Category Archives: Serials

Well Head Cottage – 9

Late on Sunday morning, Jean crawled out of bed, groaning and wincing. She had been exhausted, and just slightly drunk on the wine she and Lesley had shared, as they had talked long into the night. Consequently, she had slept well. Now though, her body was punishing her for the abuse of yesterday.  She tottered stiff legged to the shower and stood for a long time under the hot water. It helped, until she had to try to bend and dry her bruised, grazed legs. After swallowing two pain killers she went in search of caffeine, hoping it would get her on the way to feeling almost human.

Lesley had been up early and walked into the village to buy fresh bread from the bakery. She’d made bacon sandwiches, and brewed the coffee. The kitchen smelled wonderful. As Jean staggered through the door and fell onto a chair beside the table, Lesley grimaced in sympathy. “You need to take it easy today.”

Jean nodded in agreement. “Yes, I will. But first, I really need to go and see Doris. I can’t put it off. I’m not looking forward to it, but it won’t be any easier leaving it. Will you come with me?”

“Yes, ‘course I will. It might not be as bad as you think though, eh? After all you didn’t find his body, did you? Just the car.”

“Yes, but I don’t think that’s going to help her that much. She’s been living with the thought that he was wandering around somewhere suffering some sort of amnesia and she said it broke her heart. This seems to back that up, doesn’t it, in a way? I mean if he’d accidently crashed and hurt himself then, well, surely, someone would have found him, or he would have struggled to get help. The fact that there was no sign of him isn’t going to be much comfort. I bet she has imagined him, over and over, just driving back into the farm yard one day, and now she knows that can’t happen.” Jean sighed, “Then again, as you say, at least I didn’t find his body.”

***

Doris had a friend staying with her. A slim, wiry woman, with short, grey hair, thin lips and mournful eyes, who introduced herself as, ‘Sandra, from the women’s group’. She and Jean and Lesley stood together in the little vestibule at Hawks Farm. Boots were lined up untidily against the wall, and coats hung, one above the other on a rack of hooks beside the front door. A big dog basket with a grubby, squashed cushion was pushed into a corner with a water bowl beside it. It was all rather dreary and sad. The windows were streaked and dull, the floor in need of a clean. A sense of despair swept over them as Jean and Lesley took off their jackets and hung them on top of the others already there, some of which obviously belonged to a man. They were Ted’s, no doubt. They hadn’t wanted to come, and now didn’t want to be here. This was not the holiday that they had been looking forward to. Still, it had to be dealt with, out of kindness and a sense of duty.

“She’s in the living room. Try not to upset her. The police have just been again. Do you want tea?” As she spoke, Sandra led them down the narrow hallway and leaned past them to push open the door.

Doris looked up as they walked through from the hall. She began to rise from the easy chair and then flopped back as if she just could not summon the strength. “Mrs Duncan. Are you alright? They said you fell.”

“I’m fine Doris, a bit bruised and battered, but I’ll mend. What about you, though?”

Doris shook her head and wiped at her eyes with a balled-up handkerchief. “I haven’t seen it yet, the car. They won’t let me. I know it’s ours though. They found some stuff, in the glove box, a notebook, his knife, work gloves. Brought ‘em to show me, just now.” She began to sob and Jean went to kneel on the carpet in front of her. She laid her hands over those clasped tightly now on the other woman’s lap, the fingers wringing together. Doris looked up and tried to smile. “I don’t know why I’m crying. I really don’t. When all is said and done this hasn’t changed much. He’s still gone, still wandering about somewhere. They didn’t believe me, I suppose now they might but…” She shrugged. Lesley had quietly taken a seat on the settee and it was only now that Doris became aware of her. “Oh, hello Mrs Brown. I didn’t know you were here. I’m sorry. You ladies, don’t need to be bothering yourself with all of this. It’s not your problem. Don’t spoil your holiday because of us and our troubles. Thank you for coming though. That was kind.”

“We had to come, Doris.” Jean joined Lesley on the settee and as, Sandra from the women’s group, clattered about in the kitchen, they tried to find out what had happened since Jean had been taken back to Well Head Cottage.

The Land Rover was probably going to be recovered later in the day. The police had done all that they could do to examine it on site, given the perilous position, and, until it was towed to the police pound, there would be nothing more to say. Again, Doris complained that nobody had believed her, when she had told them over and over that Ted wouldn’t have gone away and left her, even though they had been having such troubles. “We had some rows, Mrs Duncan. I never hid that and so they thought he’d left me. He wouldn’t have done though. He never would have done, leastways not without making it clear.”

There didn’t seem to be anything more that they could do and so, with awkward hugs, and promises to come back in a day or two, to keep in touch, they left Doris staring vacantly at the dead, empty fireplace.

They walked around the house to stand before the sad remains of the farm shop, and the derelict tea garden. Their mood lowered by the encounter, wishing they were back in their own homes, the two women set off back towards their holiday cottage. Rain overnight had made everywhere wet and muddy, but the verge was safer than walking in the road proper. As they trudged through the soaking grass, Jean was very quiet. Remembering her sister’s illness earlier in the year, Lesley glanced across, assessing, worrying. “Are you okay? Well, I know you’re a bit sore and what have you, but you know; are you okay, apart from that? Jean just nodded and carried on.

Weaving along the side of the road, stepping around puddles and debris needed total concentration and, Lesley had to grab at Jean’s arm, pulling her back to the kerb edge as a white van swept past throwing up dirty, oily water. “Bloody hell Jean, watch what you’re doing. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes, I’m okay. It’s just…” Jean’s response, muttered quietly, made her stop, and turn her sister to face her.

“What?”

“I wonder where he is?”

Lesley sighed, rubbed a hand over her face. “No. Leave it, Jean. I mean it. The police will look into it again now, probably more carefully. If he doesn’t want to be found then maybe everyone should respect that. It’s possible, isn’t it? On the other hand, if he is somewhere, wandering around with a screw loose, then surely, they’ll find him. I doubt that myself though. I reckon he’s gone because he wanted to. She said they’d been having rows, and all that other stuff, well you can’t blame him wanting to make a run for it.”

