Tuesday 28 February 2017


David Deanshaw 


There was an air of concern in Martin Sheldon’s mind when Doctor Roger Browning said “you may get dressed now, there will be a slight feeling of discomfort until the dye passes through.” 

Hospitals are such forbidding places, especially for ordinary non-medical people.  For a start, there is that persistent whiff of antiseptic, which pervades the air.  Then the blood pressure thing – it is always higher when taken by a doctor – it’s called the “white coat” effect.  So what would happen with a barium enema? 

Would he speak to the patient now, or just say he would report to the surgeon without giving the patient any indication of his findings?

“Well Mr. Sheldon,” said Dr Browning eventually in a matter of fact way, “I should take care to put your affairs in order. I shall write a full report to Mr. Amber-Hill your surgeon.  He will make his own decision on the basis of what I have seen and will suggest.”

“Well what action is to be taken?” Sheldon inquired tentatively.

“Diet, hopefully, but if not - then surgery,” was the bland response from Browning, - he did not seem to care what the patient thought. 

“Is there an in-between option?”
“Yes, grin and bear it.”

“Come on seriously – what is the prognosis with surgery?”

“That is something for you to discuss with Mr. Amber-Hill when he has read my report, so you must ask him.  Do excuse me, I have an urgent appointment.”

Sheldon’s wife was waiting in the hospital car park, ready to drive home, when he got in.  “He has told me to put my affairs in order!  What do think that means?”

“He’s probably got to the end of a busy day and thought he would spice his own day up a bit.”

“Do doctors do that?”

“Sometimes, but he has obviously got you worried.  But he should not have said it anyway.”

Nora Sheldon used to be radiographer.  It was her in depth knowledge of the health service that had kept his almost complete lack of knowledge of the human body and its functions on some form of even keel throughout their marriage. Indeed she regarded her husband as a bit of a standing joke in that he had occupied his frame for over 60 years and did not have a clue how it worked.  She loved him deeply and had provided him with the occasional lesson in biology, a subject not done at his northern grammar school.  His cold analytical cutting edge was reserved to marketing strategies or market research. 

Her touch with patients had always been sensitive without becoming emotionally involved, especially in life limited situations.  “Most of us recognise that a patient is a statistic of one as far as they are concerned, yet we see these things every day.  Anybody who is trained to recognise symptoms of danger needs to have a human side.”  She assured him that there were very few senior people in medicine who did not care about their patients. Her experience had run to seeing a wide variety of professionals, so she was able to assure her husband that most radiologists were very professional, even sympathetic people.  “We are all trained to develop empathy with patients, particularly since we may be the first to discover a delicate or tragic truth.”

However, Dr Roger Browning was not such as these.  Knowing he had the name of a great poet was his only connection with sensitivity.  He was a clinical professional who felt he should have climbed higher, but there had been just one blot from years ago.

Today was just another day of dealing with those who would soon die, unless some drastic action could be taken. Some years earlier his over-reaction to diverticulitis symptoms had caused a major expense for the NHS operating system. When the patient died on the table, the surgeon claimed that the operation should not have been necessary had Roger Browning read the data in another way. The subsequent internal Inquiry had supported the senior surgeon’s argument that the data could have been read differently.  However since Browning had already achieved his PhD having written a thesis on just that topic - the interpretation of data - the findings were therefore a whitewash.  Browning kept his job and the surgeon moved away in high dudgeon. A bedside manner was for nurses not a scientist.  He would just do it for the money now. 

Martin Sheldon had suffered the pain for some months, but it had been intermittent. Sometimes it was searing; sometimes just a grumble.  But he had had a life time of pain over his 61 years.  TB had cost him his right kidney, in-growing toe nails trampled on during his sporting life leaving him with deformed feet, and then in his 40s, asthma and gout had ended his playing career.  Cricket had been the only sport he had played to any representative standard.  All of this made him determined to enjoy what was left of his life. 

Such was Martin Sheldon’s luck.  

Now he had a new problem. 

The wait for the call for an appointment with the surgeon was not long in coming.  The real concern was that it arrived first thing on a Saturday morning.

“Mr Sheldon, could you come in first thing on Monday.  We have a full clinic but Mr Amber-Hill would like to see you before he starts, could you manage 8.00?”

Martin was not a man given to panic but the off-hand manner of Dr Browning and the urgency of the call suggested that there may be some cause for concern.  Nora, his wife, was less concerned – “”It could be that he is off on holiday soon and wants to get you over with.”  Martin thought that she did not really sound convinced herself.

The surgeon stood up to shake hands when they were ushered into his consulting room.  It was a bland place, with white walls, a modern desk and a couch in the corner.  It could have been any private hospital anywhere.

