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From February to April the Bahrain Writers’ Circle was heavily involved in its annual poetry festival – The Colours of Life, and so there were no challenges.

By the end of April we were somewhat back on track and our challenge was to create a story based on a popular English nursery rhyme.

Our Reviewer – Lynda Tavakoli

Lynda Tavakoli copy

Lynda Tavakoli is a BWC member who is at present back at her home in Ireland, she very graciously agreed to review our entries. Despite a heavy schedule and houseguests, she has given us all some very valuable feedback. Thank you Lynda!

Lynda is an author and poet who divides her time between Bahrain and her native Northern Ireland. She is a special needs teacher and facilitator of adult creative writing classes at The Island Arts Centre, Lisburn. https://www.islandartscentre.com/

Her literary successes include short story and poetry awards at Listowel, http://writersweek.ie/, the Mencap short story competition and the Mail on Sunday novel competition. Lynda’s poems have been included in a wide variety of publications including Templar Poets’ Anthology Skein, Abridged, The Incubator Journal, Panning for Poems, Circle and Square http://www.writing.ie/guest-blogs/its-all-inside-circle-square-edited-by-eileen-casey/ ,the CAP anthologies, The Honest Ulsterman and Live Encounters Poetry Journal (May/July). She was selected as The Irish Times Hennessy poet of the month for October 2015, http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/hennessy-niw.

Lynda’s poetry and prose have been broadcast on both BBC Radio Ulster http://www.bbc.co.uk/radioulsterand RTE Sunday Miscellany. She has written two novels Attachment and Of Broken Things, (David J Publishing, Ireland) and has been the recipient of a number of Irish bursaries.

Lynda has published a number of human interest stories in the British national press on the subjects of breast cancer and senile dementia. She has worked as a volunteer for both Action Cancer and The Alzheimer’s’ Society, UK.

Lynda has facilitated prose recitals to commemorate the anniversary of the sinking of The Titanic and edited the prose and poetry anthology ‘Linen’ for the Irish Linen Museum. http://www.lisburnmuseum.com/

We had four entries for the challenge and are awaiting approval from two of our writers to publish their stories. In the meantime you may enjoy these two:

FRUIT AND NUT

By Nilanjana Bose

The ancient pickup rattled on upward. Anupam handled the vehicle skillfully, avoiding the huge crater-like potholes where the monsoons had washed away the surface, the rains and winds gnawing the mountain road down to bare red earth, a deadly trap for the unwary. One could split an axle clean in two on these roads. He flung the steering to the left and then quickly back to the right to avoid another monster hole and inwardly fumed. A curse on women, particularly Mamon! He threw a sidelong glance to make sure that the three packets he had collected for her sat intact on the back, and heaved a sigh of relief as the road surface improved, allowing him to press hard ahead. It would be dark before he reached home

Anupam was the youngest in the household that Mamon, the matriarch, ruled over with an iron fist. The family were dispersed, two of her sons handled the marketing of the abundant fruit their orchards produced from Siliguri, a couple others had branched further afield and acquired long term leases on mango and lychee production in the plains. All of them, with the exception of Anupam, had been absorbed into the land and what it produced. Some had moved even further, going deep into the coffee territories of the South, and even into new-fangled biotechnology based, exotic foods. The bravest of them all, Nirupam, had gone to the North East and one step further. He had set up a processing plant. Orchard Fresh. Mamon thus controlled a wide web of interests sitting in her wheelchair on her mountainous perch, but she had not been able to control Anupam.

He was a changeling, a clumsy, black-fingered lad in a family of green-fingers. Anupam hated the smells of compost and overripe fruit, the mush of pulp and juice, the mess of peels and pips. He never managed to get the cuttings potted correctly even as a child, never remembered the watering or weeding schedules, never felt the least bit bereft when his straggly vines dried up, skeletally bare and barren. Once he was of age, Mamon sent him out systematically to each of their workplaces, but he only upset the customers, or gave away the fruit at ruinous discounts, or skived off during the picking to go hiking instead. He generally made a uniform nuisance of himself wherever he went and was back at the homestead in a month or two. He sat at home feeling useless and resentful, steeped in an infinitesimally slow-boiling rage that no-one noticed.

***

Mamon sat in her room going over the books that had been brought to her, with an eye on the window, and a cocked ear. Anup had not yet come back, it was getting late, the light already wore a certain final murkiness.

Though she was aged and confined to a wheelchair, she sat tautly upright and had the vitality of a much younger woman. A falling tree had struck her and caused damage to the spine, and by the time she was in her thirties, she had lost the use of her legs. By then she had a houseful of children, and she learned to cope. When her husband died early, she had taken over the running of the estate as well. Her children were as level-headed as herself. She counted herself lucky, except for the youngest everything had turned out quite perfect. Only if Anup –.

Mamon closed the books, the entries all seemed in order, and turned a powerful work-light on with a remote switch. She picked up a bag and started knitting, her gnarled fingers remarkably swift, lightly skimming over the needles and wool in a strangely graceful dance. She compensated for the lack of movement in her legs by moving her hands constantly, over books, over needles, over people. Knitting, spinning, tying, controlling.

The light outside was gone suddenly as the sun dipped under the mountain edge. She remained alert for the returning vehicle as she finished row upon row of stitches, the quiet click-clack of the needles the only sound in the room.

The wheels were on the drive when it had become pitch dark. The headlights lit up the black square of the panes momentarily before being switched off. She looked up once and waited for him to come to her. But Anupam did not come. An hour elapsed, still she knitted and waited. No Anupam. She tired finally and asked her maid to enquire. Anupam was not in his room, nor in the house, she was told. Mamon cast off the baby blanket, and went to dinner at the appointed time. She made it a point of taking meals with the family every night, had done so since her children were babies.

But Anupam did not come to dinner either. Upon enquiry the cook said Anup dadabhai* had asked for a meal about an hour ago and eaten it in the kitchen. The cook did not know where he had gone after he had finished, presumably to bed? Mamon let the subject drop with an impatient yet graceful wave of her hand, – he must have gone to sleep curled up somewhere, it was a large house after all – and wheeled herself back to her own suite. Where had Anup gone? Was he keeping bad company? Or just avoiding her?

***

Anupam turned the ignition off and felt the old pickup shudder to a stop. Something within him shuddered and came to a dead stop too, dug its heels in. He lifted the packets from the back, they were surprisingly light for their size, the finest silk-merino blend, imported from a foreign designer, the old woman’s favoured choice. He walked into the house and for one long minute he wrestled with himself, should he see Mamon and dump the packets and be done? But he could not bear the thought of going into her room, the sharp white light, the sharp white hair, the clicking of the needles, the clicking of her sharp, holier-than-thou tongue, always hassling him to find something to do, something useful and not airy fairy. He was hungry and tired and in no shape to face her.

In the end, he had gone to the kitchen, asked the cook to serve him whatever was available, and had his meal alone in peace. Afterwards, he escaped to the swing in the rarely-used back porch and sat out the rest of the evening there, thinking things through. No-one came to look for him. No-one spotted him sitting and gently rocking in the old fashioned heavy wooden swing-seat. He, on the other hand, vaguely saw the household going about its usual business through the light and shadows on the curtained windows, the muffled noises of cooking in the kitchen, Mamon’s wheelchair on the floor as she came out to eat, the murmur of talk rising and falling and then ebbing completely to silence as everyone dispersed to the bedrooms.

Forward.

Back.

Forward.

Back.

The swing was a massive pendulum marking time. Forward. The moon came up over the serrated peaks in a sliver of polished silver, fringed with tattered streamers of clouds. Back. Someone shot the bolt of the kitchen door, and he knew that the side and front entrances would be barred soon too. He snuggled back into the dusty cushions further instead of rising, the seat was wide and deep enough. Forward. Thank goodness there were no mosquitoes buzzing around! Trees were fine things if one did not have to somehow force a livelihood from them. Back. Forward. Stop. He got up from the seat, made for the far corner where a planting of wild roses, Mamon’s favourite flowers, marked the boundary. Anupam urinated copiously on the bushes, washed at the hand-pump and splashed water on his face, and returned to the swing inexplicably pleased. As he settled back, someone inside switched off the corridor light. The frosted glass on the door darkened.

***

Anupam came stiffly into the room, his face inscrutable, the packets piled in his arms. Mamon had unpicked a knitted coat this morning, and was unravelling the wool. A few yards lay already on the floor at her feet. Her hands never stop moving, Anupam stood defiantly silent, always knitting or poking them into books or counting the money she has. Madame Defarge.

Mamon did not speak either, just gestured wordlessly for him to lay the packets on the table. She dropped the coat, tore open the packs and verified the contents. Kiwi tang, magnolia whisper, feathered heather. All three would knit up beautifully. Satisfied, she placed them back.

“Where were you last night?” She beckoned him as she spoke, and pulled both his forearms out as he stepped closer, like parallel rails, “I hear your bed hasn’t been slept in?”

Anupam pressed his lips together and looked straight back at her. Mamon reeled in the unravelled wool from the floor and started winding it round his forearms in a large loop as she talked.

“I know exactly how young men spend their time when they are not in their own beds at night,” her words were icy, “and I’m telling you, there’s no space for that behavior in my house.”

Anupam stood like a statue, his arms bent into two Ls by his side, silent and resentful. Mamon’s words came as sharp as ever. The loop of wool around his arms got thicker at an incredible speed.

“Look Anup, you’re no longer a child. You must figure out what you want to do. You can work here, or in Siliguri wherever you like. Go to the coffee plantation if you prefer. I’m sure Rupam could find you something too at that factory of his. So many options. Young men are desperate for jobs. They’d give anything to be in your position. Just get serious. Start somewhere. I won’t have idlers in this family, no breaking of free bread at my table, understand?”

Anupam did not flinch. The wool was a coarse, rough red yarn that scratched persistently against his skin, looped now in a thickness equal to his own wrists. The room seemed to fill entirely with Mamon’s cavernous mouth, he could only see her tongue and her hands moving. One looping over and binding his arms, the other looping around his soul.

The monotone went on, threatening, judgmental, sarcastic. He felt a spark of – heat? light? some primeval force start up from deep within himself, at the base of his belly, growing into waves upon waves, rising to asphyxiate him, engulfing his heart and his face and exploding in his brain. In one swift movement he moved the skein of wool forward from his forearm to his fists. Before he knew anything he had thrown the loop over Mamon’s neck like a garland and twisted it into a figure of eight. He tightened the noose, increasing pressure on her throat, rendering her speechless. She gasped for air and scrabbled at her throat ineffectually.

“Correct. I’m no child. Mind what you say to me. I don’t like your tone. And I don’t care to work at fruit and nut jobs,” Anupam’s voice was equally icy. “I don’t want your bread, free or otherwise. I’m leaving.”

He loosened his grip after what felt like an aeon to Mamon. She coughed and gasped, the skein of wool still a blood red garland around her neck. Her maid came running in.

“What happened, dadabhai?”

“Look after her,” Anupam said as he moved briskly to the door. “I’ll get the doctor.”

Mamon got her breath back and asked for some water. As she set the glass down, she heard the pickup start, and the gravel spatter as its wheels skidded in a sudden burst of speed.

– End –

Note: *dadabhai – literally, a form of addressing an elder brother. Used by maids and servants to refer to people younger in age but above them in station, especially their employers’ children.

Nursery rhyme used as prompt – Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?

A RHYME AND A REASON

By Rohini Sunderam

“It must be a serial killer,” said RCMP Superintendent Ray Jones of the Southwest Nova District in charge of Lunenburg County crime in Nova Scotia, “that’s the fourth one in as many days and all the bodies had a live fish next to them.”

“That’s the signature for sure, but how many more can we expect and who?” asked deputy Sarah Muller as the fourth victim’s body was loaded into the police van to be sent to forensics in Dartmouth.

Jones nodded, “Mahone Bay is so small, Sarah, there’s not even a thousand people here. Four killed is a shocking number. The news has hit The Herald and gone national on CBC. We’d better find the killer before this gets out of hand, eh?”

“What other clues do we have?” Sarah asked examining the small dock on which the man’s body had been found. He was fully clothed with his fisherman’s cap soaked in blood. His neck was slit from ear to ear like a gutted fish. His body was cold and blue as the Atlantic.

“There’s three at the forensics hospital over in Dartmouth already,” Jones grunted, not happy with the situation. “And now this.”

“I’ll call and ask, I know Dr. Boudreau. She was with me at Park View in Bridgewater.”

“Ah yes! You privileged Bacca-whatever lot!”

“Baccalaureate,” Sarah interjected looking up at the burly commissioner as she crouched on the jetty searching for clues. At forty-seven years old he was still a handsome man, fit and muscular, big in the chest. A one-time hockey-hopeful, he had played with the likes of Glen Murray.

She wasn’t sure if he was teasing her or had a tinge of envy against her and others who had been fortunate enough to attend Park View Education Centre, one of the more elite high schools in the province. With it was a sense of unease. A dark curtain clouded an older memory, one that had been erased after the therapy she’d undergone, which had then unlocked her ‘brilliance’.

“Yeah, call her. We need any clues we can get. A fish, a live fish, it doesn’t make sense.”

“The mafia used to do that, but it was always a dead fish sent as a warning before the killing, not after,” Sarah stood up and rapidly keyed in the Dartmouth Forensic Hospital number, while her eyes still scoured the edge of the dock where it merged with gravel, grass and little wild violets.

“Can you put me through to Dr. Amy Boudreau, please,” she said as soon as the operator came on. “It’s urgent.” A few seconds later her old friend and mentor answered and Sarah switched to speakerphone.

“Amy, you have the bodies from the Mahone Bay murders? Any clues, other than that their necks were slit from ear to ear.”

“Yes, a strange one,” Amy replied, “All three bodies have human teeth marks on the little finger of the right hand.”

“Teeth marks!” Sarah exclaimed, feeling sick. “You mean as if the killer had bitten their fingers? Can you tell if it was before or after the time of death?”

Amy continued, “Most likely after, there’s no sign of a struggle. A live human being would have certainly pulled his or her hand away. The first victim was a woman, older than the other two. A retired teacher from the old Lunenburg Academy, I understand.”

“There’s a fourth body on the way, Amy. I think there’s a bite on the right little finger too. It makes no sense. Thanks, I may call again,” Sarah hung up and looked at the Superintendent.

“And the other two young men went to that school too,” he replied, “If this victim attended the school we have a connection.”

As they entered the car, Ray Jones called the station, “We need to know if this last victim attended Lunenburg Academy and fast,” he snarled into the phone.

Sarah gunned the car into action as they sped back leaving the picturesque seaside town, shooting past the Mahone Bay Museum, Mug & Anchor bar and on to headquarters at Lunenburg. They sat in silence wondering what grotesque mind could have spawned this sudden and violent attack on the innocent folk of this tiny town.

Ray switched on the radio and tuned it to CBC in Halifax.

Sarah winced, “Do we have to hear this?”

“We need to know if the news of our fourth victim has got out.”

The radio crackled as the car sped along and the newsreader intoned dispassionately, “The latest news on the horror at Mahone Bay, a small fishing village in Nova Scotia, has authorities baffled. A fourth victim has been found killed in the same way. Suggestions are that a serial killer is on the loose. The RCMP could not be reached for a statement, we have…”

Ray reached out and killed the radio, “How th’ feck do they know so soon!”

Sarah pulled into the station and both officers rushed in to see if anything more had been learned.

“Nothing new,” said Garry Mills, “except, yes, the fourth victim also attended Lunenburg Academy. He was a couple of classes junior to me. They all were. And all in the same class, except the woman. She was a teacher.”

“An old classmate with a grudge?” Sarah asked.

Ray followed, “What class did she teach? Garry, you’re probably our best lead.”

“The young ones, Grade two or three, maybe. The kids loved her, as I remember.”

“What would spark this so suddenly and now?” Ray asked.

“Has anyone been away from your school and returned lately?” Sarah added.

“It’s tourist season so it would be hard to narrow things down.” Garry replied.

“Why four people and all with a fish next to them?” Sarah voiced the others’ thoughts.

“Let’s see what we can uncover at the Bluenose Academy,” Ray said to Sarah, “the old school closed down, remember? You stay here Garry, and if you remember anything of importance about these guys call us!”

****

 “We need to speak to the oldest teachers,” Superintendent Jones explained to Ms White the headmistress. “This is not to worry present-day students but anyone who knew Mrs. Haines would be helpful.”

“I knew her,” Headmistress White replied. “She retired a few months ago in April. I can’t think of anyone who would want to harm her.”

“Anything at all that you can recall,” Sarah added.

“There was a minor incident but good heavens, that was maybe twenty years ago.” Ms White’s forehead formed a series of tiny ridges and her eyes narrowed as she concentrated. “Something to do with a little boy with a lisp. He ran away from school because some kids teased him about it. I don’t believe he came back to the school.”

“His name?” Ray prompted.

“Or the names of the other children?” Sarah added. “We could prevent another horrendous killing if we knew.”

“You’ll have to check the archives, dear. Didn’t you attend the Academy?”

“No,” Sarah replied, “I don’t really remember my early school years. I was in therapy for a while.”

The two were directed to the digitised archives and given a password.

Back in the office they headed to their desks, “Dig. That’s what we’re going to have to do,” Ray Jones looked at Sarah as they settled down in front of their computers. “Twenty years ago from today. You take 1993 and I’ll look at 1994.”

“Would the incident have been recorded?” Sarah asked, “I mean some of the schools used to cover these things up.”

“Just search for Mrs Haines. If nothing shows up you go to 1992 and I’ll move up to 1995.”

“What are the young men’s names? Maybe that could help?” Sarah’s heart was thumping like a landed fish. For no clear reason she sensed the need for urgency. Four down, how many more to go?

Garry came forward, “the names,” he said handing Sarah and Ray a sheet each.

As they scanned the list, all three said in unison, “It’s alphabetical!”

“That’s it,” Ray said, “there’s Albert, Bernie and Chad.”

“But Mrs Haines is an ‘H’ so how does that work?” Sarah asked.

“She’s a teacher, maybe that doesn’t count. Keep looking.” Ray said.

“I fear there’s going to be a fifth one, and it’s going to be today!” Sarah was shaking.

“Calm down, Sarah,” Ray looked over to her, “Calm down, I fear that too.”

“Me too,” Garry added, “I mean one, two, three, four…no one ever stops counting at four!”

“It’s that nursery rhyme!” Sarah shouted, “One, two, three, four, five. Once I caught a fish alive. That’s sort of how psychopaths think, isn’t it?” She felt sick in her stomach as she recalled the rhyme.

“Garry, think about it,” Ray said to his second assistant, “Was there ever anything to do with a nursery rhyme?”

A few seconds of pacing around the office and Garry said, “Yes, I think so. A bunch of boys used to tease this kid with a lisp. I think they used to make him recite it and laugh.”

“The headmistress said something about a kid with a lisp who ran away.” Sarah stood up and joined Garry, pacing alongside him and matching his stride.

“Garry, names, we need names,” Ray looked at the two on the floor, “Sarah you look to see if there’s a kid with a name beginning with D or E next on the list. Garry cast your mind back or call someone.”

Sarah was back at her computer, “D has Diana, Deena, these are girls, you sure they were only boys, Garry?”

Garry nodded, “Yes, I think so. Deena is fine, she runs the bakery in Mahone Bay. Took it over from her parents. She may remember.” He keyed in Deena Baskin’s number, the cell phone buzzed. He held the phone to his ear for a full thirty seconds, no one answered. Then with a hoarse whisper he said, “Oh my God! No. They weren’t all boys. Deena was part of the gang that terrorised this kid.”

Ray stood up, “Sarah,” he said calmly, “You stay here, Garry and I will go make sure Deena is okay.”

