Friday 22 August 2014

Defeating Dylan the Dragon

Defeating Dylan the Dragon

Jan Baynham
a tot of Penderyn whiskey 

‘Bryn, I think it’s time you knew about Dylan the Dragon,’ my father said, after sitting me down on a stool by the fire. I must have been about seven at the time.
‘I know there’s supposed to be a giant dragon living in a cavern on the east side of Black Mountain,’ I said, pointing to the large shape which towered above the village.
‘That’s right. Most of the time, Dylan sleeps all day and only ventures out at night; in fact no one has actually seen him. He doesn’t cause any trouble. However, it’s said that once every hundred years, Dylan transforms into an angry, blood-thirsty monster breathing fire, destroying people and property.’
 ‘You don’t believe dragons are real, do you, Dad?’

Years later, I remembered that conversation. It became clear that my father did indeed believe the local legend.
‘You do know what year it is, don’t you, son? I’m dreading it. It’s a hundred years since Dylan last went on the rampage,’ he'd said to me, only the day before.
‘Da-a-ad. If there really is a dragon, he’s been quiet for so long and there’s no one still alive to tell us what happened a hundred years ago. You know how things get exaggerated.’
‘You mark my words, son…’ Dad had muttered and had gone back into the farmhouse.

The setting sun cast an eerie orange glow along the horizon and I felt uneasy; something wasn’t right. It was a cold evening even for January and I was exhausted as I made my way home after looking after our sheep on the mountain. In the valley below, there was an unfamiliar stillness and darkness. Normally at this time people would be hurrying home from work, lights would be glowing in the shop windows and street lamps would mark the curves and bends in the lanes and avenues, gilding each and every landmark in the village. Our farm had been in the family for generations and lay on the outskirts of the village. For about a week, now, everyone had been living in fear.
‘I wonder…’ I whispered to myself.
A cold shiver travelled the whole length of my spine. What I first thought was the sunset was actually a huge fire. Flames of scarlet and orange intensity were engulfing the buildings of the next village a few miles away. As I opened our gate, my father ran out and grabbed my arm.
‘Quick, Bryn. Get inside. Old Dylan’s gone mad as we knew he would. He’s destroyed most of Llanbadarn and we’re next.’
‘I saw the fire as I came down the mountain but how do you know it’s him?’

‘There was a message from him posted on the village notice board this morning. That’s why we’ve plunged the place into darkness but he’ll soon find his way here. He’ll just breathe that fire fury again. But Bryn, it’s even worse than that!’ Dad said, stammering in panic.
I tried to keep calm and asked what the message had said. My father repeated it, word for word.


I went cold. It was the third of January the next day. I knew then I’d been wrong to scoff at my father for believing the legend about Dylan the Dragon. I could be one of those to be sacrificed. No wonder my father was in such a state. I summoned up the calmest voice I could.
‘Dad, I think we should call a meeting tonight. All the youths about my age. We haven’t got much time.’
‘I agree. Three days, that’s all. Let’s get everyone here to the farm to see what we can do. There’s no way Dylan will destroy us without a fight.’

By seven o’clock that evening, eighteen young men with their parents had turned up at our farm. They talked and talked about how they could prevent the tragedy.
‘Let’s put explosives in the cave,’ said one.
‘Why not meet fire with fire and burn the east side of the mountain?’ said another.
‘Look, we’re not dealing with a normal animal here,’ said a Mrs Davies who had three sons. ‘Dylan has such special powers so we need a special plan. I think it will need a very brave person to out-think and out-smart him.’
‘I hope you’re not looking at one of us, Mam!’ said Dai, her eldest.
After more discussion, all agreed with my father that every young man between sixteen and twenty-one should draw a ticket to see which one of them would venture up to Dylan’s cave in the daytime when he slept. Squares of paper – one for each of us - were hurriedly cut, folded and placed in a biscuit tin. Mrs Davies made sure that one ‘ticket’ had a cross written clearly on it. Whoever picked that ticket would be the one to make the journey up to the cavern and try to conquer the dragon. One of us would save Newbridge from a disaster.

The room fell silent, full of tension and foreboding, as we each picked. My hands were shaking when I chose my folded piece of paper. Please don’t let it be me, I thought.
‘Unfold your tickets, now,’ demanded Mrs Davies who seemed to have taken charge of the proceedings.
One by one, there were sighs of ‘Whew’ and relief all round. My parents’ faces were tight with worry. I carefully unfolded my ticket and as the cross revealed itself, I could feel the colour draining from my face. I held my ticket open to face to my mam and dad.
‘Oh no,’ screamed Mam. Dad just left the room.
‘I’ll think of something,’ I said, trying to reassure my mam. The villagers were starting to leave. ‘I’ll have to.’

That night, I thought of nothing but the journey ahead. I’d always hated violence of any kind so how could I defeat Dylan the Dragon? Dylan was at his most terrifying at the moment. What was I to do?
‘Nana,’ I said out loud. She’s always told me that if I’m ever in any trouble, I must go to her. I don’t care if all my friends think she’s strange. If anyone can help, it will be her.

I woke up very early and made my way down the lane to Nana’s cottage.
‘Hello, Bryn. What brings you here so early, then?’ Nana said. ‘Why the worried face?’
‘Haven’t you heard? I’m the one. I’m the one who’s got to save Newbridge from Dylan the Dragon.’
‘You can’t do that on your own, bach. I think you need something with special powers to help you.’
‘What do you mean ‘special powers’?
She went over to the sideboard and rummaged in the gold lustre pot that always took pride of place there.
‘Here. This was given to me by my great-grandmother when she found out I had inherited her gift for magic.’ She held up a gold and ruby ring which glowed when it caught the sunlight which was pouring into the room.
‘How can a ring help me, Nan? I’ll need more than that to defeat Dylan.’
‘Just you see, bach. If you are in trouble, you can use the special powers of this magic ring to help you – but you can only ever use it three times before the magic disappears.’
This has got to be one of those three times, if ever there was one, I thought. I’ll use the ring to get close to the dragon in the cavern but what I’ll do then who knows? Would I be able to slay the dragon? Certainly, I’d save all the youths from an inevitable death not just now but for future generations too. But, could there possibly be another way?