“Good morning Mr Sheldon, Mrs Sheldon.  I am pleased that you were able to get here so early.”  Briskly, he opened an ordinary looking brown file which contained the X-Ray films of the barium enema.

“I would like to show you the x-ray films as well as this picture. Mrs Sheldon, I gather you used to be radiographer, so you will be familiar with what we have here.”

His manner was calm and knowledgeable.

The picture appeared to be a photograph of what looked like a large grapefruit, only its colour was pink with orange tinges.

“What is this?”  Sheldon asked nervously.

“I don't know yet.  But it is in a difficult area to reach.  It is near the junction of the large and small intestine.  Your wife will know it as the ileocecal valve. This is a sphincter muscle of some significant importance.”
“Is that what you have found inside me?”  Sheldon’s voice became very hoarse. 

“I do not wish to frighten you into thinking that it is really the size of a grapefruit. I have magnified it 100 times so that you will be able to understand.  Not every patient has a wife or husband who would know these terms; you are a very fortunate man.”

“But what does it mean?  How long have I had this?  How will you deal with it?  Why did Dr. Browning suggest I put my affairs in order?”  The questions started to flow. 

The surgeon raised his hand to call for calm and then asked for it:  - “I want you to be very calm whilst I explain what the options are – is that ok?”

Sheldon nodded and sought his wife’s hand for consolation. He felt her grip and realised that she too was concerned.  She squeezed his hand gently more than once to soothe him.

“Because it is where it is, I cannot reach it easily. Many cases of intestinal surgery can be resolved either by approaches from either end or sometimes with key-hole surgery. Sadly not in your case.”

“Well what are you going to suggest?”

“At its simplest, that I cut it out.”
“Is that a simple operation?”  The words croaked out of Sheldon’s mouth.

“No operation is simple, but it is really is quite routine these days.  Bowel cancer has been known for some time and the procedure is quite straight forward?”

“But in view of the location, is this not a little more complex?”  Nora asked tentatively.  The very mention of the word cancer was a shock to both of them.

“Yes it means that I will need to cut quite a length of bowel to be able to ensure that there is no peripheral damage and hope to be able to do a simple plumbing repair.  It is the location which is the cause of the major surgery.  If you like to take off your shirt and lie on the couch I will point out where the incision would need to be.”

Sheldon did as he was asked. “What about this suggestion about putting my affairs in order?”  Lying there he felt vulnerable and slightly helpless.

“Well it was perhaps a bit early for him to have said that, but he is very clear in his view that although we do not know whether this polyp is malignant, nor do we know how old it is, it is necessary to remove it.”

“So he was being alarmist?” the question was urgent.

“No.  And I am also going to suggest that you put your affairs in order. I must just tell you that nobody has died on my table for over ten years, but that does not mean that it would never happen.  I am sure that all will be well.  But, please, please, be under no illusion, this is a complex operation by virtue of the difficult location.  It means major surgery and a lengthy recuperation. I will not minimise the danger. Looking at these notes, I see that your heart is strong that is a major boost to the process. And I have done it before – many, many times.”

“Is there an alternative to surgery?”  Sheldon croaked his question with real difficulty.

“Simple – you will carry a colostomy bag for the rest of your life – no major exercise, no sudden excitement and above all, no sex. This is not like replacing part of an exhaust pipe – the intestine is a sensitive tube.  I can cut out the infected part easily, but cannot guarantee to join the ends successfully. If the join fails, there will bodily sewage sloshing around your inside with the potential of infection, without any chance of scientific monitoring.  Is that a risk you are willing to take?”

The devastated couple were dumbstruck. Silence reigned.

“You need to recognise that at your age there are things you can no longer do, so using one’s imagination is a good substitute. I had a similar experience with another patient some time ago and since he started to use his imagination, he can be an Olympic swimmer, score 100 goals a season and write best sellers.”

Martin Sheldon pondered on these words, part in shock, part in anger and perhaps most of all in resignation.

“I can do the operation three weeks on Monday. Will you have sorted family matters by then?”

The journey home was depressing.  The turmoil of so much still to achieve and now the prospect of an early death initiated a major headache.  He had overcome migraine years before, but this shock brought on a major throbbing in his temple.  Sheldon’s knowledge of logistics came to his rescue.  He sat quietly in his study and started a series of lists.

Wills, family trusts, finance, shares and investments were all suddenly major priorities.  The farewell letters would really take some thinking and writing.  Then, the impact on his business; short term whilst he was hors de combat; longer term, the business would close.

Then the more difficult issue – what if... he did not survive?

