Sunday 31 July 2022

Celia and the Seal Woman by Sylvia Clare, hot chocolate


Celia was an unhappy child in an unhappy family. One day she decided to run away. She remembered she felt the happiest at the seaside, listening to the waves. One clear night Celia went outside and sniffed. She smelt the sea a long way away. She felt it calling to her like a very old deep slow song inside her own body.
      She walked and walked for seven days until she reached the sea-shore. Then she sat down on the sand, to make patterns with the stones, shells and seaweed. The patterns formed into shapes, drawing her on, making seven seals out of stones and seaweed
     As night went on she didn’t notice the tide rising. The moon was as completely full as it’s possible to be, shining right down above her head, a blue moon, so magical and rare. She didn’t notice the sleek dark shapes swimming into the shoreline and lifting their noses to sniff the air. Not until the first seal gently nudged her with its whiskery snout did she look up. There she saw the seals in her pictures, seven of them coming up the beach.
     The tide was close behind, washing away her patterns, closer and closer. The biggest seal motioned to Celia, and without thinking twice, Celia climbed on her back and folded her arms around the huge, long sleek neck. They hardly had to turn around before the waves lifted them back out to sea.
      The seals took Celia diving and she learned to hold her breath, just as the seals did. They took her to their favourite rocks and she lay out with them, resting there. When they caught food they shared some with Celia, and she grew to love her seal family more than anything, their kindness, their wildness, and their freedom. The way they looked after their young pups and worked together to keep each other safe as much as they could. Life in the wild was wonderful, but it could be brutal too and Celia learned to appreciate and understand the gift I that too. After some time she completely forgot about her old life and the parents who never had a good word to say about anything.
      When she was getting quite grown up, they called to her to come and sit with them on their favourite family rock. The largest wisest seal gently nuzzled Celia and looked deeply into her eyes, then very gently said it was time she went back to her own people.
      ‘But you are my people’ Celia protested tearfully, ‘I belong with you.’

      The oldest seal shook her head. ‘When you called us with your blue moon child magic, you were sad and lonely. We loved you because you were a child. Now you are a full-sized human, you must find your own people. We can grant you one more wish. The life of humans is strange. You must teach them. but every blue moon you can swim with us again and be the seal woman. But never let anyone find this magic. Our world is slowly dying because humans are destroying it. Take our story forwards and preserve the vast oceans of the world. Follow the deep magic and why it brought you to us.’
      Celia listened and knew it was true. She’d noticed how much the fish were disappearing, the rocks littered with rubbish.
      As she said goodbye, the seals gave her a gift of a seal skin and said ‘keep it hidden, and each blue moon come back. We’ll be waiting for you’.
      Celia became a marine biologist and underwater explorer. Everyone was astonished at how long she could dive for, and how much she knew about the oceans and the creatures that lived in them. She showed people what was happening to the oceans and slowly they recognised what they were doing. It took many many years before enough people understood, but slowly , very slowly they began to change their ways and slowly, very slowly, when the seas were nearly dead, enough people stopped the destructive ways and understood that we all live here together and we must all look after each other, whiskers or no whiskers.
      But every blue moon, Celia took a long personal research break, found her seal skin and went back to the beach. There she found her friends waiting for her to join them in the oceans and explore what she must share and teach next. Everybody was always astonished at how Celia made her discoveries, but that is her secret, and ours now too.

About the author 

Poet, memoirist, essayist, and teller of stories. Sylvia enjoys taking part in the festivals on the Isle of Wight, storytelling to audiences of all ages. She is part of trio of poets called Funny That who interweave their words into themes, making people laugh or groan.

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Saturday 30 July 2022

The Mothers by Jeremy Nathan Marks, Stroh's beer

 Whatever may be tolerated in monarchical and despotic governments, no republic is safe that tolerates a privileged class, or denies to any of its citizens equal rights and equal means to maintain them.                                                                       

-Frederick Douglas


It was the Mothers that overthrew the government. In a break with history, a group of unarmed women seized state power, beating the generals to the punch.  

The Mothers were well known. For more than forty years, they gathered on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Monument Square, the great plaza at the heart of the capital, in front of the presidential palace. Rather than speaking or chanting slogans, the Mothers held signs for their fellow citizens to see. Those signs posed simple, straightforward questions: Where are our daughters? Where are our sons? Where are the children of our children?