“But what about the car?” They had stopped again, faced each other at the side of the road. “How come the car was there and he wasn’t? No sign of him.”

“I don’t know. Neither do you. Maybe he crashed and just thought ‘sod it’ that’s the last straw. Maybe it was left parked near the edge of the river and the land collapsed.” As she spoke Lesley saw the same thought come into her sister’s mind the instant she acknowledged it herself. “No, surely not? No. If he’d thrown himself into the river, surely his body would have washed up somewhere. Oh god, Jean. They must have thought of that, mustn’t they?”

“Yes, I’ll bet Doris has as well. She didn’t say anything, but she’s not daft.”

They began to move forward. “Anyway, as I say, leave it, Jean. The police are the ones to handle it and I’m sure we’ll find out if his body does turn up. You’ve already done everyone a favour. It was accidently I know, but still. it’s a good thing. Really, I don’t think you should think about it too much now.”

“Yes. You’re right, of course you are. But…”

Lesley snorted, screwed up her eyes and muttered under her breath. “Jean. Please, just leave it.” But, from the look in her sister’s eyes, she had a feeling that it was already too late.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Serials, Serials, Shorts and Stuff

Well Head Cottage – 8

Lesley was livid. She had paced back and forth in the little kitchen, slammed out of the room and then stormed back in thumping and banging as she went.

Right now, she stood beside the table, opposite Jean, her hands flat on the surface, her arms braced, leaning forward to glare into Jean’s eyes. “A police car, Jean. A bloody police car. Have you any idea? Have you the remotest idea, the things that went through my mind when I saw him? The sodding copper, standing there with a notice with my name on it. Have you any idea?”

Jean was very tired, very sore, and very sorry. She had tried to explain that her main concern had been to save Lesley and Slumpy, who was hiding in the pantry, being left in the cold and dark at the railway station. She had said the police had been more than happy to send a car and, though she had known it would be a shock, she had decided it was better than a taxi and a driver with no explanation until they reached the cottage. She’d tried to call; the phone went straight to voice mail. Lesley admitted, sheepishly, that she had turned it off, so that her boss couldn’t contact her before she had left home, and then had forgotten to turn it on again.

Jean tried to make her understand it had truly been the best option. After the police had brought her home from the side of the river, where she had eventually retrieved her things. They had been kind, taken her statement, and then refused to hear about her driving herself into the town.

The events swirled in her brain now, she tuned out. as Lesley railed and ranted, and replayed the events that had brought them to this.

She had been very afraid of approaching the wrecked car. Afraid of what she was about to see. Already she was imagining the body, horrifyingly decayed, slumped and broken in the front of his car. Ted’s body, the sturdy, grizzled farmer she had known on and off for a couple of decades. Ted, who had let Carl pet his orphaned lambs, who had become a friend albeit for only a few weeks every couple of years. She could have clambered past without looking, so the image wouldn’t be burned into her memory, but her conscience wouldn’t let her.

She was sure, it was Ted Smart’s car. If, knowing that he had driven away in it when he vanished, hadn’t been enough to convince her, the painting on the side of a soaring hawk, with the name of the farm shop underneath, left her in no doubt.

She had scrambled over fallen debris, dragged herself closer, by clinging to bits of twisted metal, and she had steeled herself to peer through the broken window in the door.

To her intense relief the Land Rover was empty. There was rubbish in the cab, some old polythene bags, bits of stuff floating where the water pooled. There was more wedged between the seats, across the dash board. It was mostly covered in muck and mud, and she could only guess what it was, but it was clear that it was not the remains of Doris’s husband. There were twigs, some bigger branches, that had washed down and lodged in the nooks and corners, and silt had begun to build up in the lower parts.

Relief dizzied her for a moment, but she pulled herself together. The aches and pains that had dogged her were forgotten. She had concentrated on getting out, rushing to let the right people know what she had found as quickly as possible. When she looked back later, she realised that, in truth, there had been little urgency because the car had been in the water for such a long time that any helpful evidence, to give them a clue about what had happened to the driver, was long gone. Nevertheless, she clambered up and over the fallen debris.

The climb hadn’t been too bad. Whenever the car originally slipped over the edge it had brought much of the bank with it. Rocks and wood, piled haphazardly down the tumbled slope, now provided good hand and footholds, like climbing a wobbly, uneven staircase. When she had trudged back to her bag she wasn’t surprised to find that there was no mobile phone signal. She was pretty much in the middle of nowhere and anyway, wasn’t it always when you really needed to use the darned things, they wouldn’t work. Sod’s law.

She had turned back towards the main road, and as soon as one of the little bars filled with grey, she called the police, sank onto an ancient tree root, and perched, shivering and uncomfortable, waiting for the authorities to arrive.

She took them to where the vehicle was upended in the river. They wrapped her in a rug, and brought her home. Once she was snuggled in her dressing gown, and despite all her protests, they had been adamant, they would call out the police surgeon. They insisted he must check her wounds and make sure she wasn’t concussed, suffering from hypothermia, shock. They tried to leave a constable with her, until her sister arrived, but all she wanted was a few minutes of quiet before the furore that she knew was heading her way.

She told Lesley over and over that if there had been any other way she would have avoided the constable, the car, and the upset, but at the time it had seemed the best option.

She closed her eyes, laid her arms across the table and lowered her head onto her hands. “Les, please love. I’m done in, really, really done in. I know you’re mad but please…” she raised her head, “Just shut up, will you.”

There was a shocked silence, and then a whispered apology. Lesley sat on the chair opposite to Jean and screwed her face into an expression of embarrassment. Jean smiled at her. “Make us a cup of hot chocolate, would you?” I’ve had nothing to eat since breakfast and my stomach’s growling. Then I’ll have a bath and after that perhaps a glass of wine, and we’ll think about dinner – yeah?”