****

Sarah locked the front door and sat waiting. A slow dread crept up her spine as that curtain that hid the old memories flicked apart.

She wasn’t Sarah, she was Erin and she recalled the young boy as nine of them danced around him, “Say it again,” they mocked.

Poor little Donny whimpered as he said,

“One, two, free, four, five.

Onth I caught a fith alive.

Thix, Theven, eight, nine, ten.

Then I let it go again.

Why did you let it go?

Because it bit my finger tho.

Which finger did it bite?

This little finger on my righth.”

She had been the worst of them. Poking him, laughing into his face. She had liked him, but didn’t want the others to know and so she had teased him the worst of all. Then he’d run away and the guilt of it had sent her into a fever and she had passed out. When she recovered, she didn’t go back to Lunenburg Academy. Her parents put her into therapy and made her middle name her first name.

“Oh, my God! What did we do?” Sarah moaned as she rocked in her chair, hugging her stomach. “I was the monster.”

A loud thumping on the door shook her out of her daze.

“Erin!” A deep smooth voice called, “I recognised you the other day, sitting in the cop car, an RCMP officer and all. Then, it came back to me. The therapy and a new school. Me too, Erin, me too. I don’t have a lisp any more. Open up Erin, I just want to say hello!”

– End –

CLOCK DOWN

By Vijay Boloor 

It was a bright moony night and all was peaceful in Mouseville. One night not long ago, Mariam Mouse the head teacher of Mickey High school settled herself at her desk.

A cup of piping hot tea, at her side, she settled down to mark the workbook of class four mice students. Their syllabus was learning to differentiate cheese, breads and cakes.

She was nodding her head with disapproval as she went through the books, red pen in hand.

“I don’t know what will happen to this young generation, no interest in academics.” Mariam muttered to herself.

She glanced at her tiny clock on the wall, it was just past one am. She was a little worried. Misha, her young son, was not home yet it was way past lunch time and he was never so late.

His favorite pumpkin soup and slice of cheese lay on the table. Misha was always home around this time. He was a good mouse kid and had just finished high school. He was ready to go to college to study survival skills. He was keen to study defense and attack tactics, how to dodge cats and dogs.

Soon after one o’clock a sudden flurry of activity jolted her out of her books. She came running out to see what the ruckus was, and who was thumping at her door.

“Miss, open up quick!” The door banging increased in volume and frequency.

   Mariam sensed the urgency and rushed to open the door and as soon as the door opened half a dozen neighborhood mice barged in.

 Three young mice were carrying her son Misha, who looked unconscious and limp. They cleared the couch tossing aside small stuff on the floor. They even flung her half knitted sweater out, and the leader amongst them and signaled the boys to lay him there.

Misha was all knocked out and there was no bleeding nor any injury visible.

Mariam Mouse was in a panic, her mouth and eyes wide open, dumbfounded and speechless. Her school teacher mentality kicked in. “Call the doctor, call the doctor! “she squeaked.“My poor little Misha,” Mariam wailed. She was almost upon him cuddling her unconscious son lying on the sofa. How many times have I told him not to go out with you naughty boys. What happened to him and where did you all take him?

The eldest of three young mouse kids Seymon with a quivering voice replied,“There was a big party in the neighborhood at Lord Colton’s house and we were hunting for cheese and some cake.”

“But what happened to Misha?” Mariam interrupted.

“He got hit by the golden ball,” Seymon blurted out.

“You foolish boys how many times have the elders warned you never to go play with that wretched machine, and especially with the golden ball, how many times?” Mariam was furious.

The three young mice put their heads down, their tails curled inwards.

Seymon said “Aunty it was Misha who insisted we go there and play.”

“And you guys agreed. You are the elder, could you have not stopped him.”

II

On the streets of Mouseville hardly an incident occurred that went unnoticed by Rocky and his crew. Rocky Rodent was a mouse of action, mostly violent ones.

Rocky rodent, the Mouseville strongman, judge, jury and executioner of this pack of homely rats.

He excelled in the techniques of terror, expert in untangling traps, fighting snakes and frogs. His extensive knowledge of poisons and baits, he knew how to avoid them and neutralize them.

It pleased his sense of pride and ego that all of Mouseville called him protector of Mousekind… the MIGHTYMOUSE. Swearing and shaking his fists Rocky barged in Mariam’s house. “How’s the kid?” he snapped.

Mariam raised her head and looked at him, disciplinarian that she was, she intensely disliked Rocky.

She admired his ferocity. She didn’t like his hygiene. She liked his bravery but not his vagabond lifestyle, but today was different. He was her only saviour. She looked at him in jeans and white shirt with a blue waist coat, smelling of stale cigarette.

Rocky had come to help, with Speedy on his heels, Speedy Gonzales was his fellow conspirator, a tough brown mouse fast and a ruthless assassin.

Speedy, who also killed frogs and snakes, never backed down in a quarrel. It was rumored in and around Mouseville even young cats were afraid to cross his path.

Speedy always awed Rocky mentally and physically. He too detested his personal hygiene and scruffy looks but nothing could hide the alert intelligence of Rocky’s eyes.

The young mice filled in the details of the accident to Rocky.

“When did this happen” queried Speedy.

“When the clock struck one,” was the chorus reply.

“What are we doing about this damned machine?” Mariam asked with a dejected look

A quick committee meeting was formed. Tito the old mouse chaired the group.

“Yup, it has injured many in our community, you remember Zack? Mickeys brother in law I mean Minnie’s younger brother, he had died from the impact.”

Yeah everybody remembered Mickey’s brother in law Zack.

Mickey was the most famous mouse personality of all time, everyone knew him, and people forgot Zack but remembered Mickey.

 “Boss the damned machine, let us destroy it.” Speedy said looking right into Rocky’s eyes. “Yeah it’s a good idea to destroy it but it’s pretty dangerous. Lord Colton has two big cats,” Wailed Tito the old mouse.

There was silence. Everyone looked around and half of them were looking at Rocky. He was the community’s choice if it had to be done.

“We can’t stand and watch all the time, it injuring our youth. That giant machine must come down. Boys will be boys and mice will be mice. It’s bound to happen again. It’s time it came down,” said Mariam.

Rocky and Speedy had a quick huddle meeting and both nodding came back to the room.

“We will do it!!!” said Rocky with determination.

Rocky, without wasting any time, quickly got into action. He and Speedy went to their garage where they lived and got his crew together.

Rocky loved a challenge, as chief of expedition, guerrilla warfare to bring the machine down.

“Get the gear and let’s go before it’s daylight and don’t forget to pack the Cat trap.”

 “We will need it, I can feel it,” added Speedy.

They marched into Lord Colton’s mansion, and found their way into his living room followed by his dirty dozen mice.

Rocky surveyed the imposing giant grandfather clock standing tall as the Empire State Building.

“Tonight you are coming down baby,” Rocky yelled to his team.

They were fully equipped with all the rigs and gears of a construction crew but Rocky had deconstruction on his mind.

“Down! Down!” Chorused the mice gang.

“Jigs you take three from the gang and saw away 4 inches from the front left foot of the clock,” ordered Rocky.

Sal said I will take the front right leg and moved swiftly with his team to tackle his mission.

Rocky explained to Tiny who was his team’s gymnast how to harness the pendulum, the golden ball.

“Tiny you tie the gong and harness it around the pillar.”

“When the bloody clock falls the gong will be yanked right out of the clock mama mia” Rocky smirked in delight.

“Right boss” squeaked Tiny…

“Meow” the chilling sound echoed across the hall all the mice froze and took cover! The cat was on the prowl.

   Speedy gave a quick glance and signaled Tiny to take position on the dining table and pass him one end of the twine.

Speedy and his crew had studied cat behavioral psychology, they knew that the cats get attracted to circles, they feel safe in them.

   They worked fast and laid out a ring of thick rope laced with fish oil and fragments of fish, two sets of twine passed through the circle with a team of 4 mice holding on to each end.

   They waited. The mice are not known for their patience, but in this case they waited.This was not the first time they were trapping a cat, the cat just stood at the entrance head cocked, looking in the dark trying to smell something.

 The mice gang were quiet there was absolute silence in the room. After almost an eternity the cat moved. It hovered around the strange unfamiliar circle, but the familiar smell of fish lured it right in the trap.

Split seconds later the mice reared into action. Pulling their twines in unison coordinating and looping it twice, the cats two rear feet were entangled and tied in the loop.

She yelped and meowed, the rats grunted, and pulled harder and tied the cat’s feet firmly and fastened them to the leg of the heavy dining table.

Speedy acted fast and put a brown paper bag on her face, to keep her confused and quiet.

“Team let’s get back to our main mission.”  It was half past two and at the strike of three they needed to finish. Also there was the threat of the other cat coming.

The teams got down to sawing the left leg of the giant grandfather clock with frenzy, the speed of rats was incredible and in no time it was done.

“Boss the saw broke. What shall we do? We are almost done,” Jigs said meekly.

Speedy and Rocky surveyed the leg and noticed it was practically done.  A few more strokes would do the job. To go back and get new saws would be unwise. A quick conference decided they would hammer away the last part of the almost sawed of leg. A team got in position pulling the twine tied to the leg.

It was time just before three. All the mice were in safe areas pulling the rope. Speedy volunteered to do the last hammering as he was the fastest to run before the clock crashed.

At three o’clock sharp the clock couldn’t gong as the pendulum was fastened. A final signal was given, the last bang of the hammer, a hard pull from the mice team and the giant clock came down crashing on the floor.

Before the Colton house hold could wake up and come to see what had happened the mice were out and away in a victorious mood.

This event surely called for a major celebration. The news of the downing of the clock spread like wild fire in Mouseville. Every mouse came out bringing their choicest food and there was singing and dancing, there was squeaking and prancing.

Meanwhile in Mariam’s house, Misha was slowly coming round opening his eyes. “Hi Mom,” he smiled and Mariam was relieved.

She too had heard the news of the downing of the great clock. She also heard the noise of celebration and singing of the mice gathering in front of Rocky’s garage.

She took Misha, who seemed fine and had miraculously recovered, to the street party to celebrate, and to show her appreciation and respect to Rocky and his team.

There was a great deal of celebration, Rocky’s garage was decorated in colorful paper flags. The happy mice danced and distributed cheese and cake crumbs.

Hickory Dickory Dock

The mouse ran up the clock

The clock struck one

And the mouse came down

 Hickory dickory dock.

From that day onwards this rhyme was deleted from the mouse nursery books.

And

Mariam introduced a new poem in Mickey high and now the mice kids learn this nursery rhyme.

Hickory Dickory Dock

The Rocky ran up the clock

The Mice struck one

And the Clock crashed down

 Hickory Dickory dock.

– End –

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Robert Cubitt

…is our reviewer for the October-November 2015 Challenge, the last challenge of the year.

Bob retired from the Royal Air Force after 23 years of service, travelling the world and visiting places like Oman (a small island by the name of Masirah), Cyprus, Malta, Holland, Germany and various parts of the UK. After he retired from the RAF, Bob worked for the Royal Mail as part of their logistics team and stayed with them until 2009.

With time to spare Bob returned to writing with a passion and produced two works of fiction in rapid succession. These had been “works in progress” while he had still been in full time employment and just needed finishing off. Since publishing these books on Amazon he has focused on new projects and now has a total of four fiction and three non-fiction works published, with more in the pipeline.

You may read about Robert Cubitt’s books here:

We had two entries for the challenge and while one is being worked on for publication, the other one is here for your reading pleasure. Well done both Nilanjana Bose and Gerard Bracken! And thank you for participating.

THE CHALLENGE

For the first time we had a visual challenge. Our entrants had to develop a story in 2000 words or less, based on this pictureroxanacrivat2

Thrown Off-track 

by Nilanjana Bose

From Payradanga the tracks run a gentle South-West towards Naihati and then onto Sealdah, straightening at some point almost due South. If Shankar boarded early enough he got a window seat. He climbed into the car now, swinging himself with practised ease over the gap between the platform and the footboard, and went straight to the back end. The seat was empty and he settled down, his sense of mini-triumph failing to spark today.

The train snaked through paddies already alive with the field workers at their sowing. A woman at a communal manmade lake slapped a twisted saree on a flat stone to get the dirt out, a dozen sarees washed already, flapped on a line like giant flags. The line was tied to four slim long branches held together in two unequal Xs, itself holding them together and being held in place by them in turn. Much of his life felt like that unequal X sometimes, tied together with the presence of various strings, each anchoring the other, all at the mercy of the winds. Anything could come undone anytime.

The tracks connect more than the suburbs to the throbbing heart of the metropolis, they crisscross between paddies and orchards and factories and brick kilns, cutting up the land into neat little portions, urban, suburban, semirural, rural, backward. They cut through and classify things in myriad insidious ways, tie and unravel many unequal Xs many times over.

The train drew into Naihati junction, there was much hubbub as passengers got on and off. A gaggle of vendors boarded, there was some on-going altercation at the entrance between one of them and a commuter, but before it could be satisfactorily resolved, the EMU local blared its horn and pulled out in long drawn, smooth bursts of acceleration, like a telescope unfolding. Shankar leaned back and closed his eyes, aloof from it all. The events of yesterday still clouded his morning.

***

When the tracks were laid more than a century ago, the banyan sapling must have been a good distance away from the sleepers.   But now it had unfurled a monumental canopy overhead, its aerial roots touched the ground, formed woody twined trunks and the whole grove almost bordered the raised embankment. Shankar’s hideaway inside it had been devised in teenage, he and a few close friends had claimed it. A few miles from the station, well out of sight and earshot of home. In time they finished school and Manu, Ratan, and Tipu had moved away to the city and beyond. No-one came to the banyan except Shankar now.

He was the only one who stayed back, doggedly commuting every day to a job in the city. There was an ailing grandmother, a younger sister, a widowed mother knitting up cardigans for her small clientele on a second-hand knitting-machine. Moving out was not an option. He still came to the old haunt for some lazy trainspotting in the weekends sometimes; on an early evening after work for some downtime. Over the years he had got to know this home stretch of the track well, the silence and the heat haze on them in a summer afternoon, the sound of them when they hummed with the approach of a train. He could pinpoint the times the locals passed without having to look at his watch.

The other three visited on the major holidays in autumn, they met in the public marquees for the Goddesses – Durga, and Lakshmi and later Kali; the evenings raucous with the new music releases on the loudspeakers, lit with fairy lights. Their lives in the cities seemed characterised by an acute shortage of time, all was change at a fast clip – people moved, jobs changed, buildings came up, every year they had a new set of neighbours. By contrast, the only people that had moved into Payradanga in all this time was the new postmaster, the older one had retired just a month ago.

When Shankar pointed this out to the group on the day of Kalipuja, it turned out that Ratan – who no longer called the festival by its local name, instead said Diwali like any northerner now – knew the family. But apart from them there were no new faces, most families had been around for years, settled into their respective grooves, only the young people steadily crumbled away from the homesteads in search of livelihoods.

***

Shankar spotted the girl on a day off, just weeks before Holi. He had come to the banyan with a rug, a few snacks, and a new book. He looked up between two pages, and she was running between the tracks, her movement fluid, her toes touching down unerringly on the wooden sleepers each time without breaking stride, quite unaware of her surroundings. The train was due, he knew that vaguely from where the sun was in the sky, in fact he could hear a train at the platform, a long honk a few miles away, sounds carried far in still mornings over the fields. He sat motionless, paralysed with unease and indecision for a split second, and then he was out of the grove and running towards her with all the speed he could muster, shouting at the top of his lungs.

“Move out, move out, train’s coming.”

She did not stop and kept running, the same measured pace, touching down light footed. Shankar could hear the lines humming now, the girl was still out ahead of him, unaware or maybe uncaring. He stopped shouting, channelled every bit of energy into drawing alongside her, the gap between them narrowed now, but so also the distance between them and the roaring monster behind. His heart felt as if it would explode inside him if he had to take one more stride, the train honked angrily again, too close now for comfort, the noise too loud in his ears, the sound of the wheels harsh, the rushing column of wind that signalled its arrival, all felt like inches away. With one last extraordinary effort he leaped and drew abreast, unceremoniously yanked her off the tracks. They both tumbled onto the embankment in a heap of flailing limbs and kept rolling over endlessly while the Ranaghat Up passed with a deafening burst of noise above them.

Shankar found his feet unsteadily, shaking with the reaction, “Are you crazy, girl?”

He had seen her around the place, strangers stuck out for miles here, though their paths were unlikely to cross. She was the daughter of the new postmaster. He noticed that her jamun-dark eyes were fixed somewhere near his chin. Involuntarily he rubbed his nose, ran a hand over his jaw, “Can’t you hear or what?”

For an answer, she dealt him a resounding slap and walked off across the fields. Shankar was too non-plussed to protest. He stood gaping, rooted to the spot. When he came back, the book refused to settle him, his nerves jangled and would not be soothed. He rolled up the rug and with a sense of great anti-climax started off home. The whole day had somehow been completely ruined.

***

Shankar strolled into the banyan grove after work, the moon was a few slivers away from being full, enough light to see clearly by. There was a white patch on the ground beneath a pile of darker things. It was a face-towel, topped by a scrap of paper, weighed down by a pack of coconut laddus carefully sat into a terracotta dish, nested into another of water to keep ants away. Shankar opened the pack, sniffed – they were quite fresh, the ghee had soaked into the paper liner in a large smear; he ate one and looked at the note by the light of a match.

“Sorry! And thank you – Joba” was scrawled on it in great looping letters, generous and forceful. Shankar smiled and struck a match again. He wrote a reply on the other side, and arranged it back again exactly the same, weighted with the dish of water. He waited as long as he could, but no-one turned up. The cigarette burnt to a stub, there was no further pretext to linger. He left, taking the laddus with him.

He got through his evening distractedly poking around. Maybe she was not expecting a reply, maybe he was reading too much into a simple gesture, it was perhaps only an apology not an overture. Maybe some animal would move the dish, spill the water and smudge the words, why had he not thought of emptying it out? Maybe the winds would blow away the scrap before she came back, had he chosen the words right? It would be Holi in a few days, maybe he would see her out with the colours, take a chance on splashing some on her too. Ratan should be home for the festival surely, Shankar would cadge an introduction somehow.

But Ratan did not come. Shankar heard that work would keep him away till the end of spring. He could not quite bring himself to ask about Joba over the phone, it just felt too weird. As with the note, he did not have words the right size. Meanwhile, he checked on the banyan every day. The dish soon dried, then overturned and cracked, and the scrap of paper blotched with dirt before it was blown away. Shankar never knew if his rejoinder found the recipient.

The post office remained closed on the day of Holi; Shankar saw no-one from the postmasters’ family. He went out with Tipu and Manu like he did every year. The whole street was a mass of colours, the abeer and rainbow jets of water staining the tarmac and whitewash and white clothes in merry splashes, the powder thrown up in clouds colouring the very air they breathed. Shankar kept an eye out, but did not chance upon her anywhere.

Manu and Tipu left in a couple of days, and Shankar could not find the right conversational slot to mention Joba to them. And what was there to talk about anyway? A sudden accident averted, a slap for his pains, a pack of sweets and a cryptic apology – how could one explain them and their sudden impact on him without sounding cheesy? It niggled at Shankar – why had she run like that towards certain death? why the slap and the note? and why should the whole thing shift his priorities one infinitesimal bit even?

He saw her a few days later, across the carriage in the train returning from Sealdah. She stood alone near the door, a stray lock of hair fluttering across her face. He smiled tentatively, she returned his greeting. He walked alongside her as they left the platform.

“Can we walk to the banyan?”

Her eyes were still fixed at chin level, she would not lift them up to make eye contact with him. Her answer was indistinct, delivered in a flat monotone, “I take a rickshaw home.”