As governments came and went, some civilian and some military, the Mothers asked the same questions and received the same mute response. For decades, they risked death and disappearance; many were disappeared. But the Mothers, as a group, remained. New members swelled their ranks, and their witness went undiminished. To this day, the great question bystanders continue to ask is how did these women overtake the presidential palace? How did they manage this feat without getting shot, without being arrested en masse? How did they outflank the generals and take a building the military often occupied like a barracks?

We can review the facts. On the day the Mothers took over, the national currency was unstable. Interest rates were in double digits, as was inflation and unemployment. Factories were closing, small businesses were folding, and there was a shortage of milk and bread. But none of this was new; the Mothers had already seen it happen.

On the day they took over, logging companies were stripping the forests in the country’s national parks. Rigs drilled for oil in estuaries, and mines and manufacturers poured their toxins into the river systems. The air grew grey with smoke, and no flora and fauna received legal protection. But none of this was new; the Mothers had already seen it happen.

On the day they took over, abortion was banned and same sex marriage was prohibited. No woman could access birth control or receive life saving obstetrical procedures without state permission (seldom granted). The unwed were denied adoption rights, as were same sex couples. Single mothers had to register with the Interior Ministry. To be non-binary was forbidden by law; it was a felony to misreport one’s gender. Women who suffered rape, sexual assault, and incest were required to carry their pregnancies to term.

These laws were new; the Mothers understood this had not happened before. 


The day they chose to make their move was Independence Day, the national holiday, the day the Mothers’ country had declared itself a republic. On that morning, the Mothers abandoned Monument Square and approached the presidential palace gates. Onlookers and bystanders assumed they would face arrest or death at the hands of the Palace Guard. The Guard was a well-trained and heavily armed outfit on high alert. The president had recently declared a national emergency as unrest spread in dozens of hamlets, towns, and cities. 


But when the Mothers approached, the Guard gave way. They stepped aside and opened the gates, enabling the Mothers to cross the grand front lawn. When they reached the famous red double doors, the Mothers pushed them open, disappearing inside the seat of presidential power. Fifteen minutes later, bystanders watched as the national flag was lowered from the flagpole atop the palace. Moments later, it was raised again with the Mothers’ banner billowing beneath it.

The national media was alerted to these events and had assembled outside the palace gates. They requested access to the women inside. They received word that a woman known as “Mother 1” would speak to them. When they were shown to the presidential office, they found her seated at the executive desk. She informed those assembled that she intended to address the nation. She requested thirty minutes on all three national networks at 5 p.m. That evening, she delivered her address.

“Fellow citizens, I am one of the Mothers. Among my sistren, I am known as ‘Mother 1.’ I earned this name forty-six years ago when my son became the first boy ‘disappeared’ in this country. While I retain my Christian and family names, I elect not to share them. I have no interest in being remembered on a personal basis. What matters tonight is that my organization has deposed the government. We have deposed them in the name of our children and grandchildren, living and dead. We have deposed them in the name of your children.

“Our country is on an unsustainable path. We live in a land of amnesia. For more than forty years, no government, civilian or military, will tell us where our children are. We have rulers who say they do not know of any children taken, of any child lost. We have rulers who deny the disappearance of our loved ones, who say they never took the children of our children and sent them to live with families of the government’s choosing. For years, we have lived with this knowledge. Our government has made it clear they see no reason to offer us the truth, to pursue reconciliation. They insist that our children and grandchildren are not part of the national memory. We recognize that our government does not understand posterity; they deny the persistence of memory. They deprive us of the knowledge embedded in our bodies. They have not only mismanaged our currency, our ecology, our economy, our hospitals and universities, and our educational system. They have not only brutalized our workers with their investment strategies and radical cutbacks to our system of social welfare. They have told us that our bodies and minds lie to us, that our monuments are forgeries, that what we know will betray us.  

“My fellow citizens, we have watched these abuses mount. We have, each of us, paid the cost. But recently, this government has crossed one bridge too many, committed a crime that has brought them down. This government declared that it alone decides whether and when a woman shall have children. This government, which denies the existence of our daughters and sons, has set rules regarding pregnancy and childbirth. It denies women access to contraception, family planning, prenatal care, and vital procedures needed to protect the health of women suffering troubled pregnancies. These laws have already caused many to suffer irreparable damage to their organs and bodies, emotional and physical well-being. They continue to experience trauma. Already many have died, hemorrhaging blood, leaving behind devastated families. None of this was inevitable. All of this could have been prevented.