“Yeah. Sorry, Oh, sis, you know what I’m like. I go to pieces and it turns me into a bitch.” Jean reached and squeezed her sister’s fingers, nodded.

Lesley came around the table and they embraced for a couple of seconds before she spoke again. “I’m so glad you’re okay. For a bit there, back at the station, I thought the worst. Look, I’ll start dinner while you’re in the bath and then you can tell me all about it. The rest of it I mean. About Ted Smart and all that.” Jean nodded, though, being honest, all she wanted was her bed. But, she would make the effort, and it would be good to talk about it and, no matter how bad she felt, Doris Smart was probably feeling much worse. She would need to ring her tomorrow, go and see her. It would be good if Lesley went with her, as moral support, and before then, she needed to know the background.

1 Comment

Filed under Serials, Serials, Shorts and Stuff

Well Head Cottage – 6

Lesley was due to arrive later, and Jean was determined to rid herself of the remnants of gloom before then. Once she had cleared away the breakfast dishes, she pushed a bottle of water and some chocolate into her back-pack, ready to set off on one of the longer walks. It should take about three hours and, as insurance against a problem with her recently damaged leg, she took the walking stick with her.

There had been a time when embarking on such a trek alone would have meant leaving a note for someone in case of disaster. Nowadays all of that was negated by the ubiquity of mobile phones. There were some places where it was still wise to register, the Pennine Way for example and some of the climbs in The Lakes, Ben Nevis for sure. She hesitated for a moment, what if she were to find herself in trouble, somewhere with no connection. She was swept with a deep longing for the safety and companionship of, Jim. She felt a lump in her throat. No, she was going to cheer the hell up, she was going for a walk and she was damn well going to enjoy it. She came up with a compromise, wrote a memo, with her route and time of departure, and then left it under the sugar bowl on the kitchen table. Conscience salved, she stuck a piece of fruit and nut chocolate in her mouth and strode down the path and out into the lane. The view towards the mountains was purple with heather, and gold with autumn foliage. She smiled.

Gorgeous, just gorgeous. It was easy, with the clear blue sky above her, and the changing colours all around, to see why autumn is such a favourite season.

There were a couple of cars on the road but otherwise, it was just her, the birds, and the farm animals. Nervous sheep, inquisitive cows and unexpectedly, a couple of Llamas who leaned over a fence to let her tickle their hairy heads.

When her phone trilled out and Lesley’s name scrolled across the screen, her stomach flipped and she automatically crossed her fingers. She shook her head, stretched out her hand. Silly, anticipating problems. “Hello Les. You okay?”

“Fine, yes. Great. How are things going there?”

She had intended to be bright and upbeat, but that wasn’t how it sounded when she answered, “Yes, fine. It’s alright.”

“Are you sure? You sound a bit down.”

“Do I? Oh no, it’s fine.” She stopped herself, there was no need to force this. She should be honest. “Well, things haven’t got off to the best of starts, nothing too drastic but… Oh look, I’ll tell you all about it when you arrive. Is Carl coming?”

“He’s coming up on Wednesday, for a couple of days. At the weekend his mates are picking him up to go climbing in Snowdonia. Well, it’s so close it seemed silly not to. Is that okay?”

“Yes, that’s great. Are you ready to leave home now?”

“Ah yes, about that.” Jean’s heart sank. If Lesley wasn’t coming she didn’t want to stay, but she had just now committed to being here for Carl. Dammit.

“Problem, Les?” She had stopped walking, and as she waited for the bad news, Jean leaned against the night damp stones of an old wall.

“Not really. It’s just, Mrs Burton your next-door neighbour called me?”

Oh no, not Slumpy. Jean felt her heart glitch. “What?”

“Her daughter has gone into labour. The baby wasn’t due for another three weeks, anyway they’ve taken her into hospital. It’s not a major drama but Mrs Burton has to go and look after the other kids. So…”

“She can’t feed Slumpy.” Jean was swamped with relief. “God, I thought you were going to say something had happened to him.”

“Oh, sorry love, no. It’s just that I think the best thing will be to bring him with me. Is that okay?”

“Yes, why not. He’s been here before, lots of times. I think he likes it. Do you know where his carrier is. In the hall cupboard.”

“Yes, I’ve been to get it already. I’ve got him here with me. He’s looking a bit cross.” Lesley laughed.

“Well, tell him he’s going on holiday. He probably thinks you’re taking him to the vet. Anyway, that’s fine. What time will you arrive?”

“About half six as long as there are no delays. I’ll see you in the car park, yes?”

“Yes, great. I’m really looking forward to seeing you, Lesley.”

“Yeah me too. See you later.”

Jean pushed the phone back into her pocket. She really needed to get her nerves under control. All this leaping to the worst conclusions was ridiculous. She had another piece of chocolate, turned back to the road and strode on, trying to force the feeling of background dread away. There was no need for it, it was reaction to the broken night that was all.

The road was becoming steeper now and she turned through a hefty wooden gate, latched it behind her, and paced out across the stubbly field towards the hills. She was breathing harder now, a bit out of condition, not enough exercise this summer. Her leg was stiffening, not as healed as she had thought, not yet ready for the hardest walks. Perhaps she’d cut this short, there was an easier option. Jim had called it ‘the lazy way’. It was not very much used, but it did follow the route of a pretty little river. Jean spoke aloud, “Sorry Jim, it’s the lazy way today.”

She’d be back in time to have a bath, and now the idea came to her, she’d bake a cake, yes, that would be nice for when Lesley arrived. The cottage would smell homely and welcoming. She’d call at the farm and buy some cream. Okay, she’d said she wouldn’t go again, but cutting off her nose to spite her face would rob of them of a treat and when all was said and done, this was a holiday.

Leave a comment

Filed under Serials, Serials, Shorts and Stuff

Well Head Cottage – 4

The next morning Jean tried to settle to some work but the sun and the autumn colours pulled her from the house. Constantly, her gaze had wandered to the brightness in the garden. Before very long she gave in. She put a light, waterproof jacket over her sweater, slammed and locked the door and set off on one of the familiar walks. She turned the opposite way from yesterday, away from the depressing atmosphere of Hawks Farm and out towards the hills.

