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stevef's (expat on UKA) UKArchive
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the Brotherhood (posted on: 29-04-16)
For the April prose challenge. Too short for any meaningful dialogue so it's all narrative.

Tiny reflections of candlelight flickered on the coffin's brass fittings and on the glass of the framed photographs that lined the walls. The friends, colleagues, distant family and those obliged to attend by association filed past the open casket, kissed the face of its occupant, made the sign of the cross and returned to the reception room. Then Cesare Magro was alone except for his close relatives. A week earlier, Alessandro Magro had been woken just after dawn by soft knocking on his bedroom door. He pulled on a dressing gown and answered it. It was his valet. Alessandro stepped out into the passageway and listened as the white-faced man passed his news. He nodded grimly, passed an order and went back to the bedroom. The valet was making two stiff whiskies in the lounge when he heard the screaming. He poured another for himself. Mariella Magro had just heard of her brother-in-law's death. By mid-day, the island's population had heard of the murder. Cesare Magro, the youngest member of the clan was dead by a single bullet through the heart. He was found slumped over the wheel of his car near his property. There was no sign of a struggle. It was said there was a quizzical look upon his face. The police made enquiries at the villa. Then they left, pleased and relieved to have been seen to do their duty. The Magro family had their own policy of justice. A hundred mourners flew in from Corsica, mainland Italy and America to pay respects to their murdered brother. Some were saddened. Some were indifferent. Some were glad. But whatever their feelings, they all wore a look of neutrality. The only outward sign of grief was Mariella's. She was hysterical over the loss of her favourite. By the day of the funeral, the family were no closer to knowing the gunman's identity. But they were sure of one thing he would be among the mourners. Cesare would not have died easily if he had not known his killer. The media moved back as the hearse and limousines pulled up outside the villa. Inside, the Magro family said their final farewells to Cesare. His widowed father stood as rigidly as a guardsman. Umberto choked back sobs as he stared at his nephew. Eugenio's knuckles were as white as his younger brother's face. Mariella keened softly in the corner. And Alessandro his face was expressionless. He did not so much as blink as the coffin lid was fastened down. He would see Cesare again, of that he was sure. As would his wife. They would see Cesare's face every day as they looked at the swelling of her as-yet-unborn child. She would love that child as she had loved Cesare. And he would hate that child, as he had hated Cesare. And, who knows, perhaps Cesare would die again
Archived comments for the Brotherhood
Rab on 29-04-2016
the Brotherhood
Short, but chilling. Who was the valet making the two whiskies for?

Author's Reply:
Hi, Rab,
The two whiskies were for Alessandro and his wife Mariella but looking back on the story, I probably didn't make it clear.
Thanks for reading.
Steve. 🙂

QBall on 29-04-2016
the Brotherhood
Nice work. It is what I call a 'family' story. One small typo second line - 'the the' which is easily rectified.


Author's Reply:
Thanks, Qubes. 🙂
Sometimes short pieces are more difficult to write than longer ones.

amman on 29-04-2016
the Brotherhood
Chilling indeed. Revenge/justice meted out in true Sicilian fashion. Excellent write.
Cheers.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the read and comment, Tony. 🙂

Mikeverdi on 30-04-2016
the Brotherhood
Loved it, great story telling.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Mike. 🙂
It was just under a thousand words until I kicked it into shape. Sometimes less is more (except if it's grog).

sirat on 02-05-2016
the Brotherhood
I doubt if any of you will have noticed but I can sometimes be a bit pedantic and picky when it comes to comments. This one was highly atmospheric and 'worked' for me, but I think it might have been better if the number of names could have been limited more. I found myself going back to try to work out who was who. Also why did the mourners come from Corsica (French territory) and not Sicily? I'm probably just showing my ignorance here, maybe Corsica is full of Italian Mafioso too for all I know.

A couple of technical points. You seem to have a lot of section divisions, or maybe they're paragraphs, as well as some other kind of paragraph divisions within them where you take a new line for a new sentence. Confusing to my proof-reader's soul. Also the very last sentence – surely Cesare's son dying isn't quite the same as Cesare dying. Or maybe I misunderstood that line?

A good solid piece of flash fiction though. Reminiscent of that Robert Browning poem 'My Last Duchess'.

Author's Reply:
Nothing the matter with being pedantic and picky on a writers site - no point in wearing unpolished shoes with a good suit. 🙂
I toyed with using father/brother/uncle etc instead of the relative's names but it didn't seem to suggest any intimacy (if that's the right word). I could well be wrong on that one, though. Corsica has - or at least had - Mafia links, mainly with drug smuggling, I believe.
You're right, the formatting does need some attention, I'll get onto that.
Thanks for the comments.


All Change (posted on: 01-04-16)
A quick entry for the April 1st Prose Challenge

I was a half-crown once. 1970 did me in, the bastard. Everyone started to get rid of us to make way for decimalised coins. I had a bit of pulling power before then, yes-sir. Yep, I could tell you a few tails (and heads). But no point on going on about it because you're not interested. Anyhow, as I was saying, I used to be a half-crown, but after being smelted, ingotted and stored for a few years I was struck into a pound coin. No one out there bigger than me. The first day I was idling in the lounge bar till of the Hound and Hogshead, waiting for the lunchtime drinkers to take me out. I was reminiscing about my earlier incarnations to the smaller change in the next compartment but they just turned their heads. I was trying to tell them about the six months I spent in Buckingham Palace. It's true, no bull. I'd fallen out of Lord Gribshaw's back pocket and slipped down the back of a velvet chaise longue. I don't suppose he missed me. It's amazing what you meet in those hidden places: lollipops, beads, leaking pens, fluff-covered boiled sweets and hair clips. Well, eventually one of the cleaners found me with the tips of her fingers and the next thing I knew, I was being exchanged for a vodka & lime and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. I had to work quite hard after that. Must have been in and out of the till at least thirty times that evening until I finished up in the pocket of a milkman who had to be up at three in the morning. I could have done with a bit of a scrub-up, especially after that fishmonger ended up with me twice, but the matter was out of my hands, if not the milkman's. The next thing I knew, I was in a soft hand that smelled of Wrights Coal Tar soap. "Thanks, Eddie," I heard a woman's voice say, "Do you want to come in for a quick cuppa?" Click went her purse, and then it's all black again. It was a very noisy cup of tea: it sounded like they were having it on a trampoline. So that was that for a while until two sticky fingers grabbed me and I joined two marbles and a piece of chewing gum with fluff on it. Then it's over the counter bags of gobstoppers, fruit drops and rainbow chocolates went the other way. A newspaper shop I'd know that smell anywhere. No sooner was I in the till than I was out of it again. This time I was part of a tobacco deal. My new owner had a hole in his pocket. I hung on for as long as I could, but it got bigger and bigger and then I was sliding down a hairy leg. I bounced off his shoe and rolled along the pavement. All I could see was this great big hand reaching out for me as the world went round and round and then I was falling again. The water wasn't very cold, not that it bothers me anyway, and it wasn't that deep, either. There was this grill above me with a hand poking through it. It was about three inches short of me and its fingers were wriggling furiously. Then they disappeared, along with the cursing. So I spent the night in the gutter. I was in the company of a lot of people because a similarly-indisposed sixpence told me that England were out of the World Cup. And to think I'd been sharing a house with the Queen until two days ago. Somebody fished me out about a year later. A council worker from the Sewers Department. I went into the Churchill Arms with him and that was my swansong. I was carted off to the bank the next day along with a dozen or so other obsolescent coins. Just as salmon return to their spawning ground to die, we were bagged up and sent to the Royal Mint again. I recognized one of the guys who'd shovelled me around the last time. We went into the furnace: halfpennies, pennies, thruppences, sixpences, florins and a fountain pen that fell out of somebody's shirt pocket. I went through the same old routine of being rolled, punched, stamped, and inspected. Even though I looked pretty smart, it was a comedown to be resurrected as a fifty pence piece. No milled edge for me, damnit. Not all bad though one advantage of being seven-sided is you don't roll quite so easily. I didn't really fancy spending any more time in the gutter. Nothing very interesting happened for a while; it was the same old thing, backwards and forwards between supermarkets, over the bookmaker's counter, pub lunches, that sort of thing, although once I had a day-trip to France. Garlicky fingers pushed me back over dimly-lit bars a few times. I'd never been that close to francs before and it was exciting to rub heads with silver mademoiselles. Then I got lost again. Lyme Bay, I think it was. I was feeling pretty tarnished when a metal detector found me a couple of months later. I had a spell in a Portsmouth brothel, too. Ended up under the bed for a week or so, along with a heap of discarded foil contraceptive packets. I felt strangely close to one of them, but it didn't go any further. Moving on the Paddington to Plymouth train bent and flattened me like Plasticine when it pulled out of Taunton. I did feel a little peculiar as the wheels passed over me, but not as peculiar as the woman's handbag must have felt. So that was me back in the smelter again. So here I am, a sparkling two-pound coin. Short of accidents, I'm here for good and I shall never be anything else. I'm proud to British.
Archived comments for All Change
sirat on 01-04-2016
All Change
To be honest it brought back memories of my school days. "Your homework for English is to write a composition called 'The Story of a Sixpence', and I don't want any misspellings or bad grammar." Those were the days!

It's a well-sutained joke and kept me amused all the way through. One way to make it more substantial, if you wanted to, would be to give the coin's soul a stronger character. Money has a peretty poor reputation, morally speaking, so I think it should be a villain. Every life it touches should be devastated, ever person who handles it diminished by its evil influence. And it could continually deny that it had any part whatsoever in the capture and subsequent execution of Jesus Christ. But I digress. A good amusing story.

Author's Reply:
This one was just a throw-together for the challenge and I didn't put as much thought into the plot as I usually would. There's probably more mileage in it for the future. Thanks for taking a look. 🙂

Mikeverdi on 02-04-2016
All Change
HaHa! Yep, that was well worth the read. I thought you handled the story well. Thanks for posting young Ex.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Mike. Not one of my better efforts but there wasn't much time to get it in.
Hope you're keeping well.
Steve

e-griff on 04-04-2016
All Change
Well worth reading. Typical of your humour and comes across very well, a credible mood sustained throughout with sufficient points of interest to keep it bouncing along. Enjoyed it muchly, and chuckled! 🙂

Hope you join in again. You are most welcome ...

Author's Reply:
Thanks for checking it out, John. Very much a jury-rigged effort and would benefit from a stretch and overhaul if I ever decide to make it into a proper story.
Steve 🙂

e-griff on 04-04-2016
All Change
Modesty? Methinks thou dost protest too much! I know you are meticulous about your efforts. But sometimes an idea, not worked over or polished too much, can have a freshness an overworked piece lacks. Don't be afraid to let go. (and don't apologise 🙂 ) best. G

Author's Reply:


Behind the Mask (posted on: 21-09-15)
A re-jigged story from years ago for the September 21st Prose Challenge.

A smartly-dressed man of middle age hurried along the pavement. He kept to the shadows, avoiding the yellow pools of lamplight that punctuated the deserted boulevards of the Latin Quarter. After a while, he turned left, past the Caf Pissarro in Rue Locmine. There was a light above the entrance door of a three-storey apartment block. He went inside, climbed a flight of stairs and walked along a short passageway to the door at the end. He took a key from his pocket and opened it. Once he was inside, he placed his briefcase on the hallway table, smoothed his gloves and put them next to it with the fingers towards the wall. Then he removed his hat, scarf and overcoat, hung them carefully on the hat stand, changed into carpet slippers and put his shoes onto the doormat, exactly in line with the skirting board. When he was satisfied that everything was just so, he took a velvet bag from the briefcase, unlocked the door at the end of the hallway and entered his studio. *** He looked at the office clock, swept a crumb from his lap, and folded away his lunch napkin. As he opened his ledger, a colleague sitting opposite him burst out laughing and pushed the Monday morning edition of Le Journal Parisienne across the desk. 'A fine advertisement for the police force, Jean-Guy look at this, at the bottom of the page, next to the cartoon.' Villon picked up the newspaper and read the column. TAKEN FROM UNDER THEIR NOSES! Red-faced chief of police, Paul Hamonic, admitted that the death mask of executed mass-murderer, Henri Thibault, the so-called Strangler of Picardy, had been stolen from the Musee des Criminels at some time over the weekend. Thibault, who went to the guillotine in 1935, was convicted of the murders of twenty-four women. Nothing else, according to Hamonic, appeared to be missing. Villon snorted and put the paper down. 'A sorry state of affairs, to be sure. No wonder Paris is teeming with crime when the police can't even keep their own buildings secure. And this is what we pay our taxes for.' 'But who would want to steal a death mask, for heaven's sake?' said his colleague. 'Yes, who indeed,' said Villon, 'Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do.' *** Villon returned to his apartment after his customary single drink at the Bar Pissarro. As always, at five-thirty precisely, he arrived at the pavement caf, sat at his favourite table and waited for Herve, the waiter, to bring him a Ricard to be enjoyed as he read the evening paper. And at six o'clock precisely, he walked the seventy-five metres home, leaving the exact money for his drink. His apartment was as clean and orderly as an operating theatre, barely giving the impression of actually being lived in. But, like Janus, there were two faces to him. His obsessions from ensuring that not a single centime was adrift in his ledger, to the polishing, inside and out, of every lampshade in his home extended to the adulation of notorious sociopaths; a complete paradox of his own well-ordered existence. His studio contained scores of volumes on, among others, the Marquis de Sade, Adolf Hitler, Henri Landru, Torquemada, Caligula, Aleister Crowley and, his current interest, Henri Thibault. He trembled in anticipation as he unlocked his studio and switched on the lighting. At the end of the mannequin-lined room, hanging under a cluster of red and green spotlights, was the death mask of The Strangler of Picardy. The face of a humble rail clerk who read Latin, Ancient Greek, philosophy and theology. An accomplished violinist, expert in Rennaissance art, book collector, opera lover, songbird breeder, horticulturist and butcher of prostitutes. He was charged with the killing of twenty-four women. He argued, in his perverse logical manner, that he had accounted for only twenty-three of the victims and should, as such, be acquitted of one murder: that of a young mother. The jury disagreed with him and he went to his execution complaining loudly at the miscarriage of justice. Many said that he had lost his head long before he went to the guillotine. Villon marvelled at the mask. The metallic skin glittered under the soft lighting as he moved his head from one side to the other. He extended his hands without conscious thought and caressed the pockmarked cheeks as a lover might. His fingertips tingled, as though an electric charge had been applied. The hair on his knuckles rose like the hackles of a dog the face was suddenly warm, soft, pliable. Fear knotted his throat. His lips began to tremble. He tried to tear himself away but it was as if his fingers were welded to the mask and his feet to the floor. The eyelids, closed for over six decades, flickered. And then a strange energy effervesced inside him; a power greater than any he had ever imagined. The fear left him, instantly, replaced by a thrill of raw pleasure. He drew his shoulder blades together until they were almost touching and threw his head back, exposing his throat to the lurid mask. Every breath jolted him, every breath was a charge of sensuality that surged through his body. And then, as abruptly as it had taken him, the rapture faded, leaving him teetering on the edge of a dark precipice. The face on the wall shimmered once and dulled. He cried out, ran his fingers over it again and again, frantic for the force. It was cold. The life was gone from it. The conduit was broken. But his fever remained. He switched off the spotlights and rushed from the studio in the thralls of sexual ecstacy. *** Villon noted the expression on Herve's usually neutral face. 'Good evening again, sir. And for the lady?' Villon nodded. 'The same for both of us, if you please.' Herve filled another glass from the bottle on his tray and returned to the bar where he waited, as Villon knew, for the nine o'clock rush of reporters from the offices of the daily newspaper across the street. And at nine-thirty, when he could barely hear his companion over the animated chatter of thirsty journalists, Villon counted out the exact money for the drinks and left, taking her with him. He led his escort up the creaking stairs to his apartment. The bar, he could see through the landing window, was now tightly packed. He unlocked the door and ushered her into the study. 'Please, mademoiselle, make yourself comfortable.' She took a chair by the fireplace and crossed her legs provocatively. Villon's heart pounded and he began to sweat as she adjusted her skirt to reveal a stocking top and garter strap. 'Such a magnificent library,' she murmured, looking at the bookshelves that lined two entire walls of the room, 'Is m'sieur a professor or a lawyer, perhaps?' Villon smiled. 'This is but a small part of my collection, mademoiselle. Alas, I am no more than a clerk. My interests, however, are many. And now, if you will excuse me, I must freshen up. Will you allow me to bring you a drink? What would you like?' She smiled in return and ran her tongue over her lips. 'Whatever m'sieur likes is perfectly acceptable to me. My tastes are also varied.' 'No doubt,' remarked Villon. He opened a cabinet, brought out a bottle of Chartreuse, filled a glass and passed it to her. 'I shall not be long, mademoiselle,' he continued, 'I look forward to my return.' He leaned over, kissed her cheek, left the study and hurried down the hallway. He glanced behind, unlocked his studio and switched on the ceiling spotlights again. Two black-uniformed SS officers framed by a swastika looked towards him with their plastic arms raised in salute. A human skull sat on a chipped executioners block. Medieval cleaving weapons hung from the walls along with portraits of Nero, Robespierre, Mussolini and their like. Henri Thibault looked on, approvingly. A soft educated voice ran through Villon's mind. Each syllable was a descending rung on the ladder to depravity. He reached up. His body vibrated in expectancy. The mask moulded itself to his face like hot wax. Thibault lived. He became warm again as their minds merged into one. The kindling ignited. She was sitting in the wing chair. Their hands reached for her neck from behind and squeezed gently. She arched her back and looked over her shoulder in expectation. Lamplight flowed over the pockmarked face in copper streams. Its eyes glowed like embers. The thin lips unfolded into a smile. Solder-like globules of sweat trickled down its cheeks. The voice was gentle, refined. 'Enchante, mademoiselle.' Their fingers drew tighter around her throat. Her eyes bulged in their sockets. She screamed, tore the hands away and threw herself forward, spilling the drink down her sweater. They hurled the chair aside. Her shrieks brought the street outside to a halt. The little bar at the end of the pavement emptied as journalists, never too drunk to find a good story, rushed to the source of the noise. A dozen men burst into the apartment but by then it was all over. Villon was still laughing as the gendarmes took him away. *** Unlike The Strangler of Picardy, Jean-Guy Villon was spared the guillotine by an act of Government, passed twenty years previously. The death mask of Henri Thibault was eventually returned to its place in the Musee des Criminels, this time well secured, like Villon. When viewed in a certain light, there appeared to be a slight smirk upon its face. Like Villon, Thibault was meticulous. The books were balanced. He had been executed for the murder of twenty-four prostitutes. .
Archived comments for Behind the Mask
bluepootle on 21-09-2015
Behind the Mask
I love the collection, the mask, the macabre feel of it all. I think the dialogue is really well done too.

It's mainly told from Villon's perspective, which is great, but then you switch during the attack itself so we see the mask, and I felt that was the moment when we should really be in his head, and behind the mask with him. I think I might have had him examine his own appearance in a mirror, or seat the prostitute in front of a large mirror, so he could watch the mask in the act, so to speak - because the description of the mask in the lamplight is great. So my suspicion is that the attack itself needs tweaking, but apart from that I got caught up in it, and it has one of those great last lines that gives the reader a shivery sense of satisfaction. Good stuff.

Author's Reply:

Kipper on 21-09-2015
Behind the Mask
A very good story, very well told. My interest maintained to the end.
Deserved the nib!
Michael.

Author's Reply:

TheBigBadG on 22-09-2015
Behind the Mask
Yep, I like this. My favourite bits are the little details that almost slip past like the flickering eyelids. The moment when Thibauld takes over is clear, but there's that lifelong grey area where the man fascinated by monsters may not know, or even care, that the mask is working on him. It all serves to make Villon more unpleasant. Maybe more so than Thibauld because he seems so adoring of these murderers. Rather unsettling.

With Blue's point, it's worth considering but I also get why you pulled back. I'd weigh her (good) suggestion of bringing the PoV back into Villon/Thibauld against the risk of over-egging. So do bring it inside their head (I'm enjoying the odd grammar describing this requires by the way) but I'd want to know about the relationship between mask and man more than a dead body. Maybe hint at why he's laughing?

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 22-09-2015
Behind the Mask
As with rabs, a story that has been told before many times. Nevertheless, worth telling again. I found the repeated 'he's' disconcerting at the start and indeed, wonder if you need the first section at all.
It's always best, IMO to establish a character's name up front. So the traditional method (ie starting with 'Villon....' is probably best). I was slightly confused between him rushing out in sexual... And picking up the woman in a restaurant. I wonder if herve and the reporters business there is necessary - I know it's probably so we can see villons deliberate timing, but that may be a detail too far, and not necessary imo
, otherwise the telling moved clearly and interestingly along.

Author's Reply:


Kalaf (posted on: 10-07-15)
A re-vamped story of mine from an extinct publishing company.

An eternity, it seemed, had passed since he had entered the rainforest. The unending struggle against undergrowth. Mosquitos. Swamps. Leeches. Festering grazes. Gnawing hunger. And, worst of all, the leaden air the crushing humidity that sucked his stamina like some insatiable vampire. On the sixth day he could go no further. There was no more energy left in the bank. He stumbled on yet another moss-covered root and collapsed. Branches shivered above him as a rising breeze signalled yet another tropical storm. As the Belgian pushed himself up, his heart leapt there, under his nose, was the shape of a footprint in the wet soil. A human footprint. Dirty water was seeping into the indentation. He lurched to his feet and stared into the gloom. A thin lance of light suddenly pierced the green overcast and there, in a clearing, ten metres away stood a small black man, bathed in the silver ray. The Belgian rubbed his eyes and squinted at the figure again was this a malarial hallucination or was it reality? He grabbed a tree trunk and pulled himself up. 'Help, HELP, for the love of Christ.' The African started at the croak and ran into the shadows, leaving an empty shaft of brilliance in his place. The Belgian slid to his knees and sobbed until his chest ached. 'Come back, damn you, come back, come back...' *** The current spun him around and around and around until he barely knew in which direction he faced. He cursed in the blinding spray and thrust his paddle into the water to counteract the mad pirouette but it was useless the river was now his master, no matter how much he fought it. The bow dipped, it took in water and rolled as the current gripped it again. Before he could counter the swing, the canoe broached. Then it was all over he was pitched out and hammered under the torrent along with the rifle and provisions and tent and skins. He rolled along the river bed like some crazy acrobat. The submerged rocks grated his flesh and dashed the air from his lungs. He struck out for the surface but his sodden clothes and boots held him back. Surging thunder filled his ears and a clamp tightened around his chest *** He thrashed out and gagged. Then it was nothing other than cool water running down his chin and onto his shoulders. He opened his eyes. He was safe. Safe. On dry land. On a mat under a hut entrance. An old man in a loincloth crouched at his side with a bowl in his hand. The Belgian pushed himself up and looked around. He was inside a thorned enclosure, perhaps twenty metres wide. There was a small fire in the centre surrounded by a dozen more stick and leaf huts. A group of women and children watched him from a distance. 'Where am I?' His voice was little more than a mumble. The old man answered in coarse French. 'This is the village of my people. We found you in the swamp and brought you here.' 'I owe you a great debt I'd have died in there even if the river hadn't got me.' The old man's eyes widened. 'You came from the Lalunga?' 'Yes my canoe overturned at the rapids and I tried to find my way out of the forest. I don't ' A spear of pain stabbed at his head. He grunted and fell back onto the mat as the malarial chills fell upon him again. *** The fever was no more than a glowing ember when he awoke many hours later, leaving him feeling like a wrung-out sponge. 'Ca' va?' The old man was squatting next to a basket of papayas and guavas. The Belgian pulled himself upright. His head started spinning with the sudden exertion. 'A bit rickety,' he said, 'but I think the worst is over, thank Christ.' He saw that the village was still empty of men. 'Where are the others?' 'They are hunting in the forest. They will be three days or more.' The old man cut two papayas in half with his knife and passed them over. 'Now you must eat.' The fruits were no more than seeds and juice in the Belgian's beard a minute later. Then the old man some poured golden liquid from a gourd and offered him the bowl. The Belgian sipped it cautiously. It was like honey: thick and sweet but with an after-bite that warmed his tongue. He drank some more and licked his lips. 'Marvellous! What is this?' 'Kalaf,' said the old man, 'a medicine from the forest.' The Belgian slept very well that evening. *** The following day he was recovered enough to take a short walk around the enclosure. Somewhere in the forested distance came the sound of women singing and the happy squeals of children playing. He found his rescuer behind the main hut, squatting as usual, pulverising leaves and herbs with a pestle and mortar. 'Bonjour, you are well?' 'Yes, thank you. I think I'll soon be fit enough to leave. There'll be river ferries at Lokolobeng that can take me home.' The old man rubbed his chin. 'Lokolobeng the trail to Lokolobeng is rugged, even for us. Perhaps a day or two more of rest and food will prepare you for the journey and then we can help you on your way.' The Belgian considered this. He was anxious to be away but it was true that he wasn't ready for much more than a gentle walk. He squeezed the old man's shoulder. 'I think you're right, I'm very grateful for your hospitality.' *** The rains were heavy and a thick blanket of humidity clung to the village. As yet the hunters had not returned. Whilst the old man built up the fire, the Belgian repaired his boots and clothing with strips of sinew and a thorn needle. Eventually the heat of the blaze drove them back to the doorway of the hut, where they sat until daylight passed into evening and the enclosure was lit by dancing flames. The forest became alive with screeches, piercing calls and grunts. After a while, the old man slipped into the hut and returned with two calabashes of kalaf. He gave one to the Belgian. The mixture was even more potent than when he had last tasted it and within a few minutes he was lying on the ground with his hands behind his head. A branch cracked loudly in the blaze; the sound seemed to go on and on and on. The old man broke the relaxed silence. 'I have a tale to relate if you are interested; it is very famous among our people and concerns the beast whose roar turns bowels to water; Mbadaba the Leopard God.' The Belgian was familiar with these convoluted, moralistic folk tales. He nodded, swallowed a little more kalaf and listened to the old man's story. 'It was many moons ago, in the time of my father's father's father. There lived a traveller, Letuku, wishful of crossing the Great Forest to visit The Mountain That Thunders. But Letuku was vain and sought no permission from the forest gods and of this consequence became lost. For many days he was without sustenance, rivers shrank away and fruits refused to grow. 'High above, Baki, the night owl passed by. 'O, wise and wonderful owl, guide me from this terrible place,' implored the foolish traveller, but the owl was without mercy, for not only had Letuku failed to seek permission to enter the forest, he had brought no gifts for the mighty tree spirits. And so the traveller continued even deeper into the forest and became even further lost; he could see no stars to plot his path, for the trees clasped each other and their leaves became as a green cloud. 'Presently he came across Diyoka, the snake, and beseeched him for the knowledge to leave this accursed place. And Diyoka was also without compassion, for Letuku had angered the gods by the manner of his coming. 'I am humble and therefore there are no obstacles in my path.' spoke the snake, and slithered into the undergrowth. And still Letuku was without food or water. 'After many days, the traveller became nothing but a skeleton and even the insects found him not worthy of feed. Yet Letuku plunged even deeper into the forest. It came to pass that Mbadaba, the leopard god, became exceedingly angered by the impudence of the wayward traveller and sought to put an end to this intrusion. Mbadaba pursued Letuku who had irritated him so, but the traveller, by virtue of his thin body, was able to elude the leopard god by slipping inside a small cave whose width did not permit Mbadaba to enter. 'Mbadaba roared and scratched but Letuku was safe inside his refuge. While the leopard god raged, Letuku cast his eyes around the cave and there, in great quantities, lay succulent fruits, nuts, meats and gourds of sweet cool water. Letuku fell upon these victuals and gorged himself until his hunger was satisfied. 'For ten days and ten nights, Mbadaba waited outside the cave but the traveller would not leave, for there was food and water in plenty. At length, Letuku wished to explore his surroundings but was afraid to do so, for he had no fire with which to see his way. Instead, to pass the time, the traveller took to provoking Mbadaba, making much of that the leopard could not catch a lowly mortal, despite his status as a god. 'At this, Mbadaba remained silent. 'And that very night, it chanced that a spear of moonlight penetrated the thickness of the trees and shone directly into the cave. Letuku's,wits were sharp. He picked up an empty calabash and caught the beam inside. 'At last I have light,' he cried, 'and am now able to leave this place.' The traveller ran to the cave entrance, pointed the calabash at Mbadaba and shone the light into his eyes. 'Farewell, impotent god, for I am now rested and replete and so must make my way to The Mountain That Thunders.' And, to torment the leopard god even further, Letuku threw a large bone, which struck him upon the head. 'At this, Mbadaba rose up and slowly walked away. Letuku, shook with laughter, collected food and water for his journey, pointed the moonlight calabash into the darkness of the cave and went on his way. After a short time, the traveller, singing and rejoicing, became alarmed to see two glowing green eyes in the darkness ahead. 'Who goes there?' cried Letuku fearfully. 'It is I, Mbadaba, the Leopard God, whom you sought to mock,' roared the mighty beast. At this, the traveller dropped his provisions and ran back to the mouth of the cave, afraid for his life. And Mbadaba padded slowly after him, content in the knowledge that Letuku, after many days of feasting, would not be able to pass through the small entrance to make his escape into the forest. 'And so the forest took revenge upon a traveller who had no right to enter its domain and Letuku, for his many days of gluttony, made an even better meal for Mbadaba.' The African threw a branch into the roaring fire, sending up a huge shower of sparks. The story was over. The Belgian appreciated the clever twists of folklore. 'Cca alllllorrrsss' The words would not come. He tried again but his lips and tongue would not move. Nor would his body. He was paralysed. A tide of panic rolled through him. He stared at the old man but he looked back impassively. Then, in the corner of his eye, he saw the tribe lope into the enclosure. And as they began to sing and build up the fire, he realised with dreadful finality that of such things are legends made.
Archived comments for Kalaf
bluepootle on 13-07-2015
Kalaf
I particularly like the telling of the fable, which is really well done. It's got one of those great dark unpleasant endings that makes you feel a bit grim. Exactly to my taste! (Suitably enough...)

Author's Reply:
Bleak over chic, I say - happy endings are for Mills & Boonists. 🙂
Thanks for the read.


The Terminator (posted on: 16-01-15)
A pruning of something written about ten years ago. It might be frightening, one way or the other. 🙂

THE TERMINATOR. He washed his hands in the none-too-clean sink and pulled on his surgical gloves. It was the third time they had been used that day. There was a tear across the back of one of them where he had tugged too hard earlier but the patient would never notice. Friday. The one day of the week he tried his best to stay straight, his only working day. Sometimes there would be as many as six operations to perform: shamed Asian women, girls barely out of school, girls sometimes still at school and the occasional middle-class woman careless enough not to have taken precautions while her husband was away. Five hundred pounds apiece. It would do. 'She's ready now, Doctor.' His nursing assistant always addressed him as 'Doctor'. It was good for consumer confidence. But his patients knew no better. Dr Anton McVie General Practitioner. He still had the framed diploma somewhere. It was worthless now. He would never practice again. At least not legally. 'All right, Jaspal, I'll be there in a moment.' He placed a stethoscope around his neck as a visual comfort, straightened his white coat and stepped across the corridor into the rented office that doubled as a surgery. Jaspal was covering the patient's abdomen with a sheet. The patient was from Dublin and eleven weeks pregnant. McVie guessed she was in her late teens and as disgraced as he was. 'Right, Miss Donnelly, nothing to be afraid of, it's all quite routine. Should be all over and done with within half an hour.' 'I've never been operated on before, Doctor,' she said thinly. 'As I explained earlier, it's a simple procedure; I'll give you a local anaesthetic in a few minutes and when your cervix is numbed, we'll insert a tube into it. After that, we'll scrape your uterus and suck out the contents; you won't feel any discomfort. There'll be a little bleeding for a while but it's nothing to be concerned about, just take it easy for a day or two. OK are you ready?' The girl nodded uncertainly. Jaspal passed him a hypodermic. *** McVie noticed that his hands were beginning to tremble as the last patient was ushered into the surgery. He motioned her to sit and looked at his watch. It was almost four o'clock. He began to anticipate his next fix; the money he had earned today would buy him enough to last until next Thursday if he were careful. The woman was Nigerian, according to Jaspal, and well into her second trimester. She was tall and slim and in her thirties. Her high cheekbones were accentuated by cicatrices, two on either side. He looked at her belly and estimated her to be at least twenty-two weeks pregnant. 'Good afternoon, Miss Obamwonyi. This won't' 'Mrs Obamwonyi.' 'Sorry Mrs Obamwonyi. This shouldn't take too long but I must tell you that there may be some discomfort for a while; you are fairly advanced in your pregnancy. The bleeding could be heavy and you're not going to be mobile for two or three days. I don't need to remind you that we're not exactly working within the constraints of the law, so any other medical treatment could cause me great problems. Do you have somebody to collect you afterwards? I'm afraid we don't have the facilities for post-operative treatment here.' The woman nodded. 'Can we begin?' McVie opened the door. 'Jaspal would you prepare Mrs Obamwonyi, please.' The woman fingered a leather pendant. 'I have a request to make, Doctor. You may perhaps find it unusual.' Her English was good, even though tinted by a heavy accent. 'And what would that be, Mrs Obamwonyi?' 'The baby I would like to keep it. In a jar, if you have one.' McVie gaped. 'You wish to keep the foetus?' 'We have our own ways in certain matters, Doctor. Is there a problem with this?' 'Well it is rather a rare request. Could I ask the purpose of' 'No, Doctor. We I have my reasons. If there is some difficulty with this, perhaps I should go elsewhere.' 'No, no, Mrs Obamwonyi, there is no problem. It's just that well I've never known a mother wish to see the foetus, never mind keep it.' The woman looked at McVie. 'Good. Well, are you ready?' He began to feel that he was no longer in control of the situation; there was something disconcerting about her self-assurance in what was normally an upsetting situation. 'Yes, I'm ready if you are, Mrs Obamwonyi. If you'd care to follow Jaspal.' *** The termination was difficult and messy; McVie was perspiring and it was obvious from Jaspal's repeated glances that she had noticed the trembling of his hands. Mrs Obamwonyi lay motionless and silent, staring at the ceiling. After twenty minutes, the embryo was expelled; a bloody, mucus-covered black shape. It was easily recognisable as boy. Jaspal handed McVie a jar and he made to pick up the foetus. It coughed feebly and opened its eyes. A tiny hand flexed its fingers and reached out towards him. A faint cry dripped from its mouth and then it was still. Jaspal screeched and lurched against the wall, McVie reeled, unable to believe what he'd just seen. And from behind the surgical sheet, the mother began to sing. *** The dealer counted the twenty-pound notes. 'Yeah, it's all here. Been a good week, has it, Doc?' He pushed the packet of cocaine over the table. McVie pounced on it like a spider lording an empty web. 'Not as good as yours, I'll wager,' he grunted as he slipped the package into his jacket, 'I hope this is better than the last lot.' 'Hey if you're not happy about the quality, you can go elsewhere; I won't have any trouble turning the stock over without you.' McVie flinched. 'Sorry, sorry, sorry no reflection on you, old man, it's just that the quality is er a little erratic sometimes.' The dealer lit up a cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke towards McVie's face. He knew the Doc did not like smoking. 'Look I get what I'm given but as it happens, I've just got my hands on some top-grade gear from Bolivia. Interested?' He stood up, opened a sideboard drawer and brought out a foil package. McVie watched with hungry eyes as the dealer unfolded it and poured a thin line of white powder onto the cover of a magazine. 'Check it you won't be disappointed.' *** McVie drove home from the dealer's flat in a euphoric mood. The sample had been as good as his dealer claimed and he now had several days of relief to look forward to. Thank God for burst condoms, loose morals and social stigmas, he thought; the wages of sin were also the wages of a struck-off doctor. An hour later, he closed his eyes and sank into another world. *** Long, curling black strands impeded his passage. He waved them aside and pushed himself into the tunnel. A warm moistness swirled around him, swamping his senses. The walls pressed against him. Soft. Resilient. Comforting. A rushing sound swelled around him. Water coursing through pipes. Pulsing. Heavy. Keeping time with his footfall. A hissing world of velvet blindness. Each pulse constricted the tunnel behind him. Propelled him forward. He began to panic. He turned to retreat from the unknown but the walls closed against him. Pitched him violently back. Back towards the source of the noise. A sick fear pounded inside him. And then the cries started. A forlorn mewling as he was extruded along the tunnel. Flailed against the rubber-like walls. The cries grew to shrieks and moans. A cold blade of fright slashed at him. The tunnel hurled him into a bedlam of noise. He fell and clutched at his ears to block the sounds. And then the invisible terror revealed itself. Tiny hands caressed his legs like seaweed in a tide. Their fingers tugged at him. Pulled at him. Gripped him. He screamed. The bedlam ceased. The centipede of fingers released him. Then a giggle. A silvery giggle. The blackness of the cavern brightened to a warm, red glow. He could see it all, now he was surrounded by it. The cervix the uterus the placenta. The canal of life. The scores of ill-formed foetuses huddled together now. Their hands clutched each other for comfort. Their eyes watched him through transparent lids. Some of the abortions were smiling. Some looked at him curiously. Others stared at him accusingly. McVie leapt to his feet. Something cold and clammy touched his hand. He looked down. He screamed again a long fear-saturated scream. A mucus-smeared shape was crouching next to him. Its eyes were wide open. It looked at him adoringly. It was a boy. It was black. It was twenty centimetres tall. And it was speaking as the perfectly formed fingers reached out for his. The first word was stiff of but he heard it quite clearly. 'Daddy.' And, one by one, the other little shapes began to creep forward. Some were white. Some were black. Some were Asian. Some were horribly deformed. But they all spoke the same language. 'Daddy.' 'Daddy!' 'Daddy?' 'Daddy' 'Da-a-a-a-ddy-y-y-y-y' They drowned out his shrieks as surely as he had stifled theirs. *** On the other side of the city, Agnes Obamwonyi sat in a rocking chair with a jar in her hands. She was singing softly to herself as the chair moved back and forth. After a while, she stopped singing. She put the jar onto the table beside her. It was empty now, except for the alcohol and a few scraps of waxy skin tissue. She looked at photograph on her lap. It was of her sister, Victoria. Victoria was dead. She had been a student at the London School of Economics. She had died in a bedsit three years ago. Of blood loss and septicaemia. A back-street abortion gone wrong. Just as it was going wrong for Anton McVie right now.
Archived comments for The Terminator
Mikeverdi on 16-01-2015
The Terminator
That was different! Not my usual reading however...I enjoyed it. I find it difficult to critique when I first read something of this nature; so will come back after a short recovery and a large whiskey. 🙂
Mike

Author's Reply:
Hi, Mike,
I found this one under a layer of electronic cobwebs and gave it a quick dusting. It's always interesting to read stories that have been long forgotten. Thanks for the read.
I'm still following your riveting biography - good stuff as ever.
btw, your photo - you could be Severus Snape's stand-in. 🙂
Cheers,
Steve

amman on 18-01-2015
The Terminator
Wow. Excellent story telling. Very graphic, very moral. I like the open-ended finale. Does McVie croak it or descend into madness? I assume (correctly or not) that Mrs O. performed some kind of voodoo (tranference) on him. Do tell. An engrossing read.

Cheers.

Tony.

Author's Reply:
Hi, Tony,
Yes, you're right - Mrs O popped out for a spell.
Does McVie croak it or descend into madness? Only *you* know the answer... 😉
Thanks for reading & commenting,
Steve

bluepootle on 18-01-2015
The Terminator
Brrrrrrrr. Very uncomfortable, and the matter-of-fact tone moves it all along quickly, leading to that well-handled conclusion. I like it.

Author's Reply:
Hi, Aliya,
As usual, my old stories benefit from a good shearing. I wish I was as prolific now as I was ten years ago though. Thanks for the positive feedback.
Regards,
Steve


Old Haymaker (posted on: 03-10-14)
One of The Wheatsheaf's new customers is about to be felled by a haymaker.

'Usual, Clive?' 'Aye,' he said, 'and don't go too far away, Oi's got a fair thirst on today.' Rosie poured his drink, took the money and went back to her crossword. Lunchtimes were always quiet in The Wheatsheaf. Just him and the barmaid today. Things weren't much livelier in Tenworthy either but that's the way he liked it. Village life and farming suited him. So did finishing at one o' clock. The second pint went down a little slower and by the time he was on the third, his equilibrium was more or less in order. He heard the sound of tyres on the car park gravel and looked out of the window. One of them modern SUV things. Three men got out and headed towards the pub. He jerked his head towards the door. 'Looks like rush hour, me lover,' he said, 'grockles Oi 'spect.' Rosie put her paper under the bar and stood up as the customers walked in. Clive inspected them. Two well-built guys in suits and ties and the other in jeans and a checked shirt. Twenty-five or so. Checked Shirt nodded at Clive and smiled at Rosie. 'Hello there! Two Cokes and I'll have' he looked at the taps, 'a pint of Old Haymaker, please.' Clive grinned to himself. Here was one London yuppie heading for a fall. Rosie poured the drinks. 'There you go. That'll be 5.30.' One of The Suits paid and they went over to a table in the bay window. 'Who be they, Oi wonder,' said Clive, 'there be naught in these parts for their like.' 'There's no saying,' said Rosie, 'but the young un could park his tractor in my barn any time. Darned if his face don't ring a bell but I can't place him.' 'Oi were just thinking the same,' said Clive. She looked across at the group. Checked Shirt was smart in a casual way and his light brown hair was short and slightly curly. He sipped his cider and said something to The Suits. They laughed and one of them pointed to a framed poster on the wall. A burly red-faced countryman in a smock was holding a boxing glove in one hand and a flagon in the other. He was beaming and the inscription read: Old Haymaker Packs A Punch. Rosie went back to her crossword and Clive back to his winding thoughts. After a while, Checked Shirt came to the bar again with empty glasses. He looked slightly flushed. So did Rosie when she came to serve him. She fluttered her eyelashes and smoothed down her blouse. 'What'll it be this time, sir?' 'The same again, please. That cider's rather refreshing, isn't it!' Refreshing! said Clive to himself it's getting thee fuddled, that's what it is. A pint or two more'll soon wash them plums from your trap. 'What brings you to Tenworthy, sir?' asked Rosie as she dropped ice cubes into the Cokes. 'We're just passing through,' said Checked Shirt, 'Oxfordshire next stop.' Rosie stared at him for a second or two as she took the money. 'You really remind me of someone but I can't for the life of me think who.' 'Oh?' said Checked Shirt, 'Somebody famous?' 'Yes. I've seen him on TV and in the papers loads of times. You must have a double.' 'Maybe when I've finished my cider.' Rosie giggled. 'I can't think of any comedians that look like you though.' He grinned, took the drinks and went back to his table. Clive had to admit that Checked Shirt seemed a likeable party. He could see Rosie touching up her lipstick in the mirror of the public bar. She obviously thought the same. He pushed his empty glass over the counter when she'd finished her fine tuning. 'Fill 'er up if you've got a mind to.' Rosie looked over at the sound of laughter as she poured him another. Checked Shirt was certainly enjoying his Old Haymaker. It was him who came to the bar again half an hour later. 'Just another for me,' he said a trifle thickly, 'the others are taking it easy. What time do you close?' 'When I decide,' smiled Rosie, 'my parents are on holiday and I'm in charge.' 'I must keep on your good side then,' said Checked Shirt. 'Who might you be?' Rosie squirmed in pleasure. 'Rosie, sir.' 'Well, Rosie, would you have a drink with me?' He turned to Clive. 'And you too, perhaps?' 'That be very kind of thee,' he said, 'Oi'll be having the same as you.' 'Just half of lager for me, as I'm working,' said Rosie. She pulled the drinks. 'That'll be 8.50, thank you.' Checked Shirt paid and held out his pint. 'Well, cheers Rosie and' 'Clive.' 'Well, cheers Rosie and Clive.' He chinked glasses with them and took a mouthful of Old Haymaker. 'Fine stuff, this! It certainly does its job.' 'Aye, that it does,' agreed Clive, 'there's not many as can drink more than four.' 'I can quite believe it,' said Checked Shirt. 'Speaking of which, where are the toilets?' 'Oi was just going that way meself,' said Clive, 'they be on the far side of t'other bar.' Checked Shirt put his palm up to the The Suits as he followed Clive. As they stood one urinal apart, Clive suddenly said: 'Oi reckon you be Prince Marcus! Oi knew Oi'd seen thee afore.' Checked Shirt piddled on his shoe. 'Bugger! You reckoned right.' He zipped up and went to wash his hands. 'I was rather hoping that I wouldn't be recognised, which is why we came here for a quiet drink.' 'Now don't you be worrying yoursel', zur, Clive here won't be giving thee away. Us'll just carry on as we was before. That is, if thee's got a mind to stay.' Prince Marcus slapped him on the shoulders. 'Good man! You've no idea what that means to me. Back to the Old Haymaker then.' The anxious-looking Suits relaxed as they returned. Marcus spoke to them as Clive went to the bar. Rosie was looking extremely excited. 'You know what, Clive, it's just come to me I'm sure that's Prince Marcus, the one that's a pilot in the RAF. I knew he was someone very famous. And to think, he's here and I've been serving him!' Clive took a good swallow of cider and licked his lips. 'Oi've just been talking to him. You be half right.' 'Half right? How can I be half right?' 'Becauz, me lover, he be one of they celebrity lookalikes as get paid for charity balls and that sort of thing. Them other two there be his managers.' Rosie looked disappointed. 'Oh, what a shame. He's the spitting image of Prince Marcus too.' 'Well, 'e never said he were a prince, so he weren't cheating no one, was he? Anyhow, 'e's good company so us'll just treat him the same as anyone else, don't you say?' Rosie nodded absently and went off to the kitchen. Prince Marcus came back to the bar a couple of minutes later. He'd developed a slight seafarer's walk and his cheeks were changing from salmon pink to post box red. He grinned and drank some more Old Haymaker. Clive burped and looked pleased with himself. 'Now then, zur, young Rosie thought she'd tumbled who you be but Oi put her right on that. As far as her knows now, you be one of them celebrity impersonators.' Prince Marcus shook his hand. 'Brilliant! Clive, old chap, you're an absolute genius. And please, call me Marcus.' Clive smiled and shrugged his shoulders. 'She's quite sweet on thee, y'know.' 'Is that so!' said Marcus. 'She is a pretty little thing and I must shay that I approve of her figure.' Clive's eyesight often changed after a few Old Haymakers too. Marcus took a messy swig of his drink and put his hand on Clive's arm. 'D'yer know what I often wish I din't have to mix with the Fenella and Tarquin Champagne Commandos. Life is so less complicated at ground level, wouldn't you shay? Clive wouldn't have said that so he just said 'Arr.' 'Anyway, drink up,' mumbled Marcus, 'letsh have another one, eh? Rosie, my lovely where are you?' Rosie put her head through the kitchen bead curtains. 'Yes, sir?' 'Marcus is the name, my little flower! More of the same if you pleashe.' Rosie perked up and this time accepted a peach schnapps as Marcus insisted on buying a round again. He sounded just like the real prince except for the fuzzy edges. 'I say, is that guitar on the wall for playing or merely an ornament?' he said, as if he'd just had a dental anaesthetic. Clive lifted it down, blew some dust off the soundboard and handed it to Marcus. 'Oi spect' it'll sound a bit queer 'cause it haven't been played since the village fete.' Marcus tuned up for a minute or two and launched into some unsteady Creedence Clearwater Revival and Beatles numbers. Clive gestured for his accordion, which was kept behind the bar, and joined in. Then Rosie came through and sang along with Marcus as he ran through some Elvis Presley songs punctuated by occasional hiccups. They stared into each other's eyes as he started playing I Can't Help Falling in Love with You. Eventually it fizzled out into some unnatural random chords. Rosie whispered wet things into his ear. He liked what he heard, put the guitar down and lurched towards The Suits, who were looking uncomfortable with everything. Words were spoken; some quiet, some loud, some menacing. The problem was resolved. Marcus lurched back. 'I've jusht told my managersh that I'll be shleeping here for a couple'f hours before we havter go.' 'Time, please,' cried Rosie as she led the semi-stupefied Marcus upstairs, 'lock up on your way out, Clive.' Clive watched The Suits grudgingly leave and started to drink the remaining pints of Old Haymaker on the bar. This afternoon had the makings of a right royal knees-up.
Archived comments for Old Haymaker
Mikeverdi on 03-10-2014
Old Haymaker
HaHaHa! That made for an entertaining read. Well written, well told and well laid out; can't ask for more!
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Mike!
This one was just a loosening-up exercise to get me back into the 'write frame' of mind. Still a bit rusty though. I've been a lazy sod for the last few months.
I've almost finished your autobiography and I'll be a bit sad when I get to the last paragraph. A damned good read.
🙂
Steve

amman on 06-10-2014
Old Haymaker

I really enjoyed your little yarn. Held my attention right to the end. Authentic dialogue..nothing forced. Feeling quite thirsty right now.

Cheers.

Author's Reply:
Hi Amman,
I spent a fair few years in the South West so I could actually hear everything Clive said. I've had a few tangles with Devon and Somerset cider so that wasn't difficult to imagine either. 🙂
Thanks for dropping by and commenting,
Steve

Harry on 12-11-2014
Old Haymaker
One of the most atmospheric and dryly humorous pieces pieces I've seen in many a day. Hope you go on with this ... it made my go and look for Mark Twain's "Prince and the Pauper."

Author's Reply:
Thanks for reading and commenting, Harry. Some of the dialogue might seem a little quaint if you don't know south-west England - it has its own vernacular in some areas. The cider (ziderrr) is a kind of equivalent to your moonshine. Caution required. 🙂
Regards,
Steve


In Cold Blood (posted on: 09-06-14)
Death. Sometimes you can take something with you. A revised version of something from 12 years ago.

The station wagon pulled up outside FutureLife Cryonics Centre and two porters pushed a trolley to the rear doors. As soon as the casket was loaded, it was rushed away by the standby team. 'Who've we got this time, Harve?' one of the porters asked the driver. 'Gough Branigan, believe it or not,' said Harve. The younger of the two stepped back. 'He's dead? You kiddin'! What happened?' 'Someone found him floating in the Central Park Boating Lagoon last night. He was half-dead through drowning and near on half-dead through a beating. Busted head, busted arms and fingers, I heard. There wasn't much the surgeons could do for him. Branigan's lawyer had our guys ready for when he bit the dust this morning.' 'Well, this time it's for real,' said the other, 'and he won't be getting an Oscar for it.' Harve laughed. 'Maybe he'll make a comeback yet. See you around.' The two porters chatted to each other as Harve drove off. 'There must've been a dozen or so murders in Central Park over the last three months; it's about time the cops got that goddamn place cleaned up, ain't it.' 'Maybe they'll have to, now that Branigan's gonna be all over the news.' 'You betcha! Ain't no one gonna see the grass for blue uniforms once the mayor's chewed a few asses at Police Plaza. Still, at least they won't have to watch friggin' Shadow Over Laramie or Pearl Harbor Revenge in his honor while they're pounding the park.' *** The brightness filtered into his consciousness long before his memory re-arranged itself. He opened his eyes. An indistinct face hovered above him. He blinked. The face remained. 'Hew'n hell're yew?' 'Welcome back, Citizen Branigan, or should we call you Mister Branigan. That's a very quaint title, nowadays.' Branigan tried to focus on the face. It was semi-opaque; floating a metre above the foot of the bed on which he was lying. There was no body, just a vague featheriness below the neck. 'You seem confused. I'm merely a hologram for quarantine purposes, Citizen Branigan. We can't afford to be careless after almost re-introducing the AIDS 2 virus in '36.' Branigan tried to raise his head from the pillow. It wouldn't move. He tried to move his arms and legs. It was the same. He might as well have been set in concrete. 'Electro-magnetic bandages to prevent support system damage,' said the hologram. Branigan could just see a host of drips and wires on either side of him by moving his eyes. He seemed to be lying in some kind of surgical room with brilliant white walls and a fluorescent ceiling. Something was humming gently in the background. 'Back in '36?' That was twelve years before he was born. 'Oh, I'm sorry, Citizen Branigan: AD 2136 forty-five years ago.' 2136? Branigan wondered when the crazy dream would end it was August, 2002. He had just stepped out from behind Bethesda Fountain in his running kit and 'Citizen Branigan we have some interesting and surprising news for you' *** It was five days before he was ready to move from his bed. The holographic face remained obstinately on station, explaining the procedure as batteries of physiological tests were performed by robotic arms. Skeletal. Muscular. Circulatory. Glandular. Digestive. Nervous. Electrical healing charges were applied to the damaged bones in his hands. Anti-bodies were brought up to date with the twenty-second century. His astigmatism was cured by laser treatment in seconds. The electro-magnetic bandages that had secured him to the bed now massaged and exercised his muscles in preparation for his first steps in 179 years. An analyser automatically produced nutrition bars to balance his fibre, protein and mineral levels. Some had flavours he never tasted before but he ate them anyway. The hologram explained world events since 2002 as he chewed a cube of tuna salad. AIDS 2 had decimated the world population. Korea was a radio-active wasteland. Africa was now run by a Global Asset Management Committee. A meteorite shower had flattened Copenhagen and Malmo. Earthquakes and tidal waves had overwhelmed the West Coast of America and several Pacific island groups had simply disappeared. The tiger, panda, rhinoceros, gorilla, Asian elephant and whale were extinct. Mars had been colonized, the hologram continued, the moon was supplying minerals, most life-threatening diseases had been eliminated, the average Western lifespan was now ninety-two and, as he could see by his own condition, resurrection was quite possible. Branigan found it hard to absorb the changes that had transpired during his 'death'. His mind was still in the Manhattan of 2002, never mind what his ears told him. The hologram explained how to use the bed-side information console. It was fantastic. He could conjure an air-screen 3D encyclopaedia by waving his fingers like a wand. 'Ask for something,' said the hologram. 'New York City,' said Branigan. The screen menu was in front of his eyes before he'd even finished speaking: Maps. Restaurants. Museums. Shopping malls. Travel. Air taxis. 'Map!' he continued. He was flying above the streets using his hand to navigate. Up. Down. Left. Right. Hover. Pan. 'Greenwich Village.' He was there before he could blink. His penthouse on West 11th was gone. So was just about everything he knew. Mushroom colonies of glass domes lined the Hudson. It was the same with Brooklyn and Jersey; even the churches had been replaced by multi-storey modules. He frowned and wandered around for a few minutes without being sure of where he was. 'Central Park.' It was still there, although compressed to half its former size. He brightened. *** Gough Branigan was sitting up with his back against the pillow when he caught his first glimpse of twenty-second-century man. The airlock opened with a slight thump as ambient air rushed into the low-pressure room. A routine precaution, said the hologram, against the escape of harmful bacteria. 'Ah, Citizen Branigan, welcome to the twenty-second century. I'm Clinicist Bevis; this is Assistant Thorne. I trust you're feeling a little better than when you first came to us?' The voice was the same as that of the hologram. Branigan stared at the two white-overalled staff members: a man and woman. 'Well, that wouldn't be difficult, would it I was dead!' The woman smiled. 'Well, you're Lazarus risen now.' She disconnected him from the systems module as Bevis chatted. 'I can't say that I've ever seen your movies, as you call them; we generate our own actors these days. Cheaper, no tantrums and they never age unless we want them to. I hope you've got no plans to get back into your movie business, they're history now.' Branigan scowled. 'OK, shall we see if you can walk?' said Bevis. He grinned and offered his arm. 'Sorry, we haven't got around to levitation yet.' Branigan ignored the invitation and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He lowered his feet gingerly to the floor and let them take his weight. Then he took a few uncertain steps, steadied himself and walked around the room for a minute or so. 'Well done, Citizen!' said Thorn. 'How would you like to see the world outside now? There must be many things you wish to look at after your little sleep.' She opened a storage locker at the side of his bed and passed him a filmy package. 'What's this?' 'It's an OPUS a One Piece Unlined Suit.' Bevis looked over and explained that the suit would maintain his body at a comfortable temperature by the automatic alignment of tiny vent holes. Branigan took his bed gown off and climbed into the suit. It was a virtually weightless. An indicator bar on the flap of the breast pocket showed his body temperature to be just over thirty-eight degrees. He straightened up and looked at himself in the wall mirror. He was pleased with what his reflection told him. Although he was still a little thin, his body didn't seem to be in bad condition for a hundred-and eighty-year lay-off. Except for his wrists The bones hadn't set quite right. A struggle stinging pain as he brought his hands up to protect his face from another blow a vivid, jagged light blackness nothing but blackness Bevis touched his shoulder. 'Ready, Citizen Branigan?' *** He followed the two cryonicists along a gleaming metallic tunnel and into an elevator. Contoured seats lined the sides. Bevis indicated that he should sit. 'Why, where are we going to the centre of the earth?' 'No,' replied Thorne, 'the other way, we're three kilometres below the surface. I'd sit, if I were you, the magmotors are very powerful.' Branigan sat opposite them and watched as Bevis touched a control pad and leaned back. There was a tremendous feeling of acceleration; he felt his head being pushed into his shoulders. It reminded him of a take-off in his private Learjet. The elevator began to decelerate after a minute or so, and with a sudden metallic click, they were still. Bevis and Thorne stood up; he followed suit. The doors opened and there, spread out before him through massive tinted windows in a bustling hall, was New York. He stood like a child in front of a gift-laden Christmas tree. So this was the future! He swerved through the ocean of OPUS-wearing citizens and pressed his face against the glass plates. It was, judging by the position of the sun, sometime around mid-day. The sky was deep blue and cloudless. Each building stood out in perfect detail. There was no pollution. He peered around. A network of monorails was woven above the streets, which were themselves teeming with what appeared to be moving walkways. But what caught Branigan's eye, and held him speechless, was a light blue holographic cube focused at some unknown height above the city. Even from where he stood, on the other side of the river, he could see, in electric yellow font: The Twenty-Second-Century Welcomes Gough Branigan. A brief personal history of him twinkled below. His name in lights again! He had a feeling that he was going to enjoy his resurrection. *** He looked sourly at the latest 'Welcome' holograph. The most recent arrival to 2181 was a Swedish geneticist who had pioneered body part regrowth in 2017. Since his own reappearance six months previously, there had been no less than fourteen arrivals from the past through cryonic channels, each frozen in time, like him. His moment of glory had gone, over in less than a month. A few media interviews, guest appearances at dinners and universities, and once again he was old news. An eclipsed star. In the audacious world of 2181, he was short of nothing. Except fame. *** After a while, he felt the need for his old routine. It was the only activity that made him feel better, more focused, the challenge of never knowing if he could complete the course. The moon was shrouded in thin cloud as he jogged around what remained of Central Park. Only the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bethesda Fountain, and Boating Lagoon were familiar. He stopped and slipped into the shadows. His breathing was rapid in anticipation. He didn't have long to wait and, unlike the last time, there was no struggle. *** He woke early, showered, and looked out of the window of his seventeenth-floor module. The holographic headlines glowed in bright red. Capital Shocked By Murder in Central Park. Gough Branigan stretched, sat down to his breakfast and smiled. He was back in the limelight again.
Archived comments for In Cold Blood
Bonnie on 09-06-2014
In Cold Blood
It's a clever idea. I think people are already being deep frozen- is that right? And what on earth do they think thet'll do if they actually get revived?


Author's Reply:
Thanks for dropping by, Bonnie.
You're right about it happening - Google Alcor, for example. Personally I don't believe it's possible but at the beginning of the last century, no one believed space travel was, either. 🙂
Regards,
Steve

Mikeverdi on 11-06-2014
In Cold Blood
I always think I'm not going to enjoy sci-fi...and then I do!
Great story, I think you could have finished it with his name in lights and him looking forwards; it seemed to run out of steam after that... but thinking about it, maybe that's what you intended?.... anyway I really did enjoy the read and thanks for posting

Author's Reply:
Hi, Mike,
I try to keep my science fiction as unscientific as possible. 🙂
You're very perceptive re the running out of steam - it was echoing Branigan's decline in popularity and his sourness wouldn't have made interesting reading in a short story. So it was a quick jump to the murderous conclusion, which is what the plot was engineered for.
This was another story from my Pipers Ash (RIP) collection and as with the others, it's been trimmed down and tightened up.
Many thanks for reading and commenting,
Steve


Lead Astray (posted on: 05-05-14)
A different sort of Sunday collection in this chapel. (Another one from 12 years ago, stripped down and tidied up.)

There were no mourners. The Earl of Cowicke-on-the-Wolde had no family left to grieve. The monks tightened the scarves around their mouths and began wrapping him in sacking. Then they sealed it with boiling pitch until his body was covered by a thick tarry skin. After a while, when it had cooled, they lifted him into his coffin and slid it onto the cart that stood outside. The wheels creaked under the weight as the abbott led the horse to the chapel on the edge of the estate. When this was done, they returned to the monastery, burned their habits and scrubbed their bodies until the flesh bled. *** Darren Richards mentally rubbed his wallet. He'd just been contracted to remove the demolished remains of two wartime hangars from what was once Royal Air Force Station Cowick-on-Wold. There were at least three hundred tons of good quality steel as well as a several hundred yards of copper cabling for smelting. He drove along a crumbling taxiway past a small ivy-bearded chapel on the western side of the old airfield. It interested him, perhaps there was something to be had. He went back. The weathered and splintered door was locked. He walked around the building but it was the only entrance. Several windows had been boarded up but one in particular caught his attention. It was intact but obscured by a green mould. And the thick panes were intersected by strips of what appeared to be lead. He took a penknife from his pocket and scored a groove in the central strip. It was lead! He trotted back to the Land Rover and drove alongside the lee wall of the chapel, out of sight of anyone passing. Then he took a stepladder from the back of his vehicle, put it onto the hard-top and climbed up to the roof eaves. In ten seconds he could see a small fortune in coverings and flashings. *** He returned to the chapel on the following Sunday at daybreak with his assistant in the passenger seat. Ground mist swirled around the airfield, making remote islands of the derelict control tower and remaining hangars. This time he was driving a pick-up truck with extension ladders hidden under tarpaulins. Darren started untying the covers. 'Let's have one of your smokes before we start,' he said, 'once we get going, we can't stop; you never know who might come along. I don't fancy getting nicked by the cops again.' Kevin looked around. There wasn't even a bird to be seen or heard. 'Yeah me neither. The missus wasn't too happy about the last fine, she never forgave me for not going to Majorca. Five hundred bleedin' quid and two hundred hours Community Service. Gawd don't it grip yer.' 'Well, keep your bloody eyes peeled this time.' Darren lit his cigarette and began to unload the ladders. When they were set up, he climbed the roof and started to strip the lead. Kevin caught and bagged it. By ten o'clock the Transit was sixty kilogrammes heavier. After making another ascent to remove lead from the eastern end of the chapel roof, Darren leaned across the ladder and started to put his weight onto the apex. It creaked ominously. Before he could move back, the central beam collapsed. The rafters gave way like a zip fastener, spilling the purlins and tiles into the building. A second later, the ladder followed with Darren clinging grimly to the rungs. It fell across the pulpit and front pews. The wood flexed and bounced him back into the air as if he were on a trampoline. He landed on his feet and back-pedalled into the wall before he was aware of anything. 'Fookin' hell,' he spluttered and waved his way through the cloud of dust. He picked up a piece of debris and smashed out the panel of a stained glass window. 'Kev. Kevin. Where the hell are you? Kevin's worried face appeared. 'Jeez are you all right, Darren?' 'Yeah I think so. I thought I was toast when that ladder went down. Look there's not even a scratch on me!' 'Plenty of bird shit, though.' 'Get the crowbar and force the door I'm not going back up that fookin' ladder again. Anyway, there's plenty of lead lying on the floor now.' As Kevin went off to get the crowbar, Darren went about inspecting the chapel's interior. Dust hung in the air like a thick curtain and parts of the roof structure were still dropping. As he picked his way between the pews, he was intrigued to find wide cracks in the stone floor where rafters and slates had crashed down. There might be something underneath, he thought. A vault maybe. He pushed and pulled at the detritus until the area was almost clear. There was nothing to be seen without a light. He looked up as the door swung open with an aggrieved creak. Kevin peered around uncertainly. 'Gimme the crowbar and get a torch, Kev, there's something under here that might be worth looking at.' Kevin returned a few moments later with a flashlight and shone it onto the broken slab as Darren worked the largest piece with the crowbar. It grated as it slid across the floor. The light flickered over what lay below. 'Jeez look at that!' It was a chest-high, stone-lined chamber and in it was a rectangular whitish-grey box about five and a half feet long and two feet wide. The top had sagged and the sides were splayed out. 'Whey-hey,' said Kevin, 'maybe it's a treasure chest or something! I remember them boring school history lessons about the England Civil War and priests hiding stuff from that Crumbell.' Darren snorted. 'The only history I'm interested in is my bank statement. Best see what's in it, eh?' Darren lowered himself into the chamber while Kevin shone his torch onto the box. It was about fifteen inches high and there was no more than eighteen inches to spare on either side of it. He tapped on the lid with the crowbar and scraped the grey film away. 'It's lead, so there's a few quid to start with!' He wormed the crowbar's tip underneath the lid's lip and tried to prise it off. It moved a fraction, then stopped. Darren took a couple of deep breaths, forced the crowbar against the interior of the box and levered again. There was a rasping sound, then the top buckled and moved a little more. 'There's some weight here, man!' he grunted, 'it's gotta be a quarter of an inch thick at least. Another shove should do it.' He moved the crowbar two feet sideways and forced the lid one more time. It suddenly slid halfway across and fell inside with a heavy crunch. Kevin shone the torch onto the contents a blackened, mummy-like figure lay in the coffin, half-crushed by the top. He screamed shrilly, dropped the torch and scrabbled away from the grave. Darren was no more than five seconds behind him. He found Kevin leaning against the truck with his head in his arms. His face was almost as grey as the chapel slates. 'What a bloody horror! I'll be having nightmares for weeks some treasure that turned out to be.' Darren laughed nervously. 'Aye well I didn't exactly expect to see a fookin' mummy, either. Bugger the lead, I'm having nowt to do with coffins. We'll have to put that lid back on square before we go.' Kevin shook his head. 'What? We? There's no bloody way I'm going down there.' Darren's voice hardened. 'Look, you dull twat we can't just leave it like that. It'll be obvious someone's been here otherwise, won't it?' He grabbed Kevin's collar and bunched it up under his chin. 'Are you going to give me a hand or do you want a pair of panda eyes?' Kevin pushed Darren's hand away. 'All right, but you'd better remember this when you weigh the rest of the other stuff in.' 'You'll get your fair share, don't worry. C'mon, let's get it done.' It was if the lead was in their boots as they returned to the chapel. Darren wedged the flashlight so that it lit up the narrow chamber and tried not to look at the casket's contents as they slid down next to it. 'Right grab hold of the end and lift it on the count of three. Ready?' Kevin's hands were shaking so much that he could hardly grip the lid and Darren's weren't much steadier. 'One two three go.' The corpse cracked and crumbled as the lid came away. They both gagged as a row of splintered ribs broke through the black crust. Dust from its cavity filled the flashlight's beam until the top was back in place. Darren wiped a film of sweat from his face. 'Thank Christ that's done. Let's get the floor sorted and fook off out of here.' They dropped some heavy pieces of the slab onto the coffin to hide their tracks, filtered the remaining lead tingles from the wreckage on the floor and broke every speed limit on the way home. *** 'You heard about the old airfield chapel?' Darren put down his pint. 'Er, no. What's up with it?' The barman leaned on the counter. 'Well, according to the Gazette, the roof fell down last week and when the council went to clean up, they found a coffin under the floor.' Darren coughed. 'A coffin! No kidding?' 'Yup. Some archaeologists from York are up there now. When they opened it, there was a dried-up body inside. They reckon it's from the Middle Ages, whenever that was. Cowick-on-the-Wold's famous at last.' 'Famous! That'll be the first time ever.' Darren shivered and looked at the entrance door but it was still closed. 'Blimey, bit cold in here, ain't it? 'Cold! I thought it was a bit warm, meself,' said the barman.'
Archived comments for Lead Astray
Mikeverdi on 06-05-2014
Lead Astray
Liked this very much, my kind of story. I thought the lay out was good and it spun along well. As an ex scaffolder I know all about the content 🙂 My only wish /critique is that they could have missed out on some gold or other treasure that they would have understood.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Hi, Mike,
I'm on a bit of an editing blitz lately and re-writing pieces from ten or twelve years ago. My ideas weren't too bad but on reflection the stories themselves were horribly over-written. This one was about twice the length and more quantity than quality.
The story was initially heavy on the Earl of Cowicke and his family dying of the Black Death. When I took another look, I realised that it gave the ending away so I tried to make the impending infection a surprise. Thanks for reading and your thoughts,
Regards,
Steve

Kipper on 06-05-2014
Lead Astray
Hi Steve
A good enjoyable read. Good characters and a good plot, but I can't help feeling that I missed something at the end; as though the last page was missing.
Have I missed something important? I hope it is just me so others will enjoy it fully.
Cheers, Michael

Author's Reply:
Hi, Michael,
I've done a lot of pruning with this one, as mentioned to Mike above, and may have been a bit too smart for my own good. The original opening paragraph ended something like this:
***
When this was done, they returned to the monastery, burned their habits and scrubbed their bodies until the flesh bled.
The plague of Cowicke-on-the-Wolde was over.
***
On the re-write, I suspected that early mention of the plague would have made a re-energised epidemic after the coffin break-in too obvious. So I left the earl's cause of death open but with a couple of hints which were probably too obscure. I'm open to suggestions anyone may have for a clearer conclusion that doesn't need a give-away in the introduction. 🙂
Many thanks for reading and your comments,
Steve.


Broken Dreams (posted on: 21-04-14)
Who's behind YOUR mirror?

The moon slid from behind a layer of thin cloud and its warm glow reflected in the wardrobe mirror. A sudden light wind rippled the half-open curtains and the bedside lamp dimmed to a pinprick of light. Conrad turned in the warmth of the September night. The light duvet slipped to the floor. The boy's puppy whined softly. 'Conrad? Conrad?' The boy stirred. 'Conrad?' He sat up, now wide awake. 'Conrad, over here. In the mirror.' A voice as thick, smooth and dark as treacle. He looked toward the source of the sound. A faint face smiled at him from the glass. 'Yes, Conrad, that's right, over here. How about a little rap, dude.' The eyes were magnetic. The boy got out of bed and padded over to the wardrobe. Now the face was full and jolly, the corners of its eyes crinkled as its grin got bigger and bigger. 'Hello, Conrad, nice to meet you at last. Sorry that it's so late or should I say so early, but we mustn't be disturbed by anyone else and I'm not really very partial to sunlight anyway. Well, now we've met, I'm Mr Mortimer but you can call me Mort for short. Ha ha, Mort for short I'm quite a comedian, eh? Yes, you just go right ahead and call me Mort. Don't happen to speak French do you? No? Just as well. You see, I'm looking for a friend, Conrad, a very special friend, and I think you're just the man for me. Mort just doesn't take any ol' body you know, consider yourself lucky. Now in a minute I'm going to show you some of my tricks, so don't be too frightened; I'll only take what I need, don't you worry. Step a little closer, Conrad, that's right. Look into my eyes and you'll see some very unusual things, some very unusual things indeed. Yes sir.' The boy moved towards to the mirror, closer and closer until the image was no more than a hand's width away. 'That's my boy, look me in the ol' peepers, see what I've got for yoooou.' Obsidian eyes, as small as Mort's grin was large, glared from the mirror and bored into the boy's mind. Then, like a camera shutter in reverse, the pupils bloomed and filled his eyes completely. 'Got your attention now, old son, haven't I?' he purred as the boy stood transfixed, 'Come and see what's in store for you and Tiger and Mummy and Daddy.' Pete and Amanda Russell were shaken from their dreams by a terrified scream. The boy's father rubbed his eyes, looked at the clock and groaned. 'It's all right, I'll go it's probably just a nightmare.' A chink of light shone from under Conrad's bedroom door. *** The psychologist was a plump blonde who looked like every child's favourite auntie. Mrs Russell led her into the lounge. 'This is Mrs Bevis from the clinic.' Mr Russell got up and shook her hand. 'Pleased to meet you, I'm Pete.' 'Hello, Pete, please call me Kirsty. And you must be Conrad,' she said, looking at the boy wriggling into the back of an armchair. 'Hello,' said Conrad quietly. 'I'll make some tea, shall I?' said Mrs Russell. Kirsty smiled. 'That would be nice; white, no sugar. Let me give you a hand.' Conrad's mother picked up on Kirsty's intent. 'When did Conrad first start having these dreams, Mrs Russell?' she said as the kettle boiled. 'Call me Amanda. About three or four weeks ago, just after his ninth birthday, it was a Monday night, if I remember correctly. We thought it might have been something he'd seen on television over the weekend, or maybe a DVD; you never know what kids get up to when they're at somebody else's house. Some of these films you get nowadays, well even the titles are enough to give you the horrors. When I was a child ' Kirsty coughed. 'Yes, I know what you mean, do go on.' 'Oh yes, about his nightmares. They started off two or three times a week but now it's just about every night. It's very upsetting for him; sometimes it takes an hour or so to calm him down. He wets the bed too and he hasn't done that since he was six.' 'And have you noticed anything that seems to trigger them? Certain foods or drinks, for example?' 'The doctor asked me that as well. No, not really. It's always in the middle of the night, around three o'clock, if that's any use. We leave the bedside lamp on but that doesn't help. Obviously we don't get a good night's sleep either, so it's affecting everyone.' 'I can imagine how disturbing it must be for you all.' Kirsty finished her tea. 'I'll talk to Conrad now, if that's all right.' Amanda opened the lounge door and nodded to her husband. 'Kirsty is going to have a little chat with Conrad now. Can you give me a hand in the kitchen for a while?' 'Er, yes, of course, see you later, Conrad.' Kirsty sat down opposite the boy. She smiled and turned on her cassette recorder. 'I've got an awful memory. So, your parents tell me you're not sleeping too well. Perhaps we can make these nasty dreams you're having go away. I wonder if you'd like to help me?' Conrad chewed his lip. 'Yes please, Miss.' 'You can call me Kirsty, Conrad, we're going to be good friends aren't we?'
I'm looking for a friend, Conrad, a very special friend.
'Yes, Miss Kirsty.' 'That's great! Shall we start at the beginning...' *** Kirsty squeezed the boy's hand and pressed the recorder stop button. 'OK, Conrad,' she said, 'that will do for now; you've been a great help and very, very brave. I'm just going to talk with your parents for a while and I'll see you again soon.' She put her arm around the boy's shoulders. 'Don't worry everything will be all right, I promise.' The Russells sat around the kitchen table and fidgeted with their tea cups as Kirsty took some notes about Conrad's behaviour. 'Well, except for these nightmares, which are obviously deeply disturbing for him, he seems to be a well-adjusted child, maybe a little shy but that's usual with strangers. Can I ask if there have been any deaths in the family or traumatic instances of any sort?' 'No, nothing at all like that and we don't allow any violent computer games, so I can't imagine why he's so obsessed with death or mirrors.' 'It doesn't necessarily follow that Conrad is obsessed with death, Pete, certain problems can manifest themself in obtuse ways. What we must do is find the key to his subconscious door and dig around in the cellars, so to speak. I rather suspect Conrad has an unresolved problem that he's burying in his mind. Very much like most of us at some time in our lives. Maybe our little talk has helped him relieve whatever it is. Anyway, I don't want to push him too far just now.' She looked at her organiser. 'I can come back on the 23rd at the same time if that's all right and we'll see if we can't get a little closer to the cause of these nightmares.' *** He drew his knees up and hunched against the headboard. An invisible hand jerked his head upright as the familiar face materialised in the mirror. His bladder constricted at the sound of the voice. 'Hello, Conrad, my old chum. Somebody been complaining about me, have they? Not very nice of them at all, seeing as how we're such good pals. Well, in future I'm going to have to tighten things up. Can't have any old Dom, Nick or Gary looking for me whenever they feel like it. Poking their nose into our little arrangement. No sir, not at all. Now, as a very special treat for both of us, how would you like to see some drowned sailors mouldering in their boxes? That should really give you something to talk about, you little cretin.' Screams fractured the night and once more the bedding was changed. *** Pete Russell faced his wife over the breakfast table. His eyes were red and his hand shook slightly as he poured himself a coffee. 'Look, Amanda, this can't go on. Conrad is suffering, his schoolwork is suffering and it's not doing us much good either, never mind the mattress. Perhaps we should take it in turns to sleep in the room with him until this unresolved problem or whatever it is has been sorted out. What do you think?' Amanda stifled a yawn. She looked as tired as her husband. 'I think you're right. It would be a lot better than him getting used to sleeping with us and we seem to be spending half the damned night with him anyway. I'll start tonight if you want; maybe that way we'll all get some rest.' Even as they spoke, Conrad shuffled into the kitchen. A cloud of misery hung over him and his eyes were puffy. 'Morning, sweetheart, your father and I have had an idea.' Pete moved the bed from the spare room that evening and awaited the results. To both his and Amanda's relief, the night passed quietly. Amanda awoke refreshed at six-thirty to see Conrad lying peacefully under the covers with Tiger curled contentedly beside him. She left him to sleep for a while and made breakfast as Pete showered. Conrad tottered down twenty minutes later. Sleep was still in his eyes but he ate properly for the first time in several days. An air of relief mixed with the smell of percolated coffee. Even the dog wagged his tail as he sat at Conrad's feet. Pete took his turn on Tuesday night and again Conrad slept soundly, as he did for the next three nights. On Saturday, Pete quietly eased himself out of Conrad's room at midnight and returned to his own bed. At twelve minutes past four, Conrad's screams roused him from a blissful post-coital sleep. *** He stood at the side of an open grave. Muddy cards and dead flowers whirled in a vortex of frigid air. A wilted wreath cartwheeled by and disappeared into a gaping web-festooned crypt. Moss-covered gravestones stood in sharp silhouettes against the purple twilight. A thick cloying scent filled the air, a mixture of damp earth, dead vegetation and sodden charred wood. Six feet below, at Conrad's feet, a mildewed coffin lay in the black soil, half-shielded by a thin sheet of bubbling mist. It exuded an aura of putrefaction, of something so dark and hostile that the air was deadened by the absolute desolation of it. Mort's cold voice spoke from far below. 'That's enough, ol' buddy, you've had your little holiday. Come on down your bed's ready for you.' The roiling vapour slowly coalesced. A wraith drifted from the grave and swayed in front of Conrad. Its long streaming fingers beckoned him into the terrible gulf of eternity. He turned to run but his feet were welded to the ground. He thrashed the air and cried out for his father. 'What's the matter, my little friend? You don't want to spend any more time with good ol' Mort? I'm very disappointed but never mind. If you really want your father, then who am I to stop it?' 'Son... Son... help me... please...' Two muddied hands clawed their way from the grave. The fingernails were broken and dirty. Clumps of matted blonde hair pulsed in a sea of maggots and blew upward in a foetid draught. A rotting head appeared. Withered flesh hung from its face in green ribbons. Worms writhed in its eye sockets. Teeth fell from the jaws, one after the other. 'Conrad... please help us...' His father's voice echoed through the graveyard and faded into silence. 'Say hello to Tiger, ol' chum,' boomed Mort. The headless body of the boy's dog burst from the pit, trailing a bloody mist. It landed beside him in a twitching lump. The nightmare went on. 'Conrad... Conrad... please help me. I can't get out... give me your hand. Please' Conrad choked off his sobbing. 'MUMMY wait, I'm coming.' He reached into the blackness for his mother. A hand clamped around his wrist and jerked him off his feet. 'Come on down, my special friend, three in a bed, very comfortable.' 'Mummy, Mu-mmmyyyy.' *** 'Mummy's here, Conrad, it's all right now, my baby, it's all right.' The boy huddled against the headboard. His pyjamas and the bedding were sodden and the dog cringed in the corner. He buried his face into her breast. Hot tears dripped onto her nightdress. 'What's the matter, son?' 'Dad, itit was him again, the man in the mirror, he pulled me into the c-c-coffin and he killed you and mummy and Tiger.' 'Christ Almighty, I've had enough of this.' Pete took a cricket bat from Conrad's toy box and stormed towards the wardrobe. 'I'll soon put a stop to all this bloody nonsense.' The boy screamed as the mirror shattered into a hundred silvered fragments, 'Nooooo, Daddy, nooooo! Mort's stuck in here, he came out of the mirror and now he can't get back.' As the last piece of glass fell to the floor, Amanda could have sworn that she heard the sound of stifled laughter coming from under the bed.
Archived comments for Broken Dreams
Mikeverdi on 23-04-2014
Broken Dreams
Errrrr...that was a nasty little tale, with a devil of a Twist at the end. I have a daughter who will love this one, I however will not sleep well tonight! Very well written in my opinion, I'm not one for horror so I'm not the best for critique; enough to say I did enjoy it....I think. 🙂

Author's Reply:
Many thanks for taking a look, Mike. I had a spell of frightening graveyard dreams when I was a youngster and can still remember the dark menace over 50 years later. That's loosely where the idea for the original story came from. I've often wondered what triggered them and why they stopped...
Regards,
Steve


A Higher Court (posted on: 11-04-14)
How far will your past go before it catches up with you... I've trimmed around a thousand words from the original story. Not sure if I've thinned it out too much. Guess I'll soon find out. 🙂

'With Your Honour's permission, I would like to begin the case against the accused.' The judge leaned back in his seat and crossed his hands in front of him. 'Very well, Mr Prosecutor, you may continue.' The prosecutor lifted a folder from his table and held it up. 'Members of the jury you are here to decide as to the fate of Tadeusz Mucenieks, a Lithuanian guard at Zwei Bruggen concentration camp between June 1943 and April 1945. Here, in these documents, I have overwhelming evidence that the defendant actively participated in the abuse and murder of several hundred Jews, Poles, political dissidents, gypsies and other prisoners. I propose to introduce numerous witnesses and victims of these atrocities, each of whom will testify as to the actions of the perpetrator.' He turned to the dock. 'Tadeusz Mucenieks as you have avoided terrestrial justice by evasion and ultimately, natural death, it is my duty to pursue those charges of crimes against humanity. I will now call my first witness, Schmuel Weiss.' The emaciated figure of a man materialised in the stand. He was dressed in an ill-fitting grey-striped uniform and his head was shaven. His eyes burned with ferocity despite his shabby appearance. 'You are Schmuel Weiss, born October the twentieth, nineteen twenty-one in Vienna, are you not?' The witness nodded. 'Yes, that is correct.' 'Thank you. Would you care to tell the court about your experiences in Zwei Bruggen Concentration Camp during the years nineteen forty-three to nineteen forty-five.' 'Nineteen forty-three to nineteen forty-four, sir. I did not survive to see the camp liberated.' 'Forgive me, Mr Weiss, please continue.' 'I was sent to Zwei Bruggen from Vienna after the Austrian SS rounded up all the Jews. My mother and sister disappeared after our arrest and I arrived there via other camps in October of nineteen forty-three. My father was sent to the gas chamber on the first day. He could not work, you see, he was crippled by a tram accident before the war.' 'The court commiserates,' said the prosecutor, 'Would you care to tell us about conditions in the camp?' 'Terrible. We were always hungry and cold. The huts were infested with lice; typhus and dysentery was rife, we slept three to a bunk with one blanket between us. I woke up many times to find that I was lying next to a corpse. We were subjected to brutality from both the German and foreign guards. Our day began at four-thirty, very often the roll call lasted for two or three hours. We were given a breakfast of potato soup, usually the peelings from the German kitchen, and warm water to drink, sometimes with acorn but usually without. I was employed in the manufacture of bricks to repair Allied bomb damage. Very often I did not finish work until nine in the evening. It was not unusual for five or six people to die of exhaustion during each shift and those who were found unfit were sent to the gas chambers.' 'A very harrowing experience indeed, Mr Weiss. At what stage did the accused, Mucenieks, come into your existence?' 'From the first day. He was a compound guard, a corporal. I saw him set an Alsatian onto a man who had fallen through fatigue. The dog mauled him to death. I will never forget the screams. Mucenieks was laughing. I saw him pat the dog afterwards.' The prosecutor studied Mucenieks for a few moments. 'What kind of man could do that?' he said. 'And what else did you see him do, Mr Weiss?' Weiss rolled his thumbs together before continuing. 'I saw him flog a woman half to death with a whip. She had found a butterfly and was cupping it in her hands. He made her eat it first. On another occasion, he smashed his rifle butt into a Pole's mouth because he said he had toothache. The man staggered about in agony and ran into the electric fence the following day because he couldn't stand the pain. Mucenieks laughed when he heard about it and offered to fix anybody else who had dental problems. It was Mucenieks who herded me into the extermination line when I crushed my hand under a pallet of bricks. That was October the twenty-first, the day after my twenty-third birthday. I was gassed along with about eighty others.' There was a ripple of murmurs from the jury box. 'Thank you for your evidence, Mr Weiss. A most terrible time for you, I'm so sorry for you to have to relive it.' Weiss flickered for a moment, reformed into an Oriental woman and faded away. The prosecutor turned the defendant again. 'I trust you don't find these reminiscences too upsetting, Corporal Mucenieks?' Mucenieks blinked and bit his lip. The prosecutor opened his folder and examined another file. 'No? Very well, the next witness, please.' A young woman of perhaps twenty appeared in the witness box. Like Weiss, she was dressed in a camp uniform. 'You are Mrs Deborah Cohen of Rotterdam, formerly an inmate of Zwei Bruggen?' 'Yes, that is so, or was so,' she said. 'Mrs Cohen, would you tell the court of the circumstances leading to your death in nineteen forty-five?' 'Yes. I was denounced as a Jew by an informer in March of nineteen forty-three and after six months in a forced labour camp, I was sent to Zwei Bruggen. My baby son was taken from me and I never saw him again. My husband, father and mother also disappeared. I worked in the tailoring shop and was often raped by the kapos. I became pregnant and one of the trustees told the guards. I was kicked in the stomach by one of them and I bled for three days. The pain was unbearable I could barely walk to the square for roll call. I'm afraid I made a lot of noise, I was dragged from the hut on the fourth night and tied to a post. It was January and very cold. The same guard emptied a latrine bucket over me and II froze to death.' 'I'm sorry to cause you distress, Mrs Cohen. This guard do you recognise him as the defendant?' 'Yes, I recognise him.' She pointed to the dock. 'It's Mucenieks. I can see him as clearly as I did then but he doesn't seem to be laughing now.' The jury looked across the court. Mucenieks was trembling. Sweat ran down his face and dripped onto the dock railings. The prosecutor closed his folder sharply. 'Thank you, Mrs Cohen, you may leave the court.' She shimmered and melted away as a young man. One after the other, hundreds of other victims testified as to Mucenieks' brutality. The last witness concluded his statement. 'And when they heard that the Allies were within fifty kilometres, they herded groups of us together in the compound and slaughtered us with guns and grenades. The gas chambers and crematoriums couldn't keep up with the demand, I saw wounded prisoners being buried alive in mass graves and lime shovelled on them. Mucenieks was one of the worst. He had a machine gun. One of the other guards was passing him fresh magazines. He didn't stop firing except to light cigarettes.' When the old man had concluded his statement he faded away as the others had done and the courtroom was thick with a horrified silence. The prosecutor looked at the rows of members for a few moments and then pointed to the dock. 'Observe,' he said, 'observe very closely this creature who, in less than two years, slaughtered no less than five hundred and thirty-seven innocent men, women and children and clearly enjoyed the task. We have heard so many sickening accounts of his actions that it is almost beyond belief how one man could sink to such degradation.' He shook his head for a few moments and rubbed his eyes with the thumb and forefinger of one hand. It seemed he was too tired, too revolted to continue. He said nothing for half a minute. Then he whirled around and pointed to Mucenieks again. 'We must all answer to a higher court for our terrestrial deeds,' he thundered, 'and Tadeusz Mucenieks has a lot to answer for, indeed. The weight of the evidence you have heard as the jury is overwhelming. I have nothing else to add. Therefore, the case for the prosecution is now closed.' 'Thank you, Mr Prosecutor,' said the judge. 'We will now proceed to the defence. Tadeusz Mucenieks, what have you to say for yourself?' Mucenieks' knuckles were white against the dark wood of the dock rail. He started to speak but his voice cracked and disintegrated into sobs. After a while he steadied himself. 'Everything they said is true. Everything I did at Zwei Bruggen was wrong. I knew it but I was weak and the uniform and weapons made me strong. I was a Waffen SS volunteer, I had absolute power for the first time in my life and I took revenge for every th-thrashing my f-f-father gave me, every kick and punch from my classmates, every teacher who mocked me for my slow wits and f-f-for the lover who left me to m-m-marry a Jewish merchant. 'Wh-wh-when I was at the camp I was somebody, not a runt to be kicked around like a flea-bitten dog. I was afraid of no one. I showed them the meaning of fear. I had respect. And then the war was over and all I wanted was to be a nobody again. 'Ever since I burned that uniform, I prayed that I could live without b-b-being recognised instead of hiding myself away in Smalininka like a cornered rat. I prayed that Wiesenthal's agents w-wouldn't have me dangling from a rope, like the others. I prayed for a night to pass without bringing those faces from Zwei Bruggen. I've heard their whispers Mecunieks Mecunieks Tadeusz Mecunieks I swear to you all that no m-m-man has lived in greater fear of dying than I have. I've woken from ten thousand nightmares screaming for forgiveness. But the dead can't forgive. And I've just seen that they c-can't forget either. 'I am guilty. Guilty. GUILTY.' He slumped over the rails and buried his head under his arms. 'Oh, God, I'm so sorry so sorry If I could only turn back the clock and undo what I did I'm so very, very sorry' *** 'Members of the jury have you reached a verdict upon which you are all agreed?' 'We have, Your Honour. We find the accused guilty on all counts.' 'Thank you, all you are now free to revert.' The judge turned to the dock. 'Tadeusz Mucenieks you have been found guilty of five hundred and thirty-seven charges of murder. I will now pass sentence.' Mucenieks swayed and gripped the rail. 'You expressed remorse at your deeds, and I am inclined to believe that you sincerely wish for some way of making amends for those terrible actions, that you could indeed go back in time. Under the powers invested in me by The Higher Authority, I hereby grant you that wish.' Mucenieks looked at him blankly. 'Therefore, Tadeusz Mucenieks, you will be returned to Earth for a period not exceeding ten thousand years, there to relive the lives of the following people until their deaths in Zwei Bruggen Concentration Camp: 'One - Schmuel Weiss. Two - Deborah Cohen. Three - Amir Denkoff. Four - Anna Bykofsky. Five - Feodor Roths. Six - Ibrahim'
Archived comments for A Higher Court
Kipper on 13-04-2014
A Higher Court
Oh my; where to start. A harrowing account of just one aspect of man's inhumanity, and a moral dilemma. How to square an apparently sincere expression of remorse for unforgivable crimes, with an unbelievably harsh punishment.
A gritty read for sure and one that may not be easy to forget. That no doubt, being your intention.
Michael

Author's Reply:
Hi, Michael,
This one's been gathering electronic dust for the last ten years; it's taken me longer to do a good edit than it did to create in the first place. 🙂
I drew on a Dachau visit and the brilliant 1946 film 'A Matter of Life and Death' (starring David Niven) for the story and it seemed to write itself once I'd gotten past the (always difficult) first paragraph.
It's a frightening thought that people might be waiting for you on the other side...
Many thanks for reading and commenting,
Steve 🙂


In the Can (posted on: 18-02-13)
One for the prose challenge. Subject - camera. Contains language you wouldn't want your grandmother to hear.

