visit Ralph, other than his female customers, and he rarely left the village. The postman didn’t live locally, so no-one had the nerve to ask him if Ralph ever received any love letters. There were all sorts of suppositions and rumours, but as time went by, people who knew Ralph came to the conclusion that Louise was a figment of his imagination, and he would forever be alone. It was even suggested that Ralph might be GAY, and he used Louise as a way of diverting attention from that possibility. Eventually, the villagers gave up expecting anyone to come, and Louise tended to be forgotten. But, given the opportunity Ralph would remind them that, ‘One of these days Louise will join me.’


    Eric went into the cycle shop one afternoon and at first, couldn’t see Ralph. He found his friend on the floor behind the workbench. He had collapsed; a heart attack, Eric assumed. An ambulance was summoned and Ralph was rushed to the hospital in Cambridge. Sadly, he died during the following day.
    As Ralph apparently had no relatives, Eric and the vicar arranged his funeral. It was held in the village church and as Ralph had never let it be known if he believed in cremation, they decided to bury him in the churchyard. The villagers were happy to contribute towards the cost of an appropriate stone, although it was likely that Ralph‘s estate would have sufficient funds to cover the costs involved.


    On the afternoon of the funeral the shops in the village closed and all the residents attended. George, the landlord, closed the pub for an hour, so that his wife and he could be there. Cyclists came from all over the county and the CTC was officially represented. As the vicar got to the part, by the graveside, when he said ‘…ashes to ashes, dust to dust… Eric’s attention was attracted by a movement. He looked towards the lychgate and saw a young woman standing there.
    He made his way over to speak to her. ‘Good afternoon,’ he said. ‘My name’s Eric James. I was a good friend of Ralph’s. If you’re a relative, I can tell you that he didn’t suffer. He never regained consciousness after he collapsed in the shop. We’ve given him a good send off. One I think he would have liked. All his friends are here. He was greatly respected and admired, and he will be much missed by us all.’
    She was younger than Eric first thought. ‘No, I’m not a relative,’ she said. ‘In fact I never met him. I’ve come to represent my mother. She wanted to come herself but she is nursing my father. He is terminally ill. In fact he’s not expected to live much longer, so I shall soon be attending another funeral.’
    ‘What’s your mother’s name?’
    ‘Mary, Mary Louise Cochrane,’ she said.
BIO - Roger Noons began writing in 2006, when he completed a screenplay, for a friend who is an amateur film maker. After the film was made, he wrote further scripts, then began short stories and poems. He occasionally produces non fiction, particularly memoirs from his long career in Environmental Health.