“My fellow citizens, our rulers have broken their bond with each one of us. They have violated our sacred bodily sovereignty and the intimacy of our families. They force the wounded to bear wounded babies. They brutalize mothers, blight families, and deny those they blast any access to care. They turn citizen against citizen by incentivizing snooping, paying neighbor to spy on neighbor by reporting miscarriages to the police. My fellow citizens, they break the bonds of neighborly affection and make a woman’s body a national crime scene. 

“In the coming days, our government, which we are calling the Maternal Reorganization, will present a reform package to you. This package is aimed at rebuilding our country’s frayed bonds; it is aimed at restoring the bodily health of our women and protecting the privacy of families. Upon completion, we will present these reforms in a legislative package on national television. We will print and distribute the package so every citizen can read it, critique it, and debate it. After we release the package, we will call for national elections. In these elections, we will run a presidential candidate and a legislative slate to campaign on our reform package.

“I recognize that, right now, many of you want to know how my organization, an unarmed, nonviolent group was able to take control of the government. How did we break the historical pattern of military violence that has upended our republic on so many occasions? We entered the presidential palace without a single shot fired, without a single person wounded or killed because the Palace Guard are our sons and grandsons. They are our nephews and neighbors. They are boys we taught and nurtured, men we tutored and looked after. They are our husbands and partners which is how these fine young men knew who we were. They recognize that we are their sisters and mothers, aunts and grandmothers, girlfriends, and wives. They see that our rulers have pierced the sacred bond of family that is the beating heart of our republic. They understand that our rulers betrayed the holy body of our free society.

“Let me be clear: my organization would not have attempted to seize control of the palace had our rulers not invaded our bodies. Our history shows that governments have invaded our homes and disappeared our loved ones. They have breached our walls and dynamited our dwellings. They have tortured and persecuted and jailed and murdered but never before have they inserted themselves into our wombs. And this they have done with judicial backing. It is for this reason that we void their rule. Our rulers are renegades; they have gone rogue, and we have taken the necessary step of ending their despotism. We will bring them to justice for their crimes. We will see them prosecuted according to the procedures of our code of laws and our national constitution.

“My fellow citizens, we seek peace. We seek peace in factories and firms, in churches and union halls. We want peace on our farms and in our forests. We choose peace between the generations, among neighbors and families. We avow the need for peace within our national memory. Restoring peace is our pursuit, as is healing the body politic and the bodies of our families and women. Peace is our program. 

“Thank you, and goodnight.”

Mother 1 did not speak from notes and did not use a teleprompter when she delivered her address. Her speech was extemporaneous. “Everything I said tonight,” she told a reporter, “was simply my witness.”

In the days that followed, the Mothers learned that among the generals, a move was afoot to overthrow them. The Mothers recognized their time to draft reforms was short and that history could once again intrude in the form of a tank, a gun, a cell, a torture chamber. They calmly worked each day, relying on word from the Palace Guard of the plans and plotting of the military. The Mothers understood that their only protection was the Guard and the trust of their fellow citizens.

Ten days after the coup, the generals made their move. They drove tanks into Monument Square and bombed the presidential palace, killing many of the Palace Guard and taking the Mothers hostage. As the generals breached the palace, Mother 1 took to the television screen and spoke to the people one last time.

“My fellow citizens, as I speak to you, I can hear the men the generals have sent approaching this office. In a moment, they will enter this room with their weapons. Your screens will go black, and they will silence my voice. I know that you have witnessed such things before.

“The generals will enter with guns, penetrating the inner sanctum of our republic, their bayonets fixed, and pistols drawn. Right here, in this sacred room, a space as hallowed as your own hearths; in this space, they bring weapons. They know that I am unarmed. I ask you to-” 

Before Mother 1 could finish, the generals breached the office and cut the power to the television camera. It is unclear now whether her fellow citizens will learn the rest of what she intended to say. It is unclear whether they will see the contents of the reform package the Mothers had almost finished drafting. It will depend on whether Mother 1’s fellow citizens believe that history is words in a book or actions taken in the streets.  

