Thursday 26 July 2012

Will You Walk With Me A Way?

Dorothy Davies

Still water
Will you walk with me a way?
            Not far, just to the end of this road. 
            I am...empty inside and need a few moments of interaction with someone. Oh my, that sounds so formal, doesn’t it? In truth, though, to ask you for a few moments of idle chatter, or gossip would be nonsensical. Especially with what I have in mind.
            You look wet, is it raining? Oh I see; it’s that fine drizzle that no umbrella can ward off, so you didn’t bother. Me? No, I don’t get wet. Call it a shield if you like, rain tends to avoid me.
            Tell me, how are things at the nursing home these days? Does the garden bloom as fine in spring and summer as it used to? I recall the days of sitting out there, listening to the birds that would be singing as if their lives depended on it, the insects buzzing and flitting hither and thither as if their lives depended on it … come to think of it, they did. But us, the static ones, we stayed where we were, in our wheelchairs or sun loungers or wherever the staff had put us, there to bake in the heat until they took us back into the coolness of the home once more. Not a word of complaint from any of us, you know that, but oh the longing at times for shadow, cool water and rest from unremitting sunshine was overwhelming. But it was life and despite its many, many drawbacks, we clung to it tenaciously. Why? I wonder now why I did not just give up and drift away.
            The big problem really, for all of us, is memories.
            They hurt.
            ‘Sometimes memories walk a little hard.’ The wisest words I ever heard, from the most wonderful person I ever knew, my maternal grandmother. Oh she was right! How hard do the memories walk when your means of perambulation is either wheels or a walker? You recall the times when three strides would take you to the door, the cupboard, the TV, whatever/wherever. You recall the way you could walk freely down the road, wander round the shops, visit restaurants and museums, libraries and stately homes. Can you even begin to imagine not walking?
            Of course not.
            It doesn’t come to all of us but enough … oh yes, enough.
            But look at me now. Do I not walk well? Proud, tall and easy? Not so much as an ache in the hip joints or knees, the ankles flex and move as they should. Ah, the joy of it.
            You? You are too young still, in terms of experience, to fully understand the joy I feel at being free to walk again.
            I have to ask … do you not remember me? The old cantankerous lady who sat in her wheelchair in the garden and demanded cool drinks and ice cream and got neither? Do you not recall how I asked for shade and had none offered to me? Do you not know the suffering you put me through, you who were paid to care and didn’t?
Well, I got you to walk with me a way. And look, here we are, right by the cemetery which is now my home. Oh, you will not escape me this time! Now I see the horror on your face as I cast off the mask of humanity and show you what I am. A skeleton.
            Bony hands can grip harder than flesh covered ones, can’t they?
            Will you walk with me a way? Let me show you where I lie, here in the cold earth, with not so much as a snowdrop to lighten the darkness of the earth. No one cared, did they … and you, you were one of the worst. Did I not see you laughing behind closed doors at those who pleaded for respite from sun and thirst and were ignored?
            Oh, you did not know, did you, that after I left your side of life I returned, over and over again, to watch, to record, to – all right, stalk you if you like.
Here we are. This is my narrow bed.
            Will you share it with me for a while?
            Like, eternity?

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:

Monday 16 July 2012

For The Greater Good

Dorothy Davies

A stiff whisky

‘Shut the damn door, Crouch!’
‘What’s up, Joseph?  Too cold for you?  Get too hot in here and the stiffs’ll start to rot.  That what you want?'
            ‘ No, just some heat for them as are drinking, is all.’
            Ben Crouch studied the belligerent face of the landlord, wondering what the problem was this night.  He'd had his share of the advance paid out by the surgeons to get the bodysnatching season underway, what else did he want?
            ‘All right, look, the door’s shut.  Now if any of the medical students wants to come in and take a look at the stiffs, they better be quick about it ‘cos if they start smelling we got problems.'
            Joseph Durham swabbed at the bar with a dirty cloth, a token gesture of cleanliness which fooled no one, least of all Ben Crouch and his cronies.  Ale was poured into a thick tankard and pushed along the bar until the ex-prize fighter was able to grasp it and lift it to his lips.  He spluttered and coughed.  ‘In the name of all that’s holy, Joseph, what the hell’s that?’
            'My best ale,' Joseph retorted. 'Shows you got no taste, Ben Crouch!’ A ripple of laughter went around the Fortune of War pub.  The regulars knew of the ongoing half-friendly half-nasty banter between the two men; it had been going on for a long time.  It seemed to get worse when the bodies were laid out in the back room, awaiting Sir John Abernethy's minions to come and assess the haul.  Digging up bodies was not illegal, stealing a grave shroud was.  Technically, the Fortune of War was not acting illegally in displaying the bodies, but Joseph Durham was happier when they were not there.
            Even as he thought this, the door opened and two medical students came in.  One was new, his nerves showing even as he tried to hide them.
            'Sir John asks...'
            'Three big ones and one half size out the back.’ Ben Crouch gestured with a sweep of the arm clad in a most elaborate jacket.  The ruffles on his shirt showed, the lights in the public house glinted on his gold jewellery.  He was the most dandified person in the place and stood out because of it.
            The more experienced student made straight for the back room, the other hesitated in front of Ben Crouch.  ‘You the famous prize fighter, Sir?’ he asked with obvious awe.
            ‘That I am, sonny! You heard of me then?’
            ‘I have indeed, sir.  My father has seen many of your fights and said you were one of the best.  I am honoured to meet you, sir.'
            Ben Crouch seemed to grow several inches in all directions in the light of the compliment.  A huge grin split his face and he grasped the young man's hand.  'Right pleased I am to meet you, young man.  Gonna be a surgeon, are you?'
            'I would like to be, sir, I need to see how I get on with the dissection.’
            ‘Nothing to it,’ one of Ben Crouch’s ‘helpers’ butted in.  ‘A body’s a body for all anyone ever wants to say to you about it.  When they‘re dead they’re just meat.’
            Ben Crouch realised the young man was beginning to go rather green, so he clapped him on the shoulder, turned him toward the bar and shouted, 'give this boy a shot of the best hard stuff, would you?  Put it on my bill.'
            A very small glass containing an extremely dark liquor was put on the bar and the young men took it hesitantly, looking at Ben Crouch for encouragement.
            'Drink it down in one go,' he advised, 'then go take a look at the stiffs, go report back to Sir John and tell him we have a right good collection here for him this night.'
            The drink disappeared, the young man coughed and went very red in the face, but it seemed to give him courage.  His associate was beckoning to him from the back room, he walked boldly over and looked in.  'Look all right to me,' he said, his voice slurring very slightly. 
            'But you haven't looked properly!' 
            'Don't need to.  Mr Crouch here says to tell Sir John he has a right good collection for him this night.  Don't need to know any more than that.’
            It was obvious that the other young man was nerveless when it came to dead bodies.  He looked at his slightly drunk companion with disgust.  'We'd better get back then, seeing as how we have a message for Sir John himself.’
            The two young men left the pub.  The drinkers waited until they were out of earshot before they broke into riotous laughter.  Ben Crouch laughed so hard he had tears pouring down his face.  'I never saw anyone drink your liquor like that before, Joseph, good job he don't know what it is!'
            Joseph Durham joined in the laughter.  'Tis naught but the dregs of all that gets left,' he said through his mirth.  ‘And there was him thinking he had my best hard stuff!'
            The door opened and everyone turned to look, expecting to see medical students come to take the bodies away.  Instead the imposing figure of Sir John Abernethy stood in the middle of the floor.
            'Was that your idea of a joke, Crouch?' he demanded.   ‘If it was, it was damn fool, that student is trying to project his stomach out through his mouth outside Bart’s at this moment.  He will soon find it a medical impossibility.’
            Joseph Durham wiped his eyes with the corner of his apron.  'Was but a small jest, sire, the lad were that green at the mere thought of the stiffs, we felt we had to boost his courage a bit.’
            Sir John's stern face cracked into a small smile.  'I can see why you did it, but you must have given him some strong stuff for him to be vomiting it so quickly.'
            'While you’re here, sire, take a look yourself at what we have the night.'  Ben Crouch moved quickly to cover up the moment, knowing they had played a mean trick on the student
            'I will, Crouch, that's a good idea.'  Sir John strode over to the back room and looked in.  'You were right, fine ones tonight, I'll get someone across to collect them.  We can get on with the dissection in the morning.’
            The surgeon walked out of the pub, leaving behind a sense of anti-climax.  It had been a small joke, it was a shame it had such a violent effect so quickly, but on the other hand, Sir John had not made trouble over it, he must have realised himself that the boy was nervous, not having seen a dead body before.  He must also have known that to send somebody so naive into the den of body snatchers was asking for trouble.  Or so Ben Crouch reasoned to himself, as he could find no other explanation for Sir John’s attitude.  He sighed, patted the pocket where the guineas rested and thought bodysnatching was a good deal easier way to make money then prize-fighting had ever been.  This way he didn't have to get hurt, he didn’t have to train, he didn't have to pummel another man into the ground, just to use his cohorts to get them out of the ground and into Bart’s Hospital, there to be dissected for the greater good of the rest of the population.
            Feeling very benevolent at that moment, he threw a golden guinea at Joseph Durham.  ‘Drinks for everyone,' he said, just as the students arrived and took the bodies away.