The rickshaw stand was not more than a minute’s walk, so he would have to make it quick. He said everything in one long rushed breath, keeping his face lowered, his gaze fixed on the paving. They reached in no time, she interrupted him with a non-committal smile, got into a rickshaw which pulled away smoothly.

Shankar finally brought it up with Ratan, worked Joba’s name into the conversation one morning over phone, clumsy and circuitous. Immediately Ratan’s voice cackled in his ears, “Why, dude? Are you thinking of sending a proposal or what?”

“Oh, come on, Rottu! Can’t a guy –”

Ratan broke in without paying the least attention, “Well, she is a lovely girl, unattached from what little I know. Pretty brilliant at sports and all that. You’ll have to learn sign language though. She’s deaf, lost her hearing when she was a child. Meningitis or something. But she lip-reads so well you’d never make out.”

~~~~

Glossary

Payradanga, Naihati, Ranaghat – towns/villages in the Greater Kolkata area

Sealdah – a railway station in Central Kolkata

Laddus – a type of Indian sweet

Abeer – powdered colour used for Holi

Holi – a spring festival where colours, dry and liquid, are splashed on friends and neighbours

Durga, Kali – goddesses signifying Shakti, the female form of Divine energy. The worship of Durga during autumn is the major festival in Kolkata and its surroundings

The Iron Road

by Gerard Bracken

Annie could feel the tightness grasp her lungs as she willed her legs to keep moving at a pace to match the railway ballast gaps between the shining frosted rail sleepers while she compensated for the unevenness of the stone surface. All around her was shrouded in the drapes of the early morning icy mist.

The lone rail marker post ahead indicated one mile and uphill gradient to Mary field railway station, she ran past familiar landmarks, all was quiet along the rail track this cold winter morning with most of the town’s people congregated at the station.

Barry was in single line with all the young army recruits, there was an air of youthful eagerness and enthusiasm about the adventure that lay before them. As the column halted in front of the station house, he could see his father and mother in the crowd among a sea of red waving flags and hands.

He picked out his father’s face, a mix of pride and dread, pride that his sons volunteered and dread at what lay ahead in the old country, Europe. He wished he was young enough to be there to share their fears, to climb up that trench ladder into the fiery abyss, to console them when they lost their comrades and lay with them in their last moments should it come to pass.

His mother eyes were red and glazed with tears, for years she had seen off her husband and sons to the mine at the start of each shift and feared that its dark dank interior would steal them away forever, entomb them in a sarcophagus of coal, now the talons of war had reached their small town and would sweep up its men into a maelstrom of death and destruction. She had brought them into the world in the sharp physical pain and soothing love of birth, she did not want to bear the pain of their loss.

For all of Annie’s best efforts to run along the ladder like track, the rail marker posts were not coming up fast enough and she calculated she would not make it to the station in time. She was coming up on the footpath to Breeches junction, she decided to take a short cut and make for the old disused timber water tower by the over grown mine rail siding.

The Iron Road with its four-foot-eight-and-a half-inch Stephenson standard gauge track followed the meandering river path along the valley floor; the twin tracks meant many things to many people over the years. Everyone who was born, lived and died in the town was connected to those two long steel lines that ran through generation after generation as it did along each bend and curve of its snake like path. Annie and Barry were two young people whose lives were divided by and joined by the track.

The main employer in the town of Tocher was the coal mine, which ran deep into the sides of the valley with tilting seams of coal excavated by men and for a time young boys on their backs in 10-hour shifts. This was the town’s main source of employment and income. In the great tradition of coal mining towns, the Iron Road divided the town physically, economically and socially.

On one side of the divide was a mining family called the Dixons, originally from a North England coal town, they could proudly trace back their descendants 5 generations to coal miners. They lived in the shadow of the mine on the Broadlands estate which was originally built by the mining company.

Barry Dixon was the next in line to join the mine, his father and two brothers all worked there, they were miners through and through: brave, hardworking and hard living men. Barry was different, he was quiet, gentle and an avid book worm who spent all his spare hours at the back wall looking at the trains and waving to drivers and passengers alike. He was in the top five at the local school. Railways and trains was his passion and he wanted to be a rail Engineer. His father, Big John, had shovel sized hands and was built like a bear, he wanted Barry to follow in his footsteps and be a miner, his mother, Julia knew better, this son was destined for a different path to his father and brothers.

On the other side of the Iron Road and 2 miles away, in the better area of Saint Chalfont, was a spacious three story, detached Victorian house with lush ornate gardens also backed on to the track. Here lived the Clarendon’s who were of middle class stock from Scotland, whose lineage was that of doctors and solicitors. Arnold Clarendon, head of the family ran a busy medical practise in Bury Street for select patients, he had great plans for his two daughters. Annie Clarendon was the oldest, a keen academic, athletic and was destined to study medicine and eventually take over family practise. She was set for her departure at the end of summer to medical school.

Barry started to hang out at the railway station and stock yards in his early teens and after time got to know the rail hands. The yard chief turned a blind eye to company rules and regulations and encouraged him to ride on the foot plate and assist the drivers. Barry’s enthusiasm would spill over at family meal times and slowly his father could see that this son was not destined for the mines.

Barry’s family couldn’t fund a university education for Barry, the fees and lodgings were not within their reach. The yard chief had gone to the same school as Barry’s father and they frequented the same public house at the weekends. The topic of Barry’s love of trains came up in conversation and the yard chief mentioned the annual rail company scholarship.

Big John was a family man and wanted his sons close by in the mines but mining was hard, physical and dangerous work which, over the years, was etched into their bodies, he knew his wife constantly worried about them and he could see the relief in her face on their return after each shift. The ominous clouds of closure hung periodically over the mine and so, after much soul searching and discussion with Julia, they encouraged Barry to sit the scholarship exam and interview.

Barry scored high in the exam and won over the interview board with his working knowledge of the rail yard and was awarded the scholarship, he would leave for university in September.

Annie Clarendon’s family were of the Humanist tradition and were conscience of their privileged status in life. It was therefore important that they return this good fortune to the less fortunate.

The hospital set up by the mine company was in poor condition, under resourced and under staffed. Every Saturday, Annie’s father held a free clinic at the hospital for anyone who needed medical attention, at an early age; Annie would assist her father at these clinics each summer.

Barry got some paid work at the rail yard, while assisting the yard men shunting coal trucks, Barry’s hand got caught in the track switch handle, resulting in a cut and badly bruised hand, the yard chief sent Barry to the hospital.

When Barry’s name was called, he was seen by Arnold Clarendon, who after much pocking and prodding, deduced that no bones had been broken and once cleaned, the hand needed to be bandaged. The cleaning and bandaging was gently and expertly carried out by Annie, Barry sat there his heartbeat pounding in his ears as his mind waded through a river of words trying to string a meaning introduction sentence. In the end, he was afraid to say anything in case he sounded stupid. Annie, on the other hand blended medical speak, with comforting words and small talk as she went about her task.

After an awkward thanks and good-bye he headed home. They met each other at the clinic for the next four Saturdays to check the healing of his hand and apply fresh bandages. Barry savoured every moment in her company. Annie broke the silence, by picking a book she had read and recited its plot to Barry. Barry then followed suit. They agreed to read a different book each week and compare their understanding of its story line and characters. After the four weeks, knowing it was now or never, he bucked up the courage to ask her to meet him for walks along the tracks.

It was 1914, the Victorian era of separation of the sexes and class still lingered and two young teenagers from different upbringings meeting alone for walks would not have been tolerated in a small town with so many prying eyes.

During their trackside walks, they built a bridge of trust and understanding with stories of childhood, family, friends, books and interests, although they were breaking with the strictly tiered class hierarchy, they were conscience of their respective families’ positions within the towns separated communities, and not wanting to cause any more hurt should they be caught, kept their meetings as close friends and nothing else.

Barry would talk lyrically about the history of the track, the names given to the track sections and the bends, the train engines, their operating pressures, their individual mechanical quirks and dislikes and how the drivers could coax the best out of engine and truck wagons.

Annie described her privileged upbringing with nannies, a maid, a butler, holidays and her distant mother, who mixed with the town’s circle of socialites. She explained some of the basic medical procedures her father would let her assist him with and the odd behaviour of the more eccentric patients at her father’s Bury Street clinic.

Their plans were cut short by the news of war in Europe, Britain’s entry into the war was followed by Canada’s automatic entry, and there was unanimity across the country, in every city, town and village and across the class spectrum. The Canadian Prime Minister called for a national supreme effort offering assistance to Britain. Canada’s army and navy was woefully under prepared for the task ahead, yet in weeks, 32,000 men had signed up for the Canadian Expeditionary force, among them Barry and his brothers. Annie also signed up to the Canadian Army Medical Corps nicknamed ‘Bluebirds’ after the blue uniforms and white veils.

Barry received his departure orders like all the other town volunteers to board a special charted train for Valcartier Camp near Quebec City. With heavy hearts, Barry and Annie met for what could be their last walk along the same tracks that should have taken them to university and not to the battlefields of Europe.

They talked about their futures after what the newspapers headlined this short and glorious war, they spoke of love, careers and marriage, they had a plan. It was fitting that they should carve out their future by the tracks. The tracks had always been a metaphor for hope and uncertain future for so many people over the years as they stretched into horizon.

Barry settled into a window seat, his suitcase stored overhead, his brothers sat opposite grinning at him, he thought he should feel sadness and fear, but he did not, he had his bothers to protect him and he to protect them and a reason to live.

In his heart he knew that Annie would be by the track, as the train pulled away to a fanfare of cheers and band music, he could see all the yard men waving as the engines blasted their whistles. As the train picked up speed heading to Breeches junction, he looked for the old water tower and saw Annie for a split second and smiled.

Wherever the Iron Road took him; he had the love of family and Annie.

Susan M Toy

hpim3640

Our reviewer for the single entry received for our July-August Challenge was Susan Toy – a bookseller, an award-winning publishing sales representative, a literacy teacher, and a promoter of fellow authors and their books through her company, Alberta Books Canada. Susan is also an author and publisher, her imprints are IslandCatEditions and IslandShorts. Through Alberta Books Canada, Susan represented authors directly, helping them find promotion for themselves and their books, seeking out new readers, and assisting them in making wise career decisions.

Susan continues to promote authors and good books in general, throughout the world and online, on her blog, Reading Recommendations. She created the writing contest, Coffee Shop Author, has sat on the Board of Directors of the Fernie Writers’ Conference, served as a member of the Calgary Distinguished Writers Program steering committee, and was a member of the board of directors for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta. She is now concentrating on her own writing and publishing and divides her time between Canada and her home in the Caribbean.

You can read more about Susan here:  https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/about-susan-m-toy/

You can read about Susan’s books here: https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/island-in-the-clouds-a-bequia-novel/

And her other thoughts here: https://theviewfrommytrailerandverandah.wordpress.com

Thank you Susan! 

And now for our July-August entry… The challenge was:

“Your story should have 2 characters, an object, a location, a dilemma, a trait. Mix them all together and you have a plot – your word limit is 2,000 words.”

The Reluctant Boatman

Extract from the Memoirs of an Industrial Mercenary by Gordon Simmonds

In the summer of 1975, I was working for a small instrument company in Waringstown, Co. Down, assigned to sort out a problem at a water treatment plant in bandit country. Bandit country was anywhere in South Armagh where the IRA had a strong and active presence. This plant was situated in an idyllic setting high up in the Mountains of Mourn and not far from Newry.

The highlight of this particular job was spending lunch hours fly-fishing in the lough not far from the plant. The weather was fine and sunny, the trout were rising in their thousands all over the lake, but none seemed hungry, at least, not for my fly. So I caught nothing, but then, fishing isn’t necessarily about catching fish–or so I tell myself.

The lowlight occurred during a trip to Newry. I had decided to replace a motor in the plant and drove to a supplier in the town. The motor wasn’t very big, but it was fairly heavy, so I sort of bundled myself backwards out of the shop door carrying this heavy motor in my arms, almost colliding with a passing soldier. Now this was not any old soldier. He was in full patrol mode, rifle unslung – locked and loaded no doubt (as the Americans would say), and more significantly, he wore a red beret with a Pegasus badge. Oops! Bumping into a member of the Parachute Regiment is not a good idea at any time, but in the middle of bandit country . . . not good.

He wasn’t a dwarf, so he wasn’t Happy. In fact he was rather tall, dark, and carried the sort of features that wouldn’t shrink from jumping out of a planeat ten thousand feet with just a scrap of silk between him and oblivion. He glared at me with obvious disdain, and despite my English accent, he either took me for a bandit, a collaborator, or both, because he proceeded to give me the third degree:“Who are you?What are you doing?Where are you going?”He growled.

Only a few short years before, I would have outranked him both in terms of seniority and rank. But now I had long hair and a beard . . . and he had a gun. Besides, I don’t think he would have taken too kindly if I had come out with the old ‘name, rank and number’ routine, so I didn’t try. It did make me think however, that if they treat every innocent person like this, its little wonder that so many in the area supported the IRA and despised the Para’s. On the other hand, every patrol around this area meant he never knew whether this would be the one when he’d be shot at and killed or wounded, as had been the case with so many of his comrades.

Commuting to and from the plant meant travelling through Lurgan. Along the main street I had noticed a boat laid upright against a wall with a for sale sign. £45 it said, complete with an outboard motor. It was about ten feet long and quite wide in the beam, with buoyancy tanks down either side. The hull was painted a bright British racing green and white on the inside. Over the course of a few nights, I considered the idea, and eventually thought it would be good for a bit of off-shore fishing. So, of course I bought it.

I didn’t own a trailer and since I was young and already stupid, I reckoned I would lash it to the roof rack. Bearing in mind I was driving one of the old Czech Skodas, the boat was probably bigger than the car. But, as I said – young and stupid. The boat was a great hit, though, and once Dad acquired a trailer, he and the boat spent many pleasurable hours fishing off Port Muck on the Islandmagee. I was away from home much of the time so I look back with regret that I missed most of those fishing trips.

Before I get to the main story, two other boating incidents come to mind. On a nice sunny day I decided to go for a sail on my own. I hitched up the trailer, drove down to Whitehead and launched the boat from the ramp there. The engine came off the Ark, but was still very reliable and invariably started on the first pull of the rope – and so it did this day – which was a shame, because I’d forgotten to loop the ballast bag over the bow. (The boat was so buoyant that without putting ten kilos of lead in the front, the bow would rise up under power. This lead was kept in a haversack, and we looped the strap over the bow post).

Still young and still stupid, I thought I could easily fix the bag without shutting the engine down. Well . . . The engine was ticking over at minimum revs when I let go of the tiller. I managed to reach as far as the middle of the boat before the engine flopped over on full lock to the left, which meant the propeller was pushing the boat anti-clockwise. It began to spin in a tight circle. In fact, within a split second, the boat was spinning on its own axis so that I almost fell overboard. Instead, I ended up sprawled in the bottom. It was like being in a washing machine; the boat was spinning so fast that I had to struggle to stand, but in the end, I did manage to claw my way back to the engine. After two or three spectacular pirouettes, I had things back under control and half expected a round of applause from the audience around the little harbor. I cut the engine, fixed the ballast and nonchalantly went on my way, as though nothing had happened.

The second incident came on another fine day. Dad and I set out from Port Muck and puttered the boat about half a mile from the harbor where we cut the engine and dropped the anchor (a pick-axe head on the end of a rope – nothing but the best for us!). We set up our rods and I was the first to drop my baited line into the water. Straight away I got a huge bite. The rod bent double and I fought to reel in this great fish it had to be size of a cod or haddock.

Every now and then the line would go slack and I had to reel like mad to keep it taught before once again the fish turned and tried to escape. The fish was pulling so hard I had to set the drag on my reel, allowing the line to feed out slowly under extreme pressure to prevent breakage. For perhaps five minutes, Dad and I were both totally absorbed in fighting this fish. Every time I reeled it in a little, the fish would run and I would be forced to feed the line out again.

Maybe it was the sound of breaking waves, or a sixth sense, I don’t know, but in the midst of all this action, I turned round – and there, not fifty metres behind us, were the soaring cliffs and jagged rocks of a little island just outside the harbor. I dropped the rod and made a lightning dash for the engine which started first time, once again, so we were able to motor away to safety. Another few seconds and we would have been served on the rocks without a drink. We had dropped anchor in what proved to be a rip tide. The fish I’d hooked was actually the hook itself catching and releasing on the bottom as the fast current rushed us toward the rocks.

Looking out the front room window of our house in Ballycarry, you could see down the hill to the causeway across to Islandmagee and beyond those green fields to the Irish Sea; way off into the distance are the shores of Scotland. It was a popular joke in the village that if you could see Scotland, it was going to rain. If you couldn’t see Scotland, it was already raining.

On a clear day you could just make out the cottages on the Scottish coast, like little white dots against a green field background, and I often wound the kids up by telling them I could see a little old man sitting in front of his cottage, smoking a pipe. They would then spend ages staring through binoculars trying to find him. Of course, a tiny dot, even at times-ten magnification, is still only a slightly less tiny dot, so if any of the kids are reading this now . . . I was lying!

Since I am definitely a fair weather fisherman, this particular day must have started out fine, because Dad agreed that a day’s fishing was a good idea. But instead of going to our usual fishing ground off Port Muck, we decided to try the sea in Browns Bay for a change. Now, Browns Bay is a mile or so round the coast from Port Muck, so it made sense to use the ramp at Ballylumford, which was closer.

In due course the boat was launched and we puttered our way round the headlands into Browns Bay. We spent perhaps an hour fishing, but nothing was biting so we packed up and moved past the next headland into Port Muck Bay. By the time we arrived there, the weather was changing. The sky had darkened as clouds rolled in, and the wind was stiffening. The sea, which had been calm and benign, was gradually becoming choppier and choppier. Without dropping a line we decided to call it a day and pointed the boat back to Ballylumford.

The wind and waves were coming in from the north, but we had to sail northwest, directly across the incoming storm. As the sea got higher, we realized we couldn’t maintain this direction without being swamped or capsizing, so I steered directly into the wind and hoped we could turn and use it to still get past the headland.

Here I had a dilemma, I could persist in trying to round the headland, or I could turn downwind and motor into Port Muck harbor, walking to Ballylumford to retrieve the car and trailer. But there were no roads in the direction of Ballylumford – which meant trekking across fields and hedgerows for a mile or more. Since I was wearing thigh-high sea boots, it was not a prospect I was looking forward to,

So I stubbornly maintained this direction for maybe an hour with the seas getting higher and higher. Eventually I realized we weren’t going get around the headland, but by then, the situation was at a point where the seas were so high, I couldn’t turn safely even though I wanted to, and all that was happening was we were being pushed out further and further from shore. The crew of a passing yacht shouted over and asked if we needed a tow, but since they were sailing at right angles to the wind, it would not have helped.