Logan picked himself up once they'd driven off in his Land Rover. Bastards. No point in wasting his time calling the cops even if they answered, they wouldn't bother logging it, never mind looking for those crapheads. He wiped a gobbet of blood from his split lip and felt his ribs. Nothing broken but he'd do as well not to cough for a couple of days. Laughing wouldn't be a problem though. There was nothing to joke about in these latitudes any more. Logan looked at his watch. He felt a little insulted that it wasn't even worth stealing. Almost six o'clock. Dusk wasn't far off; he'd make it back home OK if he kept out of the centre. He set off for his own area, checking the street behind as regularly as a metronome. The empty rundown stores, offices and precincts were unlit; paper, plastic bags and cartons shifted around the road in the breeze and the occasional burned-out or overturned vehicle blocked the pavement. Logan bit his lip as he passed the Capital Electronics Research and Design building. Here he was, sneaking past the dead offices like a cat at midnight. Five years ago, there'd been a concierge to open those same doors for him and park his BMW in the basement. He'd seen vagrants shuffling past with holes in their shoes, holes in their clothes and holes in their lives. He'd never thought about the down-and-outs long enough to pity them. And now he knew exactly how they'd felt. A red glow lit up the sky above the streets a block or so away, followed by a whumph. Then a fireball cleared the darkness for a few moments. Logan recognised the signs of a fuel tank exploding. Maybe it was his Land Rover, he thought. The gang trashed anything they were bored with. He tucked himself into the shadows and carried on. *** Miller made a fist of his hand. 'Fucking arseholes. They're no better than animals.' 'Animals don't do that sort of thing,' said Logan, 'This pack is a rabble and they know the law isn't big enough to control them anymore. The cops would start off another month of riots if they went in. They're smart enough to make that side of the city a no-go zone. It would take the army to lick the bastards if they weren't pretty busy elsewhere.' Miller poured another two fingers of corner shop whisky into their glasses and looked out of the tenement window. The city below them was dark except for a few scattered red and yellow fingers of flame on the west side. 'I guess you're right.' 'The leader,' said Logan after a while, 'the punk with the snake tattoed on his cheek. What's his name again?' 'Lincoln Roxburgh. Loves having his mug plastered all over the news whenever his Mambas gang causes shit. He's a hero to every kid in the city with two hairs on his chin and one on his balls.' Logan touched his ribs and winced. 'I need to get some plastic explosive. Do you know anyone trading?' 'What!' 'I want some Semtex or whatever it's called. About two hundred grammes should do. And detonators. Can you get them?' Miller nodded. 'Yeah, I guess so, I've got some contacts. Maybe get you some C5, the latest stuff. What do you want it for?' 'I'll tell you when I've got it. Now, stop being a miser with the whisky, will you.' *** Logan put the soldering iron down and connected his multi-meter to the microswitch. He pressed the button and watched the digital display. Full continuity. Then he set to work with the printed circuit board, battery and capacitor. He was done in half an hour. So far, so good. He cleared the workbench and waited. It was long past dark when Miller arrived. Logan barely gave him time to sit down. 'Did you get it all?' 'Yeah I called in a couple of favours from a marine mate.' Miller took out a packet from each coat pocket and put them on the table. 'Three hundred grammes of C5 and a pair of detonators. I reckon it should be enough to spoil anyone's day. So, what's it for?' Logan opened a bottle of whisky and half-filled two glasses. He shoved one over the table. 'Here's to that prick Roxburgh getting what's due.' *** Logan took the rear passenger seat as they drove downtown. More of the shop plate glass windows had been smashed since he was last here and the road was a chicane of wrecked vehicles. Miller stopped his SUV in front of a half-burned truck, opened the side window and looked around. 'There's a rats nest here someplace.' Logan cupped his ear. 'Yeah. Sounds like there's a party going on.' Miller nodded. 'Thrash metal crap. I reckon it'll be coming from the old leisure centre. They'll probably be drunk and stoned out of their skulls. Check it?' 'Yeah. Keep an eye out for his watchdogs.' Miller navigated the SUV through the detritus and pulled up at the junction a minute later. The music was almost deafening now and it was coming from the abandoned leisure centre, two hunded metres on the right, as Miller had thought. Half a dozen figures were sprawled on the steps and a few more stood by the open doors. 'It'll work,' said Logan, 'Ready?' 'Ready,' said Miller. He revved the engine to the red line a couple of times and took his foot off the clutch. The SUV careered into the street in a mist of burned rubber and exhaust fumes. The group on the steps lurched to their feet as the station wagon screamed past them. Logan was leaning out of the window with a pro camcorder on his shoulder. Miller kept his foot hard on the accelerator until they reached the next junction. Then he jammed the brakes on and fishtailed the SUV until it was pointing the way they'd just come. 'That's sure stirred things up,' said Logan as he watched gang members spilling out of the leisure centre doors like ants, 'let's get back to the other end. And don't stall it for fuck's sake, otherwise I'll never speak to you again.' Miller laughed. 'Don't worry, it'll be my cock on the block too!' He engaged first gear and floored the accelerator. Some of the gang were standing in the road with baseball bats. They dived for the pavement as the SUV tore towards them and Miller swore as a bullet hole appeared in the windshield. 'Uhoh,' said Logan, 'we'd better be quick about this.' As soon as they reached the junction, Miller turned hard left and stopped. Logan leaped out of the SUV and ran back into the street with the camcorder, knelt down and pointed its viewfinder at the angry Mambas as they raced towards him. His heart thumped like a jack hammer but he held his nerve until they were fifty metres away. Then he let the camera slide to the ground and scrambled away. Miller was looking over his shoulder nervously. 'Let's get out of here.' Logan was in the cab before Miller had finished. They were a hundred metres away and still accelerating before the first Mamba appeared in the rear view mirror. 'Cracking job!' shouted Logan, 'Let's move out and watch the fun.' *** 'This'll do,' said Logan, 'there ought to be a signal here.' He pointed to an office car park. It was empty except for two overflowing skips and the bloated body of a dead dog. Miller pulled in behind a wall and switched the engine off. 'Should be safe enough now. That was one pissed-off bunch of retards, eh?' 'Let's see what's going on then,' said Logan. He reached into the back and took a laptop from its case. Then he switched it on and clicked the Camera icon. A close image of the leisure centre frontage appeared on the screen with several faces grinning into the lens. The camera panned from left to right, taking in groups of gang members holding spliffs and cans of beer. 'I recognise a couple of those ugly mugs,' said Logan. He adjusted the volume. 'give us a go.' 'Fuckin' wait, will yer. What's all this stuff do?' The image zoomed backwards and forwards a few times and then focussed on the building's door. A youth was on his knees, vomiting onto the steps. 'Jonesy, you lightweight wanker look, you're on Live News.' A voice cut through the chatter. 'Oy, what's going on? Where'd yer get that?' The screen was blurred for a moment and then a thin unshaven face with a bandana appeared. The pupils of his eyes were so dilated that they almost filled the iris and the tattoo of an attacking snake wound from his collar to his cheek. 'There was some dickheads in a wagon filmin' us but we chased 'em off. Naz got a coupla shots at the fuckers and they left this behind.' 'Give it here.' Jumbled images filled the laptop screen as the camera changed hands. 'Fucking top! Someone get my heater.' 'Fame's going to his head,' said Logan. The camera waved around and then Roxburgh was back in the frame. Someone passed an assault rifle to him. He held it across his body in a macho pose. Then he leaned against the wall and took a long pull on a spliff. The smoke dribbled out of his nose and he grinned. 'Shoot!' Logan grinned too. He pressed his remote control button. The screen went black and a loud crack echoed through the empty streets. 'I'll bet his face was a picture,' said Logan.
Archived comments for In the Can
Weefatfella on 18-02-2013
In the Can
 photo 615f3747-f93a-4017-925a-493d3a9cd963_zps9cdcaec0.jpg
Brilliant Steve.
It felt like one of those post apocalyptic movies Mel Gibson makes.
I could have more of Logan's adventures.
Thanks for sharing Steve.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, WFF!
I remembered what Kinshasa was like when I worked there to get the desolation scenes. Some parts of the UK gave me the rest.
🙂
Steve

bluepootle on 18-02-2013
In the Can
Always love a revenge story with a sense of humour.

I think the middle section is a bit jerky, particularly the small section of dialogue. You've not got a lot of description but what there is really works, like the darkened city with the few licks of flame. Nice sparse, focused writing, but it just feels a bit too lean and jerky in that middle bit for me.

The first line - could it be more active? He hears them drive off, and gets up. Rather than 'once they'd driven off' which removes us from the event, I think.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for checking the piece out, Aliya.
The middle section was the bit giving me a hard time. It was like looking at something under a glass cover and being unable to touch it. I usually leave stories alone for a month or few if they won't go where I want them to and then knock 'em into shape when they're not expecting it. Didn't have that time in this case. That's a lame excuse from a writer though. 🙂
First line... fair comment.
Steve

TheBigBadG on 18-02-2013
In the Can
It's a lot of fun, which isn't normally what i say about post-decline hyper-violent gang stories. I like the combination of what sounds like Escape From New York and jocks vs geeks. Replace the c4 and guns with water balloons and pistols and they could be 8 years old. It's a good twist on the setting.

Blue's right about bits of the dialogue. There are a couple of lines that are a bit heavy on the exposition. 'They're smart enough to make that side of the city a no-go zone. It would take the army to lick the bastards if they weren't pretty busy elsewhere.' is the example I'd pick. It's there for the reader's benefit, but doesn't feel like a natural observation for characters who know all of it already. Easily resolved though!

Author's Reply:
Much as my reply to Aliya, George. I couldn't find a way in to unclumsify that section. I admit it sounds like cheesy 1950s Flash Gordon wireless series dialogue. I'll put the story away in a dark corner for a while.
Thanks for reading & commenting. 🙂
Steve

Mikeverdi on 19-02-2013
In the Can
I loved it, I'm not looking for deep hidden meanings or perfection; I just want to be entertained. Mike ps. more please!

Author's Reply:
Hi, Mike,
Thanks for your kind comments. I've got more in a similar vein tucked away somewhere.
Apparently everyone in the cinemas cheered and stamped their feet when Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) handed out justice to the lowlifes in Death Wish. Vicarious revenge is great - no need to get your hands or boots dirty. 🙂
Best wishes,
Steve

sirat on 24-02-2013
In the Can
I thought it was entertaining but the plot seemed to me to be just that little bit too obvious and linear. We know why Logan has asked for the explosives and what he's going to do with them, and he does it. The rest, though entertaining and tense, is just a filling-in of the details. I wonder if it could be worked in such a way that we don't quite know what's coming? After he's mugged Logan visits some low-lifes and buys something in a shoulder bag, but we think it's drugs. He goes back to where the gang attacked him and screams abuse. We think he's out of his mind on something they don't sell in Boots and likely to get creamed by the Lincoln Roxburgh gang (we don't need to know their name), and sure enough they walk up to him and relieve him of his bag. The leader opens it and his head is promptly blown off. While the gang members are in shock, Logan walks away calmly. Okay, there are lots of holes in that plot, but I'm just looking for something a bit less predictable and straightforward. Not a criticism, just a suggestion. I enjoyed it as it is too.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your thoughts, David. As mentioned before, this story wouldn't focus and I was glad just to get anything finished in time for the end of the challenge. I might play around with it again in the future.
I won't be doing too many of these deadline stories because I reckon my writing process isn't wired up that way.


Staying Alive (posted on: 28-01-13)
A Prose Challenge submission.

'Eh, what? Speak up, can't you.' 'For Christ's sake, McCrudle, I said that the television crew will be here at three o'clock. I told you this morning, didn't I?' 'I don't know, Doctor Abendstern, I don't remember. What do they want?' 'Look, what's the date today?' 'The what?' Dr Abendstern turned the amplifier up by two decibels. 'The date.' McCrudle lifted his head from the pillows and squinted at the spaghetti of cables and tubes that connected him to the bank of pumps, sumps, thermometers, wormometers, ratemeters, fatemeters, alarms, balms, proctoscopes, shocktoscopes, stimulators, dimulators, oximeters, toximeters, repeaters, heaters, scanners, planners and dispensers. His daily status chart glowed on the last screen. 'May the twentieth. Sounds familiar.' He chewed on his lip for a while. 'It's my birthday. Yeah, well ain't that the cat's pajamas...' 'It certainly is for this clinic. We've kept you alive to be a hundred and fifty. Twenty-five years older than anyone else. That's why the television people are coming.' 'No one asked me if I wanted to be displayed like some monkey in a zoo, damnit.' 'It's not asking much, McCrudle. Frankly, we'd expect a little more gratitude for our efforts instead of your constant griping. Have you any idea just how much time and money it costs to keep you running?' 'Keep me running? When was the last time you said that to your automobile, Doctor Abendstern?' 'Don't be ridiculous my Maserati's a mechanical device, not a Homo sapien.' 'Oh, is that so? Let me see your world's oldest man seems to be rigged with a brain pacemaker, a mechanical heart, a synthetic windpipe, an artificial bladder, someone else's liver and lungs, hearing implants, vision enhancers, dentures, replacement hips, replacement knees and Christ-knows what else I'm connected to. No, sir I'd say I'm a closer relative to your jalopy than my own mother. The only damned reason I haven't got cancer is that there ain't nothing left for it to take a liking to. Why, it's a wonder that' McCrudle blinked twice, then sank into a deep sleep. Dr Abendstern took his finger off the tranquiliser dispenser button. He looked at his watch and turned to the nurse. 'Bring him back at 14:45. Oh, and give him a shave before NBC arrive, we must have him looking his best for the evening news.' *** McCrudle was propped up against a pair of pillows at 14:50. The silver stubble on his chin had disappeared and the dozen or so hairs on his head were tidily arranged like broad gauge railway tracks. He watched the nurses as they hung coloured streamers over the screen frame and planted birthday cards where they could be seen by the cameras. Birthday cards from who? All his family and friends had died half a lifetime ago. He didn't know anybody outside of his little room. The door opened and Dr Abendstern walked in, followed by a woman with a microphone and a cameraman. He nodded to one of the nurses. She took a box from the side locker and put it on McCrudle's bed table. Dr Abendstern stood beside the bed and grinned into the camera. 'On behalf of everyone at The Silver Cloud Clinic and everyone in the world, I'm sure I'd like to wish Elmer McCrudle a very happy 150th birthday and hope there will be many more to follow!' Everybody clapped and Dr Abendstern lifted a cake from the box. The nurse handed out paper plates and paper cups whilst another opened a bottle of wine. 'None for our guest of honour, I'm afraid,' said Dr Abendstern, 'Mr McCrudle is on a very strict diet for his health's sake.' McCrudle watched as Dr Abendstern, the NBC crew and the three nurses ate their pieces of cake and drank their cups of wine. 'Would you like to talk to Mr McCrudle now, Wilma?' said Dr Abendstern to the NBC interviewer when the party was over. Wilma wiped her lips with a napkin. She nodded to the cameraman and stood by the side of McCrudle's bed. 'It's indeed an honour to speak to the world's oldest man, Mr McCrudle,' she said, 'You must have seen a thousand changes in your life?' 'Eh?' 'I said, you must have seen a thousand changes in your lifetime, Mr McCrudle?' McCrudle leaned forward. 'I dare say.' 'And what was the most significant event for you over, say, the last fifty years?' 'I've got no idea, young lady, I can't even remember what I did this morning.' 'You seem to have kept your sense of humour, Mr McCrudle! Tell me, what would you like as a birthday present?' McCrudle looked at the pumps, sumps, thermometers, wormometers, ratemeters, fatemeters, alarms, balms, proctoscopes, shocktoscopes, stimulators, dimulators, oximeters, toximeters, repeaters, heaters, scanners, planners and dispensers. 'I reckon a power cut would do me just fine.'
Archived comments for Staying Alive
bluepootle on 28-01-2013
Staying Alive
Great ending. I really like the final two paragraphs in particular. I think this is really effective at getting us to think about what it is we're actually wanting to live for. The circularity of mentioning the devices at the beginning and at the end - great writing there. It brings a short piece full circle.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Aliya. Frightening to think that this might happen when have the technology but not the integrity.
Steve

Andrea on 28-01-2013
Staying Alive
Haha, loved it. If there was ever a case for living forever, this put the mockers on it 🙂

Author's Reply:
A good excuse for the government to raise the retirement age again.
Thanks for the read 'n write,
Steve 🙂

franciman on 28-01-2013
Staying Alive
Clever, clever story, well told. This is really quite disturbing. I agree with Andrea about the lack of a valid reason for prolonging life, but what is thought provoking is the suggestion that it might happen against your will.
I felt that the writing descended to the ridiculous in places, but that it was deliberate, and it helped to point the lesson. Really well done.
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
You nailed my intentions exactly, Jim. Thanks for taking a look and commenting. This was a good challenge, with a fair spread of 'takes' on the subject.
Steve

TheBigBadG on 28-01-2013
Staying Alive
It's a bit like a shaggy dog story with a heart but, as Jim notes, it's a bit unpleasant under it all. It's pretty clear that it's being doing to him and not for him - not even getting to eat his own birthday cake, honestly! - so it feels like he's in a zoo more than a hospital to me. For something you claimed would be rough as a badger's nether-hold the way you tell it as a joke whilst dancing around the rather sad reality of it all is quite a neat satire, really.
George

Author's Reply:
Aye, he's no more than a lab specimen under the media microscope. As the saying goes: just because you can, doesn't mean to say you should.
Cheers for dropping by, George.
Steve

butters on 28-01-2013
Staying Alive
biting social commentary, no kindness in prolonging so far what's often better left to come to its natural conclusion.

the final line is bitter-sweet. wonderful.

Author's Reply:
Science doesn't have a conscience: there's always got to be another 'One small step for man...'
Imagine McCrudle's utter despair. 🙁
Thanks for taking a look, butters.
Cheers,
Steve

Savvi on 29-01-2013
Staying Alive
A great ending the piece weighs quite heavy on the mind the subject really makes you think and you handle it with quality, if this is rough then I have a very long way to go.

Author's Reply:
Hi, Savvi,
Thanks for checking this one out. There was an elderly famous French writer (so famous that I've forgotten his name 🙂 ), who replied, when asked how he passed his time: 'I wait for death.'
That's much better than praying for it.
Appreciate your kind words,
Steve

Mikeverdi on 29-01-2013
Staying Alive
I agree with most of what has been said,you don't have to live to 150 to see this happening. At least now they tend to ask relatives if they want you resuscitated after a couple of bad attacks. You handled this brilliantly and I agree the last line was inspired! Mike

Author's Reply:
Hi, Mike,
Thank you for taking time out to read and comment. Maybe the time's not so far off when the patient's rights and interests are going to take second place to 'science'.
Cheers,
Steve

Weefatfella on 29-01-2013
Staying Alive
Photobucket
Brilliant.
I'm fed up with all this don't do this do that. Eat this not that.
How long do people want to live for? and why?
Really enjoyed the story Steve and the underlying moral. Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Quite right, wff - too much of the government 'experts' telling us how to lead our lives. Then someone else comes along and contradicts it later. I'll drink a week's 'recommended' alcohol units in one night if the mood takes me. I might not live to be the same age as people who follow cast iron good life guidelines but I'll have had a good time on the road to the churchyard.
Thanks for reading and commenting,
Best wishes,
Steve

e-griff on 10-02-2013
Staying Alive
A good story, delivered very competently.

The only grouse I have is the first recital of the 'humorous' machines. This drags the narrator into a comic role which doesn't sit comfortably, as the rest of the narration is not comic. I would suggest getting McCrudle to say the list in the first instance - which fits his character. The repetition at the end by the narrator is then justified.

JohnG

Author's Reply:
Not a bad idea, griff. 🙂
I'll try it out when I get a chance.

Buschell on 30-09-2013
Staying Alive
Steve, I like melding humour with the darker stuff, always have and so this piece reminds me of me....I am however not as clever! And bearing that in mind I rarely have much to say beyond I like this. My feedback is generally useless beyond that...

Author's Reply:
Thanks for checking this one out, Buschell. There's no fixed protocol about feedback - the authors generally appreciate any thoughts, whether it's deep critique or someone simply saying that they enjoyed the read.
You might like to take a look at Bluepootle's writing if you like delightfully dark stories.
Steve 🙂



Head Case (posted on: 24-12-12)
A true story in which a woman sleeps with skulls (see the General Discussion 'How Low Can You Go' thread).

I couldn't find a boyfriend, No matter what I did, Until I found a coffin, And opened up the lid. There he was, my perfect man! So slim - all skin and bone, After all these years spent waiting, A guy to call my own. I made my plans to marry him, For better and for worse, Then took him home in a Tesco bag, Because I couldn't find a hearse. I cleaned him up with household bleach, And laid him in my bed, (Where his *thing* no longer was, I put a bone instead.) But my happiness was not to last, Thanks to next door's Spitz, It got in through an open door, And chewed my love to bits. So my honeymoon was over, And the memories of my groom, Are some toenails and a finger, That I swept up with a broom.
Archived comments for Head Case
butters on 25-12-2012
Head Case
*chuckles*

worth the read - black humour makes light of a dark situation

Author's Reply:
Hi, butters!
It's always grim over soft-focus for me.
I've never forgotten talking to an acquaintance's wife in a pub. She was taking a lot of interest in my beer-tinged conversation, which was rather flattering. Until she admitted to being a psychologist...
I'm probably still being used as an example for something unsavoury in lectures.
Thanks for dropping by.
Steve 🙂

stormwolf on 26-12-2012
Head Case
Pure dead brilliant ( as they would say in Glesga) written by someone with one of the best senses of humour I have come across..(is that proper grammar? )

good on ye!
Alison x

Author's Reply:
Hi, Alison,
I can't take any credit for my humour - it's the people and circumstances that cause it as should get the praise.
You're always great fun to bounce off, too. 😉
xXx Steve



Slovitt on 26-12-2012
Head Case
expat, oh expat, are you a woman bound? i never knew, but nevertheless, your writing is agile and smart. continued interesting takes on things. swep

Author's Reply:

Slovitt on 26-12-2012
Head Case
expat: my apologies. having gone to your home page i see you're anything but female. swep

Author's Reply:
Hi, Swep,
I was a disappointment to my mother, too. 🙂
Thanks for taking a look and your kind words. Some subjects just cry out for a rhyme.
Regards,
Steve

stormwolf on 28-12-2012
Head Case
You're always great fun to bounce off, too. 😉

So many likely lads have told me, ex....;-)))

Author's Reply:
Did you catch them on the rebound? :^-)

stormwolf on 29-12-2012
Head Case

Ex
"Did you catch them on the rebound? :^-"

I have to be frank here, Ex and confess I always expect my men to spring into line and wear a rubber.

As you say, no doubt it will rebound on me in time ;-/
I never let anyone trampoline on my good nature 😉 *groan!*

Alison xxx

Author's Reply:
No, don't be Frank - be Alison.
I'll be for the high jump if we keep on like this. 🙂

Buschell on 29-09-2013
Head Case
Next best thing to necrophilia...so they tell me...good ditty.

Author's Reply:
Hi, Buschell,
Thanks for taking a look and commenting - I'd forgotten all about this one.
Welcome to UKAuthors too. 🙂
Steve

Buschell on 29-09-2013
Head Case
Next best thing to necrophilia...so they tell me...good ditty.

Author's Reply:


Death Sentence (posted on: 10-12-12)
Someone has cleaned the city of undesirables and events have taken a strange turn.

'All right, guys, let's have a bit of hush so we can get this briefing underway.' The chatter died away and chair legs scraped across the floor as the early shift police officers made themselves comfortable. 'You've all heard the rumours, so here are the facts. What we have so far are five fatal shootings in our area last night. They all ocurred between approximately 21.30 and 04.00 according to the initial pathology examination and all the deceased were well-known to us. The first was Shaun Priest, who lived at 23, Marine Drive. You'll all be aware of his form petty theft, supply of controlled substances and pimping as well as witness coercion. Priest's girlfriend found him in the garden five minutes after he went outside to investigate what had set off his car alarm. The cause of death appears to have been a single pistol shot to the head. 'The next was that of Shane Tapper in the Edgely Council Estate. He was discovered on his doorstep with a gunshot wound to the temple. He's got or had a record as long as two arms, mainly ABH, A&B, theft, breaking and entering, going equipped and criminal damage. 'Number Three was Winston McWilson, who you will remember as being the Westside Wrecking Crew's leader. McWilson had a varied C.V: drugs again, firearms offences, protection rackets, forged MoT and insurance certificates, vehicle theft and fraud. A total of eight years inside didn't dampen his enthusiasm for a quick buck but a couple of bullets in the side of the head through his lounge window in Spurfield Close seem to have done the trick. 'Victim Number Four was James Harrison, who lived on the Saracen Park estate. He was released from a twelve-year sentence last March for sexual offences against minors. Harrison was found lying in the road with one bullet wound to the groin and a fatal head shot. Judging by the blood trail from his front door, there was a fair interval between the two. 'Finally we have Mazeed bin Quasim, who was recently released on bail after being charged under anti-terrorist laws. He was found in his car outside a known meeting house for radicals and the cause of death was yet again a bullet wound to the head. 'Now, here's a strange thing going by the pathologist's estimated times of death and locations of the victims, it would seem that our killer or killers started in the river area and then proceeded to knock off the others in a clockwise direction. So we clearly have a carefully planned execution sequence. The Ballistics Section are on the case now so we'll shortly have some idea of the weapons involved too.' 'Seems like we've got a vigilante cleansing operation under way,' said one of the constables, 'It sounds as if the scrotes got what they deserved anyway and I dare say there'll be plenty of support from Joe Public for what went on last night.' 'That may well be, Spike,' said Garrett, 'However, we're paid to apply the law as it stands, no matter how much we may disagree with it. Right now, whoever did this is no better than The Yorkshire Ripper or Fred West and we've got a duty to catch those responsible. Back to the brief; once the Scene of Crime bods have finished, we' 'Sir?' Garrett turned around impatiently. A WPC stood at the door with a mobile phone in her hand. 'Yes, what is it?' 'The Super, sir. It's urgent.' 'Very well,' said Garrett. He took the telephone and stepped into a side office. 'Garrett here, sir.' 'Jeff, you can call off your manhunt before it starts. We're about to get a confession.' Garrett blinked and pushed the mobile closer to his ear. 'A confession, sir? But we've not even' 'I've just had a call from a Terence Finlay. He very nicely told me that he doesn't want us wasting time looking for the murderer as he's sure we've got more important things to do. So, he's on his way to the station to make a statement. He's cheerfully admitted to the killings and from the details he's given me, I've no reason to doubt his word. So you can stand your men down from the investigation now, Jeff. Strange, isn't it; the biggest murder case to hit the county since nineteen-canteen and it's about to be solved before we even start. 'This Finlay should be with you shortly, so you'd better stall the newshounds for now; tell them there's been a development and we'll be issuing a press statement this afternoon when we have the full story. Any questions?' Garrett loosened his tie. 'No, sir; they'll wait until our man gets here.' *** 'Can I help you, sir?' asked the desk sergeant. 'I dare say,' replied the old man, 'I think you may be looking for me.' The sergeant looked at him. Late sixties mid seventies, maybe. Well-spoken. Probably six foot tall without the stoop. Thin, very thin. Sunken but intense eyes. Checked flat cap, covering a bald head, checked shirt, green Barbour jacket. Cravat. No missing person of that description reported. 'And who might you be, sir?' 'Finlay. Terence Finlay.' The sergeant's eyes turned to saucers. 'Oh, yes, er, we've been expecting you. Just one moment.' He pressed an intercom button. 'Mr Finlay's here, sir.' Inspector Garrett was at the desk in thirty seconds. 'Mr Terence Finlay?' Finlay nodded a greeting. 'Major, Royal Marines, actually. Retired, of course.' 'Good morning, Major. I'm Inspector Garrett. I think we'd better go to the interview room and have a chat.' 'Very well, Inspector, that's why I'm here. At your convenience.' Major Finlay followed Garrett along the passageway and chatted amiably about the traffic and weather. He concluded by handing the policeman his car keys as he sat down at the interview table. 'I won't be needing these any more. Red Audi A3, parked next to the wall. Reverse is a little tricky sometimes. Right, I don't require a lawyer and there are no immediate family members to inform so shall we begin?' Garret nodded to the other officer and switched on the tape recorder. 'Interview starts at 11:52, June 13th 2012. Custody officer is myself, Inspector Garrett, witnessing officer, Sergeant Hawley. Your name, address and date of birth?' Major Finlay gave his details and sat back with his hands loosely on his lap. 'You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in Court,' continued Garrett, 'Anything you do say may be given in evidence.' 'Yes, yes, quite,' said the major, 'let's get on with it.' 'As you wish, Major. Right, I understand that you made a telephone call to us earlier this morning, indicating that you were responsible for the shootings that were carried between the late evening of June 13th and early morning of June 14th at various locations in Durston.' 'That's correct, I think your forensics chaps will find that the bullets were fired from a silenced 7.65mm Walther PPK, which you'll find in a recess behind my bathroom cabinet. The remaining ammunition is in a box nailed under the workbench in my garden shed.' 'And your reason for shooting these six people last night?' 'Five, Inspector Garrett. Is that confirmation enough for you?' 'Sorry, Major, you're quite right, it was five. Why did you do it?' Major Finlay pulled his shoulders back and tapped his fingertips on the table like a drum roll. 'Vermin. Every damned one of them. Last night's operation was simply a surgical removal of malignant social tumours. I doubt there'll be many tears shed over their excision, Inspector; they got no more or less than they deserved. I imagine Durston will be having fewer problems with their like for a while. Wouldn't you agree?' Garrett almost did. 'Were you acting alone, Major?' Major Finlay crossed his arms. 'I removed every one of them by myself, if that's what you mean. I shall, of course, plead guilty to the murder charges if this ever goes to court.' 'If this ever goes to court, Major! That's a strange thing to say. You've just admitted to killing five people.' 'Let me ask you a question, Inspector on average, how long between charging and appearing before the Crown?' Garrett thought for a few seconds. 'Three months, I suppose. Why do you ask?' 'You have my age from your notes. Fifty-four. Fifty-four. Look at me! Hard to believe, isn't it Most people would think I was twenty years older. It was the same with my wife. Forty-one when she was taken by cancer and I've got a month or two at the most before I follow her. So, you see, there's going to be no prison sentence for me. 'And you know something else, Inspector there are quite a few like me in this country with a lot of cleaning to do in the little time we have left. And they have the same means and skills that I do. But I've got nothing more to say about that. 'Now, how about a cup of tea?'
Archived comments for Death Sentence
roger303 on 10-12-2012
Death Sentence
As I am both an ex-Marine and an ex-cop I read your story with interest.
I have posted a couple of similar short stories which may evolve into a novel, one day.
Gran Turino - a film starring Clint Eastwood tells a similar tale of an old soldier living in a shitty neighbourhood.
Enjoyed the read.
Regards,
Roger

Author's Reply:
Thanks for taking a look and commenting, Roger. This piece is probably full of errors regarding procedures and terminology but I guess the import came across. That arrest caution (You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in Court), isn't what I'd call plain English - I wonder why it was changed from the unambiguous: 'You do not have to say anything but anything you do say etc'...
A squad of terminal sufferers like the major with absolutely nothing to lose could soon dampen down the crime stats, I reckon. I'll look out for Grand Turino.
Cheers again,
Steve
Btw, I'm curious - is your 303 appellation your PC number, the last three of your Service Number or a reference to the Lee Enfield?

Texasgreg on 12-12-2012
Death Sentence
Interesting and leaves me wondering the age issue.

Greg 🙂

Author's Reply:
Hi, Greg,
Thanks for taking a look and commenting.
It'll be me being dim but I didn't quite understand the age issue reference unless it concerns the major looking older than his years due to the cancer/treatment.
Cheers again.
Steve

JaneA on 16-12-2012
Death Sentence
I enjoyed this story - good twist and I especially like the dark humour in the description of each killing.

Author's Reply:
Hello, Jane.
Kind of you to take a look and comment; it's much appreciated.
Thanks and regards,
Steve

molly13 on 28-03-2013
Death Sentence
Hi ExPat, I've read this a few times now. I thought it was well written with a nice twist. The thought of a brigade of old soldiers clearing the streets of the undesirables is quite scary. It's definitely got potential to grow into something else, too. Great little story though. Thanks

Aaron

Author's Reply:
Hi, Aaron,
We could keep a whole division of those guys busy, eh!
Thanks for taking a look,
Steve 🙂

Buschell on 27-10-2013
Death Sentence
Vets in the States are being demonised as potential terrorists. Obama sees them as the biggest threat to his administration destroying the constitution. Now thats another story altogether...yours is a beauty...Busch.

Author's Reply:
Hi, Busch!
Aye, the Vets since Vietnam are a living embarrassment to their government - they won't roll over and lay down quietly.
Thanks for taking a look at this story - pity it's not a true one. 🙂


Spick and Span (posted on: 19-10-12)
We all know one...

Pauline blew a stream of compressed air onto the last keyboard, wiped the monitor and looked through the accounts office window. The other cleaners were busy in the main office and reception area. She looked at her watch. It was seven-twenty-five. Time for a break. 'Just off to get some more wipes, Rosie,' she said to a woman cleaning the door handles, 'we've really got to make a good impression for tomorrow. How's it going?' 'We're about half-done, I suppose. It's a lot more work than usual.' 'Yes, I know. Well, we've all got to make an effort, haven't we...' 'Yes, Pauline,' said Rosie 'we've all got to make an effort.' 'Anyhow, I haven't got time to stand around talking make sure the girls don't miss anything.' 'I thought that was your job,' said Rosie. She pulled her vacuum cleaner down the passageway, switched it on and ran the nozzle along the skirting board. The tea break room was on the first floor. Pauline closed the door behind her, put a token into the vending machine and selected Coffee. Then she opened the window, leaned out and lit a cigarette. There were several cars still in the car park. The executives were having a final meeting before tomorrow's visit. She stubbed the cigarette out on the window ledge and flicked the butt into the flowerbed below. Then she took her mobile phone from her pocket and made a call. 'Hi, Tony. You all right? Yeah, me too. Look, this job is going to take longer than I thought; I doubt I'll be finished before half-nine at the earliest' She held the phone away from her ear for a few seconds. 'Chrissakes, Tony don't give me a hard time, I'm getting enough of that as it is from those lazy bitches I work with. Let's make it tomorrow night instead, eh? Good, till then. I'll call you in the morning. Blow me a kiss. Mmmm you too. Bye.' She made another call. 'Phil! Pauline here. You busy tonight? No? Great wanna meet up later, say in The Calypso Bar? About a quarter to ten? Look forward to it. Byeeee.' She put another token in the machine and had one more cigarette while she drank the coffee. She looked at the clock. Almost ten past eight. Thirty-five minutes to go. She turned on the air conditioning fan to clear the smell of smoke and went back downstairs, to the store cupboard. She took a cloth and poured a little metal polish on it. Then she rubbed the cloth against her fingers and against the knees of her white uniform trousers. The manager's PA appeared from the lift and headed for the toilets. 'Hi, Victoria. Got you working late as well, have they?' 'Not much longer now; it should all be wrapped up by a quarter to nine.' 'Lucky you! Well, I must press on.' Pauline went back downstairs. She wandered around, looking at the metalwork, glass, carpets and plants. Nothing to fault anywhere. 'Well done, everyone!' she said, 'I'm very pleased with you for making this extra effort and I'm sure the management will be too. Let's have a clear-up and then you can all go home early you deserve it.' When the last of the cleaning staff had gone, Pauline went outside, had another cigarette and looked up at the lights on the fourth floor. After five minutes or so, they began to go out. She dashed back into the reception area, ruffled her hair, half-blocked the doorway with a vacuum cleaner, got down on her knees and began to wipe the skirting boards with a duster. A few moments later the lift door opened and the manager appeared with his colleagues. 'Heavens you're working late,' he said, looking around, 'I must say it looks most spick and span.' 'We've all got to do our best, sir,' said Pauline, 'Only another twenty minutes and I'll be done. Well, if you'll excuse me' 'Certainly, sorry to hold you up. Goodnight.' 'Goodnight,' said Pauline. 'Who might she be, Victoria?' heard Pauline as they walked through the exit. She smiled and unplugged the vacuum cleaner.
Archived comments for Spick and Span
Weefatfella on 19-10-2012
Spick and Span
Photobucket


So that's how it's done.


Sneaky or whit?


Thanks Steve.


Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, WFF!
This sort of story is easy to write when there are a few characters to base it on.
🙂 Steve

franciman on 19-10-2012
Spick and Span
Hi Steve,
Great little story. gritty reality in the narrative and cheeky, all-knowing dialogue. you gave me an inherent dislike of someone I haven't even met. I can't say more.
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks for that, Jim.
I tried to keep the story together by insinuation rather than description and it seems to have worked.
I once wrote one that consisted solely of dialogue; it made me work a lot harder than by using the conventional approach.
Try Googling this
http://www.holybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/Gadsby-by-Ernest-Vincent-Wright.pdf
for an example of tight focussing. I'd be hard-pushed to write even a paragraph.
Cheers,
Steve

Bozzz on 19-10-2012
Spick and Span
I sometimes make the washing up take a lot longer than it should so that when my wife returns from her latest post prandial phone chat with her Mum, I am still labouring away. Brownie points make the world go round. Great style and good speaking part. Liked it very much. Well writ.
David Bozzz,

Author's Reply:
Try dropping a few plates and glasses on the floor to get out of any further washing-up duties, David. Guaranteed. :-^)
Thanks for your kind words.
Regards,
Steve

Andrea on 20-10-2012
Spick and Span
Little cow 🙂 Great dialogue, easy flow. Nice.

Author's Reply:
Aye, the higher the monkey climbs, the more it shows its arse.
Thanks for taking a look. :-^)

RoyBateman on 21-10-2012
Spick and Span
Yes, we all know one...or several, if we're honest. Neatly done, Steve - a wry little portrait that's bound to raise a few titters!

Author's Reply:
Many thanks, Roy,
I should also be grateful to the creep/s that inspired it. :^-)
Steve


Machines in the Ghosts (posted on: 15-10-12)
Hollywood takes its revenge on the future.

She took a coffee from the drinks machine, sat down and looked at her watch. Ten minutes early for her interview with Wentercom's Personnel Manager. There was a stack of publicity leaflets on the coffee table, each one emblazoned with the word COSMOS. She leafed through them and picked a User Manual. She'd already researched Wentercom's latest product but it wouldn't hurt to refresh her knowledge.
TOMORROW'S WORLD MEETS YESTERDAY'S WORLD. WWE PROUDLY ANNOUNCE THE ARRIVAL OF COSMOS (Choice Of Stars & Movies On Screen) SEE YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE WITH YOUR CHOICE OF THE CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD STARS. PRICES START FROM AS LITTLE AS 50 DecaUnits PER MONTH, SEE YOUR LOCAL W.W.E. AGENT TODAY OR CHECK US ON INVIEWMATION 62661 cosmos+plus@wwentercom COSMOS OPERATOR'S HANDBOOK. Operating Instructions. 1) Turn on TV. Select COSMOS CHANNEL (424). 2) Using remote control pad, scroll FILMS OF THE DAY up or down as required. 3) Select film required and HOLD. 4) Select AMPLIFY for film details. 5) Select STAR listing. 6) Select DE-STAR/S as required by clicking cursor on existing star's name. 7) Press DELETE. 8) Enter required star's name on mini keyboard and select INSERT (complete star listing available by pressing YELLOW button). 9) Press CONFIRM. 10) Press START. 11) Sit back and ENJOY!!!!!
Well, it seemed simple enough to use. She was looking forward to seeing it in action. Then she browsed the media reviews.
CHICAGO EXAMINER 6th May 2024
Ridley Sturgess, Entertainments Reviewer. COSMOS! Home entertainment doesn't get any better than this. I've just spent a morning at WWE's P.R. test suite and can confidently say that the future of personalised teleisure was in my hand. For any of you readers out there that haven't heard of COSMOS, it's quite simply a masterpiece from the design engineers at World Wide Entertainment. Here's how the product works and it's so simple that even your parents (and probably theirs too) can understand it. Each day, a huge choice of films is available for COSMOS subscribers. I selected Gone With The Wind, which is a bit short in the action stakes for my liking. So I opened the list of Compufyle Legendary Stars and replaced Clark Gable with Vin Diesel. Wow, what an improvement! Then the prissy Vivien Leigh went out of the window for Angelina Jolie. Yay, now the movie's kicking ass. There's more! For an additional 25 DecaUnits a month, subscribers using a NEBULA PERSONAL FEATURES CARD can insert their own APPEARANCE AND VOICE into the ON BOARD DATABASE and view themselves starring opposite the Great (and not so great) Names Of The Silver Screen. Also planned within three months is AVID GALAXY P.F.C. (Adult Video Interaction Device) whereby viewers using DE-STAR will see themselves cavorting on screen with the likes of Anna Tomical and Peter Plunge or even another GALAXY P.F.C. holder. It's hard to see how the conventional channels can The receptionist called her name. 'Personnel will see you now, if you'd like to go through.' *** Vale Buckmaster, President of World Wide Entertainment, leaned back in his chair and smiled. What a day! The official launch of COSMOS at last! Its five years of development had pushed ComputaGrafix to the outer limits of technology and quite literally turned the world of entertainment upside down and inside out. No one was going to beat this! He energised the 3D screen that took up one entire side of the boardroom wall. His CG Engineer had said that it was just like looking at your new-born baby every five minutes because you couldn't quite believe you'd played a major part in its production. And he was dead right, thought Buckmaster. WELCOME TO COSMOS, flashed the XTRATV, FILMS FOR TODAY CAN NOW BE SCROLLED. He stopped randomly at 'F' and selected Frankenstein' (B/W) from the list. Boris Karloff was deleted in seconds and replaced with another name from the Compufyle. CONFIRMED. STARTED. Buckmaster cried with laughter for the next few hours as a monochrome John Wayne lurched his way through the crackling and hissing 1930's classic, Groucho Marx defeated the entire Japanese Imperial Army single-handedly in Objective Burma, Audie Murphy cleaned up San Francisco in Dirty Harry, Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin had a Last Tango in Paris and Buster Crabbe made space for Johnny Depp to swing through the jungle as Tarzan the Fearless. As a finale, Buckmaster himself ousted Stewart Granger and became Allan Quatermain in King Solomon's Mines. When he was through with COSMOS, he poured himself a brandy and lit a cigar. He was feeling smug and had good reason to be. In the four years that he'd been President of WWE, profits had risen from 6750000 DecaUnits in 2020 to 9980000 in 2024 and were set to climb even further with the introduction of COSMOS WORLDWIDE. There wasn't even a shadow of competition from anyone, anywhere. As he was analysing the logistics of a further two geo-synchronous satellites to cover the Middle and Far East, the videophone chimed. He whistled cheerfully at the Voi-switch and the excited face of WWE's CEO filled the screen. 'Felix! What's the news on the street?' 'Pretty damn good, Vale! Every E agent in the country is up to his eyes in orders. We've gone supersonic!' Buckmaster pouted and mimicked a scowl. 'Felix, Felix, that's a poor start, it should have been hypersonic but I guess it will have to do for now. Whaddya got on sign-ups so far?' Felix Ratzenberger looked down at his computer screen for a moment. 'As of five minutes ago, we've had just under 213000 confirms,' he beamed, 'which is at least let me see 10,65000 DecaUnits. By Christ, this is only the first day!' Buckmaster puffed on his cigar and blew a smoke ring at the videophone. 'You'd better lay on a party, my man. Arrange the usual divertissements.' *** It was just after the third month that the complaints started to roll in. Teething problems, only to be expected, said Felix Ratzenberger. But the computechs were baffled. In the first case, John Gielgud had simply disappeared from The Odd Couple in Nevada, leaving a black mobile silhouette and Walter Matthau could not be retrieved. In Daytona, James Dean similarly vanished from High Noon, taking Gary Cooper with him and Edward G. Robinson, Rock Hudson and Tyrone Power faded away in Denver. It was in Hollywood that James Mason, John Belushi, Audrey Hepburn, Richard Burton, Marilyn Monroe, Bela Lugosi and Audie Murphy deleted themselves in entirety from COSMOS. The strangest occurrence happened when a displaced Humphrey Bogart suddenly re-appeared in a COSMOS-tailored Casablanca, crossed his arms, glared out from the screen and abruptly vanished. The replacement Rick Blain, Oliver Reed, followed seconds later after an angry side-long stare. By the end of the fourth month, tidal waves of complaints were flooding the WWE switchboard. Irate viewers were besieging COSMOS agencies all across America. Something had gone badly wrong. *** Buckmaster brought his fist down on the boardroom table and glared at the department chiefs. 'Well, you sons of bitches, whaddya got to say for yourselves? We've spent five years on research and Christ-knows how many DecaUnits on this project and now you tell me the system's broke and you don't know why. It's not hardware. And it's not software. Well what the fuck is it? Do you jerks want to keep your jobs? Well, real soon there won't be any friggin' jobs.' He sat down heavily and sighed. 'Jimmy Ray, you've been in ComputaGrafix since the word was invented. Run this by me one more time will you?' J.R. Beaujour, the chief CG. engineer, chewed his lip and looked at Buckmaster. 'I can't understand it, Vale, I really can't. The system works perfectly under test but whenever we put it out to the consumers, it turns to a crock of camel compost once they change the characters. If they play the film normally, it's fine. We've replaced the O.B.D.Bs and it doesn't help; the same thing happens whenever the next film gets played.' 'So what are you saying? That we've got ghosts in the machine? Eh?' Beaujour looked ill-at-ease and peered around for support. There was silence. Don Vasquez, the senior software engineer, coughed. 'Funny that you should say that, boss, but all of the characters who, well, er disappeared from COSMOS are um actually dead.' Buckmaster's eyes almost shot out against his glasses. 'Jaysus H. Christ, are you trying to tell me we're haunted as well? So we've got poltergeists in the processors. Spooks in the software. Demons in the database. What do you suggest I do call in a programme priest and get the system exorcised? I'm paying you five grand a month and you want me to get a friggin' mojo man in.' 'It's a bit more than a coincidence, don't you think?' said Felix Ratzenberger uncertainly, 'Maybe we've crossed the wrong line.' Buckmaster leapt up and swept a stack of reports from the table. 'I don't believe what I'm hearing. Get out of here, the whole fucking lot of you, get out. As of this minute, your salaries stop until you've got some sensible answers.' *** The ninth-floor window, from which Buckmaster morosely stared, overlooked the sprawling city of Chicago. It was just past three a.m. and the streetlights were burning as brightly as when he had opened the bottle of brandy four hours earlier. WWE's reputation was in Technicolor tatters and the media were shredding it more and more as the days went on. Over thirty-four thousand contracts had been cancelled in 24 hours and the European agents had already warned him that they were thinking about pulling out. It was likely that the Canadians would follow too. Unless he could salvage something from this mess, the company was finished. Ghosts in the machines Crazy bastards. He'd see for himself what was going on in his electronic empire. The TV pad was lying next to a pile of management resignations. He picked it up, jabbed channel 424 and selected COSMOS FILMS OF THE DAY. Air America... Boy's Town... Chisum... Deathwish... Escape From Alcatraz... From Here To Eternity... Goodbye Mr Chips... High Sierra... He scrolled back and settled on From Here To Eternity. Then he deleted Burt Lancaster, thought for a minute, inserted Steve McQueen and sat back to watch. Twenty minutes later, Sergeant Prewitt disappeared into thin air, leaving only a black shape in his place. Buckmaster cursed and pressed RESET but the Prewitt character remained an inky shadow. The reproachful faces of Burt Lancaster and Steve McQueen suddenly appeared on the lower part of the screen, scowled, and faded away like mist. 'What the fuck is going on here!' He opened his desk drawer, took out his NEBULA P.F.C and rammed it into the O.B.D.B. Then he deleted Frank Sinatra and restarted the film. This time he was Maggio. 'Right, you bastards, just try and shift Vale Buckmaster.' CONFIRM. START. *** Ranks of Hollywood actors surrounded him as he blinked under the hot studio lights. 'We've been waiting for you, you fink.' snarled Humphrey Bogart. 'What's the big idea with screwing around with our movies? I thought I'd met all the jerks in this goddamn business but for a new boy, you sure top the bill.' James Stewart tapped him on the shoulder, 'Y-yeah, that's right, we kinda w-worked hard to entertain t-the folk out there a-a-and along you come a-a-and mess it a-all up.' Buckmaster looked around and spluttered. 'Eh! What kind of horseshit is this?' 'Hold your tongue.' Laurence Olivier prodded Buckmaster's chest. 'You, sir, are despicable and beneath contempt,' he boomed, 'and have reduced our profession to the same level as that of circus performers. Do you hear me?' The bluster went out of Buckmaster like a punctured balloon. 'Quite so, Larry,' agreed David Niven. He turned to Buckmaster. 'Now listen here, old chap, this just isn't on,' he said, 'All of us are rather upset about your recent conduct. No matter how amusing you may find it, you've made us the laughing stock of the twenty-first century and that is quite, quite unforgiveable.' A big-breasted blonde squeezed past Olivier and kicked Buckmaster's shin. 'I'm a woman of very few words, but lots of action. There's plenty more where that came from.' James Cagney pushed through the crowd and put the hopping Buckmaster on his back with a solid right hook. 'Take that as well, you dirty, yellow-bellied rat.' Buckmaster groaned and wiped a gobbet of blood from his split lip. Cagney rubbed his knuckles. 'There ain't no special effects in here now, pal.' Burt Lancaster gave him a white-toothed grin and rocked on the balls of his feet as Oliver Reed grabbed Buckmaster by the collar and hauled him upright. There was a loud clack in his ear. 'Scene One, Take Two!' called a voice from behind the spotlights.
Archived comments for Machines in the Ghosts
franciman on 15-10-2012
Machines in the Ghosts
Great story. I loved both the concept and it's execution.
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Jim,
This story is one of my favourites. I've been tweaking it for years and it's still not quite right though. It's one of those pieces that you'll know is REALLY finished when the proverbial light bulb flashes in your head
Appreciate your comments,
Cheers,
Steve

TheBigBadG on 15-10-2012
Machines in the Ghosts
There's something of the Philip K. Dick about this, and I mean that in a good way. A silly Philip K. Dick, of course. That blurry line between technology and identity. It's a great idea though, like Franciman says. Maybe Die Hard with Richard Griffiths instead of Bruce Willis and Richard O'Brien instead of Alan Rickman?
George

Author's Reply:
One of those COSMOS devices would be a hoot to use, wouldn't it! Some actors were in the wrong film to begin with. A pregnant Arnold Schwarzenegger, for gawd's sake... Stallone in Get Carter... Anyone in the Flight of the Phoenix re-make...
Thanks for dropping in,
Steve 🙂

CVaughan on 16-10-2012
Machines in the Ghosts
A neat idea I thought story well told. Didn't they talk about image capture once of stars and using their characteristic inages with new scripts if I can recall or something like that. You wouldn't put it past them with their colourising etc.
Anyway terrific write and a convincing fantasy, just one cavil do you have a new monetary unit in the not too distant future dollars would be more apt I thought, as the date is not projected very far away. Still who knows I suppose? Frank

Author's Reply:
I think the idea for this came from one of those great Naked Gun films from years back. The image capture may well happen in the near future, as you suggest. CG is pretty impressive nowadays.
I dithered about using dollars as I wasn't sure what value the currency would have in those times. Maybe the plot should be set another fifty years on.
Many thanks for reading and commenting,
Steve

ChairmanWow on 16-10-2012
Machines in the Ghosts
Great premiss. The deceased stars get the last laugh. Those cultural icon movies getting screwed around with is a kind of outrage that doesn't have a name yet.

Ralph

Author's Reply:
Hi, Ralph,
Aye, you're right - some things are best left alone, like a bear with a hangover. 🙂
Thanks for the read and write,
Cheers,
Steve


Population Implosion (posted on: 12-10-12)
Kids... who'd have them?

The Population Stability Officer ran the point of his pen down the column of qualifying check boxes on Page Two of the Family Planning Application form. There was no reason to turn the request down; the Gender Balance for the area even permitted the parents the choice of sex the projected shortfall of male progeny had been made up two months previously. He became aware of a drumming on his desktop. He looked up and frowned. The applicant flushed and removed his hand. The PSO nodded and went back to the application. Magnus Goodheart 621. Address: Area Code 1/54/W3. Occupation: Elevator service engineer for Skigh-Hy Lifts. Age: twenty-seven. Genetic Code: B1(c) K36. Notes inherited arthritis, elevated blood pressure, reduced aural capability. No previous applications for Libido Restoration. He turned to Goodheart 621's wife. Name Calla. Age twenty-five. Genetic Code: A4(a) L72. No predicted health reduction. 'Well, Goodheart Union,' he said, 'it appears that you have fulfilled the criterion in regard of the first of your permitted offspring.' The pair beamed and squeezed each other's hands. 'As you know,' he continued, 'you will be required to attend a repro-induction course where the procedure of actual mating will be properly explained. When you are confident in your knowledge of procreation, you will both be given the Libido Restoration injection. This will prime the reproductive senses and organs, enabling the mating to take place. The injection will give an effective window of between seven and twelve days.' He paused for a moment and smiled. 'It is up to you to utilise your time as constructively as possible.' The Goodheart Union smiled back. 'I would suggest that you follow your Medical Examiner's advice regarding optimum biorhythmic cycles and, when the time is right, take a two week break from work. I must warn you now that there can be no extension of Restoration if the results are unsatisfactory. However, given proper application, that is very unlikely. Now, are there any questions you wish to ask?' Mrs Goodheart 621 nodded. 'What if conception is successful and the results are twins?' 'You will be permitted to retain both,' said the PSO, 'but you will not qualify for the second and final Libido Restoration programme.' Mr Goodheart 621 raised his hand. 'As we're both new to the process, what if we find that we're unable to propagate due to a physical problem?' The PSO sighed impatiently. 'As I said earlier, Mr Goodheart 621, you have only a certain window in which to perform your duties. If difficulties do occur, contact your Medical Examiner immediately for advice. I must stress that we no longer permit artificial insemination; all reproductive acts must be carried out physically in the limited time that we allow Nature to be the arbiter of such matters. Mrs Goodheart 621, you wish to say something further? No? In that case I will now go ahead with your application.' *** Magnus and Calla were lying in the sleeping compartment of their 19th-floor Accommodule. A book loaned by the Planning Department was on the pillow between them. Magnus flipped through the pages until he came to the graphics section. Calla pointed to a photograph showing a couple in the act of reproduction. Figure1: The Optimum Position For Mating read the caption. They looked at the picture for a few moments. 'My, my!' exclaimed Calla. 'To think that only forty years ago, people could do this whenever they wished?' 'Yes,' said Magnus, 'it does look rather umm undignified, doesn't it? And evidently they did it for pleasure as well, although it does seem hard to believe. I mean, just look at their expressions.' 'He must be squashing the poor woman. No wonder she's got that funny look on her face.' 'I'll be more careful, dear,' promised Magnus and turned the page, 'Ugh look at these two! I saw some dogs doing that in the park last week.' Calla's lips curled in distaste. 'How are we going to do it not like that, I hope?' 'Certainly not! I couldn't possibly behave in that manner. And what about this!' Calla looked at the next picture through her fingers and blushed. 'And I thought that we were living in a civilised society,' she said hotly, 'Out of the question.' 'Quite right,' said Magnus. They read on until the lights were dimmed at ten o'clock. Magnus put the book away, reached for Calla's hand and shook it. 'I'm so pleased,' he whispered, 'that the Social Planners selected you to be my partner.' 'Me too,' she said, 'I can't imagine being bonded to anyone else.' *** Magnus was standing in the shower, rubbing the lump on his arm where the Libido Restoration injection had been administered, when he became aware of peculiar stirrings in his groin. He examined the strange arousal with a soapy hand and rolled his fingers and eyes in delight. Within a minute he had fired the first shell in his cannon. As he leant against the wall shaking, he heard Calla calling his name. *** Dirk Goodheart 622, was seven years old when his parents decided to introduce a sister statistics permitting to the Unit. An application was made and the Goodheart Union were duly summoned to appear before the Reviewing Officer at the Population Stability Department. The interview passed satisfactorily: their final child, a daughter, would be permitted. Magnus and Calla sent their son on a character-building course, took two weeks holiday and rolled throughout their Accomodule in a sexual swansong. On the twelfth morning, Calla awoke, showered away the last traces of passion and made breakfast. A red-eyed Magnus joined her twenty minutes later. They shook hands and recalled Dirk from his adventure school when they'd finished eating. Then they waited happily. They made an appointment with their Medical Examiner when there was no sign of pregnancy after the second month. He carried out his tests and gave them the news they'd been dreading. There would be no little sister for Dirk. No little daughter for them. And no more Libido Restoration. Ever. Calla didn't stop crying for two days. *** It was Christmas Day. The Goodheart Unit were watching an old film from the 2020s on the entertainment screen. Dirk laughed at the ancient petrol-driven cars and Calla was amused by the quaint clothing. Magnus's video-pager chimed six times. He pressed the Urgent channel and sighed as he read the message. 'Sorry,' he said, 'It's a call-out. The service lift has jammed in the Parliament Towers and it's very important that it's repaired tonight.' Calla sniffed. Dirk looked at his father. 'Please, Father, may I come with you? I've never been inside the Parliament building before.' Magnus considered the request and agreed. It was a good opportunity for the boy to see the Towers from which legislation was passed that affected every man, woman and child in the nation. They arrived at the Parliament MagLev terminal at nine o'clock and crossed into the assembly court. Scores of politicians and their wives and guests were spilling from their transport and heading for the Chambers Complex. A security guard directed Magnus to the reception floor where a harassed-looking man stood, looking at his watch. 'You the lift engineer?' he said, managing to sound both accusing and thankful at the same time. Magnus admitted that he was. 'Good the lift's stuck half-way between the basement storeroom and third sub-level. There are important packages in it for the party upstairs. Can you fix it?' Magnus informed the man that it wouldn't cause him any great problems, picked up his toolbox and set to work on the lift control panel. He opened the sliding doors within seconds and shone his torch down the narrow shaft. Two or three small parcels seemed to be wedged between the edge of the lift floor and the wall. He muttered about the careless loading that had disturbed his evening, over-rode the circuit breaker and sent the lift down a few centimetres. The jam cleared itself. Then Magnus pressed the 'Up' button and the lift rose smoothly. Small foil sachets cascaded from a lacerated parcel as it drew level with the hatch. He picked it up and examined the label. A Happy Christmas and New Year to Lord and Lady Bellingham Ffaulkes, West Kent Constituency. 'Hey, look at these,' said Dirk. Magnus looked down at the torn sachets that Dirk had picked up. 'Balloons, Father! Lots and lots of them.' 'So there are,' said Magnus, 'It looks like somebody's going to be having a very merry Christmas.'
Archived comments for Population Implosion
TheBigBadG on 12-10-2012
Population Implosion
Couple of points first, I'd personally say 'fired the first shell from his cannon'. Also, how did Dirk come about? If they made him the old-fashioned way wouldn't they remember what it was like? Or am I missing something and he was allocated...?

It's a neat story though, if sinister and cynical, and a good read. I like how the twist turns it into a story about haves and have-nots as well. It adds that extra dimension and plausibility that underpins good sci-fi. I can't help but wonder if Calla will still be distraught after the treatment wears off, or if it the emotions will fade? And what happened to love?!

George

Author's Reply:
Hi, George.
Thanks for checking this one out. Re Dirk, I tried to suggest in the second scene that the Libido Injection would lead to their first 'propagation' but perhaps I wasn't clear enough.
As for the ruling classes... some things will never change, been that way since Ugg had the biggest club. 🙂
I like your wondering about Calla and love; hopefully because you saw her as a three-dimensional individual rather than a paper-thin keyboard creation.
I appreciate your comments.
Best wishes,
Steve

Mikeverdi on 12-10-2012
Population Implosion
I liked it, but think that its a story that needs filling out with more detail. I would say its an unfinished project, one that is well worth the effort. I would love to read a re write. Mike

Author's Reply:
Hi, Mike,
An interesting comment about this being an unfinished project! It weighed in at over 2000 words when it was first published in 2003. The small press involved closed down last year and since then I've been re-writing the stories, hopefully for the better. I was seriously guilty of flowery prose and unnecessary detailing, some of it was embarrassing to read in retrospect. 🙁
Anyway, I'm submitting them all for critique in their new form and will take all comments on board. Maybe I'm stripping them back too far.
Many thanks for taking a look and commenting,
Best wishes,
Steve

roger303 on 12-10-2012
Population Implosion
I thought that this was very clever. I enjoyed the creative titles "Goodheart Union, Accomodule. I don't believe that it needs flowering up, the almost terse composition effectively coroborates the cynical soul-less society, IMHO.

Would gladly read more.

Thanks.

Roger

Author's Reply:
Thank you, Roger,
I was aiming to conjure up that bleak society in which the subdued proletariat are naively grateful for anything The Establishment allows.
Could it happen here? And when...
Cheers for taking a look and commenting,
:^-)
Steve

CVaughan on 12-10-2012
Population Implosion

I enjoyed reading this for what it is a short vignette as it were, and an insight into your imagined society, dystopian would be the model. Would it be fair to say 1984-like?
I love sci-fi but have never attempted any. I would have loved to have written this.

Author's Reply:
Hi, CV,
I'd never written it either until a small publisher told me they were over-subscribed on drama subs and needing sci-fi collections. I read a couple of short story anthologies to get the feel for the genre and this was one of the results.
Give it a shot! 🙂
You're spot-on with the 1984 overtones. Brave New World was a good inspiration too. Hard to believe it was written in 1931.
Many thanks for your time and comments.
Steve

Andrea on 13-10-2012
Population Implosion
I don't read a lot of sci-fi these days (over-indulged as a teen), but this was very good indeed. Held my interest 'til the end, and extremely well-written I thought.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Andrea.
I'm revising another one at the moment and the rust is slowly clearing away.
😉
Steve

ValDohren on 14-10-2012
Population Implosion
Very good piece of writing - enjoyed reading. Reminded me (just alittle bit) of Logans Run.

Val

Author's Reply:
Thanks for taking a look and for the feedback, Val. Appreciated.
I remember Logan's Run! But not as much as I remember Barbarella. 🙂
Cheers,
Steve


Mannerchew (posted on: 05-10-12)
A story of gold and greed in The Yukon.

An angry squall struck the mountain without warning as if the gods were outraged by what he'd just done. It shivered thick white coats from the firs and blew them to horizontal shreds that stung his skin like needles and took his breath away. Torsen shook the snow from his face like a dog coming out of water and huddled behind a boulder. The scything wind lessened by a degree. He blew into his cupped palms for a minute. Then he filled his pipe, shielded it behind his lapel and lit it. Puffs of rich blue smoke swirled uncertainly in the lee of the rock and were sucked into the dusk. He leaned back and thought for a while. When he was done thinking and smoking he shouldered his pickaxe and shovel and made his way down the slope. Behind him, two mounds of earth were slowly overwhelmed by a white confetti of death. *** The three prospectors swore allegiance to each other over two bottles of gutrot in a backstreet Dawson saloon. Klopper, only comfortable with his Alaskan malamute, Biter. The bovine, blue-chinned Boakum who almost sniffed the air before making a decision. And Torsen, with his broken nose and scarred knuckles, who knew of someplace where there was enough gold to make them all rich if they had a mind to work. *** The mine's mouth opened on the north side of a mountain. It stood thirty feet above the level of the Yukon River and was set back maybe fifty yards from the water itself. It had been abandoned as sterile in 1896 and the thirteen winters since then had been hard on what was left. But Torsen thought there was potential and he was right. They repaired the sluice and improved the trough supply until the steady flow of water started to deposit gold flakes behind the riffles. Torsen grubbed the deserted mine whilst Boakum and Klopper panned gravel and day by day, the gold increased. Every night they weighed up, got drunk around the fire and made outrageous plans for the future. *** Boakum saw Klopper's hat lying next to some support beams as he lurched from his tent to the outhouse. He winced as his head reminded him of their previous evening's appointment with a flagon of whisky. Most of his recollections were vague. He finished his business and went to awaken the prospector. But no amount of shouting and shaking would ever rouse Klopper again. He was sprawled outside the mine entrance, near his tent. His head was at a strange angle to his spine and a course of congealed blood ran from his mouth. Frost coated his hair and clothing. Biter lay at his side. His front legs were splayed at an angle that nature never designed. The sour taste of gutrot rose in Boakum's craw but he held it down. When the surges had passed, he knelt, turned the rigid corpse over and fumbled through the Dutchman's clothing. He soon found what he was looking for: a money-belt under Klopper's shirt. He swore. Except for a few coins, it was empty. The gold was gone. He looked towards Torsen's tent, twenty paces away. 'Torsen! Torsen!' There was no answer. He called again, louder this time. The tent flap opened and Torsen's overcast face appeared. 'What're ya kickin' up a row about?' he grunted. 'It's Klopper. He's dead. Looks like his neck's busted.' 'Dead! What ya mean, he's dead?' Torsen stormed over and prodded the corpse with his foot. 'Well, he's dead, right enough. What in hell happened?' 'How should I know?' said Boakum. He looked up at the almost vertical rise above the mine entrance. It was a good sixty feet high. 'I've only jus' found him Looks ter me that he took the short way down. What'n tarnation he was doing up there I don't know. Ain't no way ter git up there easy, 'specially with half a pint of red-eye inside yer. Mebbe's the dog climbed there somehow an' Kobus went up ter git him. Drunked up and slipped.' 'Yup, reckon that's the way it happened, Boakum,' agreed Torsen. 'Damn fool thing ter do, always was too pally with that critter. Brought 'em both down.' *** It was only as Boakum prepared Klopper for burial that he noticed the material a strip of coarse fabric clutched in his fist. Rigor mortis and the overnight frost had locked the hand closed and Boakum had to lever it open with a tent peg. Torsen came back from the store with Klopper's shroud, a tarpaulin. He noticed the strange expression on Boakum's face. 'Whatya frog-eyin' fer, Boakum?' 'Look at this. Klopper sure had a tight hold on sumthin'.' Torsen took the piece of cloth and examined it. 'Ever heared of Manitou?' he said after a while. 'Algonquin Injun belief 'bout everythin' in nature havin' spirits: rocks, trees, bison, bugs, the sun an' jus' about whatever. Well, they figger these spirits kin get mighty friendly or mighty offended, depends how you treat 'em. When I was blastin' a few days back, another cave got opened up, the entrance was hid on the far side of the hill. There was pitchers painted on the walls, bison and elk and bears, that kinda thing. Some of them pitchers was painted around streaks of gold. Now I ain't a religious man but it don't pay ter interfere with another man's beliefs. Klopper see'd 'em yisterday an' I tol' him ter keep his mouth shut and not touch nuthin'. Reckon he didn't pay no attention.' Boakum stroked his jaw. 'What're ya sayin', Torsen, that this mannerchew kilt Kobus 'cause he was in the cave?' 'Naw, I reckon the Injuns kilt him 'cause they caught him rootin' with things as din't concern him.' Boakum stiffened. 'Injuns! The Injuns kilt Kobus? How come they let us be, how'd they know we wasn't gonna do no hurt to this mannerchew?' Torsen patted Boakum's shoulder. 'Reckon they bin watchin' us ever since we got here, bidin' their time. If they'd of wanted to kill us, they'da done it by now, wun't they? Long as we din't disturb nuthin' in the cave, we was all right. If yer ask me, they found Klopper in there an' knowed he was up ter no good, I see'd a hammer an' chisel on the floor jus' now. When he's done buried I'll go find the Injuns, smooth 'em out an' give 'em a peace offerin' or sumthin'; mebbe's Klopper's gun so's they'll know we don't mean 'em no hurt. Better go git the shovels 'n put poor Klopper ter bed.' Boakum nodded and made for the store tent. He stopped after ten paces and turned around. 'Where's the bit of cloth come into it, Torsen?' Torsen looked at the ragged piece of material and threw it to the ground. 'Reckon you'll find some Injun out there someplace with a hole in his togs.' *** They buried Klopper and his dog on the mountainside and in the custom of the territory divided the his property between them. Boakum took a hunting knife, a pair of Inuit boots, a bag of tobacco and a creased photograph of two naked women. Torsen claimed Klopper's harmonica, a beaver-skin coat, a timepiece and a compass. The packhorse, tent and tools became mutual property. Torsen said that the rifle would make good appeasement for the Indians. *** Torsen shambled out of his tent as Boakum heated their afternoon meal over the fire. 'Reckon I'll go see the heathens after we've grazed an' calm 'em down. How long afore the grub's up?' 'Jus' about ready now, I guess. Want that I should carry on pannin' or help out in the mine?' 'You kin help me shift some rock, thur's a vein at the end of the passage, I reckon, and a good one at that.' Boakum ladled the stew into two plates and passed one to Torsen. 'How much ore we got now?' he said when they'd finished eating. 'Dunno forty-five or fifty ounces 'tween us mebbe.' Boakum looked at the fire for a while. 'What about Klopper's gold? I figger he had same as us but I ain't seen it in his tent or belongin's.' Torsen knocked his plate onto the ground. 'Jus' what ya mean by that?' 'Don't mean nuthin,' Torsen I was thinkin' that mebbe the Injuns took it. And mebbe they wants our share too.' 'Don't be festerin' about no damn Injuns,' said Torsen, 'I tol' yer that I'd square 'em. Git the tools inta the passage and bring the powder and fuse, we's gonna open up the vein. This un's a mother lode, git us plenty gold.' Torsen helped Boakum move the blasting gear into the cave then picked up Klopper's rifle and walked off into the forest without another word. Boakum thought for a while, put Torsen's tale of Klopper out of his head, filled an oil lamp and made his way into the mine. After a few yards the daylight was severed by a sharp bend, leaving only the lamp's woolly glow to guide him. He adjusted the wick and pushed on. The air grew damp and for a moment the lamp flickered and almost died. Then the passage suddenly narrowed to the width of his shoulders. He felt uneasy. Just as he made his mind up to go, he saw a fissure ahead. He shuffled forward and held out the lamp. The fissure opened into a small gallery. There was a flash of colour. Herds of caribou and bison galloped across the walls. The rock sparkled around them as they were chased by spindly figures on foot and horseback. The cave pictures! Gold! Boakum couldn't hold himself back. There was a fortune to be made here! His scream echoed around the mine for a full minute after he struck the subterranean floor, seventy feet below. The brown blanket, which had covered the hole in the gallery floor, landed a few seconds later upon his body. Torsen smirked and walked back to his tent from the mine entrance. *** Torsen was not particularly annoyed by his failure to find gold in Boakum's tent. He slithered down the incline until he was almost at ground level, followed the thin trail and pushed through the tangle of birch scrub until he reached an opening in the rock. He lit one of the lamps stored at the entrance, stepped into the mountain and made his way through the tunnel and into a cavern below the passageways. In the same place from where he had dragged Klopper and his dog, was Boakum. His head was cracked like an eggshell and his limbs lay at impossible angles. Torsen rifled through his clothing. The three heavy cotton bags went into his pockets. He started to drag Boakum outside. Klopper was going to have some company. *** It was his now. All of it. It sparkled in the lamplight and reflected in the near-empty whisky bottle. There was enough gold there and in the cave walls to keep him drunk for three or more years if he had a mind to. He settled back on his cot, lit his pipe and puffed contentedly. It was a fine life to be a prospector if you were willing to take risks. When he was done smoking, he reached into Boakum's sack, pulled out another bottle of rye whisky and poured a mugful. It was satin-smooth after the cheap liquor they'd been drinking for the last month. The skunk had never seen fit to share it so to hell with him now, and more. He licked his lips and drank again. And again. *** The storm struck the mountain with a huge white fist. Snowflakes whirled through the camp as if they were a million demons, tent guy ropes sang like violin strings or sagged as the wind drew more breath, panning equipment rolled across the site and disappeared into the darkness. Torsen was barely aware of this. He was barely aware of anything. Until a howling dredged from the core of hell pierced his addled mind. He jerked upright on his cot. 'Jumpin' Jaysus! Someone or something was scratching at the tent entrance flap. The canvas moved to and fro in violent jerks. Sweat ran down Torsen's face and thickened in the freezing air. What in God's name was it? There surely wasn't no grizzlies awake at this time of year. Was there? He kicked the blankets aside and reached down for the pistol at the side of his bed. And then, as suddenly as it had begun, the storm subsided, leaving a compressed silence in its place. The impressions on the flap disappeared. Torsen stared at it for a while, cursed his whisky fever, slumped back onto the pillow and thanked the Lord that his nightmare was over. But it was only just beginning A heartbeat. Slowly at first, then rising in tempo and sound. Not from his own chest, but from the mountain itself. It was breathing. Louder and louder. Deeper and deeper. Closer and closer. Something clawed at the tent flap again. 'Who's there, fer Chrissake?' The clawing increased, and with it a growl. It was too much for Torsen's ragged nerves. His finger tightened on the pistol trigger. He fired through the canvas. Again and again and again, until the bullets were gone and the tent was filled with powder smoke. As if it were wounded by the wild gunshots, the storm relaunched itself. And even above the shrieking wind, the sound of tearing canvas. Ninety pounds of snarling grey and white fur burst into the tent and reared up on him. Torsen screamed and dropped the pistol. His legs pedalled the air and struck the table as he tried to protect himself from the slashing talons and bared teeth. The table tilted. The whisky and lamp swayed for a moment, fell and broke. The alcohol flared as burning oil spread across the plank floor and then fire was everywhere. It was unstoppable; the sidewalls and roof burned through in seconds. The beast bayed, then disappeared, as if it had never been there at all. Torsen screamed again as the wind-driven flames scorched him. Blazing pieces of canvas fell onto his head and shoulders and his clothes began to burn. He beat at his smouldering jacket and stumbled through the glowing remnants of wooden frames and tarpaulin. Flames and sparks raced through the other tents and then the campsite was a forest of fire. He fell into the snow and crawled for the shelter of the mine, all the time crying from the burns and Arctic breath that fanned the embers of his clothes and drove the pain even deeper into his flesh. It was quiet in the adit except for his moans and curses; even the sound of the gale had faded once he was past the bend. Now the cold and shock set in. His breath was jagged and he was sick and confused and as chilled as he'd never been before. He huddled against the rock wall and sobbed. A shape appeared at the corner, silhouetted against the glow from the burning camp. His heart thumped against his ribs like a sledgehammer and a warm stream filled his crotch. It was back. Oh, Christ, no. No. He shrieked and scrambled away into the tunnel. In less than ten feet, he was running blind. A steady panting followed him as he lurched toward the chamber. *** After a while the storm faded to nothing. There was only the sound of clawing on earth and a fretting whine. And then a voice broke through the scratching. 'Biter Biter... Good boy. Here now!' And Biter, the Manitou, wagged his tail and slid back into the grave of his master.
Archived comments for Mannerchew
amman on 07-10-2012
Mannerchew
Hey expat. Thanks for sharing this truly excellent, rollicking story. I found it to be eerily atmospheric and the dialogue very natural. I hope more viewers take the time to read and enjoy. Good stuff.
Cheers.

Author's Reply:
Hi, Amman,
Thanks for checking this one out. It's a severely-edited version from a short story collection I had published eight or nine years ago. The small press has closed down now so I'm free to sort out all the horrible writing that I thought was good at the time. Less is sometimes more, as the saying goes.
Only another 20 or so stories to go!
Cheers again,
Steve

Weefatfella on 07-10-2012
Mannerchew
Thoroughly enjoyed this fast paced very well written and captivating story. loved it.
Thank you very much for sharing.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for dropping by and commenting, WFF.
I'm on an editing purge with my old stories and trimming them right down as well as cutting out the 'purple prosery'. This one's about 30% lighter.
There's nothing like standing back from a piece for a few years to see where all the mistakes lie.
Best wishes,
Steve

Andrea on 08-10-2012
Mannerchew
Good to see you posting such a cracking piece - 'bout time you got yer finger out!

Author's Reply:
Thank you, Ma'am. 🙂
You're right - I've got some catching up to do. Spending a couple of hours a night on re-writing the stories mentioned above. Finished another one today, probably stick it up on Friday.


Rising Son (Final Part) (posted on: 08-11-10)
Mitchell's world comes to an end after the tiger takes his adopted son.

Rajiv was awake early. He made breakfast for his father. The other Father, Colquhoun, had driven to the Catholic convent, thirty miles away. He would return before five. 'How does it feel to be back, son?' said Mitchell. He took a warm corn cake. 'Very strange, Father. It is if I have never left but some of me is still in England.' 'Most of you, I suspect. What are you going to do today?' 'I thought that I might visit Jaspal. I have brought her a gift.' 'You're very fond of her, aren't you?' Rajiv smiled, shyly. 'She was my first friend when I came from Birahpur.' 'What did you buy for her?' 'I did not buy anything I made it in the woodwork class on a lathe. It is a bracelet. Would you like to see it?' 'Of course.' Rajiv brought a small package from his bedroom. Mitchell watched as he unwrapped it. He passed it over. It was machined from hardwood and stained dark red; its outer face had been cross-milled and the word 'Jaspal' carefully carved into it. 'Well done, young man! How long did it take to make?' 'Three lessons, Father. I broke the first one because I was clumsy with the lathe.' 'She will like it very much, I am sure.' 'May I go to the village, Father? I shall return at mid-day.' Mitchell ruffled his son's hair. 'Would you like me to give you a lift?' 'That is not necessary, thank you, Father; I shall enjoy the walk.' 'Don't come back married, eh?' Mitchell watched as his son ran down the sand track to the village. ooOOoo They had to help him from his jeep. His face was white with shock and he was trembling. The villagers gathered around him. They were silent and looked at the ground. Din was there, the man who had lost his son to Karan many months before. He moved closer to Mitchell but did not say anything. The headman did not understand Mitchell's choked words at first. He did not know if they were English or Khari Boli. They were very thick; as if the man's mouth was full of sand. 'Where did it happen?' It hurt the headman to see Mitchell like this. 'By the river. He was walking with Jaspal. Karan jumped from nowhere.' 'The girl?' 'Rajiv pushed her aside. She ran away. She is with her family. Oh, it is a terrible thing, a terrible thing.' 'Take me to the place.' The headman and Din and Sanjay were at his side. They supported him as he staggered in the sand. Once, he almost fell but they caught his arms. There was blood, but not too much. A man who is dead does not bleed a great deal. He could see the marks where Karan had dragged his son away. The flies were already settling on the sand, feasting on the dried blood. A cheated vulture wheeled overhead. Mitchell collapsed. The headman and Din and Sanjay stood around him and watched as he ground the reddened sand in his fists. 'Oh, it is a terrible thing, a terrible thing,' they all said. Sanjay drove him back to his bungalow. He had learnt to drive in the army but he still crashed the gears. Vish sat in the back. He was holding Mitchell sahib's shoulders gently. 'It is very bad, very bad, it is a calamity, it is all too terrible for words,' he kept saying, but his voice was so low that it could barely be heard. They stayed with him until Father Colquhoun returned. Vish sat him the chair on the veranda and put a glass in his hand and the photograph in front of him. He did not speak and they did not speak, either. He lifted his pain-weighted head at the sound of the Packard's horn. Father Colquhoun was waving from his seat. Vish went to the car and spoke to him. 'It is too terrible for words,' they all said, as they walked back to the village, leaving Mitchell sahib and the man of God on the veranda. *** 'Speak to me as a friend. Don't speak to me as a priest. Please.' 'Gerald.' Father Colquhoun moved his chair closer and held Mitchell's shoulder, 'Gerald there's little I can say as either that will help. I can't even say that I know what you're going through, because I don't; all I can do is wait with you and listen if you want to talk and be quiet if you don't. There'll be no pious platitudes. Can I get you anything?' 'The tablets. In the locker, next to my bed. And more whisky.' Mitchell's words were fractured with emotion. He picked up the photograph of Rajiv. The sun was low, balanced on the far hills: the mauve-pink light caught the glass. In it he saw his face reflected; it merged with Rajiv as he tilted the frame and for a moment, they were one. He put the picture of his son onto the table where the sun could bathe him; keep him warm. Father Colquhoun pressed the brown, ribbed bottle and whisky glass into his hands. Mitchell unscrewed the cap. His hands were trembling. He shook two tablets from the bottle and washed them down with the whisky. Father Colquhoun could see the label on the side of the bottle. Not To Be Taken With Alcohol. He said nothing. After a while, after they had been sitting in silence, Mitchell began to speak. Father Colquhoun listened as he told him of his son. He was going to be someone of importance one day he was a bright boy Stonebridge College was just the place for him... he didn't think that Rajiv would come back to India, at least, not to live The moon rose and the whisky went down. Eventually Mitchell was quiet. Father Colquhoun took the empty glass from his hand. He was very gentle, for Mitchell's grip was tight. He went into the bungalow and brought out two blankets. He covered Mitchell and moved his chair a little closer, so that he could see his friend came to no harm. It was a long time before sleep came. *** Mitchell unlocked the gun cabinet three days later and took out the rifles. He lay them on his bed and began to clean them: first the Springfield .30.06, then the Lee Enfield .303, then the Mannlicher 6.5 and finally the Gibbs .505. When he had finished, he did the same with his pistols: the Webley and the Colt. His army uniform, long unworn, now fitted him. The cancer made sure of that. He chose the jungle greens. 'What are you doing, Gerald?' said Father Colquhoun softly. He was standing in the bedroom doorway. His white hair was tangled and the stubble on his face sparkled in the strong early sunlight that shone through the opened blinds. Mitchell's words were flat in the already-thickening air. 'I'm going to kill the bastard.' 'Gerald. Oh, Gerald.' 'Don't worry your mind, Michael, I'm not going to do it by myself. I can't do it by myself. I need your help. And the village.' Father Colquhoun looked at the guns and back to Mitchell. His face was set and his eyes burned in the circles that surrounded them like dark haloes. 'Are you sure you're up to this. I'm sorry, but you don't look it.' 'I've never been more up to anything in my life. Don't try to stop me; I'll do it by my bloody self, if need be. Do you hear?' 'All right, Gerald, all right. How do you intend to do it?' 'I'll draw him out. Then you shoot him.' 'Just like that?' 'Yes just like that.' 'I'm worried for you, Gerald.' 'Then don't be. Take your choice; the Webley's for me.' Father Colquhoun looked at Mitchell doubtfully. 'I haven't fired a gun in years. I'd better take the Lee Enfield; I'm more used to Army weapons. Why the uniform?' 'I've got my reasons. If you're coming, help me with the rifles.' Mitchell didn't speak as they bounced down the sand track to the village in his jeep. Father Colquhoun watched him as he pursed his lips and occasionally bared his teeth. His eyes seemed incandescent. The village was awakening. Mitchell sounded the horn. The people left their small yards and mud dwellings and abandoned their cooking. 'Get all the men together,' said Mitchell, 'We are going to kill Karan.' 'Mitchell sahib,' said the headman, 'How are we to do this?' 'Get the men together and I will tell you.' 'Are you brave?' said Mitchell, when the men were assembled. He was standing in the back of the jeep. 'Are we to kill Karan, tonight? Who among you are the best shots?' Sanjay stepped forward. So did Din, the one-eyed man who had also lost a son to the man-eater. 'Who else. Who has been in the army?' No one moved. Their fear of Karan was plain. Glory would not be enough, now. 'All right the man who kills the tiger may keep the weapon.' Four men joined Din and Sanjay, who had his own Lee Enfield. Rifles were very valuable; Mitchell knew a man and his family could live comfortably for many weeks on the proceeds of even a worn shotgun. 'Very well; gather round and I will instruct you in the ways of each gun.' When he had finished, the girl, Jaspal, edged up to the jeep. Her eyes were red. 'Jaspal,' said Mitchell. 'Mitchell sahib, it was a very brave and honourable thing that Rajiv did. He stood before the beast so that it could not devour me.' 'I would have expected nothing else from him, Jaspal. He was a boy but he died as a man. Are you hurt?' His voice was little more than a whisper. 'Yes, Mitchell sahib. I am sorely hurt in my heart.' 'Did he give you his gift?' She held out her arm; the red-stained wooden bracelet was on her wrist. 'I shall never take it off,' she said, 'I am very sorry for you.' 'And I am very sorry for you, too, Jaspal. Can you tell me of the tiger?' 'Oh, Mitchell sahib, it was so sudden. It leapt from the undergrowth and was upon us in the blinking of an eye.' 'Did it limp, Jaspal, did it limp?' 'I cannot say, sahib, but it stumbled as it stopped before us.' 'And was it big?' 'Very big.' 'As long as my jeep?' 'Yes.' 'Thank you for coming to see me, Jaspal.' She cried as she walked away. 'Bring a goat,' said Mitchell. He was grimacing, now: the pain was physical as well as mental. He sat down on the back seat of the jeep as he waited. Father Colquhoun sat beside him. *** There were eight of them, as well as the goat. It was a small clearing on the opposite bank of the river, no bigger than a tennis court. 'This is the place,' said Mitchell, 'Tie the goat here.' Father Colquhoun watched as the goat was fastened to a stake with a thin chain. It was little more than a kid and would be soon be distraught. 'What are your intentions, Gerald?' he said. 'We wait by the jeep. When he comes for the goat, we will kill him.' 'And if he doesn't come?' 'He will come. The noise of the goat will make sure of that.' They waded back through the knee-deep water and waited. The jungle came alive with the sound of ratcheting insects and chattering monkeys as dusk fell. The slow-moving river chuckled over its bed and lapped against the bank. The goat began to bleat. Its cries were haunting in the darkness. The men were silent as they lay in the undergrowth with their rifles and pistols. The hours passed slowly. Mitchell nudged Father Colquhoun. 'I'm going to wait in the jeep,' he whispered, 'When it comes for the goat, I'll turn the headlights on. There'll be no excuse for missing.' He crept away. *** They shot the tiger, Karan, just before dawn. The goat did not shriek in distress; they found it when they returned to the village with the five-hundred-pound corpse. Its chain had been unclipped. When they examined the man-eater, they found that its teeth were broken and one of its front paws was badly mutilated. Their tired eyes had snapped open at the sound of something crashing through the undergrowth. 'The lights, Gerald, the lights.' Father Colquhoun shouted. He ran to the jeep. It was empty; there was no sign of Mitchell. He turned the lights on; the beam carried across the water and into the clearing. The man-eater was staggering around in wide circles, as if it were drunk. Its left foreleg trailed uselessly and its eyes were barely open. Din and Sanjay fired first and then the others. The crack of the weapons echoed through the jungle. It fell to its side and kicked its legs. Then it was dead. They ran through the river, sending sheets of water before them in excitement, Father Colquhoun, too. 'Gerald. Gerald we've got it.' What was left of Mitchell lay next to the stake that had tethered the goat. Next to him was a brown, ribbed bottle that said, on its side: Not To Be Taken With Alcohol. It was empty. *** He found the letter on the seat of the jeep. It was weighted down by the Webley pistol. Dear Michael, You may understand. It was not possible for me to kill the beast, for Rajiv was part of it. I am with him now and the morphine will have made my passing painless. Perhaps it made Karan's course painless also, but I will never know. You always were a bad shot. The whisky is yours. Sell whatever is left and put the proceeds into the orphanage. Perhaps we will see you again, someplace. Mitch and my son, Rajiv.
Archived comments for Rising Son (Final Part)
Kazzmoss on 08-11-2010
Rising Son (Final Part)
Oh no! Have you just given us the punch line before I've read it!!

Kazz

Author's Reply:

Kazzmoss on 08-11-2010
Rising Son (Final Part)
Expat, I felt cheated reading this and I didn't want to read that Rajiv was killed before I had read the story.

I've loved the relationsip between father and son. It was polite and caring and full of respect for each other. I felt Mitch's pain too much and it put me off reading the rest of it.

Having read the last couple of paragraphs, I understand why you did what you did. It was a clever ending, really.

However, it just didn't work for me. Perhaps you could have Jaspal killed instead and it is Rajiv's grief and the other deaths that prompts Mitch to do what he did. After all he was dying anyway.

Thanks for posting your story and overall I am glad that I have read it.

Kazz

Author's Reply:
Hi, Kazz,
It's an interesting thought regarding Rajiv's death mentioned Part One and your disappointment. I've completely forgotten the reason for writing this story in partial retrospect and might try out a straight 'time-line' re-jig at some stage, to see how it pans out. The father/son relationship was one that I would have liked to have had with my own boy but a marriage break-up and 12,000 km separation put a stop to that, so circumstances manifested themselves in my writing.
I appreciate your continued time in reading and commenting on this long piece. My next sub/s should be a little more upbeat.
Steve
:^-)

Kazzmoss on 08-11-2010
Rising Son (Final Part)
Hi Steve, Yes, there was a mention earlier on, but I had forgotten that later on and didn't relate it to his son at the time.

I can see that the fater/son relationship meant a lot because it came out in your writing. 12,000 km - that's where the expat name comes in then, I suspect.

I look forward to reading more from you.

Kazz



Author's Reply:
Thanks, Kazz. Yes, I'm a bit of a gipsy; goes with the job. All good (or sometimes bad) experience for a scribbler.
:^-)
Steve

Bikerman on 09-11-2010
Rising Son (Final Part)
Can't say I agree with Kaz, either about knowing beforehand that Rajiv was going to be killed (if a story is any good it is worth reading many times and doesn't rely on surprises) or about the death itself, which I think worked well. Mitchell's death was maybe a bit too obvious an ending, but perhaps also inevitable. (A few missing words, typos, etc: 'It is AS if...' 'Vish sat him IN the chair..' '..and would be (?) soon be distraught..' Also should be 'He laid them..') Not sure about a 'pain-weighted' head, but I don't want to get too pernickety. The story worked well and I enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:
Good spotting re the errors, Bikerman; I must have been over this story at least twenty times in the past month as well! I'll get on to them.
I can understand why J. K. Rowling cried when she killed off her characters; Mitchell and Rajiv inflated themselves into 3D personas as the story developed and I couldn't imagine Mitchell living without his son. Inevitable, as you say.
Many thanks for your continued input on this piece; everything taken aboard.
Cheers,
Steve

e-griff on 10-11-2010
Rising Son (Final Part)
I commented on the style of writing on the first episode, calling it 'classical' - ie a straight narrative presentation to the reader, which some today will no doubt find old-fashioned and possibly stilted. But it is the style it is, and common to us older generation lot in that we were taught the style in our formative years.

However, looking at the story as a whole, the plot is good, the characters convincing, the ending fine, IMO. For its style, the writing is good, if sometimes a bit overfloriferous as Bikerman has mentioned.

But, I must admit that the story would be more effective written in a more involving style, with less obvious statement of events and more hints and suggestions which would allow the reader to join in the plot rather than stand and observe, to feel rather than be told. But whether you can evolve your style (or even whether you want to) is a moot point.

Having said that, as it stands it is genuine 'Good Read' regardless, and a very worthy contribution to the 'Prose Fightback' movement ... 🙂

JohnG


Author's Reply:
Thanks for checking this part out as well, Griff. Aye, I guess I'm showing my age and early reading habits re the delivery of this particular submission. No shame in that because us... er... 'mature' readers can appreciate the style of Jack London, Richard Dana and Joseph Conrad etc. :^-)
Point taken about the occasional ornate writing (along with Bikerman); I'll do some pruning.
I think I won't deviate too much from the original approach - as you rightly suspect - because there are personal shadows woven into the plot, but I will make some alterations based on the feedback.
Appreciate your thoughts,
Steve

Weefatfella on 14-10-2012
Rising Son (Final Part)
Photobucket

I loved it.
The death of the son was hard to take but inevitable.
Really enjoyed expat.
Thank You very much for Sharing.
( Read it with super-duper crackers and cheese, I feel they complimented the piece??)
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks again, WFF! I might do some minor editing after having been away from it for a while.
Re cheese and crackers - anything that makes my writing look better has got to be worth eating. 🙂
Cheers,
Steve


Rising Son Part 2 (posted on: 05-11-10)
Second (middle) part of the story I posted on Monday. Mitchell tries to purge his conscience after a wartime experience by adopting an Indian orphan. But there's more tragedy to come.