About the author

Jeremy Nathan Marks lives in Canada. Recent works appears in places like Apocalypse Confidential, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Sip Cup. His poetry collection, Of Fat Dogs & Amorous Insects is published by Alien Buddha Press (2021).

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Friday 29 July 2022

Agnes by Judith Skilleter, a summer rosé from the Languedoc


 Agnes is paralysed from the waist down, a fall some years ago did rather a lot of damage and Agnes has been living off the generous compensation, which has been sensibly invested, ever since. She lives in a block of council flats, on the 10th floor and she has not been outside her flat for five years. This has been OK as she loves her flat and has no time for all those know-alls who think that tower blocks are eyesores and should be knocked down. Agnes is very happy looking out of her windows, watching what is happening in the world from up in the air, seeing green spaces and wildlife and on clear days she can even see the sea.

Agnes has a carer, Jemma. Jemma  is employed by the council and comes twice a day, three times if she is in the area at lunch time just to check that Agnes is OK and have a cup of tea with her. Neither the council nor the tax man know about the lunchtime visits for which Agnes gives Jemma £10. It is their secret.

Jemma works hard. She arrives around 8 am, empties the commode, gives Agnes a wash down and dresses her and does her hair.  (Jemma is a trained hairdresser and every week she washes Agnes’ hair and every 5 weeks or so she gives Agnes’ hair a trim. Agnes likes to look presentable and Jemma makes sure she does. The council and tax people do not know about these hairdressing visits either for which Jemma receives another £10.)

Jemma then settles Agnes in her recliner chair, gives her breakfast, usually toast and cereal, makes sure she has everything that she wants and needs before she goes off to her next call. Twice a week Jemma dusts round and hoovers and on another day she does sinks and the loo. Jemma is very keen that Agnes’ flat does not look uncared for and fresh flowers from time to time, recompensed by Agnes, usually £10, make it a very pleasant place to live or visit.

Jemma does most of these tasks in reverse in the evening. She arrives and gets Agnes into her nightdress and dressing gown and makes her tea which Agnes enjoys in front of the TV on one of those special trays with a cushion underneath. Later on Agnes can usually get herself into bed, which Jemma leaves turned down with a hot water bottle in winter.

Although Agnes is paralysed she has strong arms and she can manoeuvre herself from the bed or chair onto the commode or the wheelchair which she uses to have occasional tours around the flat. She enjoys these little adventures which Jemma has advised against.  “You might get in a pickle you can’t get out of” says Jemma quite firmly. But Agnes has to explore her whole world from time to time, a world that consists of more than one room.

Agnes reckons she and Jemma have a good routine; they are good buddies and Agnes’ life is made much easier with Jemma around.

Agnes has a niece who visits once a fortnight. Agnes reckons Hilary, her niece, is just checking on her inheritance. Agnes has no other family. She was married briefly but her husband just went out one day and didn’t return. She has no idea if he is alive or dead. There was a rumour that he was in New Zealand with a family of his own and even has grandchildren. Agnes is saddened by the possibility that another women is having the opportunities that she never had but she is not bitter – “there are worse things at sea” she tells herself although she has no idea what that means but she thinks that in another life she would have loved to go on cruises. Jemma makes sure the flat looks especially nice for the Hilary visits for which she receives another £10.

But these days Agnes is anxious. Jemma has borrowed money from her. £100 on three occasions and none of it has been paid back yet. She gave Jemma her card to get the cash from nearest ATM and Agnes noticed from her bank statements that more than £100 was taken out on two of the three occasions. On these last 2 occasions £200 was taken out. Also Agnes has noticed that some things are missing. A Royal Doulton figurine, that had been her mother's, and was always on the shelf in the spare bedroom, is no longer there.  In its place is a snow globe from Blackpool that usually lived in a drawer beside the spare bed.

Agnes knows that Jemma struggles financially. She is a single mother with two teenage children and her only income is what she earns and something that used to be called Family Allowance. Agnes believes it might now be called Child Benefit.

What should Agnes do? Agnes knows that monetary transactions are not supposed to take place between the council employee, Jemma, and the client, herself. If she reported Jemma to the council Jemma would probably get the sack and that would make her financial position even worse. Also Agnes would lose her and she may end up with someone who was far less nice, someone who had to learn right from the beginning how to care for Agnes. Agnes was not sure she wanted this to happen. Agnes is in a quandary. She has lost trust in Jemma but is afraid to lose her. She needs her and Agnes knows that Jemma probably knows this also. “Damn,” thinks and says Agnes but she reckons that one thing she cannot do is nothing.