It didn’t seem as though much had changed since she had last been here with Jim, the same bits of wall were broken, the same stile offered a wobbling step into a field full of sheep, who coughed nervously and scattered to the further edges, to huddle against the hedge. It was bittersweet to be sure, but this was a new memory that she was making and, though it wouldn’t take away the others, it was progress. Every day for over two years had been the same, another step along the road alone. Though she would give the world to have her husband back, she had accepted that he was gone, and made a life that was fulfilled and content.

The exercise was good, her joints and muscles warmed and she felt the residual sadness her talk with Doris Smart had caused begin to dissolve. She followed the footpath to the further side of the field, climbed a second stile and turned back towards the village.

There had always been a farm along this road, but it was an untidy, ordinary place. The yard was always puddled earth and there were never any flowers, no attempt at beautification and, she could see as she walked nearer, that this too looked about the same as ever.  The house was dingy and unwelcoming, the open barn beside it was littered with bits of farm machinery and other detritus. However, there was a sign on the gate which had never been there before. It was hand painted but neatly done. ‘Farm Shop’.

There was a list of the stuff that was available, pretty much the same as Doris had used to sell and though she did feel traitorous, Jean saw the answer to her provisions problem. She turned in through the gate and followed the direction of the arrow pinned on the post holding the sign.

This was not like Hawks Farm, no lawns and flower borders, no chickens, but up ahead she could see there was a small, metal walled building. There were baskets of produce on a shelf outside the door and a light burning inside.

The place was deserted. It wasn’t as bad as she had thought it might be, from the scruffy frontage, and there were indeed all the things that she had looked for in her abortive shopping expedition yesterday. She picked up a plastic basket and began to choose pickles and preserves. She recognised the names on the labels, and again she was stabbed by a feeling of disloyalty. She pushed it aside. These, local specialties, were what she had been looking forward to. Welsh butter, honey, Bara Brith and Doris no longer supplied them. Though she felt sorry about what had happened at Hawks Farm it would make no difference to them were she to deprive herself.

In the chiller cabinet was the meat she had wanted and it looked fresh and well prepared. She picked up a couple of trays to take her through the next two days and she would come back again before Lesley arrived.

She had finished and no-one had come into the shop. There had been no movement outside and, though she had heard a bell ring as she entered the front door, there had been no response. She put the basket on the counter beside the cash register.

She coughed.

She walked to the door and peered into the yard, where an old dog had now taken shelter in a wooden kennel.

The voice behind her was harsh and sudden and she let out a little cry of shock. “Is this it?” She spun to face the interior of the dim little place to find a tall, bulky man behind the counter removing her shopping and punching the keys of the till.

His jowly face was darkened with stubble, podgy fingers made her jars look like doll’s house miniatures. His dark eyes were shadowed and deep set, and she found his very presence intimidating. Worst was the grey-white apron stretched across his bulging belly. It was stained with blood, some bright and new, and some darkened and dried. There were bits of stuff sticking to the stains and she didn’t want to begin to imagine their origins. He saw her staring and brushed a hand down his front.

“Sorry, been doin’ the chickens, a couple of rabbits. Should ‘a’ taken it off, but I heard the bell.”

Jean was lost for words. She knew that the meat in the chiller didn’t get there by magic, the sheep in the field were not for decoration, and it was hypocritical to deny the messier side of food production. There was though something terribly unsavoury about the appearance of this burly individual, covered in what could only be bits of slaughtered animal, standing behind the little counter, handling jars of damson jam and tomato chutney.

Her instinct was to turn and walk away but she wanted the food and the other shopping choices were all very unsatisfactory. She forced her lips into a smile.

“I wondered if I could order some lamb for the weekend?”

“You staying around here then?”

“Yes. Well Head Cottage.”

“You the owner?”

“No, it belongs to a friend. I’ve been coming a long time though. There wasn’t a shop here last time?”

“Well, it’s been open about a year now. I expect you used the other one. Hawks Farm. Nearer to Well Head.”

Jean was embarrassed he had guessed she was only here because there was no other choice. She fiddled with her bag, didn’t like to meet his eyes. Still he continued with his gruff enquiries.

“Know ‘em do you? Smarts? Place has gone downhill now. Don’t expect they’ll be there long after.”

The fractured, confusing back and forth had Jean on the back foot and, more and more, she disliked this person, but she was torn. Did it matter if she didn’t like the shop keeper? No, not really, not if she wanted what he had to sell. She cleared her throat. Gained control. “I would like a leg of lamb enough for four please and I’ll pick it up on Sunday morning if that’s alright.” She reached and began to pack the shopping into her back pack.

As she held out the money to pay, he spoke again. “Well do you? Know ‘em, at Hawk’s Farm?”

“I’ve been coming a long time, I have got to know them a bit yes. It’s sad, what’s happened.”

“Aye, told you all about it has she, that Doris?”

“Not really. No. Look, shall I pay you now, for the meat.”

“No, pay when you collect it. We close at twelve on a Sunday.” With that he turned away and, running a hand through his greasy, thinning hair, he walked out through the door at the back of the shop. Jean stood for a moment in the sudden emptiness. She felt upset but couldn’t put her finger on the reason. She would come back on Sunday morning with Lesley, but then she didn’t think she would use the place again. There was no compunction on business people to be jolly and friendly, but the man she had just spoken to was unpleasant in many ways and she didn’t want to deal with him again.

The outing had been soured by her decision to enter the shop and she was sorry she hadn’t walked on past the dingy farm, as they had done every other time in the past.

2 Comments

Filed under Serials, Serials, Shorts and Stuff

Well Head Cottage – 3

Loud knocking on the back door took her from the living room, where she had been about to start work, into the kitchen. Doris Smart’s face was pressed close to the little pane of glass. Jean waved and unlocked the door. She stepped over the threshold, carrying a large shopping basket.