Finally the boat stopped riding the waves and began ploughing through them. I clearly remember being oblivious to the danger and shouting “Yee-haa!” as the first of a succession of waves broke over the bow soaking us both in a spume of cold Irish Sea water. It was scary, but at the same time, exhilarating. All this time, Dad sat stoically in the middle of the boat watching everything but saying nothing – even now, I wonder what was going through his mind, but I chose the title of this story because I’m sure he must have been saying to himself “I’d rather not be here.” I can remember the day so clearly, with Dad gripping the gunwales with either hand, looking like a drowned rat, while the sea tossed us about like a cork. Neither during nor after did he ever criticize my decision. I know he’d seen a lot worse during the Arctic convoys but if it had been me, I’d have said something like “For crying out loud Gordon. Turn the bloody boat!!”

Eventually a small patch of calm water appeared as though out of nowhere, but by the time I realized I could turn, it was too late and it had disappeared. Maybe five minutes later, I was ready when another, larger patch came up, and swung the tiller over. That plucky little boat turned on a sixpence and we were away. Despite taking an hour to travel half the distance into the wind, it took no more than five minutes to motor downwind and into Port Muck harbour.

I left Dad minding the boat and spent the next half-hour or so ‘yomping’ across hill and dale, through hedges, and over fences with a couple of kilos of sea boot on each leg. I retrieved the car and trailer, picked up Dad and the boat from Port Muck, and headed home for tea. Oh happy days!!

The title of this story was the first that came to mind when I decided to write these memoirs. Not long afterwards, Dad bought a bigger boat with a bigger engine and most importantly . . . some life jackets!

Our reviewer for the challenge was Paul Newton-Palmer who is in the final agonising all-consuming throes of publishing his first book. Paul has an MA in Creative Writing from the University Chichester, UK. He is also an accomplished short story writer and has a high interest in poetry, although, he stresses, he is primarily a novelist. His first crime thriller will be released shortly.

The challenge for April/May was open, that means it could be about anything in any genre and style. The only constraint was to start the story with the letter ‘D’. We had five delightful entries that our reviewer Paul, said he found a pleasure to read. He has provided detailed and insightful commentary to each of the writers, that I think they have found both useful and encouraging.

I shall place a photograph of Paul as soon as I receive one.

Here, without further ado are the stories in the order I received them:

I Spy with My Little Eye Something Beginning with D

By Glen Stansfield

“Dragons’ eggs?”

“Yes, in a cave.”

“There’s no such things as dragons,” Danny said.

“Is too, and I found their eggs – in the sand.”

“How big are they then?”

“Not that big, but I know they’re dragons’ eggs, ‘cos, – ‘cos they’re all knobbly.” Brian was confused. He thought Danny would be excited by his news.

“They’re probably seagull eggs.”

Sometimes, Danny didn’t know why he bothered with Brian. He was only eight, Danny was ten and so much wiser, almost grown up, or so he thought.

“Bet you’ve not even found a cave.”

“Did so too. At the far end of the beach.”

When the war ended, two year old Danny met his father for the first time. Brian hadn’t quite been born; the product of a forty-eight hour leave pass, eight and a half months earlier. Living next door in their two-up, two-down terraced houses, it was inevitable the pair would grow up together. They spent hours kicking a football around the streets, or playing cricket with an old bat and a ragged tennis ball. And despite the numerous warnings from their parents, they would sometimes play on one of the bomb-sites still littering that part of Coventry.

“Show me.”

“Now? We can’t go to the beach on our own Danny. We’ll get into trouble.”

“I suppose, but when we go this afternoon you’d better show me that cave, or else.”

Their fathers worked together before the war, employed as handymen in the nearby Alvis factory. After demobilisation they started a business in the building trade. Plenty of that to be done in post-war Britain, especially in a heavily bombed city like theirs.

They did well for themselves, and after so many years of hard work, arranged to take their families on a well-deserved holiday. Two weeks on the south coast of England, in the county of Dorset.

“I still say you’re making it up,” said Danny.

Brian responded the way little boys do when doubted. He thrust his hands in his pockets, pouted his lips, looked at the ground and scuffed the toe of one shoe on the floor. A little boy in a sulk can be difficult to deal with, for a minute or two. Then they forget all about it and move onto something new.

Brian tapped Danny on the shoulder and shouted “You’re it!” starting yet another game of tag. Brian set off along the boarding house corridor, squealing in delight with Danny in pursuit.

ooOoo

Even though on holiday together, the two families agreed from the outset they would not spend all their time in each other’s company. After all, the two men worked alongside each other, and their wives, being next door neighbours, spent a lot of time together. A little time apart would do them no harm. And that is how Brian had found himself wandering the beach without Danny.

The previous afternoon, his parents decided to spend a bit of time in the sun, while Danny’s parents took him on the bus to Weymouth to do some souvenir shopping.

Brian didn’t like sitting still in the sun. He soon got restless and wandered off along the beach.

“Don’t go out of sight,” his Mother called.

“I won’t.”

He went further than he intended. At the end of the beach, he clambered over the rocks beneath the cliff face and that’s where he came across the entrance to the cave.

A hundred and fifty feet high, and jutting out some fifty feet, a rocky outcrop protruded from the rest of the cliff, as if trying to reach the sea. It formed a natural barrier between the beach and the continuing shoreline. From a distance it looked to be a part of the rock face. It was only when you got close you realised it was there.

In the corner, between the promontory and the cliff was a dark hole, visible only when you had passed by and looked back towards the town. A sandy patch stretched from the sea and extended into the cave as if someone had cleared a path.

Like all young boys, Brian had a fascination for things he knew might be dangerous, so he slowly made his way towards the void. He was aware things were different here. The sea was quieter somehow. He was becoming uncomfortable, but his curiosity got the better of him.

Cautiously, he went inside, hesitating at each step. He had no intention of going too far. It wasn’t a shallow cave. A dark, gaping hole, both beckoning and intimidating at the same time. He would go inside for a few steps, no more. As he did so, he tripped over something sticking up out of the sandy floor. Two egg shaped objects, partially buried, knobbly and green, and very strange. Brian bent down to take get a better view.

The squawk of a gull echoed in the cave, startling Brian, and he fled before he had chance to examine what he was now sure were dragons’ eggs. They were smaller than he expected, maybe this was a small dragon. He wasn’t going to look again. The noise had spooked him. He wouldn’t go back in there until Danny came with him, and wouldn’t he be surprised when he saw the eggs. Brian couldn’t wait.

He scrambled back across the rocks and back onto the beach. His Mother was looking for him and he waved, she beckoned for him to come back.

“What did I tell you?”

“I only went on the rocks, Mum. I could still see you.”

“Well I couldn’t see you, so you can stay here now.”

“But, Mum…”

“Brian, don’t argue with your Mother,” came a voice from under the newspaper. And with that Brian sat down and began digging a hole with his spade.

ooOoo

In the afternoon both families gathered up the beach mats, buckets and spades, and all the other paraphernalia that makes for a pleasant afternoon in the sun, and set off for the beach. Pleasant for the adults that is. A bucket and spade was all the average child needed as long as there was an ice-cream van nearby.

After half an hour, Brian could take no more.

“Can me and Danny go beachcombing?” he asked.

“You better not disappear like yesterday.”

Brian knew better than argue. That would be the quickest way to get the answer ‘no’.

“We won’t. Promise.”

Despite Danny’s thoughts about him being young and inexperienced, Brian wasn’t stupid. If he and Danny made a bee-line for the cave, his Mother would suspect something. So with all the wiles an eight-year old can muster he grabbed Danny by the arm.

“Come on, let’s go down there.” He pointed with his free hand towards a patch of dried out seaweed, a hundred yards away on the tide-line.

“I thought we were…”

Danny got no more of the sentence out as Brian stamped on his foot and nodded his head towards the four adults lying on the beach mats.

“Ouch.”

Though not happy about the method of silencing him, he knew Brian was right. Maybe he was a bit more grown up than he thought.

After ten minutes of rummaging in the sand-fly-ridden seaweed, the pair checked on the nearby adult supervision. No signs of life, other than the occasional wave of a hand to ward off a particularly persistent fly.

They worked their way along the tide-line towards the cliffs and soon reached the promontory. Every few steps they paused to check on the adults.

Danny knew you couldn’t rely on adults, they were always doing the unexpected. This time they didn’t spoil things. They wouldn’t be long at the cave. Just enough time to prove Brian wrong about the eggs.

“Brian! These aren’t eggs you idiot, they’re hand-grenades.”

After gently removing the sand from around the two green orbs, Danny had his suspicions confirmed when he saw the release mechanism. He had seen hand-grenades in pictures his dad brought back from the war in North Africa.

“They must have been left over from the war. My Dad says they did exercises all along the coast. He says they practised for D-Day somewhere around here.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. We need to get out of here and tell someone. We could be blowed up.”

“I was sure they were dragons’ eggs,” said a disappointed Brian.

“I told you. There’s no such thing.”

Something moved inside the cave. They both froze. Something being dragged across the sand.

“Don’t be too sure about that,” said a deep, resounding voice from inside the cave. It resonated and echoed, in their bodies as well as their ears.

The boys were motionless, their eyes wide and their mouths open.

A light flickered, seemingly floating in the air. A flame, building in brightness until they could see it reflecting off the gold and blue iridescent skin of what was unmistakably a magnificent specimen of a dragon.

— The End —

Dear Vikki 

Seumas Gallacher

It was more than fifty years ago now, but it’s as clear in my mind as if it were yesterday.

At fourteen, most of my non-school hours meant kicking a football with my pals on the spare ground close to our home in the Glasgow slums. An open piece of grass where piled jackets served as goalposts, was bounded by tenement buildings. On weekends, the noise of up to twenty or more of we lads reverberated for hours. Somehow, we never felt tired. One of the buildings which housed exclusively older, retired folks overlooked our makeshift pitch. Singletons all, either spinsters or widowed individuals, well beyond even the age that I’m now skirting with, they lived in a comfortable, protected environment.

One day I heard a call from the third-floor balcony of the unit facing where we played. A petite, white-haired lady waved to me, and beckoned me to come up. It was the first time I met her. Miss Kerr. Even at this distance of time, I know she must have been approaching her eighties. I had to pass by the caretaker’s office and get permission to go upstairs.

“Aye, up you go, son. That’ll be Miss Kerr, wanting you to go do a few errands for her,” he said. The wooden strip on his door bore the name, J. Cassidy. Mister Cassidy fitted in perfectly with the age group of his charges. A big, broad-shouldered ex-docker, he and I would have many conversations in the ensuing months. His well-worn hands could convert to massive fists if ever needed, but the gentle giant in him showed his caring skills.

The elevator to the third floor opened onto the corridor running the length of the place. At the end, the diminutive Miss Kerr already stood with her door open.

“Hello, Miss Kerr? Mister Cassidy told me your name.”

“Come in, come in,” she said. Her tiny hand motioned me inside. The winter sunlight glared in to brighten a small, one-roomed area. A neat table set near the window gave her panoramic access to the goings-on up and down the street, including our football patch. In the corner near the window, a gas stove fitted against the wall, partnered with a low bank of shelves.

“You’ll have some tea?” she asked, pointing at the shelves. It was more a command than a question. “There’s some fresh brewed there. If you’ll just take out a couple of cups and saucers. And in that wee tin on the top, you’ll get us some biscuits.”

I put the cups on the table and my elderly hostess brought over the teapot.

“My back’s killing me,” she said. Her slow gait looked painful. “I’m waiting for a hip replacement, but the time they take here is so long, I’ll be pushing up the daisies before they get round to me.”

I sat on the chair opposite her sentry-watch position.

“What’s your name, son?”

“Jimmy.”

“Good. Jimmy. I had a brother called Jimmy, but he died during the war.”

I realised she meant the First World War. While she talked, my eyes took in the rest of the apartment. The worn bits of carpet stretched to the inside of the unit, all the way to her bed tucked against the far wall. A chest of drawers and a white cupboard completed the furnishing.

I took a sip of the tea. Then something caught my eye. A small movement on top of the bed. A teddy bear? No. Teddy bears don’t move on their own. A small terrier dog lay, wrapped in a piece of blanket. Miss Kerr saw my surprise.

“That’s my dear wee Vikki,” she said. “She’s not very well. That’s why I asked you to come up.”

My face must have displayed my puzzlement.

“I need you to help me to take Vikki on the bus to the Vet.”

Then the penny dropped with me. The Veterinarian for the district held surgery in a mobile unit parked in the shopping area about ten minutes down the road from where we lived.

“Aye. No problem, Miss Kerr. “So, what’s wrong with your doggie?”

“Just a wee cold. The Vet’ll fix her fine. They did the last time.”

We had nearly finished the tea.

“Shall we go now?” she said.

“Sure.”

Vikki made a quiet moaning sound as I picked her up from the bed, but made no resistance to being carried in the blanket. Miss Kerr busied herself in readiness to go out. A grey coat, which had seen better years, would have fitted a small schoolgirl. Dark blue shoes, which my mother would have described as ‘sensible’, showed the scuffing that no amount of polish could hide. A maroon beret protected her head from what was, despite the sun, a biting, cold, morning wind.

A lick of pale, pink lipstick and she was ready.

The bus conductor nodded to Miss Kerr as we boarded. No need for her to show her pensioner’s free pass. She made to pay for me, sitting beside her, cradling Vikki. The conductor smiled and refused her pennies.

Similar courtesy appeared at the Vet’s office, where the surgeon’s assistant clearly knew Miss Kerr.

“Doctor won’t be long, Miss Kerr. Is this your grandson?”

“No, just a young friend from near where I live,” she said, with a smile. I felt strangely pleased to be thought her relative. A few minutes later the assistant ushered us through to the Vet’s area. Doctor Beattie was a middle-aged lady, with a terrific smile.

“Hello, Miss Kerr. What’s wrong with your wee dog, then? Let’s have a look.”

I handed her pet over as gently as I could. The dog barely moved. I noted the change of expression on Doctor Beattie’s face. Something was badly amiss.

“Hmm. Vikki is very sick, Miss Kerr, Do you want to leave her with us?”

“How long until she gets well?” asked my new surrogate grandma.

The Vet spoke as gently as she could. “I don’t think she has much longer to go. We can take care of her, if you want?”

Miss Kerr’s demeanour changed instantly. Her voice hardened. “No. I’ll take her back home. She’ll be okay with me.”

She was firm in the way older people convey when they want to do things their way. Stubborn, resolved, determined.

Doctor Beattie knew it was pointless to try further persuasion. She administered an injection to alleviate the dog’s symptoms. No payment was asked.

We retraced the bus journey back to Miss Kerr’s apartment. She didn’t speak at all, and I didn’t attempt any conversation.

When the owner and her dog were settled back in safely, I sought out Mister Cassidy.

“Hello, son. How did it go?”

“To tell you the truth, Mister Cassidy, her wee dog’s dying, almost gone already according to the Vet, but I don’t think she’s able to accept that. It’s not good.”

“Okay. I’ll keep a close watch on her. Thanks, lad.”

Two days later, Miss Kerr appeared again on her balcony and waved for me to go up. I knocked on Mister Cassidy’s door and he signalled to go ahead. When I entered the apartment, a foul smell caught my nose.

“Jimmy, I need you to go and get some medicine for Vikki,” said Miss Kerr.

I went to the bed where the dog lay. The eyes were staring, lifeless, probably dead since the day we brought her home from the Vet. The smell was from the decomposition already setting in. Miss Kerr had obviously been sleeping on the same bed as her pet.

“Miss Kerr, Vikki’s dead,” I said. “We need to take her out of here.”

Her chin pushed out, lips a straight line. The edge returned to her voice. “No she’s not, Jimmy. She still hears me when I speak to her. Look at her ears moving when I talk. Now will you go to the Vet and ask for some medicine?”

“Okay. Okay,” I said. I left her and went to seek out Mister Cassidy.

I told him what I’d seen and the rancid smell in the unit. Good man that he was, he immediately made a phone call. Twenty minutes later, people arrived from the local animal shelter. The lead officer was excellent in the way he appeased Miss Kerr. He explained they were taking Vikki to the hospital to get her well. In the meantime, Mister Cassidy and I took our charge to lunch. The fumigation team moved in while we were away from the place. Of course, Vikki was never coming back. Miss Kerr had lost the most important companion in her life. During lunch with us, she was even more subdued than usual, the reality probably settling in slowly.

A week or so passed in which I wasn’t able to visit. Eventually, I went to see how she was faring. Mister Cassidy wasn’t in his office, and I went straight up to her apartment. My knocking went unanswered. I went downstairs again and found the caretaker back in his usual place.

I started to tell him there was no reply to my knocking at her door.

“Sit down, son.” His voice wavered. He shook his head. “Very sad news, I’m afraid. Miss Kerr passed away two days ago.”

As the years drift by, I think of her often. A lady I met and knew only for a matter of days, but that brief encounter has remained with me. My new grandma for a week. In the intervening years, I‘ve owned many dogs. Always a terrier, and always called Vikki.

— The End —

Note: There are two point I need to make as a preamble: One there was some confusion in the writer’s mind between the piece we were to share at the last Workshop and the Challenge that was to start with the letter ‘D’. So this entry is a short one. The second is that the entrant wishes to remain anonymous.

On Grief

By Anonymous

Darkness started to envelop the beautiful red and yellow sunset just moments earlier. The surreal sky with its vivid colours suited the dream-like state everyone was in. Shocked, in disbelief, in denial, in a dream. Yes, let’s pretend none of this was real. It’s easier not to feel anything at this moment. Ouch, the cigarette I forgot about, burnt my hand; forcing reality upon me. I stubbed it out and lit another one, immune again, inhaling deeply. I hadn’t smoked in a while but it came back to me like second nature. I took a long drag from the cigarette and stared at the house. The air was humid and all I could hear was the buzzing of a lamp by the pool and the distant sound of people at the house. I stared hard at the lit up pool, at the house, at the people. I still felt numb. Someone had seen me despite my efforts to keep my distance. They started walking towards me and I stubbed out the cigarette. I stank of smoke but who gave a shit, what did I care about my reputation at this point? When she came close I saw it was a close family friend, she gave me a long huge hug, my head nestling into her black abaya. I teared; it hurt to cry at this point. ‘I’m so sorry’ she said and I nodded in acceptance but words couldn’t come out of my mouth. She turned and walked towards the house I couldn’t stay in. I felt sick, I wish this wasn’t real. At this point I felt as if nothing mattered, anything material was worthless. How could he die so suddenly? There was so much I didn’t tell him, so much I didn’t know about him. This wasn’t fair; he was too young to go. I was angry, fuming mad now. How could you do this to me, to us, I asked silently staring at the black sky.

— The End —

Dear Life

by Muneera Fakhro

Dear Life,

You have been so unfair to me, by bringing me to this life,

I grew up in an agonisingly cruel environment, but had been fighting with all my might,

I was poor, weak and fragile, barely scraping through you and finding something to eat.

I was young, I had big dreams to realize, and bigger obstacles to beat,

just to be recognised, despite those who bullied, beat, and cursed at me, saying I will not make it far,

that only made me fight, against words, diseases, time and went through further distances than soldiers in war.

 

I grew older, I had seen many things, experienced many other,

But then I saw … great injustice in you, towards those who believed in you,

I saw your reality, and how -to you- they were not much of a bother,

You are just a rollercoaster of ups and downs that somehow all, including me, are so into.

I had seen how you manipulated us, dividing us into different societies

that would cast some outside if they did not fit into certain categories.

 

I had had enough of your games, fortunately it was just a phase,

For I had gone away, never to return to this place, I had simply left this maze…

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

You brought me life, my question is why?

You barely got along, or had enough to get by.

I was one of 5, so that makes it five mistakes,

neither of you ever liked kids, how long did it take

for you to lose your patience? And to start beating us

for the very first time?

 

We were always disrespectful, in your mind,

and did not deserve yours, you thought, but oh were you so blind

of what we did for you, we slept on time and studied hard.

Amongst them, I was the hardest worker, sometimes going overboard.

However, to you, I had been and always would be the biggest mistake, the ignorant retard.

 

Truth be told, you were the ignorant fools,

too negligent to take responsibility of your mistakes!

No longer would I go by your rules,

and for that I would do whatever it takes.

I had decided, what needs to be done is for

me to quit it all, and change the five into four…

 

Dear Friends,

I had lived my whole life alone, detached and friendless,

up until a while back, you came along and changed it all from a curse to bliss.

I had dealt with it all, for twenty years long…so empty.

But when you came you shared, bore and chased that pain away, and I thank you plenty.