The goat was being led to the spit of sand by the river as Mitchell arrived at the village. It bleated furiously, as if anticipating its fate. 'Where is Sanjay?' he said. 'He is coming,' said the headman. When Sanjay came with the Lee Enfield, he was dressed in a woollen khaki shirt. It still had the stripes of a lance corporal on its sleeves. He stood to attention with the butt of the rifle on the ground. The stock was polished. 'Reporting for duty, Sah,' he shouted. Mitchell rolled his eyes and sighed. 'Come on then, Sanjay. Let us see what we can see.' They walked down the sand track, past the mud and palm-thatched huts that looked like thick-stemmed mushrooms, and past the frightened faces of the villagers. Mitchell recognised the father of the dead boy, Nasim. He was a hawk-nosed man with a fine moustache. His one eye followed them. The goat was tethered to a stick in the centre of the sand spit. It was chewing a piece of rotten sugar cane. The two men that had dragged it there put up their hands to Mitchell and walked away quickly. Mitchell climbed up the wooden ladder of the hide. Sanjay passed the rifles and water and food up after him. Despite its appearance, it was solid in the branches of the tree. It was made of bamboo, with leaves and grass for camouflage: it gave a good view directly ahead and below. The goat was clearly visible. Once in a while, it bleated. That was good, for it would draw the tiger, if it were there. The two men settled down as the darkness descended like a gentle mist. They arranged their weapons and provisions. Then they waited. They waited all night but the tiger did not come. The goat slept, unaware of its peril. 'It is not coming,' said Mitchell as the darkness retreated, 'We'll try again tonight.' They climbed down the ladder and Sanjay untied the goat. 'Who provided it?' asked Mitchell as he held the rifles. 'The father of the dead boy,' said Sanjay. Mitchell slept fitfully until the early afternoon, when the pain woke him. There was a brown ribbed bottle on the locker next to his bed. Not To Be Taken With Alcohol, it said on the side. He opened it, took a tablet and washed it down with a small whisky. They tethered the goat again that night. This time it did not bleat so much, so Sanjay kicked it. Then it made the noise that the men wanted. Again, the tiger, Karan, did not appear. It now had a name: it became an individual that the village could collectively hate. After the third night, Mitchell passed over the watch to Sanjay. There was no shortage of volunteers to keep him company, for all wanted a part of the glory that would come with the death of the man-eater. Others kept watch in the day but Sanjay was careful to select only those who understood the workings of his rifle. On the day that Mitchell did his last hunting trip with a party of loud Americans, he received a letter from Rajiv, in England. The snow, he said, was jolly marvellous: he had never eaten water before. He was enjoying his studies and the British way of life. His fellow boarders thought it highly amusing that he automatically emptied his shoes before he put them on, in case of scorpions and centipedes. He still did it, after finding a drawing pin in one, but that, he thought, was the splendid British sense of humour. Was his father, whom he missed very much, aware that nearly a sixth of the world's population lived in India? No, he hadn't known either, until he came to Stonebridge College. Was not education a marvellous thing? Yes, it was, thought Mitchell, a very marvellous thing. Earlier that day, one of his clients had missed a boar at thirty yards with five bullets and then spitefully shot a rhesus monkey as they returned to the jeep. It annoyed Mitchell but he said nothing. The client was a New York lawyer. They shook hands as they left and the lawyer presented him with a bottle of cheap whisky. He finished Rajiv's letter and opened the bottle. He drank half of it as he locked away his guns and hung his equipment up for the last time. Then he slept until the afternoon of the following day. *** Vish, the garden boy, told him that a dhobi woman had been attacked by a tiger in the village further down the river as she went about her washing. She had been badly mauled and lost an arm. It was, the villagers suspected, the work of Karan. It was seen to limp as it was chased away. Then two more villagers even further down, had disappeared within days of each other. It seemed that Karan was moving south. He saw Doc Rubenstein again in May and came back from Calcutta with more whisky, more tablets and more letters for Doctor Nasr. Another person had been taken, this time to the east. It had been seen by a British railway engineer. Probably over four hundred pounds, he said, and about eight feet from nose to tail. Mitchell drank his whisky. There was wonderful news when he returned from a provisioning trip one morning in November. A post boy was waiting on his veranda with a telegram. He ripped it open. Dearest Father. Returning India five days next month. Friend's father's cargo plane. More to follow. Rajiv Mitchell. He signed for the message and gave the boy a handful of coins. He felt better than he had for a long, long, time as he walked into the bungalow. He'd send that drunk Colquhoun a telegram; perhaps he could make it up for a day or two. After all, Rajiv was one of his 'old boys'. He was very sick, the following week. Vish summoned Doctor Nasr, as the sahib lay sweating and hollow in his bed. 'Look,' he said, 'I am not a specialist in these matters. I am thinking that you should consider moving to some place where they have the proper facilities to help you. Calcutta or Allahabad, perhaps.' 'I don't know how long I've got. Nor do the specialists at the Maidan Centre. I think that when I go, I'd prefer it to be here. But I will go and see Doc Rubenstein after my boy goes back to England. Now, have you got any better tablets than the last lot' *** The airmail letter from Rajiv was concise. Dearest Father, I am flying in a plane called a DC4. It belongs to the father of a friend. The airline is called Asiatic Cargo. It is due to land at Howrah on the 14th and leave on the 20th. It will take three days to arrive and the same to return. I am looking forward to it, as I have never been in an aeroplane before. I will catch the train. Yours affectionately, Rajiv Mitchell. He wondered of the changes he would see in his son. Rajiv had been away for almost nine months: a gestation period of wonder and education in the womb of a surrogate country. He would be tall, probably still as thin as a stick of bamboo. And amusingly confident with the self-assurance that all adolescent boys develop: when they think that because they have hair on their faces and underneath their arms and around their scrotum, that they are men, and speak forcefully and idealistically of things they know little of. Perhaps he had a girlfriend. But probably not, for coloured skin was not an attraction to the rosy-cheeked daughters of Britain. Jaspal in the village would be pleased about that, for she was sweet on him, and would be even more so with the kudos of being in the company of a travelled and educated young man. And the caste? Rajiv fitted into no division, nor had he shown any interest in the designations that made up India's convoluted society. As a knowledgeable man, would he be considered a Shudra, an artisan, or a Vaishya, a man of commerce? Mitchell suspected neither: India would not be his future. He had bitten into the apple of Western culture and would probably be ill contented with the rice of Asia. Religion? Mitchell himself no longer held the Catholic faith, to the great disappointment of Father Colquhoun, and had left Rajiv to make up his own mind about which spiritual path he should take. He had opted to behave in a decent manner to all people and allow an understanding god to select him, instead. Mitchell was pleased with his choice. Mohan Singh, the area police inspector, sat on the veranda. He was drinking tea. Mitchell also drank tea, but his contained whisky. He had respect for other men's religious beliefs; alcohol was repugnant to a Sikh in much the same way that abstinence was repulsive to him. So he poured his Johnny Walker into a cup, out of sight of the inspector. 'This problem with the tiger is growing,' said Singh. His English was excellent. He had been an officer in the Fifteenth Indian Corps and had killed many Japanese. He was much respected. Mitchell looked at him. 'This Karan has taken two more villagers in the last week. He must be held to account.' 'And you want me to do something?' Singh put his cup down on the floor and toyed with his magnificent beard. 'Yes, Mr Mitchell. We could certainly use your assistance. Even the army are afraid to look for him. They fear him as a demon. Ruddy idiots.' Mitchell sighed. The moment the police jeep had pulled up outside his bungalow, he had known that it would not be a social visit. 'Inspector. I am not a well man. My rifles are locked away. I cannot hunt. I am tired.' 'I am sorry to hear that, Mr Mitchell.' But Singh still sat in his seat, with his cup of tea at his feet on the wooden floor, and played with his beard, and looked expectant. He was undoubtedly sorry, but he wasn't sorry enough to let the matter rest. 'The people are saying that you don't care.' It was a cheap shot. He did not rise to it. He did not say anything. Instead, he drank his tea, with the whisky hiding inside it. It tasted fine. 'You are a first-class shot, Inspector. You killed many, many, Japanese in the war. You have medals for your bravery. Why don't you kill the bloody thing?' 'I was counting on your help, Mr Mitchell. I am sorry that you cannot be of assistance.' 'So am I, Inspector, so am I.' After the inspector had gone, he was sick. *** The post boy rapped on the open door with a telegram in his hand. It was the same boy as before. 'It is marked 'Urgent',' he said to Mitchell. All telegrams were urgent to Mitchell. He paid the boy and read it on his bed. The pain was growing by the day and the morphine was losing its effectiveness in the doses that Doc Rubenstein had prescribed. Dearest Father. Arrive early at Howdah on 12th. Your loving son Rajiv Mitchell. The pain was gone for a while. *** 'You're not looking so good, Mitch.' Father Colquhoun did not shake the trembling hand as firmly as he would have liked. It was moist and the perspiration transferred Mitchell's weakness like an electrolyte. 'I'm not feeling so good. I'm glad to see you again, even if you do drink all my whisky.' Father Colquhoun opened his bag and brought out a bottle of bourbon. 'Here's your communion wine, you wretched heathen.' Mitchell took the bottle and looked at the label. 'Where did you steal this from?' 'The Monsignor's mistress left it under my pillow.' Mitchell slapped the priest on the shoulder. 'You're a good man, for all your faults, Michael. Let's drink to everything.' It was cool as they sat drinking the bourbon. The northern air had swept away the clinging humidity of the previous months and they both wore light jackets. 'Do you want me to come with you to Howdah? I'll drive you, if you wish.' 'Yes, I'd welcome your company. Rajiv will be excited to see you again.' 'It's you he's coming to see, Mitch, not me.' Mitchell put his glass down on the table. 'Look you know that I don't believe in God. I don't know what I believe in but I'm sure that when we die, there's another place; not your fire and brimstone of Hell and smiling angels waiting at St Peter's gates with neatly-clipped wings and harps, but somewhere for people like me who live their life as best as they can without treading on too many toes or stealing from the collection box.' He coughed into his handkerchief. 'What I'm saying,' he continued, 'is that I've done my best and tried to make up for my mistakes. Is that good enough?' Father Colquhoun rested his chin between his thumb and first finger. He hadn't shaved after the journey from Bhirapur and his face wore a heavy silver stubble. 'A one-step karma?' 'I suppose that's what I mean. Yes.' 'It's a good philosophy. Most religions support that, to a certain extent.' 'Do you consider Rajiv to be a good exchange for my sins?' The priest shrugged. 'Well, I don't know what your sins are. You've never shared a confessional with me.' 'I once took a life in Burma for the wrong reasons.' 'All lives taken are for the wrong reasons; that is the way of man.' 'I want to feel that I've redeemed myself by helping Rajiv.' Father Colquhoun swirled the liquor around his glass. 'Who are you trying to convince?' 'Myself, I suppose.' 'I think that my god would be happy with you.' 'So I can take it that everything's even?' 'Let's drink on it.' So they drank almost all of the bourbon. Father Colquhoun got sick. *** The train pulled into Howdah. Scores of Indians were clinging to it; those who could not get a seat inside, or could not afford one. They hung from open windows with their feet on the narrow boards at the side of the carriages, they clung to the ends of the carriages, above the spring-loaded buffer pads that would crush them to paste if they were careless enough to slip between them, and they gripped the tops of the carriages like limpets. The lucky passengers sat inside on wooden bench seats. The heat within the thin steel walls was stifling but there was no danger of death. Mitchell and Father Colquhoun stood on the low wooden platform as the sweating, dusty, travellers streamed past them. The chapati sellers gripped their small stoves. A pi-dog skulked around the ticket office, its nose twitched at the pungent smell of food cooking inside. Mitchell looked around anxiously. The platform thinned. And then he saw him. He had just climbed down from the rearmost carriage. He wore a grey suit and had a small suitcase in his hand. 'Rajiv.' 'Father.' The son ran to his father. He dropped his suitcase on the platform and the two hugged each other like husband and wife, squeezing and whispering and looking at each other and squeezing again. The stationmaster, who was standing next to Father Colquhoun, watched the white man embrace the brown boy. He looked puzzled. They stood back after a while. Mitchell brushed a tear from the corner of his eye. 'Damned dust,' he said, 'How are you? How was the flight?' 'I am very well, Father. The flight was most enjoyable. The second pilot let me sit in his seat while he slept.' 'Did he, now! Let me look at you.' The boy took his hands from his father's shoulders and stepped back a little further. He had grown another six inches and was almost as tall as Mitchell but it was as if he had been stretched from a finite mass; his off-the-peg suit hung from him, fitting only vertically. 'You've not been eating enough fish and chips; you're still like a beanpole.' Rajiv looked at his father. 'Perhaps I should have brought some back for you, Father; you would seem to have lost a substantial amount of weight since we parted.' 'I'm missing your cooking, young man, that's why. Come look who else is here to see you.' Mitchell turned to Father Colquhoun but he had moved. He was standing next to the ticket office, talking to a hunched nun. 'Let's wait for him in the car.' They walked across the railway line and to Father Colquhoun's grey Packard. Many years of exposure to the Indian sun had faded the paintwork; the roof and bonnet showed the red lead underneath. Rajiv talked passionately of England and explained the English way of life as if his father had never been there. Mitchell smiled and listened and said nothing, except to prompt him. Father Colquhoun arrived as he was explaining the London Underground system. He grinned and turned to Mitchell. 'Who is this?' he demanded, 'Where is Rajiv?' Rajiv grinned back and extended his hand. 'Father Colquhoun, it is a great pleasure for me to see you again. I hope that you are keeping well.' 'As well as you look, Rajiv. Is England agreeing with you?' 'It is perhaps a little cooler than India, but by and large, it is most satisfactory. It is, however, joyful to return for a few days.' Father Colquhoun smiled at the boy's earnestness. 'And how are your studies going?' 'Education is a marvellous thing, Father. Did you know that William Pitt the Younger was Prime Minister of Britain at the age of twenty-four? Also that it takes almost two hundred and fifty years for the planet Pluto to orbit the sun? Why, only last week, I learned that' The two men winked at each other. Rajiv was still talking as they drove away. *** 'It'll take both of us to move him. He looks comfortable enough. Let's have another drink.' Mitchell undraped his son's leg from the arm of the chair and straightened it. Rajiv snorted, mumbled something and went back to sleep. 'It's been quite a journey for him; no wonder he's tired. He won't know where he is when he wakes up.' 'Nor will you when we've finished the bottle. You might at least take that dog collar off when you're getting drunk, someone might mistake you for a priest.' 'Expecting visitors?' 'Depends on how much we drink. It was pink elephants, last time.' 'Are you going to tell Rajiv?' 'About what?' 'Mitch. You know very well what I'm talking about. Your health.' 'No, I'm not.' 'Why? He's your son, for heaven's sake.' 'You know, for a priest, you can be bloody dim sometimes. If I tell him, he won't go back to England. He'll stay here and insist on looking after me. He'll watch me fall apart and die. No kid deserves that. No, I won't tell him, and you won't, either.' 'And they call the Irish pig-headed.' 'Look I've made arrangements for him if I should die before he's finished his schooling. A lawyer in Calcutta drew up the papers and I'd like you to have a copy. Some of it concerns you, as well.' The boy stirred but did not wake. 'Let's talk about it later, Mitch.' ***
Archived comments for Rising Son Part 2
Bikerman on 06-11-2010
Rising Son Part 2
The same criticism as for the first part. Although some readers might enjoy the 'literary' language, I think the story would be far better without it - shorter as well. (For instance: '..a gestation period of wonder and education in the womb of a surrugate country' What!) Still, an enjoyable read.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your take on this, Bikerman; you've given me something to think about. I always have a 'running' copy of each story (alongside the original) to experiment with, so I can try out suggestions and compare the two a couple of weeks later.
Regards,
Steve

Kazzmoss on 07-11-2010
Rising Son Part 2
Wow, I loved this even better than the first. Extremely atmospheric, I felt I was in India with a different culture. Beautifully written and I enjoyed the way you have written it too.

Kazz


Author's Reply:
Thanks for your kind words, Kazz. Last part will be posted tomorrow.
Steve.
:^-)

Weefatfella on 14-10-2012
Rising Son Part 2
Photobucket

A'll huv tae git a brollie, monsoons due.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Aye, it's in the air.
Like a typical day in Shetland.
🙂


Rising Son (posted on: 01-11-10)
Mitchell adopts an orphan in post-war India to purge his conscience. But death is still never far away. Part 1 of a 9000-word short story.

Mitchell was very tired. He was a sick man and could no longer hunt, which had been a passion of his, as well as an income. His guns were greased and locked away in the metal cabinet at the back of his bungalow and his equipment gradually gathered a tropical patina of mould and verdigris where it hung in the wardrobe beside his bed: the khaki shirts with their padded shoulders to absorb the recoil of high-velocity rifles, the thick leather ammunition bandoliers and holstered Sam Browne belt with their buckles and clips, the Zeiss binoculars, the skinning knife and the Gurkha kukri in its canvas scabbard. He still wore his slouch hat and the heavy calf-length boots that even now bore the fang marks of the king cobra that had nearly ended his life on the hills of Jamshedpur in the Damodar Valley. He'd been quicker in those days. Not full of morphine. And then his mali, had rapped on the veranda door, on one hot morning in March, a morning that promised to fuel itself on his energy like some invisible parasite and suck the sweat from him until the sun expired in a huge orange ball. Then the crushing humidity of the night would move in to take its place. India was like that. 'Mitchell sahib!' His garden boy was perhaps forty years old. Or perhaps fifty. No one knew, least of all him. 'Sahib a great catastrophe has occurred.' 'What is it, Vish?' He wrung his hands and his feet danced on the wooden floor. 'Oh, sir, oh, sir it is Karan. He is returned.' Karan! Mitchell's heart expanded in his chest like a fist opening. 'He is back to his old tricks?' 'Yes, sahib. It grieves me to tell you that he has taken Rajiv.' It was as if he had been struck by a charging elephant. He clutched at the fly-screened door for support; a singing filled his head and was gone in a surging vacuum; the roof and the walls whirled in a crazy kaleidoscope and then the floor rushed up to meet him. RajivRajiv Vish rushed to Mitchell's side and lifted him to a chair with his gnarled, scarred hands. He was not very heavy but he was limp with shock. He heard the mali's words as he told him that Karan had taken his son as he walked with Jaspal beside the river, but he must have been talking about someone else, so he sat there and watched a company of ants through telescopic eyes as they dragged a dead cricket across the wooden floor. A leg fell between the boards; they scurried agitatedly around their prize, unable to free it. He spoke at last. His voice was low and cracked. 'Leave me, Vish. Go back to the village. Please.' Vish looked at the suddenly-old man in anguish. Why had Karan taken, of all people, Rajiv? Mitchell's shoulders began to shake. He buried his face in his hands. 'Go back to the village I will come. Soon.' *** He sat in the darkened bungalow. The whisky in his glass was warm, as warm as the hand that clutched it and had been clutching it since Vish had gone. The framed photograph of a young smiling boy was lying on his knee. Father Colquhoun had taken the picture with a box camera. The building was behind him, the sign was clearly visible above his head: Biraphur Catholic Orphanage. The boy had a cotton bag in his hands. It contained no more than a toothbrush, a pair of shorts and a vest. And that was exactly how Rajiv had come into Mitchell's home. And heart. *** Father Colquhoun, the founder of the orphanage, led Mitchell along the rows of paint-chipped and sagging beds. The children, some little more than infants, lay listlessly in the oppressive heat. Their eyes followed him as he walked between the beds, handing out small gifts of toffee and barley sugar. Some took the strange presents without a word; others smiled their Indian smiles and displayed their white teeth like the keys of the woodworm-stricken piano that stood unused at the end of the shabby infirmary with its paint peeling like some awful skin disease. He stopped at a bed beside one of the room's four windows. A yellow rind of tape held the cracked pane together. Mitchell looked at the boy. He was thin, though no thinner than most of the other orphaned or abandoned children. His black hair was lank on the sweat-stained pillow but his eyes were bright, not with fever but with intelligence. Mitchell offered him a twist of barley sugar. He accepted it with a smile that seemed to fill his face. 'Who is this little devil?' 'He is called Rajiv. He's just getting over the mumps; it went through the orphanage like wildfire.' Father Colquhoun pinched the boy's nose playfully. He grinned in delight. 'Very well, Rajiv, I am pleased to make your acquaintance. How old are you?' Mitchell spoke in Khari Boli. 'I am most pleased to make your acquaintance also, sir. I am no less than eight years old.' 'Tell me, Rajiv, would you like to come with me as a guest in my home?' 'Sir, I would like that very much. Is it permitted by the Father?' 'Yes, it is permitted by the Father,' said the Father. 'Then I am happy to come with you, sir. When must I return?' Mitchell looked at Father Colquhoun and then back to the boy. 'It is not necessary for you to return. If you wish, you may remain in my house.' Father Colquhoun smiled. Rajiv smiled. Mitchell smiled. But of the three, Mitchell smiled most of all. *** 'Father,' said Rajiv, for Mitchell was now his father, 'Can you tell me of England. Is it true that it takes many weeks to journey to the home of the King? Is it further than even Trivandrum?' Mitchell looked over Rajiv's shoulder. The atlas was open at the map of India. He laughed and turned the pages until the world was flat and complete. 'Here we are, in Bharatpur,' he said, 'And here is the home of King George.' He traced his finger across Persia and Turkey and Europe. 'You see this island here, the one that looks a little like a boot this is Britain.' 'But Father, this would fit inside India many times! How is it possible that such a small island can have such an empire? You yourself have told me of the many wondrous places that the King rules.' 'It is because Britain has always been a sea-faring nation, Rajiv; it is said that no man in England is further than eighty miles from salt water. It is in their blood to seek new places. Many of the world's greatest explorers were English: Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake, Captain Cook, Charles Darwin, Hudson, Frobisher' 'David Livingstone?' 'Yes, Livingstone, too, although he was Scottish.' 'I do not understand, Father, about British and English and Scottish.' Mitchell laughed. 'There are more, Rajiv. Britain has the Welsh and Irish, too.' Rajiv looked at him intently. 'Please, Father, tell me of these people, I wish to learn.' 'You shall, Rajiv, you shall learn as much as you desire' *** 'He is a fine young man,' said Father Colquhoun, looking at the photograph album. He sipped his whisky and dabbed the sweat from his forehead. His crop of hair was whitened by the passing of seven years as well as the ferocious Indian sun. It had also taken its toll on his bluff Irish face: deep wrinkles mapped his skin like the mountain passes to the north. Mitchell leaned back in his chair. The sudden mid-afternoon breeze signalled the approaching monsoon; the sliced-cane blinds were already trembling and grating against each other. Thunder rumbled in the distant hills. 'He's coming along nicely. I'll miss him.' 'When does he leave?' 'In early December. I booked his passage on the Kolar Star last week.' 'Just in time for winter.' 'Yes, just in time for winter. You know, sometimes I miss the old country; this damned heat wears you down. He's looking forward to seeing snow; he'll be disappointed if they don't get any.' 'Stonebridge College, isn't it?' 'Yes, nearly two hundred pounds a year, but he's worth every penny. He'll come back knowing more than me. He's a bright lad.' Fat drops of rain spattered the veranda steps. 'Tell me, Gerald, why did you choose Rajiv from the others?' Very few were privileged to use Mitchell's first name. He had known Mitchell from the army; a misanthropic first lieutenant who occasionally attended Mass but never the confessional box. 'I did a terrible thing in Burma. I needed to ease my conscience.' 'Do you want to talk about it?' It was even better than hunting tiger or bear. They were evenly matched: him with a Thompson sub-machine gun, the Jap with something similar; no man could send that much lead through the dense green leaves with a rifle. He was to the left somewhere; he had disturbed a bird, it rose into the air, shrieking and indignant. The Indian Brigade troops were chest-high in the foul soup of the swamp. They held their weapons above their heads as they pushed towards the firmer ground, fifty yards away. He should have been at the head of the squad but he sent the havildar, instead. It was his place to lead, he knew that, but there was a Jap to their rear. Perhaps he had been cut off from his unit, perhaps he was lost. He would have done better to wait for help, or simply to ignore the jungle-green uniforms that outnumbered him by thirty. But instead, he chose to fire. He was a poor shot; he shouldn't have missed at that range. But he had, and now he was going to fight for his life. Mitchell had never hunted a man down before: buffalo, tiger, elephant, cheetah and bear, but never one of his own kind. He felt a thrill, a tingling in his groin; a sensation he had never known before. Every detail of the clearing stood out in startling clarity. The Jap, with his netted steel helmet and unbuttoned tunic, darted from a tangle of mangrove roots, thirty feet away. He must have seen the tall man with long-uncut dark curly hair under his slouch hat. He loosed off a short wild burst. The bullets flew harmlessly into the hanging branches above Mitchell's head. Mitchell heard the frantic rattling of a bolt in its breech and equally frantic cursing as he threw himself down. He did not understand Japanese but he could imagine the man as he either tried to unjam the weapon or find a new magazine. The tingling in his groin was almost sensuous, now. He pulled the bayonet from its scabbard and ran across the sodden ground, jumping from tussock to tussock. The soldier was kneeling behind the mangrove tree; the green-brown water was soaking the back of his thighs. He was still trying to clear the gun. Mitchell's hand relaxed on the trigger of the Thompson. The Jap's narrow eyes opened in shock and his mouth was a circle of surprise. He was reaching for his machete as Mitchell leapt at him. The bayonet slid easily through his windpipe and came to a jarring halt against his spine. There was no scream, only a slow rattling gurgle as he fell onto his back. His hands clawed feebly at Mitchell's wrists while his legs thrashed the stagnant water, sending spray high into the air. Mitchell bared his teeth and pushed harder, feeling a burning sense of omnipotence as he took away the life of another human being with his hands, not with some remote device forged from steel alloys and automatically machined to within thousandths of an inch on a lathe. The blade slid to one side and came out of the back of the Jap's neck; he could hear it as it grated across bone. The netted helmet slipped from his head. And then he was no longer a soldier; he was a boy of no more than eighteen with acne and a beard that sprouted from his pockmarked face like the spines of a cactus. A bloody foam poured from his sun-chapped lips; his screwed-up eyes opened in pathetic surprise, flickered and closed. He stopped moving. And then Mitchell was horribly aware of what he had done and why he had done it. He knelt down beside the man-boy as he lay in the filthy water that was at first red, then pink as his life trickled away. He held the grimy hand with its thorn-ripped fingers and chipped dirty nails, and prayed feverishly for the man's god to give him the release that he could not bring himself to provide. The screaming urge was gone, back into the dark recesses of his mind. It took the man-boy a quarter of an hour to die: he opened his eyes once more in mute anguish, sobbed, and then it was all over. He lifted the sodden, frail body onto drier ground and covered it uselessly in rotting leaves and rotting branches. 'No.' 'All right. But why Rajiv?' Because of his skinny legs and arms? Because of his big brown helpless eyes? Or perhaps because of his sunken hairless chest? Did the sum of these subconsciously remind him of a small, pathetic figure lying in dirty, bloodied water, slipping slowly into the next world, its future gone? 'I don't know. He looked as though he might be handy around the bungalow. You know how difficult it is to get proper help. How's your whisky?' 'There's a lot more to you than meets the eye, Gerald Mitchell. No matter.' He held his glass out. 'Where did you get the Johnny Walker? The stuff we get from Raighar is like paraffin.' 'I picked up a case in Calcutta last month. Been feeling a bit run-down lately so I took the train and had some checks done at Doc Rubenstein's clinic.' 'How is the old rascal still circumcising small boys and prescribing Mackeson for gangrene and rabies?' 'He hasn't changed much, still the same old lush he was in the Mess. Water or soda?' 'Soda, I think. How's the hunting trade? You'd think that folk would have had enough of blood and bullets by now.' 'No, business is good. The animals don't shoot back. There's been some trouble in the village, though; something's been taking the goats. Could be a tiger. I'll take a look, sometime. The last one I saw' His words were swallowed in a sizzling hiss of rain. The pea-sized drops hurled themselves against the ground and rebounded before being knocked down again by their followers and then settled, turning the soil into a glistening lake of silt. The view from the veranda was wiped away like chalk from a blackboard. The two men looked at each other and drank their whisky as the rain hammered on the tin roof. 'Will you stay over?' said Mitchell, when the downpour had passed, 'It'll be hard work driving to the convent in this morass.' 'Yes, I will, if you don't mind. I'll tell the Mother Superior that I was exorcising a few demons. When do you expect Rajiv back from the village?' 'Oh, he'll be back before dark, he's a sensible lad. It's his turn to cook, so he'd better come back or it's bully beef and biscuits for us.' 'Just like old times, eh?' 'God forbid.' 'I'll have a word with him the next time I'm on my knees. I suppose that you're still a lost cause, Mitch?' 'A lost cause for who? Are you on commission or something? No, nothing's changed.' 'I'll pray for you if I get time.' 'You do that.' A shape under a wet groundsheet walked towards them, splashing its feet as it went. It stamped on the veranda step and revealed itself to be a gangling boy in khaki shorts and a baggy white vest. A faint moustache decorated his upper lip. His face lit up like sugar thrown onto a fire. He dashed forward and grabbed Father Colquhoun's hand. He danced in excitement as he shook it. 'Oh, Father Colquhoun, it's you; I can't believe it, I can't believe it!' 'Rajiv, you scamp. Stand back and let me look at you. My, my how you've grown.' He looked at Mitchell and grinned. 'Why, in a year or two, he'll be wrestling elephants and breaking more than a few hearts.' 'I shall be playing basketball in America by then,' said Rajiv, flashing his white teeth, 'Once I am educated, that is.' He smiled shyly at Mitchell. 'You're half-way there, already,' said Mitchell, 'Get yourself dried off and join us, I'm sure that you've got a lot to tell Father Colquhoun here.' The boy skipped into the bungalow, chuckling to himself. 'You know, Mitchell,' said Father Colquhoun, 'for a misanthrope, you're not a bad father.' 'And for a Father, Colquhoun, you're a good drunk. Fill 'em up.' *** Mitchell hadn't cried since his parents died within months of each other, three years before the war. He did not cry when his son picked up his bags and walked up the wooden gangplank of the Kolar Star, although he felt like doing so; the tears came two days later when he read the letter that Rajiv had left on his pillow. The dust and sweat of the journey was still on him as he sat on the bed and opened the envelope. My Dearest Father, it said, in Rajiv's neat handwriting, Our parting will be hard for both of us, but I think more for you. I am setting forth on an adventure; there are many new places to see and many people to meet, and my mind will be much occupied with these matters. You, on the other hand, remain. Do not think that you will be far from my thoughts; I feel that you will be watching over me and I am promising you now that I shall be diligent in my studies and conduct myself in a manner of which you will be proud It concluded: and so, Beloved Father, you remain in my thoughts, and in my heart. Your most respectful and adoring son, Rajiv Mitchell. When the tears were done, he put the letter into his left breast pocket, where his heart could feel its warmth. There was another letter in his jacket. Even though every word was etched into his brain, he read it again. To Dr A. Nasr, The Jamshedpur Clinic: Re Mr Gerald Mitchell, I have prescribed the following medication... It was signed: Samuel Rubenstein (Doctor-in-charge). The Maidan Medical Centre, Calcutta. *** He was half asleep when he heard the excited voices. It sounded as if half of the village was outside. He pushed the sweat-dampened sheet away, swung himself from the bed and looked out of the window. The village headman was there, in his white dhoti and most of the men folk. They squeezed themselves onto the veranda, chattering like the langur monkeys that sometimes raided his larder when he was out. 'Mitchell sahib, Mitchell sahib.' He pulled on his shorts and opened the door. 'Yes, what's the matter?' He hadn't meant to be so abrupt. The pain was worse than it had been for a while. The headman waved his hands in the air. The others crowded him, looking over his shoulder. 'It is the tiger, sahib. The sons of Din went for water. The tiger has taken one. Nasim is no more.' 'When? When was this?' 'Not more than one hour ago, sahib. The tiger is gone into the jungle. There is nothing left of Nasim but for his sandal.' 'Wait.' Mitchell went inside and unchained his Springfield rifle. It felt unaccountably heavy in his hands. 'Where exactly did the tiger take the boy?' The crowd parted as he pushed his way towards the jeep. 'By the place where the women wash the clothes.' The headman was beating his palms together now. 'Right, get in. Four more in the back. Here, hold my rifle.' They bounced down the sand track that led to the village, four miles away, to the south. The men in the back were talking angrily. 'I am sorry about the boy. In future, one of you must accompany the water bearers. And the dhobi women, also. Who has the Lee Enfield?' 'Sanjay,sahib.' 'Then Sanjay must guard the river while these people go about their tasks.' There was nothing but disturbed sand and a patch of sun-dried blood when Mitchell got to the place. Nasim's one-eyed father and his son were on their knees, beating the ground with their fists. The boy's mother lay prostrate with the sandal in her hand. Her feet drummed the sand in primal anguish. The other women of the village stood silently around her. Mitchell checked the chamber of his rifle and strode through the shallow water to the bank on the other side of the river. After a few minutes he saw the paw prints where they disappeared into the dense undergrowth. He could see by the size of them that the tiger was fully-grown and that it favoured its left foreleg. It was lame. That was why it had taken to killing the goats and now it had found still easier prey. It would do it again. 'I'm sorry,' he said, when he returned, 'It could be anywhere by now.' The boy's mother was still lying in the sand, but now she was screaming and beating her fists like her husband and other son. 'What are we to do, Mitchell,sahib?' said the headman. Mitchell looked around. 'Build a platform high up in one of the trees over there. Tether a goat this evening. If the tiger returns, I will kill it.' 'But who will supply the goat, sahib?' 'For Christ's sake. Which is cheaper a goat or a human life?' The pain was getting worse, now. 'I'll be back at sundown.' He could still hear the woman wailing as he drove away.
Archived comments for Rising Son
e-griff on 01-11-2010
Rising Son
One of my first stories was 10,000 words, written in one day. David (Sirat) talked me down and it ended up as a resonable 2,000 words story (plus two spin off stories) . I wouldn't recommend the same for this at all. Old-style classical writing, adventure, excitement, humanity, motivation, the cruelty of life and the rewards --- alll here. A good, entertaining read, well-delivered.

The only thing I could wish for is perhaps, a clearer indication of the time-breaks, within the text. It took me a moment or two to realign my thinking when it changed -- a few key added words would probably do it. Also, I found the first paragraphs a little confusing at first, you could probably benefit by reviewing them and recasting slightly, getting us to the action quicker. In fact, perhaps consider if your need them at all (ie start at 'Mitchell, sahib' - and show the rest rather than tell). I know I just said something similar about Bikerman's story - but it's a coincidence, not a crusade, I assure you 🙂

best, JOhnG

Author's Reply:
Hmmm, formatting seems to have gone a bit astray.
Thanks for reading and commenting, griff. I've experimented with the present/past/present aspect of this story several times and it may well benefit from further clarification; I'll post the rest over the next couple of submission days and see how the 'big picture' feedback pans out.
I can't remember what originally inspired me to write the story but it was certainly the first time I really got 'inside' the protagonist and thereafter it almost wrote itself.
Credits: I sent it off to David (Sirat) a few years ago and he made some useful suggestions. Likewise with ChrisK.
Cheers again,
Steve

Kazzmoss on 01-11-2010
Rising Son
Wow, that's story! Adventure, mystery and foreign lands. Very enjoyable!

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Kazz! It was you that metaphorically twisted my arm to submit a story for the first time in months.
I'll do my best to help repel the brutal Rhymester annexation of UKAuthors.
Glad you liked it. One or two more parts to follow.
Steve :^-)

Bikerman on 04-11-2010
Rising Son
My first thought was that the writing was too 'literary': 'a singing filled his head and was gone in a surging vacuum' etc and that there were too many similes 'like a fist opening...like some invisible parasite...like the keys of a woodworm-stricken piano', but then I got involved with the story and thought it would be churlish to mention such things. It was in truth very enjoyable and atmospheric and I look forward to reading the rest of the story.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Bikerman. This was written several years ago when I was experimenting with different genres and approaches, which might explain the simile overdose. 🙂 Maybe one of my deepest pieces because I really cared for the protagonists instead of using my characters as light vehicles for the conclusion. Second part is posted for tomorrow.
Cheers again,
Steve

Kazzmoss on 04-11-2010
Rising Son
Glad I inspired you to post this, Steve. It's been great having lots to read. Look forward to the follow ups too.

Kazz

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Kazz, very nice of you to say so. Second part tomorrow and the last on Monday. I think my Muse might be coming out of hibernation shortly.
Steve.
:^-)

Weefatfella on 14-10-2012
Rising Son
Photobucket
I'm enjoying this.
Don't know much about technicalities but this is good. (Would knowing how an engine works improve the car journey?)
Moving on to part two.
Thanks a bundle for sharing this.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for dropping by on this one, WFF. It's one of my favourite self-penned stories and I can clearly remember writing it in a sweltering outbuilding when I was living in Africa, hence the hopefully accurate references to the Indian heat. It's the longest short story I've written to date and it wouldn't have worked at any other length.
I like your comment about the car engine - I use something similar. 🙂
Cheers,
Steve


Crabbe Christmas (posted on: 21-12-09)
Magnus Malwetter celebrates Christmas. A revamp of a submission from a few years back.

Hark the herald angels sing. Glory to the new-born "king hell are ye lot doing on ma property? Away afore I set ma dogs on ye." The night became extremely silent, extremely quickly as the startled carol singers were confronted by the enraged face of Magnus Malwetter. He stood in the unlit doorway with his hands on his hips. His jaw was thrust forward and aggression oozed from every pore of his morally mildewed body. ''Are ye deaf? I said, away with ye.'' The singers looked at one other in dismay. It was always the same. Year after year. Crabbe Cottage had become a challenge; none yet had succeeded in raising a smile much less a donation for Magnus Malwetter was well known as the meanest, most obnoxious, ill-mannered inhabitant of Shetland. A man so sour and tight-fisted that even the most dour Welsh Valleys minister and miserly of Yorkshiremen would look to him in admiration. His cunning eyes swept the singers as they turned to go and fell at length upon the youngest member of the party: a little girl with blonde plaits and a reindeer-bedecked anorak. One brightly-mittened hand held a collection box, the other a lantern. ''You there! The fair lassie.'' He beckoned her with a claw-like finger. She edged timidly along the snowy path. Magnus Malwetter forced a smile onto his stony face. Its muscles, unused to the unusual combination, fought with each other in confusion. "Hello, little girl," he croaked, "and what might your name be?" The carol singers looked on in astonishment perhaps the spirit of Christmas had descended upon Crabbe Cottage at last. "Kirsty Dewar, aged eleven, if you please," she whispered. "Well, Kirsty Dewar, aged eleven," continued Malwetter in a voice as dry as the Dead Sea Scrolls, "how much money have ye collected tonight?" Kirsty peered into the catering-size coffee tin. It was covered in pink crepe paper and dotted with gold and silver stars. The top had a plastic lid with a hole in it. "I'm no sure," she smiled sweetly, "but I rather think it may be several pounds." "Several pounds!" he echoed. He put one hand into his pocket and extended the other. It was gnarled and the nails were very yellow. The carollers looked at each other and beamed. Kirsty passed the tin for the unexpected gift. So quickly was it done that at least half the singers did not see it happen; the tin flew through the air and into the darkness. It made no noise as it landed in the deep snow at the end of the garden. "Well, ye'd better go and collect it again, hadn't ye," he crowed, "Now get off of ma land." With that, the door was slammed shut. Kirsty Dewar, aged eleven, if you please, burst into tears. A solitary snowflake fell from the clear sky and landed upon her cheek. Cruel laughter echoed around the desolate walls of Crabbe Cottage. *** Kirsty did not forget Magnus Malwetter in her prayers that night, although admittedly he was at the very bottom of the list. "And please, God, and your baby son, Jesus, look after Mr Malwetter all alone in his cold and dark home on Christmas Eve," she whispered. Then she turned over and fell asleep. Her pillow was slightly damp. Meanwhile, Magnus Malwetter sat comfortably in his leather armchair. It was the only chair in the room and it was black, his favourite colour. One of the arms had a small tear. It was his for twenty pounds in a Casualty Corner furniture sale. And he made them deliver it for free. The carpet upon which the armchair stood was flood-damaged stock. His bed was smoke-damaged and heavily discounted; the seldom-used dinner set underneath it was reduced by five pounds because of a missing tablespoon. The hideous purple, blue and yellow curtains were from a car boot sale at fifty pence each and the coffee table was from the council tip. It proved impossible to negotiate for cheaper electricity; it was therefore dispensed with altogether. No effort was spared in keeping himself unfashionable. The blue double-breasted suit with lemon pinstripes was a gift from the Army in 1945. As were his shoes, all one pair of them. He did, however, possess a pair of rubber boots, green, size eight. Their previous location was the shed of his late neighbour, Mr Chisell, who forgot to wake up after drinking a bottle of rum. Malwetter had size nine feet but that was of no consequence. Ebenezer Scrooge, were he alive, would no doubt have sent his twenty-first-century protg glowing letters of praise (second class of course). This would have pleased him greatly. Not that many people sent him letters anyway. For all his faults though, Malwetter did have one redeeming feature. He was fair. Fair inasmuch as he hated everybody equally. Small wonder then that he was sitting alone in his gloomy run-down cottage on Christmas Eve. A log popped loudly in the hearth as the sap boiled. There would be plenty more firewood to be had on the thirteenth day of Christmas, some with tinsel and baubles still attached. He considered billing the Refuse Disposal Department for his troubles. The clock struck midnight. He yawned loudly, for it cost nothing, and settled into his chair. He was pleasantly ill-disposed to the world. Within five minutes he was fast asleep. It would be nice to think that while he slept, he was visited by the ghosts of Past, Present and Future. That he became a changed man, showering gifts and affection on those less well-off than himself. That he ceased to be a misanthrope. Well, he wasn't and he didn't. No Tiny Tim Cratchit tugged the strings of his cobbled heart. No sweet little girl with blonde plaits and tears in her eyes showed him the error of his ways. No emissary of rectitude manifested himself in Malwetter's heart or home. No outraged town worthies taught him a lesson he would never forget. No one even bothered to beat upon his door and call him a miserable auld sod. Instead, he sat in his chair, dreaming his own version of pleasant dreams. When he woke an hour later, he stretched extravagantly, lit the stub of another candle and went to his cabbagey kitchen. He opened the third cupboard on the right, the one with the handle missing, and extracted a bottle of Sandeman's Port. Mrs Goudie, the widow from Lerwick, had accidentally left it on the bus last week. He was sitting beside her. She had just collected her pension and was telling him about her only son, thousands of miles away in New Zealand. Magnus Malwetter poured some of the port into a glass (10p from Oxfam). He looked at it. It was half full. He added a little more. After all, it was Christmas.
Archived comments for Crabbe Christmas
macaby on 22-12-2009
Crabbe Christmas
A well told story with a very fitting ending I thought.
mac

Author's Reply:
Thanks for reading and commenting, Mac. This was one of those stories that almost wrote itself; I wish more were like that. 🙂
I trimmed the original by a hundred or so words, changed a couple of names and posted it as a little gift for the receptionist at work.
Best regards for Christmas,
Steve

Bikerman on 27-12-2009
Crabbe Christmas
The ending was a relief, in that it wasn't saccharin as I feared it was going to be. Well done for keeping it real. Don't know what it says about me, but I smiled when he knocked the collection box out of the little girl's hands.

I'm not sure that the first sentence makes sense. It's not really a question, is it? And one slight error that is repeated: As there were more than two carol singers, it should be 'they looked at one another' (each other refers to two).


Author's Reply:
Good spot there, Biker! I've rectified the 'each'.
The first line was intended to be a cut-off expletive (f**) following on from the carol's last word but I may have been too smart for my own good there.
Thanks for taking a look and commenting.
Steve.




The Soft Touch (posted on: 06-04-09)
A buyer gets more than he expected from a set of junk shop vintage postcards. Mixed content of humour, erotica and mystery. Some spicy language too.

I was flipping through the half-dozen or so shoe boxes in the bric-a-brac shop down by the station when I saw her. She was sitting on the edge of a bench, dressed in a 20's flapper hat, clunky buckled shoes, stockings and a chemise with one strap being pulled off the shoulder by her right hand. The other hand was holding a book on her crossed knee. It didn't take much to work out that she wasn't there for educational purposes. I lifted the picture up a little and looked at the others behind it. They were all sepia tinted, like the first, and showed the same girl in varying stages of undress. Blimey! And to think I'd only come in to look for old postcards of steam engines! The last few photographs showed her starkers except for her hat, but you couldn't see much because she had her back to the camera. Then the final picture, which was a little bit the worse for wear, had her lying on a striped chaise longue with one hand between her legs and the other making a half-hearted attempt to cover her hooters. It sure as hell beat the LNER mid-blue 4-6-2 three-cylinder Golden Shuttle streamlined express engine or even the four-cylinder Great Western 4-6-0 King George V model. I looked over at the proprietor. He was absorbed in a newspaper. I slid the eight pictures into an elastic-banded set of pre-war views of Coventry, picked up a couple of 1930s Picture Posts as camouflage and went to the counter. The owner peered reluctantly over the top of last week's Sunday Sport. 'Afternoon,' I said, 'how much for these?' He glanced at the pictures and magazines. 'Eight quid for the postcards and a quid each for the mags.' 'Fair enough,' I said, and pushed a ten-pound-note over the counter. Nice little profit for him; he'd probably got them for next to nothing on a house clearance. Still, that's business you wouldn't expect to buy a bottle of champagne for the cost of a few bunches of grapes, would you? It was raining when I stepped outside so I dropped into a pub on the way back to the bus station, had a couple of mild ales and then caught the Number 9 to the corner of Whibley Way. 'Awright?' enquired Dave, my next-door-neighbour, as I pulled out my house keys. He was standing in front of his privet hedge, trying to sculpt what looked a vulture with his strimmer. 'Yeah, not too bad, mate,' I replied, 'Julie going to the Social Club with Angie tonight?' I don't know why I bothered asking Dave's wife always went to the Social Club with mine on a Saturday night. 'S'right at least I can get to watch Match of the Day in peace,' he said, looking thoughtfully at his hedge, 'Do you think this would look better as an ostrich?' Angie was curling her hair in front of the television when I got into the lounge. Her lips joined in. 'Been buying more choo-choo snaps in the junk shop?' 'No, I found some early-morning pictures of you in the horror section,' I replied, 'They had "adult viewing only" written on them.' 'Right, you dickhead,' she said, 'you can forget your Saturday night quickie for that. I've always forgotten them by Sunday morning anyway.' That was interesting. I'd forgotten the last time she'd fulfilled her side of the conjugal rights agreement. It might have been my birthday, although I'm not sure which one. I left her to Blind Date, wishing I'd done exactly that nine years ago and threw together a microwave meal, which I ate in the kitchen, out of her miserable way. Then I remembered the stuff I'd bought earlier. It was in a Tesco's bag in the hallway. I waited until Angie had gone next door, opened a can of Boddingtons, stretched out on the sofa and had a look through my purchases. The Coventry postcards and Picture Posts made two minutes viewing; then I went through the saucy flapper pictures. Flipping heck my memory must be going! It was the same girl, right enough, but the poses weren't the same. This time she was lifting her camisole and giving tantalising flashes of her boobs. Her left hand was working away under her cami-knickers in the last two photos and she looked pretty excited. It wasn't too easy to walk to the fridge to get another beer. When I got back, Alice, as I decided to call her, was completely starkers but her hands and a feather duster were covering the interesting bits, but only just. What the heck was going on? The Boddington's can didn't mention LSD in the ingredients. And why was she now in full colour instead of her earlier sepia complexion? It looked as if she was staring at my crotch. She was, for Chrissake pointing and smiling! I got a rise like I hadn't had since I don't know when and I heard the key rattling around in the front door. Bloody hell - what was Angie doing back at this time? It was only twenty past ten. I stuffed the photos under the sofa cushions but not before I saw Alice give me a slow wink and wave goodbye with a sexy flutter of her fingers. I stuffed a Picture Post over my lap just as Angie scowled her way into the lounge, stretched my arms and faked a yawn. The magazine suddenly flipped up and fell onto the carpet. It opened onto a page of two young women riding a rollercoaster. One of them had her skirt up around her waist, exposing a lot of thigh and suspender belt. Angie looked down at it, then at my crotch. She condensed a litre of vitriol into a two-second glare and walked out. I heard her muttering as she filled the kettle. What could I say? The apparent evidence against me was there: a physical manifestation and a seventy-year-old graphic reason for its existence. Sure, I could explain it away truthfully: "It's like this, dear I was looking at some vintage photographs of a semi-nude model and all of a sudden she came to life and waved to me." Yeah, right, that should do it! I went into the kitchen. The temperature was twenty degrees cooler than in the lounge. She ignored me and stirred her coffee so violently that a miniature wall-of-death surfer could have had an exciting ride. 'Angie,' I said, 'it wasn't how it looked. I was reading the magazine and dozed off. When I woke up well you know what happens to men sometimes when they fall asleep. I wasn't' 'I don't know anything about you anymore,' she hissed, 'I'm going to bed. Don't you dare leave any stains on the furniture.' That was that. The sound of the bedroom TV drifted downstairs as put my magazines away. When I was sure she wasn't coming back, I retrieved the photographs. I looked at the first one. This time Alice was back in her chemise. She was leaning against the wall with one hand over her mouth and the other holding her stomach. The corners of her eyes were crinkled. She was laughing at me! I must be going mad I looked at the next. And the next. All of them. In every one, she was showing some kind of amusement. This had to be a dream. Then, she blew me a kiss, hooked her finger at me and walked out of the picture. There was nothing left but the furniture. I checked the others. They were all the same. She was gone Four large whiskies later, I was ready for bed. I was bewildered in equal parts by the J&B and my wanton apparition but cautious enough to avoid waking the sleeping Angie. The last thing I remembered before dropping off was seeing Alice beckoning me before she disappeared. When I woke up, it wasn't to the sound of twittering birds and passing cars, it was to a soft body pushing against me and heavy breathing in my ear. And to the almost-forgotten sensation of someone else's hand around my dibber! Then, for the first time ever, she started kissing her way south. Jeez, Angie had always refused to do that before; now she was performing better than any of my previous girlfriends, including Suzanna, the fishmonger's daughter from Waverley Road. I heard myself moaning and began to shiver like I was in a sexual deep freezer. Then she lifted her mouth and went to work with her fingertips. It was too much for me to hold back. The orgasm started at the tip of my toes and built up like a snowball rolling down a mountain. I couldn't have stopped if someone had waved a blowtorch over my nose. There was a recoil like a .44 Magnum as I blew my ballast tanks. I grabbed her wrist as I thrashed about in the tangle of bedding. I heard her gasp. The bedside light clicked on. There was a chain of pearls dripping from the side of Angie's face. 'Get your hands off me. It's bad enough to have to hear you wanking, without using me as a target when you've finished. For fuck's sake!' 'What do you mean? You were the one doing the wanking!' I said, as I got my breath back. She took a handful of Kleenex from the bedside table and wiped her face. The disgusted look stayed on it though. 'What! You're drunk. Do that to me again and you'll be sleeping in the spare room until you're old enough not to be able to do it.' She worked her way to the far side of the bed, turned her back to me and the light off. I went back to sleep but it took a while. It had been a very strange night. *** I don't care for Sundays much. I would except that we always went to Angie's parents for lunch. Her mother, Harriet, didn't like me. I didn't like her either so we rarely passed more than the time of day. On the other hand, her father, Charles, was all right. He was quite happy to potter around the garden, build things in his shed that didn't work and have a couple of pints when the mood took him. And one of those moods always fell upon a Sunday. At exactly 12:30. The two of them met us in the drive as I opened the passenger door to let Angie out. It was nothing to do with manners: the inside door handle had fallen off. Harriet gave Angie the usual kisses and said hello to me in her pained voice. Charles grinned and winked at me. 'We'll be off to the Duke of Wellington for a pair of teeth, ladies.' Harriet frowned. 'I do wish you wouldn't call them that, dear. They're a-per-i-tifs.' This was another reason why we didn't get on. The only humour she seemed to have in common with Angie was bad. It was only a ten minute stroll down to the Wellington and the lounge bar was almost empty. We ordered a couple of pints of Loose Laces Ale and stood by the fire, chatting about this and that. After ten minutes or so, the landlady came over with a saucer of peanuts and put them on the mantelpiece. She wasn't a bad looking woman for fifty-ish and had a good manner with customers. 'Ah, my Sunday regulars! Out on parole?' 'That's right,' said Charles, 'time off for good behaviour. I can't speak for Mike here, but I never get a chance to get involved in bad behaviour, more's the pity.' She looked at me and smiled. Then I felt a hand slide into my pocket. I looked down in surprise; I never thought that Charles had gay leanings. He didn't. The hand in my pocket was invisible and it was gently playing with my mechanism. It started to rise. I tried to concentrate on the conversation that had changed to the new weekday barmaid but it wasn't working. Before long, I had a full extension. I squirmed and put my hand into the opposite pocket to give my fly some space. The other hand pushed it away and started to move up and down slowly. What was I supposed to do now? I tried to drag the invisible fist out with my other hand but it was having none of that. Then my fly began to open, followed by my twitching Y-fronts. As I tried to fasten the zip again I was suddenly very aware that Charles and the landlady had stopped talking. She was looking at my crotch and her mouth was a perfect circle of surprise. Charles looked equally horrified. My face felt as if it were melting. 'What on earth are you doing, Mike?' he spluttered. What the hell can you say under these circumstances? 'I'm very, very sorry,' I mumbled, 'I don't know why that happened. It might be the, er, Chinese herbal tea I've been drinking lately.' The landlady giggled nervously. 'Well, if you'll excuse me, I've got glasses to collect.' She walked away quickly. Then I felt the hand give my tool a playful pinch and leave my pocket. 'I suppose we'd better drink up,' I said. 'I agree,' said Charles, 'And I suppose we'd better find another place to have a pint next week.' I didn't really have much of an appetite for lunch. Charles kept the small talk going, which helped take my mind off the the shameful episode. We had coffee after everything had been put in the dishwasher and then it was time to leave. Charles collared me as I closed the car door behind Angie. 'Mike, old chum, I wouldn't get too concerned about what happened in the Wellington.' It was all right for him to say that, I thought, it was probably all over the locality by now that the landlady had caught someone playing with himself as she stood talking to him. He looked around uneasily and then whispered: 'I don't suppose you've got any of that tea left, have you?' *** When Angie had gone to bed, I hauled Alicia from her packet. She was sitting on the chaise longue in a negligee and a feather boa. Her face was alight with mischief. 'I'm not very happy with you,' I said. She pursed her lips, raised her eyebrows and stared at the floor. It looked as if she were trying to stifle a laugh. I turned to the next postcard. She was sticking her tongue out at me. The other six were equally disrespectful. 'That's twice you've gotten me into a jam,' I continued, 'and I think I must be mad for talking to a tatty postcard. Anyway, you must be about a hundred years old by now, assuming you're not dead. So grow up.' The image on the postcard seemed to zoom into a close-up. Alicia suddenly looked very sad. A tear ran down her sepia face. And another. Now I felt like a complete bastard. Maybe she was just like a kitten left alone all day and only wanted to play with someone. Then she gave me a heart-breakingly sweet smile and pointed to the edge of the postcard. I turned to the next one. She had ripped open her negligee and was thrusting her breasts out at me. One hand was brushing the thatch between her legs and the fingers of the other one were in her mouth. That got me going again. I looked at another picture. She was standing closer this time; her hands were cupping her breasts and her nipples were like Betamax control buttons. The tip of her tongue was sticking out of her lips and her eyes were half closed. I started to tremble and pulled off my clothes in a haze of lust. Now she was lying on her back the floor with her bottom raised and legs wide apart. Oh, my sweet Lord! I laid all eight pictures of Alicia on the carpet, dragged a cushion from the sofa and mounted it. The pictures changed like a slow-motion cine film as I screwed her; from a slow sensuous grind to a flesh-slapping, bone-rattling grunting climax. Her face contorted as she came at the same time. I couldn't help crying out her name. 'AliciaALICIAAAAA!' That's when Angie walked into the lounge. *** It wasn't too bad sleeping on the sofa, once I'd turned the soggy cushion over. There wasn't much I could say to Angie and even if there had been, she wouldn't have heard it over the sound of her own voice. The evidence was shamefully clear: she'd been woken by the orgasmic groanings of her husband and caught him screwing a chintz cushion on the lounge floor whilst calling out the name of another woman. Furthermore, he'd been rutting away to sepia pictures of a demure woman on a chaise longue, holding a parasol in one hand and a King Charles Spaniel in the other. Alicia had royally screwed me, in all senses. I got up at 6:30 and snuck upstairs for a shower and a change of clothes. As I quietly rummaged through the wardrobe, Angie made a pointed effort at seeming to be asleep but let herself down by muttering: 'You inadequate pervert,' as I left the bedroom. I was out of the house at seven-fifteen, caught the Number 89 to Grubb & Sons (Armature Winders and Plating Specialists) at Brundage Business Park and had a cup of tea from the vending machine before settling down at my desk to estimate a price for anodising seven hundred traversing wheels in olive green for the Royal Qurabian Artillery. There was a knock on my door. It was one of the apprentices. 'Please, sir, could you see Miss Burnett in Sales as soon as you're free?' Oh, dear. Miss Burnett was the forty-ish left-hand woman to the Grubbs and wielded more power than she was paid for. She was sexually appealing in the same way that cows climb mountains and any conversation not involving company business was construed by her as frippery. I walked along the corridor and tapped on her open door. 'Good morning, Miss Burnett. You wanted to see me?' 'Yes. Close the door. Sit down.' I half-expected to find a dunce's cap on the chair. She stared at me for ten seconds or so. Her pupils were the size of full-stops behind the star-gazing lenses of her glasses. She opened a folder and took out a sheet of paper. Then she launched into a speech about maintaining company profits, minimising errors and re-evaluating the positions of staff that didn't fully comply with the work ethic. When she'd finished, she waved the piece of paper at me. 'Which brings me to this cadmium plating quotation for for for, er, Capricorn Motors. You appear to have, mmmaah, er, under-estimated the labour for ahhhh treating a batch of of ooooohh, five hundred rocker covers.' Now it was my turn to stare at her. 'Can you explain,' she continued unsteadily, 'why mmmmm the last quotation for an equal amount was six and a half percent more AAAAAAHHHHHH Ooooh, my God' This was very alarming. 'Are you all right, Miss Burnett?' I said. She responded by flushing bright red. Her body arched back in her chair and she began to quiver, slowly at first, then building up to a full-scale earth tremor. She gasped as if she'd just surfaced from two minutes underwater, her eyes rolled like marbles in a dustbin lid, her hands gripped the edge of her desk until they were as white as the sheet of paper in front of her and then she sagged like a deflating balloon, emitting little sobs of contentment. 'I'm afraid that I'm suddenly not feeling very well, Mr Driscoll,' she mumbled when her breath was back, 'Never mind this quotation; I'm sure it's well within our profit margin. I wonder if you'd mind closing the door as you leave.' 'Of course,' I said, 'I hope you feel better soon.' As I walked back to my office, I suspected she'd never felt better in a long, long time. Alicia was clearly a woman of liberal tastes. *** As erotic as she was, Alicia was a troublemaker of considerable magnitude. I was afraid of what she'd get up to next. She had to go. Maybe she had an inkling that her time with me was coming to a close. Only my umbrella camouflaged her frantic activities in the NatWest Enquiries queue; I made do with sandwiches in my office after she tried to expose me in the staff canteen and I finally abandoned my resistance on Friday night when she went to work as I tried to watch Brief Encounter at my local cinema's Nostalgia Evening, hoping for a glimpse of a Thompson 04/7 locomotive. The usherette got a glimpse of something too, so I made a sticky exit at the end of a torch beam. I was the first customer in the bric-a-brac shop on Saturday morning. The various Alicias were in my pocket. I moved around, looking at this, that and the other until I was satisfied that the owner was occupied with his own agenda. There were several wooden drawers on a table, full of old postcards. I took the pictures from my anorak and slipped them behind some seaside views of Bognor Regis. Then I picked up a copy of British Steam Engines in Cairo Between the Wars and threaded my way through the tat to the desk. For a moment, I thought I heard a woman sobbing. 'That'll be a fiver, mate' said the owner. I paid him, tucked the book into my duffel bag and as I went to open the door, he coughed loudly. I turned around. He was grinning. 'A week!' he said, 'Not bad the last one was back in three days.'
Archived comments for The Soft Touch
bluepootle on 08-04-2009
The Soft Touch
Well, you made me laugh. Some lovely writing in this, the sauciness matching the tone of the narrator so well. It had a kind of 1970s seaside humour feel to it, particularly with the banter between the husband and wife, and the men in the pub.

I think you could speed up the first half a bit - maybe just one incident where the wife thinks he's going it alone - to get to the funnier incidents more quickly. I particularly liked the poor sales colleague in her office.

The beginning - 'I was flipping...' is a bit passive, and the exc. marks at the end of the paragraph seem a bit heavy handed, as if trying to nail down the voice where you could afford to be a bit lighter.

Alicia seems very real! I was quite disappointed when he got rid of her, but hey, it was understandable. Nice story.

Author's Reply:
I do believe you're right about those areas, Aliya - I'll have a tinker and see how it comes out. The characters are (not so loosely) based on people I knew although I'm not sure if *I* figure in the story or not. :^-)
Thanks for checking this one out.
Steve

RoyBateman on 08-04-2009
The Soft Touch
Hey, I wouldn't have minded a peek at those! Should've put 'em on e-bay, eh? If you'd held on to 'em (ooh-er!!) any longer, you'd have been down Specsavers... Good, original tale with loads of good detail and sly laughs - great stuff!
ps No Thompsons in "Brief Encounter" I fear - all the run-by shots were done at Watford Junction. (No, those expresses weren't at Carnforth...that was just the tea room and locals on the Barrow line platforms.)

Author's Reply:
Hi, Roy.
I've never seen anything like them in the junk shops I frequent whilst looking for books; perhaps I'll have more luck this weekend. Alicia sounds a male's dream although the drawbacks might make one afraid to go out.
Thanks for the read and comment,
Steve.

Sunken on 09-04-2009
The Soft Touch
Hello Mr. Expat. I can't offer advanced crit, but I wanted to let you know that I enjoyed this muchly and no mistake. I must have done, my pc reading limit is usually about 2000 words. Nice one and no mistake.

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cornflakes 3 - garden gate 2

Author's Reply:
And hola to you as well, Senor Submerged. I'm glad you liked this one, I can give you the address of the junk shop concerned if you'd like to make a surreptitious purchase. Alicia may well be in need of dusting off.
:^-)

discopants on 18-04-2009
The Soft Touch
Good light-hearted read but Alice becomes Alicia halfway through...

Author's Reply:
Good spot, Disco! It shall be attended to. Thanks for taking a look.
Steve.


A Good Night Out (posted on: 05-01-09)
Here comes the weekend... Warning: explicit language.

'Ah, Julian punctual to the second! What are you having?' 'Hello, Charles, good to see you. The usual, if you don't mind.' Charles pushed through the crowd of City workers and caught the barman's eye. 'Craigellachie, dash of water, Tony, and a Ragnaud Sabourin Reserve.' He paid for the drinks and they found a free table. 'Had a good week?' 'Could have been better,' said Julian. 'Our darned lorry broke down at Cherbourg on Wednesday night with two hundred cases of Burgundy on board. Gearbox layshaft or somesuch. The distributors were screaming like unfed babies. Had the Devil's own job getting a replacement truck organised. One needs to unwind. How was yours?' Charles smiled. 'Can't complain, really, I've been having a run on wall clocks since that widow had hers valued on the Antiques Roadshow the other week for eleven thousand. Sold an 1840 Beidermeier for half that this morning, actually. Life's a little more pedestrian in the collectibles trade.' *** 'Come on, Carl, drink up, for fuck's sake.' 'I haven't finished this one yet. What's the rush?' 'It's Friday night, innit!' Craig hooked his first finger at the landlord. 'Give this pussy a lager and I'll have another Snakebite.' The landlord put the drinks on the bar. 'Five thirty-five.' Craig counted the money out. 'Can't you turn the music up a bit? It's like a fucking morgue in here.' 'It's loud enough as it is. I've got my regulars to consider. They're not weekend drunks, like you. And watch your language, if you don't mind.' 'I'm expressin' meself,' said Craig, 'Bollocks what other people think.' The landlord snorted. 'Bollocks what other people think That's an interesting philosophy! And I suppose those rings in your nose are expressing that you don't want a job?' Craig screwed his face up. 'Not at five quid an hour for stackin' bloody shelves in Sainsburys, I don't. I'd sooner stay on the dole.' 'Oh, so how much do you expect, seeing as you've got no qualifications worth anything to anyone?' 'Enough to keep me in beer an' tabs'll do for now,' said Craig. The landlord bristled. 'Oh, that's all right, then just as long as my money as a tax-payer isn't being wasted.' He moved to serve a customer, then turned around. 'When I was your age, I'd been working for three years and I was giving half my wages to my mother for food and board. We had a bit more self-respect in those days.' Craig took a long drink, licked the beer from his upper lip and looked at Carl. 'Yeah, I bet he was one of them urchins what got pushed up sooty chimneys with a brush for eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. He'll be telling you next he only had a bath once a year and lived in a hole in the road with fifteen brothers an' sisters in the same bed.' *** Charles looked at his watch. 'Good Lord! A quarter to midnight already. One more for the road?' 'Why not. It's been a very pleasant evening.' 'As always, Julian. I do enjoy our Friday rendezvous. Just the ticket after a week on the treadmill.' Charles returned from the bustle of suits at the bar. He put the drinks down and leaned back in his seat. 'Philippa and I are having a few days in Rome next month,' he said, 'Rather thought we'd see Bertini and Leonardi at the Costanzi.' Julian smiled. 'That should be an excellent concert. Always favoured Pavarotti over Leonardi, myself. Are you taking in any of the museums?' 'I dare say we shall,' said Charles, 'Perhaps the Borghese and Spado' A car horn sounded, then another. Charles and Julian looked out of the window. A pack of youths were jostling each other in the middle of the road, holding up the traffic. One of them threw a beer bottle, which smashed against a lamp post outside the bar. Then they ran off. Julian drummed his fingers on the table. 'More cretins incapable of holding their drink.' Charles lips compressed to a pencil line. 'So tiresome, isn't it' *** Carl watched the last few customers leave. 'S'pose we'd better drink up before we get thrown out.' Craig looked at the landlord's back as he collected glasses. 'He can fuck off. I'll finish it when I'm ready. That twat's worse'n me old man.' Carl took a last mouthful of lager and checked his wallet. 'That's just about cleared me out. Never mind Sharon gets paid tomorrow. How much have you got?' Craig fumbled in his pockets and brought out a note and a few coins. 'Ten quid. Some fuckin' weekend this is gonna be, innit? Ain't got no blow left either.' 'What!' said Carl, 'Nothing?' He tapped his jacket pocket and grinned. 'Got a couple of Black Beauties as well. 'Fuuuuckin' mental.' 'Come on then finish up and we'll pop 'em back at my place.' Craig slammed the base of his empty glass on the bar and followed Carl to the door. The landlord glared at him from the till. 'You're going to do that once too often, Sonny Jim.' 'Oh, yeah? And I'll fuckin' do you, you prick,' said Craig from the side of his mouth. The landlord was past the counter and across the floor in half a dozen steps. He jerked a fist under Craig's nose. 'Is that right? Come back when you're man enough, you little squit. Until then, you're barred. Now fuck off out of my pub.' Craig pushed his way past Carl and spat on the entrance carpet. 'Fuckin' dosshole anyway.' *** Charles swirled the remains of his brandy around the glass and finished it. Then he sighed contentedly. 'Ah well shall we make a move?' 'Right-oh,' said Julian, 'A spot of supper and a glass or two of Chablis at the club should round the evening off nicely.' They collected their raincoats and umbrellas and went outside. A few revellers passed by, then the pavement was empty. They walked to the end of the road and crossed into the park. *** 'I'm gonna do some cunt, just watch me,' said Craig, 'I'm just in the fuckin' mood.' He kicked a plastic waste bin next to the park gates. It made a loud cracking sound. 'I'll have his fuckin' windows out. Fuckin' twat.' 'Yeah, right,' said Carl. 'Let's have one of your rollies.' Craig stopped under the entrance light and passed his tobacco tin over. 'Make us one as well while I'm having a piss.' He stepped off the path and urinated over a flowerbed. When he'd finished, he kicked the heads off a cluster of roses. 'Good shot. Someone spent a lot of time on those.' said Carl. 'Eh? What're you drippin' about? Who cares they're only fuckin' flowers, ain't they?' 'Yeah I s'pose everything's only something,' said Carl. 'What the fuck are you talking about?' said Craig after a moment. 'I wonder about you sometimes. C'mon, light up and let's go.' He brightened as they followed the moonlit path. 'Remember the old git by the Post Office what had all them animals and things made out of bushes? He had a go at me once for throwin' me chip paper into his poxy garden. So I waited in the bus shelter the next day until I seen him go into his greenhouse. Next thing he knows, there's half a brick through its roof. Fuckin' glass all over the place. Twat came out waving his arms like a fuckin' windmill, shoutin' he was gonna get the pigs on whoever done it an' all that.' He belched and threw his cigarette onto the path. 'Right laugh, it was, I tell yer. Should've seen his face.' The rhododendron branches at the side of the path shivered. Craig stopped, pulled his shoulders back and peered into the foliage. A shape, even blacker than the night, stepped out at him. He jumped back in surprise. A blow struck his forearm just below the elbow. At the same time, a shoe raked his calf and ground down hard above his instep. He cried out, clutched his arm and staggered in ripping pain. His other foot was kicked away. The back of his head thudded into the path. The sky turned red, then black. Carl called into the darkness. 'Craig? Craig? What's up?' There was a tap on his shoulder. He turned around. An indistinct figure stood next to the bushes. Something struck him on the side of his neck. The pain was like an electric shock. His scream was cut off as a grip like iron pincers closed around his throat. He tried to wrench the hands away but his shoulder and left arm were numb. His sight faded to a prick of light as the thumbs pressed into the nerves below his ears. He kicked out at the assailant's outline but there was no force behind the struggle. The pressure around his throat suddenly relaxed. He took a great, gulping mouthful of air. Then an immediate punch to his ribs drove the wind out of him before it was even halfway to his lungs. He choked on emptiness and collapsed onto his knees and elbows. Craig rolled over, shook his head and tried to get up. His right arm was senseless. The silhouette against the starlight moved towards him. He began to scrabble away but the attacker dragged him upright by the collar. 'Leave it out, man, for fuck's sa' A slap to the side of the face weakened his knees and blinded him for a moment. 'Please... I said I've had enough.' The dark figure turned away, then swung back. His arm shot out. A red-hot spear of pain shot through Craig's kidney. He shrieked, dropped to the path beside Carl and vomited. They lay on the path groaning as the sound of shoes crunching on gravel faded away. *** Julian looked at his reflection in the mirror and brushed his moustache just so. Then he wiped a stain from his shoe, threw the tissue into the bin and joined Charles, who was waiting outside the rail station toilets. 'Shall we go?' 'Ready when you are.' They went out to the forecourt and waited for a taxi. 'A good night out, eh, Charles?' 'First class!' He waved his umbrella at a black cab. It pulled up at the kerb. The driver wound his window down. 'Where to, gents?' Charles straightened his tie and opened the passenger door. 'Army & Navy Club, Pall Mall, please.'
Archived comments for A Good Night Out
sirat on 06-01-2009
A Good Night Out
I always find the request for 'advanced critique' a bit intimidating. All I can offer is the rather basic variety.

I thought this was well written and interesting, but I didn't feel involved, I think because none of the characters appealed to me or evoked my sympathy. It's a bit like an encounter between two blood-thirsty packs of wild animals on the African plains – a lot of fur flies and blood splashes on the parched soil, but in the end we find it hard to care which pack comes out on top. I suppose the idea is to show that Army and Navy Club types can become thugs when they want to, and are very efficient in that role. Literally, the class war.

As I see it, the writing is good (though it could do with a stronger hook at the beginning), I can visualise everything that is going on, the author is not intrusive, but the 'message' doesn't come up to the standard of the 'medium'.

My only tiny technical quibble would be the idea of a cluster of 'magnolias' in a flowerbed. The magnolia is a fairly large tree that has blossoms, not the kind of thing you would find in a flowerbed.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for taking a look, David.
You make some interesting observations there, which I'm thinking about, especially the opening. I'm undecided as to whether or not I'm paring my writing too much nowadays. This story initially weighed in at a thousand words more and over six weeks or so, I cut and jigged it until only the essentials remained. All four protagonists lost some dialogue, related narrative and consequently some of their character with it.
As it stands now though, I feel it's the better version of the two. Carl was completely remoulded; at first he was as loutish as Craig but then I figured I was creating a stereotype.
Quite right about the magnolias – I should have looked it up! I'd better change them to gladiolus or something, as Ailsa very diplomatically suggests. 🙂
Steve.

ruadh on 06-01-2009
A Good Night Out
Well written Steve and an unexpected turn at the end. I wondered if you meant Gladiolus instead of Magnolias?

ailsa

Author's Reply:
Hi, Ailsa,
Thanks for checking this one out and commenting. Appreciated. Er, of course I meant gladiolus, it was, um, a keyboard error. Not.
:^-) Steve

PS - Looks a bit chilly up your way right now. I might be taking a job in Inverness shortly so I'll perhaps experience it first-hand!

ruadh on 06-01-2009
A Good Night Out
Of course it was! lol. I thought they sounded similar so you got mixed up. It's certainly chilly in Dundee, -1, and Inverness isn't much better.

Author's Reply:

Rupe on 08-01-2009
A Good Night Out
An enjoyable tale - good dialogue & good central conflict. I particularly liked the phrase 'Yeah – I s'pose everything's only something' for some reason.

I'd tend to make much the same crits as Sirat - maybe the characters could be layered a little more, with more of a mix of good and bad points & some hint of how they got like that anyway. It's maybe a 'big ask', as they say, in a short story - but there are already hints of that process going on with the remoulding of Carl you mention above.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Finding a balance... A ten-thousand-word story would probably still stand up after a 25% cut but you're going to lose something if you do the same to a short piece. As we know, long reads don't attract too
many comments: 2000 words and under seems preferable. I think this works fine if that was the intended length but there's a dilemma when compressing a longer piece - what to cut/what to definitely leave in?
The problem is worse if the story is laminated - perhaps no one gets a fair shout. If I come back to this piece in the future, I'll probably flesh out Carl (who didn't deserve the beating. There again, nor do
most victims of unprovoked assault).
Thanks for dropping by.
Steve.

RoyBateman on 08-01-2009
A Good Night Out
If you go out in the park tonight, you're sure of a big surprise... Good one! I was naturally thinking of another way for it to go apart from the obvious, but I didn't expect that twist until it happened. That's always a treat. While neither of the opposing "sides" are likeable, as David says, most of us would prefer something nasty to happen to the workshy gits rather than the upper-class drones - assuming that none of us out here would claim membership of either tribe! Therefore, we're satisfied...I'm not convinced that any more buildup or character drawing is necessary. We know enough and the twist is what's important. I do appreciate how difficult it is to guage the lengthof a story, walking then tightrope between boring the reader and not giving them enough information, but I reckon you got the balance right. There was always going to be a collision, and we'd naturally expect it to go the other way. Well written dialogue, too. I enjoyed it!

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the read and comment, Roy. As I've mentioned above, the piece was, for better or worse, trimmed right back from the original length. As you say, it can be a precarious rope to walk along. When I first started writing, I tried to make my stories as long as possible but eventually found that most of them settled into a natural 2000-3000 word territory once I'd cut out the elaboration. My Lopsy Larssen PI stories averaged out at 4500 but that felt very comfortable considering the high-density plots. Lately, I'm tightening belts and taking in the feedback. I'm pleased this one worked for you.
Regards,
Steve.

Sunken on 10-01-2009
A Good Night Out
Enjoyed this, Mr. Expat. I meant to say so last week but the cold weather's being playing havoc with my begonias and I had to get them indoors. A full explanation of this comment can be found on ceefax pg 245. Gritty and real. Your poem, not my begonias. Thank you.

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he stumped his big toe whilst leaping to her defence

Author's Reply:
Quite right, Senor Hundido - look after your flowers and they'll look after you. Even as I speak, Rose and Petunia are cooking breakfast and keeping my flat spick and span. Terms and Conditions apply regarding pansies.
Here is a picture of a monkey wot I made for you. (8-(-)

Thanks for reading & commenting.
:^-)

neotom on 18-02-2009
A Good Night Out
Dear expat,

I found myself too engrossed as the story developed to be able to constructively critise at the usual levels. But I'll give it a go...

I cannot see this piece as a publishable stand-alone story because I'm not sure there's a worthwhile plot or enough character development. But on the other hand if this action appeared in a novel at a point where perhaps the two 'scumbags' were getting their comeupance for some earlier misdemeanour, I think it would be highly entertaining. Like Ian Rankin on steroids (if you'll excuse the cliched phrase).

An excellent read. Good mix of showing and telling (dialogue and narrative).

I don't agree with the use of explicit swear words such as c**t, though that is only because I feel it loses publishers and readers. Surely the severe swear words can be cut or implied (eg, 'You cu--. Arrrgh!' The steel beneath the leather toe-cap left Craig short of several teeth and a mashed up burst lip.) Of course, it's your perrogative to use words that match your characters and the realistic scene. It doesn't bother me you silly f-- Oh sorry, I have to go now, the kettle's whistling away and the smell of burning toast is a touch annoying.

Great prose!

neotom

Author's Reply:
Dear neotom,
Just running through a few of my old stories to edit and found your comment. I didn't receive an e-mail notification for some strange reason so my sincere apologies for not returning the compliment.
Re the swear words, I feel that if anyone sees cu**, fu**, tw** etc, they're going to associate the unexpurgated word anyway and also, the language used is unfortunately typical of today so I might as well be authentic 🙁
Thanks, belatedly, for reading and commenting.
Hope your toast wasn't carbonised.
All the best,
Steve


Repayments (posted on: 14-07-08)
Being in debt can be A Very Bad Thing for some people.

The first to go was the guitar. He got two hundred and seventy-five pounds. Not a lot for a Fender Telecaster in good condition. The Marshall amplifier went soon after it was just an ornament with nothing but a guitar lead to plug into it. That brought in another hundred and twenty. His music centre went next. Then his library of blue DVDs, genuine continental quality. The letter from the motorcycle finance company last month enquired as to whether he had inadvertently overlooked the last instalment of one hundred and fifteen pounds. No, he hadn't forgotten. He'd been fired from his job as a plumber's mate in February for lateness and poor performance. Now he was on less than fifty quid a week unemployment benefit and Social Security barely covered his rent. Then there was his bank loan arrears to consider. On top of that, the insurance renewal for the Kawasaki was due shortly. Another debt concerned cannabis, the habit that had got him dismissed from Paragon Plumbing. He owed his supplier nearly four hundred pounds. His big idea of reselling it to foreign students at a twenty percent mark-up had badly misfired. He'd lost the lot when he got stoned at a party and fell asleep. When he woke up, the slab of resin he was hoping to divide and sell was gone. Raz, his dealer, was becoming irate and wanted repayment. The gear or the money. And Robby had neither. This was the reason for him pinning a piece of paper onto the functions notice board in the Castle Inn. Another three were displayed in bikers pubs around town. For Sale A Japanese Classic. 1987 Kawasaki Z1000 MkII. Maroon, 4 into 1 exhaust, fairing, taxed and tested until August. 4000 ono. Contact Robby on A heavily-ringed finger tapped him on the shoulder as he zipped up his fly in the toilet. He looked around and bit his lip. "Well, if it ain't the good Mr Cox! Enjoyin' your evening, was you?" Robby tried to look nonchalant as a stocky dreadlocked man blocked his path. "What's it to you, Jangles?" "What's it to me? Raz is gettin' a little bit concerned about you, my man. When Raz get concerned, I get concerned." "I haven't got the money yet. Give me another few days to square things up. I'm doing my best, for Christ's sake." "No, man, not another few daysyou been sayin' that for two month. We's gettin' vexed. You want your fingers broke so bad you gotta sit down to piss. Or maybe you end up with nuthin' to piss with." Robby began to shake. "Look I've told you I'll get it. Just wait until as I can sell the bike." Jangles grabbed his chin. "I don't think you tryin' very hard, my friend, are you?" He punctuated the sentence by cracking Robby's head against the wall. Robby flared and pushed him away. "Look, man, I've just told you I'll pay him just as soon as I can, and if he doesn't like it, it's frigging tough." Jangles looked at him and smiled. His smile was wide but his eyes were narrow. "I'll tell him, Mister Cox. Take care." He kicked the door open and disappeared. *** An hour later, as Robby was halfway through his third pint of cider, he noticed a shaven-headed biker with a chin beard and black leathers walk up to the bar. He said something to the barmaid. She nodded and pointed in Robby's direction. Robby looked at him apprehensively as he walked over. "You the guy wot's selling the Kwacker?" Robby put his glass down. Word was quick to get around. Maybe he'd be out of the jam at last. "Yeah, that's right, you interested?" "Might be," he replied, "Got it here?" "No, it's in my garage, just around the corner, about three minutes away. You want to see it now?" "Yeah, if you don't mind." Robby gave him directions, gulped down his drink and left. A Suzuki GSX 750 rode past him as he set off. The biker was outside the garages revving his engine when Robby arrived. He unlocked the door and switched on the strip light. The bike's chrome glittered and the paintwork gleamed like new. The biker whistled through his teeth. "Not bad. Not bad at all." He gave the Kawasaki a good inspection, checked the lights and horn then took it out for a road test. He was gone for half an hour. Just as Robby was starting to worry, he heard the howl of the four-into-one exhaust as the Kawasaki screamed along the nearby ring road. Two minutes later, it was back in the garage, its engine clicking and tinkling as it cooled down. The biker pulled off his helmet and grinned. "Four grand?" Robby nodded. "Yeah, that's what I'm asking." "Alright, mate, I won't even haggle, I know it's worth it. Meet me outside NatWest bank near the multi-storey car park at eleven o'clock tomorrow morning. It'll be cash in your hand." Robby watched as the Suzuki roared off. A good result, but he'd miss the Kwacker. He returned to the Castle Inn, bought himself another cider and tore his advertisement down from the notice board. *** He was outside the bank at ten minutes to eleven. A sudden spring flurry lashed the pavement with rain. Robby sheltered in the foyer. He looked at his Kawasaki, parked opposite. The dampness seemed to add a deeper lustre to the paintwork. At eleven o'clock exactly, the biker turned up. "Got all the documents?" "Yep, let's get the money then." Robby waited as the man joined the queue at the teller points. He was back in the foyer within five minutes, wedging a wad of twenty-pound-notes into the front of his leathers. "Right, mate, let's have a drink and get everything sorted out." They sat down in the poolroom of a public house behind the multi-storey car park and completed the transaction. The money was counted, the registration document completed. Robby fished the keys from his pocket and pushed them over the table. "All yours, mate. I'm gonna miss her." "Yeah, know what you mean. Be seeing you, don't spend it all at once." Robby heard the raucous sound of the exhaust as the bike pulled out into the traffic stream. He had another drink to celebrate his escape from debt. And another. And another. The showers eventually petered out. Time to go, he had things to sort out. He was almost out of the open car park and heading for the taxi rank when he heard somebody behind. "Excuse me, buster." He turned, instinctively. Before he knew it, he was hard against a van with a knife at his throat. Two men in balaclavas, gloves, and sunglasses jostled him. "Empty your pockets, creep," hissed one of them. Robby's knees went weak when he felt the knife pricking his skin. "I haven't got anything, nothing at all," he babbled, "Please, guys, let me alone." The second figure punched him in the stomach, winding him. He fell to his knees, gasping, then one of them held him while the other rifled his pockets. He struggled but got a kick to the side of his head. He slid to the ground, half-stunned. "Yo bingo!" the man with the knife shouted as his partner pulled a wad of banknotes from inside Robby's jacket, "This'll do nicely, let's go." They ran off and disappeared into the lower floor of the car park. Robby lay on the ground and sobbed. *** "Well done, bros," crowed Raz, as he took a handful of money from the pile of notes in front of him, "There you go, four hundred each." The three men at the table laughed and put the money into their pockets. "Kingston, have somebody to pay our friend, Mr Cox, a visit. Tell him that we want our money by the end of the week." Then Raz looked at the biker with the shaved head and beard. "Another job for you, Raptor take the bike up to Newcastle. We've got a buyer."
Archived comments for Repayments
bluepootle on 14-07-2008
Repayments
Ouch...

Really enjoyed this from when the dialogue kicked in, all of which seemed very well done.

I think maybe cut the first two lines - 'Robby Cox was in a jam. He was in it up to his neck and it wouldn't be long before it was over the top of his head. ' as they seem over-stylized for this piece, and 'The first to go was the guitar' is a great starting line.

I'm not sure you can take £4K from a cashpoint? What's the limit? £250 or something?

I wanted a description of Raz at the end. Also, I'd say this is a good starting point for a series of stories that could build into a novelette - Raz's dirty work, building to how he gets his comeuppance eventually. Or maybe I just wanted to know what happened next - either way, I didn't want Mr Cox to suffer forever!

Author's Reply:
Good call on the first two lines, Aliya - it certainly reads a lot better without them. I could well be mistaken but I thought a teller point was a 'human' dispenser as opposed to an ATM. I'll consider 'cashier' as an alternative when I give this a light overhaul.
The length has been commented on by others too. I spent most of yesterday trimming it from around 1750 words (it's an old story) because I thought it wasn't concise enough. Perhaps I've stripped it down too much. Raz and Jangles were the first casualties, mistakenly, so it seems, as others make the same observation.
Btw, you've got *me* wondering how Robby gets himself out of the jam now!
Thanks for the read and comment,
:^-)
Steve

e-griff on 14-07-2008
Repayments
a small story, it comes across well, I think you have a good scenario, but it is very bang bang bang sequential, with little depth of plot or characters. Of course it is 'flash'. I'm afraid also I guessed what was happening when he was mugged.

I think you should write this longer and make it richer, subtler, perhaps some more fancy plot to trick him, develop Robby more - let's see him talking to his girl friend, mates. let's see that he HAS been delaying selling the bike, hoping something would come in to save him etc ... give it room to breathe, not so hurried and bare ...

one odd comma use:
He owed his supplier, nearly four hundred pounds.

and another two, correct but unecessary these days:
friend, Mr Cox, a visit.

and beware things that can be seen as comic:
He looked around and bit his lip.

did he? is that what you do when someone taps you on the shoulder while you are having a pee? I 'saw' the blokey looking all over the place vainly into space (around - which I think you mixed up with 'turned around') and carefully nibbling his lip as if that would achieve something.
I suppose he could whirl round and pee on the blokes's leg!

Author's Reply:
Hi, griff,
Some of my reply to Aliya applies here. I haven't been writing or editing much lately but when I do, it's usually to slash the wordcount because I think I've included non-essential passages. Maybe I'm taking some of the colour out by doing this...
The first comma mentioned was poor tidying up after editing pieces out.
I see what you mean about the lip-biting :^-)
Thanks for taking a look,
Steve.

Rupe on 14-07-2008
Repayments
I enjoyed this. Good lively dialogue & a great, believable scenario. You just know something is going to go wrong from the outset - and it does. I liked the slow descent into desperation and the false dawn of the bike sale.

I largely agree with the crit above, though. It's such a good scenario that you could make a longer & richer story of it. There are also one or two lines that don't really earn their keep - particularly the first two, as bluepootle suggests, but perhaps also this one:

'But the floodgates holding back a torrent of debt began to creep open.'

It's a bit of a creaky metaphor I felt & doesn't sit well with the brisk, pared-down style of the writing generally.

And yes, I'd also like to know more about Raz. There could be more mileage in these characters.

Good stuff.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Hi, Rupe,
More good crit - some of the points you made have now been rectified. Others have suggested that the characters be inflated as well, so I'll put this piece on the shelf for a while and take another bite when I feel the characters are ready.
Appreciate your take on it,
Steve.

qwerty68 on 14-07-2008
Repayments
An enjoyable story, nicely told, but it feels incomplete.

Your hero, Robby Cox, has our sympathy. He is in a hole which is only partly of his own making and has one last chance to fix his problems. That chance is cruelly taken from him by the bad guys. The bad guys are triumphant; the hero is in an impossible situation.

This is a pretty conventional plot line for the first two thirds of a story. All we need now is the finale in which the hero escapes his doom, the bad guys get there comeuppance and all as the inevitable consequence of seeds planted in the earlier part of the story.



Author's Reply:
Hi, qwerty,
The concensus is that this story needs to be resolved. I admit that I binned Robby once he was mugged - perhaps I should treat my characters with more consideration. :^-)
I don't know quite how to get him out of his predicament but I'll give it some thought when I have another look at this story in a while.
Thanks for dropping by,
Steve.

Doughnut on 14-07-2008
Repayments
With a scenario that is - unfortunately - quite common, in a set that everyone knows, it is more important than usual to come up with something unexpected, and not just at the end. Roald Dahl is a master of the twist in the tail, and worth a(nother) look. But good, believable dialogue. Doughnut

Author's Reply:
Hi, Doughnut,
Yes, I agree about Roald Dahl. His style has influenced me greatly. No one has ever carried dark twist-in-the-tail stories off as well as him, imo.
Cheers for taking a look and commenting,
Regards,
Steve

pombal on 15-07-2008
Repayments
Hi expat - some great crit here for a great story - it has all the elements for something longer - I think it flows very well 🙂

Author's Reply:
Thanks, pombal! There might be some more mileage in this; I'll put it to bed for a while.
Best wishes,
Steve

RoyBateman on 17-07-2008
Repayments
My word, these are VERY naughty boys, and I wouldn't play with them...in fact, mummy wouldn't let me. No, seriously, mate, you've got a good story here and the mention of a biker's pub called the castle brought Hastings to mind...I think it's the Castle, anyway. Yes, I see the problem re length and characterisation - when posting, I think that word count must take precedence, because people won't sit through longer pieces. Short attention spans, etc. I would have liked more, but I can understand why it's this length - there are few of my stories I wouldn't like to expand to a "natural" length for exactly the reasons you've got above, but... I'm sure that this story could continue, as we all see the burning injustice of it. I have an idea concerning an unexpectedly greasy road...so what about part deux sometime soon? You've got a waiting audience!

Author's Reply:
Hi, Roy,
It's been a while since I was here. Yes, the word-count dilemma... When I first started writing, I did my best to keep my stories as long as possible and then learned that economy is vital in short fiction.
As we writers know, what length might be acceptable in hard copy, ie, a magazine, doesn't necessarily wear well on a computer screen. Indicated reads show that. I've got a couple of stories tucked away at 9000 words that I'd never post on the web.
The Castle - I've never been to Hastings, which is quite deplorable for an Englishman. If William the Conqueror could make the effort, I should too...
Thanks for taking a look, this story might get reinflated,
:^-) Steve

discopants on 18-07-2008
Repayments
It's the air of inevitability that drives this one on, I think. From the moment we learn about the drug-dealing gone wrong we know poor old Robby's going to blow it again. He's not the wisest decision-maker, is he??

Back when I were a lad, I remember having a new red Grifter and a lad, who you didn't say no to, taking it for a ride. He didn't come back for quite some time but he did return just when I was beginning to think of how to explain my way out of that one. Anyway, the test-ride of the motorbike brought that back to mind...

dp

Author's Reply:
I drew on someone I knew many years ago for the Robby character. No matter what he tried, it ended in varying degrees of disaster.
A Grifter! Blimey, I was used to 1960's steel-framed Raleigh bikes with three-speed Sturmey Archer gears and tyre-operated dynamos that made you feel like you were pedalling through a prehistoric tar pit.
Thanks for checking this one out, disco.
Steve

sirat on 19-07-2008
Repayments
You've already got a lot of good crit on this one and I haven't a great deal to add.

My feeling on reading it, for what it's worth, is that it's a good fast-paced story from an obviously experienced and competent writer, but that it lacks the kind of sparkle that would make me remember it or come back to it.

Analysing this as best I can, I think my biggest problem is that I don't care enough about Robby to feel concern when everything goes pear-shaped for him. He isn't very appealing as a character, at least to me – he just seems a bit gormless and a sure-fire loser. Secondly the plot is a bit predictable – we know that there's something too convenient about the effortless sale of the bike and we strongly suspect that there is more to the buyer than meets the eye. Finally, the beginning in particular is very 'telly' and the author very intrusive. After the first three paragraphs the dialogue takes over and everything is fine. I wonder if we could get the background information about his having sold the guitar, lost his job etc.across in some less direct way? You could actually kill two birds I think by having a scene in which Robby has to justify himself to somebody, such as a girlfriend or 'best friend'. His predicament could come out in conversation and the same scene could arouse our sympathies for Robby.

On the subject of plot, I think perhaps you do need some kind of resolution, or at least a stronger ending, and I think the story would be stronger if Robby's predicament wasn't so much of his own making, and if there were things he cared about besides his own survival. What if it was the girlfriend who was the loser and dragging him down, and he was borrowing money from the wrong people and getting into trouble to help her? These are just random thoughts and I am trying hard to avoid re-writing your story for you, but I hope they may be of some small use. As to length, I don't think it's important in itself, the point is, does the story use its words well, does the length seem appropriate for the material presented? That's about all I can think of.

Author's Reply:
Another interesting view on this piece. You raise some good points and I'll definitely take these into consideration when I get around to tackling it again. The general opinion seems to be that the story is too compressed - I may have a rethink on slashing the wordcounts of my stories. Thanks for taking the time to run through it, appreciated.
Regards,
Steve

Archie on 11-08-2008
Repayments
I think the first line is good - makes you want to read on - but then follows a great slab of information that made me lose interest.

Then it gets better. Why not start with "A heavily-ringed finger... and get straight into the action?

How much backstory is actually needed? Your opening line says a lot, maybe enough.

Author's Reply:
Hi, Archie,
Thanks for taking a look. Lots of interesting feedback on this story that I'll take into consideration when I get back to it. Its present form is far removed from the original and I suspect it will metamorphosise even more.
Regards,
Steve (expat)


The Bombing Of Hiroshima (Considered as a Landscaping Project) (posted on: 23-07-07)
In the vein of Alfred Jarry & JG Ballard (The Crucifixion of Jesus Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race & The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race respectively). Thought I'd repost my first ever UKA submission from 2004. Some may find it distasteful.