“Sorry to hear about this Mr. Sheldon, but I can see you and your wife on Wednesday.  If you could let me have some details in advance by email, I will have some thoughts to present to you. Shall I prepare a Power of Attorney as well?”  Bernard Bridges had acted for the family in the amendment to their wills five years earlier.  He was a kindly man, despite his relative youth.

“Yes whatever you advise, thanks, we will be with you at 10.30 Wednesday.”  A solemn response from Sheldon.

“Look darling, these operations are routine now.  When the Almighty is ready for you, He will decide.  In the meantime we must tell the kids and they should be made to understand how serious this is.  It would be helpful for them if you could be strong and not become morose.”  Nora, practical as usual, tried to hide her own anxiety.

“Can we arrange to have dinner together on the Sunday before?”  The request had a pathetic ring to it.

“Why don’t you choose the menu?  Remember that after breakfast on Monday there will be nothing until about Friday!”

“I will lose some weight then?”

“That’s good – keep being positive darling!  Remember only last month we were talking about how you would toast your beloved daughter at her wedding next year.  Then there is your season ticket at Aston Villa when you and our son would bond even more. What are you planning for this evening?”

“I will sit down at my desk and set out where you should look for various papers if it all goes wrong.  Then I suppose I will try and write some letters.”

“My darling, if you are reading this, the operation will have failed.  Please remember that I loved you more as the years unfolded.  It just got better and better.  Thank you for the children and all the care you have lavished on me and above all for being my best friend.  All my love.  Martin.”

The tears had poured as he typed, knowing the same would happen when he penned some thoughts for his daughter, the apple of his eye; and his son – the only one to carry on the family name.

Sheldon ended each day on his knees.  He was not sure just how much faith, if any, he really had.  At this stage, perhaps it was not worth taking any unnecessary risk.  How well would he sleep was uppermost in his mind.

Monday morning dawned with golden sunshine just after six as usual in August.  He was not required to report to the hospital until after lunch, having had breakfast and then nothing from nine o’clock. Why not try and sleep?  It was a hopeless thought for a man who believed that this day may be his last.

Promptly at one thirty, Mr Amber-Hill bustled into Sheldon’s room, armed with a file accompanied by a nurse wheeling a blood pressure machine. “I hope you have settled in and are comfortable.” It was not a question, merely a statement of fact. “I cannot predict how long I will need for your procedure, so you are at the end of my list – probably five thirty-ish. Do try and get some sleep. I would like you full of strength – the anaesthetist will be here to discuss some practical issues with you and so on. Have you anything you wish to ask me?”

“Yes, I suppose I have – for the sake of my family, how confident are you?”

“I did say that I have done this sort of procedure many times. Unless this lump is malignant and more importantly soft, I do not expect any problems at all.”

“And if it is either or both?”

“Please stop worrying.  I know my business!”  With that he left.

The nurse moved closer and brought the machine alongside the bed.  “Let’s take your blood pressure,” she said gently. “You know he really does know his business, it’s just that he has a long list and two of the patients may not last the week unless he removes some malignant growths.” She said assuredly.

“Is that what they still called – growths?  That’s how they were referred to years ago.”

“I just used that term because I was not sure how much you understood.”

Sheldon knew she was obviously trying hard. “Just breathe normally now whilst I measure your blood pressure.” She wrapped the pressure bandage around his bicep. “That’s good – it’s a bit high but only to be expected.  Let me find a vein now, so that we can put you to sleep when the time comes.” She did so easily and placed her hand on his sweating forehead. “He really is the best. You are really lucky to have him.  Now see if you can get some sleep.”

At 1.45 a man in a white coat appeared. “Hello Mr Sheldon, my name is Dr. Graves; I am going to put you to sleep later on.  Tell me, are you allergic to anything?”

“Just bossy women,” he offered trying to be brave.

“Good, just let me give you a little shot now to relax you.  Then I will see you later on.  Sleep well.”  Then he was gone.

5.30 came and went.

6.00 came and went.

At 6.15 another man opened the door, this time wearing a green coat, carrying to clip board.  “Mr Sheldon?  Just confirm your full name and date of birth.” He ticked some boxes on his clip board. “Right – it’s your turn now. Just relax.”

The bed was wheeled through the door, along the corridor at a pace faster than expected; they reached the lift, the door opened immediately.  The lift doors closed and then went down two floors.  The lift doors opened.  A blast of cold air met the trolley on which he was lying.

“Right Mr Sheldon,” Dr Graves lifted Sheldon’s left hand and said, “This will bring a chilly feeling for a moment.  Just give me a nod as you feel the cold along travel your arm.”