I was ready. I went back to the farm and set off on the journey of my life – literally. It was hard to say good-bye to Mam and Dad.
‘Promise me, you’ll stay safe, Bryn. Nana’s ring will keep you from harm, I know it will,’ my mother said, her voice wobbly with tears. My father was too upset to say anything at all.
In my pocket, I felt Nana’s magic ring, hard and cold, a talisman of whether I would live or die. I knew that the three times I rubbed the ring for help had to be chosen very wisely. Walking briskly along the narrow road which circled Black Mountain, I wasn’t really sure where Dylan’s cavern was but legend had it that it was about three quarters of the way up the mountain. The road rose steeply and after a few miles, I spotted a wooden gate barring a stony lane leading to a flat rock face. Both the gate and the surrounding grass showed evidence of scorching so I guessed this had something to do with Dylan. I decided to rub the ring gently between my thumb and forefinger.
‘Take me safely to Dylan’s cave, oh ring.’
And sure enough, my feet began to move in the direction of the gate, climbing each of the five bars and then walking to the left of the stony lane. I could feel the grass was spongy under my feet and I had no control over my footsteps. As I got close to the rocks, I could make out the shadow of a large cave which had to be Dylan the Dragon’s permanent home. Apparently, the dragon had lived here for ever and it seemed amazing to me that with all that had happened over the years this cavern had never changed.

I crept to the entrance of the cave, my heart pounding. Could it really be true that Dylan slept all day? Would it be safe to enter the shadowy darkness? My eyes grew accustomed to the dark and as I moved further into the cave, I heard a rhythmic breathing, almost like a loud purring from a gigantic cat. But this is no cat, it’s the dreaded Dylan, I thought. In the corner, I could just about make out a huge sleeping creature, covered in glossy red scales with elegant folded wings along his back and his long spiked tail tucked under his legs. His enormous head was gently resting on a flat smooth rock. It was at that very moment that I knew I couldn’t become a dragon slayer. I would rub the ring to help me deal with the dragon in a kinder way. Dylan stirred violently with a start but then snored back to his slumber. I knew I hadn’t much time so I rubbed the ring for a second time.
‘Give me some magic power to make Dylan a perpetual, gentle dragon who will never destroy people or places again, oh ring!’ I said, in a whisper. No sooner had I finished my plea when a small bag appeared in my hand. The label read MAGIC CALMING POWDER, especially for violent dragons. Directions: Sprinkle five pinches of powder into each ear of a sleeping dragon. Wait for the beast to wake and make a true friendship pact. WARNING: Do this before nightfall or the powder will not work due to dragons waking naturally at that time.
I suddenly felt confident that I could save the village and my friends. I opened the bag and sidled up to the sleeping dragon. I reached up onto tiptoe and sprinkled the powder, one pinch at a time, into each of Dylan’s ears. Dylan didn’t flinch so I sat about three feet away from him and waited. It was the longest wait of my life. What if the magic didn’t work? What if Dylan woke up in a rage? There’d be no friendship pact then – far from it. It didn’t bear thinking about.
After an endless ten minutes, one of Dylan’s eyes flickered and once he caught sight of me, he gently pulled himself up onto his haunches.
‘Who are you, boy?’ he said in a drawl.
‘I’m Bryn Jenkins, a local shepherd from Newbridge down there in the valley.’
‘Oh I know – I posted a notice there yesterday. Now what did I ask for?’ said Dylan.
I hoped that the magic calming powder had worked. I couldn’t believe that this dragon was the one who had been wreaking so much havoc. I decided to test his idea.
‘I’m sixteen years of age, a youth, at the prime of my life really,’ I said. Not a flicker of recognition. Dylan had obviously forgotten all about his terrible threats.
‘Look, Dylan. I know you are a friendly gentle dragon but some of the villagers in Newbridge are scared of you. Do you think we can draw up a True Friendship pact for me to take back with me?’
‘Of course,’ said Dylan. ‘I’m actually quite lonely so I shall be glad to have some friends at last.’

And so the two of us drew up a pact whereby Dylan the Dragon could live happily in his cavern on Black Mountain not bothering anyone. Every March 1st, on St David’s Day, he would come down to Newbridge and visit all the children to show that the red Welsh dragon is real. Meanwhile, he and I could meet at any time as true friends do.

I knew I had to get back as everyone in the village was waiting for news. I practically ran down the mountainside and noticed that the main street into Newbridge was lined with well-wishers. I was back safe and sound. I was no longer Bryn Jenkins, quiet local shepherd boy. I was Bryn Jenkins, brave hero, or that’s what everyone was chanting as I walked through the crowds. My parents were waiting for me to tell them how I’d defeated Dylan the Dragon but there was one person who would have every detail of my brave journey first, Nana. And I still had her ring to use one more time.

About the Author
A writer living in Cardiff, Jan Baynham joined a writers' group three years ago and began writing for her own enjoyment. It wasn’t until she joined a university writing class taught by a published author that she began to submit stories for publication. She is currently writing her first novel.

Thursday 21 August 2014

The Best of CafeLit 3

Congratulations to the following authors who have appeared in CafeLit during 2013 who will have their work published in the best of CafeLit 3. Well done!

Gail Aldwin 
Lindsay Bamfield
Trevor Belshaw 
Carol Bevitt 
Charlie Britten
Janet Bunce
Margaret Bullyement  
Steven Chapman
Patsy Collins
Julie-Ann Corrigan
Jacki  Donnellan
Susan Eames
Tracy Fells
Jo Fino
James Foreman 
Marie Fullerton
Debz Hobbs-Wyatt
David Hook
Dawn Knox
Daniel Lamb
Helen Laycock 
Roger Noons
Jenny Palmer 
Paula Readman
Elliott Sampford
Olivia Smith 
Angela South
Betty Taylor 
Laura Wilkinson

100 Worder Bluebell Wood

100 Worder Bluebell Wood

Helen Laycock

A flat lemonade, spilled

Like tinkling bells, the children’s laughter pealed in rounds and seemed to float through the spaces like pastel bubbles. They wound between the trunks which stood like wizened sentries, ancient and knowing, hunching aching shoulders and splaying weary limbs.
            Little Amy trailed behind, latching onto fleeting glimpses of colour. She was reminded of brushstrokes, ribbons and fairgrounds…
            Accompanying her, her right leg, the uninvited party guest, the hanger-on; she dragged it through the papery leaves and tried to pretend she was one of the group.
            The knuckled root clasped her ankle with bony fingers and pulled.
            Then she was gone.