You broke the shell that I had always lived in, and shattered the chains that pinned me down in my place,

You showed me how life is like, and taught me how to communicate face to face.

 

When I started talking, it was hard to hear what I say, all that came out was a mumble.

I tried speaking louder, but then I stuttered. It was not too easy to come out of my bubble.

I would always get misunderstood, though you were more understanding,

until they showed up, and changed you with whatever they would bring.

I would not blame you, since we live in a life ruled by materials.

Despite that, throwing me aside like we never been, was worse than any betrayal.

 

Now I am alone once again, with no more paths to take and follow.

There is nothing more for me to do after I have become so hollow…

 

…Boss,

You were the head manager of a respectable company,

the reason it flourished actually.

I was told I will be in good hands,

and be in charge of the marketing brands.

You were fair with all the costumers, and attended to all their needs,

and towards enemies and competitors you never pay no heed.

 

However…

To colleagues in this office, you were such a flirt.

to that, I had not been alert.

You gave special attention to the ladies,

in no time would you forget all about your mateys.

When there were eyes on you, somehow I became the one to blame.

I have lost my rank, and for that, my resentment and fury turned to a blazing flame.

 

Before I leave this world I left a little gift for you, a ‘flaming touch’ to your house décor

I could do the same for your car, but your salary will not handle any more.

I could leave this life with no regrets,

since I had faced the only one I was up against…

 

To my unrequited love,

You were my college buddy, my closest buddy,

we shared our notes, food and money.

We would meet on every break, and talk about random things,

you had kind eyes and make a cute giggle at every topic I would bring.

Whether we talked or sat still in silence, it would be enjoyable.

All the moments that we shared will always be memorable.

 

Your hair up in a bun, never took off your glasses.

Had a fair skin, usually seemed deep in thought.

You would dress nicely, and wear accessories that matches,

often sitting there, eating the snack you have bought.

After we met, that bench became our usual place.

We joked, laughed, cursed and gave each other praise.

 

I had the deepest of love for you, yet you never felt the same,

it drove us apart and turned my life into such a waste…

 

This would be the end of this maze…

 

Lastly…

 

Dear God,

Why did you create a life that is so unfair?

One which gives us hopes and dreams only to be shattered away,

no matter how long, how much we say the same prayer.

It will only give so little thought before throwing them, and us, away.

Why did you grant couples who can’t raise children with kids of their own?

They will grow to be nothing but trash to be thrown.

 

Why create people to be easily swayed by a materialistic life?

You gave everyone a rateable value which is worse than handing each a knife.

Also giving high ranks to people with the worst of traits

who would take advantage of others when they are in for questions and debates.

And what good would love someone so bad do if they do not love you back?

I could not have described it better when saying one would become a punching sack.

 

All these questions I have come to ask of you,

In a little while I will be hearing your answers right in front of you…

— The End —

 

 Drowning in the Gulf

by Gordon Simmonds

This is part of a story whose full title is Flying in the Gulf (or something similar), which is a follow-on of another real life tale I called Cruising the Gulf.

Somewhere between the clay pigeon shooting and the bungee jumping, a visitor to the Chatsworth Country Show may notice a big sign promoting helicopter rides. For a small fortune, you too can experience a ten minute tour of Chatsworth House from the air. Wow! This is a true story about how the largesse of the off-shore oil industry allows its employees so much more than this, and not only is it free, but they will pay you to enjoy the delights of travelling by chopper.

Of necessity, this story doesn’t start in the Gulf, but in that great city of culture and opulence, Kingston upon Hull. More commonly known in the local dialect as ‘ull, (pronounced ull) it is famous for its fish docks and, er…fish.

To qualify for free helicopter flights, you become subject to the oil industry Health & Safety regime, which means that if you die on the job, they can wash their hands of any culpability. So your first requirement is to prove yourself fit enough to cope with the demands of North Sea travel – this means a trip to the local quack. You know the score; read this chart, pee into this, and as us gentlemen know, cough – while doc stares at your dangly bits. Then, with a clean bill of health, you can move on to the next stage of the process, which is survival training.

As the name suggests, you are taught to survive most benign incidents. As for the catastrophic ones, I’m reminded of the old parachuting joke.

A young soldier is to make his first parachute jump. He is instructed to release his main chute after he exits the aircraft. If that fails, he is to release his reserve chute. If that also fails, he is to shout GEROMINO!

So he jumps out of the aircraft and releases his main ‘chute – it doesn’t work.

He releases his reserve ‘chute – that doesn’t work either.

Then as he hurtles toward the ground he passes his instructor in mid air and shouts over “What was the name of that bloody indiannnnnnnnn?”

The first part of the course is a cruise around Hull docks, otherwise known as escape capsule awareness. You are directed to a site deep inside the dock complex, and you know you are close because forty or fifty feet in the air is a bright orange boat. Your first thought is “that’s a long way up,” but some time later, you are assured that they won’t be dropping you from such a height because a quick change into bright orange overalls and you are invited to embark on a boat/capsule they launched earlier.

It’s not really a boat, (which is why they call it a capsule). True it is boat shaped and floats, but with a roof the same size as the hull, a hatch in the side to get in and out, and a glass bubble at the top which allows the ‘driver’ to see where he’s going. It’s probably 20 foot long, and boasts a capacity of 50 people and you can’t help thinking that they must be very thin people, because the ten or twelve people on the course seem to fill it to capacity. Put another way, it is tight enough to hope that your neighbour hasn’t had a strong curry the night before.

The instructor runs you through the procedure for lowering the boat from a 40 foot platform and releasing it from the cables that lowered it. He omits to mention how to start the engine, at which point you might ask “How do you start the engine?”

He might reply that “The coxswain will do that for you.”

Which begs the question ”What if the coxswain isn’t here?”

That elicits a funny look which says, “If there is an incident and the coxswain doesn’t make it, you won’t be here to worry about it.” He stops short of mentioning Geromino.

The instructor then twiddles a few knobs, starts the engine and takes us all for a tour of the dock. Half an hour later you’re back on dry land and ready for the next part of the course. So you jump in the car and make your way to the headquarters of the training company where you are told that the next lesson is first aid. You arrive at a classroom and are confronted by a body on the floor – but don’t panic, it’s only a plastic dummy. What follows is like a scene from Casualty. You shout “Can I have some help in here?” check to see if the dummy is dead yet, punch the poor guy in the ribs and start pumping his chest to the tune of “Nelly the elephant packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus.” Of course, your efforts are all in vain, but if you get it more or less right, you pass that session and it’s now lunch time.

A bite to eat and it’s on to fire fighting for dummies. You get to dress up like a fire-man – great if that’s a childhood ambition – not so great if it’s a hot day and you’re kitted out in fire-proof overalls, steel capped wellies, gloves and helmet. They tell you all about fire extinguishers and how to use them, and then they light a few fires. First there’s the chip-pan fire – throw a blanket over it without getting yourself charred in the process. Then there is the oil spill where they light up a big tray of fuel, maybe one or two metres square, and invite each of you to put it out with an extinguisher. Now I don’t use the word ‘dummies’ lightly – because there’s always someone who will insist on chasing the last remnant of flame around the tray until the extinguisher runs out, whereupon the whole lot starts up again. Mark him down as someone to avoid in an emergency.

Next is the smoke chamber, where they dress you up like Darth Vader, with breathing apparatus, and send you into a series of shipping containers which are blacked out and dark, very dark, and full of smoke. They want to teach you to find you way out of a building with zero visibility. Your team forms up in a line. The lead guy is meant to run one hand up and down the wall looking for an exit; his other hand moves up and down in front of him to detect forward obstructions, while his feet shuffle along looking for holes and hazards. The rest of the team place one hand on the wall and the other on the guy in front – a bit like a conga line without the party. It’s not that difficult, so a minute or so after entering, the lead man finds the exit door, and you’re back in the light. On the other hand, if your lead man is one of the dummies mentioned above, be prepared to shuffle round and round until they send in a search party.

If you manage to escape, there endeth the lessons for day one. A quick change and an early drive home.

Next morning you are introduced to the pool where you will carry out the underwater escape. The pool is no bigger than a typical municipal swimming pool, but the water level is maybe four or five feet from the top, and the water is much deeper. Suspended above the pool is a big red fibre-glass helicopter-looking contraption – but that comes later.

You’re invited to select a survival suit from a rack of what looks like yellow space suits. You’re then fitted out with a life-jacket and another bag like thing that they call a re-breather. Suitably attired, the first lesson takes place in a life raft which has been inflated in the corner of the building, where you are told how it works – it will inflate automatically on contact with the water – if not, it can be deployed manually – if that fails, shout GEROMINO! They didn’t actually say that last bit, but it does cross your mind.

At this point I must digress to explain something that us North Sea Tigers don’t necessarily mention to our spouses. Helicopters can move in every direction, up, down, left, right, forward and back, but what many people don’t realise is that if the engines fail, they can glide, just like a fixed wing aircraft – the only problem is that the glide path is straight down.

In ideal circumstances, the engine dies, nothing falls off and the chopper auto-gyrates to land gently on the surface of a calm sea. The helicopter floats inflate automatically, as does the life raft, you open the cabin door and everybody steps out without getting their feet wet. A rescue boat arrives within a few minutes and its back to base and home in time for tea.

A more likely scenario is that; assuming the rotor blades remain intact and the gearbox is sound, the chopper auto-gyrates and hits the sea like a sack of potatoes. Since calm seas in the North Sea are rare, it’s more likely that the immediate danger is that the still spinning rotor blades will hit a wave and disintegrate, sending shards of carbon fibre flying through the air. Survive that and the next probability is that the engine, which is mounted above the cabin, make the chopper top heavy and the next wave will cause the whole thing to roll. You then have to fight to get out of the upside-down doors and windows to reach the surface where the life raft may, or may not, have inflated. If you are stuck in the water, even at summer temperatures, hypothermia will set in within minutes rather than hours. But what’s that compared to spending 60 or 70 quid at the Chatsworth Show?

Catastrophic failure is where one or both of the rotors fall apart or stop turning. There is only one course of action if this should ever happen – shout GERMINO!!

You are told how to operate the life-jacket and instructed in how to use the re-breather. This is a bag about the size of a large envelope that you wear round the neck with a diver’s mouthpiece. You take a deep breath, blow into the bag and this stores enough oxygen to let you breath normally for about half a minute. So it’s into the pool for the first practical exercise.

At one end of the pool is a platform about a metre wide complete with hand rails and about four feet below the surface of the water. You are required to inflate the re-breather and swim underwater for the seven or eight metres width of the pool. The survival suit is what divers call a wet-suit; which means that it is meant to fill with water, but initially is full of air which tries to make you float. So you have to use the handrail to keep yourself under while breathing from the bag. If you are too slow, you notice the gradual loss of oxygen, but normally, it is easy enough to get across without coming up for air. You must now drag yourself up the ladder at the far end. I use the word ‘drag’ because now, you are carrying an extra half ton of water in the suit. If you get through that, you’ve passed another test.

(NOTE: This was a much longer piece, but as there was a natural break here, Gordon said he was okay if the rest of the story wasn’t included and so I too am ending this here.)

— The End —

As you know the September Challenge became the October challenge and that kind of segued into November and we still didn’t have any entries.

I rattled some sabres. Sent out pleas. Threats. Practically begged. All but fell on my knees. Asked repeatedly, ‘Do we want to do these or not?’. The replies almost always came back enthusiastically, not so enthusiastically, but in essence ‘Yes’.  However, by the time November rolled around I had also identified and got on board a writer to critique our stories. And all I had were two entries. So, in desperation and to make up a decent number of entries I wrote one story myself. And I do hope I won’t ever have to do that again.

The challenge was:

One day your smart phone screen changes into a jungle … Tell a story in under 2000 words what happens when you discover this.

Our judge, as I mentioned in one of several emails was Alex Shaw

Alex Shaw

ALEX SHAW headshot BWALEX SHAW B.A.(Hons), P.G.C.E. spent the second half of the 1990s in Kyiv, Ukraine, teaching Drama and running his own business consultancy before being head-hunted for a division of Siemens. The next few years saw him doing business for the company across the former USSR, the Middle East, and Africa.

Alex is an active member of the ITW (The International Thriller Writers organisation) and the CWA (the Crime Writers Association). He is the author of the #1 International Kindle Bestselling ‘Aidan Snow SAS thrillers’ COLD BLOOD & COLD BLACK and the new DELTA FORCE VAMPIRE series of books. His writing has also been published in the thriller anthologies DEATH TOLL, DEATH TOLL 2 and ACTION PULSE POUNDING TALES 2 alongside International Bestselling authors Stephen Leather and Matt Hilton.

COLD BLOOD and COLD BLACK are commercially published by ENDEAVOUR PRESS.

COLD EAST – The third Aidan Snow Thriller will be published in January 2015.

Alex, his wife and their two sons divide their time between homes in Kyiv, Ukraine and Worthing, England. Alex can be contacted via his website www.alexwshaw.com You can also follow Alex on twitter: @alexshawhetman

You can find out more about him here:

FB author page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alex-Shaw/383476491724127

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6550104.Alex_Shaw

Authorgraph: https://www.authorgraph.com/authors/alexshawhetman

Amazon Author’s page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alex-Shaw/e/B002EQ6R9G/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Alex’s Selections were was below:

FIRST PLACE: THE GATE

by Michelle Schultz

I was swiping fat snowflakes from my eyelashes when the phone rang. I dug around in my coat pockets, trying to remember where I’d dumped the phone. I had only bought it last week, one more thing to buy after moving overseas. My half-numb fingers finally found it and pressed it against my cap.

“Hello?” I said. I shifted from foot to foot, wishing there was not so much space between my boots and the hem of my skirt.

Around me, the dim Manchester morning was silent except for the thick static of snowflakes drifting slowly down. On a Saturday, few cars braved the unplowed roads, scoring muddy tracks through the clean white expanse of snow.

I didn’t hear anything, so I pulled my cap aside. I said hello again, pressing the phone tight to my ear. I thought I could hear rain falling.

The slick, cold surface suddenly turned warm and wet against my ear.

I screamed and dropped the phone right in the snow. I scratched at my ear frantically, trying to get whatever was on it off.

My chapped fingers came away wet, streaked with golden pollen.

I looked down. A scatter of pink and purple petals mingled with the pristine snow around the bus stop. My phone had landed facedown in the snow. All around it, the snow was melting, leaving a widening circle of black asphalt.

I gripped the phone by the edges and lifted it up. Instead of the high-resolution icons and default wallpaper, deep green leaves shivered under a patter of rain behind the glossy black frame of my phone. I tilted the screen, noticing the lack of a reflection. I poked at the image of a leaf, and it bent underneath my touch, leaving my fingertip golden.

Holding the phone away from me, I turned and headed back toward home.

“Well, that’s hardly useful,” I snorted. “Why is the window so small? It’s not like I’ll fit through there.”

 

“Melanie? Back so soon?” John asked, peering into the entryway when I banged the door shut. He was still in his flannel pajamas, his feet hidden in slippers.

In answer, I held up the phone. It was still leaking rainwater and the odd petal.

“You’re kidding me!” he said. He took the phone from me, cradling it as if the leaves were going to bite him. “So where’s this?”

“Don’t know,” I said, pulling off my snowy boots.

“You have to,” he said, following at my heels as I went to wash the pollen off my hands. I could see streaks of it on my coat as well. “You make the gates.”

“Not on purpose,” I corrected, rolling my eyes. “They just… happen.”

“Could they happen to something cheap next time?”

“I didn’t want a phone in the first place. Their big reflective screens can be problematic,” I said a little nastily.

As I dried my hands, a butterfly popped out of the phone and started investigating the kitchen.

“Maybe we should close it?” John asked. To his credit, he didn’t look enthusiastic about it. He had been forced to close a few gates over the years when I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It usually involved destruction of the object in question.

“Not yet,” I said. I lay the phone so I could look down into the jungle. “Just put a cloth over it so no bugs get through.”

“You think this one will go away?”

“First time for everything,” I said with a shrug. From my pocket, I pulled the list of items we needed to finish making our new home livable. “I don’t feel like shopping anymore.”

A few hours later, John took the list and walked down the icy sidewalk to the nearest store. I had wanted to explore a bigger city this morning, but my exploratory mood had soured.

Instead, I was curled on the sofa with a notebook, trying to think of a way to start my new blog post. I usually wrote about self-improvement, meaning organic food and positive thinking, topics suggested by my tiny but growing following. I wrote them on paper, and John typed them when he got home from work.

With my condition, it was a bad idea to sit near reflective surfaces for long periods of time, especially if I was trying to be creative. Windows weren’t a problem if they had curtains over them, and our house had only two small mirrors, which I spent very little time in front of.

Next to me, the phone under its cheesecloth cover twittered with strange birds and the intermittent patter of rain. It was a nice sound in the too-quiet house.

I put my head back on the sofa and kicked my feet in their wooly slippers. Truth be told, I hated this blog. A friend had gotten me involved, and it filled the time while I looked for work, but I didn’t care about blogging. Most days, I had nothing to say. What was important was avoiding fiction or things that might make me daydream. If I was bored to tears reading about gluten allergies, then I wasn’t thinking about space flight or exotic landscapes.

I lived such a boring life.

Another bee approached my phone from inside whatever jungle it was connected to. The cheesecloth shifted as the bee bumped against it, then it flew somewhere else. I could hear it receding in the distance.

I had dreamed of somewhere with trees last night. The image of trees remained. Now, on my new phone, the thickly clustered leaves of trees moved back and forth.

I wanted to push the leaves aside to see what else was there, but thinking like that was only going to keep it there. I was supposed to be thinking about clean eating, not exotic jungles.

“I know you’re there,” someone said.

I froze. I looked around, but the room was empty. I hadn’t heard the door open, but I called John’s name.

“Not John,” the voice said. “It’s Alexander, or whatever you are calling me these days.”

I left the room.

Hands shaking, I poured myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen, focusing hard on thoughts of preservatives and food additives.

There was no Alexander and never had been. All children have imaginary friends, or so I was told. Alexander was just persistent.

“I’m not going to hurt you!” Alexander said loudly, his voice echoing in the hallway from the living room around the corner.

I didn’t come any closer, just tried to think of boring, dull things. If only I remembered more math. Quadratic equations might drive that voice away.

“I don’t know this place. Did you move again?” Alexander asked. There was an odd sound, like he was wheezing. “It smells cold. It’s summer here. You’d like it. Join me, just for a little while.”

“I like it here,” I said, then cursed myself for engaging him.

“You are killing me,” he said. “This place is awful. Why are you thinking so hard about math?”

“I’m…” I started but couldn’t finish. “Take your jungle and go away.”

“Not when you invited me.”

The sound of John moving around outside was a godsend. I darted into the entryway so I could greet him, taking myself further from my wretched gate.

After taking his bags and picking John’s brain about everything he had done, he finally looked in the direction of the living room.

“It’s him, isn’t it?” he asked, and I nodded.

John scratched his head, looking down at his feet. He looked back up with a sheepish grin.

“Why don’t you visit him?” he asked, his eyebrows crooked up in the middle.

“I don’t even know where that gate leads!”

“It never hurt you before.”

“I was a child then. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

I had walked through the gates as a child, at least until Mom figured out what I was using the mirror in my room for. I never went very far into these strange places, and Alexander was there to explain the place to me. Still, my friends’ imaginary friends never took them out of their homes.