Agnes has a small computer, a notebook she thinks it's called, and sometimes she likes to go on to EBay. She is fascinated by the fact that so many things that she has sent to charity or the tip over the years are now worth quite a bit of money. She scrolls through the Royal Doulton figurines and, lo and behold, there it is, something that could easily be her missing ornament. Agnes knows that Jemma “surfs” EBay and she wonders if this figurine for sale is actually hers, is her stolen property up for sale.

Agnes has a plan and buys it; she offers the asking price and it is accepted immediately. The sale seems to go through but when Agnes puts in her name and address for postage the sale stops and the figurine is taken down, it is no longer for sale. “Thought as much” thinks Agnes. The seller, presumably Jemma, has realised she has been caught red-handed.

When Jemma came that evening she was very quiet and subdued. She did not look Agnes in the eye or give her the usual greeting. Agnes waited – still nothing from Jemma who did the usual jobs, but without the happy chatter.

Eventually Agnes said “Have you anything to say Jemma?” 

“No, why?” answered Jemma. 

“Well I have a problem. Should I call the police or speak to your supervisor?” said Agnes.

Jemma finally looked Agnes in the eye, but Agnes couldn’t see any regret in her expression. It was more like anger, anger that she had been found out. “Please don’t” said Jemma, “I will pay it all back when I can – and I will return the ornament.”

"But can I trust you?" said Agnes. “I thought you were my friend? Friends don’t do this to each other”

“Friend?” replied Jemma, “This is just work, nothing more.”

A very sad and disappointed Agnes then said “I think you had better go. I will be asking for someone new to be my carer. Goodbye Jemma.”

Jemma left and Agnes cried for the first time in years. She had scored a small victory but she had lost so much and what she thought she had lost had never been there it seemed.


About the author

 Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire 45 years ago and is married with 3 grandchildren 
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Thursday 28 July 2022

The Circus by NT Franklin, cola with ice

 Matt had always loved the circus. His fondest childhood memories were of accompanying his father to the big top and watching his favorite, the high-wire artists. Here he was, once again, at the circus. Matt watched the trick dogs run onto the stage, and almost forgot he was there as an undercover cop.

A police analyst in his department crunched numbers and demonstrated an increase in drug activity correlated with circus travels over summer. The Captain privately shared with Matt that it might be the State Troopers providing security for the circus. He sent Matt undercover to the circus, figuring he was going to be there anyway.

Matt half watched as the acts entered and left the arena, but he focused on the State Troopers on security detail. A chubby one was over friendly with a middle-aged woman working the concession stand. She served no less than six hot dogs to the tubby Trooper. Matt wasn’t sure the crime was eating six hot dogs or not paying for six hot dogs.

The young Trooper at the door of the vender money-counting room was stoic. An excellent choice for the duty. All doors had Troopers positioned at them, and they were acting professionally. Observation of the Troopers had to wait when the tightrope walkers came out. Two performed with balancing poles, and one woman performed freehand. The performers on trapeze were equally mesmerizing.

Matt laughed at the antics of the clowns, and the pauses between the acts gave him time to resume his scanning of Trooper activity. All the Troopers were inside the building, and all were on task.

While he still longed for the elephants, the additional lion act almost made up for it. The circus ended with a grand show by the ringmaster, but no suspicious activity by the State Troopers. A dead end. He’d suggest to the Captain that perhaps it was simply summer, and people were traveling more.

As he was leaving, a carnie was handing out unsold popcorn, and shoved a box into Matt’s hand. He nodded, put the box under his arm, and walked to his car. Once inside, Matt filled out his daily activity log. He glanced down at the passenger feet area and three boxes were missing. He opened the popcorn box, dumped the contents out on his seat, and smiled. Fifty thousand dollars doesn’t take up a lot of space. A nice wad of cash and the wire acts were terrific. All in all, a good time.

About the author

 NT Franklin writes cozy mystery short stories, nostalgia short stories, and Flash Fiction and has over 140 publications on numerous sites. He writes because he can’t fish or do crossword puzzles all the time. 


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