Martin Sheldon nodded slowly and his eyes closed, perhaps for the last time.

Twelve hours later, in intensive care, he realised that the Almighty still had work for him to do.

Monday 27 February 2017

Caspian Days

Robin Wrigley

Ringwood best bitter 

Maryam lay wide awake; it was one thirty in the morning. She had that dream again. The dream about that encounter in her early childhood while on a family holiday at the end of the war, at their house by the Caspian Sea.
     She was only eight years old free to roam in the early mornings. She had gone down to the sea-shore while the family stayed sleeping. It was so refreshing, wading in the sea after their stuffy house. Spotting a bright blue dinghy pulled up on the beach she climbed inside. Sitting at the bow like a boatman, she pretended she was at sea placing her hand above her eye-line scanning the horizon.
     A dog barking nearby startled her and instinctively she crouched down and peered over the rim. She saw the dog alongside a shepherd-boy, who was starting to undress only a few metres away, unaware of her presence.
     The whiteness of his body, contrasted with his sunburnt arms and face as he stripped completely. Maryam had never seen a naked boy. She marvelled at how different his body was to hers. Once undressed, he ran and dived into the surf; Maryam clambered out of the boat and ran for home.
     It was the only time she was to see a live male form. The Ayatollah’s obsession with the war against Saddam Hussein, had taken her brothers along with thousands of young men and boys she might have known, perhaps married.
     Now she had only the dream.

Friday 24 February 2017


Laura Gray

Tequila Sunrise 

Head down in the whistling wind, she pedalled along the low causeway that connected a necklace of sub-tropical islands flung off the southern coast.  The sun was just sliding up on the eastern side, its rays picking out the wading birds in the shallows.  Doubled over, she didn’t hear the warning bell or see the flashing red lights until the road started to rise up in front of her.  Shit. Drawbridge. Gonna be late.
            As she slowed, another bicycle pulled up beside her.  The bridge rose up to 90 degrees, blocking the view ahead, so she glanced over at the rider.  His head glistened mahogany in the early sun, his long grey hair was pulled back in a ponytail.  She was already ticking the boxes in her head: ragged cut-offs, disintegrating sandals, faded Hawaiian shirt flapping over countable ribs, bundles of possessions attached to each side of his bike, small sea-sprayed dog in the front basket.  Homeless person, she thought, and looked away. 

            She couldn’t tell if he returned her gaze, but what would he see if he did? Fiftyish square-built woman, ropy muscles, trailing tattoos down her legs.  Helmet covering short curly hair, never to be a flowing ponytail.  And what wouldn’t he see?  The endless struggle to control her movements, to control her fear, to watch for danger; anxiety flooding her body with every unexpected sound or turn of events.  He wouldn’t be able to tell that this drawbridge delay was torture, and the presence of another person an almost unbearable threat.  

            She’d got the job looking after the tourist boats, turning up early every day (except today, dammit).  It was perfect; no people to talk to, no one came near her once she had her job sheet for the day.   As long as she painted, scraped and cleaned, she was safe and in control.  She’d kept the appearance of a normal life, hiding the battles she’d fought since leaving the hospital. 

            ‘Can’t see anything coming through’, he said. Hyper-alert, she jumped.  Deep breath, fight the panic.  
            ‘What do you mean?’ 
              He jerked his head towards the bridge.  ‘It’s been up awhile – can’t see anything big enough.  What do they want to keep us here for?’

            She saw he was breathing heavily, sweat starting to roll.  The dog looked up into his face.  Something was wrong.  Her clammy hands slipped on the handlebars.  I really do not need to get stuck next to a headcase, she thought. Now she was hemmed in, with a vertical road in front, cars behind, and the waters on either side below.
           She looked down over the low side railings to the flat calm water, seeing the fishing boats and canoes crawling back and forth like kids’ toys.  But in the distance:  a large yacht, sail furled and thin mast scratching the belly of the sky.

            She pointed.  ‘That won’t get through.’ Her voice wobbled as she tried to fight the terror for both of them.  ‘I guess they’re holding the bridge for her’. 
He shook his head, and she could smell the fear.  His or hers?
           ‘No way- they’ve got us here now.  Gotta find another beach.’ He wheeled his bike so suddenly that he nearly lost the dog, leaving her trapped, alone, shaking.  As he went, she caught a glimpse of the miniature plate on the back of his bike:  a Purple Heart, and the motto ‘Combat Wounded’. 
              She opened her mouth to call out to him, she wasn’t sure what. ‘I’m sorry!’ or even: ‘I’m going with you!’.  Too late now, he was gone, weaving between the stationary cars.