“Look,” John said, “Whatever we’ve been doing isn’t working. Maybe you should just… see what he wants.”

I had wanted to be normal. I had picked the dullest degree I could imagine, business rather than art or literature. I had married the most sensible, staid man I ever dated. We didn’t own pets, and living in another country meant that we could forego all of the holiday traveling. I blogged about boring topics and read computer repair magazines for fun.

This wasn’t what I had seen myself doing as a child.

“Why are you always right?” I asked John.

I released his fingers, took a breath to strengthen my resolve, and walked into the living room.

I set the phone on the floor, pulled the cheesecloth away, and tried to step on the screen without thinking too hard about it. My foot sort of shrank and sank into the leaves.

I wobbled before lifting the other foot. It too vanished into the greenery. I closed my eyes.

The sun was red-gold through my eyelids. The air was hot and wet against my skin. I kicked off my slippers, letting my toes dig into the moist earth. The air smelled loamy, sweet with bruised flower petals.

I opened my eyes. Tall leafy trees blocked out the sky overhead, but ahead, the sun melted into a pool of red and orange clouds over the horizon. The land was bright with greenery, unlike the uniform white- and grayness of the English midlands in winter.

“It’s been a while,” Alexander said. He wore a suit, but he always looked out of place in my dreams.

“John thinks I should ask why you keep coming back,” I said, my voice swallowed up by the immensity of the jungle around me. The sawing of insects and chirping of birds was deafening.

“But you know why,” Alexander said with a shrug. He turned and began walking backwards, leading me toward the edge of the jungle ahead of us. “You’re just in denial.”

“What do you want?” I said, remaining in place. “I have to grow up, Alex. There’s no future in this.” I gestured at the world around us.

“There would be if you tried,” Alexander said with a scowl. “You just don’t have the resolve to make all of this and your writing come together.”

I looked away, my eyes falling on a butterfly. I wondered what sort of people lived here, and if they knew what this butterfly was called.

“Until you embrace this,” Alexander said, his arms spread wide, “it will keep breaking in.”

He walked forward and pressed my phone into my hand. Now it looked like itself, all brightly colored icons.

“You have the gateway right here. Don’t lose this one,” he said softly. “Otherwise…”

He trailed off. A dry wind whipped up, obscuring the trees with dust. Grit blew into my eyes. The sun vanished, the sweet smells traded for dryness and a chalky taste in my mouth. The ground grew soft and insubstantial.

Alexander grew thin and wasted, and then I could see through him.

“Don’t waste this gift” was the last thing I heard before everything went dark.

I opened my eyes to our living room. I was sitting with my jungle phone in my hand, a pen in the other.

Beside me, John was reading a book. He smiled tentatively when he looked up.

“How was your trip?” he asked.

I looked down at the empty notebook and its crossed-out topics for the blog.

“I’m going to write a story.”

 SECOND PLACE: ESCAPE

by Rohini Sunderam

The jungle has its own unique senses.

There is a sensation of the old. It is primordial and comforting while still able to set our senses on edge, turning them acute and more alive than they’ve ever been in the city or around technology.

The smell is fecund. Peaty and redolent with the odour of birth and rebirth and death.

Silence is the sound of the place. Not the dead muffled silence of a recording booth or an ENT clinic where they test your ability to detect decibels, but the sound of life as it moves between the nocturnal and diurnal, pulsating to the throb of a gigantic heart.

Textures abound. But we daren’t touch anything because we are city creatures. We are afraid that the gnarled bark of a tree, the smooth sharp blade of grass or the velvet of an unknown leaf may hold hidden dangers, saps to which our soft, urban skins may be allergic, wary of resins that could burn and scar.

Ah but the sights! We can’t get enough of those. Our eyes drink in the seemingly million shades of green. We revel in the bright yellows and blues of butterflies and birds, the shy white flowers and ferns of the undergrowth. I look fascinated at orchids in their purple splendour clinging wild and wonderful to a branch. The words bromeliad and epiphyte find their way to the top of my mind, bringing with them memories of my school botany class and the stern teacher staring over his black-rimmed spectacles.

The dappled back of a panther makes us stop in our tracks and whisper as we watch its sinewy black and gold shape glide down a pathway, sending the monkeys chattering up into their trees, its head tossing away flies. It’s unusual for him to be strolling at this time of the day.

Just as it is unusual for us be to here.

It is exactly 11:11 on my smart phone face and the jungle, which appeared magically one day at this exact time, has, on cue, flashed onto the screen. Its tall grasses are once again beckoning us to leap into it.

We’ve made this trip into the portal twice before. The first time was a thrilling adventure. I touched it and it seemed real, even that typical jungle smell came out of it. I turned to my friend and showed it to him, “Check this out, this smart phone is something else.”

“It can’t be,” he said, ever the sceptic.

“Just touch it!” I challenged him.

The minute he did that a tiny fly flew out of the screen and into the room.

He’d opened his eyes wide. “Shall we?”

And without quite knowing why, we both held hands and touched the screen together.

It made a sucking sound and the next thing we were inside the jungle. An instant safari. On foot. And dressed as if we’d planned it: in khaki shorts and long bush shirts, sandals and cotton stockings looking like Dr Livingston with backpacks complete with emergency supplies and water. And what’s more we had a guide, an Indian in long khaki pants, t-shirt and a sola topi.

He looked at us and smiled, “Right on time sir, madam.”

I checked my smart watch and that’s when I noticed the magical: 11:11a.m.

We wandered around for exactly one hour and one minute and at 12:12pm we looked up, held hands together, stretched up to the sky and bang, we were back in my office cubicle.

He looked at me and said, “Were we…?”

“Sure felt like it”. I answered and looked at the smart phone, which had gone back to its regular wallpaper colours of lavender and white.

“Felt like what?” he asked challenging me.

“Like we were in the jungle?” I asked him back.

“Weird,” he replied, “Let’s not tell anyone, they’ll think we’ve been doing drugs or something.”

A few days later he was at my desk again and we were discussing an ad concept and he asked me again, “Was that jungle thing for real or did we imagine it?”

“It felt very real.”

And then I smelt it, the jungle, sending out its earthy perfume. I looked at the smart phone and sure enough 11:11am and the jungle was back on the screen.

“Let’s get something to prove it this time,” he said, “even if it’s only as a confirmation.”

So we went again. And as before the guide was there with his, “Right on time sir, madam.” But his smile seemed a bit different this time.

No cause for concern, because at 12:12pm we returned again as before. Only this time I’d surreptitiously picked a tiny flower, from its roots.

When we returned I put it into soil and watered it. It had taken root and had grown quite large in just two days.

“We won’t do it again,” my friend advised. “I felt uneasy about the guide this time.”

“So did I.” I confessed.

And yet three days later, 11:11 a.m. I was alone. And the jungle was calling me in to the phone.

‘How dangerous could it be, to go alone?’ I asked myself. ‘All I need to do is stretch up at 12:12pm and I’ll be back.’

So taking a deep breath, I held my hands together and with my index finger I touched the screen.

The loud sucking sound pulled me in.

And everything was exactly as before: the safari gear, the guide, with his, “Right on time madam.” Only this time he chuckled. I was not sure if it was my imagination but his laugh made the hair on my neck stand on end.

Instinct is as primeval as the jungle. And as a sense it should be obeyed.

The trouble with those of us who are and have been urban and civilised for so many millennia is, that we treat instinct as though it were a myth. Not real. To be mistrusted. And what’s worse, ignored.

After that initial laugh from the ‘guide’ and that uneasy sensation I allowed myself to be lost in the tour.

This time we went to a marshy sanctuary with a pool in the centre. It was loud with the buzzing of mosquitoes and dragonflies, bees and hornets. And birds of so many hues I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were waders watching the marshy pool intent on catching their prey. Other birds had their heads tucked under their wings asleep. Some flew from one branch to another chattering with their relatives and friends. Rarely speaking to another species.

The air of predatory earnestness in all the creatures gave the scene a sinister sense of foreboding.

“I’d like to see something else,” I said to the guide.

“Come,” he said. I still hadn’t asked his name, and somehow felt it wasn’t up to me to do so.

The guide then took me up into a tree house from where I could watch the lemurs.

“I will be back madam,” he said, “Just a small job to do.”

I was camouflaged in the leaves and the heat made me drowsy. I must have dropped off for, well more than a few minutes, because when I awoke it was way past 12:12pm, in fact it was one o’clock.

The guide was nowhere to be seen.

I started to worry, but then I thought perhaps this isn’t time related and I clasped my hands together and pointed upwards. Nothing happened. I was still in the tree house.

‘Okay,’ I said to myself, ‘maybe it is time-related’. At 1:01pm I aimed my hands upwards.

No. I’m still in the tree house.

Okay, I think. Let’s try 13:13 on the 24-hour clock.

Nothing.

The guide hasn’t returned.

I look up and can see my office friend peering down at me from the sky.

I wave at him.

He can’t see me.

“Hellllp!” I shout.

He can’t hear me.

It’s one thirty now. My friend has gone from the sky. The guide isn’t back.

I’ve tried getting out at 2:02pm, 14:14, 3:03pm, 15:15…

“Helllpppp!” I cry weeping, frantic. “Helllppp!”

They can’t hear me on the other side. They can’t feel me on my smart phone screen. They can’t see me.

“Oh dear God!” I cry as tears of panic threaten to choke me, “I want to go home…please, somebody, anybody, bring me back.”

With an excruciating effort of will I control the panic, “I have to be patient. I have to try again.”

When it comes to our smart phones and technology so many senses are stimulated to such a degree that in the end they are deadened.

It is now 5:05pm and I haven’t been able to return.

I’ll try again at 17:17.

I hope I have enough water in my backpack to last until 12:12pm tomorrow…

 THIRD PLACE: THE MIST OF SKARA

by Noor Nass

The story is being worked on, in the light of Alex Shaw’s comments. And when she’s ready, we’ll post Noor’s story here.

We have four entries for the August Challenge. The idea was to re-tell the Red Riding Hood story and make it fresh – by maintaining the main story, but giving it a new plot line, perspective or Point of View, other characters… whatever our creative writers desired. And I must say they have done a marvellous job. Personally I would find this very hard to judge!

It was a long time coming, but what a great job!

I am posting each of these stories anonymously so you can vote on which story you think is the best, second best, etc.

Red Riding Hood

Hello there! My name is Red Riding Hood. Until a few years ago, they called me the ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, but not anymore. I am all of 25 and look it too. When I was a little girl of 12, I was sent off into the woods, very irresponsibly, by my mother to drop a basket of goodies to my grandmother. It was years later that I found out that she wasn’t my real mother. She was in fact a cruel stepmother who wanted me out of her way so that she could have children of her own with my beloved father.

I digress from the main story.

Well, most of you already know what happened when I travelled through the dark woods, all alone, unsuspecting and innocent. A wolf came along and it surprised me much that it was a wolf that could talk. Now where do you get to see such talking wolves? The little girl that I was, I was mesmerized. The wolf, very cunningly got all the information he wanted from me and went straight to my grandmother’s house and gobbled her up. When I reached my grandmother’s house, I could see she had changed so much. Something was definitely wrong. Soon, I realized it was that talking wolf who was pretending to be my sick grandmother. But it was too late. He gobbled me up too.

Well, that is the version in the children’s books but that isn’t the truth at all. This is what really happened. So I met this wolf enroute and I found him to be special because he could converse in the language of humans. He told me about this special pack of wolves deep in the forest that had the gift of speech because they come from interbreeding with some forest people.

Gross, right? But well, weird things happen in this world and this was just one of them. This wolf looked like a wolf but could do everything that humans could. He could walk on his hind legs, gesture with his hands like you and I could and could even wink! For an innocent 12 year old, I was quite taken. I confessed to him that I was fascinated and even began to refer to him as Mr. Wolf like I would do to a real person. I knew very little about what interbreeding meant as a 12 year old and understood it as humans being friends with wolves. I invited him to visit my village to which he responded with great fear in his eyes. He said, the civilized humans had no tolerance for absurdities of nature, like him. I asked him why he chose to come out of the dark woods to speak to me? My question was met with a long silence. Mr. Wolf, cleared his throat like a man would when he is about to confess something. Ofcourse, as a child, I knew none of men’s mannerisms. But now that I am all grown up and seen many men come and go, it is a trait I know so well. Mr. Wolf took a deep breath and he wouldn’t look at me in the eye when he narrated his confession.

“My pack is dying.”, he said.

To this admission, I felt a concern, yet quite uncertain as to what it really meant.

“My mates are dying because there aren’t any forest people left. They all killed themselves in their internal bickering. We can’t breed among ourselves and it is only the humans, who would willingly breed with us can keep us alive. I followed you and my instincts told me that you are like the forest people, innocent and one with nature. I wanted to lure you away so that many years later, you could help us breed and survive. But now that I have met you, and I know what a kind creature you are, I leave the decision to you.”

As a 12 year old, Mr. Wolf’s words did not mean much. The only bit that I really understood was that I was to go away with him and that would mean, I wouldn’t be able to see my family. Mr. Wolf had all the mark of a gentleman but then he was an animal. For a 12 year old, I must say, I had my wits intact. I told him that I needed time to think. After I met my sick grandmother, I could on my way back, provide him with my answer. Mr. Wolf, had a sly smile on his face and that was when he looked more of an animal than he had since I met him. He said, “By all means, young lady, take your time.”

I nodded at him and moved on towards my destination. He called out and said, he would wait for me at the exact same spot. I reached my grandmother’s house when the moon was bright and shining. My grandmother, who was sick, was overjoyed to see me. I gave her all the food and gifts my mother had sent for her. I was anxious and my grandmother was quick to notice that. My grandmother, looked into my eyes and said,” What is it my dear? You look exactly like your father, you are worried. Out with it now!”

My grandmother was a brave woman. She had brought up my father all by herself and worked very hard until a few years back when age caught up with her. Nothing escaped her knowing eyes. It was matter of minutes before I related the entire story to her. I expected her to laugh at me because I mentioned about a talking Wolf and the breeding deal that he extended to me. I told her, I couldn’t go back home now because he would be waiting for me. She listened to me with all seriousness that surprised me. She told me the only thing to do under such trying circumstances was for me to stay on with her. I was ecstatic to hear this and nearly jumped out of my red hood, which by the way, I never take off; even when I am sleeping.

So for the next few days I stayed on with my grandmother, spending time with her and helping her around the house. Often I thought of Mr. Wolf and my conscience tingled for having broken my promise. The other difficulty was there was no way to relay the message of my extended stay to my parents. They would have to make the journey to find out about my whereabouts. One fine day, I was picking berries outside my grandmother’s home and I heard a rustling of leaves behind me. I peered into the woods, not far away from my grandmother’s home. It did not take me long to recognize the glistening yellow eyes. Mr. Wolf was looking right at me. He revealed himself completely and I let out a loud cry and rushed indoors. I looked out of the window, frightened and my heart thumping in my chest. He was gone. I was scared to step out now. Suddenly I also heard some voices and I was completely surprised to see my mother with a woodcutter heading towards my grandmother’s house. I was delighted and was about to rush out when my grandmother held me back with her strong arms. She looked out of the window with me and we overheard them speaking to one another.

“She ought to be in the house because we searched the entire forest for her body. But is seems like she was lucky to pass through these dark woods, unharmed. How I prayed for her to be dead!” said my mother in an angry voice. The woodcutter looked annoyed as he was obviously tired running around the woods with the heavy axe in his hand.

“You shouldn’t fail me Andreas. I need her out of my way else I shall forever be a slave to this father-daughter duo”, she said with her face crumpling up with intense hate.

Involuntarily, I felt myself shivering. My own mother plotting to kill me! How on earth did it get to that? What did ever do to deserve her hate?

My grandmother pulled me towards her and I looked up at her with tears streaming down my cheeks.

She told me, “Red, your mother isn’t who you thought she was. She is your stepmother, who took you on when your own mother died giving birth to you. Your father made your stepmother promise that she should never tell you that she isn’t your birth mother”

These were shocking details that completely changed the way I thought about my life. In a few seconds, I was all grown up. My grandmother held me in her arms and asked me to be brave. She said, they would have to get her first before they got to me. That scared me even more as I did not want my grandmother to die for me. Suddenly, it felt as if, it would have been better if I had walked away with Mr. Wolf. It would was solved my stepmother’s problem and saved my grandmother’s life.

Within seconds, we heard a knock on the door and my grandmother moved to open it. But she hid me under her bed before she opened the door. My stepmother asked my grandmother where I was.

“She never came here. I never saw her.”

My stepmother looked around the house and immediately spotted the goodies she had sent in my basket. “You lie, you cunning witch! Kill her and then search for Red.”

Andreas strode in with his large axe and in a strong stroke tried to hurt my grandmother. My grandmother dodged his move and ran inside. I couldn’t take it anymore and ran towards the door and yelled at my stepmother, “Here I am, leave my grandmother. It is me you want.”

Andreas turned towards me and rushed to attack me. My stepmother laughed triumphantly. But something happened and in a matter of seconds, Andreas was knocked out cold and all we could see was a large, hairy creature, making it off to the woods with my stepmother. My grandmother and I were rooted in our places. My grandmother was first to gather her wits and she dragged Andreas body inside and locked him a room. She told me that we needed to create a story for the truth would shatter my father. I agreed to her plan wholeheartedly and we spun this delightful tale around the Little Red Riding Hood and Mr. Wolf. When Andreas came to his senses, he seemed to have lost his memory which worked in our favour. We made him the hero by thanking him profusely by saving our lives by murdering the wolf who had gobbled us up. Thankfully, Andreas bought the story and went to the village feeling all smug and happy about being the hero. Since then we never heard anything from my stepmother, who according to the villagers, was last seen leaving for the woods. My father was devastated but then he had me and we lived happily ever after, especially because grandmother moved in with us.

Well, that was the real story and believe it or not, I have to remind myself about it every now and then, else I too, tend to believe the version that you do. It is funny when sometimes, I think about it, I feel there was no wolf at all that I met on my way and at times I felt that my stepmother was the wolf who escaped into the forest because she couldn’t live with us humans anymore. My grandmother is no more with us so there is no one I can turn to, to verify my story. But then, does it matter at all, when all we need is a good story before going to bed.

Red on Grey

The sound of her heels sounded on the pathway. She would have blended seamlessly into the grey of the city, if it were not for the color of her clothes she wore, Red. The young girl wore her solemn expression well. Her cold glassy eyes took nothing away from her beauty. Her bright red hair shone in what little sunlight filtered through the clouds. Red against the dull grey.

She boarded the subway cart in a casualness, uncommon in this time. Time to mean this era as well as location of the sun in the sky. The ticketing sensor at the door buzzed as it read the id implants on the people entering, charging their bank accounts automatically. Feinting indifference to the gaze of the men captivated by this fragile oddity in their otherwise grey lives. Someone may be tempted to talk to her but alas their little electronic devices buzzed with ferocity in their hands and pockets. Emails to be sent, voice mails to be heard, bread to be earned.

None of them were the man that had her attention today and she slipped out at her station without anyone noticing. She was going to meet someone for the first time, an older gentleman who she had made an acquaintance on the internet. Her heart beat fast and her palms were sweaty. She walked at brisk pace but not too fast as to seem overly eager. She was meeting him in a public place. But both had plans to go somewhere private later. This was dangerous but that was partly why she was doing it. The thrill was alluring.

She walked towards the park. She could already see him waiting at the entrance. He had his jacket pulled over him to shield him from the cold winter air. He scanned the passing crowd eagerly, almost hungrily. His eyes came to rest on her just as she did away with her smirk. There was no mistaking her identity, this was the girl he had spoken to. He saw her walking towards the entrance with her hood pulled over her head, lost deep in thought. A lock of hair partly covered her slender face. There was no way to miss her, no way he could look away. She stood out against the landscape of grey office buildings and apartment complexes. There was no better way to describe her than say, it was as if an artist added colour to an old monochrome movie. Red against the dull grey.