There was initially some dispute as to whether or not the client had actually asked for the work to be done. The President of the American company, Harry S. Truman, insisted that they had, and was backed up by his British partner, Churchill. In the end, it was agreed that Japan had indeed asked for it. 1) The extent of landscaping This would involve drastic redesign of the property on the part of the contractor. The chief architect, Oppenheimer, insisted that the present layout was completely unsatisfactory. He was sure, however, that the clients would eventually understand his reasons for the radical changes. 2) The question of manpower Head of Transport, Paul Tibbetts, assured them that he could have the landscaping equipment flown into position by 08:16 August 6th, at the very latest. He further stated that it would take a staff of ten men no longer than seconds to carry out the desired changes, and that he personally would supervise its delivery. Hirohito, the client, was doubtful. 3) Billing and payment Could the client afford it? Truman rejected this suggestion out of hand, stating that the Japanese would pay, one way or the other. They had been working towards it for well over three years and should have had plenty put by. 4) Planning permission It was agreed that under the circumstances, it was unnecessary to inform the local authorities. 5) Advertising As a relatively new company, without tried and tested methods, it was agreed that for the present, there should be no advance publicity. 6) Future contracts Tibbetts brought up the subject of further work. It was anticipated that should the client not be impressed by the Hiroshima design, then a further example could be arranged at a later date. After discussion, it was agreed that Nagasaki would be the ideal display area. Therefore, another team was put on stand-by to carry out re-vamping at short notice, should the client deem this necessary. It was estimated that any future job/s could be completed as quickly and efficiently as the initial Hiroshima project (subject to no interference by the client or his agents, thereof). 7) Rubble clearance It was decided that the cost of this would be borne by the client, although very little was anticipated. 8) Penalty clause Estimates suggested that for every day the contractors lay idle, approximately 500 1000 persons in their employ were in danger of losing more than their jobs. These staff, located at various locations throughout the Pacific, could be shipped back to the depot once the contract/s was/were completed. The start/completion date was therefore set at August 6th for Hiroshima and August 9th for any subsequent undertaking. 9) Guarantee Mr Truman assured board members that if the work was not carried out exactly to plan, it would be re-done at no additional cost to the client.
Archived comments for The Bombing Of Hiroshima (Considered as a Landscaping Project)
Mandrake on 26-07-2007
The Bombing Of Hiroshima (Considered as a Landscaping Project)

For me, Ballard's 'The Atrocity Exhibition' was one of the most important books of the 20th century. It may not be very evident in my poetry now, but it was extremely influential on my early writing as a teenager in the 1970s. I therefore totally get where you are coming from with this piece and don't find it distasteful.

However, we are a long way removed from the events now, so your words do not have the same power and immediacy that made Ballard's original work so controversial. To achieve that, you need to be writing about events that are currently unfolding.

Even so, this deserves more hits and comments than it has received. I applaud anyone who is willing to experiment with form.





Author's Reply:
Thanks for checking this one out, Mandrake, and for your comments. I totally agree about the piece having little or no impact after sixty-two years and most probably very few readers would know who Paul Tibbetts was, many not even Truman or Churchill! I wrote it as an exercise some years back after reading Ballard's Kennedy 'consideration' but I don't think I'm brave enough to try anything along similar lines regarding the 11th Sept 2001 aircraft hi-jackings for example.
Regards,
Steve.

Rupe on 28-07-2007
The Bombing Of Hiroshima (Considered as a Landscaping Project)
I wasn't too sure what to make of this, but find Mandrake has pretty much summed up what I would have said if I'd been smart enough to think of it.

The approach works well, in the sense that it provides an unexpected take on the subject. That makes the reader look at it afresh. But as Mandrake points out, since the events you're writing about happened a long time ago, the piece doesn't have as much impact as it might have done if you'd focused on more recent events.

Still, it's well-written and thought-provoking as it stands.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Thanks for dropping in and commenting, Rupe. Point completely valid re the topicality.
Next project: The Education of British Children Considered as an Assassination Attempt on Rab Butler. No, not really!
:^-D

reckless on 27-12-2008
The Bombing Of Hiroshima (Considered as a Landscaping Project)
Despite it being in the past, I can appreciate the quite biting irony on display here. And historical or not, there are always lessons, and parallels to be drawn. I liked this, and the obvious thought that went into it.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for taking a look, Reckless. It was an interesting exercise.
Here's a link to the story by JG Ballard that gave me the idea:
http://www.evergreenreview.com/102/fiction/ballard.html
Regards,
Steve.

Buschell on 06-10-2013
The Bombing Of Hiroshima (Considered as a Landscaping Project)
Taking a light hearted view of of something apalling if taken in the spirit intended is a fantastic way to focus on what was so apalling...somewhere someone looked upon the a-bomb through very analytical and cold eyes without any real regard for the horrific cost a bit like the "landscapers" here. Really clever and glad you re-posted it. Busch-man.

Author's Reply:
Hi, Busch!
I'd forgotten all about this one; the original was my first attempt at allegory waaay back when I was new to writing. I don't have the edge for anything new just lately. 🙁
Thanks for checking my 'back catalogue', pleased you liked it.
Cheers, Steve


A Closing Door. (posted on: 30-04-07)
John Saymore's son is dying. But there is one chance of saving him... (Edited slightly after good advice.)

There was no breeze. The air was thick with the smell of privet and of foxgloves and of hay cut at daybreak. Except for the occasional click of scythe blades against stone where a few villagers still worked, it was quiet. But John Saymore, standing at his parlour window that overlooked the meadows of Bittesthorpe, took in none of this: all he saw was the cleric making his way back to the rectory. When the black-cloaked figure was absorbed by the dusk, he sighed and climbed the stairs to his son's bedroom. The candlelight threw his shadow against the wall, making him many times bigger than he felt inside. As before, the boy was lying unconscious. The coverlet had been thrown off and his arms and one leg were draped over the sides of the cot. John took his kerchief and wiped the lank hair that clung to his son's face, listened to the faint rasps that followed the feeble rise and fall of his chest, held his hand and cried; softly at first and then in great gulping sobs. All the physick's promises, infusions, leechings and bleedings had been for nothing. The departing cleric's prayers now seemed as final as a closing door. Matthew was dying. He knew it as surely as night followed day. The clock tower bell chimed. Six seven eight nine times. The room seemed to press on him from all sides, dark and cold, despite in the warmth of the September evening; even the flickering candle gave him no comfort. All at once he desperately needed to hear a voice, to see the light ofand feel the warmth ofa blazing fire but he was loath to leave; afraid that his son might pass alone, as had his mother, condemned by sweating sickness. He held Matthew tightly for a while longer, wiped his eyes and went down to the scullery. His manservant was sitting at the table. He looked up as John poured himself a noggin of rum. 'What news, master?' 'III fear God will be calling him very soon, Gilbert.' Gilbert stood up quickly. 'No! That surely cannot be so the boy has barely lived!' He crossed the room and beat the side of his fists against the chimney breast. 'How can the Lord take him? Where is His compassion? What says the good book ask and thou shalt receive? Then where went our prayers? There was no lack of them and neither were they spoken in whisper.' 'Alas, it grieves me to have no answer. It is said that He works in mysterious ways. There may be some purpose that escapes our understanding.' 'Indeed so,' said Gilbert after a moment, 'but mayhap one of His mysterious ways will allow some intervention by the hand of man.' 'By the hand of man? What do you mean? How can we cast off this accursed ague when all others have failed?' John waited for a response but his servant said nothing. 'If you have anything to say, then pray say it; this is no time for riddles.' Gilbert turned around. 'Very well, master, so I shall. There is a woman Margaret Spenser of Lutterworth. I have heard it said that she can cure all manner of ills and misfortunes.' 'All manner of ills and misfortunes?' 'Master, you surely know of Reeve?' 'Taverner Reeve of the Lamb's Head in Allethorpe?' 'Aye, him. Some five summers ago, his daughter fell gravely ill of the pox. She lay at the foot of death itself and none could aid her, neither the bloodletters nor the agents of God. By fortune or otherwise, Margaret came to pass through the parish and laid hands upon the girl in private. Before a week was gone, she was free of her bed and is now of fine health and betrothed to Fletcher the baker.' John rubbed his chin thoughtfully. 'Now that you relate it, I do believe I heard something of the like.' Then he frowned. 'Wait. This Margaret creature is she not also known as Mad Margaret? Would she be of witchcraft, perchance? Answer me truthfully, man.' Gilbert shuffled his feet. 'Well some have muttered such across their empty tankards but there is no proof she has done harm to either man or beast. It is to the contrary but fools cannot be silenced, nor rumours halted, unlike the squawking of a pullet for the pot.' 'Then you say it is no more than tittle-tattle?' The flat look in John's eyes was suddenly gone. 'Will she save my boy?' 'I can promise nothing, master, but she can surely do no less than the physick or the priest. Do you choose that I seek out this woman?' John paced furiously back and forth across the flagstones, tight-mouthed, slapping his hands across his thighs. After a few moments, he stopped abruptly at the table. He nodded once, then twice more, quickly. ' Yes. Yes I must take what I can. Make haste, bring to me this Margaret this performer of miracles and you shall both be well rewarded for the life of my son.' 'Master, for her, I cannot speak, but for myself the only gift I need will be Matthew standing here with us, hale and hearty.' 'Oh, Gilbert, my friend and faithful servant I shall be forever in your debt!' said John, and embraced him, 'Now, take Surefoot and my saddle and ride as if your life depended on it.' Gilbert took his jerkin from the back of the door. 'Not my life, master Matthew's.' *** John watched at the stable gate as Gilbert rode off into the moonlight. Lutterworth lay some four leagues distant in the county of Leicestershire. It would be a punishing journey for both him and the horse under the cloak of night. 'Godspeed,' he whispered, 'Pray bring comfort before Matthew's spirit founders.' When he could no longer see his servant, he returned to the scullery, poured himself another noggin and sat down in his fireside chair for a moment or two. For the first time in over a week, he felt the heavy hands of worry lighten on his shoulders. The fluttering flames and shadows that danced on the walls and floor soothed him even more and he was fast asleep before the rum was even half finished. He awoke with a start as the burning logs in the grate collapsed loudly in a shower of sparks. For a moment all was well with him and then, as if struck by a thunderbolt, he remembered his dying son. He threw off his short-lived comfort and lurched upstairs to the boy's bedroom. Matthew was lying as John had seen him last. His breathing was still shallow and rapid and even in the soft moonlight, sweat showed on his thin face and chest. John lit a new candle with his tinderbox, sat on the chair beside the cot and prayed and prayed. Just before dawn Matthew opened his eyes and flew into a storm of coughing. Blood dribbled onto the pillow from the side of his mouth; he reached for his father, tried to speak, and then slid back into unconsciousness. John beat his temples and wept. A cockerel crowed as weak sunlight lit up the room. *** Just before midday, John was woken in his chair by rapping on the cottage door. His eyelids were like lead as he opened the bedroom window and looked down. 'Who is that? Is it you, Gilbert?' he called hoarsely. A handful of men stepped out from the entrance porch and looked up. 'No, it is not Gilbert, whoever he might be,' cried a rough-looking creature, 'it is William Tynan.' 'William Tynan? You are not of this parish what ails you?' 'Would thee be John Saymore?' 'That I am,' concurred John uneasily. 'That is well, for we have apprehended Mad Margaret of Lutterworth crossing into this county.' He pointed to a ragged shape lying still at the end of the path, next to the stranger's horses. A chill rippled down John's spine. 'Mad Margaret?' 'Aye our paths crossed at last. We chased her and her rider for a league until their horse fell. The man is dead. His neck was broken like a twig but we have the woman, though she be grievously hurt about the arms and face.' John clung to the window frame as his knees sagged. 'The mark of the devil is upon the bitch,' continued Tynan, 'We spoke with her at length and in due course she admitted to witchcraft.' His companions looked at each other and laughed. 'There is no doubt of her guilt, she has confessed all.' Tynan waved his fist in the air. 'Aye, confessed all, Judge Saymore, and we are demanding her trial this very day.'
Archived comments for A Closing Door.
chrissy on 30-04-2007
A Closing Door.
I have to say that I really enjoyed reading this piece. The period language gave it an authenticity which really added to it. I particularly liked the creation of 'Mad Margaret's' reputation with the story about the girl who was saved from the pox. That's the kind of detail I appreciate.
The characters were well drawn and I felt that they had a 'back story', that they had existed before the related incident.
The bitter irony of the ending, the torment the father must have felt and the choice he would not have been permitted by circumstance to make, was brilliantly done.
An excellent piece and should be nibbed.
Definitely a favourite for me.
chrissy

Author's Reply:
That's most kind of you, Chrissy. It would have been very easy to swamp the story with contemporary language (like Errol Flynn etc in those cheesy Hollywood films of medieval England) and I tried to keep it to a minimum whilst hopefully conveying an authentic 'air'. Strictly speaking, 'Judge' Saymore should have been 'Justice' Saymore but I suspected that might not have the same impact on the reader.
A very colourful language in its day, as you know, and kept alive by numerous re-enacted Elizabethan 'faires'.
Many thanks for reading and commenting. Pleased you enjoyed it.
Regards,
Steve
:^-)

Rupe on 30-04-2007
A Closing Door.
I agree. An excellent story. The period language works well & the way in which you raise a gleam of hope and then snatch it away with that bitter, tormenting ending, is masterly.

My only serious criticism is that the second sentence is overlong & overstuffed:

'The air was thick with the smell of privet and of foxgloves and of hay cut at daybreak and except for the occasional click of scythe blades against stone where a few villagers still worked and the distant bleat of goats, it was quiet'

How about leaving out the goats and putting a full stop after 'daybreak'?

Good stuff.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Hi, Rupe.
I played with the opening paragraph for quite a while and even as I posted, I had a niggling feeling about it being not quite right. Short first sentence and long concluder or vice versa is generally accepted as the best way to begin and perhaps I stretched the words too far in the name of contrast. Aliya makes the same observation so I should look at the passage again.
Incidentally, the first draft of this was written four years ago and this version is about 500 words lighter! Thanks for dropping by, appreciate your comments.
Best wishes,
Steve :^-)

bluepootle on 30-04-2007
A Closing Door.
Hi Steve! Yes, a great read with a strong sense of time passing throughout it which heightens the suspense. I agree with Rupe re the second sentence. I also have to say that 'Mad Margaret' as a name did make me titter and pushed the boundaries of parody maybe, but that could be due to watching too much Blackadder. Could you maybe give her full name first time around and then he could reveal that she's known as 'Mad Margaret' in a hushed tone - just to take the edge off it? s I say, might just be me though.

A great- if depressing! - ending. Just as I like 'em...

Author's Reply:
Hi, Aliya,
Damnit - why didn't *I* think of using Margaret's full name initially! Good idea, which I'll use. Point taken about the second sentence and I shall take another look at that too.
Black endings are great, I agree. Why should people live happily ever after?
Unless one of them's me :^-)
Thanks for checking the story out and commenting.
Steve.

RoyBateman on 30-04-2007
A Closing Door.
I agree - it's not always easy to sound authentic without venturing into the hilarious parody. (Okay, I love those as well.) Nevertheless, you managed it perfectly, and gave it all a sense of place too. While there was an excellent "twist" in the revelation of his status at the end, surely this could go on - there's so much hanging fire here. You don't say that this is part one, but go on - you know you want to!
Gwan, gwan, gwan....(For "Father Ted fans only.)

Author's Reply:
Hi, Roy,
True, it would be so easy to overload a medieval story with prithee's, wenches, forsooths, bodikins, verily's, varlets and by my troths etc and lose any semblance of serious writing. I did a little research into Elizabethan language and found it very interesting; many of the words and terms I'd never heard of, such as 'super-serviceable' and 'runagate'. I sometimes wonder if modern man would be able to communicate with his ancestors if we could get the time machine started. There again, a lot of modern kids can't even communicate with their parents! As for a sequel! - I don't think I could get any more mileage (or league-age) out of it.
Maybe Margaret could conjure up a host of demons and hobgoblins to give her captors a right good going over...
Many thanks for reading & commenting,
Regards,
Ateve.


Res Out the Windows. (posted on: 01-01-07)
For Griff's New Year challenge. Short n' sweet because I forgot all about it until about two hours ago...

My New Year's resolutions are, (Like a peculiar PC screen), Unlikely to be extended, Beyond 2007 x 00:15
Archived comments for Res Out the Windows.
Sunken on 02-01-2007
Res Out the Windows.
lol. That's very clever Mr. Expat. Short is so definitely sweet, a bit like Kylie. I must shut up about Kylie... Perhaps that could be my new years resolution.

s
u
n
k
e
n

dreams of Kylie all the whiley

Author's Reply:
It is true that Kylie,
Is considered most highly,
And as for Danni,
.......................

I'll leave the last line to you, Sunk.

Ta for taking a look and things,
Steve :^-)

Ionicus on 03-01-2007
Res Out the Windows.
Hi Steve. It looks as if they have left only the two of us to wave the flag. No one else has taken up the cudgel as far as I can see.
You have tackled the challenge very cleverly. You must have a strong willpower for your resolutions to last 15 minutes!

Author's Reply:
Morning, Luigi,
I was sniffing around for other NYR subs before I commented on yours, but as you say, we seem to be the only two. No matter; I needed the exercise.
My New Year's Resolutions are to never make New Year's Resolutions.
Thanks for stopping by,
Best wishes,
Steve.
:^-)

Albermund on 04-01-2007
Res Out the Windows.
I thought that was pretty darned inventive - and so very very very very very very ........ familiar. Albert @ 00.05

Author's Reply:
Hello, Albert.
Sometimes I wonder if my tangled trains of thought make any sense at all! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Best wishes,
Steve
:^-)

Buschell on 13-01-2014
Res Out the Windows.
Fifteen minutes without heroin...good job Steve.

Author's Reply:
Where's Jim Krone when you need him!

Cheers for dropping by, Darren.


Turncoat (posted on: 13-02-06)
Berlin, April 1945. Circumstances are not good for Carl-Ernst Bleihauer.

Carl-Ernst Bleihauer was twenty-two. He was a little plump and had a mole on his left cheek. His hair was brown and had not been cut for a while: it hung over his brow and lapped at his collar. Dark rings circled his eyes like haloes around red planets. A fluffy down coated his chin and lower cheeks; he had no need to shave daily but he had not touched a razor for almost a week. He had a fine stamp collection in the attic of his parent's home in Eschwege, not far from Gottingen. It was probably the best stamp collection in the area. He also had a girl called Ilse. She was as fond of him as he was of her, but she was saving herself for the bridal suite. His clothing was dirty and ragged. It was not his and did not fit him very well. His uniform was better tailored but it was now under ten centimetres of leafy soil in a forest just north of Birkenwerder, which was itself seventeen kilometres north of Berlin. And he was going to die. He sat on the rubble-strewn floor of a shelled schoolhouse and cleaned his fingernails with a piece of wire from the smashed light fitting that lay beside him. A Russian soldier armed with a machine gun sat on a box and watched him. He was smoking. Carl-Ernst looked at the cigarette enviously. The rumble of heavy artillery was nearer now. Tanks clattered past the building; their tracks squealed as they negotiated the sharp turn in the road that led to Dalldorf and then to Pankow in the suburbs of Berlin. Occasionally a shell screamed overhead and he could hear the dull crump as it exploded in the retreating German lines, no more than five kilometres south. When he had finished cleaning his nails, he started again. It was the third time that morning. The soft, pink quick was torn; specks of blood fell onto his boots but still he continued, even though it hurt. There was nothing else to do until they shot him. The Russian guard ground his cigarette out on the floor and looked at the documents they had taken from Carl-Ernst that morning: his Wermacht paybook, his identity card, a letter from his parents dated two months previously and his photograph of Ilse. He held the photograph so that Carl-Ernst could see it and made an obscene gesture with his hand. When he grinned, as he had done whenever he felt like taunting Carl-Ernst, which was often, he displayed a mouthful of blackened teeth. His puffy lips, squat nose and deep-set eyes suggested that he had never been a scholar. The side of Carl-Ernst's head was bruised and swollen where the guard had repeatedly jabbed him with the butt of his weapon as he lay sleeping in a ditch. Coagulated blood matted the hair behind his left ear. The guard took his bayonet from its scabbard and scored the photograph. When the point reached Ilse's groin, he pushed it in slowly and twisted it until her lower body was a gaping hole, as if she had been disembowelled by an exploding shell that perversely left her smiling and unhurt. Carl-Ernst stopped cleaning his nails. The guard spat onto the photograph. A green lump of mucous slid down Ilse's face and fell through the hole in her body. The guard's machine gun was lying over his knees. A half-empty bottle of vodka stood on the floor, next to his cigarettes. Carl-Ernst looked at the light fitting that lay at his feet. It was still connected to the piece of wire that he had been cleaning his nails with. It was about a metre long, possibly more. His arm would give him nearly another metre. A stride would give him yet another metre. The guard was drunk. He was about three metres away. If they were going to shoot him, then that was that. But he would not let Ilse be defiled. The guard's eyes opened in surprise as the brass light socket swung towards him. He put up an arm in defence but it was too late; the vodka and the photograph in his filthy hand had made sure of that. It caught him in his left eye. He grunted in pain, a deep grunt that a pig would make if it chose not to squeal instead, and fell to his knees, holding his face as blood poured from between his fingers. Carl-Ernst was surprised at the effect; he had not expected the guard to go down. But there he was, on his knees, with his machine gun fallen to the floor and his bayonet next to it. The guard was thickset and his back was wide. Carl-Ernst picked up the bayonet and plunged it into the guard. It sank almost up to the hilt in his neck; the guard, in his shapeless brown uniform and heavy boots, twisted and lashed back with his arm. Red foam sprayed from his mouth and the wound in his throat from which the tip of the bayonet projected. He fell to his side. More blood ran from his mouth and also from his eye. A pool of urine spread across the floor. He drummed his heels against the box and died. Carl-Ernst looked around fearfully. He could still hear the Soviet tanks and lorries as they rumbled past. He ran to the window on the other side of the ruined schoolhouse. The fire, around which the Russians had been sitting earlier, had gone out but the cooking utensils were still there. The playground was deserted. He ran back to the corpse and picked up the pierced photograph of Ilse before the atoll of yellow urine enclosed it. He made to pick up the machine gun, and then changed his mind. He must appear to be a civilian, even though it had almost been the death of him. The other Russians, he could see through the hole in the plaster and lath, were directing the heavy traffic or talking. There were five of them: a major, the translator lieutenant, and the three soldiers. He ran back to the shattered window, climbed through it and dropped onto the concrete playground. He looked around once more, darted through a hole in the hedge and was gone, across the fields, running as a hunchback might. Within five minutes, the schoolhouse and the Russians were far behind him. *** The German military policemen caught him as he ran through the deserted streets of one of Berlin's suburban areas. "Halt! Stay exactly as you are." He skidded to a stop on the pavement; sparks flew from the hobnails on the workmens' boots. He stood rigidly to attention as the two feldwebels came up to him. One held a sub-machine gun, the other a pistol. "Why are you running? Who are you?" "Panzergrenadier Bleihauer, Second Company, Light Armoured Brigade." The two feldwebels looked at each other. "Then why are you in civilian clothes? Where are your papers?" "I was cut off from my unit when the Russians surrounded us. They were executing prisoners. I took civilian clothes from a workmen's hut and tried to escape but the Russians caught me at Birkenwerder. They were going to shoot me as a spy but I managed to kill the guard and escape. My papers are at the school" The feldwebel with the pistol slapped his face. "A likely bloody story you're a damned deserter, aren't you?" Carl-Ernst began to shake. "Nothat's not true. It was exactly as I told you." The feldwebel slapped him again. "A very convenient excuse. Even old men and boys are fighting to keep the Reds from our beloved city and vermin like you are running away with your tails between your legs. Tell us the truth or you're going to be hanging from a lamp post or up against the wall as an example to any other cowards who consider deserting our Fuhrer." "But it is true" The other feldwebel raked the gunsight of his sub-machine gun across Carl-Ernst's cheek. "You yellow bastard. Get marching, now. The section commander can decide what's going to happen to you. Come on move." The two military policemen marched him to a defence line on the edge of a factory complex. A hollow-cheeked leutnant looked at them as they climbed across the brick and barbed wire barricade. "What's this - another bloody deserter?" "Yes, sir. We found him running away from the lines. He's got no papers or identity discs and he claims that the Ivans had him prisoner." The officer faced Carl-Ernst and looked him up and down. "Is that so? Turn out your pockets, if you don't mind." His voice was soft but his eyes were hard. Carl-Ernst emptied the pockets of his shabby jacket and too-short trousers. They found nothing but a few coins and the mutilated photograph of a young woman. The officer looked at the picture. Then he looked at Carl-Ernst. "By Christ, I've seen it all now." He turned to the two policemen. "Put him in with the others." They took him into the warehouse. There were about twenty people in there. Some were in uniform; some were in civilian clothes. He sat down on the floor and began to clean his nails.
Archived comments for Turncoat
bluepootle on 13-02-2006
Turncoat
I enjoyed this. Good pace to the first half in particular.

I would be tempted to cut the first para: I know what you're aiming at, but it reads more like a list the writer makes in their head as background for the character. You don't need to explain who Ilse is, I think. Also there are a few weird phrases - 'haloes around red planets' and 'a pig would make if it chose not to squeal' jarred with me, but others might not have a problem.

Liked the end point.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Aliya.

I've just been toying with a back-up copy of the story and deleted the first paragraph to see how it would read. Yes, you're probably right about it being redundant; I was mainly using it as a springboard to the impact line: 'And he was going to die.'

I'll look at the beginning again.
:^) Steve.

e-griff on 13-02-2006
Turncoat
I thought the delivery of this was competent and the writing well-delivered. It's a straight 'tale' , Assuming this is a one-off stand-alone tale and not part of a serial however, I felt the theme and the resolution rather disappointing and sketchy. Maybe it deserves a longer story, where we see more of his character, his memories of his family, flashbacks, so we get to know him, so we feel something when his misfortune happens. At the moment, I hadn't got to care for him that much. 🙂

Author's Reply:
Good observations, Griff.
This was written a few years ago after reading a collection of Hemingway's short stories (the 'Essential Hemingway', IIRC). At the time I found his terse style quite interesting and tried 'Turncoat' as an experiment to see what sort of egg the chicken would lay. Yes, it is a stand-alone; I was in two minds as to whether Carl-Ernst should be 'fleshed out' or not. As you've seen, he was reduced to the ranks of the 1500 Wurdz Battalion. I may resurrect him in the future.

Appreciate your comments.
:^) Steve

woodbine on 13-02-2006
Turncoat
I am not a prose writer but the period interests me, so I read and enjoyed it. I have heard first hand many strange accounts from the parents of my
German friends. I was told of a young soldier who was shot for desertion
two days after peace was declared, and nobody in his small town was ever brought to book. My dear friend, Hermann, has been trying to raise the issue, without much success.

I liked the details, in particular the fingernails. Liked the ending.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for dropping by, Woodbine.
Yes, a tragedy that fanaticism still ruled in the final days, even when it was quite clear that the war was lost.
Glad you liked the story.
Best wishes,
:^) Steve

wirlong on 14-02-2006
Turncoat
Very well written. Thought this line was possibly too jerky: "What's this—another deserter?" spat a hollow-cheeked leutnant as they pushed their prisoner past a brick and barbed-wire barricade.

I think the speech in this case needs to come when we know who it's from. Otherwise we need a sentence before it.

I thought it worked as a short story. Perhaps if he is shot and the executers notice he is holding the mutilated photograph to his chest, it would be an effective ending.

It's one of the best written stories I have read recently because it was unpretencious and straight to the point.

Wirlong

Author's Reply:
Hello, Wirlong, I haven't seen you around UKA before, so welcome, belatedly. Many thanks for your feedback. Your point about the leutnant's speech is valid and I will definitely address that when I rework the story. Good observation. Catch you later.
Best wishes,
:^) Steve.

niece on 15-02-2006
Turncoat
Hi Expat,
A very engrossing and realistic portrayal of how things must have been during war-time. I really enjoyed reading this!
Regds,
niece

Author's Reply:
Thanks, niece, very kind of you. I've read a little about the final days of WW2 in Berlin and it seemed that death could come from either side, despite it obviously being all over. And sixty years later, in other places, it still goes on...

Best wishes,
Steve
:^)

pencilcase on 16-02-2006
Turncoat
An interesting and engaging story. There have also been some good comments already and I agree with much of the compliments and suggestions. That may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but it's late and I'm tired, but noticed this earlier in the week and made a mental note to read. I think you capture a lot of the entropic confusion of those days. It comes across to me as both real and surreal, which is, I think, an accurate reflection of the days before Berlin fell to the Soviets - and I think to put this in a personal context is effective.

Steve

Author's Reply:
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Steve. For the life of me, I can't remember where I got the idea for this story but I do recall thinking about Kurt Vonnegut's 'Slaughterhouse Five' during its writing, which may explain the surreal element. The research on that chaotic period was interesting

Cheers again,
Steve :^)

RoyBateman on 19-02-2006
Turncoat
I'm sorry it took me so long to get round to this - well told tale with fine period detail, and a very credible storyline - by that stage, even the Wehrmacht was shooting "deserters" on a regular basis. It's a bleak period, and nowhere near everything has yet been documented. Most, perhaps, never will be... Great writing.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comments, Roy; I know that you're very well up on military history. Yes, bad times for disheartened soldiers and civilians alike: I read that the SS in Berlin had orders to shoot anyone displaying a white flag outside their house. Talk about getting it from both sides… Even Eva Braun's officer brother-in-law, Hermann Fegelein, was executed for being found in civilian clothes, so *no one* was safe. Having a wadge of banknotes and forged passports didn't exactly help his case though.
Regards,
Steve :^)

Claire on 13-03-2006
Turncoat
Hey there hun, I'm trying to catch back up here. I'm way behind with the subs.

Love this one. Actually, it's inspired me to write some more on my war novel.

I see no problems at all with this. I suppose if you wanted this could be extended into a much longer story.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for that, Fair-Claire, pleased it nudged your novel along. This version of the story was trimmed right down because I thought it might have more effect. I'm not sure I could get much more 'essential' mileage out of Carl if I extended the wordcount. Anyway, it's a bit late now because I think he's already been shot :^)

X Steve.

shackleton on 17-04-2006
Turncoat
Hi Steve. I was having a trawl around various pieces of fiction (trying to get a handle on techniques and such). Enthralling story - I like your style. A bleak period in human activity - you've captured the stark reality of war. Happy Easter!

Author's Reply:
Glucklich Easter to you as well, Shacks! Awful days, as you say; I'm glad I can only write about the period from research. Thanks for your kind words. Btw, does it EVER get warm in Cumbria? No wonder you moved dahn sarf, sort of.

:^) Steve.


Letter of the Law (posted on: 28-11-05)
Hazel's new boyfriend shows his true colours, with tragic consequences for her. This story has been like a naughty three-year-old child that won't do as it's told. Needs a good talking-to.

They met in the city's Rougemont Park, one Thursday lunchtime. She was sitting on the grass, eating a cheese and lettuce sandwich; he had just retrieved a Frisbee, thrown into the nearby goldfish pond by a mischievous child. 'Not yours, is he?' asked the darkly handsome man, as the boy promptly hurled the toy back into the pond and ran off laughing. 'Gosh, no, I haven't got any,' she replied, 'and I wouldn't want one if they behaved like that, either.' 'Free and single, are you? You don't look old enough to have a kid of that age, anyway.' 'My younger sister's got two older than him.' 'If she's as good-looking as you, I'm surprised that she hasn't got half a dozen.' Unused to compliments, she coloured and toyed with her sandwich. 'I'm Evan,' he continued, amused, 'What pretty name goes with that pretty face?' 'Hazel,' she said shyly. Her blush was fiery now. Evan sat down beside her, took an olive from her lunchbox and popped it into his mouth. 'Thanks,' he said. Hazel looked at him in disbelief. He grinned. Then she grinned back and pushed the lunchbox closer. He took a peach from his jacket, kissed it and gave it to her. 'A peach for a peach.' He reached over and took her glasses off. 'That's better you shouldn't hide those attractive eyes. Have you got a boyfriend for me to fight?' 'No, I haven't got a boyfriend.' 'You have now,' he said. Hazel's eyes widened in surprise; her heart seemed to stop for a moment before pumping another glow through her body. 'I I don't know what to say,' she mumbled, looking into his intense eyes, and then down at the grass between her feet. 'Just 'yes' will do,' said Evan, running a finger lightly down the back of her neck, 'If you turn me down, I shall hurl myself under a bus and die in indescribable agony with your name upon my bloodied lips.' Hazel found herself laughing, in spite of her embarrassment. 'Well I'd hate to be the cause of that.' 'That's settled, then,' he said, tracing his finger along her cheek and then over her lips, 'Consider yourself spoken for. Are you at lunch or do we begin our affair immediately?' Hazel glanced at her watch and laughed again. 'I'm due back at work in ten minutes, unfortunately.' 'In that case my passion will have to wait until this evening. I think we'll meet outside that pub on the corner by the cathedral at eight o' clock sharp. Bring your legs and boobs as well,' he added, looking at her long skirt and woollen sweater. Then he kissed the back of her hand, got up, and strolled away, whistling. He waved without looking back. She felt like singing out loud as she made her way back to the office. When she sat at her desk, she could barely concentrate on the insurance policy amendments that had to be sent out, excited and afraid at the same time: excited about her first date in over six years, afraid of saying the wrong thing or of making clumsy responses. Even the seventeen-year-old trainee in her department probably had more experience with men than she did. When the hour hand of the clock eventually dragged itself to five o'clock, Hazel rushed from the office and bought a knee-length skirt and low-cut blouse from a trendy High Street boutique. She just had time to buy a pair of fashionable shoes and 50ml of Angel before the shops closed. The next two hours were an agony to her; she bathed, washed her hair, made up her face, and dressed, alternately pleased and frightened by her metamorphosis. She felt slightly sick as she locked her flat and dashed to the bus stop at twenty minutes to eight. Evan was waiting for her outside the pub, sitting on the low wall of the cathedral green. He was wearing khaki chinos and a blue shirt. He stood up and whistled, looking at her legs and neckline. 'That's much better,' he said, 'Why hide your assets. Thirsty?' He took her hand and steered her towards the pub as she tried to think of something to say. 'Now then,' he said, when they were inside, 'I think that a glass of wine would go down quite nicely, don't you?' She smiled unsurely. 'Yes, thanks. Red, please.' He pointed to a corner table. 'OK, sit yourself down, and I'll be right back.' She watched him as he was served: self-assured, almost aggressive. The complete opposite of herself. He came back with the drinks and sat down next to her, his leg against her thigh. 'Tell me all about yourself,' he said. Hazel played with the stem of her wine glass. 'Nothing very exciting to tell you, really,' she said, 'I work for an insurance company; before that I was a nursing home attendant. When I was at school, my ambition was to be an air hostess but with my looks I wouldn't have gotten past the interview stage' Evan grabbed her hand. 'What's with the downer you look just fine to me. Don't knock yourself or I'll get annoyed. All right?' 'Sorry.' His grip was firmer than she liked. 'Never been married?' She shook her head. 'Not even engaged?' 'No ... I've never even had a proper boyfriend.' It burst out in her nervousness. 'You'll still be a virgin, then?' he said. She felt her face burning and nodded. 'Virginityit's a special thing to be given and not lost,' he said, relaxing his hold on her hand, 'It's nothing to be ashamed of. Drink up.' She wasn't used to alcohol in any quantity, but Evan was so persuasive that she finished her wine and allowed him to bring her another. She changed the subject and listened to him as he told her of his life. Yacht crewman. Tour guide. Logger in Canada. Caricaturist, which he still did at ten pounds a sketch. He proved it by drawing her on the back of a beer mat, making her laugh. Lately, he'd been involved in ecology, protesting about the violation of the Hampshire countryside by an industrial site. Then he captivated her with his traveller's tales of Amsterdam, India and Thailand and places she'd never even heard of. He showed her a photograph of himself taken in Greece. A tall, sun-tanned, muscular man with collar-length black hair was sitting on a beach, holding a guitar. His smile was as warm as the Mediterranean sun that glistened on his wide shoulders and his amused eyes the same as were looking deeply into hers. She started to relax after the second glass of wine, and by the third she was a little tipsy. They held hands under the table; he made small circles in her palm with his thumb. After the fourth, she invited him back for coffee. She was trembling with excitement as they drove to her flat in his camper van. They were kissing before the kettle boiled. The coffee remained in the jar. A week later, he was sharing her flat. Evan took a part-time position with a graphics design company and abandoned his activities as an environmental guerilla. Hazel, on the other hand, began to re-invent herself. Her staid hairstyle, round glasses, jeans and sloppy sweaters were replaced by a fashionable bob, contact lenses, tight skirt, revealing blouse and make-up. She shyly admitted to her inquisitive workmates that she had a boyfriend. They were delighted for her. The following week, Evan began to work late; it seemed that his company was in with a good chance of winning a major contract. Sometimes he didn't get in until midnight. 'What happened to your shoulder, Evan?' she asked him one evening as he undressed for bed. He touched a large Band-Aid just above his collarbone. 'Oh, a bloody wasp stung me got inside my shirt.' 'Rotten thing! I've got some anti-histamine ointment in the bathroom take the plaster off and I'll' 'No. Leave it, I'll be all right.' 'Are you sure?' 'Yes for Christ's sake! I'm bloody sure. Just drop it, will you.' Then, after seeing the hurt on her face, he apologised. 'Look, I'm sorry I've had a bit of a hard day, I didn't mean to snap at you.' He kissed her cheek and poured himself a glass of cider from the bottle on the bedside table. Then he made intense love to her and the unpleasantness was soon forgotten, although the plaster stayed on for almost a week. Summer slid into autumn. Evan seemed to change with the season. When he returned late from the office, he was often withdrawn, cursing his workload. In the nights he arrived on time, he would begin drinking early and heavily. She was still infatuated and unwilling to admit to herself that he had another side, and a dark one, at that. Then it began. 'Don't you think you ought to cut down on the drinking a little, Evan?' she said guardedly, picking up the pieces of an empty bottle of cider knocked from the kitchen worktop with a clumsy elbow. Last night it had been a new jar of coffee. She moved just in time to avoid the back of his hand. 'Don't bloody lecture me, woman,' he snarled through his drunkenness, 'Not unless you want to end up on the floor as well.' Then he lurched into the lounge and sprawled on the sofa with his shoes on, defying her to say anything. On the following night, she was not so lucky. 'I fell over the cat and banged my face on the refrigerator,' she said thickly to her workmates the next morning, explaining her split lip. She saw the supervisor looking at the bruises on her wrists and pulled her sleeves down. The following week, she came to work in jeans, limping heavily. 'Slipped, playing squash,' she told her friends. Then, one night, he didn't get home until two o'clock, giving no explanation when Hazel opened the bedroom door to the sound of him crashing around in the kitchen. He looked at her vacantly and took a bottle of cider from the fridge. She couldn't help herself. 'Evan where have you been? I've been worried sick about you.' She followed him into the lounge. 'Why didn't you call to let me know that you were all right?' He stopped and slowly turned around, now with light in his eyes. 'What! What did you say?' He put the bottle down onto the coffee table very carefully, unfastened his belt, pulled it from the loops and moved towards her. She crouched against the sofa and raised her arms in defence, knowing what was coming. The buckle flashed in the lamplight, punctuating his words. 'Youdon'tbloodydareaskwhereI'vebeen. Ever. Doyouunderstand? Do you? Do you?' And now she understood *** Somebody touched her arm as she tried to make sense of the spreadsheet for the third time. She drew back instinctively before she realised that it was her supervisor. 'Hazel, are you all right?' She looked up at her through dark glasses. 'Yes, Doreen, I'm just a little tired, I didn't sleep too well last night.' Doreen looked around the office. 'Yes, I can see that. Seems to be fairly quiet, let's take an early tea-break, shall we?' Hazel followed Doreen to the canteen. Half a dozen people were scattered around the tables, drinking or reading newspapers. Doreen pointed her to a quiet corner and went to the counter. She came back with two cups of tea. They drank in an awkward silence for a minute or so. Doreen sighed and reached out for Hazel's hand. 'Not often you see people with sunglasses in November. Especially indoors.' Hazel looked down at her cup. Her jaw was trembling. She said nothing. 'Listen to me, Hazel, I know what's going on, it's pretty obvious, isn't it? These small accidents the cat, sport, the stairs, the swing doors. The only accident you've been involved in is meeting that boyfriend of yours. Isn't that so?' Tears were rolling down Hazel's face behind her dark glasses. She nodded, unable to say anything. Doreen squeezed her hand. More tears pattered onto the table. 'It's all right, Hazel, it's all right tell me all about it ' *** ' I don't know what to do, Doreen, I just don't know what to do...' Doreen reached into her handbag and passed over a tissue. 'Now listen to me, Hazel you've got to finish with him; people like that never stop. They can't stop. Oh, I know what the psychologists say that they were mistreated themselves as children, that they're repeating the same pattern, that they have no sense of self-esteem, that they can only assert themselves among those weaker. They might be right, they might be wrong; I don't care about excuses. These people are sick and there's nothing to be gained by sticking around as a punch bag while they vent their inadequacies.' She sat back in her chair and looked Hazel hard in the eye. 'There's only one thing to do, Hazel, and you know it. Tell him to go. Out of your home, out of your life, out of your head. Can you do that, for your own sake?' Hazel pushed up her dark glasses. The bruises around her eyes were livid. 'That's what I get for doing nothing, Doreen. Imagine what I'll look like if I really get him going.' Doreen winced. 'Threaten him with the police, love. Tell him that you'll press charges if he as much as lifts a finger against you.' Hazel swallowed a sob. 'He told me he'd break every bone in my body if I ever did that.' 'No, love, he won't, I promise you. Now look take the rest of the day off. Talk to him before he starts drinking; tell him that it's all over. If things turn nasty, you can phone me and I'll be right round with my husband and son; they're both six feet tall and not even afraid of me.' A small, frightened hand reached out. Doreen squeezed it. 'Have courage, Hazel...' *** The bus squealed to a stop almost opposite the block of flats in which Hazel lived. She saw Evan's Volkswagen as she stepped from the platform. As if in a vacuum her heart fell, loaded down with anxiety. What was he doing back at this time? She fumbled for her keys as she climbed the stairs to her flat. Even as she unlocked the door, her woman's intuition told her that something was wrong. That there was a cuckoo in her nest. She stepped into the hallway. A pair of blue shoes stood by the telephone table. Womens shoes. A black jacket hung from the coat rack. A woman's jacket. The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd swirled around the flat. Her favourite CD. But, loud as it was, it was not loud enough to drown out the cries coming from the bedroom. Her bedroom. The door was slightly open. Hazel reeled; a vortex formed in her head expanding rushing expanding rushing Unable to fight the terrible magnet that pulled her to reality, she looked into the room. She could see, with cold clarity, her make-up on the dressing table. She had forgotten to replace the cap on her lipstick; her comb was wedged into the hairbrush, red on black. Her nightdress was hanging from the wardrobe door. It was half open, displaying the clothes that she had bought since meeting Evan. Since Evan. They hadn't bothered to close the curtains; Evan's body was white in the clinical winter sunlight. A pair of stocking-clad legs was wrapped around his back. A towel lay underneath them. No evidence for when she came home on the 17.15 bus. On time. As usual. He was working hard, grunting loudly as he made love to one and destroyed another. She lurched back into hard, cold world. Gasps of passion hid the click of the lock as the door, and her life, closed behind her. *** She walked, oblivious to everything: the world going about its business, its occupants, theirs. Winter drew its curtains over the early evening; cars rushed past, their headlights blurred through her tears. A bleak chill permeated every cell of her body, she wondered if it were possible that anything could be colder than she was inside. She stopped halfway across Exe Bridge and leaned over the railings. A woman walking her dog looked at her curiously. Sodium lighting twinkled on the black lapping waters of the river. It would be little effort to 'Are you all right there, dear?' Hazel looked around. It was the woman with the dog. 'Yes yes, I'm fine, thank you just fine.' The woman looked at her again. 'Sorry, dear, it's just that I thought you looked ill.' 'I've not been well, but I'll be better soon,' said Hazel, 'Thank you.' 'Well, if you're sure,' said the woman doubtfully, tugging on the dog's lead, 'Perhaps you'd be better off at home, in the warm.' Hazel was sure that she'd never be warm again. *** Evan's van was gone when she eventually, and reluctantly, returned to her flat. She stepped into her invaded territory. The shoes and coat were gone. Of course they were gone. The bed was tidy, displaying no evidence of its previous condition. She looked into the laundry basket: the towel was lying on top, folded. That would be her; Evan never tidied anything. She went to the lounge, feeling sick. A half-empty flagon of cider stood on the coffee table, next to it, a glass. She looked up. On top of the television was a framed photograph. It had been taken at Dawlish. It showed them sitting on the beach, arm in arm, smiling. The picture was facing the wall. She disintegrated. *** He did not come back, that night. She slept fitfully on the spare bed and awoke dulled, on the edge of tears. It was cold; she pulled a curtain aside and looked out of the window. Frost dusted the grass and trees. She closed the curtain again, more comfortable in the security of darkness. After a while, she dressed and caught a bus to the city centre. Within five minutes she was in the City Library. She found what she was looking for; there were several books on the same subject. She passed over Evan's library card. The assistant stamped the book with a cheery 'Good morning'. Hazel smiled back weakly. She walked slowly to the browsing section, sat down at one of the tables and wrote a note on a piece of scrap paper. She re-read it twice, slipped it between the last pages of the library book and left, putting the book into her handbag. The elderly proprietor of Exe Libris was sitting behind a pile of second-hand paperbacks, sticking price labels onto their covers. He looked over the top of his bifocals. 'Good morning, need any help?' he said. 'Just looking at the moment,' she replied. He beamed and returned to his task. The shop was packed with books on all subjects: novels, biographies, paperbacks, hardbacks, dictionaries, atlases and encyclopaedias. Hazel wandered between the tall shelves until she came to a pile of faded books, double stacked against the wall. The film of dust suggested they had not been disturbed for some time. She took the library book from her handbag, knelt down and, with some effort, slid it under the obscure five-volume set of Civil Engineering in South America: Problems and Solutions. The proprietor was still busy with his paperbacks as she opened the door. 'Nothing caught your eye today?' 'No, not today,' she said, leaving John Rowland's Poisoner in the Dock for some future reader to enjoy. *** Doreen, concerned about Hazel's non-appearance at work the next day and unanswered telephone, eventually called the police. After ringing the doorbell of her flat for some time, the two officers let themselves in with the janitor's pass key. The flat was in darkness, the curtains drawn. When the lights were turned on, the officers made an unpleasant discovery in the lounge: the body of Hazel Croft. She was lying on her side against the wall with her knees drawn up. According to the attending police surgeon, the two black eyes and bruising to her wrists, back, and thighs were caused some time before death. The forensic team found several chloropromazine tranquilliser capsules under the sofa and traces of powder were found in a glass, which also contained stale cider and fingerprints, which were identified from the police database as those of a certain Evan Steadman. The most damning evidence came from Hazel herself, scrawled weakly on the glass-topped coffee table in lipstick. It said, simply IT WAs EVan *** Within hours, Evan Steadman had been arrested on suspicion of murder. The Desk Sergeant listed several capsules amongst his possessions, which were later identified as illicit amphetamines and tranquillisers. Investigation showed that in addition to his several convictions for assault, Grievous Bodily Harm and drug dealing, he had also been diagnosed as a schizophrenic, subject to violent mood swings. Hazel's work colleagues signed statements to the effect that on several occasions she had come to the office bruised and upset; her supervisor also declared that on her last day at work, Hazel had told her that she lived in fear of being killed by Evan. Steadman was charged with the murder of Hazel Croft based on overwhelming circumstantial evidence. The case did not go well for him, especially in the light of evidence given by several of his past partners. Death, according to the pathologist, was due to inhalation of vomit caused by barbiturate poisoning. The drug, he said, had been absorbed by the medium of heavily-laced cider and the victim would have fallen into a coma soon afterward. But not before, as the prosecuting lawyer put forward, she was able to write the name of the person who had forced it upon her. Steadman was unable to establish an alibi. A married woman, whom he claimed could confirm his whereabouts, did not come forward in response to police appeals. Two men drinking in a city pub said that they had seen him in a wild state on the day in question, drunk and abusive. The landlord, in another, had asked him to leave. And he could not explain a reminder from the City Library that his book, Poisoner In The Dock was long overdue for return. Or where it was. He was found guilty of Hazel Croft's murder and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. *** The proprietor of Exe Libris, the bookstore, died of a heart attack three years later. His son, uninterested in books, cancelled the lease on the property, hired a van and proceeded to sell the second-hand stock to various booksellers in the city. As he was clearing the last of the books away, a title caught his eye, tucked away in between patently unsellable volumes. It was Poisoner in the Dock. He flipped through it idly, wondering what a library book was doing in the shop. A folded sheet fell from between the last pages. He picked it up and read it. To whoever finds this note. May God decide when this comes to light. Evan Steadman did not kill me, at least not physically. Perhaps he has been in jail long enough to learn his lesson. Tell him that I hate him, even from beyond the grave. Whatever time he has done, he deserves. I didn't deserve mine. Hazel Croft, Alphington, Exeter. Died November 25th, 1999 *** Evan Steadman continued his life sentence, not for the killing of Hazel Croft but of Prisoner C682101, battered to death in the prison workshops with a steel bar during one of his dark moods. If he hadn't been wrongly imprisoned in the first place, of course, it would never have happened. But then again, the same could be said of Hazel Croft.
Archived comments for Letter of the Law
Jen_Christabel on 28-11-2005
Letter of the Law
Good story Expat. I won't comment on revisions (as we discussed) or anything like that as writing is a very personal thing. However, I personally, don't have a problem with this story at all, only maybe the end could be be 'show' than 'tell'?
Jen :o)

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Jen. This story has been giving me a hard time ever since I finished the first draft. It's like having a surgeon's knife that won't cut through the flesh to fix the organs. Things to do:
Cut the length while keeping the essentials.
Work on the POVs.
Do something about the ending re show and tell, as you suggested.

Sometimes I feel like putting this one through the Recycle Bin but I'll persevere.
Thanks again,
Steve.
:^)

thehaven on 28-11-2005
Letter of the Law
Hi Steve,I enjoyed this.The twist worked well imo..The most pwerful part ,for me, was the emotion described on Hazels discovery of hid betrayal.Magnificent.

I do agree,however ,with Jen that the end could be put differently.

Mike

Author's Reply:
Hi, Mike.
Thanks for reading and commenting; it was a bit of a long one. One aspect of the story I *am* happy with is how Hazel's life was turned upside-down and I'm glad it worked for you. True about the end, it'll have to be worked on.
Best wishes,
Steve.
:^)

bluepootle on 28-11-2005
Letter of the Law
Hi Steve! I liked the quite traditional style of story used here - it had an unfolding quality which made it very readable, and some very nice descriptive touches, my favourite being the tidied towel. It is sprawling, and could be tighter - I think the prob was, for me, with the POVs - we go from him, to her, to a narratorial voice, to a bookshop owner, to Doreen - overcomplicated for a short story, I thought?

This is such a well-worn subject that you've got your work cut out for you making it 'breathe' and I think you did manage it in places - the discovery of the affair, the initial meeting, some strong stuff amongst some bits that need a tidy, but I enjoyed it in this form anyway, so there.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Aliya, appreciated. As you've no doubt noticed, this story has been giving me a lot of grief. When I came up with the idea (three years ago), I thought there would be no problem in translating it into something fairly readable. Huh - so far, it's been the most cussed of anything I've written. Fair comment about the POVs; I suspected that aspect might let the story down. Definitely needs tidying, as you say, but I can't seem to get through the shield. A bit like Star Trek's force field thingy...
Pleased you enjoyed it.
:^) Steve

AnthonyEvans on 02-12-2005
Letter of the Law
hi steve,

1. like the others, i found this very readable but felt that the ending didn't work. your story should end, in my opinion, with the message scrawled in lipstick. we know then and there that evan is as good as dead meat. the futher plot twist with the message in the book seems too thought out and balanced for hazel's surely unhinged state of mind and the court stuff (unnecessary and) dull.

2. i think you could cut out a whole lot of stuff early on. the initial meeting as it stands is far too on the nose. does evan's approach have to be so crude? it could be direct without being too crude. as it is we think he must be a bit of a psycho from the word go. i think it would be doing your story a favour if there was a touch of romance from the word go.

also, perhaps you could give them names at the outset and throw out such things as 'the darkly handsome man' (substituing 'he' instead). I'd further throw out: 'Free and'; 'What pretty name goes with that pretty face'; 'Her blush was fiery now'; the business about removing the glasses; 'got a boyfriend'; 'her heart seemed to stop a moment before pumping another glow through her body'; all that running/tracing fingers through hair, across cheeks business; 'and boobs'; 'looking at her long skirt and woollen sweater'; 'That's much better why hide your assets.' I'd also throw out all that virgin stuff.

i think if you removed these things the story would move forward at a faster clip and evan wouldn't come across as so crude.

3. in a way, i think the main problem that i had with the story was when it changed direction from being a story about evan wife-beating hazel to one about evan betraying hazel with another woman. one minute hazel is going to confront him, and just when she has the perfect excuse to do that (and would he beat her up in front of another woman, prob not so it would be a good time to confront him) she gets cut up about his betrayal and that becomes the line you follow.

for me, and of course all these comments are just my take on things, i think the story would work better if you followed one or the other path. either he is a wife-beater who refuses to leave her or he has betrayed her. this would also make your story less complex and more compact.

4. small things department: i'd throw out the line 'winter drew its curtains over the early evening' as it sticks out a bit seeing as the rest of the prose is pretty much realistic.

anyway, as i say, this is just my take on things and i did enjoy the read.

best wishes, anthony.



Author's Reply:
Hi, Anthony,
Many thanks for your detailed comments. You've made some valid points, which I can't help but agree with. I've given some thought to this story in the light of general observations and now realise why it has remained stagnant since the first draft: it's been anchored to the (contrived, to be truthful) ending in which Evan remains in jail for the murder of another prisoner, despite being innocent of Hazel's death. What it wants is a major re-write, much as I did with a recent also-old story, which was trimmed by two-thirds and benefited accordingly. Once again, thanks, you've been very helpful and I will act on these and other reader's suggestions.
:^) Steve.

sirat on 03-12-2005
Letter of the Law
Anthony's comments above have left me very little to say. I think the first half of the story is too long, and the initial meeting as well as the bar scene could easily be condensed down to a paragraph or two. The interest of the story, at least for me, lies in Hazel's gradual realisation that she has made a terrible mistake. I think this could be better shown (and I do mean shown rather than told) by concentrating more on her feelings and her world view generally. I agree that romance is the appropriate mood for the beginning, not this very crude pick-up. The only significant part of this was when she says: "my ambition was to be an air hostess but with my looks I wouldn't have gotten past the interview stage", which tells us a lot about her self-image and insecurity. I think the theme of the story should be her falling out of love and disillusionment, feeding all the time that low self-image. The infidelity is a bit predictable, and far less powerful IMO than the violence. I think I would hint at that element but keep it in the background. Reference to the woman who fails to come forward is a good way to introduce this, but that belongs to a part of the story that I would completely omit. At the end, the "worm turns", and she frames him for her own murder, which is quite a good twist, but I agree with Anthony that you shouldn't go on too far past this revelation. If the story was being told more from Hazel's point of view we could be shown what had happened without the need for so much factual explanation.

To sum up, what I think would make this story absolutely top notch would be: 1. A general edit to reduce word count and remove unnecessary detail and incident; 2. Tell it completely from Hazel's point of view; 3. Make it more of a "love gone sour" theme; and 4. Don't dwell too much on the ending. Let it close with the shock of what she has done.

Author's Reply:
Thank you, too, David,
Trying to clean up an old story is considerably more difficult than writing something new, isn't it… Had I written this one recently, I wouldn't have made the errors so rightly pointed out. As I admitted to Anthony, this piece has been choked by my stubborn refusal to cut the 'engineered' ending. I still like the concept but now realise it belongs in another story and that's where it will go. I appreciate your taking the time to comment on this in such depth, your suggestions will be borne in mind when I get around to giving this another go.

Btw, hope you and Jean are having a good time in SA and enjoying the Castle.
:^) Steve.


Just The Ticket (posted on: 21-11-05)
Could YOU love a traffic warden?

Up until today, I'd managed to avoid being caught up in Malcolm Rudge's vendetta against anything that could move under its own power. Why, only last week The Terror of Trilby-on-Trent, as he liked to be known, had gleefully given one of my girls a fixed penalty ticket. Giving First Aid to the council worker who'd just fallen out of a cherry-picker whilst repairing a street lamp was apparently insufficient reason for her to park on the pavement. A disabled war hero had recently sent an irate letter to the Trilby-on-Trent Tribune complaining that Traffic Warden Rudge had threatened to have his InvaCar clamped. That's the sort of miserable sod he is. Reliable rumour had it that he'd issued just over a hundred parking tickets last Christmas Eve. And now he was about to write one for my Vectra. 'What's the problem here,' I said. Rudge licked the end of his ballpoint and held it up like a nurse checking a hypodermic. 'Are you aware, madam, that your vehicle is in contravention of the 1991 Road Traffic Act, being parked where there are yellow lines and corresponding markings on the kerb?' I stood there with an armful of shopping and tried to hold my temper. 'I am not parked on a double yellow line. That is quite obvious!' He took a tape measure from his pocket and strutted along the pavement. 'If you look closely, I think you'll find that the rear bumper of your vehicle is overhanging the aforementioned lines by no less than two and a half inches, or six point three five centimetres.' I couldn't believe what he was saying. 'Oh, come on' 'I'm sorry, madam,' he smirked, 'but regulations are regulations. It states quite clearly that' Off he went again; his eyes glazed over, spittle flew from his mouth, a glob of saliva trickled down his blue chin and dripped into the two-inch gap between his collar and throat. Someone, somewhere, might have loved him, but as I've always said, there's no accounting for taste. Then I had a brainwave. If I could pull this one off, I'd probably be the most popular person in Trilby-on-Trent. I put my carrier bags onto the pavement, intentionally let one fall over and bent down to pick up the spilled contents. The regulations of the 1991 Road Traffic Act and Fixed Penalty Notice Codes suddenly spluttered into silence. I looked up. Rudge's face was sweating like bog-moss squelches water when you stand on it and his eyeballs were jammed hard against his Heinrich Himmler glasses. Well, I can never see the point of wearing a bra under a low-cut top. 'Ooh, I do so like a masterful man in uniform,' I said, 'Are you sure I broke the law? Well, perhaps I did, I am so silly sometimes. What if I promise never to do it again?' He was very red in the face now, especially as I sitting on my heels, repacking the spilled groceries. I do wear knickers under short skirts, though. I hammered away at him. 'Look, couldn't we discuss my naughtiness over a drink tonight' He didn't need any more persuasion to put his pen away. I'm very good at things like that. I told him where to meet me, blew him a kiss and drove off. *** I managed to get a seat in the packed public gallery when his case came up. No one would have recognised me in my headscarf and dark glasses, least of all him. He didn't look quite so menacing in a cardigan, baggy cord trousers and sandals. The same clothes he'd worn when he came looking for Candy, oddly enough. He began to squirm as the sergeant police officer took the oath and gave his evidence. 'We received an anonymous telephone call to the effect that a certain gentleman was propositioning women in Chittlehampton Road. At nine p.m, I drove an unmarked car to this location with PC Crudgely and shortly after our arrival we observed the defendant driving a grey Austin A40 up and down the length of the road. It was apparent to us that he was looking for someone in particular. He eventually stopped his vehicle, got out and spoke to a woman leaning against the No 5 bus stop. This woman was recognised by us to be Pauline O'Bridley, otherwise known in the area as 'Chantalle'. After a minute or so, he got back into his car and drove a further fifty yards towards the gasworks. He then got out and indulged in conversation with one Margaret Wilshaw, commonly known as 'Katerina'. She was seen to shake her head; the defendant then got back into his vehicle and drove past us at approximately three miles an hour.' Rudge's face was a picture of misery as the sergeant spoke. He kept shaking his head and looked as if he were about to burst into tears. 'He was then seen to pull up outside Charlie's Chip Shop and call over another woman, one Carole Barrington, generally referred to by her clients as 'Emeraldina',' the sergeant continued, 'As a result of his behaviour, we then arrested the man on the charge of kerbcrawling.' Rudge leapt up from his seat. 'It wasn't like that,' he yelled, 'it wasn't like that at all.' The magistrate banged her gavel. 'Sit down and remain quiet until you are called to give evidence, Mr Rudge,' she shouted. Rudge slumped back into his seat. Without his uniform, he was a pathetic little snit. Someone in the gallery sniggered. There was one other witness for the prosecution. It was Pauline, and she was nicely overdressed in one of her 'Chantalle' outfits. I could see the Clerk of the Court ogling her chest. There wasn't a lot holding it in. It was just as well he couldn't see her miniskirt and stockings. 'Now then, Miss O'Bridley,' said the prosecuting lawyer, 'would it be fair to say that you earn your living by, er, dispensing sexual favours?' 'Well, you could call it that, lovey, but the police generally charge me under prostitution,' she replied. 'Ah, thank you, Miss O'Bridley. Would you mind telling the court about the evening of August 28th, at ten past nine in particular?' 'Yeah, of course. I ain't got nothing to hide. I was waiting for a gentleman friend when this old grey car pulls up and that geezer over there,' she said, pointing to Rudge, 'gets out, looks me up and down and asks for Candy. You meet all sorts in my line, you know, and I didn't like the look of this one so I said: "I don't deal in confectionary; you'd better ask someone else" '. Even the magistrates laughed. Pauline adjusted her bosom slightly and continued. ' "Oh", he says, "perhaps one of the other girls can tell me where she is", and drives off down the road. Then I saw him talking to Katerina. After that, he went down to Emeraldina. He obviously wanted something special. Like I say, you meet all sorts' Then it was Rudge's turn to take the stand. His voice was shaking as he repeated the oath. 'Would you be so good as to give the court your occupation, Mr Rudge,' said the prosecuting lawyer. 'Traffic warden,' Rudge mumbled. 'A traffic warden! I assume that as a government employee, your behaviour must be beyond reproach.' 'Naturally,' blustered Rudge. 'Then perhaps you can explain why you were arrested by the police for kerbcrawling in the red light area of the town?' For a moment, I thought he was going to pass out. 'I was er, that is umm, I'd arranged to meet someone there.' 'Really! Would you like to tell the court who?' 'It was, er, a woman I'd met that afternoon.' 'I see. Would you like to give us her name?' 'Er, I well I think it could have been Candy. I'm not too sure, now.' 'And did you meet this, ahem, Candy in the course of your duties?' 'Umwell, yes, I suppose you could say that.' 'And the purpose of this meeting?' Rudge began to splutter like a landed fish. Reporters were scribbling away like fury. The magistrates were looking at him coldly. He wasn't going to talk his way out of this as easily as I'd talked him into it. Pauline caught my eye. I winked. She grinned and winked back. It looked like Rudge's kerb-crawling days were going to be over in more ways than one.
Archived comments for Just The Ticket
Jen_Christabel on 21-11-2005
Just The Ticket
LOL just desserts!
I liked this.
Jen :o)

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Jen. An old one that I'd forgotten all about. Occasionally I like to write from the female perspective; I'm never quite sure if it works.
:^)
Steve.


Last Post (posted on: 07-11-05)
Another story written with Remembrance Sunday approaching.

Guillame Cornilleau set down his wheelbarrow and watched as the Union Jack was removed and the coffin lowered into the grave. The Warrant Officer folded the flag and turned to the funeral party. His commands were low but clear; even from thirty paces Cornilleau could understand the English without difficulty. Their rifle bolts clattered in oily precision and then the silence of the cemetery was broken by a crash of gunfire. The volley was repeated twice. A blue haze of cordite hung undisturbed in the still air. Then there was the familiar slap of palms against rifle butts and the dull click of heels brought firmly together. Finally, as always, came the mournful tones of a lone bugler the Last Post: a warrior's farewell. The burial party marched away, their mood sombre, carried heavily in the measured thump of their boots. Then there was silence once more, except for the occasional clink of shovel against stone and hollow thud of clod on wood as the two gravediggers went about their business. Cornilleau watched as the departing Service lorry drove past the cemetery boundary, sighed and pushed his barrow towards the north end of the Allied military cemetery, where immaculate ranks of white stone shimmered in the late summer heat. The wheel squeaked in time to the tread of his boots as he left the grass and rejoined the gravel path leading to the next section to be tended. After an hour of weeding and trimming, he sat down on a bench and took his flagon from the barrow. The water was cool and refreshing; after he had quenched his thirst he poured some into his cupped hand, splashed his face, leaned back and stretched his legs, at peace with the world. His Great War army disability pension and salary from the War Graves Commission were adequate for him and his wife, and he was happy to greet the infrequent visitors who came out of curiosity or pilgrimage to this part of Normandy. The nearby church clock chimed four times. Its sound carried easily in the limp air. He looked at his watch, put the flagon in the shade of the bench and resumed his work. Plot marker 6437, he knew without looking, was the grave of Captain J. Best, Royal Blue Jackets, killed 20th August 1944. Next to him lay Private G. Gannon, REMI, killed 13th September 1944. And next to him would be Staff Sergeant W. Mc Laren, Glider Pilot Regiment, killed 6th June 1944. After ten years, the roll call was indelibly etched into his mind. When he was satisfied, he moved to the next row of markers. As he knelt down to trim a patch of unruly grass with his secateurs, the air suddenly thickened, became electric, tingled. The light faded for a moment and the world became crushingly silent. He swayed on his knees, unaccountably chilled. And then birds were singing again and leaves rustled in an unexpected breeze. He looked up and bit on his lip in disbelief. The sky was blue, as blue as it ever would be. And there was not a single cloud in it. His head swam as he stood. What was the matter with him? Except for the limp caused by an artillery shell at Ypres, he was in good health for one of fifty-six. Perhaps he should pay a visit to the surgery and have an examination. Yes, he would do that. He sat down heavily on the bench and put his head in his hands, slightly troubled. He looked up as he sensed someone beside him. It was a slim fair-haired man in RAF battledress, wearing a flying brevet above his left breast pocket. "Bonjour, m'sieur. Pardon, je suis un peu fatigu " Cornilleau caught himself and switched to English. "Excuse me, I was a little tired by the sun." "I am just resting for a moment, too," replied the airman, "This must be a peaceful place to spend your days." "Ouis, very peaceful. Are you are looking for anyone particular, sir?" The airman smiled and glanced over Cornilleau's shoulder. "No, my friend, thank you I've already found him." Cornilleau turned around. He could just see the two gravediggers as they joined the path, carrying their shovels and flagons. He looked back. The airman was gone He picked up his trowel and fork and secateurs, put them into the wheelbarrow and returned to the tool store on the edge of the cemetery, never for one second looking back. The sound of a rapidly squeaking wheel faded into the distance.
Archived comments for Last Post
bluepootle on 07-11-2005
Last Post
Nicely paced, and some great detail. It feels very real. You have some repetitions that deaden the prose ('Cornilleau watched...' in paras one and two, and 'looked back/looking back' in the final paras), and maybe its a bit adverb heavy in the middle, but nothing that would be easy to fix. Good atmosphere.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Aliya, points noticed and will be worked upon. This was originally written about two years ago and mothballed. I resurrected it last month, slashed the wordcount by nearly 2K and hopefully deleted the purple prose. Good to get the subsequent errors pointed out; I'm a little out of practice.
:^) Steve.

thehaven on 07-11-2005
Last Post
I liked this immensley but wondered if the last line was nescessary as we already know he is "retreating" rapidly.

Mike

Author's Reply:
Cheers for reading & commenting, Mike. I guess I used the last line to emphasise the speed at which Cornilleau departed. If I'd been behind the wheelbarrow, it would probably have broken the sound barrier.
Cheers,
:^) Steve.

Jen_Christabel on 07-11-2005
Last Post
A very enjoyable read. I agree with the 'looked back' repetition, but hey (!) what a tiny edit LOL. Moving and chilling at the same time.
Jennifer :o)

Author's Reply:
Appreciated, Jennifer. I'll be working on the repetition. 'Moving and chilling' – that was what I was aiming for; glad it worked.
:^) Steve.


Claire on 07-11-2005
Last Post
Hey there hun,

It's been a while since I've read anything from you. It's good to see you're still writing.

This bit threw me:

Cornilleau could understood the English - understand?

I also noticed one or two unnecessary words which could be cut, like: as, and, were, then etc.

But other than that, you have a wonderful story here and I've thoroughly enjoyed it.

Looking forward to reading more... ;^)



Author's Reply:
Hi, Sunshine! Well spotted on that typo – as mentioned to Aliya, this story has been severely edited and I obviously overlooked the change in tense. Yeah, it's been a while since I did any writing but I'm getting back on track. Thanks for your encouraging words.
(\__/)
(='.'=)
(")_(") Steve.

RoyBateman on 08-11-2005
Last Post
A very delicate and moving tribute, Steve. All the more so for retaining a quiet, dreamy atmosphere rather than a dramatic one. I don't think I could bear the enormity of those cemeteries - the German one on Cannock Chase, beautifully tended and with wreaths from the local British Legion, always brings a lump to my throat. Excellent work.

Author's Reply:
You're very kind, Roy. I believe there is a WW1 graveyard near Ypres that is little more an ossuary and dedicated to 750,000 unidentified war dead. Hard to take in, isn't it...
Best wishes,
Steve.

Kat on 09-11-2005
Last Post
Hi expat

I always enjoy reading pieces like this - well-written and moving indeed.

Kat :o)

Author's Reply:
Thank you very much, Kat, appreciated.
Best wishes,
:^) Steve.

glennie on 09-11-2005
Last Post
Yes, thanks very much for posting such a well written piece, Steve. Nice atmosphere and setting. Glen.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Glen. I'm a little rusty at the moment; thanks for the encouragement. BTW, I used to live in Leamington - had some good times there but I can't remember the names of the bars except for the Birch And Billycock, The Avenue and Cassis. Probably all changed in the last 18 years...
Best wishes,
:^) Steve.

Kazzmoss on 12-11-2005
Last Post
Ah, a nice fitting story for remberence day. They appreciated the old man looking after them and it was warming to read. - Kazz

Author's Reply:
Many thanks, Kazz, glad you liked it.
:^) Steve.

jay12 on 13-11-2005
Last Post
This is a lovely little read expat. I like the pace of it and the way you structure the moment so well. A lovely read indeed.

Jay.

Author's Reply:
Cheers for that, Jay. I wasn't sure if I'd stripped it down too much but fortunately it seems to have come across reasonably well.
Regards,
:^) Steve.


REDUCE TO PRODUCE (posted on: 15-04-05)
A touch of horticultural black humour...

REDUCE TO PRODUCE. Legend has it that in the act of dying, your past life goes through your mind in a flash. This could well have been the case in the circumstances of my wife's demise, for I seem to have wired up a new kitchen light switch (7.99 in Homecare, genuine brass, all fittings included) to the 30 amp cooker circuit. Very unfortunate, but these things do happen from time to time. I wasn't actually present when this terminal incident occurred but when the potting shed was plunged into darkness, probably during the Coronation Street commercial break, I knew that Mildred (nee Taylor, very lately Lofts) had moved on to a far better place. Well, for me, at least. Picking up a torch, I trudged back to the house. I was not overcome with remorse, as I was, six months after exchanging marriage vows, nor did I rush to obtain medical assistance, as I had so often felt like doing during our fourteen years of matrimonial misery. Instead, I poured a rigid whisky, lit my pipe, of which she strongly disapproved, and sat down in her armchair, next to the coffee table littered with her collection of nauseatingly twee china figurines and crystal knick-knacks. I looked at them with loathing. It was the work of an instant to gleefully sweep them from view with the back of my hand. My muddy boots clumped firmly onto her treasured Turkish rug, previously off-limits to my size tens. The whisky tasted exceedingly good. *** The following morning, which arrived much later than expected due to a third of a bottle of scotch, brought with it the problem of refuse disposal: a 5' 2" eight-stone assortment of fluids, salts, and venom called Mildred. Clearly, a garden burial was out of the question; that would be the first place the police would look, should anyone become inquisitive about her disappearance. Central heating precluded fiery destruction and the removal of her body on the pillion seat of a Triumph Bonneville (occasionally jumps out of third gear under hard acceleration, otherwise in good condition for the year) was plainly Not Going To Work, especially on that sharp left-hander just past the Post Office. What was to be done? Mildred lay on the bathroom floor where I had dragged her from the kitchen; it really is inconvenient to step over a corpse whenever refreshments are required. I poured myself a stiffer whisky than my wife, may the devil rest her soul, and took a stroll in the garden. Summer was just around the corner and my roses were doing very well, thank you; I had high hopes for the County Show trophy. Last year's third place had whetted my appetite; not only that but I wished to wipe that smug look from Major Gribble's supercilious face. The Major always won first prize. The solution came to me as I filled a watering can from the greenhouse tap. Such simplicity and two birds killed with one stone, so to speak. I bought the items at half a dozen different shops in the nearby town of Beauchamp Pending to avoid suspicion. The Triumph only broke down twice so I was back in time for the afternoon. After another scotch, I began. First was the hacksaw and angle grinder, then the mincer; one of those handy gadgets that can be clamped to a bench with a wing nut, finishing with the three two-litre liquidisers. Anyway, it was all over within three days, the liquidisers working side by side in the kitchen to the strains of Chopin's Raindrop Prelude and Boney M. By the end of that time, Mildred consisted of no more than powdered bone and four gallons of semi-liquid fertiliser, a kind of reddy-pink horticultural cocktail. I tested the concoction on a small corner of the garden. It worked even better than I dared hope for. I was initially concerned about her atomised mean streak until I saw the weeds flourishing out of all proportion to my roses. These were summarily dealt with and despatched to flame. Being of early retirement and adequate means, my time was (now) my own; long days were spent in the greenhouse experimenting with what I came to call the Vertiliser, on account of its rapid growth properties. The optimum mix, I discovered, was three parts water to seven parts Mildred, with just a suggestion of thighbone for added calcium. Every second day, I poured a little of my ex-wife onto the flowerbeds. Within six weeks they were a blaze of colour with roses and carnations the size of cauliflowers. Amazingly, they progressed from plain reds, whites, and pinks to a variety of blues, purples, greens, yellows, and even black. The more concentrated the Vertiliser, the more intense the colours. I wondered how Mildred would have viewed herself. My excitement mounted by the day. The County Show was less than a month away and jealous rumours abounded in the snug bar of the Beast and Biped that the Major was cultivating some very fine blooms indeed, damn him. I caught him one evening over a gin and tonic. Under the terms of the Geneva Convention, he would say very little except that for me, the war was over. Not by a long chalk, I told myself, not with the secret weapon in my charge. So confident was I of ultimate victory that both the press and local television were anonymously informed well in advance of the showdown. The vicar, a regular judge at the Show, paid an unexpected visit one afternoon, purportedly 'just passing'. I invited him in for a sherry. The lounge curtains remained closed, blocking his view of the back garden. He was bursting with curiousity. "I hear that you expect to do well in the Show next month" "Yes," I said. He sipped his sherry and tried another tack. "What will you be entering something new or sticking to last year's selection?" "Yes," I said. "Careless talk costs lives, eh?" "Very true," I said, despite being both propagandist and defender. "And how is your good wife?" "Blooming," I said. "Haven't seen her in a while." "Gone to ground," I said. "Well, must dash," he said, draining his glass, "See you at the Show." "Yes," I said, "See you at the Show." *** The village was awash with excitement. It was Thursday and the County Show was due to start on the following Saturday. I'd twice seen the Major on one of his reconnaissance missions, rubbernecking as he 'casually' strolled past my cottage. Ten feet of shade netting camouflaged my biological weapons; short of an aerial survey, my secret was safe. Mildred (concentrated), was now down to less than a gallon; Mildred (diluted), was spreading through my flower beds in her coat of many colours like some massive, finely delineated bruise. She now manifested herself in orange, turquoise, gold and brown, as well as her previous colours. Her buds, closed, were the size of dinner plates. Petals unfurled, the roses, carnations, tulips, begonias and the like, spanned no less than satellite dishes. And the odd thing is, they seemed to know exactly when their next meal was coming. Only seconds after stepping from the greenhouse with my Vertiliser-filled watering can, the multicultural ranks would pivot their heads in my direction and nod sagely. Some were more aggressively pleased, bobbing their heads so alarmingly that I feared for their structural integrity. I was willing to wager that the Major had little in his armoury to defend himself with, under the mass assault of my blooms. Assured of ultimate victory, only one problem remained: that of transportation. My Triumph was clearly out of the question; it had barely the space for a lunchbox on the pillion seat, never mind the four gargantuan plants that I intended to display. A half bottle of Navy Neaters rum acquired the use of Shadrack the milkman and his electric float. Cleared of crates, it would serve admirably as a Triffid taxi. It was booked for Saturday, eight a.m sharp. I went over my specimens like a glutton in a cake shop, savouring each but not knowing which ones to pick. In the end, they decided for me. They simply stretched their petals as if yawning and turned in my direction: a purple rose edged in lilac, another in royal blue, a green carnation merging into vivid gold and my piece de resistance, a cherry-red begonia gently fading to ultra-feminine pink. I couldn't have made a better conscious choice. *** Even with Shadrack's help, the relocation of my Vertilised plants was going to be something of a mission. Transferred into giant clay pots, they each weighed no less than forty pounds and stood almost six feet tall. Shadrack, already stupefied by an early issue of naval rum, was goggle-eyed as I led him into the garden. One plant, the royal blue rose, swayed noticeably as he breathed noxious alcohol fumes into its petals. "Wot's these, then, boyo?" he slurred, holding onto it for support. He yelped as a thorn the size of matchbox pierced his thumb. "These," I informed him, handing over a tissue, "are the agents of Major Gribble's downfall." "Never min' Major Gribble's Asians," he wailed as his heavily-influenced blood dripped onto the soil, "What about my thumb?" The ground seemed to twitch for one moment like some immature earthquake. Shadrack looked down. A root, brown and white, as thick as a finger, suddenly burst from the soil and coiled itself around his Wellington'ed foot. He stood there, mouth open in a perfect circle of astonishment, as the root spiralled up to his knee. The expression on his face was rather interesting; a mixture of horror, disbelief and well, the sort of look you are apt to give when a plant is dragging you into its bed and wrapping its thorny self around your body. Overall, Shadrack went about the business of being murdered by a plant rather quietly; scarcely a peep passed his lips. Perhaps the begonia root twisting around his neck supplied some form of mute decorum to his passing. Shouting and screaming is so undignified, one should never be remembered for such. Within five minutes, the milkman was no more; he had delivered his last pint and was now being consumed by my plants in much the same way as his milk had disappeared into my tea and cornflakes. One black Wellington boot protruded from a quivering mass of multi-coloured blooms. The rose thorns, I saw, were vampire teeth, sucking blood and nutrients from his rapidly collapsing shell. Well that virtually solved the problem of disposal. The angle grinder and mincer reduced poor Shadrack to powdered bone, and a passing Aid for Africa collector gratefully accepted the green Barbour jacket, Fair Isle pullover and rubber boots for some unsuspecting tribe in the Ituri Rain Forest. It was remarkable how much my plants had grown in an hour. I telephoned the Major. "Yes, Lofts, what is it?" he barked. "Just calling to give you a chance to pull out of the competition this afternoon, Major." "What are you blathering about, man?" "Well, Major, I'm making this offer as a friend I would hate to see you and your feeble flowers humiliated in public, especially as Bulsetshire Television and Flower Arranger Monthly are going to be in attendance." "Humiliated what bloody nonsense," he thundered, "It's you who should be windy. What's the basis for this absurd assumption of yours?" "Why don't you drop in and have a look, Major. It may save you a lot of embarrassment and the trouble of wasting your time this afternoon." "Preposterous, absolutely bloody preposterous. I'll be over within the hour to reduce you to the ranks of non-starters." The hook was baited. *** I don't know which expression I liked the best the one of utter disbelief as he realised that he could never win the competition, or the one of horror as a nine-foot-tall rose bush took the Major in its thorny arms and proceeded to transform him into a shrunken, desiccated husk. His Indian Campaign medal fell off as a puff of wind turned him over. For Active Service, it said on the back. He'd been through hell, as he'd told the dismayed occupants of the Beast and Biped on a hundred occasions: bring back National Service, the birch, hanging, King George, the Bren gun Well, now he'd been through the mincer too. After bottling the Major's remains, I struggled with my fortified flowers until they were on the back of the milk float. The angle grinder made short work of the roof; the plants were growing by the minute and would brook no impedance. I lashed the pots down with rope and set off for the County Show at twelve miles an hour. The exhibition tent was an ocean of colour when I arrived but there was little of any consequence on display compared to my blooms. A platoon of amazed Army Cadets helped me unload the float and set up my entry. As I made my way to the beer tent, I could hear their officer shouting for some missing recruit. I, or should I say Mildred and my flowers, won First and Second Awards that afternoon. A woman from Lesser Brockerly was awarded Third Rosette for her insignificant selection of dahlias and geraniums, obviously to avoid allegations of favouritism. Oddly, no one could find her when the prizes were awarded. Well, the outcome this little story is in part predictable. There are, at present, no milk deliveries to be had in the village. There is, however, plenty of beer to be drunk in the Beast and Biped; attendance has increased greatly since the mysterious disappearance of the tiresome Major Gribble. As for me, I no longer socialise. My roses, carnations, and begonias have come to count upon me as a father, which I suppose I am. And as all families go, there are complaints. There are not enough nutrients to keep them healthy, they seem to say; they're all growing youngsters and a cupful of Vertiliser a day isn't sufficient. I wonder what the vicar's doing this afternoon?
Archived comments for REDUCE TO PRODUCE
RoyBateman on 2005-04-15 18:01:05
Re: REDUCE TO PRODUCE
How come this is the first comment? Everyone's missing a treat - hugely entertaining, stuffed with hilarious lines (grr...I'm jealous!) and written with a light, dry style ideally suited to the "grim" subject matter. Very, very funny and original.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2005-04-15 19:42:53
Re: REDUCE TO PRODUCE
You're too kind, Roy. Many thanks for the read and comment. This was a story I'd forgotten all about; I only found it when I was doing a Windows Spring clean. What do you mean, JEALOUS? I'm jealous of YOUR humour subs! Thanks again, best wishes,
Steve :^)

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2005-04-15 20:34:36
Re: REDUCE TO PRODUCE
I read this earlier on, but didn't have time to comment. I was only meant to have a peek who had subbed, but I had to have wee read of those first few lines as the title caught my eye and pulled me in, then I ended up reading the full thing and getting wrong for wasting time, from my daughter!

What a swift amusing read that was too. Thoroughly enjoyed this. Congrats on that nib too.

Author's Reply:

discopants on 2005-04-16 11:39:45
Re: REDUCE TO PRODUCE
Thoroughly enjoyable, guaranteeing a few chuckles. I liked the little details, such as the left-hander by the Post Office being too much for the pillion seat- they all added to the fabric of the piece.

Author's Reply:

shangri-la on 2005-04-17 13:59:33
Re: REDUCE TO PRODUCE
Fantastic read and completely captivating, loved every minute. A fave for me 'coz it's one of the best stories I've read in ages.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2005-04-17 20:58:30
Re: REDUCE TO PRODUCE
Thanks very much, Claire, glad you liked it (with grovelling apologies to your daughter!). And I'm chuffed at being 'nibbed'.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2005-04-17 20:59:16
Re: REDUCE TO PRODUCE
That's much appreciated, Disco. It was one of those stories that almost wrote itself itself, I seem to remember.
Cheers again,
Steve :^)


Author's Reply:

expat on 2005-04-17 21:00:01
Re: REDUCE TO PRODUCE
Pleased it went down well, Shangri-La, and many thanks for the Hot Story.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

nibs on 2005-04-18 21:24:40
Re: REDUCE TO PRODUCE
Oh my gawd! I usually stop reading when I get to gory bits but I just had to read this one - very amusing.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2005-04-18 22:03:03
Re: REDUCE TO PRODUCE
Hi, Nibs,
Thanks very much! It was fun to write as well. Best wishes,
Cheers, Steve :^)

Author's Reply:

eddiesolo on 2005-06-24 18:25:05
Re: REDUCE TO PRODUCE
Writing mainly poetry I tend to have my blinkers on and don't read much in the way of stories etc...silly I know.

But I'm really glad that I found this piece. Great, just great. Loved it.

Si:-)

Author's Reply:

expat on 2005-06-24 19:24:01
Re: REDUCE TO PRODUCE
Thanks very much, Simon. I like to take a breather from writing serious fiction sometimes and this sort of thing seems to blow the cobwebs out. Cheers again, glad you enjoyed it.
Steve :^)

Author's Reply:


The Big Squeeze (posted on: 28-03-05)
Another chapter from my 'Larsseny - Diary of a NY PI'. Lopsided Larssen bumbles through another case.

July 5th

Wun Tu was waiting for me when I got to the office. I hadn't seen him for a while, not since we'd helped the D.A get Vinnie Di Sorderli and his mob a ten-year vacation in the State Pen for protection racketeering.

As usual, his face didn't let on what was going on inside his head. He made the Sphinx look like the village idiot after a shot of laughing gas. He put his hands together like he was going to pray to Buddha and bowed.

'Ah, Mistah Larssenlong time, no see. How you keeping?'

I bowed back and noticed my shoes needed cleaning. 'Hi, Wun,' I said, 'I'm just about keeping out of debt. What brings you out of the restaurant?'

His face dropped by a sixty-fourth of an inch. He took a letter out of his pocket and passed it to me. I passed it back. It was in Chinese.

'Oopsvery sorry, Mistah Larssen; that from my nephew in Fuchow.' He gave me another one. It made better sense, but it was probably worse news.

Dear Customer. We can now offer you a very special insurance scheme. You pay up and your place will not get burned down/blown up/flooded/infested with cockroaches (delete as applicable). You will be contacted by one of our specially trained advisors within the next few days. Be warnedthere are many deaf people in this city who have lost valued property. Assuring you of our personal attention at all times. Take very good care.

It looked as if someone was putting his big feet into Di Sorderli's empty shoes.

'It come in my mailbox this morning, Mistah Larssen, along with cut-price holiday brochure and double-glazing special.'

All of his mail was extortion or fraud, by the sound of it. I held the letter against the sunlight that was streaming through the Sleuth Booth window. There were no watermarks on the paper, but there were two greasy paw prints on it, near the bottom. I sniffed them. The faint smell reminded me of something.

Wun Tu looked at me. His eyebrows lifted the distance a micrometer mightor might nothave detected. I patted his shoulder. 'Don't worry, Wun Tu, leave it with me for a while,' I said, 'Be sure to let me know if you get any more unsolicited mail or unwelcome visitors.'

'Thank you, Mistah Larssen,' he said, 'You welcome anytime at the Chinese Wall. Not cost you nothing.'

I watched him through my office window as he walked down the block towards 51st. He must have been a worried man, despite his inscrutability. He had four kids, a wife and two lots of parents to look after, never mind his three brothers and one cousin from Canton. Any more expense might well break him.

Kate breezed in with a mug of instant. I diluted it with an ounce of Jack, put my feet on the desk and sat back.

'Wun Tu got troubles again?' asked Kate, touching up her lips with a stick of something redder than my eyes.

'Someone's trying to put the squeeze on him,' I said, 'Some hotshot slipping into Di Sorderli's vacuum.'

Kate frowned, which didn't suit her. She liked Wun Tu. Everybody liked Wun Tu; he'd made it the hard way and didn't deserve some cheap punk leaning on him with an insurance policy that he couldn't afford to turn down.

'Any new boys in town,' I asked her.

'Nothing I've heard of,' she said, 'Let me make a call to Mississippi Minnie.'

Mississippi Minnie was a retired nun who'd done twenty years with Girls Town and was as hard a cookie as they came. She'd once sapped Don Ationes of the Raffia for not taking his Homberg off when he'd dropped into her office with a ten grand contribution towards the upkeep of the place. Chief O'Flanagan of the NYPD was just as frightened of her. His nose had a hard left turn on his face thanks to him being late for the Girls School fifteenth anniversary gala. More than once she'd cracked someone's skull, on both sides of the law, for back-lipping her. She had the vocabulary and volume of a drill sergeant, a grip like a one-armed man hanging off the Empire State Building flagstaff, and a heart of twenty-carat gold, once you'd chipped away the granite. Her information network would have made Edgar J. Hoover green with envy.

I took a wander down to Seamus's Sweat Shop, a sauna-cum-gymnasium on the corner of the block. I found him in the bloodstained arena that he called a boxing ring. He was tying a pair of sparring gloves onto a jasper with a face that looked as if he'd tried to shave with a salami slicer.

'Hiya, Lopsy, how's tricks?' He had a voice that sounded as though he used gravel and broken glass as a mixer for his drinks, but today it was quieter than usual.

'Fair to middling, Seamus,' I said, 'How's yours?'

He jumped out of the ring and threw me a light punch on the shoulder. I stayed down for the count of nine, picked myself up and launched a right cross at his jaw. As usual, he blocked me with a paw the size of an elephant's foot and laughed his Irishman's laugh.

'Will you be wanting medical attention for your injury, Mr. Larssen?'

'That's why I came, you big galoot,' I said, 'Don't spare it; I can take the pain.'

Seamus opened a footlocker, took out two glasses and a bottle of something that looked like cold tea, but wasn't, and poured two slugs that were probably more powerful than the one he'd just laid on my shoulder.

We swapped banter for ten minutes or so. Then I said: 'Is your insurance up to date on The Sweat Shop, Seamus?'

His eyes took on a worried look. 'Meaning what, Lopsy?'

'Meaning, have you received any offers of expensive policies that guarantee against arson, explosions, structural failures and other unlikely catastrophies?'

Seamus crossed to the footlocker again, reached inside, took out a typewritten letter and handed it to me. It was a carbon of the one that Wun Tu had shown me.

'Found it under the door when I opened up this morning. I've been doing my best to forget it until I get home.'

Seamus was a big man who could look after himself with one arm behind his back. But muscles weren't going to be any good against this sort of fight. 'What are you going to do about it?' I asked him.

He took a long shot of his home-brewed whiskey. 'What can I do, Lopsy?' he said, 'If I don't cough, everything I've worked for over the last ten years is going to collapse around my ears. Sure, my insurance company will pay up if I have one or two accidents, but then my premiums'll go through the roof. Maybe I should just give these guys what they're asking. I've got a family to feedif I call the cops in, this place gets torched and then there'll be nothing on their plates but air.'

The gym echoed with the sound of the ugly joey pummelling a punchbag. Seamus swirled his whiskey nervously around his glass. I could imagine how he felt. How many others were worrying their heads about these letters

I gave him my card. 'Ring me when these punks get in contact again, Seamus,' I said, 'Maybe I can put the pinch on them before their grip gets too big.'

He looked at the card and nodded. I finished my drink and left him.

I wasn't counting on getting a call.
***
Kate was typing up a letter to the bank when I got back. The pawnshop Olivetti must have been bored with hammering out the same words every other day.

'Any joy from Mississippi Minnie, hotlips?' I asked.

'She's put her menaces on the terraces,' she said, 'If there's anything going on, she'll have the griff before the end of the week.'

That was typical of Minnieit was already Friday. I went into the office, carefully measured out a full tumbler of Jack and made my feet comfortable on the desk. Eventually my eyes got tired of looking at the wall and pulled their shutters down.

Kate woke me at sometime much later. My eyelids creaked open.

'Sorry to bother you when you're busy, Lopsy,' she said, 'Minnie's got word on the racket. She says to drop by at around six.'

I looked at my watchtwenty to five. It was a seventy-minute run to Girls Town in Brooklyn. Maybe half that in something that wasn't my Lincoln. I picked up my hat, unlatched my eyes from Kate's upholstery and took a drive.

Girls Town was an old army bootcamp looking west towards Staten Island. I pulled up outside the main block and took the stairs to her first-floor office. The door was open. She was arm-wrestling with the janitor, watched by a handful of her girls. She looked up.

'Hello, lunkheadbe with you in a second or two,' she said.

I heard the janitor's bones crunch and then his knuckles hit the desk with an almighty crack. He got up from the chair, threw her a greenback and pushed past me. His hand was jammed into his armpit and if he wasn't close to crying, then my name was Pierre MacYamaguchi.

'Maybe next time, Lester,' she cackled as he disappeared into the passageway. She clicked her fingers and the girls vanished.

Minnie shoved the greenback into a note-packed jar and waved me towards a chair. 'Just keeping the bank balance up, Lopsy. So what's going on under the skin of The Big Apple?'

She poured a couple of shots of Kentucky as I filled her in on the latest get-rich-quick dodge. She slid one over the desk.