About the author
Helen Laycock has written eight children’s mystery/adventure books, two contrasting collections of short stories for adults and collections of humorous poetry. She has had around thirty wins/shortlistings for poetry and short stories, successes including Words With Jam, The Ryedale Book Festival, Writing Magazine, Writers’ News, Writers’ Forum, Flash500, Thynks Publications, Erewash Writers and various online contests. She has a story published in An Earthless Melting Pot (Quinn Pub.), four pieces in the One Word Anthology by Talkback Writers (Alfie Dog Pub.) and has recently had several more entries included in The Aspiring Writers 2013 Winners Anthology (Blue Dragon Press). She is a regular contributor to 100-worders on the CafeLit website.


Wednesday 20 August 2014

The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute
Allison Symes
Lemon Tea

Rachel shut the oak front door and glanced around her grandmother’s lounge. Her grandmother fought cancer. The unmerciful sod of a disease won.
    Rachel went to the narrow black case left on the pine table as Rose’s will stated, opened the catch, took out a silver flute, and held it up to the light coming in through the double glazed diamond crossed windows at the back. A solitary window nearby was single glazed. Despite Rachel’s urging, Rose hadn’t replaced it. It was one of the few original parts of the cottage. Rachel blamed misplaced sentimentality for her grandmother keeping that window and for taking her flute with her on trips out.
    Sorry, Granny, Rachel thought, anyone could smash that window. I’m not carrying a flute everywhere either.
    Putting the instrument into its red lined case, Rachel struggled to read the manufacturer’s faded details. Yet the flute looked new…
Rachel put Rose’s kettle on the ancient cream coloured two-door Aga, which filled the kitchen. Tea made and drank, Rachel took the flute out again and played her grandmother’s favourite medley of nursery rhymes. They sounded lovely but Rachel didn’t inherit Rose’s delicate touch. Rachel felt there was magic in this instrument’s music. It offered some solace after the car accident five years ago, which killed Maurice and Mary, Rachel’s parents. For months Rose needed the flute to express herself. Only the reappearance of the following year’s daffodils changed Rose’s mournful tunes back to lighter tones.
    Rachel sank into “her” armchair near the front bay window, reached into her huge black handbag and took out a letter. Rachel smiled at the spidery writing. Her grandmother would never have won calligraphy prizes. Slitting open the envelope, Rachel took out the single sheet.

    Dear Rachel,
   Welcome to Evergreen Cottage. Your posh flat never suited you. It was for Graham. If there’s any justice, he’ll realise soon what a wonderful girl he dumped but you need your hideaway. You never rushed away from here or was it my flute playing and chocolate muffins that drew you? Care for the flute and it will care for you. It’s magical. Don’t scoff. You’ll soon discover I’m right. Enjoy your life, don’t be sad, I am fine where I am and play that flute daily. It likes appropriate tunes. Have fun discovering what they are! Your life will become interesting.
    Love, Granny.
    Rachel grimaced. How can a musical instrument care for anything? And I’ll play the flute when I want to. I’m never bored. Few midwives are.


Six weeks later, Rachel returned from a late shift, grimacing as the neighbour’s ginger cat hissed as she opened her gate. The cat had done this nightly for a month. Indoors, Rachel spotted the flute, in its case, lid open. It was as if it looked at her daring her to play it to compensate for the quick burst which was all the energy she had for music and which Rachel only did to appease her conscience. She should try. Somewhere Granny would know. Granny saw through Rachel. Rachel couldn’t see Granny leaving that skill behind just because she’d gone to the next life. Rachel put a cannelloni dinner in the microwave. Tonight she’d eat, watch mindless TV and bathe. Flute playing was a great way to unwind but not tonight… 
    I must discover what Granny meant by appropriate tunes, Rachel thought. I’m surprised there’s no music book. I only found that book of illustrated nursery rhymes
    Rachel had many happy memories of her grandmother enacting the rhymes with Rachel joining in, both laughing. Rachel wiped tears away. It wasn’t a bad way to recall Granny. Rachel reached for the flute. She should play something, Granny would want that. Rachel felt her spirits lift as she played ‘Ding Dong Bell’ and they were raised further as she recalled the chocolate muffins she’d picked up earlier. 


Rachel took the flute into the overgrown garden and sat on the old bench near the French windows, which was one of her grandmother’s favourite places. There was plenty for Rachel to prune with secateurs but for now she wanted to inhale the lilac scent that wafted towards her from the back border. She played ‘Three Blind Mice’ and stopped, amazed, as three mice emerged from an old flower pot to her left, came to her and stared up, as if listening to “their” song.  Pussycat, Pussycat saw the mice flee so quickly Rachel wondered if there was a rodent world record getaway speed and, if so, had these three broken it? And the neighbour’s ginger cat wandered through to purr. Rachel hadn’t seen it since she’d chucked a shoe two days ago at it to stop it hissing. ‘Two Little Blackbirds’ silenced the garden. Rachel saw in the oaks surrounding the cottage two blackbirds, male and female, a robin, six wrens and a pigeon watching her, as if entranced.
                Rachel smiled. Must be a coincidence, she thought. I’ll watch what I play
    Rachel meandered to the cottage. I’ve been careless leaving this lying around. I’ll hide it when I’m out. If this thing does influence animal behaviour, it’s best only the wildlife and I know!
 Putting the flute away, Rachel stared as the letters H and A appeared in fine gold script on the instrument’s side. She rubbed at the letters but they were engraved.