“I can let you have some eggs, I’ve got carrots and a cauli’, there are some nice baby sprouts. If you want a chicken, I can bring you one tomorrow. Didn’t want to bring it over just to ‘ave to take it back. There’s some spuds as well, nice they are.”

As she spoke Doris unloaded the bag, and piled the contents onto the draining board. Now she folded the basket over and placed it on the kitchen table. She turned to look at Jean. “I’m sorry Mrs Duncan. First, I’m sorry about your husband,” Jean smiled at her, acknowledgement of the courtesy, “And I’m sorry if you thought I was rude earlier. You weren’t to know, about the shop.”

“No, it’s such a shame. And the tea garden is closed as well?”

“Aye. It is. I couldn’t keep it going.” The bright eyes sparkled a moment but it was tears that lit them, not the laughter that had used to be so near the surface. “I’ll be honest Mrs Duncan, I’m struggling. It’s been a bad year. The B&B business finished. I had a few of them bad reviews on the internet, we were fighting back, answering the complaints that were all made up. Then somebody said they’d been bitten by fleas and bed bugs. Well, they weren’t, of course they weren’t, but what can you do. Mud sticks and the bookings dried up. A couple of my regulars still wanted to come but you can’t run a business with a couple of regulars. Then we lost some ewes. Out in the summer grazing, that just about broke my Ted. They’d been worried, dogs probably. It doesn’t matter how many signs you put up, how many notices in the shops and what have you, it still can happen. But this was bad, half a dozen several days on the run. Awful it was. Then we had the fire in the shop. We were out, at a wedding, just one night, but it meant nobody saw until it was too late. Destroyed all the stock, the fridges, everything. We were lucky that it didn’t burn down the whole farm, but the shop was finished. I tried to claim, but I’d got the insurance wrong. It had grown from a little stall you see, and I didn’t realise. A separate venture they called it. I suppose they were right but it meant I got nothing.

A fox got in the hen house one night. Leastways that’s what we think happened. It could have been vandals, but we don’t have much of that up here. Anyway, the chickens were dead, most of ‘em. Locked ‘em up night times to keep ‘em safe, and look where it got me. Oh, it was just one thing after another. Then…” The woman paused, struggling for control. Jean’s instinct was to throw her arms around the thin shoulders but when she felt Doris tense and pull away she stepped back to the table. Doris coughed and continued. “My Ted is gone, Mrs Duncan.”

“Oh, Doris I am so sorry. When? Was he ill? An accident?” Doris was shaking her head.

“No, not dead, just gone. The trouble was too much for him. We were eating into our savings, we couldn’t fight back. Not with everything coming at once like that and,” She shrugged her shoulders, “He went off one day and didn’t come back.” She was crying openly now and when Jean pulled a chair from beside the table the other woman lowered herself slowly onto the seat, dragged a tissue from her pocket to wipe her eyes. She looked up at Jean, seemed to make a decision and continued. “I never would have thought he could do a thing like that. For hours I walked about looking for him. The police looked for him, they put notices in the shops, in the paper, even the local radio. But he were just gone. He’d taken the Land Rover and there was no sign of it, so they said it must have been deliberate. I still don’t believe it. I still keep waiting for him to come walking in. I can’t hold on much longer. When it starts to freeze I’ll have to get the flock in. When the spring comes, I can’t manage the lambing on my own, and I can’t afford help. I’m going to have to sell up, all of it. We had already let the big field go but now it’s the whole farm. But, if I do, what will he do when he comes back?” Jean was lost for words and so she sat beside Doris at the table. She took the other woman’s hand in hers.

“I’m so sorry. I had no idea. Diana didn’t say anything.”

Doris shook her head. “No, she hasn’t been up for a long time and I didn’t tell her. I didn’t want to risk losing this job. I need it. It’s only a bit but it’s regular.”

“Oh, I’m sure she wouldn’t have done that.”

“It’s hard to know what people will do, and I just couldn’t take the chance.

We thought we were okay, we didn’t need much. We didn’t have a mortgage but there were some loans, huh, show me a farmer without loans. Without the tourist trade we went down so quickly.” She flapped a hand in front of her. “Oh look, what am I bothering you with all this for. It’s not your business and you here on holiday. Ignore me. Do you want the chicken?”

The unexpected outpouring had left Jean struggling for how to respond. “Yes please. Is there anything I can do for you, Doris.?”

“No, there’s nothing anyone can do. I’m just trying to get by, day by day, you know? But, it can’t last much longer and then I’ll have to go and I’ll have let him down, Ted.”

“And you’ve no idea where he might have gone?” Though it was obvious all these questions had already been asked Jean felt compelled to go through the routine. It seemed the only way to show sympathy in the face of such a disaster. “I knew that it was hard for hill farmers but I am so sorry about all this.”

“Aye, well. I have to accept it and if I sell now, I’ll perhaps be able to buy a little place and then maybe, I’ll get work. I can’t think about it, I can’t see a way ahead, not properly. But we have to keep going don’t we. You lost your Jim, you have an understanding.”

“Yes, I did but it wasn’t like this. It was hard, yes it was horrible, but then my way ahead was relatively uncomplicated, there was insurance, well you know, all that stuff.”

“Yes, I can’t believe I could say this to you, Mrs Duncan, but there’s a bit of me that envies you that. Forgive me, I know that’s an awful thing to say but this… this is torment, and I don’t see any end to it. I can’t believe he would have done this to me without something terrible happening. I think he had a breakdown, lost his memory. I think he’s out there somewhere lost and on his own. It breaks my heart, and it’ll stay broken till he comes home. Well, now you know, and don’t you upset yourself. There’s nothing you can do, there nothing anyone can do. But please don’t tell Mrs Turnbull. I’ll not let her down, and when I go, I’ll make sure there’ll be someone to take over, but please don’t tell her.”