'Well,' she said,' according to my sweet little sniffers, a Corsican shark who goes by the name of Corky Vandaletto is snapping his teeth in the protection pond. Who's he been putting the squeeze on?'

I told her about Wun Tu and Seamus. 'Probably a whole bunch more, too, Minnie. How come this weasel's never tickled my ears before?'

'Ever heard of Jersey,' she asked.

'Jersey? Sure I've heard of Jerseywho hasn't? It's just below Newark. I was there on the Masher Molloy case last month.'

'Ignoramus,' she said, 'Jersey in the Channel Islands, part of Britain.'

What the heck was an ignoramus? It sounded like some African water-bound mammal. 'OK,' I said, 'What's the connection?'

'He had a beach refreshment concession but the authorities ran him off the island for adulterating the ice cream with goat milk. Now he's swimming with the bottom-feeders of New York City.'

'Sounds like a nasty piece of work, Minnie. But what's the tie-up with Wun Tu and Seamus?'

'How would I know?' said Minnie, 'That's what you get paid to find out. Speaking of which, there's a ten-buck handling charge for what I've just told you. No checks, please, especially one of yours.'

I dug deep into my pocket and pushed a brace of fives over the table.

'Girls Town thanks you for your very generous contribution,' said Minnie, 'Now finish your drink and beat it; I've got a hundred waifs to look after.'

I got up and stuck my lips on her cheek. 'Thanks, Minnie, I'll be seeing you.'

'If I'd known you couldn't afford a razor, I'd have given you discount,' she said, 'Mind how you go.

I dropped into the Cantina on 51st when I got back and washed the air from my mouth with a Manhattan Skullslammer. What was the link between ice cream, Oriental chow, and gymnasiums? This Corky Vandaletto sure had his grubby mitts in some peculiar pies. I gave my think tank the rest of the evening off and filled the vacant spaces with shock-absorbing fluid. I had a grumbling feeling that tomorrow was going to be a busy day.
***
It was. For the Fire Department, anyway. A delicatessen, a Ukrainian knitting club, and a Portuguese Poets coffee shop had mysteriously burned down by the time I got into the office at noon. The New York immigrant's news grapevine moved quicker than brushfire. Seamus was there to tell me all about it. His face was longer than a giraffe's neck.

'I'm going to pay up, Lopsy,' he said, when he was through, 'If I don't, the Sweat Shop's going to get a damn sight hotter.'

I couldn't blame him. The cops would bang their heads hard against a wall of silence; no one was going to talk, that was for sure. I poured us both some lunch and puzzled for a while. Sherlock Holmes was supposed to have had two-pipe solutions to his cases. Not having a fancy smoking tool like that, I made do with a toothmug full of something just as soothing.

'Got any boxing gloves in my size?' I asked Seamus when Jack started to give me the count of ten.

Seamus gave me a puzzled look. 'Got 'em in any size except for ankle grabbers and Goliath. Why's that?'

So I told him.
***
I got into the Sweat Shop around eleven on Sunday morning. Seamus's punchbags were as hard as a bank manager's heart and I worked up a bigger sweat in five minutes than I had in running a block and a half to catch Luigi's Liquor Store before it closed last night. It had been a choice between buying gas for the automobile or gas for me; three bucks fifty-five doesn't stretch as far as it used to and my pockets were nearly as empty as the Lincoln's tank.

A six-five bruiser drooling like pitbull terrier over a kitten offered me a sawbuck if I'd spar with him for a quarter of an hour but I figured that I wouldn't live to spend it so I turned him down on the grounds that he wouldn't get his money's worth. Five minutes later, he knocked a fifty-pound punchbag clean out of its ceiling hook.

I kept an eye on Seamus's office as I worked out; I could see him through the half-glassed walls behind his desk. Just as I was about to do a press-up, a pair of swarthy palookas in suits and Hombergs strolled into the gym and looked around. Unless their left armpits had excitable lymph glands, they were packing pieces. It didn't take half a moron to figure out that these two were the 'insurance salesmen'.

Seamus looked up from his desk at the same time that they got to his office doorway. Even from thirty feet, I could see the dismay on his face. I took a hike towards the shower-room, wiping my face with a towel. Then I pulled my togs on and went back. They were standing in front of his desk as I crept past the door; one of them was a handsome herbert with blue jowls and the other, judging by his features, looked like he'd once been an amateurand very unsuccessfulparachute tester. When I had their backs to me, I ducked down and pressed my ear against the thin office panelling. They were selling their premiums. It wasn't good listening material.

'So, Mr. Hannahan Have you taken the time to consider our selected customer policy? We hear there've been a few unfortunate accidents in the locality.'

Seamus was quiet for a few moments. 'I'll not be having a lot of choice, will I?' he said, 'How much are you asking?'

The other voice said: 'A very sensible decision indeed. For a building of this size, I'd say that fifty bucks a week should cover all eventualities.'

'Fifty bucks! Sweet Mary abovethere's no way I can pay that.'

'Oh? Not being very reasonable, are you, Mr. Hannahan. I don't think that you're aware of how much effort we've got to make to ensure your building is kept safe.'

There was a crash as something hit the floor and a strangled ring. I guessed the telephone wouldn't be making any more calls for a while.

'Oh, gee, that was unfortunate,' said the first voice.

'And so easily avoided,' sniggered the other, 'Are you sure you wouldn't like to reconsider?'

'Two hundred a month will kill me,' said Seamus, 'I'm barely making enough to survive as it is.'

'Perhaps you should put your charges up, Mr. Hannahan. We'll give you another couple of days to come up with the right answer,' said the first one, 'We'll be back on Tuesday, let's say ten o'clock. Meanwhile, here's our calling card.'

I snuck a quick look over the panelling and watched as the parachute tester dragged the foresight of his gat over Seamus's polished desk.

'Have a good day,' laughed Blue-jowls.

I ducked down, waited until the footsteps had died away, waved to Seamus through the office window and went after the two punks. They were disappearing around the corner of the block as I pushed the door open, heading east. That two hours working out must have had some benefit because within a minute, I was right on their heels. I could hear them laughing, the two-bit jerks. After five minutes, they stopped off at a joint called Pietro's Pizza Parlor. Some Italian New Yorker in need of an enforced insurance policy, no doubt.

I crossed the road, settled myself into the window seat of a third-rate bar, and ordered a first rate Jack from an uninterested waitress with enough ladders in her stockings to reach the top of the Chrysler Building. The Sleuth Booth float was sure taking a hammering lately. There was still no sign of the two 'salesmen' by the time a third Jack had slid down my gullet. Pietro was either very helpful or very unhelpful. Just then, my view of the Pizza Parlor was interrupted by a delivery truck being parked right in front of its entrance. That was just what I didn't want. Then I noticed a very odd thingthe driver and his assistant were lugging boxes into Pietro's Pizza Parlor and bringing others out. This went on for maybe ten minutes. What was going on? I decided to stick my beak into the nut basket.

There were fifteen or so diners inside the restaurant getting stuck into pizzas the size of Cadillac hubcaps. A waiter appeared as I looked around and thrust a menu at me.

'Can I help you, signor?'

'Yeahmy Lincoln needs two new wheel bearings and a carburetor tune,' I said, 'and I think my geyser needs de-scaling.'

'Uh?' he said.

'Well, you did ask, pal,' I said, 'Is Corky around or is he out on business?'

His face was eclipsed by suspicion. 'Who wants to know?' he demanded.

'No one,' I said, 'Have you got tossed salad on the menu?'

'Si, naturally.'

'Dressing of the Family Oleaceae, genus Olea, classification Olea europaea, variety europaea, of course?'

That got him. His face darkened for a moment. 'I am just the waiter,' he said, not quite so cocky now.

Just then, the kitchen doors opened and a waiter hurried out, pushing a trolley stacked to the gunwales with desserts. I could see my two 'salesmen' friends inside, having what was obviously a social jaw with the truck delivery men and a dude with a chef's hat like The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

This was getting as clear as a Swedish motion picture. And then I remembered something
***
Kate was fending off the rent collector when I arrived at the Sleuth Booth on Monday morning. He was a small man, which almost put him on a conversational level with her chest. As I hid behind the filing cabinet, I heard him mumble that he'd be back tomorrow morning. I knew it wasn't because he was expecting the lucre; he was hoping Kate would be wearing something even more revealing. That made two of us.

'Thanks for stalling his motor, cutey-pie,' I said, looking down on what he'd been looking up to, 'It'd be kind of difficult working from a sidewalk.'

'I might get a regular income selling matches and newspapers, though,' she grumbled, 'How did you get on with the extortion racket? I heard a few places were hit over the weekend.'

I lit up a Camel to give my lungs some early morning exercise. Two buttons flew off my shirt and the inside of my eyes suddenly resembled kaleidoscopes. I hadn't coughed like that since Luigi had given me December's liquor credit tab. 'Promising,' I said, in instalments, 'maybe we'll break it today. What have you got on glycerine?'

'Glycerine?' Kate yawned, exercising her chest as well. I like it when she's tired. 'Glycys Keros: a by-product of animal and vegetable fats and oils. Colorless, viscid and sweet-tasting. A hygroscopic trihydric alcohol with a specific gravity of 1.265, boils at 290 degrees Centigrade. Used, among other things, for paints, cosmetics, medicines, toothpaste, solvents, and explosives in conjunction with nitric and sulphuric acids.'

'Just as I thought,' I said.

I took a walk to the end of the block. A copper-skinned beggar with silver stubble was sitting on the corner, playing with a rosary. The placard around his neck said: Please Help A Blind Man With A Wive And Fambly To Suport. I fumbled in my pocket and lobbed a nickel into his collection tin.

He lifted his dark glasses and stared pointedly at my contribution. 'Qu es sta, you cheap bum! I no accept nothing below a quarter these days.'

'Awwware all those little coins too heavy to lug to the bank, hombre?'

'You damn right,' he laughed, 'You keeping well, Seor Larssen?'

'Well, you know how it is, Pacowhen it ain't raining, it's pouring. Been down south lately?'

'Sure! I visit my little senorita only last month. She sure know how to keep an old man young.'

'Yeahyou look pretty good for sixty, you rogue. No trouble with the revolutionaries?'

Paco spat a stream of tobacco juice at two flies being intimate on the side of his collection tin. They slid to the sidewalk in a brown ball. 'No, not since the government troops find their weapons cache. They out for revenge, as sure as my wife would be if she find out I no visit my sick nephew.'

He quickly lowered his dark glasses as a party of blue rinsed biddies came around the corner. 'Vamos, hombre; here come my next cigar and bottle of tequila. See you around.'

I killed some time in Glinka's Department Store, watching the ladies shopping in the lingerie section until I was asked to leave. Then I took a stroll to the downbeat bar opposite Pietro's Pizza Parlor, drank a four-course lunch at my window seat and sat back to see what was developing.

Sure enough, another delivery truck pulled up across the street and a pair of heavily-mustachio'd and unsavoury-looking characters jumped out, opened the back doors and disappeared into the restaurant. Someone had left a couple of quarters on the next table. I guessed they were an appreciation of outstanding sub-standard service, as there were at least three separate sets of used glasses on the dirty tablecloth. I took them before they corroded away and made two calls in the booth. I stepped outside and waited. If I wasn't mistaken, Monday was going to start the week off with a bang.

Twenty minutes later, Seamus steamed along the sidewalk with half a dozen gorillas dressed in track suits following in his slipstream. Their biceps were bigger than my thighs and none of them had any use for a necktie; their heads sprouted straight from their shoulders. As Seamus trotted towards me, Wun Tu arrived with two of his brothers. I put them all in the big picture and I swear Seamus's pals were slavering in anticipation.

'Ready?' I said.

Wun Tu and his clan nodded, Seamus's mob began to paw the ground like bulls seeing a red flag. We crossed the street and marched into Pietro's Pizza Parlor. The joint was packed with lunchtime scoffers. They all looked up as we stood by the kitchen doors.

'Right, folks, the restaurant's closed,' I bawled, 'You're all in danger of becoming seriously ill; don't eat another bite, go home quickly, take a dose of Epsom Salts and if you're lucky, you won't need to call a physician or funeral parlor advance booking clerk.'

There was uproar; tables and chairs were overturned, plates and glasses smashed on the floor, people screamed. A burly waiter pushed through the fleeing patrons and jabbed his finger at me. 'Diffamazione! What's this you say? There nothing wrong with food at Pietro's; who you think you are, frighten our customer like this?'

One of Seamus's friends reached out, curled his fingers around the honcho's neck and lifted him up until his feet were clear of the floor. 'You're not looking too well, busterperhaps you'd better sleep it off.' He clenched his other hand and drove it on top of the air-dancer's nut. He went down and the twittering birds fluttered up.

An anxious face appeared at the ordering hatch. Then the kitchen doors burst open and twenty or so assorted staff flew into the room, some brandishing rolling pins and tenderising mallets. The Sweat Shop gang grinned and began rubbing their hands. Pietro's mob looked at each other nervously. Wun Tu and his brothers opened the action with a dazzling ten-second display of wu shu. Seven of the mob kept the first waiter company on the floor. Not wanting to be left out, Seamus and his pugilists joined in and in a jiffy the floor was full of shouting, punching, wriggling and bleeding figures. Seamus was on his knees, pummelling the amateur parachute tester with one hand while the other was steadily throttling Bluejowls. He didn't look as if he needed any help.

Then I saw someone in a lemon suit make a dash for the fire exit. That, I figured, would be Corky Vandaletto or somebody else. Either way, he was obviously one of the big cogs in the machine. I snatched a bottle of Chianti from the wine rack and lobbed it at the back of his head. It was a fair shot from thirty paces. The bottle ricocheted from his nut and caught a kitchen hand between the eyes, knocking them both off their feet at the same time. If this had been the Central Park Fair, I'd have won a pair of goldfish. I jumped over the pile of squirming bodies and grabbed whoever was in the lemon suit before he came to his senses. His eyes were rolling in their sockets like ball bearings in a saucer and the lump on his sconce would make sure he didn't sleep on his back for the next day or few.

Meanwhile, the scrap was coming to an end; Wun Tu was sporting a promising shiner while Seamus's only injuries appeared to be his knuckles. All the other good guys were on their feet except for one of the Sweat Shop boys, who was kneeling groggily across the two unconscious truck men and a bottle of grappa.

I was just about to open the bar for a victory drink when Lieutenant Kochleer and his bunch of flatfeet rushed into the restaurant.

'I might have guessed you'd be in the middle of this little social gathering, Larssenwhat's going on with the sleeping beauties?'

'You'd better ask the gentleman in the canary suit,' I said, jerking my thumb towards the groaning herbert who may have been Corky Vandaletto, Pietro, or probably both, 'and I'm sure Presidente Cuervo of the Republic of Salivia will be very interested in what he's got to say, too.'
***
That night we had a small party in the back room of the Great Wall of China.

'Spill the haricots, Lopsy,' said Seamus through a mouthful of bamboo shoots, 'what put you on the scent of Vandaletto and his bunch of desperados?'

'Well, it didn't take long for it all to add up. It was the greasy fingerprints on Wun Tu's demand that got me thinking. Los Luchadores de la Libertad de los Granjeros de la Lechera De Salivia, otherwise known to the FBI as The Dairy Farming Freedom Fighters of Salivia were employing Corky Vandaletto to supply them with explosives to blow up the State-run creameries. With his Alimentation and Organic Chemistry Degree from the Ajaccio School of Higher Learning, Corky was producing the nitro-glycerine from olive oil supplied by the Californian plantations, using Pietro's Pizza Parlor as a cover, and shipping it across the border to the revolutionaries. He was receiving his payment in rebel Salivian Romano cheese, thereby avoiding the seventy percent tax levied on certain imported Italian dairy products under the '53 Kincaid Pungent Goods Act. Who knows how long he'd have gotten away with it if he hadn't moved into the protection racket to finance his Toggenburg and Cashmere goat cross-breeding experiments.'

Seamus raised his glass to me and took a thick envelope from his pocket. 'As a token of our appreciation for screwing the lid down on Corky and his henchmen, Lopsy, the immigrant retail community would like you to accept this. We're all very grateful.'

I took the envelope and opened it. There was a thousand bucks in fifties. That would cover all the Sleuth Booth's bills and Kate's wages for the next two months. There was also a wad of credit tokens, from Abe's Delicatessen to Ziegler's Zener Diode Mfg Co, including one from Luigi's Liquor Store, value not exceeding $20.00. Strangely, that was exactly what I already owed them.

I poured three shots of rye. Wun Tu didn't drink, so Seamus and I shared his glass, poured him another and shared that one too.

It was going to be a long night.

Archived comments for The Big Squeeze
Claire on 2005-03-28 22:49:09
Re: The Big Squeeze
Actually that didn't take that long to read. Long pieces don't go down to well on here no more hun.

Where the hell did you get some of these names from? A very entertaining piece indeed. I gather this is from a novel you are working on, goodluck with it.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2005-03-28 22:58:45
Re: The Big Squeeze
Thanks for the read and comment, Claire. I reckoned that splitting this one into two parts would spoil the continuity but I can see that the length would put a lot of people off. Yes, I'm working on 'Larsseny' being a journalised novel; it may work, it may not. Each instalment might work all right as a stand-alone short story though. Dunno about the names - they just sort of materialise by themselves...
Thanks again (Susannah York),

:^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

Kat on 2005-03-31 01:10:26
Re: The Big Squeeze
Hi Steve

I remember reading about Larsenny before (I think it was him) and thoroughly enjoying it. This was very long to read from the pc but I'm glad I did.

I really enjoyed the wry humour and the story stands well by itself. How long can his liver stand up - could it last a whole book? 😉

I like the inventive names you've chosen, especially Wun Tu. 'The Sleuth Booth' is a great idea and you display wonderful use of language to describe things, eg,

'...a chef's hat like The Leaning Tower of Pisa.'

Loved the bit about the salad dressing - very funny.

A very enjoyable read and I wish you lots of success with this.

Kat 🙂

Author's Reply:

expat on 2005-03-31 19:34:28
Re: The Big Squeeze
Thank you so much, Kat, I'm glad you enjoyed Lopsy's case. Yes, you're right, it is a very long story to read on screen and no doubt the word-count is probably too high for most browsers. I'm aiming for a twelve-part novel, which should bring me up to approximately 60,000 words; I'm halfway there at the moment. As I've mentioned before somewhere, once I get started, the Larsseny stories seem to write themselves and both him and Kate are almost 'living characters'; I know how they think, what they'd say and do. Lopsy, of course, is alcohol-driven, but I like to think of him as an indestructible Keith Richards-type waster. What I think of the delicious Kate is another thing altogether …

Once again, thanks for reading and commenting,
Steve :^)


Author's Reply:


Stolen Time (posted on: 08-10-04)
Another story from the Dark Continent. Temptation ...

STOLEN TIME.

Mswati had never known what it was like to have money, like most of the other occupants of his village, a small collection of mud huts near the banks of the Kafai River. But although poor, he was rich in ideas; all guaranteed to make him a wealthy man. Some indeed did have the potential to bring in a moderate income. But, they required capital.

There had been talk of a new school and a repair garage in the village downstream. He would make the bricks and sell them for less than the suppliers in the city. He required only a thousand kwena for the brick-moulding machine. He had seen it advertised in a magazine left by a visiting census official. If only he could raise the money

And then there was the motorised fibreglass canoe he would ferry travellers across the hundred-metre-wide river for half the price of the Lebanese trader who lived between the two villages in a grand house paid for by his massive profits. This could be his for only three thousand, two hundred kwena. All he required was a loan, payable over one year. He would be a very wealthy man by then. For sure.

If only he could scrape together five thousand kwena, he knew of a Volkswagen Kombi, which would make the ideal taxi for transporting the villagers to the city. He would get his money back in six months, without fail.

Mswati's grand plans came to nothing for he could not raise even enough money to buy a coat for the rainy season. The Lebanese trader refused point-blank to give him a loan after he was foolish enough to mention the motorised canoe, and it was unlikely that the collective wealth of the villagers came to more than two thousand kwena. There were goats, chickens, and donkeys in abundance, none of which were acceptable security to the men in the city banks, with their smart blue suits and flywhisks. Mswati brooded, a thwarted entrepreneur.

He was not, by nature, malicious or violent. But, like many penniless mortals, he found it difficult to resist temptation. One evening, opportunity took control of his life as he strolled home the four kilometres from the house of his friend. They had been drinking the latest batch of palm wine and it was very good.

***

Dikunye was an old man. His cousin, a big spear in the city, an importer of Russian trucks, had died. Many years previously, Dikunye had done him a considerable favour in regard to the acquisition of a very beautiful bride and the raising of lobola, or dowry, to satisfy her well-to-do family. He had remained in Dikunye's debt ever since. In accordance with his deathbed wishes, a substantial sum of money had been given to his cousin; almost seventeen thousand kwena. Dikunye was now an exceedingly rich old man.

He travelled to the city for only the third time in his life and collected his money, in cash, from the lawyer. His eyes grew wider and wider as the hundred- kwena notes were counted out. One of the first purchases to be made from this unexpected windfall was a blue Raleigh bicycle. Dikunye also bought a saddlebag and a set of capacious panniers in which to transport his possessions.

After two days, he found himself uncomfortable with the frenetic atmosphere of the city and decided to leave for his mud and reed hut, a journey of thirty-five kilometres. The tarred, but ill-maintained road would take him almost directly to his village; a crossing of the river would see him safely home.

There was no call for banks in the outlying districts and it was impracticable to make a round trip of seventy kilometres for each transaction. Therefore, the balance of Dikunye's windfall was wrapped in a leopard-skin pouch and hidden in one of the panniers. He bade his relatives farewell and went on his way, tottering in the saddle as he tried to pedal off in third gear, confused for a while by modern technology. By late afternoon of the second day, he was within seven kilometres of the ferry.

Was he becoming more tired, or was the bicycle holding him back? He dismounted and examined the machine. The rear tyre was flat, a camel thorn still protruded from the rubber. The rectification of this disaster was beyond him; he had no idea of even how to go about removing the wheel, much less repair the puncture. So, with darkness approaching, he switched on the battery-powered handlebar lamp and pushed his useless asset along the pitted road.

Mswati, weaving along the same road, a little drunk, blinked as he saw a bright eye glaring at him in the distance. What manner of beast or machine could this be? The figure of an old man loomed up, silhouetted against the pink-streaked sky. He was pushing a heavily laden bicycle.

'Greetings,' he said, 'how do you travel?'

Dikunye returned the salutation. 'I travel well, and in hope, my son, but my machine is lame and hinders my return to Lebuka.'

'I am indeed sorry to hear of your misfortune,' commiserated Mswati, 'Perhaps I can be of assistance in the restoration of its health.'

The old man explained about the camel thorn that had injured the machine's foot. Mswati reassured its owner.

'It is but nothing, baba. Has your device the plaster with which to repair its skin?'

Dikunye admitted that he knew nothing of these matters. Mswati looked at the bulging saddlebag and panniers.

'I am of thought that the means to make well your machine lies in your bags,' he said, 'Have your eyes fallen upon a metal box, some two fingers in length?'

Dikunye agreed that he had seen such a box. It was black and light blue and was inside one of his panniers.

'Then let us make your machine well,' said Mswati.

The old man rested his bicycle against a termite mound and began to unpack the bags as Mswati held the lamp. Clothing, aluminium plates and mugs, hair-restorer, fountain pens, picture books, a pair of football boots, a corkscrew and an inflatable pillow littered the sand.

'I do not see the plasters,' said Dikunye, squinting in the brightness of the lamp.

'Then let me be your eyes,' offered Mswati, his own hungry, like those of a hyena. He handed over the lamp, dropped to his knees and rifled through the old man's possessions, but nothing resembling the puncture repair outfit was evident.

A flash of colour caught his eye. 'What is this?' he asked, picking up a bulging yellow and black pouch, tied with a thin leather lace.

'It is nothing,' declared the old man hotly, 'Let me be on my way.'

Mswati's interest increased ten-fold. He held the pouch out of reach of the old man and unravelled the lace with one finger. The old man moved towards him, surprisingly agile for one of over forty-five summers. Mswati skipped back, snatched the lamp from his hand and darted to the other side of the termite mound. His heart almost stopped as he shone the light into the open pouch. There, secured with thick, red elastic bands, were bundles of banknotesat least ten thousand kwena! He had never known anyone to have so much money, in his life.

The old man scrabbled around the mound and lunged for the pouch, hurling invective at his false Samaritan. Mswati pushed him away, overcome with greed; a peculiar possessive rage filled his once good-natured heart. Angered, the old man rushed at him again, finding wild strength from this injustice.

'I curse you, O foul dog, spawn of a rancid bitch, I curse you to eternity. I swear to the gods, thou craven thief, that you shall never rest.'

Mswati threw him aside as the lust for money filled every cell in his body. The old man staggered, clutched at the termite mound for support and fell backwards. There was a peculiar noise like the snapping of a dead branch and then silence. Still clutching the money pouch, Mswati stepped away from the mound and shone the lamp onto the ground. The bicycle had fallen over, the old man lay on his back, his neck over the crossbar. Both arms were outstretched, his eyes looking unblinkingly at Mswati himself. His heart raced, he knelt down beside the still form and shook its arm. The eyes did not move, he did not groan. He was dead.

Mswati fell to his knees. Tears filled his eyes for he had not meant to kill the old one, nor had he intended to steal the money the sight and feel of it in his hands had summoned a demon that in turn had seized his mind. He cursed the events that had brought him to this; he would surely be flayed and beaten to death for the affair. What was he to do oh, what was he to do? And then the gulping call of a hippopotamus cleared his brain. The river.

Five minutes later, the corpse of the old man was carried away in the fast-flowing waters of the Kafai. Mswati ignored the flat tyre, rammed the old man's scattered belongings back into the saddlebag and side panniers and cycled furiously into the darkness, towards the city.

***

By day, Mswati lived like a king in a land of paupers. He ate in the best restaurants and drank unfamiliar liqueurs in the smartest nightclubs, attracting a host of young and scantily clad admirers, especially appreciative of his wallet. He sold the bicycle and travelled everywhere by taxi. He bought the best in clothes, shoes and expensive aftershaves. And he began to have terrible nightmares.

He dreamt that no matter where he went, he was followed by the old man. In the streets. In the restaurants. In the nightclubs. In his apartment. In his head. The dead man kept pace with him like a playful dog, a steady three steps behind. His eyes gleamed like the lamp of his bicycle. Mswati began to wake up sweating and screaming.

After a month in the city, he became a walking ghost himself. His face was drawn and pallid, his eyes and cheeks hollow. He shambled from place to place, fearful of looking up. Waiters looked on in amusement or disgust when he found himself unable to hold his fork steady. Food spattered his expensive clothing. Neither could he hold his glass still, his drinks rippled as if something had fallen into them. The good-time girls began to find new tables. And all the time, he looked fearfully over his shoulder.

He awoke one morning alongside a girl he had escorted from a bar. The old man stared at him accusingly over her shoulder. He lashed out with his fist, catching the sleeping girl in the eye. Thereafter, he was ostracised by every woman in every nightclub. He hurled a dinner plate and carafe at the old man in his favourite restaurant and was violently ejected after the missiles struck the owner's wife. The dead man dogged him relentlessly.

The ill-gotten money slowly disappeared as he moved from quarter to quarter, trying vainly to elude his tormentor. And finally, he realised that he had nowhere to hide.

He sought out the services of a sangoma, a combined witch doctor, herbalist and faith healer. In a shaking voice, he explained about his haunting, how the ghost of an old man he had once known had suddenly taken to persecuting him. The sangoma asked him for a belonging of this sipoko, this spiteful spirit.

He passed over the leopard-skin pouch. The sangoma instructed him to return the following night.

As if anticipating his banishment, the old man launched a violent assault on Mswati's senses. Everywhere he went, the ghost was by his side, pushing, pulling, screaming. Sleep became a hunted beast, quicker by far.

It was a grey, trembling, red-eyed Mswati who returned for his appointment with the sangoma. The witch doctor bade him sit as he explained that he could surely dispel his malevolent shadow. The price would be high, but certainly worth it. Mswati almost cried with relief.

'How much, how much?' he quivered, reaching for his wallet.

The sangoma spoke without looking up.

'Sixteen thousand, two hundred and twenty-five kwena, O foul dog, spawn of a rancid bitch '



Archived comments for Stolen Time
Claire on 2004-10-08 15:17:21
Re: Stolen Time
An interesting story here and a very good one. The ending was great. I have no problems with this apart from the unusual names which I cannot pronounce.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-10-09 03:12:52
Re: Stolen Time
Thanks for the score and comment, Claire. Yes, some of the African terms can be a little awkward, but there again, many Africans find difficulty with English pronunciation, so it's all sefakalele and roundabouts, I suppose.
Cheers,
:^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

Safron on 2004-10-09 13:31:13
Re: Stolen Time
Very interesting and evolving full rounded story. I am always fascinated with other parts of the world this was very well described and I enjoyed it much.

Safron

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-10-09 16:07:48
Re: Stolen Time
Hello, Safron,
I don't think I've seen you around before. Thank you very much for taking the time to read, rate and comment. I spent a number of years in Africa and it certainly gets under the skin, one way or the other; hopefully the essence comes out in my writing. Glad you enjoyed it.
:^)
Steve

Author's Reply:

thehaven on 2004-10-10 14:20:15
Re: Stolen Time
This is a great story.Wonderful in description and the story itself is unique imo.

Great read.

Mike

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-10-10 16:20:11
Re: Stolen Time
Thanks very much for reading & marking, Mike. A cheque for 16000 kwena is on its way...
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-10-12 15:19:40
Re: Stolen Time
A great story, and one which I greatly enjoyed reading. I do like your stories of Africa. An ex colleague of mine spent two years in Zambia, doing VSO, and since then I've always felt it would be a great idea to do the same. But maybe not, if I meet characters like Mswati.... what I liei about this story is that it engages the interest straight away, sustains a good pace, and has an unexpected ending. Wonderful.

Author's Reply:

alcarty on 2004-10-13 00:06:00
Re: Stolen Time
The story moved along well and the narrative and dialogue were well balanced. Mswati's momentary overwhelming greed and his inability to handle his windfall seemed reasonable and inevitable. Nice job. I enjoyed the read. Al

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-10-13 00:25:06
Re: Stolen Time
Hi, Skeeter.
Thanks once again for reading and commenting, I'm glad you liked it. Ah, Africa ... It's the kind of place you can alternately love and despair of. But an experience that shouldn't be missed; if you get the chance, go for it but keep your wits (and wallet) about you.
I do enjoy writing about Africa and am pleased that it others find it readable.
Cheers,
:^) Steve


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-10-13 00:32:06
Re: Stolen Time
Cheers, Al, I appreciate you stopping by. Glad it went down well; it was fun to write, too.
Thanks again,
:^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2004-10-13 09:37:43
Re: Stolen Time
another great read --

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-10-13 12:44:56
Re: Stolen Time
Thanks, Rita. I've also written a story about India but at 9000 words, it's too long to submit on UKA.
Cheers,
:^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

Dazza on 2004-10-15 05:49:55
Re: Stolen Time
Powerful, unnerving, go and buy it! Dazza-"The Sun".

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-10-16 07:56:28
Re: Stolen Time
Thanks, Dazza, appreciated - expat, Tom-tom News


Author's Reply:

wolfeeboy on 27-03-2007
Stolen Time
Enjoyable story mate,
well written, lively pace, always good to be taken away to a foreign location. Look forward to reading more of your stuff in the not too distant

Author's Reply:
Hello, wolfeeboy! Sorry about the late reply, I've been offline for a few weeks due to a change of house and associated inefficiency with Telefonica (I live in Spain...)
Many thanks for your kind comment; I'll see you around once I've waded through six weeks worth of e-mails.
Best wishes,
Steve.


Head Count. (posted on: 24-09-04)
For Griff's Daft Friday Travel Subject.



So much for a summer holiday in France. Go to Paris, they said, it'll really change your life: nice climate, friendly people, good food, good wine.

Good wine? Odin's Orifice! twice as good and only half as expensive as the gut rot in Sweden. That's how I came to end up in a rat-infested jail in the Montmartre. I'd been in some pretty rough places before but this one sure took some beating. So did I, actually. I never got to see it from the outside, being deeply unconscious as I was dragged in. Evidently I left a trail of blood like Theseus' yarn in the Minotaur's labyrinth.

"Excus moi, Suedois."

Actually, my name is Lars Larssen but I've had a bit of difficulty in persuading anyone to believe me just lately. I looked up from the pile of dirty straw that doubled as a bed for both me and a thousand assorted bugs. The speaker was an elegant beanpole in silk and satin who claimed to be the Duke of Nivernais.

"Oui," I said. I've got a flair for languages; I could speak fluent Swedish when I was six.

"Tell us about the Comtesse again."

Nine or ten of the other well-dressed prisoners gathered round; I could see that I was building up some comic notoriety in this place. There were several rough-looking characters in the background. One of them, I noticed, was trying to pick the pockets of a large nobleman. There was a dull thud seconds later as his head hit the flagstones.

"Start at the very beginning and omit nothing," urged a desperate-looking aristocrat at the back, "I've been here since seventeen eighty-nine and I haven't had the slightest sniff of a woman since then."

Three years. I noticed that he was holding hands with the blond-haired lad from Le Mans with a lisp.

"Oui. Nothing," growled another sexually-parched inmate, "if you know what's good for you."

And they say that those English blue-bloods are peculiar about sex. Still, it wouldn't hurt me to recall my incident with the limp-wristed count and contrary-wise, it would if I didn't. So I went ahead. Captive audiences like this I could do without.

***

The Frogs should think themselves lucky when us Scandinavians visited countries in the past, we usually stayed until we've had enough of rape, pillage and crap food. So far, France hadn't opened up any veins of wanton desires and destruction.

I fell in with a little Icelandic fellow I met on the way called Minus Minusson. Like me, he was fond of drink and women. We made a satisfied pair. I had a distinct advantage over him almost a metre. Still, he didn't have so far to fall when he was drunk, which was quite often.

We started off at Calais. In the good old days, we'd have come by longboat; in these modern times it was horse-drawn coach by way of Heligoland and Jutland, passing through that waterlogged dive, the Nederlands. The Clogs are nearly as tall as us Vikings, probably, suggested Minus, so that if the dykes burst, the water would only come up to their necks instead of over their heads. I noticed that he kept looking around, fearfully.

There wasn't a lot going on in Calais except for some torture and boring witchcraft trials so we made our way to Paris through Picardy and very thirsty work it was, too. We'd only been in Paris for two days when it all started.

It was a small hostel alongside that river of theirs the Dreine, or whatever they call it.

"Got any mead with bull's blood?" demanded Minus of the proprietor. He was met with a blank look. Undismayed, he made the sound of a bee and concluded by bellowing like a steer. The proprietor backed away, nervously. He tried again in bastard French. No, they didn't have any in at the moment. What they did have, though, was a fierce little snake called eau-de-vie.

In my hometown near the Lapp border, we have a special name for stuff like that: hiltrolleshurrgllivater. It means 'the water that gives the gods guts ache'. Minus took to mixing it with wine. I watched as his eyes grew as red as my hair.

"Dil vester vmer aalrum skoltn vrhamma," he slurred after his second bottle. I had no idea what he meant and neither, I suspect, did he.

The hostel began to fill with customers. The corner of the room was cordoned off and I could see that the tables had clean cloths and extravagant candlestick holders. Ours had nails and splinters sticking out of them.

"I wonder why those tables are roped off," I said, by way of making conversation. Minus didn't wonder at all.

I looked over again as the patron's wife busied herself in the area. It was obviously for well-heeled patrons; there wasn't any sawdust on the floor and there were curtains on the windows. A mangy cur ran off howling when it crossed some invisible demarcation line.
For a woman, the patron's wife certainly had big feet.

No sooner had I forgotten about it than there was the snorting of horses and the slapping of leather outside. The door burst open and in flounced a beautiful creature with a powdered face, floured wig and reddened lips, dressed in scarlet with gold edging. He was followed by a woman.

The place fell silent: rough peasants drinking cider, artists quaffing Calvados, and maidens sipping wine. Even my half-delirious drunken friend from Thingeyjarysla, pickling himself with eau-de-vie and vin-du-pays.

My French is not what it should be. It should be Hungarian because I speak it better, but even so, I got the gist of the low mutterings that accompanied the pair's arrival.

'Salle noblesse cochon pense.'

So they needed a bath, one was a pig and the other a pansy.

The proprietor swept over, his body at right-angles to his legs, and obsequiously guided the pair to one of the cordoned-off tables.

"Who's that?" I asked of a serving maid as the two glided past as if on cartwheels.

"Noblesse," she said, in a strong Parisian accent, pointing to the chinless fop in red.

Perhaps he was; there wasn't much showing under his tight britches. "He," she continued, "is a comte." He looked it, especially in those clothes.

I nodded towards the retreating woman. "And her?"

"She is a comtesse." Strong words; obviously their like weren't too popular in these areas.

Minus opened another bottle of wine by knocking it to the floor with his elbow. The comte looked over, first in displeasure at the disturbance and then with interest as he noticed Minus doing something vigorous in his lap. He was actually removing a rat dropping that had fallen from one of the beams above. The comte's piggy eyes lit up and a lascivious grin smeared itself over his weak features. Minus continued with his varied tasks, unconcerned.

The comte rapped on his table with a goblet; the proprietor scurried over, cap in hand. A finger was pointed towards our table, Minus was oblivious to whatever was going on. After a short discussion, the proprietor hurried to our table. There were beads of sweat on his forehead. He ignored me and tapped the glazed Minus on the shoulder.

"Bonsoir, m'sieur."

Minus looked at him blankly.

"M'sieur, the Comte requests the pleasure of your company."

"What comte?" slurred Minus, peering through a fog of alcohol.

"That comte over there," replied the man, nervously, "He is a very powerful man."

I dreaded to think what manner of things the powerful man had lifted or pulled. Minus digested the proprietor's words and ignored them.

"He has a bottle of the best brandy in France," added the owner, hopefully.

For someone as drunk as Minus, he was remarkably agile. He only knocked over two chairs, a table, and an old man as he bounded across the floor.

When you start drinking by yourself, your eyes start to wander. They wandered over to the comtesse. Minus was sitting in between her and her limp-wristed husband. The comte had an arm draped around his shoulders and appeared to be whispering something in his ear. Or perhaps he was looking for bugs. Minus was throwing back his brandy, indifferently.

The comtesse wasn't a bad looker, in spite of there being enough flour on her wig and face to bake a dozen baguettes, with sufficient left over to make half a dozen biscuits. A beauty spot decorated her cheek like someone's boot sticking out of an avalanche; if it had fallen off, its screams would have gone unnoticed as it plummeted down her ample cleavage.

It didn't take Isaac Newton to work out that she was redundant at that little party, so I smiled at her and raised a finger in greeting. She looked at me for a moment, flicked her tongue out like some carnal snake, licked her lips, and sat back with a half-smile. My Viking blood began to simmer.

By this time, the comte's hands had disappeared from view. Minus continued with his task of alcoholic annihilation. The bottle emptied to the evident delight of both men. And then, in his usual fashion, Minus slipped from his chair and fell to the flagstones, insensible.

"Garcon," shrieked the comte, snapping his bony fingers, "We must put this unfortunate man to bed, immediately."

The comtesse rolled her eyes, the comte rolled his tongue, and the proprietor rolled Minus to some hidden destination behind the curtains. The comte followed, wringing his hands in excitement.

If I'd been a woman, Minus would have been the last person I'd have chosen as a bed-mate. What a man could see in him, I don't know.

He was as tall as I was, sitting on my heels. His body reminded me of four tapers poked into a malformed potato. As for his face, most of it was obscured by coarse yellow whiskers from which a carrot nose and two red eyes protruded. There is certainly no accounting for taste.

Anyway, the Icelander was big enough to take care of his own problems. That's a lie; he wasn't but I had plans of my own.

I looked over at the comtesse again. She had a look of bored resignation; evidently the antics of her husband were not unknown to her. My chair scraped along the flagstones as I pushed it back. She looked up at the noise. I looked down into my lap. She winked and nodded in the direction of the door. I believe this is what the French call an assignation. My Viking blood came off simmer and onto boil.

She clicked her fingers at the proprietor. He scurried to the table once more and helped her with her cloak as she made to leave. She did not look even once in the direction of the back room. Neither did I. With a swish of flowing garments and a suggestive backward glance, she was gone into the evening.

It was time for me to introduce some Scandinavian blood into the Gallic culture. My goblet was emptied in a flick of a troll's taerhaef and moments later I was standing outside the hostel. The stars were out; so were two scruffy urchins who almost knocked me over as they raced past, no doubt in search of mischief. My reindeer-skin purse went with them.

A horse snorted somewhere in the darkness, followed by a pssst. No idea of hygiene, these French. Pssst there it was again. I followed the source of the psssing a pair of horses and an elaborate carriage stood under some low trees, next to the river. A white handkerchief fluttered from its side window. I puffed out my chest, pulled back my shoulders and strolled over. The comtesse was waiting.

"Bonsoir, m'sieur, you are waiting for your friend, non?" she said, opening the door, "I am also waiting, perhaps you would care for a glass of cognac to keep away the chill?"

I hadn't noticed that it was chilly, but perhaps it would be a little later without clothing. I took the glass and settled into the seat, beside her. The interior was thickly padded with velvet and smelt of garlic and allethunes. A small lantern swinging from the roof illuminated the comtesse.

"Herbert," she said, opening a small hatch behind her head, "you may partake of grape. Be sure to return in not less than two hours."

A grubby hand appeared from the coachman's position. The comtesse dropped a handful of coins into it. The hand disappeared along with its owner, the carriage rocked as he leapt off and then we were alone. It wasn't long before it started rocking again.

"You have a most peculiar accent, m'sieur," said the comtesse after a while, "Are you Finnish?"

Finish! no, I was not. Us Vikings can go on all night and half the next day with proper pauses for refreshment.

"Lapp?" she continued.

I considered this request. "I don't mind," I said, licking my lips.

"Czech?" I looked but couldn't see anything untoward.

"Pole?" What again! She was insatiable.

The carriage rocked some more. The comtesse gasped and screamed loudly.

"Excus moi," I said. I changed position and tried again. It must have been the eau-de-vie. I wondered what Minus was doing or being done to.

The pitching increased still further. So did the screaming; this was very good for my credentials. Maybe I should have been looking over my shoulder.

Just as I was teetering on the absolute brink of cementing Franco-Scandinavian relations, the door was wrenched open and I was torn feet first from the coach, pantaloons around my ankles, bona fides exposed to public view. Parisian cobblestones are a pretty hard on the back of the head. A burning brand was waved in my face, singeing my beard. A dozen shapes loomed above me with an assortment of evil-looking weapons in their hands.

"A` bas noblesse! A` bas noblesse! " they howled, eying the semi-naked comtesse with equal fervour. Down with nobility. Now I was beginning to get the painting.

"Non, non, not me." The only blue blood in my family was when we went swimming in the Baltic in December.

I was in trouble up to my Viking's horn. I didn't feel the cudgels until I woke up.

***

The juicy bits about the comtesse and the coach had to be told and retold about a dozen times; the jail seemed to be a breeding ground for lurid fantasising. One poor fellow's only contact with a female for almost thirteen years had been when he kissed his ancient mother goodbye. Understandably his eyesight wasn't very good after that amount of time inside.

One by one, the prisoners wandered off, leaving me to my aches and pains. What sort of aches and pains Minus had, I couldn't imagine. I hadn't seen him since the comte episode.

Just as I was about to fall asleep on the disgusting pile of straw, there was a rattling of keys outside the cell door. It burst open and there, backlit by burning brands, was the leader of the rabble who had interrupted my entente cordiale.

"Harvesting time," he said, gleefully, pointing to our little group. Well, I'm more of a sailor or head-breaker but in circumstances such as these, I was willing to turn my hand to anything that would get me out of this fleapit. No one else seemed keen to move. Typical royals: never done a hard day's work in their lives.

"En route!" demanded the ringleader, waving a musket around, alarmingly, "Allons-y."

All right, All right. Some people are so impatient. Out we went, along the fire-lit passages; there was a lot of muttering from behind. Don't know what they were griping about; I'd have thought they'd have been pleased to have a change of hay after what they'd been sleeping on. A cell door was kicked open as we passed it and, to my surprise, out came Minus, on the end of a heavily-buckled boot. Not far behind, his face an interesting palette of blues, yellows, and purples, was the comte.

"What happened to you?" he yelled above the growing clamour.

"Same as your friend, there," I said, "This lot don't seem to like aristocratic association."

"Uh?" he grunted, looking at his knuckles, "That was me, we were at cross-purposes about the hard stuff."

For a little fellow, Minus could certainly leave his mark. Moments later, we were pushed out into the bright morning sun. There was quite a collection of people lining the streets to see us go to work. Very excitable, these French.

Two horses attached to a cart were nuzzling each other affectionately.

"Funny-looking hay cart," I said to the Duke as we were prodded onto it. It only had two wheels and its sides were poles about four cubits high.

"It's called a tumbril," he said. His face was the colour of grass that's been under a flagstone for two weeks.

"A tumbril ... I'll remember that," I said, "How far's the farm?"


Archived comments for Head Count.
littleredsteve on 2004-09-24 06:21:02
Re: Head Count.
Superb. Flawless. I laughed like a drain and then I laughed some more. Thanks!

steve

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-09-24 13:22:22
Re: Head Count.
Hi, Steve#1,
Thanks very much for commenting and the ten; I appreciate that. This was a quick one for Griff's Daft Friday and probably still a little rough around the edges. Like my Lopsided Larssen PI stories, it was good fun to write.
Cheers again,
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2004-09-24 16:16:23
Re: Head Count.
super super great read!! What a belly laugh! More more more like this please!

Author's Reply:

maryxmas on 2004-09-24 18:51:33
Re: Head Count.
What a crisp read, liberally riddled with humour and I loved the ending. Great piece that had me laughing all the way through!
luv Linda XX

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-09-25 03:00:13
Re: Head Count.
Thanks, Rita, glad you enjoyed it. My Lopsided Larssen stories are written in a similar vein.
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-09-25 03:04:36
Re: Head Count.
Hi, Linda.
Thank you very much for reading and commenting AND for the ten. Glad it went down well.
:^) Steve :^)

Author's Reply:

shackleton on 2004-09-25 17:32:21
Re: Head Count.
Quite bizarre Expat. Excellent story - well told - fantastic read. Superbly daft. Tatty bye now.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-09-26 03:21:33
Re: Head Count.
Thanks, Shack. Pleased it appealed.
Cheers,
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2004-09-26 04:45:21
Re: Head Count.
yeah? I will read them all up -- aaah am i gonna have fun this afternoon or what 🙂

Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2004-09-26 04:55:08
Re: Head Count.
oh i went to your page -- how do i know which are the lars larssen ones ?

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-09-26 08:06:29
Re: Head Count.
Sorry, Rita. They're actually about Lopsided Larssen, a New York Private Investigator, set some time in the 1950's. The titles are:
Dumbshoe, Doggone, The Basement Hustle, Unholy Racket and The Bigwig Case. Same guy but a different era.
Cheers,
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:


Legitimate Target. (posted on: 10-09-04)
Written three years ago. Speaks for itself after recent sickening events..




'All right, but be back in time for lunch and don't get up to any mischief. And'

'Thanks, Mum, see you later.' He was through the door before she could finish her usual lecture.

His friend who lived at the end of the road was playing on an upturned wheelbarrow, left by the builders after they had rebuilt the police station perimeter wall. The tyre had come off the wheel and was hanging limply between the axle and support tubing.

The boy ducked behind the low wall, picked up a stone and threw it at his friend's back. It missed and clattered against the concrete-spattered barrow. He looked around suspiciously. Another stone ricocheted from the barrow and struck his sockless shin.

'Got you, dogface.'

The friend cackled loudly. 'Hide-in-the-grass-snake show your face but don't frighten the babies.'

The boy stood up, revealing himself. 'Coming to play in the park, shark?'

'Yeah, bear,' he replied. 'First one there's the fastest.'

'And the last one there's the slowest,' continued the boy and raced off.

They ran along the pavement, weaving through the pedestrians, across the street, up the avenue leading towards the park and were neck and neck as they careered through the iron gates. Sweetwrappers and newspaper pages swirled in the vortex caused by a passing army truck.

After two hours on the swings, roundabouts, seesaws, climbing frames, slides and assault course, the two boys flopped happily onto the grass and exchanged Field Rations of chewing gum and fluff-covered boiled sweets.

The first boy suddenly cocked his head and frowned. 'Take cover, take cover quickly!'

They slithered across the grass, hid behind the water fountain and checked their weapons.

Pa-pocketa pa-pocketa pa-pocketa. They looked at each other and when the time was right, raised their machine guns and peppered the green and khaki helicopter with fanciful point-five slugs. The gunship flew away, trailing smoke and flame. It would be lucky to reach base.

'Got it.' They congratulated themselves on another kill. Two more than The Freedom Fighters gang! Just in time for lunch, too!

It was as they were almost home, walking past the recently repaired police station that the first boy saw the green field radio set, the kind soldiers used to talk to each other. It was lying on the opposite pavement and there was a pennant on the aerial.

'Hey, look what's over there I bags the flag!' He dashed across the road, whooping in excitement.

His friend was excited as well but he looked both ways before crossing, like his parents had shown him. 'Hey, wait for'

A vivid yellow flash. A loud, dull crack. The shock wave blew him down. He lay stunned for a few moments. His friend was lying against the wall. He was red and smoke was coming from his clothing.

A policeman and a soldier took him into the police station before the ambulance came. They were very nice to him, not like he'd been told. The soldier even gave him a cap badge.

***

The lead surgeon grimly read the list of injuries. Blinded, both eyes. Second and third degree burns to over sixty-percent of his body. Both hands blown off. Left arm hanging by tatters to his shoulder. Face shredded, nose and both ears completely missing. Splinters in his lungs, stomach and colon. Left thigh broken in three places. Right kneecap completely missing. Genitals obliterated. Remainder of the body punctured by ball bearings packed into the booby trap as shrapnel.

He scrubbed up as the theatre staff prepared the boy for surgery. It was his seventh or eighth experience of bomb blast victims although it was the first child he'd had to deal with. His own son was not much older.

They worked on the boy-thing for eight hours: cutting, suturing, excising, amputating. His shocked body hovered on the edge of failure; time and time again his blood pressure dropped and his pulse was like the trembling of a bird's chest.

His heart stopped as the lead surgeon was removing a metre of perforated intestine. He looked at the six-year-old who would never again feed himself, who would probably never walk again, whose future would be full of pain and surgery, who would be incapable of urinating properly, never mind fathering a child, a child he would be unable to see anyway.

An assistant held up the defibrillator pads and looked at him expectantly. He shook his head.

'Suffer little children to come unto me,' he said, bitterly, 'Well, he's suffered and now the Lord's got him.'

***

In a sordid little room, in a sordid little house, in a sordid part of a city somewhere sat a sordid little 'soldier' called Patrick or Carlos or Abdul or Slobodan. He did not wear a uniform, he had no service number, nor did he have an identity card.

He was assembling devices from electronic timers, mercury switches, Semtex, plastic lunchboxes, shoulder bags, attach cases, hollowed-out books, and empty radio cases.

There was no shortage of legitimate targets.




Archived comments for Legitimate Target.
KDR on 2004-09-10 06:34:07
Re: Legitimate Target.
Difficult to know what to say...despite it's age, it's certainly topical - though children have been used as soldiers for decades, if not centuries. Look at our own tradition of the drummer-boy, and of course there are plenty of 'soldiers' in Africa, as I'm sure you know...

In this story, though, I was rather confused by the initial action.
It seems like it's just two boys playing, but where are they playing? If it's meant to be an 'any trouble-spot in the world' situation, would six year olds really be allowed out to play at being soldiers? Just having a toy gun, or acting in a 'military' manner might be enough to get you shot, after all.
That then raised the question of whether the children actually were boy-soldiers. In that case, isn't it likely they'd have handlers, or be the ones responsible for placing the bomb?

"His heart stopped as the lead surgeon was removing a metre of perforated intestine. He looked at the six-year-old who would never again feed himself, who would probably never walk again, whose future would be full of pain and surgery, who would be incapable of urinating properly, never mind fathering a child, a child he would be unable to see anyway."

The boy dies, right? So why say 'would probably never walk again' and 'whose future would be full of pain and surgery'?
Yes, it evokes sympathy and you feel sickened at the death of the boy, but it doesn't really fit and seems to over-do it a bit. The fact that it's a child dying is powerful enough, especially after the (graphic) list of injuries.

Hope the comments have helped!

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-09-10 13:26:01
Re: Legitimate Target.
Hi, Karl,
Thanks for reading and raising those points. I was trying to convey that they were two normal kids playing at soldiers with imaginary guns when the helicopter appeared. As you well know, there are fewer things to delight small boys than seeing military hardware and pretending to use it. The scenario could have been any conflict zone (Belfast, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq for example), with peacekeeping troops aiding the local authorities against terrorism.
Re the surgeon: despite the Hippocratic Oath, I allowed him to offset the future quality of the boy's life against his survival. Perhaps in this particular 'theatre' of war, some battles aren't worth winning…
Maybe my intentions didn't come across clearly; I'm always open to suggestions.
Thanks again,
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

littleredsteve on 2004-09-10 14:01:40
Re: Legitimate Target.
I started to read this with some trepidation, worried it would be another piece with its heart in the right place but poorly executed. I needn't have worried. It's bang on the money. Powerful and skilful and heartfelt. Thanks.

Steve

Author's Reply:

thehaven on 2004-09-11 01:58:24
Re: Legitimate Target.
This was a good graphic account but for me the final para. describing the bomber was just the best.

Mike

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-09-11 02:18:02
Re: Legitimate Target.
Thanks for the read and comments, Steve. The story will probably be just as relevant in fifty years time. What a world we live in…
:^( Steve MkII


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-09-11 02:22:16
Re: Legitimate Target.
Thanks, Mike.
A subject that no-one should have to write about. But it will never stop; look at the values of the Beslan 'soldiers'.
Steve.


Author's Reply:

royrodel on 2004-09-11 11:12:08
Re: Legitimate Target.
Welcome to the jungle.Life is cheap no matter what countries at war.Don't kid yourself that anyone really cares. People only give money to organizations like save the children to relieve their conscience.The only reason kids don't fight in western conflicts is because we've got a better propaganda system.The west systematically rape the economies of such countries as Colombia, Angola, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and DRC to name but a few, how else do you think we get our cheap chocolate, coffee and oranges. You and I created this situation, but alas no one really cares Band Aid proved that.

RODEL

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-09-11 17:29:48
Re: Legitimate Target.
Well, I'd have thought political motivation – however warped – was behind the recent massacres in Spain and Russia, not economic.
I'm not sure I agree with all you say, Rodel. Many people DO care about famines and disasters and give generously. However, what happens when the relief gets to the recipient country is another matter. Corrupt governments help themselves, leaving the victims to their suffering. Look at Mugabe and the now-thankfully dead Mobuto for example, milking off World economic aid and sitting on vast personal fortunes. At least their countries were well run and reasonably prosperous when the 'colonial' influences were extant. Now they're in ruins with shortages of just about everything for the common man.
Cheers,
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

tai on 2004-09-12 13:57:25
Re: Legitimate Target.
Hello expat, I read this with a distinct feeling that something chilling was around the corner! Very cleverly written and so graphic I was there with the surgeon, the lines regarding his future, said to me that the decision not to resuscitate, was the reason for them!

Great read
Tai

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-09-12 14:31:30
Re: Legitimate Target.
Hi,Tai (sounds like a Japanese war cry),
Many thanks for your kind comments.
Best wishes,
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:


A Trip In Time (posted on: 30-08-04)
The year 1950. Location The Waalstricht Motor Racing Circuit. The driver of the EDT Stirling has more than the other competitors to beat

A TRIP IN TIME. Row by row, the exhibits were diluted by darkness as the lights were turned off, leaving only the faint glow of overhead security lamps. Heavy footsteps echoed around the hall, terminating in a soft click as the staff exit door was closed. A flurry of keys and silence returned once more to Hilloughton Motor Racing Museum. Eventually thin moonlight leached through the semi-opaque roof panels. Goggled mannequins with cloth caps jammed backwards onto their plastic heads sat in massive Bentleys and Bugattis, a rider heeled his Matchless 500cc motorcycle at a gravity-defying angle, a Brabham presented its engine to a white-overalled mechanic. Elsewhere, the soft blue light lapped graceful body panels, wire-spoked wheels, chromium exhaust stacks and brass fittings. Huge carburettor intakes became metallic maws, seemingly gulping darkness as easily as the thousands of litres of air that the superchargers and cylinders had once demanded. V8 engines, cut away in section, revealed their oil-veined innards. Somewhere, a girder creaked, disturbing that peculiar empty sound common to old aircraft hangars and other buildings dedicated to the housing of mechanical tenants. *** Peter Cresswell stood on the low balcony overlooking the main display hall. He looked down at the central exhibition stand upon which stood examples of the best racing machines of the 1950's: BRMs, Talbots, Mercedes, Maseratis, Ferraris, Vanwalls and Connaughts. And, of course, the EDT Sterling. His Sterling Number Seven. The sudden smell of hot Castrol oil and cockpit leather, crackling exhausts and the roar of the crowd swirled through his senses. A hand reached out from the past and led him down the stairs and into the main display area. To his left were Hillmans, Napiers and Vauxhalls: all types he had hill-raced in the 30's. On his right a Brescia Bugatti, its bodywork resembling an egg-shaped steam boiler, stood on an angled platform, allowing visitors to see into the driver's cockpit. A Burberry-clad model crouched grimly behind the enormous steering wheel. Ahead, in between an Invicta and an Alfa Romeo, was the pride of the EDT Racing Company, the 560 horsepower 1.5 litre V16 Sterling Superflow. His name was painted boldly in gold above the radiator intake: 'Peter Cresswell Winner of the 1950 Waalstricht 120 Mile Race with an average lap speed of 98.2 mph. It was in this car that ' Peter pushed through the barrier and stepped up onto the platform. The same frisson of excitement ran through him as when he had seen the car for the first time in 1949. Even in the low moonlight, it still exuded the grace of a thoroughbred: eight feet and six inches of perfectly contoured aluminium; a long, sleek, louvred body, its lines unspoilt except for two ram-air induction scoops over the engine and a deep Perspex-windscreened open cockpit. A roll bar just behind the driver's head gave way to an elegantly streamlined fairing. Two exhaust pipes swept back, one either side, terminating just forward of the rear wheels. He remembered jamming cotton wool into his ears before every race. They would be singing for an hour afterwards. But tonight there would be no need for cotton wool. The engine had never been run since his victory at Waalstricht and would never run again. He put his right foot into the cockpit, grasped the sides of the coaming with both hands and swung in the other leg, sliding into the low seat at the same time. The cockpit fitted his frame perfectly. He settled himself into a driving position; the view and confines reminded him of the small training aeroplanes he had flown before his accident. His ran his fingers lightly over the aluminium and walnut steering wheel that almost touched his thighs and sighed. An aroma of oil, leather, sweat and old age filled the cockpit, cocooning him in a sensory bubble. The gauges reflected blankly in the moonlight but he knew, blindfolded, the position of every switch, instrument and lever in the cramped compartment. His hand fell naturally to the short five-speed gear lever on the left, with the fuel shut-off valve directly below. Rubber-covered foot pedals for the throttle, clutch and brakes nestled between a lattice of welded tubing. On the dashboard were a huge tachometer and speedometer with the cluster of oil pressure, water temperature and boost gauges to their left. Twin magneto ignition switches nestled underneath: up for on, down for off. Two rear-view mirrors protruded like bug's eyes from the edges of the windscreen frame. He reached down, fastened his seatbelt *** And tugged his helmet strap a little tighter. 'OK, Sandy?' he shouted over his shoulder, 'Ready when you are.' The chief pit mechanic for the EDT racing team reached forward and squeezed his arm twice. 'Good luck, Peter.' His words were barely audible over the raucous noise in the pits. The three race mechanics began to push. When they had overcome the inertia of the one-ton car, Peter depressed the clutch pedal, switched on both magnetos, engaged second gear and released the clutch smoothly. The engine fired instantly, a cloud of smoke burst from the exhaust pipes to be replaced by a sound like ripping cloth as he slipped the gearbox into neutral and blipped the throttle to clear the spark plugs. He coasted towards the start line and pulled up on his grid position. The voice of the commentator blared from the Tannoy speakers, first in French and then in English. 'Now on the start line in the EDT Sterling is Number Seven, Peter Cresswell.' The grid began to fill with the remainder of the competitors: BRMs, ERAs, Alfa Romeos, Connaughts and two Vanwalls. To his left, a Maserati was being pushed away in disgrace; its driver was slapping the steering wheel with the palms of his hands in frustration. Oil dribbled from somewhere underneath. The starting official took up his position. All at once the grid was a maelstrom of noise as drivers revved their engines in readiness. Peter pulled his goggles down over the peak of his helmet and adjusted them snugly to his face. The snarling dropped as each driver disengaged his clutch and selected first gear. Twenty-two pairs of eyes fixed themselves on the starter's flag. And then they were off! Lousma, the Dutchman, took an instant lead in his Alfa while Bishop and Dooley, both in BRMs, took second and third positions with himself at fourth. Only DeMolony, the American millionaire, posed any immediate threat in his Vanwall as he nudged the pack in fifth position. Peter got down to the business of hard racing. The weather was exceptionally good, the new tyres and suspension had proved themselves during practice and with a fuel capacity of fifty gallons, he would have no trouble in completing the twenty-four five-mile laps, even at three miles to the gallon. The car had never felt better. Short of accidents, there was no reason why the technically superior Sterling should not win this prestigious race; he had only himself to push to breaking strain. By the time he was in fourth gear at the end of the grandstand straight, it was time to slow for the gentle left sweep, followed by the sharp, descending right of the anti-clockwise course. He almost touched Dooley as he accelerated out of the bend, changed up to third, then fourth gear and glanced at his instruments: eleven thousand revs at sixty-two pounds of boost. The oil pressure gauge remained steady at seventy pounds. A medium left up ahead was followed by the tunnel. The engines shrieked like banshees within the concrete walls, the roof lights flashed by in a sodium blur. Just as Lousma, leading by two seconds, cleared the tunnel and accelerated for the long down-leg straight, the rear tyre of Dooley's machine burst, sending him into a terrific skid and against the tunnel walls. Sparks cascaded from the car as Peter braked to avoid it. He missed the spinning BRM by inches and glanced into his rear view mirror in time to see it slither into the retardant shale. DeMolony had dropped back to avoid the carnage, losing a good hundred yards or so. Peter screamed up the gearbox, closely tailing Bishop who seemed to have little in reserve. Heat from the hard-working engine filtered through the firewall and into the cockpit, washing his over his feet and knees. The speedometer registered 145mph as he chased the leaders along the one-mile straight beside the lake; a quick glance in his mirror showed an unknown ERA creeping up on him with the American nowhere in sight. His eyes widened in alarm as he looked forward again Bishop had braked early for the sharp left before the first hairpin. He was nearly upon him! The rear end almost broke away as he jerked the wheel to the right and stamped on the brake pedal, just missing the BRM. His heart pounded as he regained his position behind Bishop and clung to him throughout the hairpin. A puff of smoke was whisked away from the BRM's exhaust as Bishop accelerated hard along the short straight leading to another tight descending left-hander beside the bridge. Peter clung to his position in the chicane and next hairpin with the ERA virtually glued to his tail; it was only on the grandstand straight that he was able to gain a little breathing space as the ERA ran out of steam. He maintained his place for the next four laps, becoming more uncomfortable by the minute as the heat, both inside and outside, built up. He dared not relaxeven for a secondto suck glucose water from the bottle around his neck. And then a bolt of excruciating pain ripped through his head. For a moment he could see nothing but bright lights. As swiftly as it had struck him, it was gone, leaving him feeling slightly sick. He bit his lip. No, not again. Not after so long Before he could clear his mind, a green Connaught flashed past him on the tunnel approach. He raged at himself for the lack of concentration. By lap nineteen, he had made no further ground and was being harried by the ERA and DeMolony, who had made good his earlier setback. The rest of the field were either far behind or retired. Being quicker than his pursuers out of the chicane on the twentieth lap, he gained a precious second or two and took a hurried drink from the bottle. The entire cockpit was like an oven now, leaving him soaked in sweat and, on top of this, the pain returned, pulsing through his head in sickly waves. A rusty, jagged can opener sawed away at the base of his skull. He began to feel unsure of continuing, then pushed the thought away. Six laps to go, only six laps He jammed the throttle to the floor: the rev-counter needle trembled on the red line as every last drop of sweat was wrung from the thirty-five horses stabled in each cylinder. The exhaust note condensed to a vibrant wail, cutting through his congealing mind. The ERA ran out of road as it attempted to pass him on the approach to the lakeside hairpin, spun and slid backwards off the track, throwing up clods of grass. On lap twenty-one he managed to regain third place when Bishop went wide on the Esses. He barely noticed the madly waving crowd as he flashed past the grandstand with four laps to go. Another fifteen minutes of desiccating heat and pounding head. At one point in the next lap, Peter was not aware of his actions; he was accelerating out of the tunnel without even realizing that he had even entered it. His mouth was dry, as if filled with cotton wool and his eyeballs felt as though they were being lubricated by particles of broken glass. The nausea increased. How easy it would be to simply pull over onto the grass and sink into a deep, blessed sleep. But the car would not let him down he must not let the car down. He closed the gap on the leaders and, although it was touch and go for a moment, managed to squeeze past the Connaught on the Chat et Chien straight. He was now in second place behind Jan Lousma in his Alfa. Worried eyes showed in his mirror as the Sterling harried him. Twice Peter jockeyed himself into a good position to challenge the lead but was beaten by rapidly approaching bends. On the twenty-third lap, they began to lap the tail-enders, making overtaking an action to be carefully considered before flying into a blind bend. A large bug bounced from his helmet with a solid thump at 145mph. They were neck and neck on the final lap as they roared past the grandstand. The crowd were on their feet, waving furiously. But once more, Peter was forced to fall back at the first bend. Rods of agony lanced through his head causing him to screw up his eyes, already narrowed to counter the heat haze. And then a calm and silence came over him: the pain was gone, relegated to another place. Even the heat, shimmering from the cockpit became of no consequence. His thirst remained but not as great as his hunger for victory. He finally took the Alfa as they left the tunnel. Lousma looked over at him wide-eyed as the Sterling was given the opportunity it had been waiting for. It screamed down past the lake at maximum revs and boost, leaving the Alfa three lengths behind. The Dutchman came perilously close to regaining his lead at the final hairpin but Peter held him off, tyres screeching as he tightened his turn. And then he was through and on the home straight before Lousma could get another chance. He saw only a blur of faces and waving hands as he screamed past the chequered flag. The spectators waited in vain for the lap of honour. Jan Lousma leapt from his car and dashed over to the Sterling as it idled in the grass at the side of the first bend. Peter was slumped in his seat, still gripping the wheel. *** Peter's hands were still gripping the wheel as he relived the race. His triple victory seemed like only yesterday. Man versus machine man versus man man versus himself. And he had won, on all three counts. Daylight began to filter through the roof panels; once more the museum returned to sterile life. Peter remained in his car with his memories until he heard the first keys rattling in the door lock. By the time the curator had yawned his way past the Sterling, the seat was empty. *** The curator was giving his first guided tour of the day. After passing through the motorcycle section and the 'Golden Days At Brooklands' exhibition, he shepherded his party of enthusiasts into the 50's hall. He stopped at the central display and began his lecture. ' And here, as you can see, is the sixteen-cylinder, supercharged, one and a half litre EDT Sterling, which gave five hundred and sixty horsepower at twelve thousand revolutions per minute. This is the same car in which Peter Cresswell won the 1950 Waalstricht race, after a thrilling final two laps. As you probably all know, Cresswell became unconscious just after crossing the finishing line and was taken to hospital, where he died from what was found to be a brain tumour caused by a wartime flying accident. As a mark of respect by EDT, the car was never raced again and is displayed here in the very condition in which it was on that day, exactly fifty-four years ago.' Cameras flashed. 'And now, on our left, we have a two and a half litre, Type 25 BRM '
Archived comments for A Trip In Time
Claire on 2004-08-30 12:43:16
Re: A Trip In Time
A well written piece. A great piece actually. I like the way his memories mingled in to the story. The ending was definitely a surprise.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-30 14:51:28
Re: A Trip In Time
Thanks a lot, Claire, and for the rating. With Christmas coming up, I'm trying to find an outlet for this story with one of the vintage motor magazines.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

glennie on 2004-08-30 23:18:05
Re: A Trip In Time
What a well written piece and I wasn't expecting the twist at the end. A minor crit, I thought the intro was a bit slow. Glen.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-31 13:11:59
Re: A Trip In Time
Thanks, Glennie, appreciated. You should have seen the first draft – the intro was over 200 words longer!
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

Dazza on 2004-09-06 18:24:17
Re: A Trip In Time
This is what I can't do and need you to teach me. Incorporating loads of interesting info and fact witha story and doing it really well. Help. Dazza.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-09-07 13:48:50
Re: A Trip In Time
Thanks, Dazza. I don't think I can teach YOU (or anyone else, for that matter) anything about writing a good story! This was written after finding a second-hand book on '50's motor racing when I was living in a small town in Africa. Everything else in the shop was pretty dismal and I was low on reading material. Motor sport's never been an interest of mine but I thought it would be good exercise to write about something new. The research was quite enjoyable, coupled with the fact that I've worked in an aircraft museum and could get a feel for old exhibits.
Cheers, mate.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:


Second Look (posted on: 27-08-04)
littleredsteve and Spacegirl suggested I write a sequel to 'The Look'. So I did, and here it is



SECOND LOOK.


Angela hears the door open. She turns over and looks at Donna, silhouetted against the light from the corridor.

"Are you coming down for something to eat, Mum? The restaurant closes at ten."

She turns the bedside light on. "I'm not hungry."

Donna closes the door and sits on the edge of her own bed. Angela knows that she's weighing her words before she says anything else, afraid of yet another tirade.

She speaks after a minute or so. "You haven't eaten anything since breakfast, Mum."

No, but I drank plenty to make up, didn't I, Angela admits to herself. Then she says: "I can't show my face after what happened this afternoon. It'll be all over the hotel. Maybe it would be better if we left"

"Oh, Mum! We saved hard for this holiday and we've only been here for three days. Don't say that."

"I made a complete fool of myself by the pool, didn't I? How can I hold my head up after that?"

Donna gets up, sits next to her mother, reaches out and holds her hand. "You were thinking about me when you shouted at him. It wasn't your fault."

Angela knows better. She knows that her drunken outburst was a venomous snakebite, fuelled by longstanding frustration, hurt, resentment and the catalyst of vodka. But wasn't drink the antidote as well; a buffer against all the hurt the world could throw at her? She could do with a drink now. The mini-bar was restocked with beer and miniatures earlier, when they were at the pool. But she fights it, ashamed of her earlier behaviour.

"It was my fault, Donna; I know you're only trying to make me feel better. And it wasn't even you he was looking at; it was me. Why do I always ruin things for myself" Her eyes fill with tears. "Sometimes I can't see the point of going on; it's been so long since anything good happened in my life. I want to be happy again, I want someone to hold me and tell me he loves me and that things are going to be all right "

Now the trickle of tears becomes a stinging flood. She can't stop them; they pour from her like the bottle that fills her glass every morning when she wakes up. She slumps into Donna's outstretched arms, holds her tightly. Then Donna's crying too.

"I love you, Mum. I can't bear to see you like this."

"I love you too, Donna."

They lie together, washing the pain away in gulping sobs. After a while, Donna wipes the tears from her mother's eyes and cheeks with her finger. Angela kisses her, stands up and goes to the bathroom. She looks at the puffy red-rimmed eyes reflected in the mirror, fills the sink with cold water and rinses her face, wishing she could wash away the ugliness she feels inside. Then she blows her nose, tidies her hair and goes back to the bedroom.

"Shall we get something to eat, then?" she says to her daughter, more brightly than she feels.

Donna smiles weakly. "Hungry work, this crying."

Angela changes into a white skirt and blouse as Donna takes her turn in the bathroom. They take the lift downstairs, cross the foyer and walk into the restaurant. It's amost empty. Two guitarists are playing soft Spanish melodies near the bar and three couples sit around candle-lit tables. A waiter greets them and leads them towards a window table overlooking the swimming pool.

Angela stops suddenly. Donna follows her stare. The man sitting alone at a table in the corner sees them. He flinches and looks down.

And then Angela is walking towards him.

"Mumdon't start anything! Please."

"Excuse me," says Angela quietly.

The man looks up warily.

"I I want to apologise for my behaviour this afternoon," she says, "I'm very sorry for what I said. I'm afraid that I had too much to drink and"

The man raises his palms. "No, please, don't worry about it. A drink or two in this heat can go straight to one's head. A slight misunderstanding, that's all."

"You're being very good about this," says Angela, "I'm sure I caused you no end of embarrassment. Whatever must those people have thought"

The man shrugged. "It will all be forgotten about by tomorrow." He smiles and changes the subject. "How long are you staying for?"

"Another week," says Angela, "and then it's back to Norwich."

"Ah, I know the area well. I used to do a lot of sailing on the Broads. Perhaps I should introduce myself." He stands up and offers his hand. "Anthony."

"Angela," says Angela, "and this is my daughter, Donna."

"I can see where she gets her looks," says Anthony, "Are you eating?"

"Yes," says Angela.

"In that case," says Anthony, "perhaps you'd care to join me. I'd appreciate your company."

Angela feels Donna's hand in the small of her back, and it's nudging her towards
the table. "That's very kind of you, Anthony. We'd like that very much."

They sit down, the waiter brings menus and they order: zarzuela de mariscos for him, paella for Angela and steak for Donna.

"Any preference in wine?" asks Anthony.

"Mineral water for me, please," she says.














Archived comments for Second Look
Claire on 2004-08-27 15:51:36
Re: Second Look
There must be a third one. I want to know if good ole Mum knacks the night up. A good continuation.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-28 02:54:57
Re: Second Look
Ha, ha, Claire, you'll have to use your imagination on this one! Unfortunately I can't afford to pay my temporary staff overtime; it's X2 over the bank holiday. Let's just say she's got a lot of catching up to do…
Thanks for the comment,
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

Kazzmoss on 2004-08-29 05:34:57
Re: Second Look
I really liked the rawness of this, the embarrassing situation and the feelings of remorse afterwards. The relationship betweeen the two, more like friends than mother and daughter. It's made me wonder about the characters. I haven't read The Look, but certainly will now.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-29 12:32:10
Re: Second Look
Thank you for reading & commenting, Kazz. The story must have seemed a little thin without the prequel; I hope that 'The Look' puts some flesh on its bones. These two made a change for me as (with one exception) I don't write pieces with inconclusive endings. I don't think they would work very well if everything was 'cut and dried'. But I think Angela's back on the tracks now...
Best wishes,
Steve :^)


Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2004-08-29 12:47:55
Re: Second Look
too tame and predictable – I knew exactly what would happen the moment I began reading – the mother/daughter relationship is a bit too insipid and unreal --

Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2004-08-29 12:55:16
Re: Second Look
oops that came out sounding harsher than i meant it to be -- generally, the story didn't work for me --

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-29 15:39:44
Re: Second Look
I don't mind criticism at all, Rita. Thanks for reading anyway.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-08-29 17:25:52
Re: Second Look
Steve,
Liked the first one - a snapshot of something that seemed quite real.
I wasn't sure what this sequel was actually trying to say? It didn't seem to say anything. Following on from the first could turn it into a comedy series - with the half p*ssed, bitter woman ... but an apology and then an invitation to dinner seemed a bit flat.
I thought the first one was good, though ... 🙂
Steve.



Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-30 07:45:20
Re: Second Look
Thanks for your honest opinion, Steve; I like that.
It was written in response to LRS and Spacegirl's comments on 'The Look' and as an exercise. Generally my stories are revised over three or four weeks – this one got three days. I wouldn't offer it as a serious follow-up, though; 'The Look' remains a stand-alone.
Thanks again,
Steve#2 :^)


Author's Reply:


The Look (posted on: 20-08-04)
Fun in the sun?


THE LOOK.


Angela's getting annoyed. It's the third time she's caught him looking over. Pretty obvious what's on his mind, too. But Donna doesn't know it, lying half asleep on the sun lounger.

She's jealous of her daughter's figure. She knows full well that she can't get away with a one-piece, never mind a bikini. To begin with, even her shorts don't cover up the cellulite and the red spider's webs behind her knees. And they don't hide her spreading hips and bum, either. Her six-year-old passport photo doesn't show the grey hair that's diluting the red if she doesn't keep on top of it, the wrinkles beginning to crack her face, the bags packed for a long holiday under her eyes and the start of a double chin. Never thought I'd end up like this, when I was Donna's age, she thinks, I was a bit of a looker in those days; never went short of boyfriends. Even auditioned for a modelling session with Seventies Girl.

She feels the bitterness rising like the slice of lime in her vodka. Maybe a man would have kept her looking and feeling younger, but there hasn't been one of those in over three years, has there What chance have she got now? She's not only over the hill; damned soon she's going to be over the pill as well.

She sees that the lecher on the other side of the pool has stopped staring and gone back to his magazine. Looks a bit like that tall bloke on Top Gear, Jeremy Paxton or Clarke or something. Except for the fair hair. Maybe he's German or Scandinavian. Seemed to be quite a few in the hotel register when she signed in.

Donna found the travel agency and accommodation on the web. It was one of those pop-up ads. Unbeatable And Unbelievable Prices For Your Balearic Break. Come on, Mum, she said, we haven't been away since you got divorced; do you good. Let's go after I've done my 'O' Levels. So here's Angela. Lying by the pool. All the rage in her baggy pink shorts and white T-shirt. Having the time of her life.

Time for another drink or two before lunch, she decides. Donna is still on her first Coke. The ice has melted and the twist of lemon on the rim has curled up in the sun. She catches the waiter's eye and points to her empty glass. He nods and brings another drink from the thatched bar at the end of the pool. She scribbles her signature on the tab. Numero del Cuarto 248. Articulo 6 vodka doble y tonica, it says.

Never used to drink before Nick buggered off, she convinces herself. Well, not much, anyway. Bloody men. They're all a bunch of lying, cheating bastards with their brains between their legs and nothing between their ears. And the bitch he left me for was probably as thick as her make-up, too. But it gave his ego a hand-job that she was twelve years younger than him, didn't it. Skinny little cow.

The pool area is starting to fill up now: among them she sees three or four couples holding hands and smiling at everybody. Aw, honeymooners Sweet as the icing on your wedding cake and twice as sickening. Just wait until those stars in your eyes turn into the crud you find in the corners when you wake up after a heavy night, Angela says silently. You'll soon learn, you stupid bitches. Mark my words, you'll soon

The sun burns a hole in her unconsciousness. She wakes up. The glare from the pool makes her squint. She has the beginnings of a headache. Her skin feels tight. There is a sour taste in her mouth as well. She reaches out for her drink. It's warm. And there's a fly in it.

She feels the kindling of rage begin to smoulder.

Then she sees the lecher. He's moved to a table about ten feet away. And he's looking over again. The kindling ignites with a sudden flash. A chair falls into the pool as she shoves her table aside.

"You dirty bastard!' she screams into his face, "Can't my daughter lie in the sun without perverts like you leering and slobbering all over her. Why don't you piss off back to your room and watch the porn channel instead."

People at their tables and sun beds look around. Donna grabs her arm and tries to pull her back. Angela elbows her away. As she's trying to think of something that will really humiliate him in front of everybody, he stands up.

She'll never forget his flattened expression. And she won't forget every well-articulated syllable either

"Excuse me, madam, but actually it was you I was interested in, not this young lady. It seems I've made a terrible mistake. Good day and enjoy the rest of your holiday."






Archived comments for The Look
thehaven on 2004-08-20 05:13:00
Re: The Look
Liked this one and haven't we all been thereMaking assumptions about the intentions of others?

Mike

Author's Reply:

uppercase on 2004-08-20 08:27:17
Re: The Look
This is my kind of story I love endings with a twist. Good job...Erma

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-20 13:17:18
Re: The Look
Thanks, Mike. Very true about misapprehensions.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-20 13:17:50
Re: The Look
Thank you very much, Erma; I appreciate that.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

ruadh on 2004-08-20 19:03:14
Re: The Look
I can't help feeling sorry for her 🙂
great read

love ailsa

Author's Reply:

Kat on 2004-08-20 21:16:37
Re: The Look
Hi Expat

Enjoyed this - well written.

Regards
Kat

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-21 05:39:10
Re: The Look
Thanks, Ailsa. I feel sorry for her too, a victim of her own bitterness.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-21 05:39:52
Re: The Look
Hi, Kat. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm never sure if my writing from a female perspective carries itself well enough.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-08-21 14:55:08
Re: The Look
HA! Love that ending. Mind you your beginning made me feels SO old!

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-21 17:59:58
Re: The Look
Away, bonnie lass, you're as old as you feel! Thanks, Claire,
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2004-08-22 03:42:51
Re: The Look
nicely told, though I thought the ending was a tad improbable… and I also found the tone a tad condescending towards the mother.. men always use that tone towards women “over the hill and past the pill..”…(my perspective)…

Author's Reply:

Penprince on 2004-08-22 03:51:22
Re: The Look
I like your style...though have qualms about the beginning...

Debashish

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-22 04:57:43
Re: The Look
Thanks for compliment, Rita. Regarding the 'She's not only over the hill, damned soon she's going to be over the pill as well,' passage – it was written purely as Angela's sour reflection on her [own] circumstances, and not in any way intended to denigrate 'forty-something' women. After all, they're in my age group, and lovely they are, too!
Regards,
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-22 04:58:47
Re: The Look
Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Penprince. Appreciated.
Best wishes,
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2004-08-22 07:19:27
Re: The Look
‘it was written purely as Angela's sour reflection on her [own] circumstances’ – the point, steve, is that you, a forty something man, wrote it as her perspective – how come we never see anything akin to this written about forty something men – either by male or female writers? The faceless Angela in your poem becomes a generalised depiction of all forty something women… I sustain my objection m’lud.. but i also repeat i enjoyed the read...

Author's Reply:

OolonColoophid on 2004-08-22 10:59:16
Re: The Look
Hmm. Interesting piece, with a nice build-up and good physical descriptions of the characters and locations.

I'm in two minds about the ending, though. It seems a little ambiguous as to whether it is a 'good' ending for the main character or a bad one. Ambiguity isn't a bad thing in itself, of course, but I'd really like to know, as a reader, what the main character's reaction to his words would be. Otherwise it leaves me a little unfulfilled...

Author's Reply:

Gee on 2004-08-22 12:59:52
Re: The Look
This is well written, descriptive, and the ending is unexpected. I enjoy stories like this that make you see things from another perspective.
Nicely done.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-22 14:54:03
Re: The Look
Well, Rita, I wouldn't agree that it represents all forty-something women any more than any of my protagonists are characteristic of life, socially, sexually and morally. All women in their forties aren't divorced or incipient alcoholics. I've written about men who are complete jerks, a promiscuous schoolgirl, unfaithful husbands and a prostitute trapped in a bleak existence, to name a few. These characters exist in real life and I use them, but not as a springboard for my personal points of view. I can sympathise with Angela and understand why she's become like she is, but there are many others in her situation who've risen above adversity and pushed on with their lives. But they don't make good material for short stories!
I'd quite happily read a story about men behaving ridiculously in middle age written from the female perspective. We all start to feel insecure when there are more years behind us than ahead and no longer impress the opposite sex.
Cheers, Steve :^)


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-22 17:16:00
Re: The Look
Thanks, Oolon. When a story ends, my characters instantly get their P45's so I don't really know how Angela would have reacted. Perhaps, resurrecting her:

Angela stands in shocked silence. Even in her drunkenness she is aware that a crossfire of disgusted, amused, and embarrassed looks is aimed at her. She turns, stumbles and falls heavily at the edge of the pool.

"Mum, Mum—"

She gets to her knees and pushes her daughter away. "Leave me alone. For Christ's sake, just … leave … me … alone. Please. Please…"

As the tears burn her eyes, she wonders how much more alone can she get.

Yes, I think that's what would happen. Possibly the beginnings of her salvation. Blimey, I've never done this before; I must be more considerate to my temporary staff in future.
Cheers again, Oolon,
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-22 17:16:40
Re: The Look
Glad it went down well, Gee. Thanks for reading and your kind comments.
Best wishes, Steve. :^)


Author's Reply:

OolonColoophid on 2004-08-23 05:54:02
Re: The Look
I like it! 🙂

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-23 13:04:12
Re: The Look
Thanks again, Oolon. Angela gets £5.00 overtime and a bottle of aspirin.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

Dazza on 2004-08-23 13:53:49
Re: The Look
Ouch! 17 'til I die after this one matey! In fact I still think I'm around 9 years old as you can tell from my dribble. Great miopic and squirmy number, expert detail. Enjoyed very much. Dazza.

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 2004-08-24 03:48:43
Re: The Look
Very, very professional write - particularly liked the hill/pill rhyme. Neat! Excellent denouement that brought a smile to the lips. Very good all round.

Author's Reply:

littleredsteve on 2004-08-24 10:47:23
Re: The Look
Loved the story. I thought you were mercilessly fair to Angela and the fact that she was her own worst enemy. She seemed all too real. If I have any quibble, it's that I saw the ending coming, but I think it would be interesting to take Angela further - what happens in the holiday? Does she change? Can she? How painful/ liberating will it be? I think you can do something more with this temporary staff member, and I want to know what!

Nice work!

steve

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-24 13:44:38
Re: The Look
Thanks, Dazza. Age is only a number… but sometime's it's a very big number!
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-24 13:45:21
Re: The Look
Cheers for the comments, Roy, much appreciated.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-24 14:38:05
Re: The Look
Thanks for your kind comments and the idea for a sequel, Steve. This will be interesting; I've never done a follow-up on any of my serious characters before. My next project. (Dashes off and cancels Angela's Easyjet return ticket.)
Cheers again. :^) Another Steve.


Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2004-08-24 14:41:43
Re: The Look
I guessed part of the end but expected her to collapse in a heap.

Come on Expat, part deux please

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-24 14:47:52
Re: The Look
Thanks, Spacegirl. Expect a sequel in the near future (if Angela hasn't staggered off somewhere).
:^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

QBall on 2004-08-25 18:22:36
Re: The Look
I would call this a slice of life. Years ago this could have been characterized as being heavy-handed, but with so many weird people around these days, it is now the norm.
Enjoyed it immensely,
QBall

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-26 14:16:49
Re: The Look
Thanks, QBall, I'm glad you liked it. I'm posting the sequel tonight.
Regards,
Steve :^)


Author's Reply:

Kazzmoss on 2004-08-30 12:58:35
Re: The Look
What a good little tale, made me grin and I'm afraid I could associate with some of those thoughts too. I liked the little twist as the end and despite what others thought, I liked the follow up just as much.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-30 14:52:26
Re: The Look
Thank you again, Kazz. I find it interesting to write to write from the female perspective; it's a lot more challenging than putting myself inside the head of male protagonist. Glad you enjoyed it.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:


The Basement Hustle. (posted on: 13-08-04)
Lopsided Larssen, NY gumshoe, finds himself in another improbable situation.

The clock on the wall said it was two o'clock. My body insisted that it was more like five, but there again, it had interests elsewhere. The Sleuth Booth was no place to be today. The heating system wasn't working. It was nothing that paying the electricity bill wouldn't cure.

I breathed a hole in the film of frost on my window and looked out. It was snowing. New York was a fairy tale of white-carpeted sidewalks, twinkling Christmas lights, brightly lit windows, happy shoppers laden with gifts, and even happier store owners. There was plenty of festive spirit outside. I poured some of my own into a glass and toasted the health of Santa Claus.

Kate was pinning our greetings cards to the back of the doorall three of them. One was from me to her, one was from her to me, and one was addressed to the previous occupier of the office that was now the Sleuth Booth. He'd moved to Iowa twelve years ago. Things must have been very bad.

I drew a picture of Donald Duck in my desk diary. There were plenty of blank spaces. Just as I was about to add Mickey Mouse to the Sleuth Booth Hall of Fame, the phone rang. It was my turn to answer it; I'd been looking forward to the exercise.

"Hello," I said. I don't like to give too much away in the early stages of an investigation. Then I thoughtwhat the hell, it is Christmas. "Lopsided Larssen, proprietor, speaking."

"Mr. Larssen; this is Derrington Filligree of Buncombe & Cheeseworth's Department Store, here. Are you busy right now?"

"Just a moment," I said, "I'll check my appointments book." I filled in the last of the black squares on the cover. I now had a miniature chessboard.

"If it's urgent, I can deal with it myself." I said, "There's no one else available right now. How can I help you?"

"Well, we seem to have a pickpocket operating in our store; I've already had twenty-three complaints since this morning. The customers are most irate."

Buncombe & Cheeseworth? Then I remembered: it was that new place in the Custer Plaza: a one-stop store with everything from abalone-inlaid ukuleles to zinc-plated zippers. With Christmas in the air, there'd be plenty of dough in the customer's pockets and handbags.

"And you'd like me to apprehend the thief, Mr. Filligree?" That showed him that he wasn't dealing with an amateur.

"I'd certainly appreciate it if you could come as soon as possible, Mr. Larssen. It does rather cast a shadow on our reputation."

I thought of my reputation, especially with the bank.

"I'll be there right away," I said, and put the phone down.

Kate had found a piece of tinsel and was hanging it above the door. A pity it wasn't mistletoe. "Duty calling, Lopsy?"

"Crime never takes a holiday, babe," I said, and went out into the cold.

***

Mr. Derrrington Filligree's office was on the ground floor. I found it by following the queue of disgruntled customers. They were mostly women with screaming brats and perambulators. Judging by their faces, Filligree was going to have a hard time. I sympathized, knowing all about hard times. I pushed my way forward and through the door. He was cowering behind his desk as an angry broad decorated his head with an empty handbag.

"Larssen," I told him, disarming her.

Filligree looked like a Death Row inmate who'd just been given a last minute reprieve.

"Thank goodness you've arrived," he sobbed, "I've already been most cruelly damaged."

Derrington Filligree was a pencil-mustachioed, snappily dressed darling who looked as if he'd be traumatized by a butterfly beating its wings thirty feet away.

I invited the baying victims to leave the room for a few moments and received a kick on the shin and a poke in the eye for my troubles. Now I could have heard myself think if it hadn't been for Filligree's blubbering.

"What's the story, Mr. Filligree?" I asked him as he dabbed his eyes with a silk handkerchief. Pink suited him.

"It started just after we opened. I've had absolutely hordes of angry women threatening me and one horrid child was actually sick on my shoes."

"It must have been terrible for you, Mr. Filligree," I said, "Where exactly were the thefts carried out?"

"All of them in the basement."

"Interesting. What do you sell down there?" I lit up a Camel; it seemed the right time of year.

Filligree winced as the smoke got to within five feet of his sniffer. "It's our toy department; one can hardly move for beastly children and the noise is horrendous."

"Got any bambinos yourself, Mr. Filligree?" I knew the answer even before I'd asked the question

"Absolutely notmy mother doesn't approve of them."

No wonder, after having him.

"Perhaps we'd better take a look at the basement then, Mr. Filligree," I suggested.

Filligree suddenly became a Death Row inmate again. I left him to his cell and took the elevator down to the basement. He was rightthe toy department was a madhouse. The lifeboat deck of the Titanic must have been a National Women's Christian Temperance Union meeting compared to the packs of ravening offspring that were running riot between the shelves. It was probably quieter, too.

I pushed my way through the crowds of screaming little angels and red-faced parents standing in line at Santa's Grotto. Deafening was an understatementI'd sooner have been sitting in the engine room of the USS New Jersey at full speed with Gene Krupa and Art Blakey playing alternate snare solos on my eardrums. I swear that at least three of the kids were growing horns as they fought to sit on Santa's knee. It reminded me of those feeding frenzy pictures in The National Geographic when a pack of timber wolves are sharing a squirrel for elevenses. No wonder Father Christmas only worked two weeks a yearhe was probably recovering in the asylum for the rest of the time. No pickpocket in his right mind was going to get tangled up in this pandemonium.

So where was he operating? I took a walk up and down the aisles for half an hour with a ten-buck-note sticking out of my top pocket. I kept a careful eye on ita quart of Jack D was counting on me to rescue it from a lonely Christmas at Luigi's Liquor Store.

As I turned into the Loud, Illuminated, & Very Expensive Toy Section, I felt a light tug on my coattail. I tightened my fist and did a nifty pirouette. Here's where you get yours, pal. I stopped just in time.