The smash of a downstairs window three nights later woke Rachel who looked at her clock. It was 2.45 a.m. She heard footsteps. Donning her purple dressing gown, Rachel sought something heavy but only had the flute. As a breeze came through the window on the latch, a page of the nursery rhyme book turned over to reveal ‘Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son’. 
    I’ll play the tune, Rachel thought. If I can attract mice, can I repel the burglar? I’ll frighten the git. He won’t be expecting a recital!
    Rachel crept downstairs and on the third step from the bottom where she saw the lounge, she peered around to see a dark, bulky figure going through her grandmother’s mahogany writing desk. 
    Looking for cash, Rachel thought, scowling. How dare he!
    As ‘Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son’ rang out, Rachel saw horror in the eyes of her balaclava-wearing visitor, which intensified as a huge pink pig materialized. Rachel saw the thief sway and thought he’d faint but he fled with the squealing pig chasing him to the front door before it turned, bowed and vanished. Rachel stopped playing, bolted her front door but not before seeing her unwelcome visitor rounding the corner out of her avenue. She turned to see the single glazed window was smashed. 
    I’ll call the glaziers later, Rachel thought. I should’ve replaced that window. Why did I forget? I can’t go to the police. I’d have to explain why the burglar fled. Still if he complains, he’ll look stupid. Who heard of a pig materializing or someone playing a magical flute? Where did this flute originate? Who made it? How did Granny get it? What damage could I do with this thing?
     Slumping into her armchair, she examined the flute. The letters M, E, L, I and N appeared. Putting the flute into its case she found a folded paper, which wasn’t there before. It felt warm. She read the paper.

   My dear Rachel,
   That burglar won’t return or complain. The police would breathalyse or section him! Keep playing the flute! It likes nursery rhymes. It’s very possessive of its owner. As long as you treat the flute well, you’ll find problems disappear like magic! Its brother instrument did wonders removing a German town’s rats. There are things you never mess with – that includes this flute! The flute likes you. It must be the way you buff it up!
    All my love, as ever, Granny Rose.
  Rachel stared at the paper. How could her late grandmother know about the burglar? It was news the “other side” allowed correspondence! 
    I’m being watched, Rachel thought. Granny, you never said much about your past. Why? What have you let me in for? 


A week later, again at 2.45 a.m., Rachel sat up suddenly in response to a blue light appearing on her landing. Grabbing the flute, she crept out of her bedroom to find an unkempt figure surrounded by a blue glow. It reminded Rachel of the Readybrek advert with the kid with the all-in glow. The annoyed looking being was 3’ tall and wore a shabby red and yellow diamond checked suit.
    Rachel blinked. ‘Who are you? How did you get in?’
    ‘My name is not your business. I want my flute back, Madam. Your grandmother had no business stealing it from the magical realm. Hand it over.’
    Rachel looked at the flute. It had a blue glow around it. Much as she loved The Lord of the Rings, she could do without the flute’s glow meaning it too could detect orcs. That kind of thing just did not happen in Chipping Sodbury. Rachel swore. ‘Granny left the flute to me.’
    ‘She never said where she got it. Here’s the receipt. You’ll note its brother flute removed the rats at Hamelin.’
    Rachel took a crumpled paper from the being’s hand reluctantly. The creature didn’t look clean. Its language on seeing her was anything but clean. She looked at the paper and handed it back.
    ‘How did Granny get into your “magical” realm?’
    The being stared. ‘I was warned you were intelligent, unusual in humans.’
    Rachel returned the stare. She refused to be patronized by a being almost half her height, especially given she was just short of 5’ tall.
    The being shrugged. ‘Your granny was one of us but left. She fancied a memento but knew magical objects stay behind. The thought of these things falling into the wrong hands makes us all shudder.’
    ‘Are you saying Granny wasn’t human? Are you mad?’
    ‘No, Madam. We’ve had a fairy godmother defect before. It caused merry hell so when Rose, my boss, left, the Fairy Queen, laid down rules to be broken on pain of retribution.’
  ‘There’s no Fairy Queen on Earth except in Spenser’s…’
  ‘She’s from the Fairy Kingdom, as was your granny. There’s more than one dimension. The Queen was impressed with your granny’s discretion.’
  ‘Granny said the flute is possessive. It protected me so sees me as its owner.’
  ‘Yes, we saw the pig incident. You have a nice imaginative touch. If you didn’t have human blood, we’d welcome that imagination in our world. It’s wasted on Earth. Humans cause war and pollute the planet.’
  ‘I don’t cause war. I try not to pollute the planet. My carbon footprint is light.’
  The being grinned, revealing three rows of needle sharp fangs.
  Rachel forced herself not to wince. Nobody could help how they were made.
  ‘You don’t deny the other charge, finally an honest human! Well done, you!’
  ‘The flute is mine.’
  ‘On your head be it.’ The being vanished in a puff of smoke and fit of pique.
  Rachel blinked and with all light gone went carefully back to bed. 
  I imagined that, she thought. Why invent something this mad? Granny would’ve sounded mad claiming to be from some other world. They look at you funny if you say you’re from the Isle of Wight. If Granny was a defector, she’d forget her past. Had she taken the flute knowing it could protect her? Or take it knowing she’d have to return it but using it as a bargaining chip?