            He almost made it to the end of the causeway where it joined the sand, then his bike glanced off the side of a massive Hummer.  Man, bike and dog flew over the railings and onto the beach below. People, some with Smartphones at the ready, started to get out of the stopped cars.  Oh no, you don’t, she thought.  Her strong legs pedalled furiously, and she beat them to it.  Flinging her bike down, she hurdled the railing and landed beside him.  A surprisingly short jump onto a stinking pile of seaweed.

            She rolled on top of him to block the view from above, then realised that there was a fair bit of noise and movement going on underneath her.  She had instinctively wanted to protect the dead from prurient onlookers, but found she was holding down a struggling man and the growling dog in his arms.  He didn’t have a chance; she outweighed him by about 20 pounds, so she eased back.  ‘Winded’, he gasped, then curled over and vomited.  The dog seemed to have decided that she wasn’t a threat; it stopped growling and turned to lick the man’s face.

            Without raising his head, he extended a hand.  ‘Dave’, he said.  Hesitant at first, she eventually completed the handshake. ‘Sandy.’  He released her hand, and then pointed at the dog, which had begun an investigation of the seaweed twined in his hair.  ‘Barney’. She nodded to acknowledge them both. 

            Dave slowly pulled himself up to a sitting position.  He looked at her, then up at her sturdy bike, leaning where she had flung it against the railing.  He gestured towards the pieces of his machine, spread around the sand.  ‘Don’t suppose you’d give me a lift to the bike shop?’  He looked away.  She was pretty sure he’d sensed her fear, her reluctance to make contact.  His tone sounded resigned, expecting rejection. Barney, equally sensitive it seemed, folded his tail between his legs, and slunk behind Dave.  

            To her surprise, there was no hesitation this time.  She and her bike were strong enough for all of them, so she helped him to his feet.  Man, woman and dog headed back towards the railings. Unobserved now; the yacht had gone through, the bridge had gone down, and the audience had retreated.

            As they made their way slowly across the sand, she bent and picked up the dog’s basket from where it had been hurled in flight.  The basket was unexpectedly heavy. Puzzled, she looked down and saw the gun nestling in a side pocket.  Her eyes closed, and she breathed a sigh of relief.  Wherever they were headed, at least she knew she’d be safe.

About the author

Laura Gray has returned to writing after retirement.  Her previous publications have been as Features Editor of her High School newspaper in the 1960s.  She is greatly enjoying the challenge of fiction and poetry.                       

Sunday 19 February 2017


Roger Noons

small glass of brown rum

After she had finished washing up after supper, the old woman went outside to smoke a roll up. Where on earth she acquired the tobacco leaf, I cannot imagine. It had the colour of a three day old cow pat and smelled like rotting hare. To my amazement, I never heard her cough despite her admission that she had begun smoking prior to her teenage years. Her black hair retained its gloss. Her ebony skin was lined, deep creases and their tributaries. One day I summoned up the courage to ask how old she was. She said she had forgotten.

Friday 17 February 2017


Neta Shlain


Mira gently shut the door behind Andre.
Daylight was beginning to poke its nose from under the winter blanket. Covered by the veil of dawn, Andre crossed the orange trees grove and flew through the thorny wet grass. He was determined to catch the six o clock bus for work so that he can have a longer lunch. Mira said they could meet.   
He emerged at the low fence of the foggy motorway.
The reflection of the night’s warmth had suddenly washed all over him. It’s been a year and a half now since the big day, and all throughout the pregnancy, his life was so idyllic that he could hardly believe it was happening to him. How did he, the orphan, the nomad, the miserable lover, the sheep herder become so happy…?
A blink of the bus in the distance brought him back to reality. He had to climb the fence and cross the road and be fast about it.  A brief glance over the shoulder and he sprinted.
Two hours later, as soon as she left home, Mira was stuck in the traffic. The road was closed due to a major accident. A car’s windshield was shattered, and a massive dent deformed its bonnet; from one glance she could tell it was a total loss.
When she reached her office, police officers were already waiting for her. She knew right away.   

About the author 

Neta is a 38 year-old  mother of two. She is Ukraine-born, Israel-raised, UK-based. She writes poetry, non-fiction, short stories, and for children. 


Wednesday 15 February 2017


Ann Dixon

Redbush Tea

Bella De Sang scanned the assembled crowd on the platform. What a dull, lifeless lot they all seemed, she thought. She had hoped to find an interesting and good looking travelling companion to help relieve the tedium of the long journey down to London but none appealed to her.