Factual note:
In one year 8 bodies went into Guy’s Hospital in London for dissection and 137 bodies went into St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City of London.  No contemporary books make reference to Sir John Abernethy’s use of the body snatchers but it is a matter of record that Ben Crouch and his gang supplied the hospital with all that they needed in the way of ‘raw material’ for their anatomy lessons.  Ben Crouch was known as the ‘Corpse King’.  Records show that Joseph Durham was indeed the landlord of the Fortune of War public house at that time. The building no longer exists; in its place is a banking establishment which has a plaque set in one wall commemorating the Fortune of War and its place in the bodysnatching story.  When I researched the background for my novel on the bodysnatchers (still being written) my mother told me that her father used to drink in the Fortune of War pub...

Bio: Dorothy Davies is a writer and medium who is fascinated with history and the way it reflects on modern life. She is also a horror fan and likes to include horror/ghostly elements in her work. She lives on the Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England, reputed to be the most haunted place in the UK.  It suits her well.


Kirsty Ferry

Orange juice and a rich tea biscuit

The Cubs were breaking up for the Summer Holidays. 
Traditionally, the final night of Cubs involved an outdoor games night, but the persistent rain of the last three weeks had negated the use of the field at the back of the hut. It was no longer a field but a mud-bath: and unless they wanted to introduce mud wrestling into the Cub programme, it wasn’t a good idea to play outdoor games. At least, not from the adults’ perspective.
      ‘There’s no option. We’ll have to do Cubs Got Talent,’ said Bob, the Cub leader. He looked around at the boys. It had been rashly mentioned when the rain started, that a Cubs Got Talent show might be a good idea if the bad weather continued. Unfortunately, despite their inability to remember things like homework, family birthdays and important letters from school, some of the boys had actually remembered about the talent show and had therefore come equipped.
      ‘I did warn you,’ said Angela. Angela was Bob’s wife, a primary school teacher who understood young boys. ‘They have a sixth sense for these things. Making noise is high priority on a boy’s to-do list.’
      ‘Bob’s fault,’ muttered Eve, the parent-helper.
      Bob dredged up a pained smiled and looked around again. His eyes settled on Sam. He might as well get this over with. Sam was fairly innocuous; one of the more sensible little chaps in the Cub Pack. ‘Sam, would you like to start?’ Bob asked. Sam nodded and dragged his keyboard to the front of the hall. He did a few scales to warm up and a lone Cub clapped.
     ‘They were scales,’ Sam said, witheringly. ‘No need to clap just then. I am about to start the proper music now.’ He stood, legs crossed in front of the keyboard, and picked out Twinkle Twinkle. He earned a round of messy applause.
      ‘Charlie’s turn!’ beamed Bob. Sam had been fine – Charlie couldn’t be much more difficult, he reasoned. He was a decent Cub as well. Charlie had brought an acoustic guitar and, when he was called up, he grinned at Bob and scraped and bounced the instrument along the floor to the stage area. He hoisted his guitar up and began to pluck out his own version of Twinkle Twinkle. The audience discovered that the scraping and bouncing had seemingly knocked all the strings out of tune. Charlie didn’t have a shoulder strap either, so he bent further forwards with each note, the weight of the guitar and the force of gravity eventually dragging him down. Throughout his recital, he hopped and balanced with his guitar in a strange sort of dance. The final note faded as he ended up bent double, staring at the floor, the guitar inches from the lino.
      Harry was next to take to the stage with his acoustic guitar, and he chose to play Old Macdonald. At least, that’s what he said he was playing. The notes droned out with odd, irregular timing and the Cubs who were trying to sing along gradually stopped trying.