“Red?” he Enquired

Feigning a startled expression Red turned to him. “Mr. Groze?” She said letting out the brightest smile Mr. Groze had seen on for the longest time.

They strolled through the park for a bit, casually chatting about their ride over. “I know a nice coffee shop we can visit” Red said “it’s just a few blocks from here.” She dropped her gaze to her feet as she said the words.

Beaming, Groze was quick to offer to drive both of them to the cafe. “But it would be far more fun to walk there.” Red called back as she skipped ahead.

The thought did not thrill Groze, for he had other plans for this innocent girl who until now was playing perfectly into his hands. He pondered how he would steer her skipping feet up to his hotel suite.

Red was stealing peeks of Mr. Groze. Groze, a strange name, spelled differently it meant “big” she picked out from her memories of German classes. Groze Von Wolf had his hair was cut into a short spikey hedge. He was a big man who towered over her buy at least a foot. His chest and arms were broad and muscular, which must have taken a lot work or a lot of money paid to the right body modifier clinic. Red was not bothered by this, she smiled to herself.

He caught Red’s smile. “Is she blushing?” He thought to himself. The thought that he had affected this petite beauty to this extent, amused him. He had met her in a chat room, a young, rebellious, energetic little thing who decided that she is wise enough to trust the first man she meets on the the internet. He went through his usual steps, made it obvious to her that he was a cool, handsome, not to mention rich single man, who was looking for a “deep and meaningful” relationship. Catching his reflection in a shop window, “handsome” he thought. The money he had put in body modification was well spent, not that he cared about throwing around that kind of cash for fun. But he needed to be good looking for there was nothing quite like the hunt to Groze, so much more thrilling than the day job. Endless meetings with a stream of overzealous generals and politicians who had knew nothing better than to kiss his ass to increase production of the precious weapons that kept the party in power. Groze was the ideal citizen, as long as the checks kept coming in and the government’s agents kept out of his business.

Red skipped ahead cutting the conversation they were having mid sentence. “I know a short cut here!” She said gleefully eager to show off her knowledge of the city. He smiled as she stepped out of sight, her lose red hoodie fluttering in the wind behind her… “Even the joy in her voice was the color red”, he thought, “Red against the dull grey”

He trotted after her, expecting her to have reached the other side by the time he turned the corner. Instead, he found her waiting towards the middle of the alleyway, leaning on the wall. The alleyway was dark and damp with trash strewn on the ground. This was definitely not a place fit for Groze, he should be up in his suite on the hundred and fiftieth floor. He walked over to her to see why she had stopped, his patience wearing thin.

Red looked up into his blue eyes and placed her left hand on his chest. She gently pushed him back to the wall, all the while her sweet smile mesmerizing him. Groze didn’t like the idea of standing in this rat infested filth, let alone get physical with a woman. But this girl was gorgeous and if this was her weird fantasy, then he would make an exception just this once.

She traced the outlines of his chest under his tight shirt. She could feel his muscle, tight and hard under his shirt. She felt his heart beat quicken under her hand.

“You’re Groze Von Wolf, aren’t you?” She said as she lovingly drew lines, with her fingers, over his heart.

“Huh?” Groze managed to mutter. Despite his importance, he wasn’t famous. At least not outside the people of the party and upper defense.

“I recognise you. You have something to do with the Nanobuild corporation.” She said with a sparkle in her eyes. “You make the nanogen ceramics and weapons.”

“Yes that’s me. I own the company.” He said laughing. “Now what does a little girl like you know about Nanoceramic?”

“Everything…” Said the little girl as she thrust her right hand out with tremendous speed. The ceramic blade protruding from an opening in her palm, slipped perfectly between the two ribs that her index and thumb were tracing. The blade cut straight through the muscle, ripping the heart open. She held the wound shut with her left hand.

Groze, in shock and panic, pushed with the animalistic rage of a provoked lion who was off his guard. His enhanced muscles went into overdrive to get the little red demon off of him.

As his body started to fail, it suddenly dawned on him. “Cyborg.” he whispered hoarsely, staring into her now red eyes.

Red’s smile never flickering, drew the blade, spun and side stepped to avoid the spray of blood.

“Should have sided with the rebellion, man. Grandma sends her regards.” Said Red, watching him go limp, body hitting the floor.

Red let the blade slide back into her arm before placing her hands back into her Hoodie pocket, innards of which were lined with a high absorbent micro fiber. In a few seconds there was no trace of deed that was just done. Her fake id implant picked a new id tag from its list and loaded a completely new identity. She turned and walked away, leaving the body on the floor. The blood pooling around it on the grayish dirty asphalt. Red against the dull grey.

Granny’s Story

“Where’s that ninny of a girl?” Granny complained as she paced around her kitchen floor, rolling pin in hand and a ball of dough on her counter.

She wiped her hands on her blue apron with a pocket on the front for important things like keys, a torch and a whistle for emergencies.

“It’s my fault,” she muttered as she went to address the cinnamon-spiced dough all ready to be rolled and cut into biscuits. The oven was preheated to a good steady 2000C. “If I moved closer to the town we wouldn’t all worry every time she came to visit me. But, how can I? There’s so much here that’s me. My memories. My life. My history and our legends.” And she brushed a tear from her cheek smearing it with flour. Oh, well, I may as well get on with these. The silly child that she is has probably stopped to pick flowers or chase squirrels. Fifteen years old and she still behaves like a kid.”

Granny went at the dough with some energy, pummelling and kneading it more than she intended to. She shook her head and continued to talk to herself, “Dorothy! I’ve said often enough to her mother, you’re spoiling her. Imagine giving a teenage girl her own motorbike. I understand that they all have them, but really!” And she shook her head as she pulled out the star-shaped cookie cutter and set to work placing each perfect, sharply cut biscuit on the baking sheet. Granny knew how to keep those cutters honed as keen as a blade.

As she turned to place the biscuits in the oven, she thought she saw something whizz past her window. She looked again and all she saw was the lovely forest, with the leaves just turning gold and russet in the early autumn sunshine. This was where she’d spent her entire married life, raised three children who had all flown off into the town or city nearby, and lost her loving husband to a wolf attack.

“Those wolves,” she said, pursing her lips, “They wouldn’t dare come this way again.” And she glanced at the nearby axe with its red handle and its hefty blade that she was able to wield in her work-strengthened hands. She patted her pants’ pocket making sure her .22LR revolver’s comforting weight was still there if she needed it. That was something she kept close to her all the time. It was a good little gun for a close wolf attack.

Granny set the timer on the oven and opened the back door a crack, nothing and no one. She opened the door and stepped out onto the back patio, clapping her hands to rid them of the excess flour. The forest stretched out, calm and serene, as far as she could see. Her eyesight was still acute and now with her new spectacles she could see every leaf on the tree. Her ears were sharp too, attuned to the natural sounds of the forest, the birds chirping, the stream in the distance and the occasional chatter of squirrels and other woodland creatures. So, when she heard the heavy crunching of tires on the gravel road beyond her entry gate, she hastily pulled off her apron, ran back into the kitchen and shut the back door.

“Who could that be?” It didn’t sound at all like Little Red’s motorbike, more like a heavier vehicle, a car perhaps. She waited behind the drawn curtain of her hallway window peeping through a crack that she pulled open between the curtain panels.

Her eyes popped.

She’d never seen such an imposing, sleek car in her life. It was a shiny onyx black, so dense it seemed to suck the light out of its immediate surroundings. Its wheel guards were like the well-contoured haunches of a lynx as it prepared to leap. And the front of the car appeared to imitate a big cat leaping forward.

A dapper, city-dressed man slowly emerged from the front, unfolding his long legs, encased in slim tweed trousers. As he stepped onto the gravel something about his piercing eyes made granny drop the curtain, but she felt he had sensed her standing behind the window. His boots grated over the pebbles as he walked to her door and rapped the old knocker, choosing that over the newly installed electric bell.

She waited a good minute before she flipped the lace panel aside and using her frail, old-woman voice, asked through the letter slot, “Who is it?”

“I’m sorry to bother you,” came a rich baritone voice that Granny couldn’t associate with the reedy thin legs she had seen emerging from the car. “I’m Victor Lapin, I’m your granddaughter Rose’s friend. She has something for me that I’d given her to carry. She told me she’d be coming this way today. And rather than go into town I thought I’d collect it here.”

As she peered through the slit in the curtain, Granny saw that there were two other men in the back of the car. ‘Too many’ she thought.

“Boss” one of the men called out. “Boss!”

“What now Lucas?” Victor Lapin almost growled.

“It’s urgent.” Lucas replied.

As he stepped away from the door, Granny was able to get a better look at Victor Lupus. ‘He is well named,’ she thought sizing up his dark eyes, slicked back black hair just streaked with grey, when he turned around, she pursed her lips, he even had narrow hips and a rolling gait. ‘No siree, this is no friend of Rose.’

Victor and Lucas exchanged a few sharp words, then Victor nodded, and the old woman clearly heard him say, “Go get her.”

‘I do not like this’ thought Granny, slipping the chain guard on the door as she rushed to the back of the house and double bolted the kitchen door. Then she opened the door to her larder and hunkered down behind the big sacks of potatoes and flour. ‘If only there was a way of warning Little Red’. She smiled at the memory of the nickname, taken from that old Grimm’s tale and for the very same reason. Rose always liked to wear a hood, whether it was on a cape, or a jacket, even her summer t-shirts had a hood attached and there was always some hint of red in it.

She heard the shattering of a glass. ‘They’ve broken in. if I sit really still and steady my heart they’ll not find me. I should have brought the axe in here with me. If Rose doesn’t come, they will probably leave. Oh heavens! My biscuits!’

“Granny, ohh granny!” she heard Victor Lapin call out in that deep voice of his, to which he’d added a little-boy lilt. “Don’t hiiiide, I will find yoooou”

His boots thudded on the tiles of her kitchen floor. Granny held her breath. But her heart echoed in her ears as the sound of his boots came closer to the larder.

“Mmmm!” he said, “biscuits! How nice of you granny. Where are you granny? Blast! These biscuits smell so good and strong I can’t smell anything else. Can you?”

‘Oh God! There’s another one with him. I can’t handle two of them.’ And for the first time Granny wished she could have locked the larder door. But her heartbeat steadied as she heard the sound of his boots retreat further away from the door.

There was a muffled response from the other man.

The next thing she heard was Rose screaming, “What have you done with my Granny? Let me go!”

“Just give me your basket dear and I’ll leave.” Victor’s deep voice wasn’t quite so soft this time.

“There’s nothing in it, except custard and fruit and some chocolates from the town.” Rose snapped. “I thought you were a gentleman, Mr.Lapin. Why are your goons handling me like this?”

“All I want is your basket, Little Red.” Lapin’s voice had an edge to it that was almost menacing.

Granny had by now crept up to the larder door and was peering through the cracks in its slats. She could see Rose standing in the centre of the kitchen, one man, the one she thought was Lucas had his hand on Rose’s arm and was squeezing it tight. He was burly and heavy featured; his eyes were drawn into a narrow squint and his big nose twitched.

The other man was lean and slightly built with narrow shoulders and a long face and chin. He leaned against the broken kitchen window where the door now stood ajar. His bushy eyebrows were drawn as he appeared to be looking at his own slender fingers, while casting his eyes around

Lapin had his back to Granny and Rose was across from him.

“Why don’t you just give me your basket?” he asked Rose. As he turned to Lucas and said, “Let go of her arm Lucas, she can’t do anything now.”

Lucas released his grip of the girl’s arm and she turned and shot him a hard glare.

‘That’s the spirit! My dear’ Granny smiled grimly to herself.

“Why do you want my basket, Mr Lapin? I told you there’s nothing in it.”

“Ah, my dear, but there is. I slipped it in when I met you earlier on. So just give it to me and we’ll leave.”

“Here it is then!” Rose said as she flung the basket at Lapin. The custard splashed against his face blinding him.

Lucas lunged forward to grab Rose’s arm when Granny flew out of the larder with her .22LR in her hand she shot him in the chest killing him instantly.

Lapin having wiped his eyes grabbed Granny’s arm, but his hands were still slippery from the custard so she twisted round and rammed the butt of the revolver against his nose.

“Red! The biscuits,” Granny shouted.

The third man rushed towards them but Rose had by now grabbed the rolling pin and she swung it with both hands against his face cracking his jaw and then grabbing the pot holder she opened the oven door and smashed the hot baking tray, biscuits and all, onto Lapin’s head, while Granny shot him in the knee to prevent any further assaults.

Granny looked at Rose. “Call the police,” she said quite out of breath by now.

“Let’s tie these fellows up, first. Granny keep that gun at their heads.”

Rose rushed into the larder, where she knew granny kept the rope, and trussed Lapin and his third accomplice together back to back. Then she called the police while granny put on some water for coffee.

Just then Victor Lapin gained consciousness. He looked at Rose, narrowed his eyes and said, “I will get you some day, Little Red.”

“No,” said Granny with a knowing smile, “You never will, Mr Lapin. That’s not how this story goes.”

“What do you mean, Granny?” asked Little Red.

“Child,” said granny, with a knowing smile, “you really should know your own folk tales and legends. And know them well.”

Just then the police cars came up, their sirens flashing.

After they’d taken Lapin and his accomplice and Lucas’ body, the inspector turned to Granny, “You need to be careful, lady. These men are known to be dangerous robbers and are in fact wanted for a recent robbery.”

“It was self-defence,” Granny asserted, “He was attacking my granddaughter.”

“There will be a hearing, but yes we can testify that it was self defence, we can see that.”

After they’d left, Granny turned to Rose, “Did they really put something in your basket, dear?”

Little Red smiled quietly as she dangled a beautiful diamond pendant that had been concealed under her jacket all along.

Wolves & The Color Red

His mad eyes behind the bushes glanced at the hunters one by one, there were too many of them. ‘Mama was right, after all.’ He thought, his fur grazed the branches he hid in, his spine one with the curves they drew. He had to remain quiet or else he would alert them to his whereabouts too soon.

“Nothing here, Sir!” Said one of the hunters reporting to the hideous looking man in the middle of the armed group. The hideous man nodded, the moonlight skirting upon his face, illuminating the deep scars on his skin. Those were the marks of his kind, just as the cloak he wore; it was unmistakably wolf skin, draped around his shoulders like a common sheet.

“Look closely, Henri! He’s here…I can feel it!” Said the man in the wolf skin, he hardly noted how their kind spoke but years of being their prey made him know their tongue all too well. The wolf in the bushes was still, unwavering in his need to survive this, for any little movement of his paws would alert them to his whereabouts.

“Sir, the trail leads down to Mrs Fouchette’s cottage.” Shouted another hunter.

“That is exactly why we are here, you imbecile, just find the cursed animal!” Hissed the man in the wolf skin, striding towards the loud hunter with murderous intent.

Mrs Fouchette, had it coming or ‘Grandmother’ as the unconscious redhead called her, ahhh curses! If only he had gotten to the girl before her screams were heard, perhaps then he wouldn’t be in this current predicament.

Suddenly, all stood still, he heard it too, his brothers call for him, the cursed animal these humans sought shivered at the intensity of the sounds his kind made, they were close to where he was.

AWUUUOOOO! They howled, the sound of their paw steps coming closer and closer, rushing into the sinister forest to where he hid, they growled low, while the humans beyond him turned over and over, their useless sight did not register where his brothers were, but he could; they were around them, their red eyes glittered in the darkness and suddenly all turned gruesome.

They pounced, their lethal claws drawn, their snares against the horrified expressions of the hunters until their teeth found flesh, and he watched enraptured, seduced by the screams they made as beast fed on human, they colored his vision with the sight of blood, torn flesh beckoned his senses, drawing him forward to the deviant feast they made, the branches fell away as he exposed himself, his black fur a sign of his royal bearing, his eyes as green as the dark leafy branches around him, his eyes looked upon the fallen would be hunters with inner gloating, his chest drawing breath as he too howled to the moon in praise of their victory over the dreaded two legged creatures. He saw some of their victims twitch at the legs, only to draw the wolves back to gouge at the fallen men with their sharp fangs. Celestina, Dram, and Gunner had come for him, their bodies larger than the common wolves; their fangs like his; overlapped their canine lips except theirs were marked with blood that dripped down the forest floor.

“Did you do it?” Celestina asked him, her snarl made his erect ears twitch, she was the deadliest of all.

“ I did.” He replied, his green eyes on her crazed red gaze.

“Where is she? Where is she?” She asked stepping forward, excitement for her next kill.

Dram and Gunner remained a few paces back indulging in the torn bits of the hunters they had over thrown.

“Colban, I need to see her…give her to me!” Growled Celestina her eyes on the branches behind him, her powerful snout sniffing his catch despite the blood in the air.

He had caught their tormentor, the witch, the girl in the red cloak that made them prey to the worthless lot of humans, she had designed their lives for them, a contract she had made with the forces of the underworld so that they would never see sunlight or day, nothing but this pit of darkness she allowed for them.

And when he had cornered her, threatened her to reverse it, she screamed for her grandmother, the ancient witch that had trained her to her ways. The treacherous thing made him the villain while she fainted to the ground; he had barely gotten out of there with the girl draped on his back. She had been light, her scent was that of a young girl but not a child, it was those awkward human years that turned these creatures into the most horrendous acts.

Mrs Fouchette tracked him with gunshots of course, followed by the hunters on horses, shooting at him as if he was a common fox fresh out of a hen house. But the red-cloaked girl had fashioned them to adapt well in the darkness, and he had used her cursed gift to his advantage, it had been the perfect clearing, the perfect hiding place to commence watch on what had happened.

The girl stirred, and he heard the leaves beneath her crack as she moved, humans had no stealth when it came to movement, they announced their existence in loud ways that offended the wild. Colban watched as Celestina fell on her in an instant, drawing the girl’s wide blue eyes in full alertness. “Don’t…Please…I didn’t mean it!” She wept, as she slid further and further away from Celestina’s grip, until her back came against a tree bark behind her. The black Colban watched, as Celestina drew her claws over the girl’s leg, exposed from beneath her thick skirt, she did not mar her skin yet, but simply graze her thigh in a threatening manner. “Give it back, you witch!” Celestina growled, her crazed red gaze against the girl’s wet blue eyes. What Celestina meant by ‘It’ was their lives, but she did not pronounce it well in her elation, for wolf to human tongue did not translate as smoothly for her.

The girl was weeping as they surrounded her, her slim shoulders shook, sending her long red hair to weave about her form, the red cloak fell away down her back onto the dirt flooring of the dark forest, and slowly her girlish voice thickened as she continued to cry. “I don’t want to…”She wept, her voice visibly changing from the desperate whimpers into something other worldly, frenzied. “Idon’twant! Idon’twant!” She chorused in that rabid, diabolical tone, his brothers took a step back wary of the creature beyond them, and bit by it, the girl’s fair skin fell away, exposing the monster within her.

The scarlet snake, a giant serpent that enveloped the clearing they stood in, its eyes as icy as its heart, and they jumped in union as it’s poisoned fangs drew to attack. It cackled and swayed, as they too drew their fangs to gap menacingly.

His mother had been right about this too, she had foreseen tonight’s events in her visions and had warned him that a danger would come that would trigger light and darkness to collide. He had assumed that they were the darkness his mother spoke of until now; the beast beyond them slithered from side to side, it’s eyes taking note of their numbers in a calculating manner that unnerved him, he abhorred the footless beings just as much as he did humans, but these were harder to asses, they made very little sound and were much harder to read in battle. Nevertheless, he was the prince of his pack, and a true wolf never cowered.

The snake lunged its long form towards Celestina first, its fangs bit into her ginger back mercilessly while his sister cried out in helpless pain, the snake shook her from side to side, her fangs penetrated her thick fur to her actual flesh, it had marked her as the most powerful and had seen to it that she die first. They Growled and barked in fury, their eyes narrowing as they watched the cursed creature throw away their sister like refuse, she fell on the bushes, her face to them, her eyes blank with nothing but darkness, her ginger fur drenched with her blood.