A week later, Rachel was woken again at 2.45 a.m. by a scream and sharp flute music. She switched on her bedside light and saw the unkempt figure clutching his hands while hopping around her white laundry basket in the left corner. The flute was between his feet. It was glowing red.
  ‘Why are you back? Did you play the flute?’ Rachel glared.
  ‘The bloody flute played itself and scalded my hands when I tried picking it up.’ The being held up blistered hands. 
    Rachel noted he had seven fingers on each of his three hands and wondered if getting properly fitting gloves was an issue on his world. She winced on seeing the big blisters. She blinked as the blistering vanished.
  ‘We heal quickly in our world, human.’
  ‘It serves you right for trying to steal my flute.’ Rachel watched the flute rise from the carpet and fly to its case on her bedside cabinet. ‘I said it was protecting me.’ A soft burst of music came from the flute. Rachel and the Readybrek Glow Being stared at the instrument.
   ‘If I didn’t know better, I’d say that was the musical equivalent of a purr but what do I know? I’m just an ignorant human, yes? Care to explain the “purr”? No instrument on Earth plays itself.’
   ‘This is no ordinary instrument. What did your grandmother say? Did she put a curse on the bloody thing?’
   ‘If she anticipated me being disturbed by odd beings in the middle of the night, she probably did. Who are you? Why do you want the flute?’
    ‘I said it’s part of the Kingdom’s magical objects collection.’
    ‘Why didn’t you get it back when Granny brought it here? She took it, not me,’
  Rachel paused as Mr Readybrek Glow shuffled and studied his hairy feet. ‘I see. You couldn’t argue with her so you decided to go for her grand-daughter.’  A less pleasant thought crossed Rachel’s mind. ‘You said Granny was one of you. What does that make me?’
    Mr Readybrek Glow gave Rachel a nasty look. ‘A dirty hybrid since you ask.’
    ‘So why is the flute not happily returning to you?’ Rachel laughed as the being vanished. ‘That’s one to me. He’ll be back though – at 2.45 a.m. given his timekeeping means keeping to one time!’


On leaving for work each morning, Rachel hid the flute. It was odd the flute wasn’t stolen while she was working. Rachel wondered why this being’s world hadn’t bypassed curses. Were their powers limited or did that flute have more history than Mr Readybrek Glow would admit?
    Rachel discovered in the nursery rhyme book a melody called ‘The Summoning’. On playing it, every bird and small mammal for miles around peered into Rachel’s single glazed window, which had been repaired pending imminent replacement with double glazing. Rachel stared at the creatures. She now knew how Snow White charmed the animals and why Mr Readybrek Glow wanted the flute. Was it possible to enchant anything with this instrument with the right tune? Rachel smiled as she returned to her Mini. If that theory was correct, the flute could open up interesting possibilities. Mr Readybrek Glow could be sent packing for a start. Waking up at 2.45 a.m. regularly had lost any novelty appeal.


Rachel barely batted an eyelid when Mr Readybrek Glow turned up again two days later at 2.45 a.m. Magical being he might be but with a consistent arrival time OCD was a possibility. ‘You again? Can’t I sleep? I’ve got work in the morning.’
    ‘Yes,’ Mr Readybrek Glow said, ‘I understand you are a midwife. It is nice to meet a useful human.’
    ‘You didn’t come here to trade insults. What’s your problem?’
    ‘You know I need the flute back. We could have some arrangement. You could borrow the instrument?’
    Rachel smiled. ‘The flute does belong to me then or you wouldn’t be bargaining. Your boss is giving you merry hell for your failure?’
    The being’s jaw dropped. ‘You’ve eavesdropped! Your granny once set magic traps in the Palace garden. Turned five goblins into stone in one night. Caused much upset that did. You’ve played The Summoning which is a tricky piece.’
    ‘Not as tricky as trying to count how much wildlife turned up at my back window. When I played the piece a second time, something odder happened.’
    ‘The creatures started talking to you and to each other?’
    Rachel nodded. That discovery was disconcerting, as were the wildlife, as having thanked her for the music they then lectured her about the irresponsibility of humans polluting the planet. Nobody likes being lectured by a tit. 
    ‘Look, human, the flute is a menace. I’ll take it off your hands.’
    ‘No. The creatures said they’ve dealt with the magical world before. That fairy you said defected years ago came here and caused trouble with the poor wildlife bearing the brunt. They don’t want that happening again. They don’t want the flute in magical hands either. They think it’ll be misused. I can keep everybody happy.’
    Rachel scowled. Mr Readybrek Glow’s sarcasm was irritating. ‘I’ll be discreet like Granny. I didn’t know she was magical until after her death. Leave me, and the flute, alone and I’ll warn your world of anything I think may harm you.’
    ‘You think I’ll deal with your pathetic species?’
    Rachel shrugged. ‘Will the flute keep burning you if you keep trying to steal it or will the punishment worsen?’ Rachel grinned as Mr Readybrek Glow paled. ‘Ah, the punishments worsen then!’
    Mr Readybrek Glow nodded. ‘You misuse the flute and see what happens!’
    ‘I won’t bother, thanks. I know my limits. Deal?’
    Mr Readybrek Glow stared. ‘My commission was to get the flute back or ensure its “owner” didn’t misuse it. I accept your offer. You can’t make many odd things happen with the flute. Your fellow humans will ask awkward questions. For once that annoying trait might be useful.’ He offered his right hand to her. Rachel shook it. She’d scrub her hands later. Mr Readybrek Glow disappeared.
    The flute played a brief burst of another tune Rachel found in her granny’s book called ‘Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish.’ Rachel smiled. She and the flute would have fun. Granny was right. Life was beginning to look interesting…

About the author:
Allison Symes writes fairytales with bite as short stories and novels. She belongs to the P.G. Wodehouse Society (UK), Association of Christian Writers and is an Associate Member of the Society of Authors. She cannot imagine a world without books. She is on Facebook and Twitter. Her website is

