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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.

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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.

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Well Head Cottage – 7

The path had become very overgrown and hard to follow. Jean could remember it well enough though to stick to the route. It led eventually to a river, flowing along the bottom of a steep gorge. Parts of the way were deep mud, and she was glad of the walking stick, not as support so much, but as a gauge to test the way, and an aid to keeping on her feet. After an hour she was filthy and tired. There was a spot where they had picnicked in the past. It meant a bit of a clamber over rough ground and, though her progress was inelegant, she managed it okay.

A flat-topped rock gave her a seat in the sun, and she spread her waterproof trousers over the damp top, settled down to enjoy the calm, and listen to the rush of water way below her. She threw a couple of sticks over the edge and watched as they were swept away in the current, knocking and banging against partly submerged boulders. The disturbed night caught up with her, here in the patch of sunlight, and soon, her eyelids were drooping. She could either give in and have five minutes snooze, or, rouse herself and move on. Her leg made the decision for her with a spasm of cramp. If she stayed here now, then she would pay for it later, with stiffness and aches. She rolled lazily onto her knees in front of the flat rock and began to fold the waterproof trousers.

She felt herself begin to slip on the wet grass and realised her mistake moments before gravity took hold. There were no secure foot holds. There was no ledge below her, just slick greenery, loose shale, and mud. She reached out in panic to grab the ledge. There was nowhere to cling onto. Her finger nails tore as she tried to grip the hard edges. The slither downwards began slowly at first but grew faster and faster as the slope became steeper.

She had to let it happen, there was no choice. She tried to control the fall by digging her toes into the bank but the results were minimal. Sliding was safer than tumbling and she managed to stay on her front until the inevitable happened. She came to a halt sprawled in the ice-cold water with shale and small rocks cascading around her. For a moment she sat, gathering herself and checking that there were no serious injuries. The tough waterproof jacket had protected her belly and, though her sweatshirt was wet, there was only minimal scratching and the starts of a couple of small bruises. She had managed to keep her face from contact with the scree but, her hands hadn’t been so lucky. There was a lot of tearing to her nails. She drew in a hiss of breath. Her palms were reddened and abraded. Her trousers were torn, the skin underneath on her knees, was grazed and scratched. She spoke aloud, “Well that’s going to be sore. Bugger it.”

The injuries were relatively minor, no fractures, no heavy bleeding, but, she was paddling in the edges of the river with no obvious way back to the top, where her spare trousers and socks were safely tucked in her back pack. It was too steep and slippery to climb, the surface loose and wet.

She glanced back and forth. Further upstream, on the bend she could see what she thought was the edge of a tiny beach, tumbled rocks in the flow, and a couple of trees rotting in the water. The land appeared different there and maybe it would be less sheer. Probably it had been a landslip at some stage, and it offered her the best hope of a route back to the rock, her stuff, and her way out of this stupid mess.

She walked in the river, the hiking boots were weather proof, but already filled with water, so a bit more didn’t matter. Clinging to overhanging branches and clumps of grass and weed she fought her way onwards. She reached and stretched, testing for firmness, ignoring the stings and aches, this had to be done. The choices were clear, either this beach was the answer, or she would have to turn back, paddle who knew how far downstream, past where she had fallen in, and hope that there was another place to climb out. She could wade in and cross the river where the bank was less steep, but she had no way to judge the depth, the bed was uneven boulders and loose shale, and the current was possibly enough to push her off her feet. It would be a very risky thing to do, and would make her even wetter than she was now, with at least an hour walking to get her home.  Apart from that, she would be on the wrong side, away from her dry clothes and most importantly, her phone which was safely in her bag. Not wet or broken to be sure but not a lot of use either right now.

She pressed on. Clinging to the undergrowth, one foot in the water, the other slipping and sliding on the muddy bank. She was almost at the bend, cold, tired, and soaked through. This had to be a way out. She felt tears gather and fought them away.  The going became a little easier, flatter, and wider. She could walk more steadily beside the water. There was still no sign of a way up and out though.