      The station intercom suddenly crackled into life,  announcing the imminent arrival of the London train to Euston. As one, the crowd picked up their luggage and slowly made their way to the platforms edge. It was then that Bella spotted him., a handsome dark haired man standing near the ticket office. He turned towards her and Bella drank in his rugged good looks. Now there was a man she could happily spend a few hours with she thought. He had a muscular build and a fine chiselled  face that even Apollo might envy. A mop of unruly hair, curled cheekily towards his large almond shaped eyes; but - a sudden pained expression spread  across his face. Deep furrows lined his brow changing his features from heroic to pitiful. Bella watched in fascination, as the young man  limped awkwardly towards the train. Not that his limping  mattered to her of course, her plans did not require physical perfection, just a healthy fascination with the opposite sex.     

      Unaware of Bella's gaze, Ben slowly made his way to the train. He shuffled along the corridor and selected an empty carriage at the rear, hoping fervently that he would be left alone. The last thing he wanted was to be forced into meaningless conversation with someone he didn't know. Through long periods of illness he had lost his lucrative position as chief executive of Marlow and Sons, and  Mira, his long term partner, had recently left him for an oily bank manager. His now somewhat reduced funds, had meant giving  up his beloved luxury apartment overlooking the River Thames, for a pokey little studio flat in Darrington. Life was at an all time low for Ben and he simply wanted to be left in peace.

       After stowing his briefcase in the luggage rack, he sat down for what he hoped would be a silent, solitary journey.  Minutes later however, the door slid open and in walked  the most stunningly beautiful woman he had ever seen. Dressed totally in black, she was tall, slim and supremely elegant. She closed the carriage door and before sitting,  pulled down the window blinds. Long, diaphanous white hair wafted softly across her pallid face. Her eyes, a  hypnotic violet and her sensuous full mouth painted deepest red - fair took his breathe away. She sat down directly opposite him. Her gaze was overwhelmingly captivating and so intense, that it made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Ben was transfixed by her fervent, bewitching stare and could not look away.

      The train gradually gathered speed and was soon singing its rhythmic tune.  Bella leant forward to observe her handsome Apollo more closely. It had been an extremely long, time since she felt so strongly attracted to anyone and why this young man should appeal so much to her, was a bit of a  mystery to her.

       As she held him in her gaze she drank in his rugged looks, but then, as she probed his handsome features more intently, she also sensed his pain, his loneliness and an all consuming sadness.  There was a time of course, when despite those wondrous looks, she would have dismissed such a physically weak creature out of hand, but this young man was different  somehow and Bella was determined to help him.

       'Why not come and sit here,' she said to him, her voice deep and sonorous. Her long, china boned hand, indicated the seat next to hers. A  mesmerized Ben did exactly as he was bidden. 'Now!  close your eyes,' she instructed. Ben dutifully obeyed. Bella revealed her fangs and with a delicious tenderness, she drank the exquisite, dark, ruby elixir of his life. The taste was sublime.
       When  Ben eventually opened his eyes the train was pulling into  Euston Station and of his alluring travelling companion there was no sign.
His mouth felt desert dry and when he stood, his head was a  little light, but that apart, he felt inextricably stronger and healthier than he had done for many months and his heart now throbbed with a strong, steady rhythm. He collected his suitcase from the rack and made his way off the train without the merest trace of a limp.  

       Before heading off to visit his specialist, and eager to quench his thirst, he headed off to the station cafe. Ahead of him in the queue stood a young, pretty, blonde haired girl and Ben felt strangely attracted to her. He watched as she ordered a latte and sat down in the deserted courtyard at the back of the Waiting Room.  Ben needed something stronger and ordered a double espresso.

       With espresso in hand, he strolled into the courtyard and sat down opposite he, eager to examine those delicate features more closely. . He sipped his espresso. The girl looked up and their eyes met. Without warning, a dark all consuming  sadness flooded his mind and a strange alien feeling stirred within him. His eyes blackened and Ben's ice white fangs slid gently over his lips. Yes! The taste would be sublime.

The Fool

Richard Hough

a cocktail 

A beautiful girl sits at an angle of forty five degrees from me. With clear, blue eyes and blonde hair cascading over her shoulders and stretching down her back, she is exactly the sort of woman I would have lusted over when I was her age – about thirty years ago. In fact there are similarities between her and my wife.

I stare as she chats confidently with the brunette friend sitting opposite her. I suddenly realize I’ve been gazing too long and I see that she has caught me. I am slow to turn away but I notice her own gaze has lingered too long or is that the wild imagination of a man entering (or indeed in the heart of) a mid-life crisis.

I’m sure I must redden slightly as I turn away desperately trying to pretend I was simply looking around the coffee shop and she just happened to be there.