Tuesday 19 August 2014


A C Macklin
Rice wine

  ‘Close your eyes, Jia Ying.’
            The little girl looked up at her father, clutching his hand tightly. ‘Why?’
            ‘Because the way out lies through the Temple of Crimson Winds and it is not permitted that you should gaze upon the faces of the gods.’ He smiled briefly and drew his sword. ‘Stay close to me and, no matter what you hear, do not look.’
She transferred her grasp to a fold of his tunic and closed her eyes. There was a grinding noise as he drew back the massive counter-weighted bar that held the doors closed, and then they swung inwards with a soft hush of perfectly oiled hinges. The floor changed from marble to mosaic under her feet. She wanted to see – the mosaics elsewhere in the Palace of Supreme Brightness were works of great beauty, mapping out elaborate scenes from history or poetry in fragments of semi-precious stone – but her father’s body was tense and she was obedient.
The air smelled of fresh jasmine, and thick incense, and polish. Silver bells chimed softly somewhere overhead. She could feel the weight of the gods’ stony gaze on her slight shoulders, judging her. Little slave, little runaway, who are you to come before us?
Suddenly her father stopped, and she could hear running footsteps coming near. So many feet, like falling rain but the smell was of fear, not freshness.
   ‘Stop, Ting Guang, in the name of the Emperor!’
The feet were very close now, stamping into some kind of order in front of them. Her father reached down and loosened her hold on his tunic.
   ‘You must be very brave,’ he whispered. ‘Do not move, and do not open your eyes.’
She nodded and he stroked her hair once before moving away.
            ‘You are under arrest! Put up your sword.’
            ‘I have permission to leave the palace.’ Her father sounded calm, in contrast to the high pitch of his challenger’s voice.
             ‘You are stealing an Imperial slave.’
             ‘She is my daughter.’
             ‘She is the Emperor’s possession.’
            ‘The Emperor has thousands of possessions, yet he would not consider my supplication to give him her price. That leaves me with one course.’ Her father paused, and when he spoke again there was amusement in his tone. ‘I have trained all those standing here. Are you so full of respect for my skills that you must face me together? Your lack of courage does you little honour.’
             ‘Be silent.’ A different voice, that made Jia Ying tremble. So full of disdain that it could only belong to a member of a Blood Family. A lowly member, to be acting as part of the Palace guard, but infinitely above a shifu and his slave-daughter. ‘You, who lies down with whores, who sneaks through the palace under cover of darkness, would speak of honour? He that bites his master’s hand has no right to the word.’

A rasping sound echoed around the stone walls of the temple, and Jia Ying flinched. The first yell of attack sounded to her like a demon howling, and was followed by a staccato clawing of metal on metal. She crouched down and clapped her hands over her ears, desperately trying not to hear the screams and gurgles and wet splatters. Her father fought an army of unknown size and every cry could be his.
 ‘Ting Guang is the finest swordsman in the Empire,’ her mother had said proudly, brushing her hair until it gleamed. ‘He could beat all the guards of the palace together. One day he will take us away and we can build a life as a family together.’ Then she turned her head and coughed into a handkerchief, quickly hiding the specks of red in its folds. ‘As soon as I am better.’

Blood on cloth and death follows behind. Jia Ying remembered her mother’s stiff white face, and heard her father fighting, and screwed her eyes tight shut as she prayed to the watching gods. Then she was grabbed roughly by the arm and dragged forwards. She screamed in terror as something was pressed uncomfortably against her throat. She could smell blood and sweat. The man that held her had shaking hands and a chest that laboured for breath. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
            ‘Stop or I will slit her throat!’
            ‘Jia Ying?’ That was her father’s voice, still steady and calm. It took the edge of hysteria from her fear and she gulped back her cries. She gave a nod, cut short by the metal at her neck. ‘Do not open your eyes.’

There was a swish of air and a moist thud. The man behind her took a sudden breath and then his chest stopped moving. The arm around her went rigid but the metal dropped away from her throat and clanged onto the mosaic tiles. Something sticky and wet began to dribble onto her shoulder. Then her father’s hands were strong at her waist and he picked her up. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he wiped her tears away with his fingers.
            ‘You are a good girl. Now, count my steps. On the eleventh, you may look again.’

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. A clicking sound, like a ratchet turning, and then the screech of wood on stone. Ten. The door slammed behind them. She could smell baking bread, and sewage, and cooking fires. There was a breeze on her bare arms. Carts rattled past, dogs yelped and people shouted. All of it alien to the reverent silence of the Palace of Supreme Brightness.


About the author
AC Macklin is a classicist who considers anything more recent than 600BC to be 'modern history', a dreamer with an irritatingly pragmatic brain, and a natural blonde fully prepared to use this as an excuse.
She also sings in the shower and isn't sorry.

Under the web name of everwalker, she writes a bi-weekly blog on the trials and tips of writing genre novels. You're very welcome to visit over at

Monday 18 August 2014

My Bedroom Window

My Bedroom Window
Alison Peden
A mug of hot chocolate

My room is at the front of our house; it is only small but I love it.
It is warm and safe and has all my books and toys in it. I am not allowed a telly in my room because Mum says too much TV addles your brain and gives you nightmares, but she lets me read my books or play with my toys till quite late, so I don’t mind. The best thing about my room is the big window which looks out onto our road. At night when it is dark I turn off my light so no one can see me, and I look out at the stars and the moon, and at my neighbours.
            My best friend, Ziggy, lives next door. I can’t see into his house but I can see his front garden. It is very different from our garden which has neatly cut grass and flowers; his is full of rubbish, including an old broken fridge and a dirty mattress. We like to jump on the mattress and pretend to be gymnasts doing handstands and forwards rolls. Mum says it’s a disgrace, but I think it is as good as the park down the road; and no one bothers us there because they are all scared of Ziggy’s mum, Maureen. No one messes with Maureen, but she is always nice to me.
            Tonight, there is a full moon which gives the whole street a spooky glow. The street is very quiet. My Mum says that when it is like this something bad is going down. I don’t always agree with her, but tonight I think she might be right.
            I can see Mick, Maureen’s latest boyfriend, staggering down the road. He throws an empty can into Mrs Jones’ garden and carries on to Ziggy’s house. Ziggy doesn’t like him. He says that Mick is nice to him when his mum is there, and wants him to call him Dad, but when she goes out to the bingo Mick hurts him, and, if he has had a few beers, makes Ziggy do stuff he doesn’t like. Ziggy says he doesn’t know who his real dad is but his mum once told him he is called David Bowie. Ziggy is sure that he would be much nicer to him than Mick. I told my mum what Ziggy had said about his dad’s name being David Bowie. She laughed, but she stopped laughing when I told her the other stuff. I saw her talking to Maureen over the hedge after tea and Maureen was crying, which I had never seen before. I hoped it wasn’t about Ziggy’s funny name.
 I can’t see Mick but I can hear him; he is banging on Ziggy’s front door and yelling at Maureen to let him in. I have a funny, sick feeling in my stomach. I hope Maureen won’t let him in. I don’t want him to hurt Ziggy. Eventually, it goes quiet and I see Mick sitting on the mattress in the front garden. He is holding his head in his hands and I think he might be crying. After about ten minutes he stands up; he is very wobbly and I am surprised that he doesn’t fall over, but he manages to stagger into the road. As he does, I see two men walk round the corner. They are big men. One has a pony tail, the other is bald, and the light from the moon bounces off his head. I recognise him as Ziggy’s uncle Steve. Mick sees them too and tries to run away but his legs just seem to crumple and he falls onto his knees. Steve and his friend walk over to Mick. They don’t speak; they just punch and kick him whilst he is curled up in a ball on the ground. It is too horrible to watch, so I crouch down and hide my face in the curtains.