“Of course, I won’t, and please, Doris, if there is anything I can do, ever, just let me know. Here.” Jean pulled a sheet of paper from the shopping list pad on the wall and scribbled her contact details. “If ever I can help you in some way, call me.”

Doris took the piece of paper and dredged up a smile from the depths of her misery. “You’re a good woman, Mrs Duncan, thank you. I’ll bring a chicken tomorrow, you can pay me then. Cash if you would. Is your sister coming and that lovely boy?”

“Carl? I hope so, he’s at college now, so it will depend on his classes and suchlike.”

“College, good heavens. I remember when he was nothing but a little thing. Do you want giblets for the cat?” it was obvious now that the woman was trying to restore some equilibrium, was possibly embarrassed by the outpouring of grief. Jean respected and acknowledged the strength it took. She had been through similar situations herself when the emotion had ambushed her, suddenly and embarrassingly. She let go of the woman’s hand. Gave her back her dignity.

“No, thanks Doris. I left Slumpy at home, a neighbour is feeding him.”

“Aye well, it’s a precious thing that – having nice neighbours.” Doris shook her head gathered up her bag and, without another word, she stepped through the door and off down the path.

Jean turned to stare at the pile of vegetables beside the sink. What a dreadfully, sad conversation.,

Jean’s mind began to turn, scenarios started to play out in her head. She went through to the living room, opened her laptop, and began to type. Listing the facts, making short notes of ideas and inventing explanations. Lesley thought it ghoulish using real life events for her books, but they all started somewhere and often it was somewhere sad and tragic. She was always very careful that none of the characters were identifiable.

A sheep farmer walking away from his farm and his flock though, it was intriguing.

4 Comments

Filed under Serials, Serials, Shorts and Stuff

Well Head Cottage – 2

Ever so slowly Jean’s nerves began to settle. When there was no more noise, her muscles relaxed and, when it became clear that the drama had past, she stepped out from the corner. She picked up the glass from the floor, lifted the edge of the curtains and peered out into the dark garden.

There was nothing and no-one to see. She stood for a while, watching, waiting, until she was sure that, whatever had been going on, was finished.

Well, that was it, her contented mood was shattered. She blew out the candles, checked the door locks and went to bed. It took a long time for sleep to come. She wasn’t afraid now it was past. Looking at it calmly, it didn’t really seem that she had been in danger, and yet… Replaying in her mind, were the events in the clearing.

A gun man with an automatic weapon had crouched and fired. The noise and shock of all of that resurfaced and niggled at the edge of her memory, indistinct as it had been on the day. Lost in a fog of illness, it had been a nightmare that came back, in bits and pieces, over the following weeks. There were things she was told, things she thought she remembered. She accepted it was a part of her history, that, realistically, she would never completely forget.  She spoke aloud into the dark room, a habit she had developed when her world became so quiet after Jim died. “It’s over Jean. It was just some country thing. Nothing happened. There is nothing to worry about.” But as she turned onto her side under the duvet, she acknowledged that she had been shaken to the core.

Eventually she slept.

There was a moment of disorientation when she woke in the strange room, but it was fleeting and she smiled as she threw back the curtains to a bright morning. The grass in the little garden sparkled with dew and already the wildlife was up and about.

Drinking coffee at the table outside the back door, she replayed the events of the night before. Here, in daylight with birds chattering and complaining in the trees, the rumble of a tractor somewhere far away, and the bleating of sheep on the rise just over the narrow river, she could view it all calmly.

Whoever had been outside with a gun had been very close to the house. But, they hadn’t threatened her, safe inside. She knew that Diana had refused permission for the hunt to cross her land, years ago. Her friend was a vegetarian and totally opposed to hunting of any sort, but, she hadn’t been to the cottage herself for almost two years, and so her influence had obviously waned.

Jean decided that she wouldn’t mention it. There wasn’t anything Diana could do from a distance and Jean felt that, in the country, then country ways had to be respected.

It had probably just been someone out lamping, luring, and shooting rabbits, and there was no point dwelling on it any longer. She took her cup back into the kitchen, collected her coat and backpack and set off to walk to Hawks Farm.

There had been a few small changes in the area. A couple of new bungalows had been built on the road into the village. The farm itself was a disappointment. It had always been neat and pretty. Flower pots had lined the path to the little shop and tea garden, and there had been chickens running loose in front of the house.

Now, it appeared neglected, the paint on the fences was dirty and peeling, the pots were filled with weeds. As Jean walked closer she could see that the tea garden was deserted. The plastic tables and chairs were piled in a corner and they were grubby and wet. Weeds had grown around the legs. They had not been put there because it was the end of the summer season, but had been stacked for a long time. She rounded the corner of the building and was swept with disappointment when she saw that the farm shop was also closed. The display counters, which stretched along the front wall, were bare and broken, the place looked dark and dishevelled.

She went nearer, peered through the glazed door. The interior was destroyed, the walls blackened, and piles of twisted debris covered the floor. The paint on the door itself was bubbled and scorched. She looked up and saw the roof was bulging inwards. The shop had burned, it was shocking.

Selfishly she muttered, “Damn it.” This would mean that she would have to shop in the village. The locals had long since succumbed to the lure of the retail park, just a short drive along the motorway, and so the nearby shops were rather dull. There was a bakery which was okay, but the tiny supermarket was very lack lustre.

She was disappointed. Visits to the farm shop had been one of the pleasures of stays in the cottage. Diana hadn’t mentioned anything about it being destroyed. If she had been forewarned she would have brought more supplies with her. She didn’t want to go to a hypermarket and, if she was staying for three weeks, she didn’t want to have to make do with the limited choice in the village.

As she turned away a figure appeared at the corner of the building. Wrapped in a blue jacket and with a woollen hat pulled over her grey hair, Doris Smart stepped across the paved path. “Can I ‘elp you?”