Her hands hurt, her legs hurt, her feet were cold and soaking, and her back and shoulders were aching now, either tension or damage, she didn’t know which. She felt the first pangs of worry. She had left her note though, hadn’t she? So, if the worst came to the worst, Lesley would get to the cottage and know where she had gone. Then she remembered. She had changed her route, had gone, ‘The Lazy Way’. She was not where they would go to find her. Her stomach clenched. She had to get herself out of this, it was all down to her. She drew in a deep breath and carried on.

The first sign that there was a change in the flow was an increase in the noise of the water. It had shushed and gurgled alongside her all the way, but now she heard distinctly the rush and rattle of a cascade. She chose to believe this was good. A waterfall, rocks meant easier climbing than the steep grass and soil of the bank. She carried on, struggled around the next deviation, and there it was. It was nose down in the water, wheels and flatbed towering above it, the windows smashed the bonnet bent and crumpled. There were rocks and debris all around it, the water flowing over and through it. An old green Land Rover.

 

 

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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.

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Short Story – Love is blind.

I groaned even before I opened my eyes I’ll admit it, Bloody Valentine’s day – Yay.  So, we had to start early, pratting about with stupid roses and pathetic shiny hearts scattered on the table tops.  They’d all have to be cleaned up later and we would have to do it because the cleaners had refused.

We all had to wear antlers – bloody antlers with sparkly heart shapes on em. I ask you what the hell have antlers got to do with sodding Valentine’s day – huh.  Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, Luigi had us all in for a staff talk before the lunch time service.  “You are my link with the lovers – oh for Pete’s sake.  My waiting staff are the ones who make the impression on my beautiful romantic customers, well I would have thought it was the free pudding and inclusive wine deal but, hey what do I know?  You must smile, be so very, very nice to them, make the restaurant hum with love.”  Hum with soddin love, he’s from Preston, Luigi, his name is really Les but he’s got so caught up in his pretend Italian background he makes me want to vomit.  On he went “Make sure all of the candles are lit and the glasses are sparkling yadah yadah yadah and not a word of thanks to those of us who had taken an extra shift to help out.”

So, I thought of the extra cash and the red stiletto heels I was going to buy with the bonus, I gritted my teeth and I got on with it.   It was every bit as ghastly as I thought it would be, simpering bloody girls giggling and crying and stupid arsed blokes looking smug, – Oh look at me aren’t I the cat’s pyjamas, I’m so cool, I remembered to make a booking three weeks in advance and with a bit of luck it means I’ll get my end away tonight.  Pathetic.

That was until they came in.  I saw one of the other girls jump to open the door, that was what attracted my attention.  Two older people struggling with the heavy wood and glass.  Milly showed them in and checked their names and took them to the table in the corner, one on my tables.

I grabbed the menus and gave them a minute to get themselves sorted, coats off, seats adjusted but they were making all sorts of fuss, that table is behind the pillar and I couldn’t see everything that was going on but something was.  Yes, I admit it I sighed, great just my luck a high maintenance pair.  Nothing to be done, think of the shoes, think of the shoes.

Well I took them the menus, they were holding hands and he was leaning over and kissing her on the cheek, and I mean they were old they must have been nearly fifty.  I felt like making that fingers down the throat gesture but that would have lost me my job and I thought of the shoes!

So, I got there and by now he had picked up the freebie rose and kissed it and handed it to her and she was sniffing at it, oh bloody hell, think of the shoes, think of the shoes.