 After a while, I peek out. Mick is lying in the street, not moving, I think he might be dead. I wonder if I should call an ambulance, but then Maureen comes out. She stands next to Mick, then nudges him with her foot. He holds his arms out to her, maybe hoping she will help him; she ignores him and then lifts her foot up and stamps as hard as she can on his privates. I hear his scream even through our double glazing.
I have seen enough. I climb back into bed and bury myself under the quilt. In the morning there is no sign of what had happened, but it will be a long time before I dare to look out of my window again at night.

About the author:

 Alison Peden, living in Manchester, writing short stories sat in her wheelchair.

Monday 4 August 2014

Ella's Holiday

Ella's Holiday
Charlie Britten

(Quick Cup of Nescafe Made in Unwashed Cup in Staffroom)

Ella wished they'd stop talking. Dirty grey drifts lingered at the perimeter of the school playground, without even a budding snowdrop to mock them, but already the other teachers in the staffroom were discussing summer holidays. At the next desk, where Debbie was surfing the internet, Ella glimpsed whitewashed villas, purple bougainvillea, and an impossibly turquoise swimming pool. With an effort, she picked up her pen and continued marking.
            ‘This is where we’re going, in Tenerife,’ said Debbie, swivelling the screen around, just as Ella was settling back into 10B’s essays on Dickens. ‘The children are going to love it. Be in the pool all day.’
 ‘Sounds lovely,’ said Ella, without looking up.
 ‘It gets up to twenty-five degrees in July.’ Debbie hugged her skinny chest with her folded arms, crushing the raw linen top everyone had admired that morning. ‘I'm so cold in here.’
 Ella, wearing two jumpers and other – unmentionable – layers underneath, felt just right.
 ‘Turn the heater on, will you, Antonia? Antonia!’ Stretching over her, Debbie flicked the heater switch on the wall.
 Bracing herself for a blast of hot air, Ella edged her chair sideways.
 ‘Sorry. What did you say?’ Antonia clicked off her CD player and lifted her headphones from her ears. ‘I'm trying to learn Russian. Did I tell you we’re going to Russia in July?’ 
 Yes, you did, several times, thought Ella. In fact, over the last few days, Antonia had given them a running commentary on the booking of her holiday and now she was doing it again. Ella anticipated every word. After Moscow, it was the Trans-Siberian Railway to Ekaterinburg… where the Tsars were murdered, you know… then on to the Hermitage in St Petersburg. In a minute, her colleague would list the works of art on view there. Ella considered buying a device with headphones for herself, an iPod perhaps.
 ‘I couldn't be doing what you’re doing,’ said Debbie, picking up Antonia’s CD. ‘It says on here that you should be speaking ‘travellers’ Russian’ in six weeks. Everyone in Tenerife knows English. That’s one of the reasons why we keep going there.’
 ‘Russian’s a beautiful language,’ said Antonia. ‘And how else do you absorb the culture?’ 
 ‘You can't do culture with teenagers,’ said Debbie.
 ‘Of course you can.’
 ‘No, you can't.’

‘We took our children to Florence when they were six and seven. They went round all the museums and churches with us. And they thoroughly enjoyed it. It depends what you want from a holiday, Debbie.’ 
 Debbie opened her mouth to answer but Antonia had rendered herself incommunicado again by replacing her headphones. Ella corrected a pupil’s spelling of ‘receive’. ‘I before E except after C’, as Barbara used to say. If she had still been here, they would have exchanged raised eyebrows, with Barbara intoning ‘miaow’ in an undertone. No one expected Ella to hold a view, even though she was about to take sixty Year Nines to London in a coach to see The Mousetrap next week. She carried on marking, with just the usual staffroom sounds burbling in the background, the gentle hum of voices, the clatter of cups upon the tea tray and the clunk-clunk of the fridge being opened and shut.
 All too soon, the bell rang for the beginning of afternoon school. The teachers made for the door with pupils’ work piled high in the cardboard lids of printer paper boxes, which they used for filing trays. Picking up her pencil case, a class set of handouts and a tatty cardboard wallet on which she had written ‘Hamlet Worksheet 1’ in small, neat handwriting, Ella sneaked a glance at her holdall under her desk. Inside it a bright pink cover glowed through its flimsy plastic W H Smith carrier. She took two steps from her desk. She halted. She went back. She reached under her desk and zipped up her holdall, before rushing out the staffroom with the others. Miss Pritchard was never late for class.
 ‘Actually you might like Tenerife, Ella,’ said Debbie, as they climbed the stairs amidst the hurly-burly of children texting on mobiles and playing hand-held games consoles. ‘There are parts of it which are very quiet.’
 Ella smiled.


As she was getting into her car at the end of the school day, Ella’s mobile rang. Weary, thinking of what she could eat tonight, which wouldn't take too long to prepare, she almost pretended she hadn’t heard.
 ‘Ella, it’s me. Did you call earlier I’ve just been for an amazing walk across the fields in the snow.’
 ‘Oh… hello, Barbara.’
 ‘Now… did you manage to buy the ordinance survey map?’
 ‘Oh yes.’  It scorched a pink hole in her bag. As she struggled through the afternoon traffic, Ella asked herself why she had rushed out and to buy a map in her free period when Barbara, who was retired, had been rambling across the country for pleasure.