Derrington Filligree's nose was a sixteenth of an inch away from being concertina'd. He wailed, fell backwards into the shelves and got showered by a dozen Dy-Dee diaper-wetting dolls. By the look on his face, I guess that he'd almost showered himself.

I helped him up. "Sorry," I said, "I get a little nervous when people do that to me."

"I was merely trying to attract your attention without alerting the thief," he sniffed, patting his forehead with a silk handkerchief again. It was blue this time. Perhaps the other one was in for washing.

"Any more complaints, Mr. Filligree?" I asked.

"Two more within the last ten minutes, I'm afraid to say," he said, looking very afraid, "Both of them women."

That probably explained the swipe marks on the side of his face.

"Both in this department?"

He nodded. I began to feel sorry for him. He looked more down in the mouth than Stan Laurel being told that his cat has just died of rabies.

"What time does the store close?" I asked him, looking at my watch. It was half past five.

"We usually close at six but as it's Friday we stay open until eight."

"What's so special about Friday, Mr. Filligree?"

"Late opening for pay days. We pride ourselves on putting our customer's requirements first."

Yeahsure. The accounts department must have been delighted. "Very commendable of Buncombe & Cheeseworth, Mr. Filligree," I said, "I'll be back first thing tomorrow morning; there's something I need to look into."

I waded through the hordes of knee-high kids and made my way to The Igloo Bar, a swish joint half a block down.

The very thing I needed to look into was therea tumbler full of bourbon. By eight-thirty, I was sliding off the stool almost as well as the rye was sliding down my craw. The place started to fill up; judging by togs they were wearing, most of the customers were Buncombe & Cheeseworth employees. They were happyit was payday; they'd probably been looking forward to this all week. No one could begrudge them the noise they were making, not even the flabby jasper at the end of the bar holding a daiquiri big enough to swim in. Judging by his red face and king-sized yapper, he wasn't exactly a stranger to joy-juice. I'd seen the mousy judy he was jawing to before, but I couldn't place her. It bugged me for a while. I wished more broads would be familiar to me, especially the hour-glassed waitress with the bob and seamed stockings.

I ordered another shot of rye and decided to make a decision on what I was going to decide on tomorrow morning.

***

Tomorrow became today sooner than I appreciated. It felt like a very clumsy apprentice stonemason was chipping away at my head from the inside with a sledgehammer and blunt chisel. I closed my eyes, pulled the pillow over my ears and waited for the next blow. That only left my mouth and nose to get involved. I groaned in pain. One to go. A feather from the pillow tickled my hooter. Two. I sneezed. Full house! Dull waves of pain churned through my nut like water swirling around a plughole.

I dragged myself out of bed and lurched into the kitchen. My mouth tasted like something I couldn't describe without a biochemist's dictionary. I brushed the cobwebs off the refrigerator door and forced it open. There was a carton of milk on the top shelf. It must have been lonesome in there with nothing to talk to. I opened it and took a deep swallow. There's nothing like a mouthful of rancid yogurt to put you in a bad mood for the whole day. I made do with an Alka Selzer for breakfast and headed off to Buncombe & Cheeseworth's Department Store.

It had just started to snow when I got there at five to eight. I joined the queue of impatient shoppers and squalling kids outside and waited for the doors to open.

I'd never ridden a surfboard before. I found out how it must have felt as the tidal wave of eager shoppers swept me forward and into the Corsets, Surgical Appliances & Odd-sized Feet Department. When I peeled myself from the far wall, the mob had disappeared into the basement, judging by the racket coming from the stairs. The unfortunate assistant who'd opened the floodgates was lying unconscious on the floor. So much for the sparring helmet he was wearing.

Derrington Filligree's office door opened by an eighth of an inch. After a minute or so, he stuck his head out and peered around cautiously, like a tortoise with agoraphobia.

"Good morning," Mr. Filligree," I said, "The store's off to a quiet start, I see."

He looked over at the assistant, who was crawling towards the emergency exit. "Yes, it starts to get busy at around eight-thirty. How are your investigations proceeding?"

"I've got a few things running through my head," I told him. Five triple Jacks, two Manhattan Skullslammers, one Martini on the rocks, and a crme de menthe that I'd picked up by mistake. "I'd like to see a list of your temporary staff, Mr. Filligree."

He let me in and double-locked the door behind us.

"Any department in particular," he asked, opening a filing cabinet.

"Just the toy department for now," I said.

He passed me a folder marked Casual Employees December. I opened it and ran my eyes over the twenty or so sheets of paper.

One page near the end looked interesting. Angus MacAbre. A one-week contract as Santa Claus, started yesterday, due to staff sickness. A nervous breakdown, no doubt. There were references from several department stores in Scotland and one from McGlinchies Tartan Social Club in Nova Scotia, where he'd been Entertainments Manager. McGlinchieswhere had I heard that before?

Then another name jumped out at me. Dolores Gatcombe, hired as Santa's Little Helper. She'd started at the same time as MacAbre.

I passed the two sheets over. "Where did you get this pair, Mr. Filligree?"

Filligree thought for a few moments. "The Big Apple Core Variety Agency."

Now it was starting to make sense. "Do you mind if I make a call to the office?"

"Go right ahead," he said.

"Hi, Sugar," I said, when Kate answered the phone, "Can you refresh me on Hogmanay?"

"Only for an hour or two," she said, "I've been invited to spend it at my sister's house. We can start with a glass of punch, followed by cocktail sausages and canaps. After that, there'll be a choice of Martini, rum, vodka, gin, or bourbon."

"That's very hospitable of you, Kate," I said, "What have you got on festivities appertaining to Gaelic peoples who migrated from Ireland to Caledonia approximately six hundred years AD?"

"The Scots celebrate New Year's Eve and Burns Night; the latter being on January the twenty-fifth. Traditionally, haggis is served; being a mixture of suet, liver, lungs, and heart, spiced with Cayenne pepper, sewn into a sheep's stomach. This is enjoyed with whiskey and the occasional fight."

I don't know what I'd do without Kate. I do know what I'd like to do with her, though. Maybe Father Christmas would grant me a wish. I blew a kiss down the wires and turned to Filligree.

"I'll be back in a while, Mr. Filligree," I said.

***

I took a walk outside and kindled a Camel. A ragged urchin who looked like an even smaller version of Mickey Rooney was dribbling over a train set in Buncombe & Cheeseworth's display window.

"Hey, kid," I said, "How would you like that to take home?"

He looked at me warily. "What's the catch, mister?"

"No catch," I said, "You've just got to sit on a man's knee for a couple of minutes."

He ran off, shouting for a policeman. I was going to have to do this another way. I dashed to a call box and rang Kate again.

"Meet me at the back of Buncombe & Cheeseworth's Store," I told her, "I've got an undercover job for you."

"I wish I was under covers," she said, "I've just had to put half a cupful of anti-freeze on the typewriter ribbon. Be there right away."

When she arrived, I filled her and Filligree in on my plan. Filligree clapped his hands in delight and insisted on picking the outfit. We followed him to the teenage clothing section.

"Marvelous!" he squealed, when Kate came out of the changing room, "Absolutely just so! Red suits you perfectly."

She looked a treat. Several bored-looking fathers waiting for their kids to finish selecting overpriced clothes drooled like a pack of Pavlov's dogs as she did a twirl. One got a dig in the ribs from his wife and dropped a box of wine glasses on the floor.

"Ready, babe?" I asked.

She smoothed her skirt over her hips and nodded. "All set, Lopsy."

We took the elevator down to the basement and joined the line at Santa's Grotto. I held Kate's hand as the queue shuffled forward; Filligree bravely took his place thirty feet back as rearguard observer. Kids were shrieking in delight and impatience as they saw Santa Claus handing out gifts from his barrel. Santa's Little Helper was taking the money from long-suffering, short-tempered parents.

We got to the head of the line. Santa's eyes nearly popped out of his skull when he saw Kate. She gave him a cute smile and sat down on his knee as I gave the Little Helper a dollar bill from my wallet that I'd padded out with newspaper. I'd been right, all along. Even under their beards and outfits, I could see that Santa was the fat cheese with the red nose who'd been in The Igloo Bar last night, and his stooge was the mousy broad.

"And what would you like Santa to bring you in your stocking on Christmas Day," dribbled MacAbre, staring at Kate's legs.

She'd have made my Christmas very happy if she'd brought herself to my apartment in her stockings.

"I wonder if I could have a set of handcuffs, please," she said, in her little-girl-lost voice.

"Handcuffs! Whatever for?" said Santa, "Here, have one of these chocolate soldiers."

I didn't look at the big candy box that he was waving around; instead I looked down as his stooge's hand slipped inside my jacket, where I'd just put my wallet. I slapped it away.

"The handcuffs are for you and your sidekick, MacAbre," I snarled, gripping his tunic collar, "You can enjoy your Christmas in the cells."

MacAbre snarled back, tipped Kate off his knee, got up and aimed a haymaker at my jaw; I ducked and it caught his little helper on the chin. Dolores grunted, sagged like punctured airship and went down. I grabbed his hood and cracked his head against the gift barrel before he could give me another example of his boxing skills.

Then the place was in uproar. Before I could explain, three enraged ladies laid into me with their handbags, a kid with ginger hair bit my ankle, and an angry father the size of King Kong's big brother planted a right cross on the side of my nut.

"Call the police," yelled somebody, "There's a madman trying to kill Santa."

Filligree was dancing around at the back of the line, doing his least to get involved, and Kate was clinging onto MacAbre as he tried to stagger away. Bro Kong pulled his fist back for another clout, so I dropped him with a judo chop that a Boy Scout had shown me in exchange for a pack of Camels.

"That's him! That's the one who wanted me to sit on his knee," screamed some kid.

The crowd parted. It was the urchin that I'd seen outside, looking at the train set. There were two burly policemen with him, waving batons. That was all I needed.

MacAbre looked over his shoulder at the cops and tried to shake Kate off. He was going to get away if I didn't do something quick. So I snatched Santa's chair and swatted him on the back of his bonce.

By this time, everyone was baying for my bloodtheir kids had just seen some bully batter poor Santa, and his little assistant was lying flat on her back with cuckoos twittering around her head.

"I can explain everything," I said, as the cops moved towards me, swinging their anaesthetisers, "Ask him." I pointed to where Filligree was standing. There was a vacant space. People were standing around it in a circle. He'd probably fainted in fright.

Right now, the likelihood of taking the rest of the day off was looking slimmer than Joseph R. McCarthy's chances of being asked to do a Young Communist League after-dinner speech.

I tried to put myself in the two officer's shoes as I was driven down to the Precinct in a set of cuffs that weren't my size. To begin with, there was probably attempted child molestation. Then there were plenty of witnesses to say that I'd behaved in a totally unprovoked and aggressive manner in the grotto. I'd also assaulted a concerned father and broken a chair across Santa's skull. Not to mention traumatized a floorful of young children. The photographs that the reporters had taken of me standing next to a buxom red-head in a short pleated skirt, red cape, and bobby sox outside the black and white weren't going to do my reputation any favors, either.

No wonder the cops had taken their kid gloves off when they'd arrested me.

Lieutenant Kochleer dropped in on my cell a couple of hours later and told me that the charges had been withdrawn. Derrington Filligree had eventually recovered from his fainting spell and put everyone in the picture. Angus MacAbre and his accomplice had come clean about their underground underhand activities and been charged on several counts of pickpocketry. They were now in custody, nursing sore heads.

"So what put you wise to MacAbre's antics?" asked Kochleer, as I tried to fasten my shirt and jacket. It wasn't easy with only three buttons between them. My sleeves were hanging on by no more than a dozen threads, as well. It's no big grin being the middle man in a tug of war between two of New York's finest and a dozen furious parents. I now had a reach three inches longer than Rocky Marciano's.

"I'd seen that woman in The Igloo Bar with MacAbre someplace before, but I couldn't put two and two together until I saw her name in Filligree's files"

"Dolores Gatcombe?"

"Otherwise known as Rynska. She was one half of Perplexo, The World's Greatest Conjuror; they were pretty big in the forties until Perplexo decided to put his talents to dipping pockets at showbiz conventions. He got caught lifting the president of Global Movie Production's wallet in Houston. That was the end of his career in Glitterland."

"YeahI remember that, vaguely," said Kochleer, "What's the angle on MacAbre?"

"Haggis trafficking. Ever since the Canadian authorities clamped down on the import of Ovis Aries after the outbreak of Cheviot Grip, there's big bucks in genuine Scottish sheep offal. MacAbre needed to raise enough capital to smuggle half a ton of the stuff over the border from a GlasgowNew York shipment. He stood to make around ten grand if he could deliver by New Year's Eve."

Kochleer whistled. "And he was making enough by unloading shopper's purses to do it. Pretty low trick, depriving them of their Christmas savings. How'd you get the drift of his grift?"

"I remembered that the Nova Scotia Tartan Club had been heavily fined last year for serving illegal haggis at their Burns Evening," I said, "MacAbre was swilling back expensive daiquiris in The Igloo and speaking in a Scots accent. When I saw that an ex-manager of theirs was on Buncombe & Cheeseworth's payroll, it set off warning bells. Everyone else in the bar had been drinking beer or Martinis; it made me wonder how a seasonal worker could afford to be so extravagant."

Just then, Filligree and Kate wandered in. Kate was still in her bobby sox and cape, with half the NYPD following her.

Filligree was gushing with praise. He wrote out a check to the Sleuth Booth for two thousand dollars and a voucher for two of their best Christmas hampers.

"Have a good holiday, Mr. Larssen," he said, "Buncombe & Cheeseworth can't thank you enough."

They just hadaccording to the voucher, the hampers included four bottles of bourbon. Kate planted a kiss on my lips.

"Let's take a cab to my place, Lopsy," she said, running her fingers up and down my lapels, "Looks like you need some running repairs."

So Santa did exist.

I wondered what the New Year was going to bring.


Archived comments for The Basement Hustle.
discopants on 2004-08-13 07:55:39
Re: The Basement Hustle.
Rattling good read, skilfully written. I particularly liked the convoluted explanation of how it was figured out- how many of those have you heard before although none that involved haggis-smuggling as far as I can remember.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-13 13:31:47
Re: The Basement Hustle.
Thanks, Disco, glad it went down well.
As with my other Lopsided Larssen stories, it wrote itself, I only had to type as the outrageously unlikely plot unfolded. Wish my other stories were that easy...
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

thehaven on 2004-08-13 16:02:13
Re: The Basement Hustle.
For once words fail me with this one.It is brilliant but even that seems inadequate. I read it and didnt want it to finish.

Thoroughly,magnifcently enjoyable,

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-13 18:21:45
Re: The Basement Hustle.
Thank you VERY much for your kind words, Mike, ans also for the Hot Story nomination. As I've mentioned before about the Larssen stories, they just seem to appear on the monitor with very little help from me. I'll pass your comments on to Lopsy and Kate; any time you get a problem, I'll send him over. I'm keeping Kate to myself though...
Cheers,
:^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

ruadh on 2004-08-14 11:00:49
Re: The Basement Hustle.
Simply brilliant Steve. I loved the humerous touches throughout and the haggis smuggling was a gem.

love ailsa

Author's Reply:

ruadh on 2004-08-14 12:58:45
Re: The Basement Hustle.
*humorous*

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-14 16:14:15
Re: The Basement Hustle.
Humus, even! :^)


Ruadh… your name's kinda familiar, sister. Weren't you the broad who plaided 'Not Guilty' to masterminding the infamous Kirkcaldy stag night kilt hold-up back in '87? Or was it the Tayside Tennis Club extortion racquet? My memory's not what it used to be; I get punch drunk after a few rounds with Jack D.

Seriously, Ailsa, thanks very much for your feedback; it seems you enjoyed reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
:^) XXX Steve.


Author's Reply:

ruadh on 2004-08-14 16:36:47
Re: The Basement Hustle.
Me? not me.... I'm innocent ... honest!
Even under the infulence of Bailey's 😉

~A~

Author's Reply:

Gee on 2004-08-14 19:41:55
Re: The Basement Hustle.
You almost achieved the impossible and made me speechless with this story. I wish it wasn't so late at night because I want to read them all now.
It's clever, witty, brilliant and very very funny and I loved it.
Tomorrow, I intend to read them all.

Author's Reply:

Kat on 2004-08-14 20:41:14
Re: The Basement Hustle.
Hi Expat

What a great piece of work! Full marks! Love the humour and the idea of the sleuth booth. Put me in mind of a cross between Marlowe and Rebus!

Regards
Kat

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-15 06:33:57
Re: The Basement Hustle.
That's very nice of you, Gee, thank you very much; Lopsy's a fun guy to write for. The others in the Lopsided Larssen series are: Dumbshoe, The Bigwig Job, Unholy Racket and Doggone. It will eventually be a twelve-part collection, long enough to offer as a full-length publication.
Cheers & thanks again,
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-15 06:34:43
Re: The Basement Hustle.
Hi, Kat.
Thanks for reading and commenting, much appreciated. Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are great inspirations when writing cynical and down at heel PI stories. I feel Lopsy and Kate's personalities expanding all the time we're working together, much more than any other characters I've created. Oddly enough, I don't know what Larssen looks like, although Kate is a composite of several (real) women in looks, humour and nature!
Best wishes,
:^) Steve, Lopsy & Kate.


Author's Reply:


Doggone. (posted on: 02-08-04)
Another unlikely case for Lopsided Larssen, NY Private Dick.

I picked up a Danish at Chang O'Reilly's Hamburgeria to go with the Scotch that was waiting for me at the Sleuth Booth. It was raining a dirty gray rain that probably suited Monday morning, maybe suited New York, but definitely didn't suit me. A cute old lady dropped her handbag into the gutter so I picked it up and got a gallon of water over me for my troubles when a Yellow Cab got too close to the curb. The driver had probably recognized me. When I got in for breakfast, Kate was sitting on the edge of my desk, adding a touch of red to her lips.

'Ciao, kitten. Any trade this morning?' I said. Optimism doesn't cost anything.

'Hiya, Lopsy. A Mrs. Nasha. Something about a missing dog.'

'A missing dog?'

'Canis familiaris. A mammalian carnivorous quadruped, intelligent, responds well to domestication, has forty-two teeth, thirty-nine pairs of chromosomes, an acute sense of smell and hearing, a normal body temperature of a hundred and one, point five; comes in various colors and sizes and is fond of tinkling on carpets.'

I sat down where I could see Kate's legs a little better. 'Did she give you any leads?'

She passed me a thick leather strip about five feet long with a fur-lined collar on the end.

I took a bottle of malt from the bottom draw, poured a slug into a tooth mug, unwrapped the pastry, and on second thoughts put it down again. A fly was wading through the icing. I like to keep to a healthy diet, if not a healthy mind.

I swirled the whiskey around my taste buds for a few moments and grudgingly let it trickle past my tonsils. My head waited for the bulletin on its whereabouts.

'So where's the distraught owner?'

Kate put her lipstick down and started on her nails. 'She flew out to Belgrade on an urgent business trip.'

Belgrade Belgrade... 'Hungary?'

She prodded the Danish and shook her head. The fly was lying on its back, kicking its legs weakly.

'No I think it's in Yugoslavia.'

Geography was never my strong point. Sometimes I didn't even know where I was when I woke up. One gutter looks just like another to me.

I looked at the mutt collar. There was a silver tag on it. The lettering was faint; I could just make out the words 'Mr. Fu Fu. Courtesy of PPP'. Well at least we had something to go on. And it wasn't a lamp post.

'Where did this Nasha dame lose it?'

'She didn't. It was kidnapped.' She pushed a framed portrait across the desk.

I looked at it. 'How big is this thing?'

'The same size as the photo. It's called a Maltese.'

It was about five inches at the shoulder. Maybe four with its boots off. It made a Dachshund look like an Irish Wolfhound.

My last case involved a two hundred and thirty-five-pound Mexican cross-border enchilada smuggler packing a fifty-caliber machine gun from a Mustang fighter. In each hand. Her husband tipped me off. I guess the glitter of being married to an unbeaten shaggy-haired musk ox wrestler had worn away. And now I had to rescue a pygmy pooch with an immaculately groomed snow-white coat that was tied up with pink ribbons and weighed less than the contents of my refrigerator.

It was out of the question.

Then Kate showed me the accounts ledger. The balance showed $5.75. In deficit. The question came up again.

'All right, Kate. We'll take the case.'

She threw the Danish into the trash bin and filled me in on the hound heist.

'She was walking the dog in her arms near the Central Park boating pool when she heard a sneeze behind her. As she turned, someone threw a blanket over her head and snatched Mr. Fu Fu. That's all that she can tell us about it.'

Why would someone want to snatch a yapping puffball that looked like a Christmas tree decoration? It didn't make sense. Nor did the mutt.

I leaned back and washed my forty-year-old tonsils with twenty-year-old whiskey. I'd sooner it had been the other way around. Still, they didn't seem to mind the age gap.

'This Nasha dame what does she do?'

Kate passed me a business card.

Sasha Nasha Import/Export Consultant. Balkan & Exotic Comestibles a Specialty. Franchiser for Canned Borsch and Sun-dried Fish. 2665, Upper Mayflower Blvd. NY. USA

Perhaps she'd stepped on someone's toes. Maybe she was being warned off? But by who


I pulled up outside the Pampered Pooch Parlor on Seventy-third. About eighty-grand's-worth of automobiles were parked outside, most of them with gray-capped chauffeurs sitting inside or blowing the breeze with each other. A black Daimler slid in behind me and a valet in knee boots as shiny as its paintwork rushed out with a Dandie Dinmont Terrier perched on a velvet cushion. And they call it a dog's life.

I took Mr. Fu Fu's picture into the Triple P. The receptionist looked at me as if I was something one of her client's owners had stepped in.

'Can I help you sir?'

If she had fifty bucks she could have. I'm not a greedy man. I shoved Mr. Fu Fu's snap over the counter.

'Maybe. Have you seen this thing before?'

She looked at it for a moment. 'No, but it's a picture of a Malteser. Why do you ask?'

'My name's Larssen.' I flashed my ID. 'I need some information.'

'I'm sorry,' she said, 'we maintain a policy of absolute confidentiality regarding our clients. Ahem.'

I showed her another picture. This time it was George Washington. She admired it and kept it for later viewing.

'In response to your initial query, Mr. Larssen, Mr. Fu Fu was here first thing this morning for a fifty-yard grooming service and a repair to his rear curb-side claw. We replaced a faded bow at the same time.' She smiled and stuck her snout into a copy of Lhasa Apso & Shih Tzu Monthly.

This time I showed her a mug shot of Abraham Lincoln. She seemed to appreciate that form of American art. George got some company. Politicians like to stick together.

'Both delivery and collection of said dog was performed by a short swarthy gentleman, possibly of Eastern European origin judging by his shabby attire, almost incomprehensible vocalizations and badly-trimmed mustache.'

'Anything else?' I said.

'Have you got anything else?' she replied.

I checked my pockets. I didn't.

'Then I haven't got anything else. Good-day, Mr. Larssen.'

So I was two steps ahead and six bucks behind. I headed for Central Park with a refueling stop on credit at Luigi's Liquor Store.

The boating pool area was full of nannies pushing perambulators, impatient teen-age mariners, winos, and shady characters lurking behind shrubs and dark glasses. I took a walk around.

After ten minutes and one attempted mugging, I found what I was looking for. I picked up the handkerchief with the tip of my pencil. There were dog hairs on it. It was obvious that the thief hadn't been keeping his nose clean lately.

I stopped off at every drug store within a mile of Central Park. Number five scored pay dirt.

The assistant looked more like Sgt Bilko than Sgt Bilko. 'Yeah some guy bought two bottles of Noze-neeze yesterday, he picked up a packet of tissues as well and used 'em all before they'd even gone through the cash register.'

'This Noze-neeze is it good for fur allergies?'

'The best. Got enough anti-histamine in it to line an elephant's sofa, with maybe sufficient left over to do a small raccoon's Davenport.'

'Did he have a mustache and speak in a perplexing accent?'

'I guess he did. His nose rug looked as if he'd pulled it through his upper lip with tweezers by candle-light and he sounded like somebody'd tied up his tongue with an orang-utan's neckerchief.'

Interesting analogies. I figured that the assistant must have been from Ohio.

'Not often someone pays by check for a buck, seventy-five, either' he added.

'He paid by check!'

'Yes-sirree, he sure did.' He rooted around in the bottom of the till. 'Look here Vasily Petrescu. There's his address on the back.'

The Buck-eye state went up a point in my estimation, despite Claflin Woodhull.

'Have a good day, the sun's shining fit to bust a blunt melon,' said the assistant as I headed for 18b, Alamogordo Towers.


I called Kate on the way. Not for any purpose I just liked to hear her say: 'Hello, The Sleuth Booth, may I help you?' in her sultry Carolina accent.

'I might have got something on the Mr. Fu Fu snatch,' I said, 'Some turkey called Petrescu with a dog allergy. Have we got anything on him?'

I had a malt gargle while Kate checked her card index. We didn't, but she opened a file on him anyway. He'd get filled in later.

I blew a kiss down the line and hung up. I could always count on Kate. 38 plus 24 plus 36. It all added up to a healthy figure.

Right now I had Vasily Petrescu's number.

Alamogordo Towers was a crummy brownstone block that had probably been condemned twenty years ago but was too unsafe for the demolition workers to move in. There was a faded Franklyn D. Roosevelt election poster nailed to the wall. I followed the sound of sneezing to the second floor. I rapped on the door and wished I hadn't a shower of yellowing ceiling plaster fell onto my nut. I started sneezing as well.

'Tex? Iz zat being you?'

Bingo! Obviously Tex was running low on the Noze-neeze, too. I'd bet my next bottle of Jack that there was a straggly moustache hanging above those words.

'Howdy, Vasily y'all better let me in.' It was my best impression of a Noo Yoiker doing an impression of a good 'ol boy.

It can't have been that bad. I heard a key rattle in the lock. The door opened. Vasily did his own impression of a surprised East European. It was very convincing. A thirty-eight caliber Colt pointing at his Adam's apple put him high in the audition stakes.

'Where's Mr. Fu Fu, you cheap punk?'

I soon found out. He was sinking his teeth into my ankle. I was getting good at impressions this time it was Vaslav Nijinsky performing an entrechat. I'd never done ballet before. There didn't seem that much to it. It would have been the Nutcracker Suite if he'd been a Springer.

Then the stage lights went out.


When I woke up, I had a lump on the back of my sconce that held me off the carpet by half an inch and my ankle felt like it had been through a wood pulper. I couldn't decide which hurt most. In the end it was a draw.

The inside of 18b, Alamagordo Towers, wasn't any better than the view from the hallway. Especially from the floor. I sat up too quickly and watched the light show for five minutes. It wasn't bad value for free but I'd sooner have been in the back row.

Vasily and Mr. Fu Fu had gone. I didn't know how they'd stuck the joint in the first place. The wallpaper was peeling like a bad case of sunburn and there wasn't a stick of furniture that didn't have at least fifty fire exits for the woodworm. There were no curtains. They weren't necessary; the windows had more grime on them than a vagrant dossing in a coal mine. Half a dozen outsize cockroaches were playing tug of war with a fossilized kebab.

Other than an almost empty packet of Bow-Wow-Chow and three emptier bottles of Slivovitz, there weren't any reminders of dognapper or dognapee in the apartment, if you didn't count the carpet of hound hairs and a funny smell.

Who'd put the drop on me? The finger pointed to Tex, whoever he might have been. This Mr. Fu Fu was obviously Mr. Big in somebody's eyes. Right now it was a Mr. Ree to me.

I needed a few words with Sasha Nasha.

And an aspirin.


Kate was waiting for me when I got back.

'Nice limp you've got there, Lopsy.'

'I'm glad you like it,' I said, 'It came as a free gift with the cracked skull.'

There's nothing like a bleeding man to bring out a woman's maternal instinct. As long as it's not on their carpet. The antiseptic hurt more than the wallop and mauling had, but I liked the sympathy and warm hands.

When my leg had been trussed up like an Inca death doll, Kate suddenly clicked her fingers.

'Oh, Mrs. Nasha called. She'll be back tomorrow afternoon. I told her that Mr. Fu Fu was in hand.'

That wasn't quite true he'd been in my foot.

'And she said that when you get him back, you must only feed him the best sirloin steak. He's very particular about what goes into his mouth, and his nose is extremely sensitive.'

He wasn't that particular, I hadn't changed my socks since yesterday.

I ran over what we had on the case. I had two names: Vasily Petrescu and Tex.
Petrescu was about five-six, wearing a pinstriped gray suit that would have fitted better on someone six-five, and looked like someone out of a bad French movie. He could have been anyone from Brooklyn. And there were probably a thousand Tex's in the city. All I knew about this one was that he was handy at administering unordered anesthetics. The gut-rot whiskey from Luigi's Liquor Store did the same but the headache wasn't quite as bad.

The phone rang. Kate answered it. She listened, looked at me, and listened some more.

'When my Trixiebelle gets like that, I usually give her malted milk and chocolate biscuits,' she said after a couple of minutes, 'and if that doesn't help, try some thinly sliced pheasant. Pardon me? No five pieces should be enough. All right, it's a pleasure. Just one moment, please.'

She passed me the receiver. 'It's for you.'

'Larssen,' I said, 'How can you help me?'

'Listen to me real good, bub. Back off on the varmint if you know what's good for you.'

If I'd known what was good for me, I wouldn't have gone to 18b, Alamogordo Towers to begin with. I probably wouldn't even have got out of bed.

The dial tone purred in my ear. I guessed that must have been my pugnacious friend, Tex. Well, he'd said his piece. My piece was going to do the talking next time we met.

'Kate,' I said, 'See what you can dig up on earthnuts.' Something that the Nasha woman had said made a connection.

'Earthnuts? Oh, you mean saprophytessubterranean ascomycetous fungi of the order tuberales, genus tuber'


I dropped in on my friendly druggist on the way to Central Park.

'Well, howdy-doody, Rudy,' he beamed, 'What can I do for you this evening, and a mighty fine one it is, too. The moon's as bright as a whale with a mortar board.'

I could see this turning out to be another interesting conversation. 'I need something to keep me as awake as an armadillo with its tail in a Bunsen burner.'

'Shoot now we're talking,' he said. He reached under the counter and brought out a bottle labeled No-Snooz. 'Now these little critters'll make you a regular Bertram Alertrum; there's enough Benzedrine in them to make a bucketful of bats throw away their alarm clocks for a week. Take two after breathing and you'll be as bushy-tailed as a porpoise with his paw stuck in a gin trap.'

They sounded pretty effective. They'd better be for two-fifty.

'They'll make you as thirsty as a porcupine perched in a lemon tree, too,' he added as I left.

It was just as well that I'd brought some refreshment.

I drove to Central Park, took a walk down to the boating pool, turned up my collar, made myself comfortable behind a bush and watched the night birds go about their shady business. Except for a couple of agonized yells and a rat nibbling my heels, the night passed quietly. So did half a pint of Jack Daniels. I was just about to stretch my legs at four a.m when they arrived.

Vasily appeared, dragging Mr. Fu Fu along the path by a leash and a tall jasper who I took to be Tex followed behind with a spade and a flashlight big enough to illuminate a DC6 at cruising altitude. I swallowed another ounce of Jack to fend off the cold and tagged along behind them.

They stopped by a clump of trees. I saw Tex's shape bend down and fiddle with something. There was a vicious yap followed by a shriek of pain. I guessed that Mr. Fu Fu was annoyed about something. I thought about my ankle and the lump on my noggin. Too bad, pal.

Vasily began digging by the light of the torch and then all I could see was Mr. Fu Fu's paws scrabbling on the edge of the hole. The druggist would have said that he was behaving happier than a hog in a bog with his Sunday suit back from the cleaners. Dirt was flying back like woodchips from a band saw and Mr. Fu Fu began a crooning whine that put me in mind of the mating season. Then Vasily picked something up and put it into a bag. Two minutes later, the same thing happened. I crept a little closer.

Yep the mutt was one fine sniffer. No wonder he'd been snatched. A bag of those things was probably worth more than I earned in a week. Come to think of it, just the bag was probably worth more than I earned in a week.

Who was behind it? I followed Vasily and Tex back when they'd finished with the excavations. Mr. Fu Fu was lying exhausted in Tex's arms, covered in mud; Vasily was almost bent double under the bag. The sun was just coming up as they got to their truck. Vasily's Vacuum-packed Variety Victuals was painted on the side.

When Jack D had finished his snooze, the proprietor was due a visit.


Sasha Nasha was waiting for me when I crawled into the Sleuth Booth at two o'clock. Kate jerked a thumb at my office. I shook the creases out, pulled my stomach in and opened the door.

'Mizter Larzzen, I am presumink?' she said.

'That's right, lady,' I said, looking at the top-loaded platinum blonde in an off-the-shoulder white sweater sitting behind my desk, 'How's the truffle business?'

She pouted her lips. They reminded me of an octopus's suckers. 'Vizout Mizter Fu Fu, not so good. Vot can you be tellink me?'

I could be telling her a lot of things, like how she'd just hot-wired my nervous system with her blue eyes and Zsa-Zsa Gabor accent, but first things first.

'Seen your pal, Vasily, lately?'

Her eyes flashed like diamonds under an arc lamp. 'Vasily zat creep! I vould be cuttink off his bona fides wiz a rustink knife. Vere is my darlink dok?'

Obviously Vasily wasn't on Sasha's list of borsch and sun-dried fish party guests.

'What's the link between Balkan Exotic Comestibles and Vasily's Vacuum-packed Variety Victuals, Mrs. Nasha?' I must have sounded like I'd had a drink; it was quite a mouthful. So I had a drink, and it was quite a mouthful, too.

'Vasily,' she said, standing up, 'iz my ex-partner, zer no-good, dirty low-down, double-crossink fink.'

Her English had improved in great bounds. She took one over the carpet.

'Mizter Larzzen,' she said, burying her face into my shoulder, 'I vould be doink anythink to get back my precious Mr. Fu Fu.'

Anythink? Her perfume trickled up my nose and marinaded my brain with thoughts that would probably get Father McGurk at Saint Ugbert's very interested, should I ever decide to go to confession. Or even become a Catholic.

'Don't worry that beautiful head of yours,' I said, 'We'll have him back before you can say earthnut.'

'Earthnut!'

Well, probably not that quickly.

'Let's take a drive, Mrs. Nasha,' I said.


Vasily's Vacuum-packed Variety Victuals on East 33rd was nearly as run down as Alamogordo Towers no wonder he'd felt at home there.

I opened the door with the sole of my boot. Vasily was feeding something on a spoon to a fifty-pound brown mutt lying in a basket looking sorry for itself. The look on Vasily's face was very sorry as well. Maybe his animal-loving habits didn't extend to Colt 38's.

'The game's up, Petrescu,' I snarled, 'We've come for Mr. Fu Fu.'

Mrs. Nasha grabbed his ear, slapped him around the kisser like Joe Louis on piece rate and launched into a tirade of something that could well be Hungarian. Whatever it was, I was glad that it wasn't aimed at me. He went white and then green.

'Mr. Fu Fu iz at zer Tvipple P wiz Tex; he iz back coming now,' he jabbered.

'That's fine we'll wait, I said, 'Spill the beans before Mrs. Nasha here spills your blood, and being a gentleman, I might just offer her some assistance.'

Vasily was a fountain of information the sorry-looking hound was a Viszla truffle-hunter with a bad case of dog flu, and Tex was a freelance dog buster from El Paso. Vasily's Vacuum-packed Variety Victuals had a Raffia 'Happy Birthday, Godfather' banquet to provision on the tenth and Don Ationes was very partial to buried fungi. He would be very displeased to be disappointed.

'I voz only borrowink Mr. Fu Fu for a fvew days until my dok got better,' he sniveled as Mrs. Nasha manipulated his other ear, 'I voz not vishing for a pair of Don Ationes' heavy boots.'

They wouldn't have helped his doggie paddle, that was for sure.

Vasily's truck pulled up outside a few minutes later and Tex jumped out with Mr. Fu Fu inside a basket. He looked a lot cleaner than when I'd last seen him. Obviously he was being regularly serviced by the Triple P. The dog, that is.

Mrs. Nasha put his lights out with a giant-size can of PetSnax on the napper as soon as he walked through the door. I was disappointed to see her do that.

I wanted to do it.

When she'd calmed down, and Tex had woken up, she made Vasily an offer that he couldn't refuse.

He signed over ownership of Vacuum-packed Variety Victuals to her in exchange for not turning him and Tex over to the cops. He was howling louder than his sickly mutt as we left.

Mr. Fu Fu sat happily on Mrs. Nasha's lap as we drove back to the Sleuth Booth. He bit a traveling salesman coming down the stairs, left a little message in the corner of my office, watered Kate's pelargoniums and took a snap at my knuckles in gratitude for my saving him, as his owner counted out five hundred bucks before hurrying off to organize the Raffia nosh.

Kate poured me a fat Jack as I dabbed the blood off my mitts. I felt the pain ease straight away.

'You've sure got a way with dogs, Lopsy,' she said, putting on her coat.

Sure. Maybe next time I'd get away with all my socks and fingers intact.

I nodded at the bottle. 'Something to warm you up before you go, honey,' I asked her.

She gave me a sad smile. 'Sorry, Lopsy, not tonight.'

The door closed softly behind her.



Archived comments for Doggone.
Scorpio on 2004-08-04 15:08:08
Re: Doggone.
Wonderful PI parody. I absolutely loved it.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-05 11:18:14
Re: Doggone.
Thanks a lot, Scorpio, appreciated. Lopsy and Kate are my favourite characters when I write. I think this one is my fourth or fifth in the series.
Cheers,
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:

Dazza on 2004-08-11 02:17:54
Re: Doggone.
We both like wacky people ay? Great characters and aint it nic when they expand and head off into the wild blue of imagination. Great stuff. Dazza.

Author's Reply:

drewgum on 2004-08-11 06:19:50
Re: Doggone.
Great fun this one, really enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-11 12:20:47
Re: Doggone.
Thanks, Dazza. I just give Lopsy a shot of Jack D, Kate some lipstick and off they go by themselves. I have a job to keep up with them sometimes. Eventually 'Larsseny – Journal of a PI' will be submitted as a full length book, covering each month of some indeterminate year. Only another seven instalments to go.
Cheers again
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-11 12:21:50
Re: Doggone.
Hi, Drewgum. I appreciate that, thank you very much. For more of Lopsy and Kate, I've previously submitted 'Dumbshoe', 'Unholy Racket' and 'The Bigwig Case'.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:


Three Years (posted on: 30-07-04)
What it says on the tin...

MID SUSSEX EVENING NEWS.


ENGAGEMENTS. Anthony Collins and Emily Bridges.

MARRIAGES. Collins. Anthony and Emily.

BIRTHS. Collins, James, to Anthony and Emily.

DEATHS. In his sleep, James Collins, aged 5 months. Beloved son of Anthony and Emily.

DECREE ABSOLUTE. Collins, Anthony and Emily (nee Bridges.)

COURT ROUNDUP. Anthony Collins, Drunken Driving, fined 750 and banned for two years.

DEATHS. Collins, Anthony, tragically at Beachy Head.



Archived comments for Three Years
Dazza on 2004-07-30 02:35:31
Re: Three Years
Bloody hell! This is a cracker! Not one wasted word, clinical and heart wrenching. Spot on. Dazza.

Author's Reply:

Sunken on 2004-07-30 04:40:56
Re: Three Years
I agree with young Dazza, this is excellent. Very clever, straight to the point and nothing wasted. Respect is indeed due.

s
u
n
k
e
n

Author's Reply:

dancing-queen on 2004-07-30 05:27:12
Re: Three Years
This was great, Expat - short, crisp and yet it says so much! DQx

Author's Reply:

Kipper on 2004-07-30 10:35:58
Re: Three Years
This is economy honed to a sharp point - no easy task, and not perhaps for everyone, but in a few words you have said it all.
One question - and I will probably kick myself for having to ask. Where does the title 'Three years' fit in? Guess there must be something I am missing.

Author's Reply:

Bradene on 2004-07-30 13:14:55
Re: Three Years
That is brilliant, and so sad. Love Val x

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-30 15:11:29
Re: Three Years
Hi, Dazza,
Thanks, mate. This was written in ten minutes last night, I didn't really expect any feedback. It was based on the horrible missing kiddies body parts scandal at the Bristol hospital pathological department a few years ago. The parents of one dead toddler eventually split up after finding out about it and the father killed himself in abject grief shortly afterwards. How do you cope with something like that…


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-30 15:12:08
Re: Three Years
Thanks, Sunken. I think most of us can eventually accept death when it relates to adults; after all, they've (usually) had a fair shot at life. But how do we keep going when the wonderful innocence of a young life is taken away from us? I can't imagine how it must feel. For some, it's obviously unbearable. Please God we never find ourselves in those circumstances.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-30 15:12:48
Re: Three Years
Thanks for reading and commenting, DQ. Obviously not an enjoyable read in the accepted sense and it's no less palatable when it happens to someone else. I get very upset when I hear of things like this.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-30 15:13:37
Re: Three Years
Hello, Kipper, thanks for stopping by. No, you didn't miss anything; it was an oblique illustration as to how a life—or lives—can be ripped apart in a very short space of time by the death of a child. An article in one of the daily papers highlighted how several relationships foundered after the sordid Bristol hospital revelations, including one father's suicide.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-30 15:14:53
Re: Three Years
Thank you, Val,
Regards, Steve.

Author's Reply:

Kipper on 2004-07-31 13:47:47
Re: Three Years
Hi again expat.
I have read the comments above, with your answers. and a couple of things emerge.
Firstly, it was a brave subject for you to tackle, and that probably the only way to do so without trivializing the subject, was the way you chose. Something instinctive I guess.
I am glad you mentioned that it was not based on you own experience.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-31 15:31:28
Re: Three Years
Thanks again, Kipper. There was a slightly personal element in it as I'm just about to lose my own two kids due to a domestic upheaval (6000-mile gap) and I was feeling a bit low when I wrote it (or rather, it wrote itself).
Cheers, Steve.

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 2004-08-03 12:53:23
Re: Three Years
Really hard-hitting, despite - probably because of - its brevity. Excellent...sometimes the most off-the-wall things work best, as here. (Having lived "next door" to Beachy Head for twenty years makes it all the more startlingly real.)

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-03 15:02:39
Re: Three Years
Thanks, Roy, appreciated.
Is Beachy Head called "Lover's Leap' or 'Lover's Heap'?
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:


Late. (posted on: 26-07-04)
It's raining and David's very late...

LATE.

She looked at her watch for the twentieth time that hour. Almost ten o'clock. He'd never been this late before; the journey was not even sixty miles and he'd told her that he'd be home by eight, nine at the very outside.

The sound of heavy rain pelting against the window panes, teardrops sliding down the glass, melting pearls in the streetlights. A sudden burst hammered against the windows like a gravelled drum roll. She looked at the clock above the fireplace. One minute to ten.

Why didn't he ring? There must be public telephones somewhere, even in the scattering of small villages between here and the motorway.

Her friend Anne had been around before lunch for a chat; her menthol cigarettes were still on the coffee table, where she had left them. She took one from the packet and lit it with the onyx lighter given to them as a wedding present. It would be their second anniversary next Saturday. Her head began to spin, unaccustomed to smoking after a six-month break. She ground the cigarette out, angry with herself for weakening. Unborn children had no say in what went into their bodies.

Come on, David, where are you? She looked at her watch again a minute past ten. The wall clock indicated six minutes past. She switched on the TV and turned to Teletext. Three minutes past ten; both wrong. Something else was wrong, too. Ring, damn you, David, ring.

Perhaps, even as she fretted, he was turning into the road leading to their comfortable little terraced house. Their very first house. They'd foregone a honeymoon and spent the time and money on redecorating the two-up, two-down, instead. Paint-flecked and aching, she wouldn't have changed that fortnight for anything in the world.

Callum kicked. She held her cupped hands over her growing mountain of happiness and smiled, despite her growing concern. David's face had lit up like a small child's when the doctor confirmed their pregnancy. And when the scan had confirmed what she already knew, he was so jubilant that he had lost a day's work due to the following hangover. A boy to keep the family name alive. They prematurely christened the baby Callum. Callum, after David's younger brother.

For the first time in three hours, the rain stopped, occasionally resurrecting itself as an apathetic patter on the bay windows. She walked through the newly carpeted hallway and opened the front door. The garden glistened in the light thrown off by the halogen security lamp, the grass a brilliant emerald in the artificial sun. Roses and carnations nodded under the weight of water-sodden petals. Crazy paving appeared a jigsaw held together with rippling silver. David's Sierra was a missing tooth in the neat line of cars parked along the street. She bit her lip, closed the door and went to the kitchen.

As she boiled the kettle, she spooned drinking chocolate into two mugs, hers the red mug with the scales of Libra in white, his the green, splashed with the colours of Tottenham Hotspur. There was a large chip on one side above the handle, but he would not throw it away for she had bought it for him especially on a trip to London.

The sound of a car horn brought her rushing to the front door. The rain had started again; a taxi waited in the road as three figures dashed from their house, collars up. The rear doors slammed shut and the taxi was gone, its tyres sizzling on the wet tarmac. She closed her own door, disappointed, upset.

The kettle switched itself off with a loud click as she returned to the kitchen. David's supper grew steadily colder in the oven, the gravy thickening on the lamb cutlets, peas and potatoes. Her hands began to tremble as she filled her mug. She cried out in frustration as it overflowed, dribbling onto the freshly laundered tablecloth.

Twenty to eleven. She went into the lounge and sat down, putting the mug onto a magazine to save the coffee table from Olympic flags. That was what David always called them. She saw the cigarettes, took another one and lit it. The lighter was unsteady in her hand.

A suddenness. Everything became violently still. There was not a single sound or movement. A vacuum in which everything was suspended. A hundredth of a second later, came the knock.

She froze; a rushing sound filled her ears and was gone, leaving a weighted silence. Another knock harder, this time. She rose slowly, held back by cautionary fingers. The world, hard-edged, moved past her in slow motion: the coffee table, the Lowry print on the wall, the mock Grecian frieze, the telephone on its pine shelf in the hallway at last the world came to a halt, she found herself at the door. Through the semi-opaque glass panels, two dark shapes stood out against the street lighting. The door opened itself to her hand.

Two policemen. Their shoulders and hair wet from leaving their car. It was parked in David's spot. She noticed that although the blue light was off, the headlights were on. The dipped beam illuminated a dent in the boot of a Peugeot through silver rods of rain.

They had taken their caps off. The one on the left, the shorter of the two, had cut himself shaving; she could see where the razor had slipped, just below his left ear. The taller policeman looked ill at ease as he stepped forward.

Yes, she was Mrs Sarah Kavanagh. Yes, her husband, David, was the owner of a white 1995 Ford Sierra. No, Mrs Kavanagh, he hasn't been hurt in a car accident. Perhaps she'd like to sit down, he was afraid that the news was not good.

They sat down in the lounge, the policemen self-conscious in their heavy uniforms and heavy boots and heavy mood. She rubbed at the brown rings on the magazine cover caused by the drinking chocolate that had collected on the bottom of her mug. Olympic flags. She listened as they told her that David had been found dead in a motel room, twelve miles away. It appeared that there had been some kind of fault with the heating system; the flue, they believed.

Everything in the room took on a cold, microscopic look as they told her all of this. Their wedding photograph on top of the television stood out in clinical clarity. David was gazing into her eyes. He had just told her that he loved her. More than anything else in the world. That was the best gift she had ever been given.

The policeman's words flowed back and forth, a tidal surge of as yet unbroken heartache. She heard herself asking, in a voice that belonged to someone else, why her husband David had died in a motel, not thirty minutes drive away. If his car had broken down, why hadn't he called her? There must have been a telephone. Why hadn't he got a taxi?

The two policemen looked at each other. They didn't have all the details yet, they said, and would let her know as soon as they could. Meanwhile, there would be some formalities to deal with. When she was ready, of course. Was there anybody she could call, anyone she wanted to be with? Parents family friend?

Her parents were two hundred miles away, in Lincoln, she said. Her brother was in the North Sea, on an oil rig. A friend? asked the policeman again, very gently. His fingers were intermeshed as he sat on the settee, his thumbs pushing and rolling against each another. He had just noticed her swollen belly.

Yes, she had a friend, a very good friend. They were very close. She lived just around the corner, with her husband and two children. Yes, she would like her friend to be with her now.

The taller policeman went with her to the hallway. He picked up the telephone and pressed the keys to the numbers that she mechanically called out. He passed the handset to her as she looked at the wet footprints on the new carpet. She waited for a reply as the rain poured down. Someone answered. A woman. It was not her friend. The voice sounded much older. She asked if she could please speak to Anne. She found herself slipping on the ice of reality. The voice asked who might be speaking. Sarah, Sarah Kavanagh, she replied. The voice cracked and broke, telling her that she was very, very sorry but she couldn't speak to Anne. She'd been found dead. So sorry, the voice continued, on the verge of tears, but she had to go, her son and his children were in shock and needed her.

The phone fell to the floor. And outside, it seemed as if the rain would never stop.



Archived comments for Late.
dogfrog on 2004-07-26 03:41:47
Re: Late.
Hi Expat,

Things were going great guns until the last para. Then you confused me. Eventually I understood that she was having an affair with her husband, but it took thick 'ol me several reads to get it. I'm wondering whether breaking the news in some other way than a phone call might help or dropping more clues about her husband and her friend in earlier? Or maybe I'm just too dumb?

Cheers

dog
frog





Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-26 09:02:41
Re: Late.
This has got a good rhythm to it, and it builds well. I did think it might benefit from an action up front - maybe starting with her throwing away his dinner in frustration? I wanted a few more emotions out of her other than just worry, maybe a bit of anger and a bit of guilt? Just to really flesh her out?

But I liked the idea - I think it just needs tweaking to really get the reader involved. As it is, I was looking for the twist ending because it was all plot and v little character up to that point.

Author's Reply:

dancing-queen on 2004-07-26 09:03:44
Re: Late.
Expat, that was a really engaging read. Enjoyed it very much. Ok, so I kind of guessed that he'd been playing away once you mentioned the motel - but I was so into it that it didn't matter. You've got some lovely descriptive passages here too - I especially liked the garden scene. I do have one question for you, though - why did the police not tell her about the dead woman? Or were they waiting to tell her later? Not too sure what normal police procedure would be.
Anyway, well done - Leahx

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-26 12:12:53
Re: Late.
Thanks for commenting, dogfrog. I've spent a lot of time shaping and reshaping that paragraph and still can't decide if it's too cryptic. I'm always open to crit if anything's unclear or not up to scratch.
Cheers,
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-26 13:59:14
Re: Late.
Thanks, BP, plenty to think about there. I suppose that I created her as a fairly innocent and passive person to make David and Anne's ultimate betrayal that much more shocking.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-26 14:00:07
Re: Late.
Your comments much appreciated, Leah. I really tried to put myself inside Sarah's head as she was watching the clock, and noting the peripheral things that stick in our minds when we're very worried. Re the police: I think it would be standard procedure for them to be extremely diplomatic when breaking this sort of news. Imagine having to tell someone that their partner has died in bed with another woman/man! It must be awful being the next person down the heartbreak line when the truth has to be told.
Thanks again,
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

Gee on 2004-07-26 17:33:23
Re: Late.
Very skilfully written. I liked the build up to the end of this, the anxious waiting all of us have experienced, so can relate to. The last sentence finishes it off beautifully.

Author's Reply:

roo on 2004-07-26 18:17:06
Re: Late.
I think this was great! I loved the twist at the end and I think it worked really well.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-27 12:23:34
Re: Late.
Thank you so much for that, Gee. Glad you liked it.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-27 12:24:14
Re: Late.
Hi, Roo. (Antipodean, by any chance?) Thanks for taking the time to read and your kind comment.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

thehaven on 2004-07-27 17:14:18
Re: Late.
This deserves a "great Read" imo.The tension is skilfully developed and the emotion excellent.

Just one very minor thin;perhaps it could be made clearer that Annhad visited much earlier in the day "lunch" could mean any time .

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-28 12:43:27
Re: Late.
Hiya, Mike. Many thanks for your comment, appreciated. I could be mistaken but I thought that lunch was around the middle of the day. Except at school, and then it's dinner. Ah, the English language...
Cheers again, :^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

Helena on 2004-07-30 11:45:45
Re: Late.
Sorry for the late comment, but I've a lot of reading to catch up on lol.
Great read! The emotions are well portrayed, the tension slowly builds to the punchline. And I don't think it's too cryptic, I twigged the moment she was told her friend wasn't there... suspicious mind, I guess 😉 Helena

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-31 02:32:08
Re: Late.
Thanks very much for reading and commenting, Helena, appreciated.
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:


Junior's Big Break. (posted on: 21-06-04)
A cub reporter gets his first proper assignment. It seems a straightforward, if slightly bizarre suicide

JUNIOR'S BIG BREAK.

"You up to covering an assignment by yourself yet, Junior?"

"Oh, I reckon so," I said, trying to keep a grin off my face. Since joining the Mid-Oregon Weekly Round Up from college, I'd only been allowed to cover charity fetes and write up routine court reports or fillers about cats stuck up trees. The other two reporters got all the juicy stuff like reviewing baseball championships and investigating sex scandals.

"Good, because there's no one else available right now," Ray Garfield, the editor told me, "Apparently there's been a suicide over in Coopersville; see what you can find out about it. Here's the address. Take the pick-up and stick twenty bucks of gas in it. Don't forget the receipt." He fumbled in his back pocket and passed over a fifty.

"What happened?" I asked.

"What happened? How the hell should I know! That's what I'm paying you for. Bring back a couple of pizzas and some Cokes when you're done, willya; we've got a busy evening ahead."

I hate Mondays. Everything's got to be finished for the midnight print deadline. "All right. I'll call if it's a front page stopper."

Ray grunted and went back to the shambles on his desk. For a newsman, he was a tad short with words sometimes. I put some gas into the Ford and took the road east to Coopersville. Didn't take long; I was there in twenty-five minutes. Coopersville Domestic & Commercial Freezers, 497, Roosevelt Blvd, it said on the bit of paper. It was easy enough to find; there was a black and white parked outside with two cops leaning on the trunk, talking.

I got out and flashed my Round Up ID nonchalantly. "Morning, officers," I said, "I hear that you've got a suicide. Anything you can tell me?"

The fat one with a mouth full of gum looked me up and down. "Not a lot really, son. White Male Caucasian aged approximately sixty, a new employee. Can't release his name until the coroner says so. Got relatives to trace first."

"Yeah, I know standard procedure," I said, pulling out my notepad like a seasoned pro, "How did he die?"

"Pretty slowly," said the other cop, "Suffocated himself, according to the Medical Examiner."

"Suffocated himself! Jaysus! How the hell did he do that?"

"Inside one of the meat freezer units. Took the inside handle mechanism off first so's he couldn't change his mind and left a note in his pocket saying that he'd had enough."

"Enough of what?"

"That's between him and the Almighty, I guess. It just said: 'I can't breathe in this world anymore.' That's strictly off the record, mind. Like I say, the coroner's the only one supposed to release that sort of information."

"Sure. Horrible way to go, though."

The first cop joined back in. "Yeah you know, the strange thing is that he was wearing top grade thermal wear, heavy boots and gloves. Sure didn't intend to freeze to death first."

"Why the hell would anyone want to stretch a suicide out? How long's he been dead?"

The cop shrugged. "The M.E says it's difficult to tell right now. He must have got in sometime over the weekend. One of the drivers found him this morning. Can't tell you no more than that."

"All right for me to talk with the staff?"

"It's a free country; go right ahead."

The owner was a bit more forthcoming. "It's all over town who he is, or who he was. Bert Coleman. Took him on as a part-time cleaner last week. Quiet sort of feller; didn't speak unless he had to."

"Did he live locally?" I asked.

"Rented a place next to the auto-repair shop on Coldwater Avenue. Lived by himself; never mentioned no family."

There wasn't much he could add to what the police officers had said, so I drove down to Coleman's house. There was a black and white down there too, so I decided to ask the neighbours what they knew.

The first person I spoke to was the old man next door. He was brighter than his decrepit looks gave him credit for.

"Been living here for seven or eight months, like I told them there officers. Didn't say nuthin' to nobody; kept isself to isself. He was one of them 'stronomer fellers, I think. Always in the garden with a telescope lookin' at the sky. Ain't nuthin' else to look at around here, not since Maylene's daddy sent her away 'cause of the Norwegian feller."

Now that could have been an interesting story, by the sound of it.

The next three people I spoke to said much the same thing. Apparently Coleman was just a sad old man with stars in his eyes and rocks in his head. As I was about to drive back to the office, a teenage kid on a bicycle pulled up beside me.

"You a journalist, mister?"

Hah recognition at last! "That's right. Got a scoop for me?"

"You reporting on old Coleman?"

"That's right," I said again.

He looked at me, full of self-importance. "I figure I could've been the last person to see him alive. Ain't no one said they seen him since, anyhow."

"That so! Care to tell me a little more?" I reached into my pocket and offered him the Snickers Bar I'd been saving for my lunch. He gave me a sort of pitiful look and shook his head.

"It was Friday evening, about 9 p.m. I was in the field out the back with my air rifle. Just when I was walking past Mr Colemans' place, I heard someone sobbing. It was a horrible sound, too, like something really bad had happened. Well, I stuck my head over the fence and there he is on his knees, beating his fists on the ground. There was that big telescope next to him that he was always looking through. I thought maybe he'd turned into one of those werewolf things and he was howling at the moon."

I remembered that there was a full moon this week.

"Anyway, I watched for a couple of more minutes and went away. There's something awful about seeing a grown-up cry. Maybe he was one of them screwed up army vets or something."

"You may well be right," I said, "Anything else you can tell me about him?"

"Sorry, mister. He never said nothing all the time he was here; just stayed in his house in the daytime and looked through his telescope at night."

There wasn't going to be much on the suicide in this week's Round Up by the look of it. I bought the kid a soda, drove back, filed sixty words, had a slice of Ray's cheese and ham pizza, helped with the final layout and proof reading and then went home.

Pa was watching the news on TV when I got in. I grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and sat down next to him on the sofa.

"Had a good day, son?"

"Aw, not too bad," I said, "There's a game on at eleven, if you're not watching anything else."

Pa flicked through the channels some crummy sci-fi movie, a documentary on raccoons, the President giving a speech on something and a woman beating up her unfaithful husband and his cross-dressing lover on the Jerry Springer Show. Then the Mid-Oregon Olympians baseball coach appeared, telling us all how they were going to whup the Nevada Nuggets. This was more like it.

Pity the team wasn't as big as his mouth. Pa flicked back to catch up with the news when it was all over.

The President was there again, making a speech against a backdrop of NASA flags and mission emblems.

"What's all that about, Pa?" I said, in between yawns. It was nearly one o'clock and well past my usual bedtime.

"It's a memorial service for the Apollo 18 mission. Yesterday was the twenty-fifth anniversary."

I wasn't even born when that happened! "Memorial service for what?"

"The moon landing tragedy," said Pa, patiently, "Didn't they teach you anything at school?"

"What happened?"

"The lunar module's engine got damaged on landing and the crew couldn't get off again. The two of them died of oxygen starvation; wasn't a damn thing anyone could do. Not even the pilot in the command module up above. Had to come back by himself imagine that, eh! He had a mental breakdown eventually and spent quite a few years in a sanatorium. Apparently he's a recluse in the mid-west somewhere."

I suddenly got a sickly, hollow feeling. "Wasn't called Coleman, was he, Pa?"

"I thought you'd never heard of the mission," he said.

Finish.

(Ending revised after very useful comments.)
Archived comments for Junior's Big Break.
bluepootle on 2004-06-21 04:07:08
Re: Junior's Big Break.
great plot, and I really like the angle. I'm not sure about the way you chose to handle the denouement - the italicised section seems a little too dry, like a big lump of info that sticks in the reader's throat, for me. Would prefer for him to find out a different way, maybe for the Editor to tell him, to make it a more human revelation/disappointment. Hope that sparks some ideas.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2004-06-21 04:52:46
Re: Junior's Big Break.
I can't add much to Aliya's comments. An excellent plot, and not much wrong with the way you've told it. I think I would like to have heard a little more about Coleman, maybe from a neighbour who had made an attempt to befriend him, and I agree about the ending being a bit too slick. I think I would have preferred if there were fewer clues in the news report and the reporter thinks: "Could it be?" but dismisses the idea. Something a tiny bit more open-ended. A very good read though.

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2004-06-21 06:18:43
Re: Junior's Big Break.
I enjoyed this very much, but like the others I thought the "News Report' bit let it down - too much information in one chunk. How about - he's seen the report before he covers the story but doesn't link the two - only the man's name seems familiar - then after he's filed the story he remembers where he saw the name ...

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-06-21 07:05:26
Re: Junior's Big Break.
I reckon everyone else has beat me to the punch. But what I also saw in the story was a sad truth that, while some names like Aldrin and Armstrong stick in the memory, there are far more people that the public consciousness forgets, despite their achievements being virtually the same.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-06-21 12:51:25
Re: Junior's Big Break.
Damn it, Bluepootle, why didn't I think of that! Once again, you're absolutely right; I'm going to revise the ending along those lines. Thanks very much for your comments.
:^)


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-06-21 12:52:00
Re: Junior's Big Break.
Many thanks for your time and comments, Sirat. It seems that the ending does require overhaul. I'll have to put some more thought into it. I think I tripped myself up in trying to keep the word count down.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-06-21 12:52:33
Re: Junior's Big Break.
Hello, Shadow. A case of vox populi re the ending, it appears. A rework is underway.
Your comments much appreciated.
:^)


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-06-21 12:53:13
Re: Junior's Big Break.
Hi, Karl, thanks for stopping by. Apparently Michael Collins, who remained alone in the Command Ship for 22 hours during the first Moon landing mission, didn't mind his total isolation or being overshadowed by Aldrin and Armstrong's achievements at all. So he said, anyway. I remember watching the landing live as a fourteen-year-old – absolute magic, despite the fuzzy b&w pictures and distorted voices. And the technology that got them there was Stone Age by today's standards.

The revised version is posted above.


Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-06-21 15:41:19
Re: Junior's Big Break.
Well I never got a chance to see the un-revised version.

This is a great read. I love the way he found out about who the suicide bloke was. A very interesting piece.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-06-22 12:11:25
Re: Junior's Big Break.
Thanks, Claire -- it must have been a difficult read with the temporary formatting problems. Glad you liked it.
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-06-22 17:55:04
Re: Junior's Big Break.
Well I've come to this after the revisions, it seems. All I can say is I like it; in fact, can't find anything wrong with it, (except its too short). The storyline is great, really imaginative, and I for one didn't foresee the ending. I like the way it moves along lickety split, like the chirpy dialogue. Hope you get it published, because it should be. also, yes, agree with Karl's point, we should pay more attention to those who don't get the attention they deserve.

Author's Reply:

alcarty on 2004-06-22 19:25:41
Re: Junior's Big Break.
Good presentation. Nice piece of writing. Al

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-06-23 12:13:12
Re: Junior's Big Break.
Hi, Skeeter. Thanks very much for your kind words. It's true that my stories are getting shorter; perhaps I'm cutting them a little close to the bone now. I prefer writing pieces of between two and three thousand words but I'm not sure that I should keep on inflicting them on people who've never done me any harm. Yes, it's a shame about 'also ran's'; people working quietly in the background rarely seem to get the acclaim they deserve. The Bletchley Park codebreakers are a good example, Alan Turing in particular. And look at the treatment he got after the war: hounded to death for matters concerning his private life.
Cheers, Steve. :^)


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-06-23 12:14:02
Re: Junior's Big Break.
I appreciate that, Al. Thanks.
Regards, Steve :^)


Author's Reply:

drewgum on 2004-06-24 02:08:28
Re: Junior's Big Break.
Steve,

Enjoyed this one - zips along and has a story to tell.

A few things; repetition of 'so' is clumsy;
"so I drove down to Coleman's house. There was a black and white down there too, so I decided to ask"

When he's speaking to the policeman there's a bit too much free standing dialogue (the dialogue is all great by the way) I'd slip in a very brief description of the place.

The father's speech at the end I'd cut everything after 'Imagine that'. You don't need to explain too much. We as readers could imagine.

I liked the opening sentence but just thought it would be nice to get a moon reference in the opening - without being too obvious. But that might spoil the zip.

One thought about the reporter - all his investigation comes from chatting to people. It would be nice if he broke into Coleman's house to get the story (he's a hungry young reporter out for a story) and also then you could describe Coleman's life through his eyes and we'd get a better idea about Coleman too. Could be a crummy room, beer cans, messy, model of a rocket on the windowledge.

That's it. As I said I liked it a lot. Don't see why you couldn't put the same character in different situations.

Regards,

Drew.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-06-24 12:54:16
Re: Junior's Big Break.
Thanks, Drew; plenty of food for thought there. Maybe I tried to squeeze a pint into a wine glass with this one. I may well rewrite it at some stage. Thanks for your comments, points taken.
Cheers for now,
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:


Wish You Were Here (posted on: 14-06-04)
A fun night in has unexpected results for Toby. Contains things unsuitable for grannies, vicars, and those of a squeamish disposition.
(Originally posted last year and re-submitted after implementing some useful suggestions by Bluepootle and Ruadh.)


WISH YOU WERE HERE.


Toby looks at himself in the bathroom mirror
Yeah sharp, my man, very sharp. Let's have a touch of after-shave to get her juices going. He dabs his face and neck with Old Spice and gives his armpits another squirt of Brut. Best be sure. Now then what to wear? Nothing too flash, seeing as we're not going out. He crosses into the bedroom, singing We've Got Tonight, and opens the closet. He decides on fawn chinos and a light blue button-down collar shirt. Then he chooses a pair of tan brogues. Move over, Tom Cruise Toby Bishop's the man tonight.

When he's finished dressing, he goes downstairs to the lounge and pours himself a vodka and tonic. Didn't give away much about herself last night, though. Wonder what she's into? Never been picked up by a woman in a bar before. Well I'm easy-going; I'll do most things to oblige as long as I get what I like out of it afterwards. What's the time? Just gone seven. Better get the wine out of the freezer before it turns to slush. Better clean up the bathroom too. Don't want her to think that I'm a slob.

***

The doorbell rings. Toby smoothes his shirt down, looks at himself once more in the hallway mirror and opens the door. It's her. He takes her in with one greedy swallow of his eyes. She looks even better than last night. Still about forty, though. Curly auburn hair. Pixie face. Black eyeliner. Fair-sized breasts pushing against a white blouse. Black knee-length skirt. She's about shoulder height to him. She's holding a black leather bag in her left hand. Whoa-hoa! What's in that? He can hardly wait to find out. His balls tingle. She smiles at him. The corners of her eyes crinkle.

'Jacqueline! You're looking really good .' He moves to one side and sweeps his arm towards the lounge. 'Come in, come in.'

'Toby! And you're just what the doctor ordered,' says Jacqueline, and brushes his crotch with her hand as she squeezes past him.

Toby's balls tingle even more. 'Make yourself comfortable while I bring us some wine. Red or white? Or would you rather have something else?'

'Do you have whisky?' she asks.

'Single malt or blended,' he says. He doesn't really know the difference between them but he likes to have both so as to appear suave to his female visitors.

She drops the holdall, grabs his head and pulls it towards hers. Her lips are hard against his; her tongue darts against his teeth. Then she steps back and runs her hand along the inside of his thigh.

'Red wine for me. The whisky's for you,' she says, 'A very large one. This is playtime. And I want to play right now.'

Toby can't believe his luck. He didn't expect to kick off before the whistle blew.

'I'll be right back,' he says, watching her finger the top button of her blouse.

He goes into the kitchen. He nearly spills the wine as he pours it. As he takes the Scotch from the cupboard, he hears her call out: 'Bring the bottle of whisky with you.'

This is very peculiar, he thinks. Still, as long as it gets us between the sheets.

She is standing in her underwear when he returns. Black lacy bra and matching panties. Stockings, suspenders, black high heels. He almost drops the drinks. The guys at work are going to love hearing about this one. Bishop never has to bash his own, as he always tells them.

'Drink,' she orders, pointing to his glass, 'A nice big swallow for Jacqueline and you might get one back if you're a good boy.'

A dominatrix, or whatever they're called, thinks Toby. Oh, well, why not he's had worse, and he is very partial to dipstick lipstick. So he throws back half the neat Scotch in one go. The inside of his nose burns like pepper and his eyes water. He's not used to drinking whisky like that. He's not very fond of it, either.

'Ooooh, I'm going to like you, Toby,' she breathes, and takes her wine from his shaking hand. She sips it and licks her lips. 'Now take me to your bed.'

No fucking about with this one. She likes the driving seat. He leads her up the stairs. She's got her wine in one hand and the bag in the other. The bedroom door is already open and the soft bedside light is on. He's having a little difficulty walking, due to inflation.

She puts her glass down onto the bedside table and pushes his towards his mouth. 'Finish nice medicine off for Jacqueline.'

The whisky doesn't burn quite so much this time but it's gone to his head in a rush. His groin is smouldering, though. He notices that there are fading bruises under her bra straps. Looks like she likes her sex rough. Sorry, not for me, babe not my idea of fun.

She takes his glass and pours another whisky for him. There are four measures in there, at least. 'One more and then we can get down to business,' she says, 'Bottoms up.'

Toby doesn't want to do this, but then again, he doesn't want to miss out on a wild screwwhich he thinks it's going to beonce she's got the upper hand. So he tilts his head back and pours the whisky down his throat. This time his body complains. He chokes and the whisky sprays from between his lips and dribbles onto his shirt.

'Oh, has poor little Toby had an accident?' says Jacqueline in a soothing voice, 'Better let Jacky-Wacky sort um out. Toby-Woby take off clothes.'

So Toby starts taking his button-down-collar shirt and chinos off. As he's struggling to get his fly undone, Jacqueline is unzipping the bag. Despite suddenly being stunned by the whisky, and increasingly so by the minute, he's beginning to get concerned. He's expecting whips and leather masks. Or maybe nappies and a dummy. What he doesn't expect, when he's standing there bollock-naked with a hard-on, is a smart grey suit, silk shirt, and chintz tie to be laid out on the bed. She takes out a portable CD player and turns it on. It sounds like Pink Floyd. He doesn't mind; it's good music to screw to.

'Jackie-Wacky likes her lovers to look smart before she fucks them,' she says, pointing to the clothes.

His head is swimming now, but clears pretty quickly when Jacqueline reaches behind her back, unclips her bra and thrusts her breasts towards him. So the clothes go on: first the shirt, then the trousers (which are very tight to zip), and then the jacket. It's odd that she knows my size, he thinks

'What about the nice tie?' suggests Jacqueline, tracing small circles on his chest with her fingers.

Toby tries to make a neat job but fails miserably. He's not paying enough attention to it.

'Perhaps this particular tie doesn't suit Toby-Woby,' says Jacqueline, taking it off, 'Let Jacky-Wacky find you another one.' She reaches down into the bag and passes him another. This one is green with black diagonal stripes. This time she fastens it around his neck herself.

'Oh, yes. Much better,' she says, as her hands slide down to his crotch, 'Would Toby like to lie down on the bed. Toby looks a lickle bitty tired. Jacky-Wacky lie down with you.'

And Toby is a little tired. The jolts of whisky on top of the earlier vodkas have made sure of that. So he lies down and lets Jacqueline put him to sleep nicely with her hands and mouth.

When he wakes up, Toby doesn't like what's happening. He doesn't like it at all. This is because his wrists are tied to the bed with the neckties and there is a gag around his mouth. The clothes beside him reek of whisky. Jacquelinewho is most definitely not Jacky-Wacky anymoreis astride him with a Stanley knife in her hand. Her lips are pulled back over her teeth and her eyes are burning pools of hate.

She pinches his cheek with the other hand. 'You drunken fucking bastard,' she hisses.

He grunts in pain and surprise and tries to buck her off, but finds that his legs are tied to the bed as well. The knife blade flashes in front of his eyes.

'Keep still, you pissed-up, stinking pig.'

But it's difficult to keep still when the knife starts to trace a path down his chest. It's easy to sweat, though.

'You disgusting heap of crap.' He feels the blade drawing lightly across his stomach.

'You fucking mental pygmy.' She's straddling his knees now, holding a tuft of pubic hair between two fingers. He watches, horrified, as she yanks it like a garden weed and saws it away from his belly. He bites his quivering lip. The blade slides down further. It's at the base of his penis now. He cries out under the gag; he can't stop himself.

'Shut your fucking mouth.'

He can shut it but he can't stop the sobs as the knife follows the contours of his prick: along the top, underneath, and then slowly over his testicles. She grips his scrotum as if it were the neck of a chicken about to be slaughtered. The flat of the blade pushes hard against his contracting balls. His eyes roll wildly and whisky, acrid and sour, bites the back of his throat. He clamps his buttocks together. His screams are muffled by the gag. He pisses himself.

Wish You Were Here swirls through her laughter as she climbs from the bed.

***

Jacqueline is home and safely in bed long before her husband lurches into the house from the casino, full of whisky and simmering violence. She's made sure that his grey suit is hidden away until she can get it cleaned tomorrow. He may want to wear it to work on Monday. The shirt is in the washing machine. And as for his ties well, she can afford to leave them at her various assignations.

She's got plenty more of the same in the boot of her car.



Archived comments for Wish You Were Here
expat on 2004-06-17 12:15:33
Re: Wish You Were Here
Blimey – out for a duck! Never had a story blown out like this before. Undaunted, expat gives himself an eleven, states that it's the best thing he's submitted all week and goes off to write something else.
:^) XXX expat.


Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-06-17 16:32:23
Re: Wish You Were Here
You haven't been blown out!

I'm a little late, but never mind I'm commenting now. I've been very busy.

And I bloody love it! Revenge is so sweet and for it to be on an innocent horny guy makes this story great. I also love her way of torture, I must remember that the next time my hubby pisses me off!! Just joking! Sort of.

I can't think of any way you could make this any better. It seems perfect the way it is. Well I hope others get round to read it for you and comment, 'cause it is a damn good read!

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-06-18 13:00:01
Re: Wish You Were Here
Appreciated, Claire (Susannah York!) This one's been on an Atkins revision diet for eight or nine months and I don't think I can do any more to it now. Glad you liked it and thanks again. If you start finding boxes of Dairy Milk under your pillow, you'll know that your husband's read it…
:^) X Steve.


Author's Reply:


Bloody Hell (posted on: 28-05-04)
What if men got the curse instead of women An example of how one day might turn out.


BLOODY HELL.


Someone had left the reception PA switch on. I got it all in ten-watt clarity. So did half the workforce of Bagshott & Grippe (Surgical Appliances) Ltd.

'Hello, Julie,' boomed the speakers, 'What's the matter with Mr Miflin this morning, he's like a bear with a sore head? He's just ticked me off for being a minute late back from tea break.'

'Oh, hi, Sharon. Yeah he's got a right one on today. We're all keeping our heads down, with him prowling around looking for a good excuse to tear a strip off someone. Got the painters in, I reckon.'

There was a shriek of scathing laughter. 'So that's why he's always crabby about the middle of the month. Imagine being his wife and having to put up with that, eh?'

'Yeah, enough to drive you mad. Why can't he take some of those tablets for it; they're always advertised in the men's magazines, "Don't let the curse make you worse," and all that stuff. You take my Trevor he uses Banish Hor-Moan; hardly ever get any trouble with him now. Well, except for the odd tantrum and cup smashed against the wall. Bit difficult to imagine what it's like, isn't it? A week of whining and bitching about the most stupid, trivial things you can think of, irrational moods, and on top of that you've got to wear shreddies like giant Pampers. Can't be much fun, I s'pose, can it, Ju?'

'S'pose not, Sharon. Glad we don't have to put up with things like that. Wish he would do something about his moods, though; he's such a nice guy the rest of the time. Men and their hormones honestly, I wouldn't be one for a million pounds!'
***
Hmmm, perhaps they did have a point. I thought about it after I'd given them both a written warning for idling. And for publicly spreading details of my hormonal cycle all over the premises. We men are very touchy about such things. How would they feel if the boot was on the other foot, so to speak. Women they don't know they're born.

My DO NOT DISTURB sign was up, all calls held. Last month's copy of Hombre was hidden under the bottom drawer of my desk. The advertisements were at the back but I checked all pages just to make sure that one hadn't sneaked in where it shouldn't. I got to the back of the magazine eventually.

Don't Let Period Pain Bring You Down, proclaimed one advertisement, against a picture of a steely-eyed, strap-encumbered parachutist. Or maybe he was a bondage devotee. Quigley's Pads For That Certain Time. No, not what I was looking for.

Banish Period Blues and Reds, trumpeted another. This looked more promising. Doctor Baloney's Patented Hormonal Equaliser for Men. The list of claims was certainly impressive. Not so was the price. For only 16.99, it said, I would be spared Pre Men Tens, lower back pain, stomach cramps, mood swings, and the possibility of hot flushes. Not only that, but it promised relief from swollen gonads. Now that would be worth the money on its own merits; I was tired of walking around like John Wayne. His middle name was Marion, not many people know that. All orders despatched under plain cover within 14 days. Cheques made payable to Dr Baloney, Cash On Delivery available at extra cost.

Sorry, not good enough. I needed to be fixed now.

I wriggled uncomfortably in my chair. Time for a change: the third one this morning. I went to the toilets. The DO NOT DISTURB sign came down when I got back. After the public revelations over the Tannoy, no one was going to have bothered me anyway. Why do women always treat you like a social leper when it's rag time?

The morning dragged on in misery. Who'd be a man where's the fairness? All right women have got to haul a baby around for nine months, but who is it that gets the morning sickness? Us poor men. I was sick every day for the first four months of our pregnancy. Couldn't eat anything with wheat in it. Tired all the time. And we've got to shave, as well.

The lunch hooter went at one o'clock, just as I was having doubts about being able to make it through the day. It was no good; I was going to have to do something about these periods. Periods epochs, more like. There was a chemist down the road, just past the park. I'd see what they'd got.

I looked out of the window it was raining. Why, why, why did it have to rain when I wanted to go out, for Christ's sake? The waste paper bin went flying as I realised that I'd left my coat in the car. And where were my keys? I emptied my pockets. Nothing. No, no, NO. I must have left them in the ignition. I remembered pushing the door lock down.

Now I couldn't get into the blasted car. What happened to the spare set of keys? Oh, for duck's sake, where are they?

Mr Truscott, the manager walked in. He must have heard the commotion as I cursed and raged as every drawer in my desk was overturned. Tears ran down my face in rivers.

He put a comforting arm around my shoulders and gave me a gentle hug. That only made me worse. Now the floodgates were open. Great salty blobs smudged the orders for heavy-duty mercerised cotton and 3mm spring steel.

'Time of the month, old chap?' he enquired, gently. His tone was so comforting and understanding that I broke into a new set of tears. It was all I could do to nod.

'Sit down, Leonard, old man,' he said, passing me a tissue. He squeezed my hand until the tears dried. 'Better?'

'Yes, thank you, Mr Truscott I'm sorry, everything just seemed to be getting on top of me, one thing after another, and then I couldn't find my jacket and then I realised that my car keys were ' I was off again. More tissues came my way.

'There, there,' said Mr Truscott, soothingly, 'It'll soon pass.'

'But it'll be back in a month,' I sobbed.

He pressed something into my hand. 'Try these,' he said, 'If they help, you can get some more in Horrigan's Homeopathic Medicines, down by the clock tower.'

I looked at the small brown bottle. Re-Cycle, Instant Relief for Men's Monthly Problems. I shook it. It rattled. I tried to look inside. It had one of those childproof caps on it. It wouldn't undo. I started to sniff again. Mr Truscott took it from me, twisted the top deftly and passed me a small pink tablet.

'Make you feel better than new,' he said, picking up a magazine from the floor, 'Do you mind if I borrow your Hombre?'
***
I couldn't believe it. Within an hour, I was a changed man. Gone was the crying game, gone was the irritability, plugged was the volcano of bubbling emotions. I could have watched the Teletubbies being massacred by a horde of machete-wielding savages without bursting into tears. Mind you, I could have done that before.

Whistling the 1812 Overture, I despatched old Grubbe, the sweeper, to the baker's shop with a ten-pound-note. The two written warnings on my desk went into the bin. Grubbe returned, laden with confectionery; the chocolate clairs and apple turnovers went down very well with everybody at tea break. I made up my mind to write glowing testimonials regarding the efficacy of Re-Cycle.

Five o'clock came at last; Grubbe, as well as fetching the cakes, had opened my car door with a bent coat hanger. It was Friday and everyone was in high spirits with two work-free days to look forward to. Even my newfound tranquillity couldn't induce an early return to my miserable wife. So I went to the Abbatoir Arms. I was so caught up in the euphoria of reduced hormonal flow that I decided to make a night of it. The car keys went behind the bar, along with a fair percentage of my wages.

Well, I don't know about you guys, but I always get randy at blob time and tonight was no exception. Supercharged hormones were whizzing around my plumbing, hotly pursued by alcohol.

And then I caught her eye. I'd just returned from the bar: double vodka and tonic, thank you very much, when she sat down at the end of the table with a glass of something blue. Five foot, six, or so, nicely built with a touch of plumpness, just the way I like them. Dark shoulder-length bobbed hair, green eyes big enough to swim in and high cheekbones that made me think of an Indian squaw. She was wearing jeans and a blue sweater that did nothing to hide breasts that wouldn't have looked out of place in the Himalayas.

Her name was Lisa. I asked her and she told me. Just like that. Before long, we were chatting as if we'd known each other all evening. People who've known each other for years generally haven't got anything left to say to each other.

'What beautiful eyes you've got,' I said, looking at her hooters.

She smiled coyly and brushed the back of my hand with her fingertips. There was a jolt of sexual voltage. The National Grid prepared to go into overload.

'I bet you say that to all the girls,' she said, licking her lips.

'Only the girls I want to seduce,' I said. The vodka was going to my head, doing a U turn and heading south in search of mischief.

'I see you're married,' she commented, looking at my ring.

'Yes,' I said. I'm not very good at telling lies. 'But she's been missing for over a year. She hired a canoe in Weston-Super-Mare and she's never been seen since.'

'How awful for you,' she said, running her fingers along the top of my thigh.

'Thank you,' I said, reciprocating. My wife had never been to Weston-Super-Mare in her life, never mind set foot in any type of any self-propelled vessel. She was probably at this second lying on the couch with a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth, watching Eastenders or some other such twaddle. I'd bet next month's wages that she was wearing those ridiculous slippers that looked like shocking pink lapdogs.

'You poor man,' she continued, squeezing my hand, 'Dreadful.'

Yes, that was true; my wife was dreadful for me. 'I'm sure that I'll get over it eventually,' I said, 'I just need to keep my mind from dwelling on it.'

She leaned over and planted a great smacker of a kiss on my cheek. Warning lights flashed in the Grid Control Room.

'My car's in the car park,' I said, 'Right over in the dark bit by the wall.'

'Reclining seats?'

I must have been reeking of those subliminal pheromones. The barman returned my car keys with a word of caution. 'Don't worry,' I said, 'I'm not going anywhere, leastwise, not in the car.'

When I returned to the table, there was a touch of Chanel in the air. Lisa's lipstick had been touched up. The rest of her was about to follow.

Five minutes later, we were engaged in some heavy-duty smooching. Her lips tasted sweet and her tongue hinted at things to come. She was lying on top of me with the seat fully reclined. My hands had disappeared under her sweater and were fumbling with her bra strap. The car began to get awfully hot; groans and low moans filled the chinks in the silence. I fumbled my way past her belt, button, and zipper and pulled her jeans down to her knees; her panties followed moments later.

By this time, we were both steaming; she was quivering like a leaf on a windy day and I was as excited as any man would be, in identical circumstances. Her hand glided over my crotch and before I knew it, my flies were down. Oh, Christ I was on blob. I'd forgotten!

'No,' I groaned, 'Don't.'

Obviously inflamed by passion, she ignored me. I grabbed her wrist and pushed it away before she could discover my secret. 'No.'

'What the hell's the matter with you?' she demanded, pulling her clothing back to where it belonged, 'You another of these fanny-teasers who gets his kicks by getting women excited and backing off at the last minute? Guys like you really piss me off, no wonder your wife paddled off.'

I tried to explain but I couldn't. I'm actually quite embarrassed to tell girls about my cycle and I'd have died if she'd found out about it the hard way.

'It's not like that,' I bleated to the sound of the passenger door being slammed in my face.

Tears welled up as I watched her storm from the car park. Why couldn't this have happened last week. Or even next week. Anytime but now. Where were the Re-Cycle tablets? I searched my pockets. Nothing. Where were the bloody things? I switched on the roof light. There was a click but no light. Oh, for Christ's sake. I opened the car door the light came on, just in time for me to see the bottle of Re-Cycle pills fall from the seat, onto the sill, onto the ground and roll under the car. No, no, no, no, no.

I hung my head over the edge of the seat and peered underneath. It was pitch-black; lights from the pub sign reflected in a large puddle. Just my bleeding luck the damned things had rolled where I couldn't see them. All right, then.

I put the keys in the ignition, started the car and moved forward. Very unfortunately, I'd forgotten to put the reclining seat up. I only discovered that as I leaned back.

There was a horrible sound of crumpling metal as I shot forward and into something solid. I pulled myself upright by the steering wheel and peered around.

It was a Range Rover, and a nearly new one at that. Its anti-theft alarm was very loud. The rear entrance door of the Abbatoir Arms burst open.
***
The magistrates were unsympathetic. They were women. A twelve-month ban and seven hundred and fifty pound fine for being drunk in charge of a vehicle. A further two hundred and fifty pounds for behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace. The WPC shouldn't have touched me like that. Fourteen years no-claims bonus out of the window and all day in bed on Saturday with an acute case of lover's nuts.

When I die, please God, let me come back as a woman.



Archived comments for Bloody Hell
Skeeter on 2004-05-28 03:19:19
Re: Bloody Hell
Very entertaining read, lively and fun. I like that bit: 'what lovely eyes you have....' I wonder if they can tell? Great stuff.

Author's Reply:

dancing-queen on 2004-05-28 03:59:56
Re: Bloody Hell
Expat, that was a really enjoyable read. Very funny. I loved the advertising slogans you used - very witty. It's good to know what it'd be like if men had to endure the monthly tortures. If you think us women are unbearable at that time, I can bet you anything men would be ten times worse! LOL (You only have to look at when you guys get a little cold - you'd think you were dying LOL). This was great - I actually got a strange sense of satisfaction seeing a guy go through it all. Thanks! DQ x

Author's Reply:

richa on 2004-05-28 04:14:01
Re: Bloody Hell
Very funny and entertaining. And I'm so glad you call it a curse!

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-05-28 05:21:18
Re: Bloody Hell
Hmm...p***ing blood on a monthly basis...not good. It's like the old saying/joke: How can you trust something that can bleed for days without dying? 😉

I've no idea if we'd be as bad as all that, and let's face it, I'm never likely to find out! 😀
Goes with the turf, I suppose. And we men don't get away scot-free: We have to live with this, watching our step and every word out of our mouths...it's like tap-dancing in a minefield.

This had some funny moments...and perhaps some truthful ones, too. 🙂

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2004-05-28 11:43:22
Re: Bloody Hell
Very funny read, I've often wondered how men would cope if they had to go throughthat every month. Mind you, women are sane for the other three weeks, while men have all testosterone addling their brains all the time!

Author's Reply:

neil2 on 2004-05-28 12:05:43
Re: Bloody Hell
I thought this was going to be dull and unsubtly men-bashing but in fact it turned out very very funny and acutely observed.

Choice line for me:
"No wonder your wife paddled off!"

Well worth reading!

Author's Reply:

thehaven on 2004-05-29 00:11:35
Re: Bloody Hell
This a cracker! well written and keeps the attention

..now where are those bloody pills.


Mike

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2004-05-29 05:55:42
Re: Bloody Hell
Expat, I love the complete role reversals, the expression "I was on blob" was so funny.
Life would be different if men had to endure "the curse".


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-29 12:52:34
Re: Bloody Hell
Thanks, Skeeter. Shall we say that it was based on observations over the years… Once, in absolute despair, I bought someone from my past a bottle of homeopathic tablets intended to relieve the aggression of severe PMT. And what happened? She threw them across the kitchen and said: "How dare you! I don't need these stupid $#&@*$! things."

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-29 12:53:33
Re: Bloody Hell
Glad you liked it, DQ; I wondered if I'd pushed my luck with this one! But I do sympathise with you girls, really I do. That is until I walk into a barrage of intense flak for doing absolutely nothing. (The 'nothing' usually being to the garden.) And of course men are wimpy when they're ill. Who wouldn't be when there's the opportunity of being tended to by warm, soft, cuddly, nice-smelling women. Thanks for reading & commenting.
:^) XX Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-29 12:54:13
Re: Bloody Hell
Thanks, Richa. I guess sometimes we men get it easy compared to the fairer sex.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-29 12:55:04
Re: Bloody Hell
Thanks, Karl. Yeah, harmony can be a little fragile when the hormones turn, but who'd be without women… Except in the pub, guitar shops, and when your mates come round. Cheers, Steve.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-29 12:55:49
Re: Bloody Hell
This is very true, Shadow. We men can't be blamed for our high-octane hormonal condition though; we are on a mission from God to perpetuate the species and we take our duties very seriously.
Thanks for stopping by. :^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-29 12:56:42
Re: Bloody Hell
Many thanks for your kind words, Neil2. The subject was too serious to take seriously.
Regards, Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-29 12:57:40
Re: Bloody Hell
Cheers for commenting, Mike. I'll send you a bottle of Re-Cycle around if you give me my magazine back.
Steve


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-29 12:58:22
Re: Bloody Hell

Hi, Spacey. Glad you liked it. Sometimes I reckon it must be great fun to be a girl and other times definitely not. Be interesting to swap for a week of your choice.
Cheers, :^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

discopants on 2004-06-01 03:21:20
Re: Bloody Hell
Entertaining stuff. There are some great lines in theret that made me chuckle and it's all beautifully written.

Author's Reply:

chrissie on 2004-06-01 03:26:35
Re: Bloody Hell
very witty indeed. thanks for sharing.

i actually write some of my best stuff on or during, so don't miss those creative opportunities girls. and i like the fact that i am more spontaneous and therefore likely to be more honest - albeit brutally - at this time. that's what really scares you blokes.

do remember that women are on a mission to perpetute the species too. we do the choosing and we only choose the best specimens..

chrissieX

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-06-01 14:59:49
Re: Bloody Hell
Thanks, Discopants, that's very nice of you.
Cheers, Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-06-01 15:00:40
Re: Bloody Hell
Hi, Chrissy, pleased you found it amusing. Yes, it's true that the fairer sex choose the best examples to perpetuate with, but we devious males try tilt the scales in our favour by plying you with compliments and lots and lots of drinks until even a Marty Feldman look-alike eventually resembles Robert Redford. However, I'm so ugly that I get love letters from warthogs. And yes, I'm very frightened of women at 'Raleigh time'!
Thanks for taking the time to comment.
:^) :^) XX Steve.



Author's Reply:

Leila on 2004-06-02 13:26:02
Re: Bloody Hell
Very entertaining and really well written. Loved the comment that it's too serious to write about seriously...of course I personally couldn't relate to the things that were happening....uhmmm...L

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-06-02 17:25:30
Re: Bloody Hell
Hello, Leila, thank you very much! This story's collected more hits than I expected; luckily none were physical (although Mrs Expat hasn't read it yet).
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

ali364 on 2004-06-04 09:14:17
Re: Bloody Hell

are you sure you're a man?.....scary insight...brilliant stuff.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-06-05 02:02:38
Re: Bloody Hell
Thank you, Ali. I'm definitely a circle with an arrow; perhaps I was a woman in my previous existence!
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:


Give...and Take (posted on: 21-05-04)
This was written as a two-part 'balanced' story but I had no luck in selling it as such. The second part (And Take) was accepted by an American webzine under a new title. I've seen similar examples throughout Africa to those written here; they're not uncommon. Contains language and terms some may find offensive.

GIVE ...

(Two sides of a tarnished coin.)


He was just about to pull away from the border post and take the metalled road to Mangazi via Shunga; the longer way but it avoided the terrible patchwork of tarmac, concrete and packed sand that may or may not have deposited him at his destination. The rainy season was upon them, hinting at caution.

'Halt.'

He looked at his rear view mirror, sighed, disengaged the clutch and slipped the Land Rover into neutral. A heavy-set border guard, one of those sheltering in the shade of the Customs building, strolled towards him, cigarette in hand. Obviously there was some kind of lubrication problem the man's palm had not been greased. He slid the window forward and waited.

'What's the matter?'

The guard, a sergeant, looked at him through expensive Ray-Bans, no doubt appropriated from some timid tourist.

'Your brake light is not working. It is an offence.'