Then I saw, two Labradors under the table, well behaved, tucking themselves in out of the way, both wearing yellow harnesses.  The bloke turned to me “Hi, could you be lovely and read the menu to us, do you mind?  They were still holding hands, they were both smiling and then he said “It feels so lovely in here, you can feel the love in the air.  It’s our big treat this we come every year it’s the anniversary of the day we met.  Are you all wearing those silly antlers again? The waitress last year said they were giving her a headache.”  I nodded and then realised that wouldn’t do it and so I just muttered

“Yeah, yeah sparkly antlers,” and I looked at her and at him, sitting there so – you know together somehow and so happy in spite of their problems.  I poured them some water then I told ‘em, “The tables are set with white linens, the cutlery is the heavy silver stuff that we keep for special occasions and there are silver vases with red roses in each one.”  There are little shiny hearts scattered on the tops.”  I picked a couple up and gave them one each to hold, “there are vases of lilies in the corners, I expect you can smell those?” she nodded then,” The lights are very low and candles are stood on all the window ledges in red heart shaped holders, each table has a wine bucket with white wine chilling, Shall I pour yours now before I read the menu to you?”  He nodded and reached out and just found my hand and squeezed it.

“Thank you, thank you so much. That’s the first time anyone has taken the time to tell us what it looks like.  It sounds wonderful, you have made this so very special for us, bless you.”  I think they enjoyed themselves.  I even sneaked some chicken to the guide dogs.

Yeah, I got the shoes, they rubbed a blister on my toe

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Last Chance

It was a strange weekend, it was always going to be but I hadn’t realized just how tense we would all be.  The last weekend of the summer holidays and the last days that we would all spend together.  We had done all the usual stuff of course, pledged undying friendship, expressed our love, said silly things, All for One and One for All.  We knew though if we were being brutally honest, the separation of university or work or travel changed things irrevocably.  There would be the first holiday and times now and again when we would probably all get together and go to the pub and then the meetings would become less and less frequent, one or other of the group of five would be committed somewhere else or in the middle of exams or, in the case of Dan, on a course with the bank and so this was it.

There was no discussion about where we would go, it had to be the cliff.  Since we had first gone to senior school and been given that tiny bit more freedom it had always been the cliff.  The farmer let us camp there for free providing we left it tidy and we all sort of knew that actually he kept an eye on us.  Whether our parents paid him for his trouble was never clear but it was the place of all our adventures, all our dreams and now with Alex and Tanya probably something even more “special”.  I did wonder what would happen with them most of all, they were going to the same college but would their relationship stand up to the buffeting of all the novelty and the expansion of their world, hmm, we would see.

I loved the place, the trees in the spring newly gilded, the shades in the summer deeply damp and the crisp bronzing of the autumn, it didn’t matter I loved it all.  All except for the pool.  The others had no problem with it, it was part and parcel of the time we spent there and the great dive from the top of the cliff into the deep green water was just another thing that they did, over and over.  For me though it was a torment, I was terrified of it, I couldn’t bear to even peer over the edge.  The tiny, deep swimming pond was okay, cold of course and weedy but pleasant in the high summer and even in the spring but the dive from the cliff from whence the place had its name was never pleasant, not for me. My head spun as I trod the springy grass towards the precipice and by the time that I could chance a glance down to the unbelievably small landing point below I felt physically sick.

My friends were kind, they tried to cajole me, to encourage me, to dare me even and Tanya once came up with a hare-brained double flight blindfold suggestion which thankfully was vetoed pretty damned quickly but I never did it, I never made the leap from the cliff to the pond.

This weekend was special, it had been talked about over and over, there was to be the last great leap, the jump into our future they were calling it, it had grown and grown until it was a big deal.  I had blanked it until now but I watched them psyching each other up, pushing and slapping at each other and I knew.  I had to do it, if I didn’t do this now, with my friends then it would set the tone for the rest of my life, when it’s too hard, too scary don’t do it.  Let others take the leap, sit on your butt on the grass and watch.

No.

I almost left it too late, they were standing shoulder to shoulder on the edge, drawing in deep gulps of air to sustain them on the way down and in the water below.  “Wait, wait for me.”