Then the dance begins. In my vain attempts not to look at her I stare at improbable things – the backs of chairs, counting the screws which hold them together; the bark of the tree a few feet from the front door; the signs on the walls which I have read a thousand times before. It’s hopeless. I cannot resist the lure of this nemesis whose blue eyes are for swimming in. I chance another look, then another and a third. Each time, she is looking at me and on the final occasion, she smiles at me or perhaps it’s at something her companion has said. My heart is pounding, my head throbbing. I have to know. Am I a mad, old fool or is my life about to change forever? I surreptitiously slip off my wedding ring, storing it carefully in my pocket and haul myself from the chair which sighs with relief.

About the author 

Richard Hough has been writing since he had a joke published in his favourite boyhood comic, Sparky. He has self published one novel and is currrently working on a second in the spare time which eludes him almost completely. He has a wife, two sons and two cats choose to live with them for the time being.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

The letter

Roger Noons


a glass of sweet sherry

It was undated, but the colour of the paper confirmed its age, together with crinkled edges and split folds backed with sellotape. The card in which it was inserted had long since faded, the shape of a heart, a feint line. I recognised my father’s handwriting.

My dearest Rosemary,

You are a language I’ve learned by heart. A dialect, a patois; the words of native speakers, known only to those who love, those who place someone else on a pedestal, ahead of themselves.
Your hair, a magical mass of golden filaments; your eyes, so deep, I could drown in their orbs with no oxygen available, and your lips, painted or not, sweet, sensuous, desirable when open or together.
I do and will always love you.


I found it on top of the contents of my mother’s jewellery case when I was sorting out her effects during the week following her funeral. I frowned; my mother’s name was Joan. Rose was her sister. When I was younger, people always said that I featured my aunt.

Monday 13 February 2017

2m Peter

Robin Wrigley

vodka on the rocks

I remember the first time he came in for his paper for two reasons, one it was Valentine’s Day and secondly Lizzie fell instantly in love with him. He was shy, nice looking and very tall, well over six-feet. When we found out his first name was Piotr, we knick-named him ‘Two-metre Peter’, behind his back, of course.
     We discovered his name and that he was Polish after he had a parcel delivered to our collection service – he said it was a present from his mum, in Krakow. These details however, were the only thing that we found out about him for quite a while. As I mentioned he was shy, very shy to the point that his eyes diverted away from me the instant our gaze connected on the odd occasion that I was able to serve him, which was not often, due to Lizzie all but wetting herself to get there in front of me. I didn’t mind really being as how I had a steady boy-friend and at four-feet ten, me and him would look rather like the monkey with the giraffe as Lizzie put it when she thought I also fancied him.
     It was the week that Lizzie called in sick that I got a chance to observe him a bit better. Firstly he was very polite even though his English was a bit strange sometimes. He didn’t smoke, or at least didn’t buy his cigarettes from us. He read the Daily Express. When I asked him if enjoyed it, he made a slight tilt of his head, looked at me for a split second and said it was okay and bought it because it was the cheapest. He explained he really only read it to practise reading in English. The content didn’t really interest him.
     He always wore a blue coverall that looked immaculately clean unlike the majority of local workers who came in to the shop. When it rained he wore a bright red waterproof jacket which again made him stand out from the local men who never seemed to alter their dress to suit the weather conditions.
     He had a shock of strawberry-blond hair that looked like he had trouble controlling it as it constantly fell over his right eye causing him to brush away with the back of his hand. His hands and fingernails were clean and he didn’t wear any jewellery or have any tattoos as far as I could see.
     I would never confide in Lizzie, though, for fear of her thinking I was competing for his charms; in reality I just felt kind of sorry for him because he seemed – I don’t know -not just lonely but adrift in a foreign place. He was different but in such a nice way.
     Strangely enough he did seem to open up just a little with me, which to be honest was probably because he sensed that I was not trying to flirt as Lizzie always did and enabled him to accept friendliness at face value. I was dying to know if he was married but instinct told me that question would be a step too far.
     I found out he worked at a local boat-builders as an electronic technician which accounted for, I assume, why he managed to keep so neat and tidy.
     There was no question about it; for all the moaning about the number of Polish immigrants in our city this guy certainly was a bonus.
     But no sooner had we got used to Piotr’s face lightening up our drab shop every morning, he stopped coming in, just disappeared and we never saw him again.

For Lizzie it was Love’s Labours Lost I guess, (and me a bit, if I was honest). But guess what? Lizzie’s booked a holiday in Krakow – can you beat it?

Sunday 12 February 2017

Which doctor?