The white man stared at the sergeant, taking in his ragged tiger-striped jungle uniform. The jacket was too big by at least two sizes. Two grenades hung from the breast pockets by their handles, an eighteen-inch panga, its handle splintered, swung from his hips on a green webbing belt. He was wearing cherry-red Doc Marten boots; standard issue for backpackers. They were laced with string. On his head he wore a grubby light blue beret, quite possibly United Nations stock. An AK47 rifle was slung from his shoulder.

'My brake light? Really? It was working just fine on the other side of the border.' He knew what was coming next.

'It is an offence, a very serious offence. You must be fined for this breach.'

The white man's temper began to rise; eight years in Africa had stretched his patience to an invisible thread.

He opened the door, climbed out and reached under the seat. Moments later he brought out a tyre lever. The sergeant watched idly as the white man held the brake pedal down and inserted the tyre lever under the accelerator and clutch, locking the brakes on.

'Let's see now, shall we?' He strode through the sand and stood at the rear of the vehicle. Both brake lights were on, clearly visible in the hard African sun.

'So what's the problem?' he said as the sergeant stood beside him. He smelt of stale sweat and cigarettes.

'They were not working,' he stated heavily, 'It is an occasional fault. It is against the law to use an unsafe vehicle in my country.'

The white man looked wearily at the clattering convoy of cars, bush taxis and buses filtering past him on their route to punctures and mechanical disasters. Many had bald tyres, collapsed suspension and dented body panels. Some had no windscreen wipers. Some had no windscreens. Most were grotesquely overloaded and several were emitting clouds of blue smoke from their exhausts.

'What about these, then?' he said, 'You call these safe?'

'The accused will remain silent,' said the sergeant, aping some cheap American court movie, 'What are you doing in my country, white man?'

The white man took a deep breath, held it for a few moments and released it, slowly, controlled. 'Look I've cleared Immigration and Customs. My documents are in order and stamped. As it happens, I'm here as a technical adviser on a water supply project. I've been helping your government for five months.'

'You have broken the law,' repeated the sergeant. He unslung his rifle menacingly. 'Give me twenty dollars.'

The white man bristled. Half of bloody Africa was like this.

'No way. There's nothing the matter with this vehicle and you damned-well know it.'

The sergeant grinned unpleasantly, his eyes unseen behind the dark glasses. The butt of his rifle swung. Shards of amber plastic fell into the sand.

'See,' he said, 'The light does not work.'

'You bloody moron that's the indicator.'

'Aaah, I see. Now we have two offences to consider. Give me forty dollars.'

The white man exploded, despite the AK47 in the sergeant's hands.

'I'm fucking well sick of you people and your corruption. Everywhere I go it's the same money, money, money. You hate the white man, don't you ? you want him out of your continent, don't you? Well, if you don't want the wazungu here, why don't you give back all his technology, eh? electricity, clean water supplies, sewerage, hospitals, roads, cars, aeroplanes, telephones, televisions, radios, videos. Even your clothes and weapons. A mighty fine sight you'd look standing outside your border post mud hut in animal skins and a fucking spear.'

His face reddened with exasperation, amplified by the heat. He spat on the sand.

'You're quick enough to beg aid from the white men you like to hate when your crops fail or your rivers overflow or when you need food and tents and medicine. And where does most of that money go? Where does it go ..? I fucking well know where into the pockets of greedy hyenas like you.'

The sergeant leant against the Land Rover, stretched luxuriously and lit a Marlboro.

'Give me forty dollars,' he said.



AND TAKE

'What the hell do you think you're doing in my outhouse, munt?'

The black, a skinny boy, hardly into his teens, whirled around at the shout, dropping a half-eaten banana on the dusty floor. He froze as he saw the shotgun in the farmer's hands.

'I asked you what you were doing. Get over here, now, against the wall. Move.'

The farmer jerked the gun towards the end wall of the outhouse, well clear of the two sliding doors. He spat an obscenity, seeing the splintered crate and the banana skins on the floor. There was blood on the broken strips of wood where the boy had used his fingers to get to the fruit.

The boy cowered, seeing the farmer's expression. He slid along the wall, his back hard against the corrugated steel sheet, eyes wide as the twin barrels followed him. There was an explosion of squawks, dust and feathers; two hens, shunted aside by the boy's ankles fled towards the doors, their claws kicking up little puffs of sand.

He half-fell, recovered, and jammed his body into the corner of the building, completely at the mercy of the farmer. His lower lip began to tremble, his eyes glistened with tears.

The farmer drew his foot back and violently kicked an oil funnel at the boy. It missed his head by a hand's-width; he flinched as it clattered against a wall stanchion and fell to the ground.

'Another thieving bleddy nigger. What else have you got of mine, you little black bastard? Empty your pockets, quicktime. Come on.'

The boy reached into the lower pockets of the dirty grey raincoat that he was wearing. He looked up fearfully and began to empty the contents onto the floor: a banana, still green, a bent kitchen knife, its blade broken and chipped, a rusted guitar string fashioned into a snare, two small coins and a pair of cheap, broken sunglasses.

'Inside pockets and shorts.'

The boy hung his head and remained still.

The farmer's eyes narrowed. 'You ignorant little bastard do as you're bleddy-well told or you'll get the beating of your miserable life.'

The boy sobbed once, a deep, heaving gulp of a sob. A fat tear ran down his cheek, leaving a dark trail against his dusty skin.

'Christ's sake do as I tell you.'

Dirty and bloodied fingers unfastened the raincoat, the boy flinching at each button. It hung loosely upon him as he undid the frayed belt.

'Open the bleddy thing you deaf as well as stupid?'

The boy was shaking now, moving his lowered head from side to side in mute refusal.

Click.

He looked up at the decisive sound of the shotgun being cocked. His eyes were full of tears now. The farmer raised the gun to his shoulder. Shame washed over him, an almost visible mist of embarrassment. He pulled the coat lapels back and let the ragged garment fall to the floor. Except for a pair of home-made sandals, he was naked. His ribs showed up in the half light as railway sleepers pushing through his skin.

The skinny black boy and the middle-aged farmer, paunch hanging over the waistband of his green shorts, locked eyes. Inch by inch, the gun was lowered. And then the laughter started, a loud, cruel, vicious laugh that seemed to fill the outhouse and the boy's entire world. The farmer was looking at the boy's dirty, naked, undernourished body, faint wisps of pubic hair barely noticeable against his dark skin. And the longer he looked, the more he laughed.

The boy slowly, and with quiet dignity, bent his knees, picked up the dusty, shabby raincoat and draped it around his shoulders. The farmer's face darkened. He looked at the crates of bananas stacked against the far wall.

'You still hungry, munt?'

The boy looked at him, uncertainly. 'Yes, boss,' he whispered.

The farmer uncocked the gun and put it onto the high seat of a threshing machine. As he turned back, his hand shot out like a chameleon's tongue and grabbed the boy by the shoulders, jerking him out of the corner and onto the floor. Weak, he tried to scramble away but the farmer's grip was too fierce. The back of his head was slammed against the floor.

'Hungry? Hungry? OK eat this.'

The banana that had been in his pocket was rammed into his mouth, the white flesh bursting through the green skin as the farmer squeezed it like toothpaste with his great, meaty hands. The boy gasped and spluttered; his bloody and lacerated fingers clawed at the farmer's wrists; they were torn free, brutally, the crushed fruit was pulled from his mouth and smeared over his face: in his eyes, his nose, his ears, his hair.

At once, the choking grip and swearing stopped. The farmer leapt to his feet, outraged, and aimed a vicious kick at the boy. Brass lace eyelets ripped the back of his thigh, drawing blood. It was then that the boy found the reason for the revitalised assault: he had wet himself, the farmer's shorts were damp where he had sprayed him. Once again, the farmer lashed out but this time agility born of panic saved him. He scrambled clear and darted towards the doors and safety. The hens shrieked in displeasure as he kicked them aside.

Wet coat tails flapping, he raced for the hole in the fence, never once looking back as the raucous laughter followed him, echoing round and round in his skull. He would not have seen the farmer anyway for his eyes were blurred with tears.

His sick mother would have to go hungry tonight.



Archived comments for Give...and Take
SmirkingDervish on 2004-05-21 04:13:37
Re: Give...and Take
I love the way you put these two pieces together. Very much a case of two sides of the same coin, as it were. Certainly worth a read ALTHOUGH I would have possibly had the last bit of 'give' turn out to be what he was thinking rather than what he said, and that maybe he just gave the money in the end.

Author's Reply:

ruadh on 2004-05-21 04:55:04
Re: Give...and Take
great stuff Steve

ailsa

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-21 05:16:12
Re: Give...and Take
Uncomfortable in its content - but a great read. The "take" was particularly well-drawn.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-05-21 05:57:15
Re: Give...and Take
I love the way that guard lets the white guy vent away, then just asks for the money again rather than enter into an argument! The air of 'Yeah, yeah, yeah. Heard it all before" practically leapt out.

I think maybe the 'Take' part could do without the last line. The farmer's treatment of the starving boy speaks for itself, IMO, without the mention of the sick mother.

An effective and powerful piece that needs the language and terms used. They may be unpleasant to read, but they at least reflect the reality.
Good stuff.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-21 12:25:57
Re: Give...and Take
Many thanks for your comments, Smirk. I've been in variations of this 'give' situation on occasions and have sometimes refused to play ball; the way I wrote expressed my/my colleagues reactions. However, it's not recommended to dig your heels in if you've got a plane to catch and you're in somewhere like Kinshasa! Admittedly the ending wasn't exactly PC, but there again, nor are those who get money by coercion.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-21 12:26:38
Re: Give...and Take
Thank you, Ailsa.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-21 12:27:27
Re: Give...and Take
Appreciated, Geezer, I wasn't sure how this one would go down. Some years ago, I saw a French pilot in West Africa throw a half-empty bottle of mineral water into the bush. When a black lad (dressed only in ragged shorts and no more than ten years old) picked it up, the Frenchman called him over, cursed him out and made him empty it onto the ground. I've never forgotten the look on either of their faces. No wonder kids like that grow up with hate.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-21 12:28:13
Re: Give...and Take
Thanks for reading and commenting, Karl. You've got the picture exactly and as you say, the language and expressions had to be realistic to carry the story properly. I'll give your observation about the last line some thought.
Cheers, Steve.


Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-05-21 12:55:26
Re: Give...and Take
Yes there are some b*****d's like this in the world, actually I would say there are a lot of them. Love the two sided story idea. Take is the stronger of the two, well done. To make the first one stronger I think it needs a little bit of violence, black guy beating up white guy or destroying the car more before he pays up. Both are great the way they are though.

Author's Reply:

razorcuts on 2004-05-22 03:00:33
Re: Give...and Take
i thought the first part... dawdled , a bit. maybe it was bit 'wilbur smith border patrol scene', which is fine...for wilbur. i felt that the writer was'nt really convinced with his own argument and it showed as
second was really good. emotive, shocking and left with a feeling of wanting more. i didnt like the last line.

is this a black and white issue?


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-22 06:20:57
Re: Give...and Take
Thanks for your kind words, Claire. I avoided violence and wanton damage in 'Give' because I've never seen it happen and never heard of it from anyone else's experiences.
:^) Steve


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-22 06:22:03
Re: Give...and Take
Thanks for your comments, Razorcuts. There was no 'argument' to convince anyone with, regarding 'Give', the first part; this is the way it is in many parts of Africa and the white man's reaction was an outlet of the frustration that builds up under these (repeated) circumstances. I lived in Africa for ten years and have been through twelve of its countries including a year in (the then) Zaire, where corruption is rife. This is not peculiar to Africa, of course, I'm sure that many could tell of similar experiences in South America.

This is most definitely not a black/white issue – I have many good black friends and conversely there are several black people that I don't like, including the three robbers that terrorized my family with pickaxes at four o'clock in the morning when I wasn't in the house. There are also a lot of Europeans and Australasians I dislike. Further to that, my wife is of coloured stock, her family originating from the Cape.

I like to think that I gave a fair airing to both parties in this story; uncomfortable in its content, as Geeza said, but indicative, nevertheless. It was never intended to be contentious.

I will look at the final line again, as both yourself and KDR have mentioned it. Thanks again for reading,
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

Gee on 2004-05-31 04:32:50
Re: Give...and Take
A very powerful story here and I liked the fact that you showed it from two points of view.
Both show the abuse of power perfectly. You have it slight understated in the first, but, as the white man is well aware, he can do nothing but accede to the demands. The brutally of the second part is shocking, but somehow balances it.
I didn't find it offensive and I sympathised with the boy in the second part far more than the man in the first. After all, he had no choice but to be there. The man in the first part did have the choice to leave the country.
Brilliantly written.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-31 12:23:58
Re: Give...and Take
Thanks very much for reading and commenting, Gee; you've interpreted the story exactly as it was meant to come across. The tragedy of the first example is that eventually expatriates will refuse to work in Third World countries where corruption is endemic and technological progression/maintenance/essential repairs will grind to a halt. In the second representative example, the black child will grow up disliking—if not hating—the whites and may even actively support 'freedom' organisations such as the so-called war veterans of Zimbabwe and the (rigged) ruling party, ZANU-PF, stealing from, beating and even murdering white farmers and their families without fear of lawful consequences. Some may say that Ian Smith's injustices to the blacks in the Rhodesian days brought this on.
Whatever, these problems are going to be with us for a very long time, I fear.
Again, thanks for your time,
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:


A Beast in the Boot. (posted on: 14-05-04)
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Location: Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Time: Early 1960's.
This is based on a true story told to me by an old African hand; he was there when it happened. I've embroidered it a little and changed some names, but it was far funnier to hear it standing around the bar, lubricated by Castle beer.
With thanks to Pat Wesson, now somewhere in the Cape Flats, RSA.


A BEAST IN THE BOOT.


Obviously Mervyn wouldn't be needing his car tonight. Malaria has that effect on your social life. Fortunately the steel skins of Morris 1000's are more resistant to mosquitoes than that of their owners so there was no reason why this particular vehicle should languish in the Kashangani Hospital car park while Mervyn sweated, shivered and shook himself through the next two or three days.

"Mr Cunningham? He's in Room Three," said the nurse, "I think you'll find he's rather poorly. Is it urgent?"

Urgent Well, yes, I suppose it was. There was a party tonight at the Bindalani Customs point, twenty miles south, and there was no way of getting there after the engine of my Land Rover had run itself into eternity thanks to a rock through the sump. Dries van Rensberg and myself had promised two of the new English nurses that we'd show them how the Rhodesian Customs Department could entertain their guests. Surely Mervyn wouldn't mind giving us the keys to the Morris.

Anyway, I went to Mervyn's private room. The poor chap was comatose and his pillow sodden with sweat.

"Just borrowing your car for a while, Mervyn," I said, "Don't mind, do you?"

He didn't say anything. He didn't open his eyes either. I repeated the question. Again he didn't say anything. I took his silence as tacit agreement, removed the keys from his locker drawer and headed towards the car park before he could change his mind. I've always maintained that he was a splendid chap. Bit tight with his whisky, though.

I looked at my watch as I pulled out of the car park and turned left towards Chikawe: nearly half-past four. A quarter of an hour to get to home, half an hour to get cleaned up, another fifteen minutes to get back to the nurses home. We could be on our way by five-thirty if Dries was ready. I rang him as I was dressing. He was; I picked him up from his bungalow on the way back to the hospital.

"All set, Dries?' I said. A mist of after-shave followed him into the passenger seat.

"Yar, man I've got a thirst like a camel," he replied in his thick accent, passing me a cold Bollingers from his rucksack and taking two for himself, "Mervyn didn't mind lending you his car, then?"

"Well, he didn't say I couldn't," I said, "Let's pick up the ladies and be on our way; the lights on this thing aren't much better than a glow-worm."

The sun goes down quickly in Africa and at this time of year, ten to six was dusk.

The girls were waiting for us outside their accommodation block. The taller one, June, was holding a half bottle of Bells and the other, Trudy, had a half bottle of J&B. That was our fuel to Bindalani taken care of. June got up front with me while Dries kept Trudy company in the back. Pretty soon the drinks were going down as quickly as the sun and the girls were starting to lose their British reserve. The Bells and the most of the beer were gone by the time we reached the halfway point and the Morris was purring away like the well-oiled machine it was.

The last of the sunlight disappeared then there was nothing to see but a black ribbon of tarmac in the headlight beam, edged with high yellow grass and the occasional thorn tree. June, I thought, looked very attractive in the glow from the speedometer lamp.

And then, all I can remember seeing was a pair of close-set eyes glittering in the headlights, and a grey shape behind them. We were doing about thirty-five miles an hour; it was too late to brake. I pulled the wheel hard over but hit whatever it was with the left wing. There was a hell of a thump and a loud curse from the back. I pulled up, half off the road, in a cloud of dust.

"Spilt my bliddy drink," exclaimed Dries, "Went all over my lap, damn it!"

"Oh dear," I said, took Mervyn's torch from the glove compartment and got out, followed by the others.

The wing wasn't a pretty sight. Nor was the creature lying awkwardly on the roadside. I recognised it immediately; it was an adult, four and a half stones at least, and lying quite, quite still. A trickle of blood ran from its nose and its eyes were closed tightly. It can't have felt a thing. Well, not much, anyway. We gathered around.

"Gosh what is it?" asked Trudy.

"Dead," said Dries, prodding it with the toe of his boot. He had a peculiar sense of humour.

"A baboon," I said, "A Chacma baboon. Didn't see the ruddy thing in this light."

"Looks rather like Frankie Howard," said June.

She had a point. Baboons do tend to have long and mournful faces when they've been struck by half a ton of British steel.

"What're we going to do with it?" I said, "and more to the point, what about this bloody great ding in the wing?"

"Ag, man, that'll knock out easy enough," said Dries dismissively and quite wrongly,
"Let's take the thing to Bindalani: its head should look quite good mounted on the wall."

"It's probably full of fleas and things," said Trudy, turning her nose up.

"Let's get the bliddy thing into the boot and be on our way," said Dries, "Give me a hand."

So we dragged the baboon out of the scrub; Trudy opened the boot and we stuffed the limp shape inside. Dries dusted his hands and slammed the lid as I shone the torch over the crumpled wing again. One headlight was broken and so was the sidelight. The wing was pushed back almost onto the tyre. Well, there was no point in dwelling on it; what was done was done. I'd think about that tomorrow.

We hopped back in, giggling, and set off again, this time a little slower. I didn't have much choice: as I said earlier, the lights were pretty feeble to begin with and with only one headlight left, I thought it wise to limit our speed to fifteen mph or so. The next time it could be an elephant we hit.

Bindalani Customs Post 1 Mile, Turn Left Ahead For Staff Housing, said the sign about three drinks later. It was now as dark as the inside of a mole's wallet and I was perspiring like crazy, despite the open windows and ventilator fan.

"Bliddy hot," said Dries as we turned off the tarmac, "Makes a man thirsty, get a move on, there's a good chap."

I pressed the accelerator a little more. We bumped our way down the sand track and hit a pothole unlit by the broken lamp; the suspension bottomed and there was a horrible groaning sound from the rear.

"Never mind tough things, these Morrises," said Dries, "Nothing to worry about."

Not for him, there wasn't. A minute later the lights of the Customs Post appeared. It was still open and would be until eight o'clock. There were about fifteen or so officers based here and responsible for the entire Bindalani District, which was about the size of Devon and Somerset combined. But if their past record was to be considered, they'd be responsible for very little by midnight. They were drinkers to a man and the party would really be taking off when the last three officers locked the gates and got stuck in.

We pulled up outside the Mess. A group of customs officers and guests were lounging around the thatched bar with glasses in their hands. They greeted us with roars of approval as we got out.

"And about time as well, you old reprobates," shouted someone, "Acquaint us with these lovely girls, won't you?"

We jealously made introductions, ordered some drinks and caught up with the latest rumours and scandal.

"Listen to this, chaps," I said when our turn came, "You'll never guess what happened to us on the way over."

The circle drew closer. "Well, hardly we weren't there, were we?" This was from a gauche beanpole I recalled as Cutts, recently posted from Chirundu.

"Knocked a ruddy great Chacma down and killed it. Made a real mess of the left wing."

"It's in the boot," chipped in Dries, "We thought you might like it as a trophy."

"Marvellous stuff! Let's have a looksee," said the superintendent, "Just the sort of thing to improve the Mess display.

Everyone trooped over to see our trophy.

" The next thing I knew was this almighty thump and a grey blur flying past us," I said, opening the boot, "and then"

"RUUUARRRRGH."

We all leapt back as a snarling Chacma baboon lurched at us from the darkness of the boot. Its breath was rancid and a paw narrowly missed my face. I threw myself back and slammed the boot lid. There was a dreadful howl from inside; I suspected that I'd trapped its fingers.

"Bloody hell!" I said, looking around, "I thought it was dead." There was no one within ten yards of me. Someone in the shadows laughed nervously. The sounds from inside the boot increased.

Gradually the onlookers filtered back.

"Seems rather angry," said Cutts, "Perhaps you'd better take it away, old man."

I didn't like this much. There was no way that I was going to open the boot again with that bundle of malice waiting to revenge itself.

"Not bloody likely," I said, "Someone else can do the honours."

No one spoke for a while. "Perhaps we should kill it?" suggested somebody eventually.

"We?"

"Well someone's got to do it, in case it attacks one of the villagers," said a swaying senior hand, pointing to Cutts, "and I'm detailing you."

"Me! How, for Christ's sake?" protested Cutts.

"With a shotgun. Both barrels should do it. Unless you're afraid, of course"

"Afraid? Of course I'm not afraid; don't be ridiculous," muttered Cutts, plainly not having the courage to ignore the challenge to his manliness.

There were drunken shouts of encouragement as he fetched the weapon from the armoury. I grudgingly volunteered to help.

"As soon as I open the lid, let him hop out and then blast him," I said, "Don't miss because we'll have a very cross primate out for blood."

"All right," he replied uncertainly, "Let's get on with it."

The others melted into the security of the building as we approached the boot.

"Ready?" I asked. I noticed that he was sweating badly.

He nodded. I stood by the rear wing, leaned over and pushed the boot release button. The lid was barely open six inches when he leapt to one side, poked the shotgun into the gap and let off both barrels together.

BAROOOM. There was a hideous shriek, a burst of frenzied thrashing inside and then silence.

"Got it," said the assassin, cautiously lifting the lid open. A cloud of blue smoke drifted out, followed by the smell of powder and scorched fur.

I could see the tattered corpse in the light from the bar. It was a horrible sight; there was blood, guts, bone and gristle everywhere. Worse still, there was hole in the back seat big enough for a child to crawl through and smouldering stuffing protruded sadly from the leather.

"You silly bugger," I cried, "Why didn't you wait until it was outside. Look what you've done to the car!"

"Thought it best not to take chances, old man. Anyway, if you were that concerned about it, why didn't you take the gun?"

He had me there.

Everyone bravely crowded round and offered congratulations. Cutts, now a hero, shrugged nonchalantly and accepted a filled whisky glass. Torches were shone into the boot. There would clearly be no trophy for the Mess walls, for the shots had obliterated half of the unfortunate creature's head and the pelt was little more than a primate's string vest.

The two garden boys were called, given a beer apiece and told to dispose of the remains. The party went on.

***

After breakfast, Dries and the two girls decided to find alternative transport back to Kashangani; looking at the state of the Mervyn's car I couldn't blame them.

I parked the Morris in the same place from which it was taken. The sickly odour of deceased baboon seeped through the gaping hole in the rear seat. Heaven-knows what it was going to smell like later. I flicked a gobbet of something pink and hairy from the back of the gear stick, locked the door and wandered into the hospital.

"How's Mr Cunningham?" I asked the nurse.

"Still poorly," she said, "but I think that the worst is over now. He's been sleeping since I came on shift this morning."

"I'm glad to hear that he's improved, Nurse," I said, "Can I just pop in with these?"

She looked at the bags of fruit. "Of course, I'll tell him that you brought them when he wakes up."

"No need, I'd really prefer to remain anonymous," I told her.

She shrugged and went back to her reports.

Mervyn did look much better. For the present, anyway.

I put the keys to the Morris back into the drawer and left.



Archived comments for A Beast in the Boot.


bluepootle on 2004-05-14 03:56:53
Re: A Beast in the Boot.
I can't say I laughed very much, but you've captured a voice very succesfully and it is fascinating. Feeling very sorry for Mervyn and the baboon at the end of this, mainly.

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-05-14 11:31:18
Re: A Beast in the Boot.
'She looked very attractive in the light from the speedometer...' Har har!! who said romance was dead?!! made me smile, that did. This is full of colour, and humour, and very readable. No wonder i like your stuff. Feel sorry for the poor old baboon though.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-14 14:27:48
Re: A Beast in the Boot.
Thanks for commenting, Bluepootle. As with many true stories, you really need to be there at the time to get the best out of them; my version is quite pale compared to the original. A 'lekker' yarn round an African campfire though. As you say, pretty rough on Mervyn and, of course, the baboon.
:^) Steve


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-14 14:28:38
Re: A Beast in the Boot.
Hi, Skeeter,
Appreciated, thanks for reading. Glad it came out all right. Many thanks also to the baboon, without whom this story would not have been possible. I never did find out what happened when 'Mervyn' saw his car. Probably went ape…
Cheers :^) Steve


Author's Reply:

Gee on 2004-05-15 13:43:54
Re: A Beast in the Boot.
I enjoyed the way you told this story and gave it an atmosphere of its own. I could actually see this taking place.
Like the others, I felt sorry for Mervyn and the baboon though.

Author's Reply:

glennie on 2004-05-15 17:30:13
Re: A Beast in the Boot.
Great stuff, best i've read all week. Pace, dialogue all good, kept me reading throughout. Glen.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-16 01:10:13
Re: A Beast in the Boot.
Thank you, Gee. Not really my story of course, but I'm glad that it came over well. Africa's full of incidents like this, some barely credible.
Cheers, :^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-16 01:11:03
Re: A Beast in the Boot.
That's very kind of you, Glen. It was fun to write; being a true story, it virtually wrote itself, leaving me free to concentrate on the humour.
Regards, :^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

malc on 2004-05-16 11:43:31
Re: A Beast in the Boot.
I really liked this story but felt it needed more of an ending and was curious to know what Mervyn's reaction was when he discovered his holy Morris.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-16 12:10:21
Re: A Beast in the Boot.
Thanks, Malc. Unfortunately I never heard what happened after 'Mervyn' recovered so your guess is as good as mine and as this was based on a true event, I didn't want to add anything of my own. I'd like to have seen his reaction though (from a distance)!
Cheers, :^) Steve

Author's Reply:


The Barnacle (posted on: 07-05-04)
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I'd forgotten all about this one until I was doing a Windows spring clean a couple of weeks ago. It's had a quick edit and here it is. The POV change at the end breaks the accepted 'rule' but the story wouldn't work otherwise, so I've ignored it.

Word Count 2240


THE BARNACLE.

I first met the damned man at the Yacht Club one Sunday afternoon in June. He was dressed impeccably in grey slacks, blue double-breasted blazer, and a white roll-neck sweater. The uniform of a poseur. He stood surrounded by a small group of factory die-cast blondes at the bar, brandy balloon in one hand, my wife in the other.

"Hellooo, darling," she cried as I caught her eye, 'Come on over and meet Greg."

Hmm. I regarded this Greg character coolly. At least two inches over six feet, immaculately groomed fair wavy hair, deepset grey eyes, a wide inviting smile, sparkling teeth, optimum tan and a jaw chiselled from granite. Not so much born, I suspected, as assembled from a modular kit of Rugged Dependable Heroes: a composite of Simon Templar, James Bond, Warren Beatty and George Hamilton III. A real pain in the stern.

I crossed the bar area, kissed my now unfettered wife on the cheek and fixed Greg with a scowl. He looked down at me with scarcely concealed amusement and offered a perfectly manicured hand.

"Norman, isn't it?" he said in Marlboro Man gravelly tones, "Such a pleasure for you to meet me." The synthetic audience tittered.

"Delighted, I'm sure," I returned, extricating my crushed hand from his lobster-like grip, "And what brings you to this neck of the ocean?"

Greg chuckled manfully and flashed a well-engineered self-deprecating smile. "Just got back from cruising the Med, old chap, thought I'd spend a few days in the Sceptred Isles while the hull is being scraped. Getting mine done at the same time; must move easily in these waters, you know," he said, looking at his sea of admirers.

The attendant sycophants gazed in misty-eyed adulation.

"Greg's invited us all to an onboard cocktail party tonight," gushed my wife.

"Really," I said, "How terribly thrilling. Haven't you forgotten that we've got an appointment at the Bridge Club tonight with Quentin and Alicia?"

"Oh, darling, I'm sure that we can give bridge a miss, just this once," she pouted.

"I'm rather partial to a few rubbers myself, actually," piped up Greg, giving my wife a lecherous sidelong look, "perhaps we can get together sometime."

I ignored the puerile innuendo and deleted him from my social diary until sometime after eternity. Prat. I took Susannah's hand and made to leave. Without a drink, too, damn it.

"Yes, perhaps, now if you'll excuse us, we must be off."

"Well, if you change your mind about tonight " said Greg, addressing my wife's bosom.

Obviously flattered, Susannah blushed. "I do so hope that we can make it, Greg, dear," she murmured coquettishly.

Greg arched his eyebrows, took Susannah's free hand and kissed it gently. "Vielleicht bis spater, alligator?"

I looked at Greg Villiers with undisguised contempt, knowing exactly who the saurian predator was

***

The short journey to our semi-detached house on the outskirts of Fordingley was conducted in frigid silence. Well, damn it all, what's a chap to do, let some oily social impostor take advantage of one's wife? Just not on, it simply isn't done by anyone of proper breeding.

As we pulled up outside the garage, Susannah closed the passenger door rather more firmly than usual. "I do believe that you are being childishly jealous, Norman," she said, testily.

"Childishly jealous," I repeated incredulously, "You were openly flirting with each other in full view of my friends and colleagues."

"Oh, Norman dear, don't be so silly, he's just very good company, that's all. Perhaps you should have taken more time to get to know him instead of being so antagonistic."

"I don't really think that he would be particularly interested in increasing his male circle of friends," I said, "It's more likely that his interest lies in their wives. Don't you agree?"

Susannah's eyes flashed. "I'm seeing a side to you that I didn't know existed," she hissed, "If you feel that way, perhaps you should lock me up in some far-flung garret and throw the keys into the nearest river."

Yes, I thought to myself, good diving practice for Greg.

***
For almost a week we saw nothing of the appalling man and then, out of the blue on Saturday morning, the telephone rang. As luck would have it, Susannah answered the call.

"Why, Greg, it's lovely to hear from you; so sorry that we couldn't make it to the party. How are you and how is the boat?" She tilted her head and twirled the cord with her index finger as Mr Perfect poured out his line of smarm, unaware that I was standing in the hallway behind her. "Yes, we'd be delighted, I'm sure," she purred after a while, "Let me phone you back, what's your number?"

She took a pen from the drawer and jotted down a line of digits in the address book, a Cell number, judging by the length. "Thank you, Greg, darling, talk to you soon. Byeee." I noticed that she was dreamily embroidering his name with the pen.

"And what would you be delighted about?" I demanded.

Susannah whirled around, obviously surprised. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Norman, Greg's just being sociable; what is the matter with you? He only called to see if you'd like to join him in a small race around the bay."

Aha this was more like it. Innocuous looks notwithstanding, I am no mean hand at yacht racing and, despite my animosity to Greg, the very thought of humiliating him in public was tempting indeed. Most tempting.

"Yes, dear, of course, it would be churlish to refuse. Ring him back and tell him that I would be delighted."

I dug out my sailing rig in delicious anticipation.

***

Greg Villiers, resplendent in a dark blue waterproof suit and rakishly angled yachting cap, met us at the marina, puffing manfully on a briar pipe. His retinue of adoring bimboids sat on the clubhouse patio like a brood of chickens awaiting their turn to hatch a lone egg.

"Ah, Norman, so glad you could make it," he drawled, his teeth flashing in the afternoon sun, "Hello, Susannah, very nice to see you again."

Glowing, and not because of the stiff breeze, Susannah returned his greeting.
"Twelve-footers, single-handed, OK with you, Norman? Should make things rather competitive in this blow."

"Whatever, Greg," I said confidently, "It's all the same to me."

Susannah wrapped herself up against the bracing wind, took my binoculars and joined the hen party while Greg and I donned lifejackets.

"Two circuits, dog-leg at the outer marker buoy, last one back buys the G and T's."

***

"Mine's a double, old man," gloated Greg, rubbing his hands together, "Not your day really, I'd have come back and fished you out but the Commodore was closer. Never mind; it's the taking part, not the winning."

Susannah commiserated lightly. "Oh, Norman, you were doing so well, Greg was never more than a hundred yards ahead. Such a pity that you capsized on the first lap here, let me get your dry things from the car."

I changed into the spare set of clothing in a fury while Greg and Susannah went into the clubhouse. I was never going to live this one down, at least while Action Man was in town. As was proved moments later when I joined him at the bar.

"Bottoms up," he cried gleefully, reminding everyone within earshot of my ignominious ducking. Of course, all attention was focused in my direction.

"Yes, cheers," I replied, acting the good sport, while I searched through my pockets for money with which to pay for the drinks. Naturally, my wallet was in the car along with my sodden clothing.

"Finding yourself somewhat impecunious, old chap? Allow me," he crowed, pulling a wad of ten-pound notes from his designer slacks.

Preposterous, absolutely preposterous. Somebody was going to have to do something about this bloody man.

***

Just as all bullies are not cowards, so are all braggarts not lying incompetents. As I painfully discovered over the next few evenings. Greg proceeded to demolish me at backgammon, chess, croquet and tennis, my only redemption in his challenges being when I narrowly avoided a thrashing at pool after he had the misfortune to sink the black before his remaining ball. And to make my humiliation worse, these trouncings were witnessed not only by my wife but also by several influential members of the club. Susannah's applause for the winner seemed rather sustained for my liking.

It wasn't cuckoldry. Yet. But, as I found out, I was not the only one to face such behaviour at the hands of Greg Villiers. The problem was not so much what the scoundrel did, for to the eye of a neutral onlooker he did nothing except play the part of a jolly good egg. Greg the Egg. But this egg was up for poaching and the poaching was of other men's wives.

It was a fortnight after my unceremonious ducking that I confided my troubles to Charles Sharp, a solicitor acquaintance of mine. Charles had recently become the owner of a twenty-two-foot sloop and had taken to weighing anchor in the harbour-side Crow's Nest each night between 18:00 hrs and 19:00 hrs precisely, ingratiating himself with those who sailed for a living. Smelling of eau de Cologne instead of eau de mer did nothing to improve his sea-going credibility. However, he was accepted under good-humoured sufferance and frequently permitted to buy bona fide sailors a tot of whisky or pint in exchange for some extremely fishy maritime tales, absorbed with vicarious enjoyment.

It was here that I occasionally met him for a drink or two after work. It wasn't long before the issue of Greg Villiers came up. Charles wrinkled his nose as if a bad odour had filled the bar.

"Villiers, appalling fellow, no decorum whatsoever. Should be drummed out of the club. Absolute bloody disgrace. Can't think how he ever got in to begin with. Temporary membership. Specially approved by the Commodore. Greased a palm or two, I'll wager. Social bloody leper."

Charles spoke as if he were communicating in Morse code and sometimes made as much sense but on this occasion I thoroughly agreed with him. But there was more.

"Confounded chap had the gall to make improper suggestions to my wife, damn him. Soon put him right on that. Tried to make me feel guilty. Claimed he'd been misunderstood. Almost had me believing him. Not the only one. Came on strong with Reggie's daughter. Complete bounder. Should be horsewhipped."

I sat back, amazed. Obviously Villiers' moral rigging was as slack as a spinnaker in the Doldrums. The man was a menace but without the Kryptonite to neutralize him, we were powerless. Until the subject of the Regatta Ball came up.

***

All things considered, the function (all proceeds to the Lifeboat Institution) went remarkably well except for a rather regrettable incident in the evening. But still, it was all for the best. The Commodore, Rear Admiral Trebilcock, MBE, DSO, DSC and Bar (Retired), opened the festivities at noon and throughout the day, handicap races, the latest sailing craft designs, various Naval displays and several charity performances kept the guests happy.

At seven o'clock, the ball proper started with music by the Royal Marines Band. Susannah, looking exceptionally attractive in a low-cut blue taffeta dress and Charles' fragrant wife Henrietta, attired in a shocking red Balenciaga gown, dazzled the men folk and inspired muted comments from feline members of the club. And neither Norman nor Charles appeared to mind the undisguised overtures of a certain person toward their respective partners. In fact, they plied him with champagne and bonhomie. Eventually the world took on a very rosy tint for Greg Villiers.

Just before eleven, as the band launched into a rendition of 'The Power of Love', Greg was interrupted in mid-innuendo by an insistent ringing in his jacket. After making his apologies to Susannah, he slipped out of the marquee and answered his mobile telephone. A voice as sultry as the July night whispered sweetness and coarseness in his ear. He listened as intently as the blood pounding in his ears would allow. Then he looked at his watch, smiled, put the phone back into his pocket and strode towards the clubhouse, snorting like a bronco after his inhalation of electronic catnip. After checking that he was unseen he slipped into the unlit conference room, removed his clothing, sniffed his armpits and eagerly awaited the arrival of Henrietta Sharp.

Vanessa Trebilcock, daughter of the Commodore, hurried into the clubhouse, puzzled by an announcement over the P.A. that a very important telephone call awaited her. Somewhat concerned by the urgency of the message, she was accompanied by her father, veteran of countless crises in the service of the realm. None of which prepared him for the sight of a naked figure in a testosterone-charged frenzy blinking in the sudden light as he pushed open the conference room door.

***

The Mistress Quickly slipped her moorings and throbbed her way into the dawn before the multitude of hangovers of the night before were even aware of their own existence. The sunrise was not even half the hue of the captain's face as it cast its rays over Fordingley.

Norman slept soundly in his bed. Susannah not quite so. Charles and Henrietta extremely well. Greg Villiers not at all.

End.



Archived comments for The Barnacle


e-griff on 2004-05-07 04:26:58
Re: The Barnacle
Why change the POV? -


I slept soundly, susannah... I imagine x&y did, and I'm positive Greg Villiers...

we can forgive a bit of omniscience..... 🙂


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-07 12:44:27
Re: The Barnacle
Thanks for the comment, Griff – your feedback appreciated, as ever. The bit I was concerned about was the regatta ball scene; I felt that there was no way that a 'single' POV could portray the events leading up to Greg's demise. I think that the (technically incorrect) version works but I'm open to criticism of it.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

richa on 2004-05-08 04:38:24
Re: The Barnacle
I enjoyed the read. Like the subtle humour. Don't really think you need the changed POV though.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-08 06:30:31
Re: The Barnacle
Your comments appreciated, Richa. Maybe I'm going to have to re-think the POV.
Thanks, :^) Steve

Author's Reply:

myos on 2004-05-08 08:20:37
Re: The Barnacle
Thanks for a really enjoyable read Steve. I don't feel that the change of pov detracted at all, it flowed effortlessly throughout.

Nice one
Andy


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-08 13:37:50
Re: The Barnacle
Thanks for reading and commenting, Andy. Having gone over the story a few times, I think that I'll probably keep the penultimate and final POV as is.
Regards :^) Steve

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-05-08 15:08:29
Re: The Barnacle
I thoroughly enjoyed this good old British comedy and thought this is so well written, but i didn't like the ending(his come uppance)not enough guile in the plan for me, and the sudden change of POV did read rather oddily to my eye anyway.

Three quarters excellent, last quarter i think it wavers slightly like i said.

Alan

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-08 15:36:37
Re: The Barnacle
Thanks, Alan. Just lately my endings seem to be fifty-fifty, judging by the feedback. This one will have to go into my future revisions folder. Cheers again,
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-05-08 15:49:33
Re: The Barnacle
Great read!

I would have liked to seen the ending with Vanessa Trebilcock and Gregg doing naughty things on the table THEN the Commodore walks in.

The POV does interrupt at the end. The only way I can think of not making it too obvious is by having another POV somewhere near the start. Hang on, thought of an other OR keep the POV with Norman and write it as he is following Gregg.

A good story, but it needs slightly notched up a bit. Keep at it.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-08 16:16:53
Re: The Barnacle
Thanks for your suggestions, Claire. I'm going to let this one rest for a week or few and perhaps take another approach. Best wishes.
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:

Omma_Velada on 2004-05-13 17:21:27
Re: The Barnacle
Hi there,

I enjoyed this witty rivalry tale. Loved the refs to seafaring such as 'pain in the stern' and 'neck of the ocean'. There were some nice descriptive phrases too, like 'brandy balloon'. I think the PoV switch could be a lot stronger if Greg the Egg confounds expectations by not being as slimy as he appears to the narrator. But this is a small point and overall a great fun piece.

Author's Reply:

gunnerM on 2004-05-13 18:25:16
Re: The Barnacle
I think in a story like this one Slimey Gregg does indeed need soggy egg on his face at the end.
I haven't got a problem with the POV change except that the transition could be a bit smoother.
True the final plan could be a little more subtle, but what works...works.
Loved the 'Rugged Dependable Heroes' line!!

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-14 01:27:52
Re: The Barnacle
Thanks for your comments, Omma and Gunner. I'm getting mixed reactions re the POV on this one and don't really know what to do with it now. I'll put it away for a while and see how it feels in a month or two. Thanks again,
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:


Puppy Love (posted on: 19-04-04)
Click to see more top choices

A teenage girl sets her sights on an older man and is determined to get what she wants. But if you play dirty, be prepared to suffer the consequences

Some may be offended by the content.


Word Count 4200



PUPPY LOVE.


Well, at least her period pains have got her out of Mr Lewis's boring English lesson, she thinks as she watches the wet streets and wet people through the window of the bus.

She takes her True Teen Love magazine from the satchel on the seat beside her and resumes the story of Gabriella, the lonely girl who lives with her overbearing aunt, and Crispin, the shy piano tuner's apprentice. Just as she reaches the part where their hands touch over the keys, she hears the wheels of the bus rumble as they run over the speed strips. She sighs and puts the magazine away her stop is just around the corner.

The pains aren't so bad now: she manages to walk to the front of the bus without wincing. A young man in a blue leather jacket looks at her as she waits for the doors to open; she can feel his eyes licking her body. She frowns at him but is secretly pleased there's no point in shortening the hem of your uniform skirt and undoing the top buttons of your blouse if you don't want hungry eyes devouring your body. The doors open; she relents and smiles at him. He grins back as she steps onto the pavement. He is still looking at her as the bus pulls away.

Why not, she concedes? Even though she has only just turned sixteen, she has the figure of a woman two years older: her breasts are 35B's, her legs are shapelyMr Barlow, the PE teacher, had eyed them enough to tell her thatand her wheat hair is styled in the fashion of Shakira. Even her father admits that she's a looker and she can get most things from him whenever she flutters her eyelashes.

The rain has eased off now. She won't get soaked in the ten-minute walk back to the house; her school blazer isn't much better than blotting paper when the weather turns sour. She stops dead and clutches at a railing as the evil Doctor Hormone casts another spell on top of the curse she already has. Now she just wants to be in bed, knees drawn up, hot water bottle on her navel. She suffers badly with period pains, the same as her mother.

After a minute or so, the pain recedes. She carries on walking. The postman waves to her from across the street. He is oldabout thirtybut good-looking in his uniform. She looks at her watch it is twenty to eleven. He is late this morning; she used to watch him from her bedroom window in the school holidays. Always, between a quarter past eight and twenty-five to nine, something would drop through the letterbox. There was always something because her mother works from home, taking catalogue orders and doing typing.

She can see her home now; it is the third semi-detached house on the left. There is a car in the drive a blue Ford something-or-other. It is Uncle Bob's. He isn't really her uncle; he is her father's friend from his army days. He is handsome: he reminds her of Martin Kemp, the Spandau Ballet singer. What is he doing here at this time, she wonders. Perhaps he is going to fix the leaking bathroom tap he is always saying that he will, once he finds the spare faucets in his shed.

She walks past his car, along the side of the house, and into the back garden. Probably best not to use the front door with wet feet, she thinks: they'd had a new hallway carpet fitted last week and her mother is still protective of it.

The back door is locked. That is funny; it is never locked unless they go out somewhere. But she has a key so she lets herself in. There are two cups on the table; one is half full and the tea is still warm. The house is quiet. Her mother usually works on her computer with the radio on. The office door is open. It isn't even an office; it is a converted bathroom, just big enough for a desk, a chair, and a filing cabinet.

There are some unopened letters on the hallway floor, underneath the letterbox. One of them is for her: Miss Denise Waters, 3, Huntley Gardens. That will be her subscription reminder for Teen Machine. Her pains are starting again: Mum has some tablets for them upstairs. She takes off her damp blazer and shoes and slowly climbs the stairs. The Baby-Builder is hurting even more, now, and suddenly it sounds as if somebody is making the noise for her.

"Aaaah aaaahhhhh."

She is curious. Her parent's bedroom is at the end of the passage. The door is open a little; she can see the light from the bedroom lamp. Now there is a deeper complaint

"Uuuuhuuuuhuhhhhhhh." This time it is a man-sound.

Her pain forgotten, she creeps along the carpeted floor and keeping to one side, she looks through the gap between the door and its frame.

She's seen it before once on a video at her friend's house when her parents had gone away for the weekend, and once at a party when another friend had let a boy do it to her in the garden. Both times she'd been excited and after that she'd let Luke feel her breasts and touch her down-below for a few moments. The next week she'd let Luke do it to her but he was clumsy and didn't know how to put the condom on. They'd done it five times since then. Once they had nearly been caught by a man walking his dog in the park. Luke is handsome but he is stupid at times. Now she wants someone who doesn't talk about football and Play Station and motorbikes all the time. Somebody older. Somebody mature. Someone who'll buy her things: clothes, CD's, someone who'll take her to the cinema and Alton Towers, and places like that.

She can see their reflection in the dressing table mirror. Mum is lying on the bed and Uncle Bob is on top of her. They have no clothes on. She can see his bottom jerking up and down.

She stands there for an age, watching them as they do it. Although she is horrified, she is also strangely excited: she can't tear her eyes from Uncle Bob as he thrusts against her mother.

They are making the sort of sounds she's heard in the videos, and Uncle Bob moves faster. Then he groans as if he's in pain, goes stiff and stops moving She can see her mother's face; her eyes are closed and she has a funny sort of smile. Then Uncle Bob rolls off her and lies on his side. His chest is heaving and she sees his body in the light from the bedside lamp. It is covered in hair, like her father's, but he is more muscular and he doesn't have a paunch either. Her mother sits up and lights a cigarette. Uncle Bob puts his arm around her waist and cups one of her breasts. Denise notices that they aren't as firm as her own. Then Uncle Bob turns onto his back and she can see all of him.

Her body is tingling and her fingers tremble against the doorframe. She takes another look, longer this time, and creeps back downstairs. She puts on her shoes and blazer. Then she takes her grey raincoat, the one long enough to cover her uniform skirt, and goes back out into the drizzle. She doesn't forget to lock the door behind her.

***

She spends the rest of the day in the amusement arcade and The Coffee-Tea-Ria, where her friend Tracey works. What she has seen has left her dazed; she can't think clearly. Tracey gives her a Coke and a Mars Bar for free and she sits down at a window table. She stares at the world outside as she rattles the slowly melting ice cubes around her glass. It has stopped raining at last, she notes. She replays in her mind what she saw Uncle Bob doing to her mother that morning. Doing what she had so often fantasised about him doing to her. She rewinds, but this time it is herself on the bed. She can feel his lips hard against hers and his fingers tracing love lines over her body. She closes her eyes and lightly bites into the side of her curled first finger as he parts her

"You feeling all right, Denise?"

Denise jerks and looks up. "Yeah, Trace I'm fine, just felt a bit tired for a minute. P'raps I'd better be off," she says, looking at her watch.

She says goodbye to her friend and catches the bus home. As she rides, she considers her feelings toward her mother. Dad's been betrayed though, both by her and Uncle Bob. And she herself feels hurt by Uncle Bob, jealous even. She knows that she can't say anything to anybody about this, which makes things worse nobody must know. The bus stop comes. She gets off and walks home for the second time that day.

The Ford-thingy has gone now. She walks into the kitchen and plumps her satchel onto the table. There is only one cup on it this time. Her mother is upstairs; she hears a door close.

"Hi, Mum I'm home," Denise announces.

"Hello, love back early, aren't you?" Her mother's voice isn't quite natural.

"I've got the curse, Mum. They told me to go home."

"I'll be there in a second, Denise. Tea's in the pot."

She appears in a jeans and a sweatshirt a minute later as Denise is pouring herself a cup of tea. "How are you feeling now, love?" she asks, "I thought that you looked a little off-colour this morning."

"Not so good, Mum," says Denise stiffly, "I think that I'll lie down for a while. Have you got any of those painkillers left?"

Denise's mum goes back upstairs for a moment and returns with a bottle of paracetamol to ease the curse.

She takes two of the painkillers with her tea and goes upstairs to her room. Shaun, her sixteen-year-old teddy bear is lying on her bed. She closes the curtains, undresses, and slips between the covers. She tries to read her magazine, but she isn't interested in Gabriella and Crispin any more. She puts it down and then she tries to go to sleep but her mind is full of Uncle Bob. Only he isn't Uncle Bob any more. He is a man. She has seen that.

Eventually she drifts away, clutching Shaun tightly.

***

The Evil Doctor Hormone is banished four days later. In his place is another aching. This time it is Sex Sergeant Bob. He wants her, she is sure. She's seen the way that he sometimes looks at her when Dad isn't around. As if he were in love. Every night, and sometimes at school, when the lessons are dreary and the hours are long, she thinks about him, imagining his strong body as he holds her tightly under his sheets.

She tries to behave normally towards her mother but it is difficult. There are arguments over trifles. And tears. She hears her parents discussing her in the kitchen one night and her mother puts her recent odd behaviour down to adolescence. Her father agrees.

The next time that she sees Uncle Bob is the following month. He's been to the football match with her father and now they are home from the social club, full of beer and good humour. He ruffles her hair and sits down beside her as she watches a video.

"Hello, sweetheart how's my favourite girlfriend?" he asks.

Oh, I wish, she thinks. "Hello, Uncle Bob, I'm fine. Enjoy the game?" She sees him glance at her mother and smile.

"Yeah good result," he replies, "Wish they'd play like that all the time. Here, have a sweet."

He always has something for her. Last time it had been two pounds. He gives her a packet of wine gums. Her father comes in with two cans of beer and gives one to Bob. They all chat for a while as her mother makes supper.

She makes up her mind. "Uncle Bob," she says after a while, "Have you still got your guitar, that one that you bought in the junk shop?"

"Yeah, Den why's that?" He puts his beer down on the table.

"Well, we're doing guitar lessons at school," she tells him, "and I can't seem to get the hang of playing that horrible F chord."

He laughs. "What you want a private lesson? Only two pounds an hour then, seeing as how I know you."

"You don't mind?" she asks, knowing full well that he doesn't.

"Of course I don't mind," he says, "When do you want to come over?"

"I'll bring her over tomorrow afternoon if that's all right," says her father, "Me and Sue can visit the dragon and get food poisoning."

Her father always calls his mother-in-law that, but never to her face. Her cooking is awful if she strays from anything simple. But Denise is sure that they won't be visiting her, at least not for long, anyway they will spend the afternoon in bed together, like they always used to when she was sent to Sunday school. They were always in a good mood when she got back and there would be sweets and Coke for her.

"Thanks, Uncle Bob," she says, and sits back to enjoy the rest of Matrix.

***

"Nearly ready, Denise?" shouts her father from downstairs.

She reaches for the bath towel and dries herself. She hasn't washed her hair today; it will take too long to re-do, and she wants to look her best. "Another twenty minutes, Dad."

"You women!" says her father, in mock exasperation, "If men were like that, we'd never get any work done."

She wraps the towel around herself and trips into her bedroom. The black underwear today, she thinks, matching bra and panties from M&S, lacy and almost sheer. Better not wear the mini, that would be too obvious, perhaps the red knee-length skirt with the split side. It will show off her legs nicely when she crosses her knees. And the white top that shows a lot of cleavage when she bends down. Tights? No. Stockings, neither too obvious, again. Her parents will be sure to make her change into jeans or something. Black shoes with heels go on.

When she has finished dressing, she puts her perfume and lipstick into her handbag. They can be applied when she gets to Uncle Bob's place. It will only take a few moments in the bathroom. She looks at the clock on the dressing table. Ten past one. Just time to put on some nail varnish. Red or pink? Red, she decides.

"Denise?" It is her mother this time.

"Coming, won't be a sec." She looks at herself in the mirror, turning herself first one way and then the other. Then she turns her back to the mirror, looks over her shoulder, crosses her arms and puts them behind her back; right hand over left hip, left hand over right hip. She smiles to herself, imagining them Bob's hands as they fumble for her skirt zip. "I'm ready," she says. And she is.

"Looking pretty good just for a guitar lesson," says her mother, watching her race down the stairs, "I hope that you haven't made plans to go out afterwards."

"No, Mum," she answers, "I'm only going to be with Uncle Bob today."

Her father twiddles with the car keys. "Let's get going, then. We'll drop Denise off, have a couple of drinks in The Fleece, and then go and see the dragon. I'll need a few whiskies just to face her, never mind her cooking."

"She's probably drunk half a bottle of sherry by now, with the same thoughts about you," says her mother, "If you can't be nice to her, at least be quiet."

Her father rolls his eyes. "I don't get any choice, the way that you two rabbit on. Are you sure that you'll be fine on those sandwiches, Denise?"

Denise has eaten two cheese and ham sandwiches before bathing. "Yeah, just fine, Dad. I'm thinking about going on a diet, anyway."

"Share it with your mother, then," says her father, "With her boobs and bum, I never know if she's standing on her head or feet."

Her mother flushes. "If you're not happy, I'm sure that I can find someone else who'll appreciate me."

Her father pats her bottom and kisses her cheek loudly. "Only kidding, Sue I wouldn't change you for the world."

She scowls. "Let's get going."

Uncle Bob's house is on the far side of town, near the river. His blue Ford is in the driveway. It looks as if he has just washed it, for the wiper arms are sticking out at right angles from the windscreen. Her father pulls up and toots the horn. Uncle Bob comes out of the garage. He is wearing jeans and a white T-shirt. There is a can of beer in his hand.

Denise opens the door and gets out. She can see Bob's eyes on her.

He smiles. "Hi, Den looking smart today. All ready for the master class?"

She smiles her cheeky smile back at him. "Hi, Uncle Bob looking forward to it."

Her father winds his window down. "All right, Bob?"

"Yeah," he replies, "not so bad. Hi, Sue. Off to your mother's then?"

"We're having a drink at The Fleece, first," she tells him, "What time shall we pick Den up?"

Bob looks at his watch. "Oh, whenever's convenient. Six o'clock, or so?"

"If that's fine by you," says her father, "A drink at the club afterwards?"

"Why not; might as well get the week used to what it's going to get." Bob likes his beer.

Her father grins. He likes his beer, too. "Right see you later, then. Bye, Denise."

The car pulls away, leaving her standing next to Bob. She suddenly feels a little awkward. "Been washing your car, Uncle Bob?"

"Thought I'd better; I'd forgotten what colour it was." He always makes Denise laugh with his quick answers. "I'll just give it a quick polish and then we can get down to the dreaded 'F' chord. Want to give me a hand?"

She does. "OK who's going to wipe?"

Uncle Bob takes a yellow duster from the boot. "Take your pick; I'm easy."

She giggles. "You put it on and I'll take it off." The two mouthfuls of vodka that she's taken from the drinks cabinet at home suddenly make her bold.

He looks at her strangely. "All right mind that you don't get any on your clothes."

"Oh, no!" she cries, twenty minutes later, as she is polishing the bonnet, "I've got some on my skirt." There is a globule of greeny-white Autoshine on her hip.

Bob looks at it. "Better go and dab it off with some soapy water before it stains. I'll finish off we're nearly through, anyway."

She picks up her handbag and goes into the house. She closes the bathroom door behind her, cleans off the polish, and goes about making herself desirable. Her hand shakes a little as she applies a thin film of lipstick. Then she mists her neck and wrists with Elizabeth Arden 'Red Door'.

Bob, she can see, through the open bathroom window, is standing in front of his car with his hands on his hips. Finished.

She smoothes her clothes tight to her body and calls to him from the front door. "Shall I make you a cup of tea, Uncle Bob?"

He turns and looks at her. "No but you can get me another beer from the fridge. You'll find a bottle of Coke in there, somewhere."

She takes a can of beer from the top shelf and as she is about to reach for the Coke, she sees an opened bottle of white wine. She pulls the cork out and takes a long swallow. It tastes warm and sweet; it hasn't been in there long. Will Bob's lips taste like that, she wonders.

He comes into the kitchen as she is pouring the Coke into a glass. "Did you manage to get the stain off, sweetheart?"

She turns to face him and points to the damp patch on her skirt. "All gone," she says brightly.

"Good," he says, "Your mother would have wondered what you'd been up to."

She sees him on top of Sue, groaning, pounding into her, his muscular body filmed with sweat. "Here's your beer." She passes him the can. He opens it and drinks half in one go.

"Hot, today, isn't it," he comments, "Do you want to play some guitar, now?"

She nods and smiles. "All right, Uncle Bob. You won't shout at me if I make mistakes, will you?"

He cuffs her playfully on the shoulder. "Don't be silly, of course I won't. Let's go and tune up, shall we?"

She follows him into the lounge. The guitar is resting against the wall, next to the TV. It is a jumbo guitar, the sort with a big body that she can't pull comfortably to her own, because her breasts get in the way. He picks it up and passes it to her.

"Make yourself comfortable on the settee, sugar, I'll just see if I can find a songbook."

She tunes the guitar while he rummages around in the magazine rack. His T-shirt has ridden up his back and she can see the wisps of black hair that have crept back from his navel. She begins to tingle under her own finely tuned hormones and the vodka and wine.

He pulls out a tattered book and sits down on a stool in front of her. "House of the Rising Sun that'll do for starters. A Minor, C, D, F, A minor, G, C, E7. That's the first bit. Do you want me to play it for you?"

She passes the guitar over and he runs through the first verse. "It's a bit of a jump on the fingers until you get used to it. Here practice going between D and F, just to get warmed up."

The D chord rattles and the F is even worse. "It's your finger nails," he says, "They're too long you can't press the strings onto the fretboard properly. Let me see."

She holds out her left hand. "Sorry, sweetheart you'll have to cut them. Pity about the nail varnish."

She pouts and reaches into her handbag. Bob finishes his beer as she busies herself with her nail clippers. She puts the parings into the waste paper bin and holds out her hand again. "How's that?"

He nods. "Much better give it another go."

She intentionally deadens some of the strings as she changes to the D from F. "Oh, I'll never get this," she cries.

He sits down next to her, on her right, and manoeuvres her fingers so that they are cleanly between the frets. Still the strings are muted or buzz. He reaches behind her back with his left hand and fingers the chord himself. "Like this. See how my fingers arch and where my thumb is. Try to"

She leans against his arm, trapping it between her back and the cushion. She isn't thinking about anything now she is fuelled by her adolescent lust and alcohol.

"I don't give an F, Bob," she says feverishly, 'Not that sort of F." She pushes the guitar to one side and tries to kiss him. Her blood is up and she can feel herself aroused more than she has ever imagined in her fantasies.

His body stiffens and he tries to push her away. "No, Denise, no."

She can't believe it. She lifts up her top with one hand as he struggles, and then her bra. "I want you to make love to me, Bob," she gasps, seeing his eyes fall to her bare breasts,
"Look what I've got for you."

"No, no, no, Denise I can't." He turns his face away from her body.

"Why? Why can't you?" she shrieks indignantly.

He looks back at her and grips her wrists. "Denise you're a beautiful girl; you can have the pick of any boy you want. But not me, please."

She is enraged. "You better had. If you don't, I'll tell my father what you and mum were doing the other week when I came home from school early. I saw you on the bed. I saw you having sex with my mother."

Bob sags. The colour drains from his face. "I can't make love to you, Denise," he says very quietly, "Please leave it at that."

"I mean it I'll tell my dad." She would not be scorned by him. Or anyone. Never. Never.

Bob turns away and begins to sob. "Oh, Denise Denise I'm your father."

The guitar makes another horrible sound as it falls to the floor.

End.




Advance apologies for delays in returning any comments, as I'm just about to move to Cornwall from the Midlands.

Archived comments for Puppy Love


Bee on 2004-04-19 04:07:40
Re: Puppy Love
I was really interested to see what you would write now you are back in the UK. I really enjoyed your tales of life in Africa. But you go from strength to strength. This was a convincing story - I remember how we used to try to make our sick-green school uniforms look sexy. And the curiosity about sex that used to seem overwhelming.

I think the ending was a bit of a cliché perhaps and I wasn't entirely sure about the blackmail bit. I think you could have shown Bob really being tempted but see what others think. Thanks for an enjoyable read. Good luck in Cornwall - I'm back to Devon soon.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-04-19 04:24:33
Re: Puppy Love
Really flowed on the page and very involving; it hooked me so much I didn't see the end coming but I do feel a little disappointed and grubby afterwards (a bit like Denise, no doubt!). Not sure if thats a good thing or not. I think it would be worse if you showed Bob as being tempted. So, I'm not convinced about the ending, but don't know where else you could go with it... will give it some thought...

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-04-19 07:50:19
Re: Puppy Love
I only guessed what was coming when Bob rejected her. It made the revelation a bit redundant...or knocked it flat, to be more precise.
Not sure if introducing an element of temptation would be a good idea, though. It would need very careful handling.
The other thing is that it's not my experience that 16 year-old girls are so sexually aggressive. Maybe they have changed in the 15 years since I was that age, but even those that had a reputation for having 'done it' seemed so consumed by sex. Then again, boys tend to brag and make a show, girls tend to do and be quiet, at that age - and I obviously wouldn't know what goes through a 16-year-old girl's head.

I don't think there is anything here to cause great offence, either. True, she is young...but at 16 you are officially an adult, as much as I might not want to admit that in the future when my own kids (when I have them) are that age.

The ending apart, I found this to be a good read.

Author's Reply:

Eccles on 2004-04-19 13:09:40
Re: Puppy Love
It was a good story and I was really getting into it, but the ending just happened too quickly making me feel used and violated, (maybe I got to ito the story).


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-19 14:20:37
Re: Puppy Love
Hi, Bee,
Thanks for your comments; it's good to be back again. I worked on the ending for some time and finally decided that morally, I couldn't conclude it any other way. However, I'd be interested in any other ideas as to how it might be done (short of incest, of course).

I spent quite a few years in Devon when I was younger: the Teign Valley, Exeter and Exmouth. Knowing the Devonians, you'll feel more of a foreigner there than in France (only joking).
Best wishes,
Steve :^)


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-19 14:21:42
Re: Puppy Love
Hello, Pootle,
Appreciated – thank you. As I mentioned to Bee, I don't know what else to do re the ending. I can't really imagine anyone being sexually attracted to their offspring, although it does happen, as we know. Bob behaved exactly as I would have in those circumstances, although I don't think I'd have slept with my friend's wife to begin with.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-19 14:22:35
Re: Puppy Love
Hiya, Karl,
True, ethically it wouldn't be a good thing if things progressed further although there might be a better ending. Trouble is, I can't think of one! There were a couple of rapacious (female) fourth formers in my school year (1970), and one who was a downright – well, never mind. Seems to be an awful lot of mid-teen girls pushing prams around nowadays, though. Thanks for commenting.
Cheers, :^) Steve


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-19 14:29:23
Re: Puppy Love
Many thanks, Eccles.
I did wonder about the relatively abrupt ending before I posted the story. I guess that I didn't want to introduce a lengthy sexual build up to the conclusion, taking into account that she was Bob's daughter. It's something to think about, though.
Regards, :^) Steve

Author's Reply:

chrissy on 2004-04-19 16:21:21
Re: Puppy Love
I really enjoyed this. It was interesting all the way through and I thought it dealt with a dificult subject frankly.
I thought the ending was 'right' and didn't detract from the story for me.
Chrissy

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-19 16:27:43
Re: Puppy Love
Thanks very much, Chrissy; I'm glad you liked it. :^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2004-04-20 06:42:20
Re: Puppy Love
Very interesting and thought-provoking. My first reaction is more from reading the comments than the story: I don't think whether or not your characters behave ethically should be a factor at all in writing a story. You will probably end up with a far more interesting tale if they don't.
There were two points of interest in this one, I thought, one was Denise's mental life and motivations, and the other was Bob's character and motivations. We got a great deal of the first and perhaps not enough of the second, because I thought Bob was intrinsically a more interesting character than she was. Regarding the ending I have to say that I thought you chickened out a bit.
What would have been very interesting (and perhaps a bit daring) would have been if Bob went along with his urges and had sex with Denise, and made his tearful admission after the event. That would have given you a much more powerful ending. At the moment I think you've got a very lengthy and tense build-up to an ending that is a bit tame and disappointing. I think it definitely needs attention.
With that reservation I thought the whole thing was well written and convincing, if a little drawn-out towards the beginning. I was surprised at Denise and her mother using the term "the curse", which I thought belonged to my own mother's generation, or before. That apart I thought the dialogue was good and the characters convincing. Just a light edit to speed up the pace at the beginning and a better ending and you've got a real winner.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-04-20 08:02:13
Re: Puppy Love
Well I really enjoyed this. Great build up. And yes teenage girls do behave like this, some do it when they are a bit older, but quite a few start this from around fourteen!!!

As for the ending, how about, Bob doesn't know she is his daughter, yet! They have sex (or they play around for a bit), her parents come to pick her up early due to a row at the dragons and walks in on them. Then the mother shouts how could you Bob that's you daughter. Denise's father(the one who she thought was her dad) knew that she wasn't his but thought the real dad was someone else.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-22 13:36:19
Re: Puppy Love
Your comments appreciated, Sirat. The problem I have with Bob is that having created him, I don't think that he'd knowingly have sex with his daughter. Perhaps, as you suggest, I didn't expand enough on Bob (and his morals) as a character, other than he was cheating on his friend and that he was very fond of Denise (paternally, as was revealed). However, Claire (below) has provided an option, in that Bob does have sex with Denise without knowing that he is her father, and is caught in flagrante by Sue, who violently enlightens him.

I first heard the term 'curse' from a twenty-year-old; then again that was in 1976… I don't know what the modern euphemisms are, 'having the painters in' or 'blob time' are the only others I've heard. Point taken about speeding up the pace at the beginning; I'll work on that as well. Thanks again,
Steve :^)


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-22 13:37:10
Re: Puppy Love
I really like your suggestion for an alternate ending, Claire, and am going to use the general idea when I revise. Many thanks indeed.
:^) :^) Steve.


Author's Reply:


FORGET-ME-NOT (posted on: 16-04-04)
A meeting with his father that Cameron would sooner forget...

Word Count 2180



FORGET-ME-NOT.


There were about twenty patients, or inmates, whatever you call them, sitting around in the dayroom. Most of them were wearing dressing gowns and Christmas hats. One had twisted yards of spiky tinsel around his fist until it looked like a boxing glove of barbed wire, while another amused himself by filling a teacup with crumbled biscuits. It looked more like a kindergarten than a nursing home.

I wandered around for a few moments, looking at the half dozen or so patients sleeping in the armchairs that lined the room, but couldn't see him anywhere so I went back into the corridor to look for help. At least I didn't need help as badly as the old fools in there did. Christ what an embarrassment to have to see him in a place like this.

There was a door marked 'Staff Only', near the entrance. It was open slightly so I went in. A woman in a blue uniform looked up from her desk.

"Good afternoon can I help you?" she said, a bit abruptly for my liking.

"Yes, you can. Cameron Ashton. I've just driven up from Southend to see my father. He was admitted last week."

She glanced at a list on her desk. "Oh, yes Cyril Ashton. Your brother's with him."

"Yeah, he said that he'd meet me here. So what's the score is he going to get better?"

She looked at me oddly. "When was the last time that you saw your father, Mr Ashton?"

"Eight months ago, at my mother's funeral."

"Oh, I see. Do you work abroad?"

Well, I do after a fashion. My business is the importation of cheap booze and tobacco from France. But I wasn't going to tell her that. And just as soon as I could get away from here, I had another vanload to shift from Dover. A clear profit of three hundred quid if I could get it to Aylesbury before New Year's Eve.

"Yeah my business interests keep me travelling. So what's up with him, exactly?"
The matron, or whatever she was, sighed. "I thought that you knew. I'm afraid he's been diagnosed as suffering from ongoing senile dementia. His GP referred him to a specialist because of his"

"You mean that he's gone off his rocker?"

"Well, I wouldn't put it like that, Mr Ashton. It's part of the aging process; short term memory loss, impaired judgement, disorientation, loss of"

"Is he going to get better?" All I wanted was a simple answer, for God's sake.

She fiddled with a pen and sighed again. "You might want to talk with the doctor, Mr Ashton, but generally patients with dementia or Alzheimer's disease don't improve. The brain's neuro-transmitters suffer from a deficiency"

"But he's not going to die, though?"

"No, Mr Ashton. Not of that, anyway."

"That's all I wanted to know. Where can I find him?"

She picked up the phone and asked someone where Mr Ashton was.

"He's in the TV lounge," she told me, "First on the left down the corridor, opposite the vending machine. I should warn you that he's very confused at the moment, so don't expect too much from him."

That would be no surprise I'd never expected much from him even when he was healthy. He had no drive ambition didn't exist in his dictionary. He'd been quite happy to stand in front of a lathe all day, tinker around in his potting shed, and have his two pints of mild in the Working Men's Club every night. No wonder he'd ended up scratching along on his government pension. I could make more in one day than he picked up in a week.

"All right. Thanks," I said, and left her to whatever she was supposed to be doing.

I squeezed past a couple of old twits blocking the corridor and made my way to the TV room. I saw a familiar shape putting coins into the coffee machine. It was Grahame, my brother. Another deadbeat. He'd be forty-eight on New Year's Day, not a difficult birthday to remember. He was five years younger than me but nobody would have thought so. His shabby clothes didn't help his appearance much, either. He looked up as I approached.

"Well, well the return of the long-lost son. Nice of you to show your face, Cameron."

I didn't care for his tone. "Enough of your Smart Aleck comments, brother I didn't come all this way to put up with your sarcasm."

He picked a half-empty cup of something from the machine and pursed his lips. "It's not me you've come to see; it's Dad. You've been pretty noticeable by your absence since Mum died. Trade's good, is it?"

"It would have been better if you hadn't wasted my time with that 'urgent' phone call. He's not going to die of forgetfulness, is he?"

He gave me one of his looks. "It seems to me, Cameron, that you're the one who forgets easily."

I was really annoyed now. Pious prat. "You see here, brother I've got a business to run and a lot of turnover right now. I don't get paid by the government to sit around all day watching television, unlike you."

I'd offered him some work last year but he'd turned it down. He could have made sixty or seventy quid a week easily on top of his dole and benefits for a return trip to Dover or Portsmouth. More fool him morals don't put food onto the dinner table.

He swallowed whatever was in the cup and threw it into the bin. "I'm not getting into another argument with you, Cameron. Get this over and done with and then you can go back to your squalid little dealings."

If we hadn't been inside a nursing home, I'd have stuck one right on his miserable bloody face.

He turned away and opened a swing door. "Kenneth's here, just to make your day," he said over his shoulder

That was all I needed. Kenneth was my old man's crony from his Cooper Engineering days. We couldn't stand each other. All he ever used to talk about was the good old days. Good old days? Dole queues as long as motorway traffic jam, outside toilets, gas lighting, cars you had to wind up with a starting handle, flat beer, and no television. Yeah it must have been a right bundle of laughs. But much as I disliked him, at least it would take the load off me having to make conversation.

I followed Grahame into the TV room. There were seven or eight patients in there; mostly in pyjamas and dressing gowns, like the others, and a nurse. I saw my old man sitting in an armchair in front of the television. He was staring blankly at the screen. Kenneth was sitting next to him.

He looked up and put his glasses on as we walked over. I could see the disapproval wash over his face as he recognised me.

"Still keeping him company, I see, Kenneth," I said. My old man didn't even flicker his eyes at the sound of my voice.

"Aye, that's right. It's a damned shame that he had to end up like this, isn't it."

"Cameron's heartbroken," said Grahame. He was starting again.

There was a pre-packed bowl of fruit on the coffee table next to the old man's chair. I took a packet of mints from my pocket and put them alongside. "A present," I said, "Is he saying much?"

"Not a lot, he's been very quiet," said Kenneth, "but he was mumbling about going back to work when I was here last night. I was maybe thinking about getting one of the lads down at Coopers to tape the sound of one of the lathes or something on a cassette recorder. You never know, it might stir him up a bit."

The nurse flipped through the television channels. Somebody cheered when The Great Escape came on. Three of the more alert patients moved their chairs closer. Then the old man turned to Kenneth.

"Who's this, then?"

Kenneth looked at me and then back again. "It's your son come to see you, Cyril."

The old man looked at me, then again at Kenneth.

"He's not my son," he said.

How can you not recognize your own son, for Christ's sake?

Kenneth gave me a heavy wink. "Sorry, Cyril this is Cameron. Cameron this is Cyril." Then he nodded to me.

I didn't understand. What the hell was he on about? Then he nodded harder. "Cameron this is Cyril."

Oh, great let's all play party games, shall we. "Hello, Cyril," I said, "I'm pleased to meet you."

The old man looked at me intently for a while. "Oh, hello," he said. His words sounded like they'd rusted in his throat.

Kenneth prompted him. "Cameron's come a long way to see you, Cyril."

"Have you?" He was peering at me closely now.

Kenneth moved his lips like a fish. Talk! Talk! What did he think I was a bloody idiot or something?

"Had a good day at work, Cyril?" I said.

"Yes, not too bad."

I looked at the television. Prisoners of war were lining up to be counted. That was handy. "Kenneth tells me that you were in the army before you worked for Coopers."

"Aye, that's right. I was in the Royal Engineers. Sappers, we were called." His words were a bit smoother now and his eyes brighter.

"I bet you had some interesting times, Cyril." More interesting for him than me, for sure.

"Aye some good, some bad. I was a sergeant you know. I was the youngest sergeant in the company."

"Really! I expect that you saw some exciting places." What a way to spend Boxing Day listening to someone rambling about the bloody war. Why hadn't I picked something else to kick-start him with?

"A few. Let me see North Africa Italy France Belgium. Holland that was a bit frightening. I picked up a lump of shrapnel in my backside. Made me jump, I can tell you; I couldn't sit down for a week. Then there was Germany. That's where me and Jack Perkins picked up the Jerry colonel. What was he called Hagen? Yes, Hagen. He was hiding in a barn just outside a place called Steinau. We went to pinch a couple of chickens and found him hiding behind some bales. He pulled out a pistol so I shot him in the arse, just like they'd got my arse at Nijmegen."

I looked at Grahame. The old man had never spoken of any of this before.

"Did you get a medal for that, Cyril?"

"Not for that, no. I've got a few tucked away somewhere. Campaign medals, of course. We all got them, even the cooks. I reckon that we should have got an award for eating their grub. Then I got the DCM. That's a Distinguished Conduct Medal. What else the Military Medal. That was in Normandy; it was a Sunday, I seem to remember. Yes, that's right; the first Sunday after D Day, which would make it June the eleventh. Thought I'd had it when that armoured car came at us. Me and Nobby Clarke managed to knock it out with a couple of grenades. Just as well, the squad was pinned down in a ditch. Nobby married an actress, you know. Vanessa Vickers, she was called. That wasn't her real name of course; it was something like Bridget Thomas. NoLomas, that was it. I walked out with her sister a few times until she buggered off with some Canadian pilot."

"So you married someone else, Cyril?" Of course he did. I was struggling to think of anything to keep the conversation going.

"How did you know I was married?

The old man still wore his wedding ring. "I can see the ring on your finger," I said.

"I met her at the Kirby United celebration dance. We got to the FA Cup semi-final before we were knocked out. I was playing left back in those days."

"You played for Kirby United!" He'd never said anything about that before, either.

"That's right. Derwent Rovers were going to sign me up but I broke my leg on a motorbike so that put an end to my footballing days. I was saying, I met my wife at the dance. She was wearing a black dress with red spots and her friend's name was Vera. They shared a house in Victoria Road. Number 35, it was; there was a goldfish pond in the garden."

There didn't seem much wrong with his memory now. He picked up the packet of mints, looked at them, and put them into his pyjama pocket. "Annie's her name," he continued, "Been married for fifty-one years, we have. Got two sons."

Now he was getting forgetful. "Fifty-one years?" I said, "Are you sure?"

He looked me straight in the eye. "Yes, quite sure, you little bastard," he said.

End.

Footnote:
My father died last year whilst suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease. I couldn't write anything for weeks until the idea for this story came up and then my 'block' disappeared. It's not based on fact but perhaps it purged the guilt that strikes when we feel that we could have been better offspring and it's too late to apologise or show our affection. Anyway, I think that he would have laughed at this one


Archived comments for FORGET-ME-NOT
dancing-queen on 2004-04-16 06:01:13
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
I felt like cheering at the end, there, Expat - all the way through I was thinking what a nasty piece of work Cameron was, so selfish and full of himself - he needed bringing down a peg or two and his father certainly managed to do that, despite his illness.

I did get a little confused with all the names, trying to remember who was who (a bit like the father, although as far as I'm aware I'm not senile yet), especially as they were all male characters - I wonder if it might be less confusing if you cut Kenneth's role out of this - he's not a main character and it wouldn't really affect the story if he wasn't there. I'm just thinking that with a short story you need only have important characters mentioned. We don't really need to know all that information about Kenneth, really. Kenneth's dialogue could quite easily have come from Cameron's brother, which would only need a little reworking. It's something to consider, anyway.

Also, another point of confusion is where Cameron refers to his father as 'the old man'. A few times it had me wondering "Which old man?" as there were obviously a few around. Maybe Cameron could refer to him as 'My old man' (or 'Dad' even) in those instances.

Confusions aside - I enjoyed this. (Sorry to hear about your own father, it's very sad. It's true that writing does help with the healing process, though).

Best wishes - DQx

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-04-16 06:46:50
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
Might have been better if Cameron had undergone some sort of change as a result of seeing his dad...but as it is, it's great to see the selfish shit get something of a comeuppance. Maybe that would be the lesson; not to judge people so harshly until he knows everything they've done and achieved.

Sorry to hear about your own father, but if I'm any judge, there's a world of difference between you and Cameron, so I'd have taken it as 'pure' fiction rather than fact-based, anyway. 🙂

It's a good story. There is honesty here - a feeling that it was a piece that needed to be written - that comes through even before the footnote.
Thanks for the read!

Author's Reply:

nibs on 2004-04-16 07:16:12
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
A well paced story that kept me interested. I loved the ending, priceless! The portrayal of a disease that sharpens memories of the past was realistic and touching, difficult to achieve in such a short piece.
Needs a little editing, for example, Graham and Grahame, both spellings appear in the text. A good read, I enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-16 07:59:55
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
Thanks for the comments, DQ, Karl, & Nibs. Looking at the piece again, DQ, you could well be right about Kenneth; I'll have a tinker and see how it comes out.
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-04-16 16:32:54
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
It's been a while since I've read any of your work. I like this a lot. The idea is so true, we may be adults ourselves but it doesn't stop us from being our parents kids, we tend to forget that the older we get. I know I do at times.

I agree with the others I think you could easily lose Kenneth and use the brother instead.

Sorry to hear about your loss.

Author's Reply:

thehaven on 2004-04-16 18:18:29
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
A brilliant story line.My only doubt was with the coversation between the brothers.It seemed to be stilted ...but that apart well worth a `10

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-16 18:21:34
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
Thanks, Claire, appreciated. Yes, Kenneth will be written out. I put him in as another focal point for Cameron's scorn but I can now see that he isn't really that important.
Best wishes, :^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-16 18:34:22
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
Many thanks, Mike. As you probably gathered, the stiffness in the conversation was intentional to convey the lack of brotherly love.
Regards, :^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-04-17 03:07:00
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
This is great expat, I do liie your stuff, I find it very readable and entertaining. I have no crticisms to offer (oh alright, a tiny thing, I think it'd read better removing the 'that' from 'you mean that he's gone off his rocker?'). But its terrific to read, with an underlying tone of pathos and regret. Welcome back! by the way. I did try to post on a forum but it wouldn't let me. Something wrong with the old password, I reckon. Thanks for the read.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-17 04:10:39
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
Hiya, Skeeter. Thanks very much for that and also the Hot Author nomination. It's good to be back,
Best wishes, :^) Steve

Author's Reply:

chrissy on 2004-04-17 05:23:36
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
Most people have said what needs to be said about this so I will just say that I enjoyed it very much and the ending I thought was just right.
I think I agree with getting rid of Kenneth. He doesn't really do a lot that the other brother couldn't do just as well. But then Kenneth does come to see Cyril because he wants to, because he values him as a person and not just out of a sense of duty as both sons seem to do. Up to you, of course.
Chrissy

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-17 06:10:56
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Chrissy. I'm going to revise this one in the near future and see how it stands without Kenneth.
Take care,
:^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

Gerry on 2004-04-17 09:56:16
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
Good story--had to laugh at the end.
Currently going through this with my wifes father,
trying time.

Gerry.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-17 11:52:44
Re: FORGET-ME-NOT
Hi, Gerry, thanks for commenting. As you well know, their behaviour can be infuriating for close relatives; it's terrible to see those you've respected for years fade away mentally.
Steve.

Author's Reply:

Capricorn on 12-03-2006
FORGET-ME-NOT
Hi Steve ~ your comment in my journal entry drew me to this and I'm so glad I've read it. I had to smile at much of what you have written. Your descriptions of the nursing home brought back memories of my mother's stay in a home. I love the unexpected twist at the end ... gave me a laugh!
Thanks for the read.

Eira

Author's Reply:

expat on 12-03-2006
FORGET-ME-NOT
Thank you very much, Eira. Like Karl said above, this piece *needed* to be written: it was very much a subconscious effort and I'll always remember it as the story that opened my taps again.

Very best wishes, both to you and your Muse.

:^)

Steve.



Author's Reply:


An Unwelcome Visitor (posted on: 12-12-03)
Tom and Casey's vacation in the Canadian boonies turns into a nightmare. A bit of a long one, but as it's my last submission for a while

expat



AN UNWELCOME VISITOR.



A sliver of early morning sunlight lanced through a gap in the curtains and lit up Tom's face. His eyes flickered in defence and then he was instantly awake. He shielded them with the crook of his elbow, remembered where he was, and relaxed, savouring the experience of being able to lie in bed without having to answer to either the alarm clock or a schedule. He looked at his wife. She was still asleep; her long red hair like a flame against the pillow.

After a while he noticed the thick blanket of silence that hung over the cabin. There was a deadness in the air; even the birds of the forest that routinely welcomed the new day were quiet. Tom knew what it was even before he got out of bed. He pulled a curtain to one side and looked out of the window. The glass was opaque. He tapped the pane and the world came sharply into focus as the film of snow slid onto the sill and then to the ground. The last traces of autumn were finally gone; there was nothing but glistening whiteness to be seen between the cabin and the pine forest; even the undulations of the ground had been flattened by the heavy overnight snowfall. After the sprawling grey starkness of the city, it was almost magical to his eyes. Until he saw the outhouse door.

It was hanging drunkenly from its lower hinge and he could see provisions scattered around a depression in the snow: canned food, bottles of cooking oil, vegetables, and a torn sack of oatmeal. He called out to his wife, who had just woken, disturbed by unexpected loss of warmth as Tom had pulled the duvet back.

"Casey we've been burgled. Come and look at this."

Casey jumped from the bed and pulled a dressing gown around her shoulders.

"Burgled! How can we get burgled in the middle of nowhere?" She peered around the cabin.

"No, not inside look out here." Tom stood aside and pointed at the outhouse, fifteen yards away, next to the generator shack. "This burglar's got four legs, I'll bet. Let's see what he's got away with."

He dressed quickly, pulled on a lumber jacket and rubber boots and unlocked the cabin door. It was stiff; he had to push hard against it to clear the snow that had built up outside. He turned up his collar and stepped into the virgin snow; it was as deep as the top of his boots and crunched as it was compressed. Casey followed in his footsteps literally, comical in pyjamas, dressing gown, and an outsize pair of hunting boots.

Tom knelt down in the depression, and examined the paw marks that led from the tree line, circled the building, and went back into the forest on a parallel course to the first set of tracks. They had been made by a large flat-footed animal and the deep scratches on the door confirmed what he had suspected. He clicked his tongue and frowned.

"It's a bear, isn't it, Tom?" said Casey shakily, her breath a silver cloud in the chill of the morning.

Tom looked up and nodded. "It sure looks that way. He must be hungry with winter coming on and probably smelled the food in there. He's had all of the oatmeal by the look of things."

Casey said nervously: "Well, I guess we can live without that. Do you think he'll be back?"

"I don't know. Maybe." Tom put his hand inside one of the tracks. "Big bugger seven or eight hundred pounds by the look of it. Look up Vern's radio call sign, will you."

Vernon Delancey was a good friend of theirs, a tour operator and gas station owner from Blue Moccasin Creek. He had given them the use of his vacation home for free, and even flown them down in his Cessna floatplane. Lindy, his wife, was a teacher and pulled gas at weekends when Vern was out with clients.

Casey went back into the cabin while Tom started to pick up the foodstuff that had not been ruined by the bear. Some holiday this was going to be, he thought: they were here for two weeks to escape the rat race of Winnipeg, and now it seemed that the law of the Great Outdoors was going to put them firmly back into the pecking order. What he knew of bears was that their eyesight was poor and their hearing only fair. It was their keen sense of smell that led them to food, and there was plenty of that in the cabin enough for a month if the weather closed in. And the bear might decide that he wanted his share.

Casey called to him from the living room window. Her voice was clear in the sharp air. "I've found it, Tom. Coffee's on the table."

"Be there right now, honey," he said, "Just let me get this stuff put away."

He stacked the undamaged provisions in the generator shack, bolted the door and went back into the cabin. Casey was sitting at the radio desk with a mug of coffee in her hand. She pushed another towards him and passed the laminated folder with its various call signs. He took it, turned on the radio, and set the frequency.

"Fox Fox Bravo Yankee Four One. Fox Fox Bravo Yankee Four Onethis is Sierra Delta Golf Three Two." There was a hiss of static. Tom repeated the call sign. Despite working in the media, he did not like using the radio; he felt self-conscious, knowing that anybody who had a mind to could listen in.

"Sierra Delta Golf Three Twothis is Lindy. How are you enjoying your holiday, Tom?" Her voice was slightly distorted by atmospherics.

"Hi, Lindy. It's going just fine but we've got a slight problem with a bear. Is Vern there?"

"A bear! Goodness! Is anybody hurt?"

"Only the outhouse door so far. Looks like a big grizzly got peckish."

"OK, Tom; let me get Vern. Wait one."

The radio was silent for a minute and then Vern's voice crackled from the speaker.

"Hi, Tom. Lindy tells me that you've got bear trouble."

"Morning, Vern. Yeah, that's right. When we got up this morning we found the outhouse door almost ripped off and food all over the place. The tracks look pretty big."

"Uh, I don't like the sound of that too much; sometimes bears get a little cussed when they've got empty bellies, especially grizzlies. All right, I'd better fly down this afternoon. I'll bring one of my sons, too. Don't go outside if you can help it. Keep the doors and windows closed and you'd better have the rifle handy as well. Anything that you need?"

"No, we're just fine; we've got all we want. You'll be staying over?"

"Yeah, just until I've got your visitor sorted out."

"Thanks, Vern. What time will you be here?"

"Round about four. Don't come out to the lakewe'll call you when we land."

"OK we'll see you later then. Thanks, Vern. Sierra Delta Golf Three Two Out."

Vern clicked the transmit button in response and then they were alone again.

"Better make the place secure," said Tom, "This'll be a good headline when I get back to the office 'Monster Grizzly Shot Dead Winnipeg Inquirer Sub-editor and Wife Rescued from Vacation Cabin After Terrifying Siege'."

Casey giggled. "I might get a fur coat at last, then"

"As long as he's not still alive when you're inside him," said Tom. He was smiling but his face was worried at the same time. "What's for breakfast

***

Wafers of snow the size of postage stamps began to fall as Tom finished moving the supplies from the outhouse to the cabin. Within twenty minutes all traces of the bear's foray had been wiped away and then there was nothing but white until the olive-green tree line, sixty yards away.

Casey called from the doorway. "Breakfast up, Tom! Can you bring in a few more logs; it's going to get cold later."

Vern had cut a mountain of wood with his chainsaw when he'd dropped them off at his vacation cabin and the logs were piled up next to the kitchen door, at the back. Tom brought in enough to keep the fire going for two days and stamped his cold feet on the floor as Casey poured him a coffee. He looked at the plates on the table and sniffed expectantly.

"Mmm smells good. This cold weather gives sure me an appetite."

Casey prodded his stomach playfully. "You've already got more blubber in there than a walrus. You look like one as well, with that moustache."

Tom grabbed her waist and planted a wet kiss on her lips. "I didn't hear you complaining last night when you wanted warming up." He plucked a waffle from the pan and bit into it. "What's for dessert? I've got another appetite to satisfy."

"You can wait until suppertime for that," she laughed, wriggling away, "Come on, eat before the food gets cold."

They talked about their vacation between mouthfuls of steak and eggs. "How's the book going?" asked Casey.

"About three-quarters done maybe I'll get another chapter finished today." Tom was writing a novel and hoped to finish it before their holiday was over. It was the story of a German immigrant family struggling to survive in Canada during the First World War.

Casey was content to curl up in front of the log fire with a book or her embroidery while he tapped away on his laptop computer. Both of their daughters had just left home and she was enjoying having time to herself, doing what she pleased, when she pleased.

She poured some more coffee. "Do you think that the bear's feeding itself up for hibernation."

"I don't think that bears hibernate, at least not like other animals," said Tom, "I read somewhere that they just sleep a lot and sometimes get up to find food."

"Sounds just like you, you slob. I wonder if Vern will have to shoot this one."

"I sure hope not, but if it comes back well, I figure that's what he'll have to do. It's a pity, but I don't fancy being under siege for the next ten days."

There was a grating noise from the roof and then a sheet of snow cascaded past the kitchen window. Tom got up from the table and looked outside. "Weather's worsening; if it keeps on like this, I doubt Tom will be able to make it."

"Hasn't his airplane got radar?"

"Yeah, but it's only a stormscope that just tells him what sort of weather he's flying into, not where to land. Vern's a good pilot; he won't take chances if he can't see where he's going there's too much high ground around here for that."

"Well, I suppose that we'll be safe enough until he gets here, won't we?"

Tom pushed his empty plate away and stretched luxuriously. "Safe as houses," he reassured her, "As safe as houses."

Casey cleared the table and began to wash the dishes while Tom busied himself on the laptop. By two o' clock he had written another thousand words and the snow was still falling thickly. Casey brought him a mug of soup and stood at the window, watching the weather deteriorate.

"It's just like a fairy story out there," she said after a while, " I wonder where the Snow Queen is?"

Tom got up and stood beside her. He could see that the snow was over knee-deep now. "And I wonder where the Three Little Bears are," he said, not altogether humorously, "I think that we'd better let Vern know what's going on; it's not looking too promising."

Just as he was reaching for the radio microphone, Casey gasped.

"Tom! Tomcome, quickly."

He followed Casey's shaking finger. A huge brown shape was shambling along the edge of the tree line on all fours. Its front and rear legs on one side moved together, like a giraffe. His stomach lurched. "Christhe's back!"

For a moment, he was unable to do anything but stare at the beast; it was already massive on its four legs what must it be like when it stood up?

"Check the doors and windows again, Casey I'm going to get the rifle."

It was a semi-automatic, hanging from the kitchen wall by its strap, next to the repeating shotgun. He checked the magazine and dashed back to the window. The bear was still there; it had stopped and seemed to be looking straight at him.

He opened the window and looked down the sights. The bear was about fifty yards away and still on all fours. "Bugger off." He squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened. He fumbled for the safety catch and took aim again but his hands were unsteady. The butt kicked hard against his shoulder and the report was deafening inside the cabin. The bear reared up in fright and dashed into the shade of the forest.

Casey was at his side, clutching his arm. "Did you hit it?"

"Missed by a mile I only wanted to scare him off, anyway. How long for it'll last for, I don't know."

He returned to the radio. This time it was Vern who answered. "The blasted thing's come back, Vern. I gave him one across the bows to frighten him off. What do you figure we should do now?"

"Sit tight. Don't get him pissed. How's the weather down there?"

"Not too goodit's been snowing on and off since mid-morning. Can you make it?"

"Difficult to say right now; we've been having a few flurries ourselves. Is there any ice on the lake?"