They turned as one as I ran towards them.  Dan grinned and held out his hand and I snatched at it and then before I had time to think about it any more we went, over the edge, “Oh God please don’t let me die”  The thought shot through my brain as my feet left the edge of the cliff and then, oh then.  I soared out into space and all the days I didn’t and all the times I couldn’t and all the days I walked home with a drag in my step and a nub of regret in my soul were obliterated in that one brief brittle moment, in that glorious hitch in time when I flew, when I broke the grip of the earth and flew like a great sweeping gull soaring over the sparkling water, one with the air, free, a magician defying gravity.  My one tiny moment when I was more than I am and more than I ever believed I could be.

For the others it was just another jump from the cliff to the pool for me it truly was a leap into my future.

 

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Free on Kindle

Bone Baby 

Lily is running out of time. There is a great wrong that she needs to put right before it’s too late.

She could never have known the things that she was prepared to do – for the baby!

bone baby3

 

Amazon reviews:

‘A heart wrenching tale of deception and betrayal, relationships tangled in lies and confusion. Revenge the only course of action to take.’

‘An unusual but very believable story. I enjoyed this book very much and will definitely be reading more from this author.’

Superb and scary thriller. All the characters are believable, especially Lily, and the web of lies in the family makes for an interesting drama. Great read. ‘

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Best Before End – Flash fiction

You woke me, something woke me.  A change in the temperature or the tension in the mattress.  I watch in the gloom and see you standing beside the window.  Your back is to me and the moonshine kisses your shoulders.  Though I know the weight is falling from your frame I am shocked at the edges and angles that look new to me.

Still you are, frozen in the night and the silver light gleams on the cap of your hair and I see you sigh.  I hear you sigh.

I know what you are looking at, looking for.  I know that you can’t see what you need to.  You are thinking of the children, of Sam and Trish and of Bobby.  I close my eyes and behind them I can see the track of tears across your face and the pain in your eyes as you watch in the darkness.

I will take you.  It is the only thing that you have asked of me through this whole sad, ghastly, dreadful debacle.

“Take me to the children.”

I told you I would, when the roadblocks have been cleared.  When the fires in the cities have died.  We are safe here, in our haven away from the worst of the horror and the fighting.  I told you there would be time and we would go.

How many days, I can’t count them anymore, how many weeks since it began.  How long since the phones went down and the radio and television were lost.

“Take me to the children.”

I will take you I said, when the risk of infection is gone.  They will still be there, they’ll be fine.  I’ll take you when we know that we won’t die of some horrible illness.

We are still safe here, the officials who came, was it last week?  They told us that we should be safe for a while longer.  Stay at home, wait for news they told us

“Take me to the children.”  You said when they had gone on their brown horses with the guns on their backs.

I will take you, when they tell us it is safe.

Now you are moving, your body a wraith under the flimsy nightdress.  I see you turn and there is the shine of water in your eyes and the gleam of metal in your hand and I know, I know.  I don’t push up on the bed, there is no point.  Your naked feet make soft sounds as you cross the carpet and now you stand beside me.

I wait for you to speak, to ask again for your one desire.  You speak to me through the despair but the words are new, there is no request there is only resignation and I know, I know I have waited too long.

“I have seen the fire in the sky, the world is lost and it’s all too late.”

“I’ll take you.  We’ll dress and go now.  We can be there by noon.  We will be with them tomorrow.”

You shake your head and as the thunder crashes and the sky turns red I understand that I will never take you to the children.

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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:

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‘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. … …

 

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Another Drabble drip

Into the Light

Kirsty flew down the alley behind Mr Khan’s convenience store. There was a doorway down here she could hide in. She’d used it before when the bloody gang with Pansy at the head and the baying bitches behind her, chased her into the dark. She couldn’t face it, the spitting, the hair pulling. She pushed in, leaning against the old door, blinked away tears. Someone had tagged the wall, Stevo.

Steve. Her hero brother, dead in Afghanistan. Steve who never ran from anything, who died saving his mates. She felt him there beside her and stepped out into the light.

 

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