Winter melted into spring – crocuses, daffodils, tulips. Over Easter, both Debbie and Antonia visited France and returned with the inevitable photographs, Debbie in front of the Eiffel Tower, Antonia against a backdrop of rippling blue water. ‘That’s the Lake, Ella,’ Antonia said. ‘Lake Geneva.’
 ‘As if I’d never seen such a thing before,’ Ella said to Barbara, as they drove to book club that evening.
 Her friend groaned. ‘I know, dear.’

‘Then she explained that she had taken the photo in a place called ‘Thonon Les Bains’... She pronounced it very slowly. It’s a town, Barbara… in France. Poor, pathetic Miss Pritchard couldn't be expected to know where France was, now could she?’
 ‘Don't let them get to you.’
 ‘Oh no. Known them too long. They’re all right really. Do you want to see my new Kindle?’


Spring became summer – alyssum, cornflowers, sweet peas, then at last the roses, their heavy scents wafting in through the open windows of the staffroom. Exams invigilated and marking done, just the paperwork remained. Ella entered her results on to a spreadsheet while Antonia tidied her desk, chucking out dog-eared pieces of work by pupils who were about to leave. The ‘learn Russian’ CD slipped out of a pile of old handouts about Henry VIII and on to the floor. As she stared down at the sleeve, Antonia’s mouth curled and her shoulders heaved themselves into a tight shrug. ‘Too late now. We’re flying on Saturday.’ She threw the CD away, the plastic case hitting the metal bin so hard that it wobbled and shifted backwards.
 Debbie burst into the staffroom, her phone clasped against her ear. ‘No, darling, it’s not going to be boring. We’ve got the pool, haven’t we?’ She switched on the kettle as she spoke. ‘But you like swimming.’ The furrows on her face deepened as she wrestled, one-handed, with the brown plastic cap on her Nescafe jar. ‘No, you can't stay at home. Hang on—’ She shoved her phone in front of her eyes, her glare bouncing against the tiny screen. ‘The little madam’s hung up on me.’ She stomped over to her desk in four large, straight-legged strides. ‘She doesn't want to go. My daughter is refusing to go on holiday with us.’
 ‘Well, you know, Debbie, she’s fifteen now,’ said Antonia. ‘Not a child anymore.’
 ‘I do know how old my own daughter is, thank you very much, Antonia.’
 Silence. Other teachers listened and watched, with lowered heads, pretending not to. After a moment Ella stood up, walked across the staffroom, finished making Debbie’s coffee and handed it to her.
 ‘Thanks,’ she said, gripping her mug so hard that her knuckles became white. Tears spilled from her glistening eyes, rolling down her cheeks. ‘Sorry,’ she muttered. ‘Sorry.’
 ‘She’ll enjoy it when she gets there,’ Ella said, passing over the tissue box which they kept for pupils who turned on the waterworks. ‘She’s doing what teenagers do, testing the boundaries. She’d be scared if you did let her stay at home.’
 Debbie gave the tiniest of nods.
 ‘You’ll have a wonderful holiday in Tenerife,’ Ella said.
 ‘Of course, you will,’ said Antonia, joining them.
 ‘And you’ll have a great time in Russia,’ Ella added. ‘Don't worry about not knowing the language. How could you possibly learn it when you’re teaching full time, and doing all the wretched paper-work? You’ll have a tour guide. He or she will show you around.’
 Antonia rolled her eyes. ‘Stout ladies from Intourist, ex-KGB, saying, ‘This is where the Socialist comrades shot the Imperialist Romanoffs. Look now, please.’’

‘It’ll be very interesting,’ said Ella.
 ‘Where are you going, Ella?’ asked Debbie, sniffing and wiping her face. ‘Somewhere nice, I hope.’
 ‘Oh yes.’


The morning after the end of term Ella had a lie-in, even though the sun poured through her curtains making criss-cross patterns on her light summer duvet. The only thing that did take her downstairs was wanting a cup of tea, which she drank watching the feathery ears of corn fluttering in the field opposite. She listened to the radio as she did her chores. ‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ she murmured on hearing that traffic on all motorways to Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted was gridlocked. The phone rang while she was opening the fridge to survey what remained inside it. ‘Hello there,’ said Barbara. ‘Free at last, eh?’
 ‘Oh yes.’
 ‘We need to talk about tomorrow, dear. I'm going to pick you up at eight.’
 ‘That’s fine.’
 ‘Now, have you got sun cream?’
 ‘Oh yes.’
 ‘Factor Fifteen?’
 ‘Factor Twenty-five.’
 ‘And your cap with the sun visor?’
 ‘Oh yes.’ Ella made her breakfast and ate it, with her phone pressed against her ear.
 ‘Better let you go,’ Barbara said at last. ‘Have a nice relaxing day.’
 ‘I'm going for a walk.’
 ‘Don't wear yourself out, dear. You and I will be doing enough walking next week.’

Half an hour later, Ella closed the front door of her little terraced house and made her way down the main street of her village, pausing at the church, as she always did, to enjoy the blues, pinks and yellows of the flowers in the churchyard. No gardener, she didn't know what they were, but she recognised their sweet fragrance, which, for years now, she had called the ‘end of term smell’. She climbed up the hill, alongside a field of wispy barley, over a wooden stile and through set-aside land dotted with white and yellow daisies and dandelions.
 Stopping at last by a big oak tree, she laid her checked travelling rug at the foot of its trunk and sat down, leaning against its soft corky trunk. She took out her Kindle and read a novel which was not on any school English syllabus. In the distance, she could just about make out the sound of cars, a soft drone above the rustling of the wind through the grass and the hum of insects.
 Next week she and Barbara would walk Hadrian’s Wall; like Debbie’s daughter in Tenerife, she would enjoy it when she got there. But today she would watch the furry bees as they crept into purple bells of wild foxgloves, their rotating wings rippling through the air like tiny propellers, and a frumpy brown mother duck, with six downy chicks, waddling by the river.
 Ella’s holiday had begun.

About the Author
Charlie Britten lives in southern England with her husband and cat. She writes because she enjoys it. Her work has been published in MslexiaLong Short StoryEvery Day Fiction,Alfie DogThe Copperfield Review and Radgepacket and other places as well. In real life, she lectures in IT at a college of further education. Charlie’s blog, ‘Write On’, is at