"Well, I don't know about today but there wasn't any yesterday when I was down there."

"All right. Let me get the latest forecast from the Air Force and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Don't go outside, whatever you do."

"Last thing on my mind right now, Vern, I promise you. Thanks Out."

Casey's eyes were frightened. "What do we do now?"

"Nothing. We'll just have to wait for Vern this isn't a job for a city boy like me, and without a truck we're stuck here. I'm beginning to wonder if this 'getting away from it all' is such a good idea."

"Isn't there anyone else we can call?"

"Nope the closest town is Timber Wolf; it's about forty miles away and there's no airplanes there. It'd be a fair trip by truck in this snow, even assuming that we can raise anyone. Let's have a coffee and wait for Vern to get back to us."

It was an hour before he called. "We can just make it, Tom. The cold front's changing and if we leave now, we should be with you before dusk. Hang tight and I'll call you when we land. Make some space for bear steaks in the deep freeze."

"This is the deep freeze!"

Vern chuckled. "See you soon Out."

***

The cabin lights flickered and went out. Tom knew instantly.

"Goddamn the generator's out of gas. Why the hell didn't I check it this morning?" He looked at the blank screen of his laptop and groaned. "Nearly a page wasted; that's what you get for not saving your work when you're on a roll."

Casey raised her eyebrows sympathetically. "Where's the gas?"

"In the outhouse."

"Oh, no! You're not going to go outside, are you, Tom?" said Casey, her voice heavy with concern.

"There's not a lot of choice if we want some light, honey. It won't be long before the sun starts going down." Tom reached for his jacket and gloves.

"Tom don't. What about the bear? Can't we use candles, instead?"

Tom looked relieved by Casey's suggestion. "Yeah, I guess we could," he said, "Where are they?"

"I think that there's a packet in the kitchen somewhere."

Five minutes later, the dim interior of the cabin was lit by the comforting glow of candles and dancing flames from the fireplace. Occasionally there was a loud crack as wood resin expanded and burst from the logs in a blue-green jet. The snow had stopped falling and what had already settled held the light of the falling sun. Tom and Casey sat together on the sofa, looking at the fire, arms around each other's shoulders. Eventually they fell into a half-sleep.

It sounded as though the Cessna floatplane was at no more than fifty feet as it roared overhead. Both Tom and Casey snapped awake and dashed to the window but the aircraft had almost disappeared into the dusk; only the flashing red beacon on its tail was visible, and then it too was gone. Tom readied himself at the radio for Vern's announcement of arrival. After twenty minutes he began to grow uneasy.

"They should be down by now," he muttered. He picked up the microphone and then realised that he didn't have the aircraft's radio frequency. "Casey try and find their call sign in the folder."

Casey lit another candle and ran her finger down the list. "It's not here."

"Let me see."

But it was as Casey said. Tom paced up and down for a minute. "Maybe they've had an accident"

"Perhaps it's the radio," suggested Casey.

Tom checked the battery voltmeter. "No there's plenty of juice. Maybe theirs isn't working. Let's wait a little longer."

Another twenty minutes passed. Tom pursed his lips and started to pull on his cold weather clothing. "Something's wrong the lake's only a quarter of a mile away. If their radio's out of order, they could still have walked here by now. I'm going to see what's up."

Casey clung to his arm. "You can't go, Tom the bear's still out there somewhere."

"Look, honey," said Tom patiently, "Vern's our friend he came down to help us out. I've got to see what's happened. Maybe the floats hit a log or something. If they're wet, they won't last long in this cold. Come on, help me with my jacket."

Now Casey began to cry. "Oh, Tom I'm afraid that something might happen to you."

He squeezed her shoulder. "I'll take the rifle and a flashlight; I'll be just fine, don't fret. You'd better have the shotgun ready, just to be on the safe side."

"The shotgun! I don't know if I can handle one of those the only gun I've ever fired was a .22 when I used to go squirrel hunting with my father."

"All right I'll load it for you; all you've got to do is press the trigger, it'll reload itself. If you're going to shoot anything, let it get as close as you dare and hold it tight to your shoulder before you fire, otherwise you'll find that it's got a kick like a mule. Don't worry, though, it won't come to that."

She took the weapon unhappily. It was almost dark when Tom opened the cabin door. The snow clouds had cleared and a quarter moon hung above the forest roof. He flashed the torch around but there was no sign of the bear.

"OK, honey, keep the door locked and listen out for us. I'll be as quick as I can." He kissed her and stepped outside. Each breath was full of cold spears that stabbed at his sinuses and lungs; he gasped involuntarily and pulled his scarf tighter around his neck. The snow was soft and came almost to his crotch in places; each step required him to lift his leg up as if climbing an oversize flight of stairs. The stinging cold made his eyes water; he could feel the tears turn to ice on his cheeks. He looked behind once; Casey was a dark shape at the living room window, silhouetted against the candlelight.

By the time he reached the edge of the forest, he was breathing heavily and the trousers above his high boots were wet. He had a peculiar feeling in his groin and the back of his neck. He looked around fearfully for the bear but nothing moved in the silvered semi-darkness. He stopped, checked the safety catch of the rifle, looked back at the cabin again and pressed on.

After twenty-five minutes, he was at the lake. The moon reflected weakly on the still water. There was no sign of the floatplane. Tom groaned. Now what was he to do? The lake was about a mile and a half long by half a mile wide. He tried to put himself in Vern's position if the plane had sunk or the floats were leaking, he would make for the nearest piece of dry ground. Vern always wore a lifejacket when he was flying, and insisted that his passengers did too, he knew that. Coming in to land on the long stretch of water running almost exactly southwest/northeast would mean that if he was already ashore, he would either be somewhere to his left or on the other side of the lake. That was a lot of ground to cover, especially at night and in deep snow.

"VERN VERN" His voice carried in the stillness but it seemed flat, as if the snow was absorbing the words. He shouted until he was hoarse but there was no response. The pressing silence bore down on him, emphasised by the cathedral-like overhang of the forest that seemed to stretch forever. The only sound was the sharp crunching of snow under his feet and even that was muted by the earflaps of his hunting cap.

The snow had not settled on the wet ground along the water's edge and at last his progress was easier. It was as he stepped over a scattering of driftwood that he smelled the fuel. It was high-octane aviation gasoline; he knew the reek from helping Vern to refuel before he had dropped them at the cabin. He waded through the snow at the edge of the forest, following his nose.

The Cessna was upside-down in the trees; he could see it silhouetted against the moonlight. The floats stuck up like dented torpedoes and the inverted tail was pointing towards the water. It must have clipped the trees as it was coming in to land and pitched over. He shone the torch fearfully onto the fuselage, forty feet above. Both side doors were closed and fuel was dripping steadily from the wing tanks.

"Vern? VERN?"

Silence.

"VERN?"

A low groan. Something creaked metallically and a shower of broken branches and twigs fell next to him. And then a weak voice.

"Tomis that you?"

He recognised Vern's accent. Thank God for that he was still alive. "Vern are you hurt?"

"My back. It's my back." His voice was muffled. "It's like someone hit me with a baseball bat. I reckon my arm's broken, too."

"What about your son?"

"He's unconscious his head hit the windshield. I think he's got concussion. We're lying on the roof. I can't even get to the blankets in the baggage compartment, every time I move, the airplane rocks."

Tom played the torch over the wreck. It didn't look very secure on the bed of branches. Forty feet was a long way to fall and the impact was sure to make their injuries worse or even kill them. And it must be bitterly cold inside there; they'd freeze to death before daylight, that was for sure.

He thought quickly. "Listen carefully, Vern. There's nothing I can do by myself. I'm going back to the cabin to get help on the radio. Try not to move; I'll be back as soon as I can. Can you hang on for a while?"

"I ain't going no place, that's for sure. Hell of a way to end a flight."

"OK, buddy, stick with it, I'll be right back."

Tom was reluctant to leave but he had no alternative. He ran along the lake's edge until he reached the clearing that led to the cabin. Then he was back into the snow. He fell several times as he raced towards help. His heart was pounding and he could feel a band tightening around his chest. A city boy in the boonies; he wasn't used to this. He could see the candlelight from the windows as he picked himself up for the fourth time. And then he heard the shot.

***

Casey was stirring a tureen of broth on the range when she suddenly felt strangely uncomfortable, as if she was being watched. She turned and looked at the kitchen window. The curtains were open; she could plainly see that there was nobody there. Her nerves were getting the better of her; it was the first time that she'd been alone in the cabin. "Come on, Casey," she said aloud, to boost her confidence, "Your mind's playing tricks on you." Even so, she was still uneasy. She put the spoon down, crossed the kitchen, and reached out to close the curtains.

The grizzly was standing no more than three feet away and to one side, watching her. Even in the candlelight, she could see its long, curved, claws where they rested on the top layer of logs that Tom had stacked there earlier, and its hideous round head, tapered muzzle and short ears. Worst of all were its eyes; they seemed to be sizing her up for a meal. It began to climb the firewood, coming straight for her.

She lurched back in terror. Her heart thudded against her ribs; she felt a desperate need
to urinate and cried out. "Tom, Tom get back here for Christ's sake. Tom, you bastard come back now. Please, please, please"

It was level with the window ledge now; there was only an eighth of an inch of glass between them. She watched, horrified, as it reached towards her, its paw pushing against the lower pane. For long, awful, seconds she could not move; its glittering business-like eyes held her in hypnotic paralysis. Then the window cracked, a loud click in the deadened silence. Her bubble of panic burst; she leapt back, coming to a stop against the range. Hurt it. Scald the frigging thing. She turned, picked up the tureen of boiling broth, and made to hurl it at the window, but it was too hot to hold and fell from her fingers, spilling over her bare ankles. She cried out in pain and frustration as the soup burned her skin.

The bear's paw came through the glass.

The shotgun, you stupid bitch get the shotgun. Kill the damned thing! She stumbled into the living room and snatched the gun from the table. Where's the safety catch there Tom cocked it, didn't he yes, she remembered, now. You filthy fleabag I'll blow your goddamned head off.

The bear was pushing its snout through the broken window as she raised the gun. She jerked the trigger. Her cry of pain was soaked up by the deafening blast as a terrific blow threw her to the floor; the butt hadn't been tight to her shoulder as it should have been when she fired. She lay there, shocked; the acrid smell of powder bit at her throat, her ears rang with the concussion. There was a gaping hole where the window had been; leaving tattered curtains swaying in the shockwave. Cold air washed into the room. The candle on the worktop flickered twice and went out, leaving only moonlight gauzed by swirling gun smoke. But the bear was gone. She must have hit the bloody thing, she must have. She whimpered in relief and the pain from her bruised shoulder and burnt ankles.

Then a dark shape rose, framed in the window.

It was still alive.

It can't be! No, no, no please. Where's the shotgun where's the goddamned gunThen she saw the outside door shuddering against its bolt. Oh, my God Oh, my God

But it seemed that He was as deaf as she was

***

The bear it must be the bear! Tom leapt to his feet and ran towards the cabin. Snow cascaded in front of him, kicked up by his knees and boots.

"Casey, Casey I'm coming, hang on there." He tore the gloves from his hands and hooked his finger over the trigger of the rifle. Where is the sonofabitch? He heard a loud snuffling grunt from somewhere at the back of the cabin. Adrenaline coursed through his veins. Don't you dare hurt Casey, you bastard, don't you damned-well dare

It was scratching at the kitchen door with its long claws. It reared up as it saw him, eight feet of snarling grizzly with a shredded shoulder; he could see the blood pouring onto the snow. In slow motion, he brought the rifle up, pointed the foresight between its eyes and fired. Once twice three times. He fired again as it fell to the ground, and again as it lay there twitching. Then it was still.

"Casey are you all right?" He leapt over the corpse and hammered on the door with the butt of the rifle, "CaseyCaaaseyyyy"

***

She was sobbing in fright and her teeth rattled in her jaws. Please, God, please, Jesus, anybody Help me. Help me. Her scrabbling fingers reached under the dining table and touched the stock of the shotgun. Thank you, God, thank you. She dragged herself upright, jammed the butt of the weapon into her shoulder, this time as Tom had shown her, took two steps forward, placed the end of the barrel against the trembling wood and pressed the trigger

End.


Archived comments for An Unwelcome Visitor


expat on 2003-12-12 15:30:53
Re: An Unwelcome Visitor
Having just checked this one 'on screen', I've come to the conclusion that it's Not Very Good At All. Far too much waffle between the scenes for a short story. I'll edit it and re-post when I get back to the UK.
expat. :^(


Author's Reply:

fecky on 2003-12-15 15:42:00
Re: An Unwelcome Visitor
Ah, come on, ex, this ain't bad.

The ending was somewhat different to what I predicted about two-thirds of the way through. Having a gun each, I thought they’d wind up shooting each another, but it was dramatic enough anyway. Can’t help wondering what eventually happen to Vern and his son hanging upside down in that plane though.

I would be interested in reading it again when you've had chance to edit it a bit (trust you're 'puter will be the first thing off the ship). I don't think you it needs that much tweaking.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-01-08 09:25:45
Re: An Unwelcome Visitor
I'd have to agree with what Fecky said. This isn't a bad story. I would say, though, that it needs reviewing. I make notes as I read (so as I don't 'lose' the initial impression once I've got going, having a memory like a sieve...), and my first note was "Needs reviewing, but some good writing." 🙂
As an example, in the first para, there is the rather good first line, but that was closely followed by "His eyes flickered in defence and then he was instantly awake. He shielded them...". I found that a little clumsy.
Personally, I'd have tried something like "His eyelids flickered briefly in defence before he was brought fully awake. Carefully shielding his eyes against the glare, he peered around the room in confusion before remembering where he was..."

Again for me, the ending was a little obvious after the line "A dark shape rose...". Somehow, I just knew that the bear would have been killed or would have legged it, and that it would be Tom that got shot.
Maybe if/when you take another look at this, other solutions will present themselves.

As I said, there is not a lot wrong with this. It doesn't need a major overhaul, just a little tinkering.
I'll be certain to read it again if you care to revise and resubmit it. 🙂

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-01-14 09:16:23
Re: An Unwelcome Visitor
Thanks for reading and commenting, Fecky and Karl. I’ll edit this one when my PC eventually arrives from Africa; it could probably stand losing a thousand words or so. And if Vern’s hoping that I’ll have a change of heart at the end, he’s going to be disappointed…
Cheers Steve.


Author's Reply:


Unholy Racket (posted on: 08-12-03)
More work for Lopsided Larssen, PI. A broad in trouble and a strange sect prepares for the end of the world

April 27th.

There weren't too many polecats on East 71st so I figured that the hysterical yowling coming from outside the Sleuth Booth had to be damsel in distress. Except for a visit from the IRS, it was the last thing I needed at eight o'clock in the morning. The first thing I needed was a drink. Anything in between could wait.

Eventually I gave the nod to Kate. She sighed, gave me a tired smile and shook her head.

So I asked her to let the dame in, instead.

A stacked brunette in a two-piece powder-blue outfit with shoulder pads that wouldn't have looked out of place on an NFL quarterback stumbled into my office, sobbing like a baby with a loose safety pin on the wrong side of its diapers.

She was a looker, despite the zebra lines of mascara dripping onto her cheeks and the blue eye shadow running down her nose that made her look like she'd stuck it in an ice bucket. She seemed upset about something.

"You'd better take the weight off your suspension, honey," I said, as she fell into my arms.

She swabbed her eyes with the back of my sleeve and sniffed loudly. I passed her my handkerchief. She wiped the dust off the chair, threw the handkerchief in the bin and sat down.

"Thank you, Mr. Larssen. Maybe I should introduce myself. Millicent Quilley."

Her accent put me in mind of Mississippi. Her long legs put me in mind of the Great PlainsI couldn't see where they ended.

I noticed that she had a photograph album in her hand. "Well, Miss Quilley"

"How did you know I was a miss?"

"It's always my luck." I decided not to waste time on sob stories. "When did you last see your fianc, Billy?"

"Last Tuesday at five o'clock when he left my apartment on Upper East Side. He said that he was going to Greenwich Village and he never came back..."

She started to blubber again so I slapped her face.

"Let's not jump to conclusions, Miss Quilley, there might be a perfectly logical explanation for his disappearance. What was he wearing?"

"A white full-length alpaca hooded robe edged in gold and purple with cute little red stars on the back. Ohand a pair of blue brogues from Sears Roebuck."

Blue brogues! That was a curious rig, even for The Village. I pushed a packet of Camels over the desk. Miss Quilley took one and crossed her legs provocatively as I leaned over to light it. I crossed my eyes and lit it again to be sure

"You'd better show me a picture."

She pushed the album across the desk. I flipped through the photos for a minute or so.

"Very interesting. You seem to like undernourished dogs and run-down Spanish villas, Miss Quilley."

"Call me Milly. I spent my vacation in Cuba."

"I'll bet the airport looked good," I said, "Haven't you got a snap of your fianc?"

"It's the third picture on the last page."

I flipped a little more. Then I found it.

"He looks kind of young."

"It was taken on his seventh birthday," she said, "You can see the balloons in the background."

"Well, it's not a lot to go on, to be frank, Milly. Still, I'll do what I can. Drop in tomorrow, nice and early. Let's say around noon."

When she'd gone, I paid a visit to Greenwich Village with twenty bucks to feed the stool pigeons.

What I found out cut plenty of ice on the cake.

***

Milly arrived at sometime past noon exactly. This time she was dressed in a black outfit that clung to her like it was drowning. I would have too, given half a chance. Or even a quarter. I work better when the odds are against me. But I was here to solve improbable cases, not spray paint good-looking broads with my eyes. Unfortunately.

"Well, MillyI might have a lead on your fianc."

Her face lit up like someone who'd just been given some good news.

"Oh, Mr. Larssen! I knew that you'd be able to help me, no matter what all the others said." She leaned forward in her chair expectantly.

"I'm afraid that he's been kidnapped by a lunatic religious cult and being held to ransom. They're going to cut him up, piece by piece, unless they get the dough by Thursday."

Obviously that wasn't what she wanted to hear. And I didn't want to hear her bawling either, so I slapped her around the chops again.

"ThanksI needed that," she sobbed. Then she fell into my arms. It was getting to be a habit. A good one. Her chest was heaving; alternating between 36B and 38DD. Somehow I liked the effect.

"Is there nothing you can do, Mr. Larssen?"

"Well I need some more dope on this half-baked following he's been sucked into. To start with, what do you know about the Uranal Temple of Worship?"

"The Uranal Temple of Worship? It's a harmless Sunday school post-graduate retreat for stressed mentors."

"That's what they'd like you to think. They were responsible for last year's Central Park outrage."

"You mean to say that they were the ones who put soap flakes in the Bethesda Fountain!"

"I'm afraid so, Milly. They'll stop at nothing and somehow your fianc's gotten tangled up with them. My bet is that he figured they were getting too radical and wanted out."

Milly started to blubber again until she saw my hand come up. I scratched my ear and then my nose. Why make two trips when one will do.

"Have you had any strange mail?" I asked her.

She opened her handbag and passed me a small package.

"This came this morning as I was leaving. I haven't had a chance to open it yet."

I looked at the postmark. It was local. I opened it. A note and five fingernail parings fell onto the desk. Milly covered her eyes and screamed.

"They're his."

I picked one up and looked at it. It had been cut with sharp clippers. These guys meant business.

Kate took the hysterical Milly home while I tried to figure out what to do next. I looked at the handwriting on the note.

Put $10,000 and the full collection of Glen Miller records in the trash bin next to Drago's Deli tomorrow night at ten o'clock, or next time it will be his toenails. Don't involve the cops, or else

It was a stark warning. I didn't have much time.

Professor Shorthouse of the Union Theological Seminary owed me a favor or two. I owed him a couple of bottles of rye but I wouldn't remind him of that. I called his office and arranged to meet him in Siliconi's Saloon at five o'clock.

I turned up at four, to be on the safe side. He was already there. He looked very worried. So I offered to pay for the drinks this time.

I came straight to the point.

"Profwhat do you know about the Uranals?"

He jabbed his thumb towards a door marked Signori. I tried another tack.

"What are your personal observations on a fervent psuedo-religious sect basing their beliefs on a semi-gaseous planet with a retrograde rotation every seventeen hours, a comparable gravity of point seven nine, and a place of worship established in Greenwich Village masquerading as a sanctuary for debilitated Sunday school instructors?"

He frowned and took a slug of Jack. "The Uranologists. Doctrinal outlaws. Not a good posse to get hooked up with, Lopsy. They brainwash their acolytes with a load of gull-spit about exchanging all of their possessions for a place on Uranus when the world comes to an end next year. July the twenty-fifth, I believe. The head honcho goes by the name of The Most Potent Pantheon of Poughkeepsie."

"That's quite a mouthful. What does his mother call him?"

"Sal."

"Monella?"

"That's him. He runs a pasta shop in Little Italy in his spare time."

I'd had a run-in with Monella a few years back about a poached patent for platinum prosthodontic buttresses. He'd hired a bent brief and gotten off by the skin of his teeth.

It seemed he was back to his old ways. I filled the prof in on the case as the bartender filled up our glasses.

The solution couldn't have been simpler.

But then again, Jack was talking

***

With Milly's help, Kate ran me off a set of Uranologist's robes on her sewing machine. I stood in front of the mirror when it was finally buttoned up. I looked like a reject from a Ku Klux Klan fashion show. Kate seemed to have developed a silent cough. She couldn't take her hand from her mouth and her cheeks were red.

If I didn't know her better, I'd have thought she was laughing.

Milly had finally found a recent photograph of her fianc. He looked just like any other guy with buckteeth and a set of alligator-bite chew marks on his forehead.

The cab driver seemed to have picked up Kate's throat infection as well, but he soon improved when I offered him a drastic cure. I got out in Washington Square and followed a group of Uranologists in their mojo-togs to the Temple of Worship. It was getting dark but I still put my hood up in case anyone recognized me. I had an outstanding bill at The Village Tavern.

There was a gorilla at the door with a collection dish. It was that bum, Arsenio Pinci, Monella's henchman. I kept my head down and dropped a ten-buck note onto the plate. That was the cab fare home gone.

The joint was packed with disciples. I looked around. There was no sign of Billy. I noticed a bunch of palookas dressed in green robes lounging against the walls. They were toting blackjacks. There's nothing like a tap on the noggin to promote peace and harmony.

After a while, when the place was as packed as one of Kate's dresses, the lights went down and The Most Potent Pantheon of Poughkeepsie strutted onto the candle-lit altar, followed by Pinci and a few more of his hooded cronies.

Everybody got down on their knees so I followed suit. Then Monella started to rant and rave about everything under the sun: the decline of mankind, the divine retribution that was soon to follow, capitalist pigs, the poor performance of the Chicago Bears, the price of new Cadillacs, the weather, and eventually, the lack of donations to enable the entire congregation to be shipped to Uranus on the sauna and cinema-equipped spaceship that was still under construction in the Nevada desert.

I agreed with him about the Chicago Bears. Then he ordered everyone to queue up in the aisles to be blessed for five bucks apiece. Somebody up front started patting his pockets and got a stern reminder from one of the green-robes for not coming prepared. I watched him being dragged away with a lump on his sconce the size of a light bulb.

It looked like I was going to be following in his heel marks. My cranium began to wish it had never met my brain.

I decided to melt away as the queue shuffled forwards, but the green-robes were patrolling the aisle like a pack of Doberman Pinschers on a chain gang detail. The jasper in front of me was gripping a five-dollar-bill in his mitt so I set fire to the hem of his robe with my lighter. He soon dropped it and got a whack on the side of the nut for disturbing the solemnity of the occasion. He was carried off groaning and smoldering.

Monella and his sidekicks were dispensing benevolent words and snatching greenbacks as each mug knelt in front of them. I kept my hood well forward, got down on my knees and dropped the bill into a bucket. I heard Pinci mumble, "Blessed are the navenow you may leave," when there was an almighty screech.

"We have an UNBELIEVER in our midst."

I looked up. A hombre with buckteeth and chew marks on his nut was glaring at me from under his hood.

"Look at his shoeslook at his shoes."

There was a horrified hiss from the flock. I looked around. It seemed I'd hit the jackpot for getting a dull skulleveryone was wearing blue brogues. My hoofs were dressed in black patent leather loafers. I had to think fast before the heels decided to hold an impromptu funeral service.

"Kill him. Kill him."

It sounded conclusive. I hadn't thought fast enough.

I cannoned into the priests with a shoulder tackle that would have pleased Pudge Heffelfinger. They went down like ninepins. Billy went flying and cracked his head on the flagstones. I swept the candles off the altar, grabbed him by the ankles and towed him into the darkness. The place was in uproar as I pulled him through the back door by the lights of Washington Square.

There was a Studebaker Champion parked on the sidewalk with the top down, so I hurled the senseless Billy into the back and started it with my fit-all key. I pulled away just in time to see Monella and his mob burst out of the door. A lump of leaded reprimand whined past my ear and added a ventilation port to the windshield. I needed cooling down but I'd have preferred regulation louvers.

I drove back to the Sleuth Booth at forty in second gearI wasn't paying for the gas, and besides, I liked the exhaust note. Then I realized that it was Sleeping Beauty in the back. He had a snore that would have put an asthmatic hippopotamus to shame.

He was just coming-to when I pulled up outside the Booth. I dragged him up the stairs by his hood and delicately hurled him through the door. He'd have done the same for me. Milly's face lit up like a Halloween pumpkin and she was all over him the same way as his freak pals would have been over me if I hadn't made an early exit from my impending sacrifice. But in his case, it was kisses, not hisses. He didn't seem pleased. He pushed her away as if she had a terminal case of bubonic plague.

When Milly had finished dripping salt water on the carpet, I filled her in on her fianc's activities. He got up and stood in the corner with a face like a slapped butt. It should have been a pistol butt after what he'd suggested earlier.

"I hate to tell you this, sis, but Billy was in this up to his ears right from the start. He was Monella's right-hand man for the Brooklyn chapter of the Uranites. When Monella got low on dough for his pasta shop, they faked Billy's kidnap and put the word on the street that he was going to get his chips cashed in if you didn't come up with the ten grand ransom. When they got the pay-off, they were going to open up a take-away lasagne joint in Lower Manhattan and muscle in on Al Dente's patch."

Billy scowled and stamped his feet.

"And we would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for your meddling, Larssen."

"Save your lip for the judge," I said, "You and your pals are going to miss out on the end of the world next year. I'll let you know how it was when you get out."

Milly started to water the carpet again. "Couldn't you forget what happened Lopsy just this once?"

"Sorry, honey, the doc said I've got a bad case of scruples," I told her, "Why be loyal to him, anywayhe was going to screw you for ten grand and your Glen Miller collection. You don't want to hear this, but you'll be better off without him. What are you doing later?"

"Crying," she said.

The door slammed behind her.

I called the cops. They hauled Billy off on their way to the Uranal Temple of Worship and Kate left me to mop up the carpet.

I found a heap of green robes on the floor of the Studebaker when I went to move it off the sidewalk. I guessed that the Uranologists wouldn't need either for the next few years. And anyway, they owed me ten bucks so I considered it a fair exchange. Nobody was going to argue. I drove it down to the liquor store.

It ran out of gas at the first intersection. I got out and walked.

Maybe it wasn't the end of the world but that's where Luigi's Liquor Store seemed to be.


End.

Archived comments for Unholy Racket
Skeeter on 2003-12-10 18:02:46
Re: Unholy Racket
Another enjoyable story! Nice dialogue and it was funny too, very tongue in cheek. I like the blue shoes bit. I read about this cult who all dyed their eyebrows green... people do the oddest things. It says non-fiction. It can't be TRUE can it?

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-12-10 23:21:01
Re: Unholy Racket
Thanks, Skeeter, much appreciated. This is part of a twelve-chapter Larssen journal I'm working on, only seven to go. I'm getting quite attached to him (and Kate); funny how writing does that with your characters sometimes. I screwed up on the description, it is fiction, of course, although strange things do happen...
Cheers, Steve. :^)


Author's Reply:


The Bargain (posted on: 01-12-03)
Click to see more top choices

An African tale in which Patterson puts the tourists along the right track.

expat


Patterson watched interestedly from under the shade of the tree as the couple got out of their Avis Rent-A-Car and crossed the road to Kaloso's souvenir stall; a dirty brown blanket on a rickety table lined with wooden masks, witch doctor dolls, necklaces, bangles, carved animals, musical instruments, and oilcloth paintings, much like the other six or so scattered alongside the Customs post.

He nodded to them, fighting back a smile as he took in their matching khaki safari suits and unstained bush hats. The man raised a hand in return, the woman smiled and dabbed the back of her neck with a handkerchief.

Kaloso got up from the beer crate that passed as a seat, and moved towards them. His shaven head glistened under the African sun.

"Welcome, my friends, welcome. You like what you see? I can do very special price for these articles. These are made by the finest craftsmen of my village; you will surely find nothing of equal quality in Kasomaland."

"Is that so!" said the man.

Another gullible American, thought Patterson. It won't take long before him and his wife get fleeced. He could tell the soft touches a mile away. He'd wait for a while before they got their money out; enjoy watching Kaloso wrap them around his finger with his crap about traditional African souvenirs being made by starving bush artisans. Then he'd step in and put them on the right path.

"Gee, look at this," said the woman, picking up a small elephant. Its green hide flashed in the sun as she turned it around and upside-down.

Kaloso picked up another. "These are made of malachite," he said, offering it to her, "It is the copper in them that make them green. Would they not look fine in your home? I can sell them together for two thousand ihlosi. Or perhaps you would like to pay in English pounds or American dollars"

The woman passed the two elephants to her husband. "What do you think, Randy? They'd sure look impressive on the drinks cabinet and Trudy-May would be so jealous."

The husband looked at Kaloso. "How much in American?"

"They are yours for a mere forty dollars, sir."

The man thrust them back. "What! My name's Randolph Schultz, not Randolph frigging Hearst. Forty bucks for a couple of bits of copper-bound rocks you've got to be joking, pal."

Patterson grinned. Maybe Kaloso would have a good fight with this one.

"Oh, honey," whined the man's wife, "What's forty dollars we are on vacation, after all."

"I am sorry that they are not to your liking, sir," said Kaloso, picking up a foot-long grey rhinoceros, "How does this catch your eye?"

The man took it. "It's greasy, for Gawd's sake."

"That, sir, is because it is made of soapstone."

"What's soapstone, honey?" said the woman.

"It is a form of talc," interrupted Kaloso, "It is a fine stone used for expensive table tops."

"Ah yeah, that's right," said the man, "How much?"

"This is worth fifty dollars, but as you are obviously a man who knows what is what, I can give it to you for forty-five dollars."

"Let me see, Randy," said the woman.

Patterson moved closer as the woman admired the animal. He could see the man looking at the other market stalls.

"Is there anything special that you are seeking, sir," said Kaloso eagerly, "How about a genuine Kasoma battle mask. These are at least eighty years old, from the Motuba tribe."

The man picked up one of the wooden masks and inspected it. "Eighty years old? I'll bet a dollar to a bucket of donkey droppings that this ain't but two months old."

Kaloso looked offended. Patterson grinned again.

"This would look great on the bar, Randy," said the woman, rubbing her fingers over the rhino, "Everyone would just die of jealousy."

"Forget it," grunted the man, "I've seen better and cheaper. We'll get something on the way back to the airport." He put the mask down and looked half-heartedly at the other trinkets and ornaments.

Kaloso sighed. "I can make a good bargain for anything here, sir. Perhaps I can interest you in something very, very, special."

The man perked up. "Like what, pal?"

"Do you play chess?" asked Kaloso.

"I was the High School champion in Bashem County. I'll say I can play chess."

Kaloso reached under the table and brought out an oilcloth sack. "Then you will be greatly impressed by these, sir." He unfastened the lacing and took out a handful of pale white carvings

"Two hundred dollars only. These pieces are ivory from the tusks of a great elephant. Here see how well they are made."

The man looked at the pieces one by one as Kaloso handed them over. Patterson could see that his eyes were glittering.

"Ivory? You're not crapping me, are you?"

"Only last week I sold such as these to a Japanese collector," said Kaloso, indignantly.

"Well, I guess I'll have to take your word for that," said the man, looking closely at the queen, "Hmmm seem a bit rough to me. I'll give you a hundred and twenty-five bucks for them."

"Oh, sir you insult the makers of such fine pieces. I cannot let them go for less than a hundred and seventy-five."

"Throttle back, bud. A hundred and fifty. That's my final offer."

"You drive a hard bargain, sir. I will profit very little from this."

"Take it or leave it, bud. There's plenty of other stalls to look at."

"Oh, very well then, sir. One hundred and fi"

Patterson stepped forward and stood next to the man. "Don't buy from this bloody bandit," he said, glaring at Kaloso, "He's ripped off more tourists than a goat's got fleas."

Kaloso threw his hands into the air. "Mister Patterson, I am an honest trader trying to make a living. I must put food on the plates of my family. These pieces are"

Patterson began to argue with Kaloso in Sekasoma. After a while, Kaloso stopped waving his arms and looked sullenly at the ground.

"Bloody crook," said Patterson to the couple, "Look if you want some decent souvenirs of Kasomaland, I can take you to an old gentleman in the village. You won't get ripped off, and his stuff is good quality, not like this bloody tat." He fluttered his fingers dismissively at Kaloso's wares.

"Well, sir, that's mighty decent of you," said the man, "I'm pleased to meet you. My name's Randolph T. Schultz the Third, and this here is my wife, Sherelle." He held his hand out and pumped Patterson's like a con-rod.

"My pleasure," said Patterson, "Call me Bob."

"What're you doing in Kasomaland, Bob?" asked Schultz, as they left a scowling Kaloso to put his chess pieces away."

"This and that," replied Patterson, "A little hunting, a little guiding, a little trading, whatever comes up."

"What did you say to that man in that funny language?" asked Schultz's wife.

"You wouldn't want to know," chuckled Patterson, "Here's my jeep. Jump in and we'll get you something from Kasomaland that you won't forget."

Patterson drove along the metalled road for a few hundred yards and turned off left onto a bush track. A few moments later, he pulled up outside a tin shack, next to a collection of mud and thatch huts. Inquisitive children gathered around them, chattering loudly. A dog leant against his legs, wagging its tail, until he pushed it away with the side of his foot.

"Here we are. The old man's name is Matadi; you won't find a better craftsman in the country. Let me introduce you and then I'll wait outside until you're through."

He led them inside. An old man was sitting on a stool, shaping a monkey from a piece of wood with a knife. The floor was covered in carvings, traditional jewelry and paintings. He got up as Patterson spoke in Sekasoma. Then he nodded to Schultz and his wife.

"Welcome," he said in English, "Feel free to inspect my goods; there is no obligation to buy. If I can be of help, you have only to ask."

"That's what I like, mister, no high pressure sales talk."

Patterson went outside, opened his cooler box and took out a beer. Then he stretched out in the back of the jeep, lit a cigarette and watched the world go about its business.

Half an hour later, Schultz came out of the shack with his wife. They were both beaming and holding plastic bags full of souvenirs.

"Get what you want?" asked Patterson, climbing into the driver's seat.

"Say, that's one honest old guy," said Schultz, "Everything in there was about half of what that twister down the road was asking. I even got the same ivory chess pieces for seventy dollars. Seventy dollars can you believe it! I almost paid twice that."

"Glad you're happy," said Patterson, starting the engine, "Hop in and I'll take you back to your car."

"Can't thank you enough," said Schultz as Patterson pulled up next to their vehicle. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a bulging wallet.

"Here for all your help, Bob," he said, passing over a twenty-dollar-bill, "Thanks again; whenever we look at these souvenirs back in the States, we'll think of you and that nice old man."

"A pleasure," said Patterson, "Have a safe journey back."

He waved as they drove off towards the Customs building, put the note into his pocket, and strolled over to Kaloso's stall.

"They buy plenty?" asked Kaloso, scratching his groin.

"Yeah about three hundred dollars-worth. Come on, get packed up; let's go see your father."

Kaloso loaded his wares into the jeep while Patterson had another beer and cigarette.

"Ready, boss," said Kaloso.

Patterson passed him a beer. It was nearly gone when they pulled up outside a tin shack next to a group of mud huts. A dog ambled towards Patterson, wagging its tail furiously.

End.


Archived comments for The Bargain


Bee on 2003-12-01 04:52:29
Re: The Bargain
I think I got most pleasure from the fact that they were Americans. I could see what was coming from the start but, even so, it's a good story and has a ring of truth about it.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-12-01 11:19:14
Re: The Bargain
Thanks, Bee. Yes, you're quite right – there's more than a speck of truth in it. And thank you again for the Hot Author nomination. :^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-02 07:37:36
Re: The Bargain
Nice one. Enjoyed that.

One thing that stood out "Patterson watched interestedly..." - very awkward.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-12-02 16:13:13
Re: The Bargain
Thanks, Geeza. I'll look at the opening again.

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2003-12-03 16:54:33
Re: The Bargain
Enjoyed it a lot. Great dialogue, very natural and believable; and some nice local colour.That appeals to me. A good story that engages the interest, it did for me anyway.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-12-03 21:50:53
Re: The Bargain
Thanks, Skeeter - much appreciated.

Author's Reply:


Forty Minutes To Midnight (posted on: 01-12-03)
Writing, words & whisky

expat

He doesn't want to know what time it is; how long since he's had his last drink. His watch is in the bathroom where he can't see it. Now he notices the time display in the lower right-hand corner of the monitor on the toolbar: 23:20. He's forgotten about that, doesn't know how to turn it off, swears, reaches into the left drawer of his desk for the Tippex. The digits disappear under a white impasto. He puts the Tippex back. The half bottle of Bells is in the drawer, under his rejections folder. He stares at the blank screen.

You've been writing since the age of five, he tells himself angrily. You didn't need a drink then, and you had a damn-sight more than the alphabet to learn. Twenty-six letters. Look at the Bible. Look at War and Peace. Look at Gone With The Wind. Look at ten million other books. All written with the same twenty-six letters. Yet right now, all he can see is one word in his mind. Six letters. Five consonants. One vowel. W.H.I.S.K.Y. He can taste the letters; feel them slide down his throat. Where they'll be digested, feed his brain, multiply. Then there'll be a hundred words, a thousand words, ten thousand words, a million. They'll flow from his fingers in a torrent. Fertilise the fallow fields. Push through the cracked soil. Blossom in the wasteland.

Where did the trace elements of his talent go? He thinks of Hemingway, lying on the floor of his house in Ketchum, Idaho, with his brains splattered against the walls and the shotgun lying beside him. Convinced that the parachute of his skills had failed to open when the hard ground of depression rushed up to meet him.

He squeezes his fingers hard against his palms, until the knuckles turn white. The blood has stopped flowing. Like the ink.

It's starting again. He cries out silently and bites at the softness of his cheek. The pressure builds up in his eyeballs. The thousand invisible insects burrow into his flesh. His bones tingle. He tightens his calf muscles; tries to ease the uncomfortable hollowness that seems to be expanding against his skin. He looks at the golden fluid in the bottle that lies in the drawer next to his knee, the lubrication that will make his brain and fingers work, dispel the corrosion that seizes them as surely as salt water in a watch. Already the silver worms of light and brilliantly coloured amoebas are swirling through the darkness that is not invaded by the Anglepoise lamp and soft glow of the screen.

Now his fingers start to tremble. Booze must precede the Muse. The whisky says to him: let me help. I am your friend. Together we can do great things. The thirst is upon him like a camel at an oasis. How much longer can he wait

He looks at the blank screen again. It stares back, an electronic Cyclops. He buries his face in his hands. I CAN WRITE. I KNOW I CAN WRITE. SO WHY THE FUCKING BASTARDING HELL CAN'T I DO IT WHEN I WANT TO, FOR FUCK'S FUCKING SAKE?

Because you need a little help, says the bottle in the drawer next to his knee. I've helped you before and I can do it again. You can't do it without me you know that, don't you? To be blunt, you're nothing without me, now. At one time, I was your little helper, wasn't I? I'll admit that. But now I'm indispensable; I'm as essential to you as your fingers and brain. Especially your brain. If you ignore me, I will destroy you because you are weak. But there's no need for unpleasantness, is there? Let's drink to it now. Come on, just one little drink and you'll feel much better. Won't you? Won't you

The voice echoes around his head. Streamers of silver and green surf the darkness. He closes his eyes; purple and blue clouds etch themselves against his gritty lids, expanding, collapsing, expanding, exploding. The hollowness in his core now threatens to implode him; condense him like a black hole. His fingers are trembling. Sweat films his face.

The screen goes blank for a moment and then the screensaver re-appears. Another barren hour has passed. A Scrolling Marquee, green against black. Scornful. Can't Do It Without Me, Can You?

He spurns his own challenge. It's right this time he can't. Just one, that's all he needs. Just one. He reaches down, takes out the inspiration and unscrews the cap. His hands are shaking violently but he doesn't spill a drop as he shivers it into the glass, to the mark he's made with Tippex. It's little more than a sip. He swirls it around his mouth, holds it before swallowing, reluctant to lose the taste.

But one drink's too many and ten are not enough.

He jabs the keyboard. The screensaver and his willpower are banished. While the inspiration is still hot in his throat he begins to write. And what he typesas he drinkswill be better, he knows this. It will be better than he wrote last night, and the night before. And the night before that. The words will fly from the tips of his fingers like bullets from a machine gun.

Eventually the magazineand the bottleare empty.

He wakes up, red-eyed and dull. Lurches back into the study. The screensaver taunts him. Can't Do It Without Me, Can You? Skates the mouse across the desk with the back of his hand. Then looks at what he has written and realises that yet again, it is a collection of lifeless words. Still-born. Throws the drained inspiration against the wall, where it shatters. Pounds his fists against the desk in rage.


Can't Do It Without Me, Can You? Reaches into the desk drawer. There is one bottle left. Leaves it, closes the drawer.

Today, he promises himself, will not be another yesterday.

Archived comments for Forty Minutes To Midnight


e-griff on 2003-12-01 05:36:32
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
Blimey! *hides bottle*


er, typo : I think 'draw' should be 'drawer'

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-12-01 11:16:29
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
Arghh – that'll teach me to proof read my own stuff before I submit. Musht have been the whishky. Thanks, Griff.
BTW, this one's not autobiographical, honestly. :^)


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-03 07:28:21
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
An interesting short piece.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-12-03 12:57:11
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
Thanks, Geeza. Written after reading a magazine article. The amount of tortured alcoholic writers is incredible: Fitzgerald, Carver, Faulkner, Behan, Henry O. Eugene O'Neill, Jarry.
Fame!/ I'm gonna live forever…


Author's Reply:

shadow on 2003-12-04 05:44:47
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
Strong stuff - very gripping. (Though personally I've never found whisky much good for inspiration, it just sends me to sleep.)

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-12-07 06:41:08
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
Thanks for reading and commenting, Shadow.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

Chell on 2003-12-08 05:04:11
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
Scary idea, hope i never end up searching for my inspiration in a bottle of alcohol, if i ever do it won't be whisky, that always closes my brain down rather than wakes it up. Strong writing my friend, very though provoking.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2003-12-08 10:03:59
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
Very vivid. Sure we've all been there, albeit minus the bottle of whisky! 🙂

Author's Reply:

simonh on 2003-12-09 09:42:45
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
W.I.N.E and it's me to a Tea....When In Need Engage.... Good read.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-12-09 11:18:23
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
Thanks, Chell, Karl & Simon.

Author's Reply:

fitbin on 2003-12-11 10:25:08
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
Good. Nice personification of the whisky, tempting and teasing. The end captures a moment where the promise will inevitably be broken, which is very familiar.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-12-11 13:19:08
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
Thanks, Fitbin, appreciated. :^) Steve

Author's Reply:

Heirloom on 2004-01-29 12:17:31
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
Although not a particularly original idea this was so vivid and well written that I was engrossed from beginning to end. I particularly liked the detail, e.g., the scrolling marquee screensaver: nice touch.
A powerful cautionary tale.
Well done
Steven

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-02-18 09:19:25
Re: Forty Minutes To Midnight
Thanks, Steven, sorry about the delay in returning your comment; I'm without a PC at the moment. :^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

Buschell on 13-01-2014
Forty Minutes To Midnight
I'd love to punch the tablet screen and then hurl it across the room sometimes...I used to think I was Bukowski and could write good stuff half cut...I couldn't...I can't sober for chrissakes!

"Drinking is an emotional thing. It joggles you out of the standardism of everyday life, out of everything being the same. It yanks you out of your body and your mind and throws you against the wall. I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you're allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. It's like killing yourself, and then you're reborn. I guess I've lived about ten or fifteen thousand lives now."

I can imagine him your story and that is a good thing.

Love Dazza.

Author's Reply:
Ah, 'writers block...' can't say as I believe in it per se, unlike my groggled character. I don't get engineers' block or guitar block or driving block so why should I not be able to put a few thousand words in the correct order after a bit of tinkering?
I will admit that I can't be bothered to at times though (and those times be now).
Cheers, sport,
🙂

Buschell on 13-01-2014
Forty Minutes To Midnight
I'd love to punch the tablet screen and then hurl it across the room sometimes...I used to think I was Bukowski and could write good stuff half cut...I couldn't...I can't sober for chrissakes!

"Drinking is an emotional thing. It joggles you out of the standardism of everyday life, out of everything being the same. It yanks you out of your body and your mind and throws you against the wall. I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you're allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. It's like killing yourself, and then you're reborn. I guess I've lived about ten or fifteen thousand lives now."

I can imagine him your story and that is a good thing.

Love Dazza.

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 13-01-2014
Forty Minutes To Midnight
2003?? Bloody hell! And you look like Murphy's Law 🙂

Should have had a nib - I'll give it one (so to speak)

Author's Reply:
Aye, it's an old one. I can still remember banging it out in the middle of the African summer with plenty of ice-cold Castle lager to keep the keyboard lubricated.
Murphy's Law... sounds like me: anything that CAN go wrong WILL go wrong. :-^)
Ta for the read & nib,
Steve


Evolutionary Fred (posted on: 28-11-03)
In the long run, impatience gets you nowhere.

expat

EVOLUTIONARY FRED

"I'm tired of being an amoeba,"
Said Fred,
"Locked inside a single cell,
I might as well be dead."

"Patience!" said the Creator,
"This evolution takes time,
You've got no need for limbs or wings,
To move around in slime."

"I'm tired of being a hydra,"
Said Fred,
"I want to move around on land,
And build myself some cred."

"I told you, not a million years ago,"
Said the Creator with a sigh,
"You cannot rush this process,
"No matter how you try."

"I'm tired of being a trilobite,"
Said Fred,
"Can't I have some sets of legs,
And be a milliped?"

"Very well," the Creator said,
Though his tone was rather curt,
"I've been planning to extend the range,
So another one won't hurt."

"I'm tired of being an Arthropod,"
Said Fred,
"Can't I be a dinosaur,
And rule the Earth instead?"

"You, young Fred," the Creator said,
Looking very stern,
"Should really stop complaining,
"And wait your flipping turn."

"I'm tired of being a stegosaur,"
Said Fred,
"I'd sooner be an Anthropoid,
Than a clumsy quadruped."

"I've had enough," the Creator cried,
His meaning, quite succinct,
Ambitious Fred had pushed his luck,
And of this was soon extinct.


Archived comments for Evolutionary Fred


e-griff on 2003-11-28 03:12:59
Re: Evolutionary Fred
thought this was funny, OK, but what happened to the last line? am I reading it wrong?

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-29 12:40:44
Re: Evolutionary Fred
Thanks, Griff. Probably more of a case of me not 'writing it right'. As you've gathered, I was trying to suggest that the Creator was so pee'd off with Fred that he decided to wipe out the species. Perhaps I'd better think about the conclusion again. :^(

Author's Reply:

Buschell on 13-11-2013
Evolutionary Fred
Great concept. A conversation with the big fella across the ages. Would liked to have seen how we are wiped out a couple of stanzas on. Cheers, Buschell (Gearhart).

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Busch!
This is another one I'd forgotten all about. I think I was still in the amoebic writing stage back in 2003. 🙂
Steve


Silent Night (posted on: 28-11-03)
Scrooge's DNA lives on.

expat




"Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the new born"


"king hell are you doing on my property. Get away, the lot of you."

The night became extremely silent, extremely quickly, as the startled carol singers were confronted by the enraged face of Wakefield Shipwright. He stood in the unlit doorway; hands on hips, jaw thrust pugnaciously forward, aggression oozing from every pore of his morally mildewed body.

Seasonal snow lay deep on the ground outside Crabbe Cottage, the sky was clear and the stars twinkled brightly. Christmas Eve, straight out of a fairytale book. Except the Brothers Very Grimm were in attendance tonight.

"Who gave you permission to be on my land?" he roared, "Go on, git, afore I sets my hounds on you."

The singers looked at each other, dismayed. It was always the same. Year after year. Crabbe Cottage had become a challenge; none yet had succeeded in raising a smile, much less a donation, for Wakefield Shipwright was well known as the meanest, most obnoxious, ill-mannered inhabitant of the county. A man so sour and tight-fisted that even the most dour Valleys minister and miserly of Scotsmen were humbled in his presence. His cunning eyes swept the singers as they turned to go and fell at length upon the youngest member of the party: a little girl with blonde plaits and a reindeer-bedecked anorak. One brightly mittened hand held a collection box, the other a lantern. He beckoned her with a claw-like finger. She edged timidly along the snowy path. An icicle dislodged from a log-filled perambulator fell inside one of her blue Wellingtons.

With considerable effort, Wakefield Shipwright forced a smile onto his miserable face. Muscles, unused to the unusual combination, fought with each other in confusion. He towered above her, his thin bony face horrible in the candlelight.

"Hello, little girl," he croaked, "and what might your name be?"

The carol singers looked on in amazement perhaps the spirit of Christmas had descended upon Crabbe Cottage at last.

"Elisabeth Thorpe, aged eleven, if you please," she answered shyly.

"Well, Elisabeth Thorpe, aged eleven," continued Shipwright, his voice as dry as the Dead Sea Scrolls, "how much money have you collected tonight?"

Elisabeth Thorpe peered into the catering sized coffee tin. It was covered in pink crepe paper and had gold and silver stars stuck to it. There was one lonely red star at the bottom. The top had a plastic lid with a hole in it.

"I'm not sure," she smiled sweetly, "but I rather think that it may be several pounds."

"Several pounds!" he echoed. He put one hand into his deep pocket and extended the other. It was gnarled and the nails were very yellow.

The carollers whispered to each other, this was certainly a turn-up for the books. Perhaps Mr Shipwright was not a lost cause, after all. Elisabeth passed the tin for the unexpected gift. So quickly was it done that at least half of the singers did not see it happen; the tin flew through the air and into the darkness. It made no noise as it landed in the deep snow at the end of the garden.

"Well, you'd better go and collect it again, hadn't you," he crowed, "Now get off of my land."

With that, the door was slammed shut. Elisabeth Thorpe, aged eleven, if you please, burst into tears. A solitary snowflake fell from the clear sky and landed upon her cheek. Cruel laughter echoed around the desolate walls of Crabbe Cottage.

***

Elisabeth did not forget Mr Wakefield Shipwright in her prayers that night, although admittedly he was at the very bottom of the list.

"And please, God, and your baby son, Jesus, don't forget Mr Shipwright all alone in his cold and dark home tonight," she whispered. Duty done, she turned over and fell asleep. Her pillow was slightly damp.

Downstairs, under the Christmas tree, brightly wrapped presents littered the carpet. Some were big. Some were small. Some were very peculiar shapes indeed. One made a noise like a kitten when it was moved. All were full of love. The scissors and a roll of holly Sellotape had fallen behind the sofa cushions. An empty milk glass stood on the kitchen dresser. Mince pie crumbs were scattered all over the pink and white checked tablecloth; a few had fallen onto the floor. The little mice that lived under the stairs waited patiently. A thousand tiny campfires pricked the velvet sky.

The snow, two miles away, at the end of Crabbe Cottage, did not lay deep and crisp and even.

***

Wakefield Shipwright sat comfortably in his armchair. It was the only chair in the room and it was black. Black with white buttons where the leather was sort of quilted. There were three buttons missing and one of the arms was slightly scuffed. It was his for twenty pounds in the winter Kasualty Korner sale at Horridges. And he made them deliver it for free. The carpet upon which the armchair stood was flood-damaged stock from Carpet and Curtain Realm. His bed was smoke-damaged and heavily discounted; the seldom-used dinner set underneath it was reduced by five pounds because of a missing tablespoon and torn packet. The hideous purple, blue, and yellow curtains were from the WI jumble sale at fifty pence each and the coffee table was from the municipal tip. It proved impossible to negotiate for cheaper electricity; it was therefore dispensed with altogether. Only grudgingly was the gas supply retained.

No effort was spared in keeping himself unfashionable. The blue double-breasted suit with lemon pinstripes was a gift from the Army in 1945. As were his shoes, all one pair of them. He did, however, possess a pair of rubber boots, green, size eight. Their previous location was Council Allotment shed No 27 until their proper owner, Mr Sebastian, died. He fell off the roof, adjusting his TV aerial. Shipwright had size nine feet but that was of no consequence.

Ebenezer Scrooge, were he alive, would no doubt have sent his twenty-first-century protg glowing letters of praise (second class of course). This would have pleased him greatly. Not that many people sent him letters anyway. For all his faults though, Shipwright did have one redeeming feature; he was fair. Fair inasmuch as he hated everybody equally. Small wonder then that he was sitting alone in his gloomy run-down cottage on Christmas Eve.

A log popped loudly in the hearth as the sap boiled. There would be plenty more firewood to be had on the thirteenth day of Christmas, some with tinsel and baubles still attached. He considered billing the Refuse Disposal Department for his troubles. The clock struck midnight. He yawned loudly, for it cost nothing, and settled into his chair. He was pleasantly ill-disposed to the world. Within five minutes he was fast asleep.

It would be nice to think that while he slept, he was visited by the ghosts of Past, Present and Future. That he became a changed man, showering gifts and affection on those less well-off than himself. That he ceased to be a misanthrope. Well, he wasn't and he didn't. No Tiny Tim Cratchit tugged the strings of his cobbled heart. No sweet little girl with blonde plaits and tears in her eyes showed him the error of his ways. No emissary of rectitude manifested himself in Shipwright's heart or home. No outraged town worthies taught him a lesson he would never forget. No one even bothered to beat upon his door and call him a miserable old sod. Instead, he sat in his chair, dreaming his own version of pleasant dreams.

When he woke an hour later, he stretched extravagantly, lit the stub of another candle and went to his cabbagey kitchen. Opening the third cupboard on the right, the one with the handle missing, he extracted a bottle of Sandeman's Port. Mrs Appleby, the widow from Cheshire House, had accidentally left it on the bus last week. He was sitting behind her. She had just collected her pension and was telling him about her only son, thousands of miles away in New Zealand.

Wakefield Shipwright poured some of the port into a glass (10p from Oxfam). He looked at it. It was half full. He added a little more. After all, it was Christmas.

End.

Archived comments for Silent Night


JeffDray on 2003-11-28 07:06:21
Re: Silent Night
Excellent. I was totally absorbed by the story and can't wait to put some if Wakefield's practices into operation. Bah Humbug!

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-28 14:19:21
Re: Silent Night
Cheers, Jeff – I hate happy endings as well. Next year, Santa's sled gets shot down by a SAM7.

Author's Reply:

idmonster on 2003-11-29 07:28:42
Re: Silent Night
Very amusing story. It cheered me up no end. I haven't laughed so much since last Christmas, when I dished out mince pies, filled with max. strength curry powder, to the carol singers!
Seriously, though, this had some great lines!

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-29 12:37:46
Re: Silent Night
Ta, Id. Personally, I favour chillis. Just the thing to make them hit the high notes.

Author's Reply:

richa on 2003-11-30 11:27:01
Re: Silent Night
that was a refreshing change, unlike usual christmas stories. thanks for the good read.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-30 11:49:00
Re: Silent Night
Thank you Richa. :^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-04-18 02:19:49
Re: Silent Night
An interesting slant onthe usual, and I enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-04-19 02:00:27
Re: Silent Night
Thanks, Skeeter,
The miserable old git's one of my favourites.
:^) Steve

Author's Reply:


Sundowners (posted on: 24-11-03)
Click to see more top choices

The things that come out over a few drinks...

expat

SUNDOWNERS.


We were sitting outside on the veranda, drinking sundowners. The dusk was a brilliant palette of colour: reds, gold, orange and purple. Cicadas were abrading the evening silence. We didn't talk much generally, not until the second whiskies were poured and the ice in the bucket was starting to melt in the residue of the day's heat.

Ralph tapped his pipe on the ashtray and began to fill it again. It was his ritual before conversation.

"Hippo overturned a boat up by Barclay's farm this morning. Nearly broke the ruddy thing in half. His cattle boys were lucky to get away."

"So I hear," I said, "Not a good idea to upset hippos at calving time."

"Should have known better. It's their country."

I refilled our glasses. The bottle was three quarters full. After our regular Friday evening social meeting, it would be empty. It was as well that the local police force rarely ventured this far out of town. And certainly not after dark. Any trouble that I got into on the seven kilometre drive home would only be caused by myself, as long as I didn't crash into the herds of cattle that tended to congregate on the tar road.

"Let there always be light in your karzi," said Ralph, as he picked up his glass, "How's Kate?"

"May goats never piddle in your euphonium," I replied, "She's just fine. Still grumbling about the maid burning a hole in her best dress with the iron, though. And how's Penny?"

Ralph waved away a moth that was fluttering around the table lamp, lit his pipe and sat back.

"Shouldn't have married a younger woman, with hindsight," he said eventually.

Ralph, I knew, was fifty-one. Penny was in her late thirties. Very attractive, too.

"Why's that?"

"Can't seem to keep up."

"How do you mean keep up? It won't stay up, or you haven't got the stamina?"

"Won't come up. Even tried cutting back on the grog. Didn't work."

"That's a bit of a bastard," I commiserated, "How's she taking it?"

"That's just it, Tim," he said quietly, "She's not taking it at all. Getting very frustrated."

I didn't know what to say, so I took a drink of my whisky.

"You've never had this problem?" he continued.

"Only when I've had a skinful," I replied, "other than that, it's in full working order."

Ralph puckered his lips and stared into the sunset. I could sense that he wanted to say more but didn't quite know how to. I suspected that another whisky might loosen his tongue.

I heard the sound of a truck pulling up behind the chalet.

Ralph grunted. "Penny. Been shopping and talking to the old witches in the Expat Club."

I heard flyscreen door open behind me, and the sound of sandals flapping against the floorboards.

"Hello, Tim. Nice to see you again. How are you and Kate?"

"No complaints, thank you, Penny," I said.

She walked around the table and kissed Ralph's cheek. She obviously wasn't wearing a petticoat, for her legs were silhouetted against the fading sun through the thin material of her dress. It was as if she were naked below the waist. I almost spluttered into my drink. As she turned, it was apparent that she wasn't wearing a bra, either. How could Ralph's equipment not work when confronted with that figure?

"Well, I'll leave you men to your men's talk," she said, "Shout if you want anything."

Ralph's mood soon lifted as the whiskies went down. We talked about this, that, and the other and watched the moonlight settle on the veldt.

Eventually the beers that we'd had as openers began to filter their way through my system.

"Just going to take a leak," I said.

Ralph shook the ice bucket. "Can you bring some more; you'll find a bagful in the chest freezer."

I went through the lounge, along the passageway and used the toilet. As I was making my way to the freezer in the utility room, I noticed that the bedroom door was open. Most people can't resist a look through an open door, me included. Penny was standing in front of the dressing table, sideways to me, doing something with her hair. She was naked. I couldn't tear my eyes away. She turned around and looked me hard in the eye for a full ten seconds. Then she smiled, reached for her dressing gown that was lying on the bottom of the bed, and slowly wrapped it around her shoulders.

"Er sorry, Penny," I mumbled.

"Don't be," she said, and closed the door.

My hands were shaking as I returned with the ice; I could hear the cubes rattling against each other.

"Good man," said Ralph, "Let's get down to some serious drinking."

There was less than a quarter of the bottle left when Ralph came out with it.

"Do you find Penny attractive, old chum?"

"She's a very pretty woman," I said, neutrally.

"Pretty enough to make love to?"

This was dangerous ground. What was he getting at?

"I think that you're very lucky to have her," I said.

"Like I said earlier I'm not having her. What I'm suggesting," he said, leaning forward and touching my arm, "is that you might like to help me out. And her, of course."

I could still see her standing in front of me; long-legged, high breasted, seductive. "Christ, Ralph what a thing to ask me!"

"Stop pissing about, Tim. Do you want to screw her or not?"

"Well," I said, "the idea's not an unappealing one."

He slapped me on the back. "That's sorted then. Next Friday. Get here at the usual time, we'll have a drink, then I'll leave you alone, bugger off to the Expat Club until midnight. Your wife won't be suspicious as far as she's concerned, you'll be getting pissed with me, as usual. Let's drink on it."

He poured two hefty measures, lit up his pipe again and settled in his chair.

"Er, how does Penny feel about this, Ralph?"

"She'll feel a whole lot better, believe me. Don't worry; she's as willing as a lioness on heat. Drink up."

***

Kate was unsympathetic as I lurched into the kitchen, holding my head.

"You made enough noise to waken the dead when you got in last night," she scolded, "so you can put up with any noise that I'm making now." She began to pound a lump of steak with her wooden mallet.

I took a couple of aspirin and went back to bed. As I lay there with the curtains drawn and my head pulsing like an elephant's heartbeat, I tried to recall the conversation with Ralph. He was quite content to let me make love to his wife while he got pissed at the Club. The idea still appealed to me, even though the last thing that I needed right now was any blood moving around my organs at more than crawling pace. And it was true that the lovemaking between Kate and myself had become a little mechanical over the past year or so. We were getting stale. I dropped off to sleep thinking about Penny and her bedroom display.

The week seemed to drag but Friday eventually arrived. I finished work at the mine early and dashed home to get myself spick and span for the evening. Kate passed me an ice-cold beer as I stepped out of the shower.

"I hope that you haven't used up all the water; you've been in there for at least twenty minutes," she said, "and please don't come home in the same state as you did last week, otherwise you'll be in even hotter water"

"I won't," I promised.

She pecked my cheek as I picked up the Land Rover keys. "Enjoy yourself, darling."

I bounced along the track at a good eighty kilometres an hour, twice my normal speed. The sun was just starting to settle on the horizon as I turned into Ralph's yard. Penny's Toyota was there, as well as Ralph's Nissan. He was waiting for me on the veranda with a glass of whisky in his hand. There were four cans of beer, another glass, and a bottle of J&B on the table.

He was looking smarter than usual. For once, he had long trousers on and a tie that matched his shirt. Expat Club rules. Colonialism never dies in some parts of Africa.

"How's it, old chap? Grab yourself a beer and loosen up while Penny gets herself ready." It all seemed very business-like.

So we sat down, drank two beers each, talked about the week's events, and poured the whisky as God's artist got busy on the sky.

Ralph looked at his watch after a while. "Seven o'clock time I was making a move. Enjoy yourself; I'll leave it to you to find out what Penny likes. Expect me back at midnight."

He finished his whisky with an elaborate flourish, patted my shoulder, and disappeared into the house. I heard his truck pull away a couple of minutes later.

As I was wondering what to do next, Penny came onto the veranda with a glass of wine in her hand. She was dressed in a wrap-around skirt and low-cut white blouse. As I made to stand, she pulled me towards her and kissed me hard on the lips.

"Whenever you're ready, Tim," she breathed. She smelt exquisite, a mixture of perfume and toilet water.

So we went into her bedroom and began to do what couples do. After fifteen minutes of passionate kissing and heavy petting, she undressed me, and then herself. And then something happened that I couldn't believe. I saw Kate's trusting face as she'd kissed me goodbye. What a bastard thing I was about to do have sex with another woman purely for the animal enjoyment of it. Waves of guilt pulsed through me, like the pain of the previous week's hangover. I couldn't go through with it.

Penny's face was a mask of fury as I told her that I was going home, that I couldn't cheat on Kate, even for a beautiful woman like her.

"You'll be sorry about this, very bloody sorry," she promised me as I left the bungalow. An empty wine bottle followed, just missing my head.

This was going to ruin a very good friendship with Ralph, I thought, as I hammered along the track.

It was for sure. I found his Nissan parked inside my yard when I got back.

End.

Archived comments for Sundowners


Bee on 2003-11-24 03:14:06
Re: Sundowners
Another great read, and totally unexpected twist - or perhaps I'm just not very astute. I really liked the double treachery here.

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2003-11-24 09:35:34
Re: Sundowners
Very readable with a nice unexpected ending. I thought Ralph might be up to something when you emphasized how he'd smartened himself up - but I didn't guess what.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-25 04:03:38
Re: Sundowners
Thanks, Bee and Shadow. I'm actually cringing a little with this one, as I mistakenly posted a pre-submission version instead of the final article. No great changes, but the revised piece was a little tidier. I'll, er, blame it on the Stellenbosch.

Author's Reply:

ruadh on 2003-11-25 06:54:39
Re: Sundowners
I guessed what was going to happen when I got to the bit about Ralph being smarter than usual, although I am curious as to whether Ralph set Tim up with Penny intentionally for his own gain or whether he was simply taking advantage of it? Either way, it was still a great story.

ailsa

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-26 01:03:50
Re: Sundowners
Thank you, Ailsa. I like to think that there was a fair bit of collusion going on with only Tim being unaware of the situation. But your guess is as good as mine because I don't consciously plan anything when writing; I lazily follow the previous sentence after an initial idea.
:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

idmonster on 2003-11-26 12:01:47
Re: Sundowners
Very enjoyable story, and I wasn't expecting the ending. It really got me thinking about how I would react in a similar situation. Nice one!

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-26 22:38:13
Re: Sundowners
Thanks, Id, appreciated.

Author's Reply:


Finals (posted on: 21-11-03)
An inexperienced pilot is lost above the clouds. To make matters worse, he has technical problems and is almost out of fuel.

expat

FINALS. Not for the first time, he wished he'd paid more attention to the weather briefing before take-off. Completely lost above thick, unending cloud. Another cold front moving in, the weather deteriorating as rapidly as his fuel level was diminishing. No way of communicating with air traffic control. The instrument suction gauge needle fluctuating wildly, compounding his problems. If the vacuum pump failed now, he'd lose his directional gyro and, most importantly, his attitude indicator. Any descent into the grey cotton wool below would rob him of his visual references. Not instrument rated, why had he flown so far away from the airfield and into trouble? Why, Why, Why? Relax. Relax. Remember what the instructor used to say when the gauges were nothing more than meaningless faces and quivering needles concentrate on one thing at a time; build up a picture; put it together. Well, do it. Check flight instruments. Airspeed 105 knots, attitude indicator showing wings level; altitude 5,500 feet; turn co-ordinator centred; compass heading 335; vertical speed indicator zero. Engine indications fine: pressures and temperatures all in the green. Fuel quantity needles in the red; reduce power, lean the mixture; stretch out every drop of fuel. Twenty more minutes in the air, if he was lucky. He checked his views nothing but watery sun and unbroken cloud, as far as he could see. A descent into that moisture-laden carpet was the only way to establish his position, picking up a landmark or two. But what if the cloud ran all the way down to the ground, or crowned high terrain? His options, like his fuel, were low. Throttle back a little more, maximise endurance. Adjust prop pitch. Oh, just for one glimpse of the ground an escape tunnel. The engine faltered for a moment, then burst back into life. That was it; he'd have to go down now, before he had no choice. He'd need some engine power in reserve when he broke cloud. He glanced at the vacuum gauge the needle continued to fluctuate, but the attitude indicator and directional gyro still held true. So far. But they'd take a while to run down if the suction failed completely. Best not to get too dependent on them. The engine ran rough, picking up as he raised the nose a little. Fuel or fumes in the tanks? Carburettor heat On. He began a slow descent. Streaming tendrils of grey licked across the cowling, gradually immersing the aircraft until, at last, all visual reference from the cockpit was gone. With a silent gulp, the Cessna was swallowed by the wet maw. No going back now, in either sense of the term. His eyes shifted magnetically to the suction gauge once more. The needle flickered between zero and the lower edge of the green arc. He checked the vertical speed indicator and altimeter a steady descent. So far, so good. Three thousand feet, no sign of the cloud clearing; he snatched a glimpse of the turn co-ordinator a bank to the left. Ignore the attitude indicator it could be running down. This was no time for dishonesty. Slight pressure on the control wheel levelled the wings. Thirty-four degrees Fahrenheit on the digital Outside Air Temperature gauge, ice would probably be forming on the upper surface of the wings, deadening lift. Airspeed 85 knots. Check pitot heat On. And then, abruptly, it did not matter about the ailing vacuum pump. With a surprised cough, the engine stopped, its vitality exhausted. The gear drive to the pump, stopped with it. Now he knew where he stood in deep trouble. Watch the magnetic compass and turn co-ordinator fly straight and level don't turn until you see the ground, don't let vertigo creep in The electrically-driven turn co-ordinator indicated another turn to the left, the compass drifted from its heading. Correct it before it runs away with you. Ignore the vacuum-driven directional gyro. He almost looked at the dead attitude indicator, out of habit. Don't, don't. His senses would begin to topple. He would follow the false horizon all the way down to the ground in a screaming curve. Sixteen hundred feet. A flash of snow-sprinkled fields to his left, disappearing instantly as the cloud healed its soft hide. A gentle rushing whisper as the frigid slipstream curled over the windscreen. Ten degrees of flap, airspeed eighty, trim down to control the buoyancy. Compass drifting airspeed rising, turn co-ordinator creeping into a left bank again. Altimeter unwinding don't panic Don't look at the attitude indicator with its bar sulking at seventy degrees in a right-hand bank. Straighten up and fly right. Nine hundred feet and descending at five hundred feet a minute. The altimeter was set to sea level altitude, how high was the ground around here? Somewhere around three hundred and fifty feet. He tensed; the icy ground was only seconds away. And then he was clear. Wintry fields stretched out ahead of him two hundred feet below, cross hatched with hedges and two roads. He sideslipped to the right, applied full flap, trimmed down and flared as the horizon disappeared beneath the nose. The road, as usual, was deserted as he touched down, just the faintest keek, keek of the tyres telling him that they had the weight of the aeroplane. He coasted to a stop and pressed S, twice on the keyboard. The tower view showed him that he was nowhere near the airport. He sighed. Still, it was better than yesterday; he'd crashed, inverted, on his downwind leg to Meigs Field. He pushed aside his cup of cold coffee, gripped the mouse stiffly and reset the flight. He was back on Runway Two Six at Blackbushe Airport. Better luck this time. He wriggled uncomfortably in his wheelchair, advanced the throttle and released the brakes. He wished, bitterly, that he'd had that option one winter's day, three years ago.
Archived comments for Finals


Skytrucker on 2003-11-21 07:06:01
Re: Finals
Great story Steve. I loved the twist at the end (the reference to a wheelchair) A salutory warning there for all private pilots.

Author's Reply:

richa on 2003-11-22 04:19:25
Re: Finals
did not see the twist coming. enjoyed the story.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-22 15:54:08
Re: Finals
Thanks, Trux and Richa. I didn't have any luck in selling this to aviation magazines; I suppose that it's the flying equivalent of seeing a book of medical blunders on the waiting room table when you've got an appointment to see your doctor.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-23 08:03:51
Re: Finals
Enjoyed that. It could've become a "and then I woke up" kop out ... but it didn't. I think the wheelchair reference stopped that and told its own story. Nice one.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-23 11:43:32
Re: Finals
Thanks, Geeza, glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:


For Old Time's Sake. (posted on: 14-11-03)
A jilted fiance invites her ex over for a meal. When will he finally got her out of his system? Dialogue only.

expat


FOR OLD TIME'S SAKE.


"Are you sure that you wouldn't like some wine, Chris?"
"I'd better not, Debbie. You know the old saying eight hours between bottle and throttle. Just another glass of water will be fine, thanks."
"What time are you taking off?"
"First light, around five. Should be a nice day, according to the Met forecast. You know, it's a pity that you never came flying with me when we were together; I'm sure that you'd have enjoyed it."
"Not in little aeroplanes, thank you very much. If I've got to fly, I prefer to do it in comfort. I don't think that you've got a hostess, in-flight movie or toilet in your Cessna-thingy, have you?"
"Until I win the Lottery and can afford to buy an executive jet, the best I can offer my passengers is a Thermos, last December's Readers Digest, and a plastic bottle."
"It's OK for you men. How are us poor girls supposed to take a leak in bottle, for heaven's sake?"
"Yes, we've definitely got the advantage. Can't be much fun crossing your legs for hours on end."
"Are you ready for the dessert or do you want some more lasagne? I've got another bowl in the fridge; it won't take a minute to warm it in the microwave."
"Keeping stocked up on TV dinners?"
"Cheeky toad! You know that I always do my own cooking."
"And very nice it was, too. Except that I always had to do the washing up. Why is it that the best cooks make the most mess?"
"That was to make up for the shambles that you used to leave the flat in. Who's doing your washing nowadays?"
"I dump it off at the launderette for a service wash and pick it up the next day. It's the ironing that I can't stand."
"Ah, well I suppose that you won't have to do much of that for the next two weeks. What's she called, again?"
"My girlfriend? Angelique."
"Angelique! that's a pretty name. Let me guess another leggy brunette with big boobs and a sports car."
"Uh yeah, something like that. No, I'll pass on the lasagne, thanks; I've eaten enough to keep me going for the next week."
"That was a quick change of subject. Look, Chris I accept that it's over between us now; there's no need to feel awkward. I can't deny that I hated you for a long while, and you can't blame me for that, can you? Well, I've got my life back together now, and I'm quite happy, really I am. Anyway, let's not talk about the past; let me clear the table and we'll have dessert."
"Thanks, Debbie; you're being really good about this. It's funny how we bumped into each other this morning, isn't it? I go to buy some sun block and find you behind the counter."
"Well, they say it's a small world. I decided on a complete change after you left. I wasn't getting anywhere at the bookshop. So what does this Angelique do?"
"She owns that second-hand yacht sales company near the Lighthouse Inn."
"Very swish. Can't be short of a pound or two."
"It was her father's business. He passed it on when he retired. Actually, we're going to pick up her parents in Jersey before we go to France."
"Where are you going?"
"Following the west coast to La Rochelle, staying overnight, and then Biarritz. Two weeks of sun and sand."
"What about the sex? Sorry that was uncalled for. If you're sure that you don't want any wine, I hope you won't mind if I have another glass. I might even finish the bottle; I'm becoming quite partial to Cabernet."
"Go right ahead. I must think about making a move soon; best be fresh for the morning."
"Heavens is it really ten o'clock! Let me serve the dessert and you can be on your way. How long's the flight?"
"About two and a half hours to Jersey. A bit boring with nothing but water to look at. That wouldn't be your famous apple and blackberry pie, by any chance?"
"Yes nothing less. I'll pack you some up for tomorrow, if you like. And what's left of the lasagne."
"Thanks, Debbie, that's very kind of you. It'll sure beat pork pies and crisps. Listen can I bring you something back; a bottle of calvados or some perfume?"
"No it's all right, really. Would you like some cheese and crackers to finish with?"
"Much as I'd like to, I'd better not the time's getting on. I've really enjoyed this evening and it was very nice of you to invite me over. I'm glad that we're back on speaking terms; I was half-expecting you to throw a fit this morning when you saw me."
"There's no point in holding grudges, Chris; life's too short for that. Let me pack your Red Cross parcel while you're finishing up. I suppose that you'll be living on filet mignon and lobsters for the next couple of weeks."
"Yeah I love French cooking. Not as much as yours, though."
"Creep! Just a sec while I find some Tupperware. Won't be long."
"Debbie?"
"Hang on; can't hear you properly from here."
"Sorry."
"There you go. You needn't bring them back; I've got enough Tupperware stuff in the kitchen to pack an elephant in. What was it that you wanted to say?"
"Just that I'm glad that we're friends again."
"Me too, Chris."
"I'll be off then thanks again for the evening and the food. I'll be seeing you around."
"Thanks for coming. Have a good trip, and come back with a good tan. Goodnight, Chris."
"Bye, Debbie. Thanks again."
"A pleasure. Bye."
Yes, bye, you bastard; enjoy your flight. On-board entertainment courtesy of the Boots laxative shelf.


End.






Archived comments for For Old Time's Sake.


Bee on 2003-11-15 01:53:48
Re: For Old Time's Sake.
I liove the way the revenge is hinted at early in the story but actually doesn't make the reader guess where it's going. Very enjoyable but I'm not entirely sure if unrelieved dialogue works as well as a more conventional format. Still thinking about that.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-17 14:21:41
Re: For Old Time's Sake.
Thanks, Bee. I wrote this after reading Ring Lardner's 'Who Dealt', nine pages of pure (one way) dialogue. It was good exercise but not something that I'd care to repeat.
Regards, Steve.


Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2003-11-18 02:11:49
Re: For Old Time's Sake.
Another very entertaining piece. Personally, I didn't find the dialogue-only format troublesome. Nasty bit of revenge that! I hope he put something in her wine. By the way, Steve, I sent you a knee mail.

Author's Reply:

zenbuddhist on 2004-09-25 06:35:16
Re: For Old Time's Sake.
aye it was the pie that done it......being me I was expecting the tupperware contents to be seasoned with something of a more dramatic nature but laxitive is fine.....dialogue rocks ..I wrote one ages ago called DUMMY its a hoot writing like that....sort of like a script or something in fact I re-wrote it as a ten minute one act play and submitted it ....but never heard anything back...surprise surprise...haha.....Z

Author's Reply:
Hi, Zen,
I must have missed the 2004 comment notification for this one. I'd forgotten that I'd even wrote it! Thanks belatedly for checking it out,
Cheers,
Steve

Buschell on 06-01-2014
For Old Times Sake.
Mills and Boon meets...the real world. My dialogue is shit generally. Could learn a thing or two from you big Steve. Darren.

Author's Reply:
Hi, Darren,
I'd forgotten all about this, as I said to Zen. I'm not so sure that I could pull something like this off again. Thanks for the comment. :^-)


Piggy in the Middle (posted on: 10-11-03)
Which is best -- a four-legged friend or a full stomach?

expat

PIGGY IN THE MIDDLE.


Things aren't all bad for The Castaway. As well as a set of porthole curtains, a copy of Scrimshawing For Beginners, and two warped Val Doonican 78's, he's also got a barrel of salt. It was washed in from the wreck before it sank. A pity it wasn't rum.
He's also got a piglet. The crew had been looking forward to being on closer terms with it. But the crew are all dead now. Drowned. A nasty business.

There's not much meat on the island unless he fancies eating lizards and birds, which he doesn't. There's plenty of fish, of course, just like there's plenty of salt. But he's getting rather tired of eating them. No wonder, after two months of nothing but. There's only so much you can do with fish. Especially without parsley sauce. Much as he doesn't want to (for he's grown quite attached to the brute), it's obvious that the piglet will soon have to take its place in the food chain.

He has a thought as he's combing his beard with half a parrot's ribcage. If he waits for six months, the piglet will be much bigger (but shorter by three letters).
Then he can bludgeon it to death with a rock, have a damned good blowout, and preserve the leftovers in the salt barrel, to be eaten at his leisure. This, he thinks, is a good idea. He dreams about it a lot. Even when he's not sleeping.
But he bides his time.

So, day by day, the piglet gets fatter. He's particularly good at digging out roots and tubers, and there's plenty of fruit, too. He'll look good with an apple in his mouth. On a plate. With the rest of him sizzling on a spit.
The pig at no time considers eating his two-legged friend. He is a very trusting beast. Why shouldn't he be. Didn't his friend save him from the ship with the hole in it

It's just as well that he doesn't understand man-talk, for those soft words that he sometimes hears are meant not only for his ears, but for his tongue, and liver, and kidneys, and hindquarters, and in fact just about everything. Especially his trotters. Still, even though he gets some funny looks from The Castaway sometimes, he's quite happy to be in his company. Except for once. But we won't go into that.

Anyway, the squealer grows from a piglet to a pigle to a pigl, and finally into a PIG. Happy days. The Castaway starts looking at the salt barrel almost as much as he looks at the porker. He decides to eat his pal on Christmas Day. He doesn't really know when Christmas Day is, so he nominates the following week, whenever that is. He decides on five-fingers-worth of days away. He makes 'Swine in Wine' sauce from date palms in anticipation.

Now, this being the South Seas, there are some very disagreeable characters around. Ones with hair like Art Garfunkel who paint their faces, stick bones through their noses, and jump into canoes, making fearsome sounds and generally being obnoxious to those they meet on the way to wherever they are going. And unfortunately, this particular bunch is heading for The Castaway's island.

***

The pig is on the beach, eating seaweed. Maybe he's cut his tongue. Or perhaps he just likes iodine. He looks up at the sound of hooting and hollering. Pigs, by nature, are inquisitive beasts. But they're not inquisitive enough to stick around when there's a good chance of being rotisserised. Animals can sense these things. So off he goessquealing like the pig he isin search of his friend, The Castaway. He looks over his shoulder. The heathens are in close pursuit.

Now, The Castaway hears the commotion, and sees immediately what this is all about. It's all about Being Eaten. Being Eaten is not one of his intentions. He makes swastika shapes against the skyline. He is a fast runner. Who wouldn't be, in his shoes? (Green, 12.99, from the indoor market. They were the last pair.) He is particularly inspired by the spears whizzing past his ears. He notices that the two words rhyme, even though this is not a poem.

The pig is a fast runner also. He has four legs to get him out of scrapes. Admittedly, they are shorter than The Castaway's legs but they provide more traction and are particularly useful on 1 in 3 inclines. Bad news for The Castaway there are plenty of those on this side of the island. He doesn't have to walk back; the heathens cart him away on a pole. Not the way he expected to end the day.

So no Christmas dinner for The Castaway, but at least there's plenty of salt for the pot.

The End.

"Oy, Writer not so fast. What happened to the pig?"
"Eh oh, yeah, I forgot about him. Hang on."

The pig watched the canoes disappear into the flaming red sunset. He trotted excitedly back to the beach, expecting to see his friend. The hut was empty. He ran around, sniffing frantically. There was nothing but a pair of green shoes lying on the sand. They were turning purple in the twilight. He waited. After a while, he concluded that he had been abandoned; that his friend had left him and sailed away with the painted men. He threw himself disconsolately onto the sand and rested his jaw on his crossed forelegs, wondering what he had done to deserve this. After another while, he got up and had a drink of water from the spring. Then he went back into the hut and lay down on the blanket. He could smell his friend on it. A fat tear rolled down his cheek, then another and another. He felt desperately lonely. The sand under his face grew damper.

Waves broke on the beach. His heart broke inside his heaving chest. Soon, there was nothing outside the hut but darkness. He sniffed the blanket once more, sobbed, and slowly walked towards the sea. It was warm on his legs. He tasted the salt as the water closed over him.

Definitely The End.


Archived comments for Piggy in the Middle


e-griff on 2003-11-10 05:17:54
Re: Piggy in the Middle
I found myself remembering this after I read it. It has a charm and appeal. IMO, the intrusion near the end is disturbing, it would be far better without it.... treat it seriously and it becomes funnier.

Author's Reply:

idmonster on 2003-11-10 12:33:36
Re: Piggy in the Middle
Hey, that was funny! Nice easy read. Found myself feeling sorry for the pig, but, strangely, not for The Castaway. I would've liked a happier ending myself - The pig could've been rescued by a pigless race and worshipped like a god, perhaps!

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-12 11:16:35
Re: Piggy in the Middle
Thanks, Griff and Id. Looking at it again, you could well be right about the 'aside', Griff.
Cheers :^)


Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2003-11-18 02:17:33
Re: Piggy in the Middle
I am not going to expound at length as to why I liked this story. Enough to say that I enjoyed it immensely.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-23 16:12:30
Re: Piggy in the Middle
Thanx, Trucks: the czex in the post.

Author's Reply:


Nor The Years Condemn (posted on: 07-11-03)
Click to see more top choices

Written with Remembrance Sunday coming up. It may annoy some. But who's to say that it's not possible

expat

NOR THE YEARS CONDEMN.

The soldiers looked up at the shape silhouetted against the bunker entrance, darkening the already gloomy interior.
"Doyle."
Doyle got up sullenly from the upturned ammunition box he'd been sitting on and stood loosely to attention. His companions, huddled in their greatcoats, watched him.
"Sergeant?" He drew the word out, an undisguised sneer.
"Outside Captain Wintle's dug-out in two minutes. You're for it now, and no ruddy mistake. Come on, move yourself. The rest of you are stood down until noon."
"Sod him," said Doyle, when the sergeant had gone, "If I get another dose of Harfleur, I'll"
"You'll do nowt, you big-mouthed get," said a lance corporal, from behind the sudden glow of a cigarette end, "and if you do get another spell there, it'll be your own bloody fault after last night. So shut your trap."
Doyle looked around the candle-lit bunker for support but found himself ignored. He spat on the ground, picked up his rifle and went out into the trench, mouthing obscenities. Sergeant Thompson was waiting for him outside the company commander's dug-out, with two escorts. He looked Doyle up and down, pursed his lips, stood him to attention between the two men and shouted:
"Defaulter's parade ready, sah."
"Very well, Sarn't Thompson. Wheel him in." The voice from inside was weary and cracked.
"Sah. Defaulter quiiiick march. Left, right, left, right, left, light, left."
The officer looked up as Doyle was doubled into the dug-out. Sergeant Thompson stamped to attention on the duckboard-lined floor and saluted.
"Private Doyle, 286, charge of insubordination, contrary to King's Regulations and"
Wintle's bloodshot eyes flickered over Doyle as the charge was read out. He frowned in distaste.
"All right, Sarn't, what happened?"
Thompson glanced at Doyle with obvious disgust. "He was ordered to stand-to at oh-two-hundred, same as the other men. Told me, begging your pardon, sir, to get stuffed, seeing as how he'd only had three hours sleep. Just the same as we'd all had, sir. Giving him the benefit of my generosity, sir, I asked him again, maybe's a little bit more forcibly, like. Then he said, sir, that if I didn't bloody-well sod off, he'd stick his bayonet up my fundamental and let me use it to pick my teeth after he'd rammed them down my throat with the toe of his boot."
The left side of Wintle's face twitched violently as a shell screamed overhead.
"I see that this is your ninth charge in the twelve months that you've been in the army, Doyle," he said, looking at the two sheets of paper on his make-do table, "Two terms at Harfleur disciplinary camp for misappropriation of equipment and being drunk on duty. Two counts of Absent Without Leave. Brawling. Barrack-room theft. Dirty rifle. Refusing to obey a direct order. Not a very impressive record, is it? Anything to say for yourself?"
"Aye, sir, I have. I didn't volunteer for this war, I got bloody-well dragged into it."
"That's as may be, Doyle, but as you're here, you will conform to orders whether you like it or not. We're all in this together, conscripts or otherwise."
Doyle jerked his head towards an alcove containing a lighted brazier, a chair, and a trestle bed with its blankets and pillow. "Aye, I can see that sir.
"I won't stand for impertinence, Doyle. Watch your step."
"Impertinent, sir? Me, sir? Don't hardly know what it means, even."
Wintle slammed his fist upon the table. His tobacco tin fell to the floor between the duckboard slats, spilling its contents into the mud. He spoke slowly, his temper barely restrained.
"Then you'll damn well know what this means guilty as charged. Twenty-one days loss of pay and privileges. Extra duties as Sarn't Thompson sees fit. Get out of my sight, Doyle you're a bloody disgrace to your uniform, the King, and your mother. It sickens me that good men are dying every minute out there and I've got to waste time on the likes of you. If you're up before me again, I'll make damned sure that you get six months in detention, do you hear? Get him out of my sight, Sarn't."
"Sah. Defaulter and escort shun. About turn. Quick maaarch."
Thomson dismissed the escort when they were back in the trench. He turned to Doyle and narrowed his eyes.
"I'm going to have you, sonny-boy. I'm going to run you so hard you'll wish you'd never been bloody born."
***
Doyle seethed as he filled in yet another latrine ditch. He lashed out with his spade as a sleek grey rat, the size of a small cat, scurried towards No-Man's Land and the perfume of putrescence. It disappeared, unharmed and squealing.
The loss of privileges meant little to him, the loss of pay scarcely more; for there were no privileges to be had in this glutinous hell, short of being wounded and hospitalised, and nothing in his pay book that could be spent anywhere. What rankled him most of all were the additional duties, and there were plenty of those. Burial duty, ammunition duty, runner duty, sentry duty, sandbag duty, kitchen fatigues, and whatever else that bastard Thompson could devise. His hate festered as the days passed.
***
For the first time in three days, it had stopped raining. Doyle was sitting on a crate barechested, picking lice from the seams of his shirt and crushing them between the nails of his thumb and index finger.
"Doyle. DOYLE."
"Oh, Christ, not again." He darted into a dug-out entrance. He was not quick enough.
"Stop skulking, Doyle, get yourself out here, now."
He stepped back into the trench; innocence decorated his sly face. "Just checking the equipment, Sergeant Thompson," he said, his voice heavy with affected righteousness, "Doing my duty like any good soldier should."
Thompson sneered. "What would you know about good soldiering, Doyle? Christ, I'd sooner count on Florence Nightingale to get me out of a scrape than a whole squad of the likes of you. Aye, and you are going to do your duty; you're on recce detail tonight. Be outside the section dug-out at midnight, don't make me come looking for you." He turned to walk away.
"Better mind yourself, with all those German snipers out there, Sergeant, wouldn't do for your nippers to be orphans, would it? That is, if they've got a father."
Thompson stormed back and jerked Doyle's chin upwards and backward with the palm of his hand. His bloodshot eyes were inches away from Doyle's.
"The only bastard I know is you, Doyle, you stinking excuse for a man," he hissed, "Don't you threaten me unless you want to be on the sharp end of a firing squad. Do I make myself clear?"
Doyle smirked as Thompson eased his grip. "Aye, Sergeant, perfectly clear. It's the Huns as you should be telling though, man." Two troopers appeared from a feeder trench, carrying a machine gun and belts of ammunition between them. Thompson gave Doyle a final glare, pushed him away and turned on his heels.
Doyle reached for his shirt and watched the sergeant as he picked his way through the semi-quagmire. He crushed another parasite between his nails.
***
Captain Wintle pointed to an area on the map with his cane. Clouds of cigarette smoke drifted over the paper battlefield, and out into the trench.
"As you've noticed, things have been very quiet here on our left quarter. This could mean that the Germans are massing their troops in the centre lines in preparation for a frontal attack. Or it could be that they've simply moved back because their trenches are flooding with all this damned rain. The Flying Corps can't confirm either way because of the weather. Therefore, we need to find out for ourselves. You men will be divided into two parties; six apiece, Sergeant Thompson will be leading one, and Sergeant Butterworth the other"
Icy fingers clutched at Doyle's intestines as he listened to the briefing. He began to tremble as he heard Wintle talk of using bayonets to silence any careless German sentries they may come across.
" So I shouldn't need to tell you to keep as quiet as you possibly can. If you're trapped in the open, you'll have to wait until tomorrow night before you can get back." Wintle looked at his watch and nodded to the two sergeants. "Be ready to leave in fifteen minutes. Good luck."
At exactly one a.m, the two parties, their equipment muffled, climbed from their trenches and began the laborious crawl towards the German lines, seven hundred yards away. Doyle cursed under the added burden of a large pair of wire cutters. The mud was six inches deep in some places, over two feet deep in others. Within minutes, their uniforms were soaked and their limbs chilled. They moved on their hands and knees, slithered around water-filled shell holes and over bloated foul-smelling corpses. Strands of barbed wire, partially buried by previous bombardments, tore at their flesh, clothing and equipment. They bit their lips and cursed silently as rusty barbs drew blood.
After three-quarters of an hour, they were little more than halfway across the battlfield. Doyle glowered at the sergeant's head and shoulders, just visible in the darkness. He imagined his wire cutters at work on something other than steel.
And then, moonlight seeped through the thinning clouds.
There was a metallic clunk far to his right, followed by muffled shouts and a ripple of rifle fire. The party stiffened. A gentle whoosh. And then they were brilliantly illuminated as a green flare was suspended in the surprised darkness.
Thompson froze. "Don't move. Stay exactly as you are."
It was too late. He swore as a soldier, barely out of school, leapt to his feet and dashed for the cover of a shell hole. The ground for two hundred yards around was bathed in a ghastly, unreal glow. Loud cracks filled the air as bullets flew at them from the supposedly deserted German lines. The boy went down, screaming horribly.
Another flare soared into the air, small arms fire intensified, an agonised shriek rose in intensity before being cut off abruptly. The man next to Doyle grunted and fell onto his face. A bullet tore the epaulette from his shoulder. He cowered, digging into the mud with his fingers. A trench mortar coughed, great gouts of soil