Mike Olley 

 Voodoo Tequila with a pinch of salt

In the morgue, Dr Browning observed Professor Fox's naked lifeless body. It spoke volumes to him; in death the old man was just as curmudgeonly: 'For God's sake use the scalpel, Browning! This is a pathology department, we employ scientific method only. Determining cause of death by occult means is not only reckless, it is also unethical. Pure mumbo-jumbo. I will not stand for it.' But there was nothing the dead man could do now, the department belonged to Browning.
Satisfied with his work, Browning packed away the ouija board and filled in Fox's post-mortem report: death by supernatural causes.

About the author 

Mike Olley writes short fiction. His work has been published in several anthologies. A designer by trade, he's also quite a good carpenter and grower of cactus plants. Originally from London, he spent a few years in Spain before a quirk of fate brought him back to live in an English seaside town.

Saturday 11 February 2017


Roger Noons

The Glenlivet, a double

He was sitting at the table, glass in hand when I walked into the bar. Eyes staring with no particular focus, his lips forming silent words. I wondered if he was praying.
    ‘Dad,’ I said, too gently perhaps, as he showed no reaction.
    I sat down opposite him, shook my head in the direction of the barman. My father looked right through me. I waited; his lips continued to shape words, no attempt to take a drink.
    After a couple of minutes I rested my fingers on his wrist. ‘Dad?’
    He blinked several times, gradually focussing on me, frowning.
    ‘Yes Dad, how are you?’
    ‘All right Son, I’m all right,’ and he lifted the glass and threw the contents into his mouth. After carefully placing the tumbler in the centre of the table, he added. ‘Come to take me home?’
    As I helped him up, I mouthed how much to the barman, received a gesture of four fives, so placed a twenty pound note alongside the glass. As we made our way slowly towards the door, my father paused and stared at me. ‘I was talking to your mother, are we going to see her?’
    ‘Not now, it’s dark and the cemetery gates will be locked.’
    ‘Tomorrow then?’
    ‘Yes Dad, we’ll go tomorrow.’

Friday 10 February 2017

Happy- Hour

Happy- Hour

 Cathy Leonard

Rusty Nail (see recipe)

1 ounce Scotch Whiskey
1 ounce Drambuie

Pour over ice cubes and stir

You preferred a Rusty Nail to a Screwdriver in a Saint Louis Highball Glass.
But your special favourite was a Corkscrew in a Double Old- Fashioned.
Shake well and strain into pre-chilled Double, then add a slice of lime.

When you left I didn’t need ice to chill it.

And every Friday night I mix, shake and stir:

A jigger of frogs’ legs, thorns of birr
A pony of beetle-juice, dragon-scale light
A twist of spittle and a dash of spite
Top with a Catherine wheel,
Add a wedge of venom peel

And there you have it-
A Screw-U  

About the author 

Cathy has been writing and teaching for over thirty years. She has published poetry, short stories and children’s stories and has been shortlisted for a number of awards, most recently runner up in the Fish Flash Fiction Award 2013 and the Sceine Poetry Competition 2014. She had a short story selected for publication in Baubles 2016. Cathy lives in Dublin with her husband Stephen, two adult children, Molly her trusty red-setter cross and their new arrival- a stray one eyed three month old kitty- Sherlock. Now all we need is a Watson!

Saturday 4 February 2017

White Bits

Roger Noons

a large glass of Verdejo

The man walked up to the swimming pool and dived in. He swam twenty lengths varying breaststroke with crawl. After heaving himself out at the deep end, he stood, posing, allowing the sun to dry his skin. After two minutes he strolled a dozen paces and stood alongside a sun lounger on which a woman was lying on her back. 

    ‘Excuse me,’ he said, but I couldn’t help noticing how attractive you look in that turquoise bikini. If I’m not interrupting, I wonder if I might buy you a drink.’

    ‘Why, thank you,’ she smiled, ‘a glass of white wine would be delightful.’ While he was at the bar, she repositioned the bed so that when he returned she was sitting, having drawn towards her a small table. He placed the glasses on the table and collected a chair.

    ’Cheers,’ he proposed.

    ’Your very good health.’

    They chatted about the resort, excursions they had been on and various holidays they had each taken in the past. As she finished her drink, he said. ’Would you like another, or …’ after he had looked at his watch, ‘shall we have lunch and we can have a bottle?’ 

    While they feasted on a mixed grill of fish, one bottle of Verdejo was followed by another and by four o’ clock, when they had finished their ice creams, they were completely relaxed. Moving closer towards her as the waitress brought their espressos, he whispered.

    ‘I’d love to see your white bits.’

    She smiled, winked and said in a loud voice. ‘I’ve already seen yours, did no-one tell you to remove your wedding ring before sun bathing?’