“Mrs Smart, Doris. How are you?” Jean moved forward with her hand outstretched. As she reached where the other woman stood, it was a struggle to keep the shock from showing in her face. It had been almost three years and in that time, this once bright, bubbly, busybody of a farmer’s wife, had lost the sparkle that once lit her bright blue eyes, her shoulders had hunched, and her once round, clear skinned face had become lined and grey.

“Oh, it’s you. Mrs Duncan. I didn’t see it was you.” Unexpectedly the voice was still strong and, as Doris Smart smiled, the ghost of the woman Jean remembered showed itself.

“Doris, it’s lovely to see you. I came to buy some things but…” Jean half turned, swept a hand towards the sad, empty shop.

“Aye, well. As you see I can’t help you I’m afraid. Sorry.”  Doris shook her head, waved a hand towards the gate, leaving Jean with no choice but to walk past her and down towards the road. Doris nodded once as she fastened the latch and then turned away to stomp back towards her front door.

With no other choice, Jean retraced her steps and walked into the village where she bought some bread and a pie for her lunch.

She would call Lesley, get her to bring some things. But, apart from the small disappointment about shopping there was a greater unease. There had been something unsettling about the feel of the farm and the change in the farmer’s wife. It was sad that the little shop had been destroyed but surely that wasn’t enough of a disaster to cause such a deterioration in the woman. She wondered if she should call Diana and ask her. Or, was she yet again poking her nose in where it might not be wanted. Lesley was coming in just a few days and there was no doubt that she would tell her to mind her own business. With a sigh Jean climbed the stairs and started to unpack her suitcases.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Serials, Serials, Shorts and Stuff

Well Head Cottage

So, Do you remember Jean Duncan from The Girl in the Water?

Here she is again.

Chapter 1 

Jean Duncan took a deep breath, reached out, and unlocked the door to Well Head Cottage. When Diana Turnbull, had offered it to her for a few weeks, she had hesitated. Jean and James had been coming here for years and took their last holiday, just months before his death, in what had become a favourite place for walking, and getting away from his stressful job but where she could, if she felt like it, still work on her writing. She had thought that maybe the memories would be too painful. But, it would give her a chance to hide, out of the way, after the court cases that she had just endured. She could avoid the publicity surrounding her part in the capture of a gang of people traffickers, and the death of two young women refugees. It had been horrible and it would be good to get away from it all.

She had pushed aside her worries and accepted. There had been dozens of things just like this to face in the years since Jim died and she had learned that the best, no, the only way to deal with them was head on. There was work to do on her new novel, and she loved the cottage, so why not?

Lesley, had agreed to come, but then last-minute drama at her job had interfered. So, here she was, alone, about to step into her past, just a little bit.

It was warm in the narrow hallway, and the olfactory memory hit her like a gust of wind. Old wood, sun warmed dust, and the faint undertone of damp, and disinfectant. The local woman who looked after the place had obviously been, there was the hint of furniture polish in the mix of scents. She always left fruit from her orchards, and usually cheese and eggs from the farm shop, in the kitchen.

Jean let the atmosphere wash over her. She remembered the last time, Jim thumping about, bringing in their bags, shouting from the kitchen about getting to the pub in time for dinner, and then turning on the tap because he always had to run the water, ‘to clear the pipes’ even though he knew Mrs Smart from the farm had used the kitchen not long before.

Jean smiled, she could remember him now without the sharp stab of pain, and he would have wanted her to smile.

She went back outside. It was beginning to get dark. There was a chill in the air, but the smell of loam, and the feel of autumn was magical. She stood for a moment gazing at the purpling sky, the Welsh mountains looming grey in the distance. She enjoyed the quiet, with just the evening rustlings in the garden around her.

She was glad she had come.

Once the car was parked on the hard standing at the side of the little house, she carried her bags back inside, and dumped them in the hallway.

She had brought her sister’s case with her so that, when she came up at the weekend she could travel on the train with no luggage. She would give, Lesley the big double bedroom and take the twin at the back for herself. Some memories were still tinged with sadness and she didn’t want to feel sad.

The cottage was warm and clean, but she was surprised that there were no supplies in the fridge. It wasn’t that she had arranged it, just that it was usual. Milk, eggs, usually cheese and some veggies. Obviously, things had changed in the last couple of years. Still, she had food in a box in the car and some milk from home, which would still be fresh.  It was a tiny disappointment nothing more, and in the morning, she would go over to Hawks Farm, say hello to Doris Smart, and buy what she needed. The apples were there though, in a bowl on the kitchen table. She didn’t want apples, she wanted a big glass of red wine, something easy to eat, like, cheese on toast, and to sit and bask in the peace and quiet.

Tomorrow would be soon enough to start work. So, for this evening, she had music and a novel.  She lit candles, drank brandy, and allowed her nerves to unravel and let all the upset and distress drift away. Sitting on the settee, a blanket over her legs, warm and cosy, she could have stayed just there, just like that, forever.

The explosion of gun fire froze her in place for a moment, the glass half way to her lips. Then instinct jerked her from her seat and sent her scurrying into the corner. She had dropped the brandy glass and as she stood with her back against the wall, her heart pounding and all her nerve endings jumping with shock, she watched the amber liquid soaking into the sheepskin of the fireside rug.

There was a second sharp crack, a shout, and a flash of light, the beam of a torch, sweeping past the window. Jean was terrified. She had been involved in a shooting, too short a time ago, the pain and fear came rushing back, vague and unformed, tumbling emotions. Her mind was racing, trying to understand. Wild panic caused her to whimper into the gloom. There was the tramp of feet on the gravel drive, the rustle of bushes and just once the bark of a dog.

What the hell was going on?

 

1 Comment

Filed under Serials, Serials, Shorts and Stuff

Revisiting an old Flash Fiction

This was from a year ago. I wrote a part 2.

 

So,  was complaining about a lack of inspiration. A face book friend gave me this challenge. Thanks Polly.