      ‘Would you like another verse?’ Harry asked.
      ‘No thanks,’ said Bob kindly. ‘We’ve got to fit Jake in.’
      Jake was busy setting up his electric guitar and amplifier, making a great deal of noise and fuss about it: he was clearly very proud of it. Some of the boys nodded approvingly and Jake finally settled into a chair. He surveyed his audience, adopted a surly, rocker-type expression and waited for silence. The Cubs watched and waited. Jake strummed a couple of notes then started his rendition.
      ‘Twinkle Twinkle, little star...’ Everyone waited for the Eric Clapton riff at the end. None came. Jake stopped playing and shook back his too long hair. He looked at Bob, challenging him.
      ‘So: who’s the winner?’ asked Jake.
      ‘Yes. Who’s the winner?’ asked Charlie.
      ‘You’ve got to have a winner,’ added Harry. ‘And someone gets voted out.’ The Cubs all nodded.
      ‘Who’s the winner?’ they chorused.
      Bob looked at Eve, panic-stricken. ‘Did we say there would be a winner?’ he muttered.
      ‘I don’t think we even confirmed Cubs Got Talent,’ she whispered. The Cubs began to bay. Bob and Eve felt the panic start to rise. They had angered the Cubs, misled them and failed to manage twenty-four small boys and their relative expectations. It was as bad as Christmas, when the Pack had trapped Eve against the craft table, hollering for more glitter and demanding she cut twenty four snowmen out of fifteen sheets of silver craft paper. And that all the snowmen had to be the same size.
     Luckily for the leaders, a smiling Angela swooped in to the Talent Show melee at that point, carrying a tray of fortifying coffee for the adults. She took in the situation with one practiced, all-encompassing, teacher-like glance. Her smile waivered, but only for a second. She put the tray down and clapped her hands. The Cubs took their eyes off their prey and looked at her instead.
      ‘I say,’ she said, ‘let’s form a rock band! Everyone is just far too good to vote anyone out! Jake, Sam, Charlie – could you all do Jingle Bells together? Like a proper band?’ It was like magic. The portentous atmosphere lifted, and the boys nodded enthusiastically.
      ‘I shall need to study the music first,’ said Sam. Harry put his hand up.
      ‘I don’t know Jingle Bells,’ he said. The memory of the flat Old Macdonald song too raw, Angela nodded at him compassionately.
      ‘That’s OK, Harry,’ she said. ‘You don’t have to do it.’
      The rock band huddled together at the front of the hall. Sam was flanked by the guitarists and Jake was situated sensibly next to his amp.
     ‘Jake, it’s probably best that you stay there and don’t tangle Sam’s legs up with your leads,’ said Angela, simultaneously ensuring that Charlie’s strings had been re-tweaked.
      ‘One, two, three...’ she shouted, when she was finally satisfied. The rock band picked out the notes of Jingle Bells and received a huge cheer. Bob got excited: winners and losers were forgotten amongst the roars of general approval.
      ‘At Christmas, we could do carols!’ Bob said. ‘All the boys who play instruments can bring them in!’ More whoops and cheers from the Cubs, who were stamping their feet in joy by now.
Angela and Eve looked at Bob, pleading silently with him. Big mistake, Bob, they tried to communicate, big mistake. We may not be as lucky next time. Next time, there may be consequences...

Kirsty Ferry won the English Heritage/Belsay Hall national creative writing competition in 2009 and has had work published in various magazines including Ghost Voices, The Weekly News and Peoples' Friend. She has also had a number of short stories published in anthologies including The Best of CafeLit 2011Devils, Demons and Werewolves, Voices of Angels, Fangtales, Mertales and Whitby Abbey Pure Inspiration. Her first novel, a YA paranormal tale set on Hadrian's Wall and entitled The Memory of Snow is now available on Kindle with a paperback version due out soon.