****

“It was midnight and yet another walrus was making its way down Main Street. A trail of water sizzled behind it and the town band followed in its wake, weeping quietly…”

I changed it very slightly and came up with this:

*************************

‘It was midnight and yet another walrus was making its way down Main Street. A trail of water sizzled behind it and the town band followed in its wake, it was weeping quietly…

The sky was purple, yellow and green clouds fled before a diamond studded wind.

Charlotte tied her dragon to the hitching post. She wrapped her cloak around her and strode into the middle of the road. She held up her hand, she waited. Nothing happened. The crowd were singing Yellow Submarine, the trees swayed in time and the birds danced a Pavanne along the verges.

She had to stop them. She had to let them know. It wasn’t for her. She knew that she could climb aboard Stenflo and be away in moments, away to the rainbow mountains where the danger couldn’t reach her. But here, here on Main Street the laughing children, clutching cotton candy sticks and sucking on lollipops were in mortal danger. The happy teens, hand holding, hip touching, heart hoping, teens were in danger and the elders, mostly her fear was for the elders.

Their silvered heads, their wisdomed faces and their overknuckled, work worn hands, they would make them prey. When it came it came mainly for them, for the years of knowing, the decades of learning and the centuries of loving that they carried in their hearts. It needed all of that. The Walrus knew, the mermaid on the corniche knew. Though unlike her marine brother she didn’t try to tell them. She smirked and tossed her sea green curls and with nary a final glance she dove into the harbour and Charlotte caught just the edge of her laugh as she lost herself in the waves.

She ran to the bandstand and tore up the shallow steps, she tried to take the microphone but the Town Cryer was in full flow and snatched it back and pushed her roughly aside.

She ran to the wind section who by now had formed a semi circle around the percussionists. She chose the smallest musician, a small girl child and she snatched the gleaming instrument. Raising it to her lips she blew as hard as she could blow, she called on the north wind, the tempest and the hurricane. She implored help from the whirlwind itself and she blew and the note that she made left the end of the bugle and it flew into the air, a purple storm of sound, swirling and whirling upwards ever upwards until it met the feet of heaven and cascaded back to the town as the sound of a million weeping angels.

The people gasped, they screamed, they clutched and grasped at each other. They cowered in the corners and they ran down the alleys into darkness. Only the old ones didn’t run, they didn’t flee. They knew that it was coming for them. For eons this had been foretold and they knew that the only thing they could do was to wait, and to hold onto each other and speak words of love because letting it take them was the only way to save the young.

As she remounted her dragon and swept into the sky Charlotte took one last look at Main Street, at the elders, at the wise ones. They had turned to the west, their eyes were open, their faces were calm and as it came and they gave themselves to it she heard them. They were singing.

 

-Part 2-

Charlotte’s eyes were full of tears. She was gutted and empty. When the moment had come she had failed them.

The dragon wheeled and soared and carried her across the moon, and in the distance, she could see the roiling of the blood red and ink black clouds, pulsing as they moved ever nearer to the singing townspeople.

She glanced back and saw that now they held hands and though there were drops of sadness on their cheeks, they stood as straight as their worn out frames would allow and smiled at one another.

It broke her heart.

Many years before the Great One had gifted her a silver whistle. He had told her that there would be but one chance to use it. When it was placed to her lips then she was calling death upon her own soul. It was her destiny and though she had carried the knowledge with her always she had hoped for longer. The Great One had told her she would know when it was time.

It was time.

She leaned down and placed a kiss on the head of her beloved, winged friend. She glanced around at the realm of heaven, sprinkled with stars and painted with grey ribbons of light cloud, and she glanced down at the mountains where the snow gleamed along the summits. She sighed. She would have liked longer.

The old people in the town had raised their voices ever louder and the song soared above the tree tops and the chimneys and the notes flew like moths into the darkness. The were singing Imagine.

Charlotte raised the silver whistle to her lips. The dragon raised its head, it’s golden eyes glinted with moisture. Earth and heaven held their breath. … …

 

2 Comments

Filed under Serials, Serials, Shorts and Stuff

A Dribble of Drabbles

You may have noticed that I have a small badge now calling myself a Drabbler. Book Hippo is a site for connecting readers and books and they have a lovely little feature where you can enter a drabble.

I have never done them before but they are fun.

These are a couple of those that have been accepted and featured on the site. Inkeeping with the site requirements it is a few weeks since these were accepted.

I am sure you know but for the avoidance of doubt – a drabble is a complete story of exactly 100 words. Great discipline.

https://bookhippo.uk/

Stanley: 

Stanley watched the rainbow. It was much cooler now, he had come out onto the porch. The darned Zimmer was a squeeze through the door and they always said he should wait for an assistant. But, he needed to be out here now, right now when the grass and leaves still sparkled with newly cried raindrops, and the clouds were not quite gone.

He watched the rainbow and he sat in the old rocking chair and he waited, because he knew that Sarah was coming today. He closed his eyes and waited for her to come and take him home.

 

***

The Tube: 

Wind rushed at her face. Wind from the tunnel, with that unique smell. Damp, chemical, age. Stephanie moved a little closer to the edge, her feet were half way over the white line. She let the strap from her bag slip from her shoulder. Perspiration slipped down her back, her underarms were clammy. She tried to swallow, but her throat was too dry. She coughed. She moved a half step further forward.

The gabble of the crowd faded into a muddled hum. She could hear the train. She leaned forward. That was when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Serials, Serials, Shorts and Stuff

Chapter 58 – The Legacy

So, anyway – When I started this I thought it might be a short story and a bit of a break from writing novels – and The Truth Series. However the story had other ideas and so we now have this. I have really enjoyed writing it and the good news is that there is a real possibility that it will be published – after edits and so on and with a different title.- in a few months from now.

I am chuffed of course but I am also aware that when I started this I promised that I would post the complete story. And so, here we are the final chapter. Due to the developments I will take it down in a couple of days. If you have been following the story but have missed any just contact me in any of the usual ways and I’ll send you a PDF of the whole thing.

The Legacy.  Final Chapter 

See note above.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Serials, Serials, Shorts and Stuff