Gunner lunged then, his crazed paw work shaking the ground as he scratched the snake’s exposed front, the most prone to their attacks for it’s back was as hard as rock and their fangs and claws could never penetrate it, Gunner’s attack served to draw their sharp attacks into the most suitable spot. Dram came next, his fangs sunk into the snakes exposed front while Gunner circled it in an effort to distract it. Lastly it was his turn, the black Colban, he and his brothers jumped upon the swaying snake still reeling from their brutal scarring.

His fangs sunk into it’s chest, while his brothers captured it at the throat, they drew it backwards until it swayed and fell upon it’s back, Dram and Gunner bit abundantly upon their killer’s throat, while he dug into it’s skin like a dog to dirt, drawing it’s blue blood to pour over him, until he finally saw it; the repulsive heart that was beating under the skin. He tore at it, while the snake screeched maddeningly to the black heavens. The dark heart he had between his teeth shattered and fell in worthless lumps of blackness upon the blood-muddied floor.

They were finally saved, the skies lit a thousand colors above them, never had they seen more light, while he watched the heavens twinkle and move in clouds of color, his brothers moved towards their dead sister pulling her down from the harsh bushes. The did it, but not without a casualty, for the black heart of their nemesis would never allow the darkness of their world to fade without one of their own as payment.

Celestina had died well, and as they dragged her battered body down the shimmering pathway towards their home, they heard the unmistakable mocking laughter of the girl in the red cloak behind them followed by her sickening, jovial voice saying, “Let’s meet again, Mr. wolf.”

Now for the poll

NOTE: This poll is now closed. The winners are:

1st Place: Red Riding Hood

2nd Place: Red on Grey

3rd Place: Wolves & The Colour Red

Congratulations to our entrants and thanks everyone for your votes!

As we were a bit pressed for time, we combined the May challenge with June, and in July we took a break from challenges.

The challenge presented to our entrants was:

On this occasion, the customer was most definitely not right…” 

OUR JUDGE – KATIE ADLER

katie pic

Katie Adler is a  voice over artist in Tokyo: http://www.katieadler-vo.com She is passionate about communication. Her website: http://englishwithkatie.com is for guiding Japanese English speakers to become great conversationalists. Becoming a great conversationalist is her heart’s intention for everyone!

Katie has been in front of a mic professionally for over 10years and can be heard daily on NHK. She has trained in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City and London, England. She continues to train so that she can bring the perfect touch to her clients’ projects.

It is through her knowledge of English and teaching that Katy has learnt about story telling – one of the oldest forms of ‘voice’ communication. And she brings her experience of a wide variety of stories to judge our May-June challenge at the Bahrain Writers’ Workshop.

FIRST PLACE – PETE AND HER LADYSHIP

(An excerpt from the Memoirs of an Industrial Mercenary)

by Gordon Simmonds

This is a story from the time when I owned a small emporium near Sunbury in Middlesex, less than a mile from the upper reaches of the River Thames. It was what I called a mini Woolworths which sold everything from boot polish to paint, fishing tackle to birthday cards. I opened all hours but barely made enough money to earn a living.

Pete and his family lived just across the road in a council house. He was just an ordinary looking guy; mid twenties, dark hair, medium build and always cheerful. Whenever I needed cheering up, I could always rely on Pete to drag me down the pub.

I’ve pondered long and hard about how to describe him, because there are few words in the English language that quite describe him. He was part gentleman; kind, helpful and generous to a fault, but without charm or charisma. He was part hippy, a free spirit that enjoyed the open road, but who never smoked or did drugs. He was a scavenger and could take other peoples cast-offs and turn them into something useful. He was an artist who had an eye for exquisite detail and could create a work of art out of everyday objects. He was part gypsy, law abiding but with a marked disdain for authority and conventional thinking. In short, he was one of life’s ‘characters’.

He could paint or sculpt in any medium and could have made a good living at it but for the fact that he just couldn’t be bothered. For example; he came into my shop one day and asked for a tin of Plastic Padding (car body filler).

He was one of only a handful of people who I trusted with credit. “Pay you at the end of the week?” he said. Later that week he paid up as he always did and two or three weeks later brought in a sculpture. Three intertwined badgers; daddy badger, mummy badger and little baby badger, as life-like as the real thing.

When I left the area, he gave me a parting gift of a flat stone about four inches long by three inches high on which he had painted a beautiful miniature painting of a gypsy caravan. Even though that stone has long been lost, I imagine him driving a plodding pony hitched to that caravan through the highways and byways of England. Living off the land, a bit of poaching here and there, liberating a cabbage or potatoes for the pot, doing odd jobs to pay for little luxuries the land couldn’t supply, giving a hand to people in need. No money, no tax, no clocking in. Pete was the nicest guy anyone could ever hope to meet.

We became good friends and would often go fishing together. We spent many memorable evenings on the River Colne at Stanwell, fishing for trout. In what appeared to be idyllic countryside, we could hear the roar of traffic on the nearby motorway and the scream of jets taking off and landing at Heathrow. We never caught anything of course, because we knew very well that there were no trout in that river. But out of season, fly fishing was the only the only sport allowed. Besides, we always thought that there a chance that we would ‘accidentally’ hook one of the big chub we could see rising and rolling in the shallow stream.

On one occasion Pete came into the shop and asked if I had any catapult elastic.

“What do you want that for?” I asked.

“I’m going out to get something for dinner” he said.

At which point, he pulled out of his pocket a stubby Y shapes catapult handle, no more than four of five inches long. I didn’t even ask what he was going to do with it.

A couple of hours later he came back wearing some sort of trench coat. He said “Do you fancy some duck?” I must have given him a queer look because by way of explanation, he opened the coat like a flasher. Hanging from each side of the coat were two dead ducks.

He grinned and explained that he had gone to the river and fed the ducks – when they gathered to feed and got to within point blank range; he just zapped them with the catapult.

I turned down the offer, but I guess his family dined well for a few days.

Anyway: Walton on Thames is just a few miles from Sunbury and part of the stockbroker belt – lots of well-heeled people with nice cars and very expensive properties. Since he never moved in those sort of circles, so I don’t know how he managed it, but he got a job landscaping a garden in those plush suburbs. When he arrived, the house was a mansion in the modern style and the garden was the size of a football pitch. He was met by the lady of the house, whose first words to him were, “You do know who I am, don’t you?” I’m sure he must have looked at her with a blank expression because I doubt whether he knew many lords or ladies. “I’m Lady ……….”, in a tone of voice that said she was just a few blood cells short of the Queen, (and maybe she was), but Pete never divulged her identity.

She showed him round and told him what she wanted doing and they agreed that she would pay him £10.00 a day, which was a reasonable rate for the job, but cheap compared to a professional, tax paying gardener.

Sometimes I drove him there, but usually he made his way there at his own expense because he had no car. He worked diligently from early morning till late at night on that garden, and at the end of the first week he asked for some money. She told him she would only pay when the job was finished. So for the next two or three weeks he worked solidly on the project and put all his artistic flair into the job. I have no doubt that the end result would have been spectacular. However, when he went for his money, her Ladyship told him that she didn’t have any cash – come back next week. The next week she still didn’t have any cash, but would he take a cheque? But Pete didn’t do bank accounts.

I drove him back there one evening the following week; again the same story. Finally she asked him “You’re on benefits aren’t you?” Since one of his character flaws was that he couldn’t tell a lie, he admitted that he was.

Her rich, elegant and sophisticated bloody Ladyship was in reality, just a miserly penny-pinching bitch, and she just handed him a twenty pound note and told him to be on his way before she reported him to the authorities. What could he do? I suggested that we went back when she was out and trash the garden, but he declined this offer.

On a philosophical note; this incident made a profound effect on my outlook on life in general. It awoke me to the fact that much of the wealth in our world is achieved not by hard work, intelligence or entrepreneurship, but by lying, cheating, conniving and under-hand dealing which other sections of society find morally reprehensible and are probably illegal – we read about it every day.

There are a significant number of people who believe that they have a God given right to be dominant, either in the military, commerce or politics. The common man or woman is an inconvenience that has to be tolerated in order have their menial tasks carried out, leaving the elite free to be – well…… rich.

Which reminds me of another incident that happened around the same time: A man came into the shop, immaculately dressed in a pin stripe suit and upper class accent, and asked if I had any dishwasher powder. He might even have been Lord…….. for all I knew. Now dishwashers at that time were a luxury that only the rich could afford, so this guy wasn’t short of a bob or two. I explained to him that I didn’t have any in stock but would make a point of getting some for him.

A couple of weeks later he returned. “I’ve got your dishwasher powder – in fact I’ve got two, just in case you need some for next time.” I told him, and set a box on the counter. “Oh. I didn’t want one that big” he said, and left without buying anything. I never saw him again. But every day for the next two years I saw those boxes gathering dust on the shelf, which for me, working 16 hour days and struggling to make a living, they were just dead stock which I could ill afford.

The moral of this story is that when you are the purveyor of goods or labour, the customer is not always right.

SECOND PLACE – MONSIEUR FRANCOIS

By L.P.

A light breeze gently flew over the town of Monak, making its way past the long pine trees, in between the narrow alleyways, and over the red brick house that was home to our very own Monsieur Francois du Chazaud. Surrounded by beautiful, violet Bougainvillea flowers that officially marked the arrival of spring, the house stood out from afar as it displayed a wide array of colorful plants. Taking a closer look, one would notice how impeccable and picturesque the garden was. Uniquely placed cobblestones around the bushes connected the small white wooden gazebo to the French styled entrance of the house. The elegant demeanor of the garden was anything but accidental, for Monsieur Francois dedicated at least three hours a day to perfecting this masterpiece. He was a diligent 35-year-old who was a perfectionist at everything he did. After all, his carefully constructed garden was a manifestation of his meticulous personality.

Every morning at 6:30 am, Monsieur Francois would get on his bike and make his way to the diamond boutique store, Le Marchèlle, where he worked. Every morning, he would be the first to open the store, unlock the safety boxes, and display the most expensive jewelry sets in their designated places. Every morning, he would take a moment to admire the plaque on the wall that had his name on it along with Salesman of the Year and a brief sentence on his integrity and dedication. He took much pride in the quality of his work and was deeply grateful of the appreciation and notice he continuously received from his manager, William. Having worked there for 12 years and displayed the utmost level of honesty and professionalism, he was entrusted with the diamonds as if they were his own. Over the years, William dealt with many conniving workers and had since vowed to trust no one but Monsieur Francois.

This Tuesday morning appeared to be no different than any other, but Monsieur Francois felt otherwise as he stood behind the counter with his white gloves and gazed out into the distant park. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something simply did not feel right. Being in charge of the store while William attended to his visiting grandchildren, Monsieur Francois prayed that he merely misunderstood the feeling and that everything would be all right. He shook his head as if to brush off his negative thoughts and welcomed his co-workers to the store. It was nearing 8:00 am and the store was ready to be opened.

Le Marchèlle welcomed many customers in its early hours. Middle-aged women, young newly-weds, stay-at-home moms. While he usually focused on his own customers, Monsieur Francois couldn’t help but stare at an old woman elegantly dressed in a fur coat, carrying a black Chanel bag in one hand and her poodle in the other. There was something so mesmerizing about her that compelled him to walk across the room and speak with her.

“Bonjour Madame.” he uttered as he approached her cautiously, trying to put a name to her face.

“Yes? Hello.” She responded as she slowly turned around to face him.

“May I help you?”

“Thank you but this young gentleman is doing a fine job himself.” She pointed at the young salesman standing behind the counter.

“Oui, of course Madame… Please excuse me, but you look so familiar!”

“Oh? Is that so?” She replied with an intrigued look on her face.

“Yes. I’ve been trying to remember where I’ve seen you…” He placed his hand on his chin as if to awaken his memory. “Why but of course! How did I miss it? Madame, you look like the famous Roberta Luiz!”

“Oh that’s very kind of you!” She giggled, her face beginning to blush. “I used to get that a lot in my youth. I hardly think I look like her now. You can call me Martha, by the way.” She reached her hand to fix her hair.

“But you do, Ms. Martha. You’re glowing!”

“Oh, stop it! You’re only saying that to convince me to buy something.”

Monsieur Francois quickly glanced at the exquisite piece of jewellery she was looking at.

“You seem to already have your heart set on our Izadora; a stunning piece that would look remarkable around your neck.” He reached for the necklace and held it close to her neck. “May I?”

“Oh well why not,” she answered excitedly.

“Mon Dieu. You look Magnifique!” He held up the mirror to showcase the beauty that stood before him.

“My goodness. That really is stunning. It is absolutely exquisite.” She moved her head slightly upwards and to the side to emphasize the sparkling beauty that was accentuating her long neck. “Oh, I must buy this. My late husband would have loved it… Mmm yes. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.”

She stood there admiring her own beauty for a couple of minutes before Monsieur Francois interrupted her gaze.

“Pardon, Madame.”

“Yes?”

“Will you please come this way so I may sort out your purchase?” He motioned to the corner table on the other side of the store.

This was the part of his job he loved most: concluding a sale with a happy and satisfied customer. He found pleasure in ensuring his customers got more than they asked for. After all, he religiously followed the advice given to him by his late grandfather on how the customer is always right. When he first joined Le Marchèlle, his grandfather gave him a book that emphasized just how important the customer is, which has since been kept at the store as a solid reminder.

The day proceeded with a number of other successful sales and delighted customers. The inventory log list needed to be consolidated and reorganized before William returned to work, so Monsieur Francois took it upon him to spend the last three hours of the day going through all the paperwork, leaving his co-workers to manage the store. Halfway through his work, he heard a lot of arguing coming from the entrance of the store. It was quite uncommon for a dispute to break out between his coworkers and customers. He listened carefully to try and deduce what was going on.

“But it’s impossible!”

“Excuse me Sir, please let us through. This is hardly a simple matter!”

“But I know him, and what you’re saying is impossible!”

Confused and perplexed, Monsieur Francois could not fathom what William was doing back at the store, or why he was so passionately arguing with the police! Unsure if his mind was playing games on him, he got up, walked out of the inventory room and headed to the display area only to find William, police officers and the old lady from earlier that morning.

“William? What are you doing here?”

“We have a situation, Francois.”

“That’s the man!” Mrs. Martha yelled frantically as she pointed at Monsieur Francois.

“Are you sure ma’am?” The police questioned.

“Yes, I’m sure! He spent an hour this morning telling me how much I look like Roberta Luiz when all he was really doing was planning how to rob me once I left!”

“Excuse me, Sir. You need to come with us to the station.” The policeman walked over to Monsieur Francois and reached for his arm.

“The station? Pour quoi? I don’t understand!” asked Monsieur Francois as he anxiously looked at William and the old lady desperate for more information that would explain the dramatic episode that had just ensued.

“You don’t understand? Well, that’s just typical! An evil man you are! How could you harm an old lady like that? And to think you were charming… You should be ashamed of yourself!”

“Mais, pour quoi Madame? What have I done?”

“Where is that Izaodra you snatched from me? Give it back to me you thief! Did you think I would not recognize you? You foolish young man. I may be old but my eyes are working fine!”

“Madame, I am sorry but I have no clue what you are saying. You bought the Izadora this morning and left with it!”

“Unbelievable! This is absolutely absurd!”

“William, what is going on?”

“Francois, this lady here is accusing you of stealing the Izadora from her outside of Blain Park at around 5:00pm.”

“What? Mais… why would I do that?”

“I don’t know Francois, but they have a video proving it.”

“A video? But I was here the whole time! I really don’t believe this!”

“Maybe this will make it easier to believe.” A young lady in her mid-twenties stepped forward with her phone in her hand. Obsessed with filming everything on her travels, she managed to capture the intruder’s face up close right before he attacked the old lady.

“Ce n’est pas possible! Je ne crois pas!”

“I couldn’t believe it myself, Francois. This must be a misunderstanding. Tell me there’s an explanation!” William looked as puzzled as Monsieur Francois.

“I cannot believe it! He looks just like me. But I was here the whole time!”

“He looks just like you? This is absurd! He IS you! Aren’t you going to arrest this man,” demanded Mrs. Martha.

“Sir, you’re under arrest. You have the right to remain silent.”

“Wait, now hold on a minute. If Francois said he was here the whole time, then he must have been. Let’s have a look at our own footage to see if we can prove he’s right.”

William led them all to the back room and played the footage from the time of the incident. Just as he had hoped, Monsieur Francois was there the whole time, sitting in the inventory room working through the paperwork.

“But that doesn’t make any sense!” remarked Mrs. Martha, baffled and utterly confused.

“Oh, but it does.” replied Monsieur Francois with a despondent look on his face.

“What do you mean?” inquired William.

Reaching out for the young lady’s phone, Monsieur Francois explained; “look closely at this man’s face.” He paused the video on the frame clearly showing the intruder’s face. “Do you notice that?”

“Yes.” They all nodded back taking note of a dark mole above his lip; a feature so apparent yet easily unnoticed in a heated situation.

“I don’t have it.” He looked back at them with his innocent face.

“Oh my.” Gasped Mrs. Martha. “But how could that be? He looks just like you!”

Monsieur Francois looked back at her and sighed a heavy sigh. “That’s because he’s my brother, Madame.”

Everyone stood quietly before him, trying to make sense of what he was saying.

“I have a twin brother, but we are, how you say? Not on speaking terms. We’ve always been very different and have never really gotten along. I am quite surprised he is in town; I have not seen him in 10 years. What a bizarre coincidence this is!” Monsieur Francois turned to the old lady and said, “I apologize, Madame. I completely understand why you thought it was me. I am truly sorry about what happened. Je suis desole.”

“Oh, no, no, no. I am truly sorry, young man! I have accused you of such a horrible thing when all you’ve given me is kindness.” She uttered those words as her hands gently patted her cheeks all the while shaking her head in disbelief and shame.

As everyone left the store, Monsieur Francois turned to William.

“I am very sorry, William. If I knew he was in town, I would have seen this coming. It’s always been like this with him.”

William sat on the chair unaware there was a book over it and looked at Francois.

“Nonsense, Francois. You are the best employee at Le Marchèlle and one of my dearest friends. I knew you would never do anything like that.”

Uncomfortable in his seat, he reached down to move the book from under him and smiled as he noticed that it was Monsieur Francois’ very own business bible, The Number One Rule to a Successful Business: The Customer is Always right. Handing it over to him, he concluded, “And on this occasion, Monsieur Francois, the customer was most definitely not right!”

THIRD PLACE- THE ONE THAT DOESN’T WANT TO ASK?

By Noor Nass

We are withholding the story as the author is working on it based on Katie’s feedback

THE BOOKING

by T. S. Srinivas

NOTE: One other entrant has given me permission to publish his story here. It is a first attempt at a challenge! Well done Srini for entering

After screaming through the phone, he banged it down – but did not move away! Vijay Kumar kept staring at the phone for , what seemed to him , an eternity. He was angry and at the same time afraid! A feeling of panic was gripping his very being after hearing the words of the hotel employee a minute ago. In fact the exact words kept ringing in his ears “ I am extremely sorry Mr. Kumar, you can repeat yourself as many times as you like , but the Majestic Conference hall is definitely not available tomorrow. The best we can do for your function is to provide you the Business Hall which is much smaller but equally good”.

Vijay Kumar was the honorary President of the Bahrain chapter of the Indian Engineers Society. Tomorrow was the 10th anniversary of the chapter and a grand program had been planned. The highlight of the program was a panel discussion – which included renowned technical experts from India also as key participants. A number of local dignitaries had also been invited. Vijay knew that for the event to be a success the venue had to be grand and what place better than the Majestic!

He had initiated the contact with the hotel 2 months ago right at the time when the Society’s board had mooted the idea of a celebration for their 10th anniversary. He had spoken to the hotel’s Sales head and they had agreed in principle. Subsequently, he had handed over the task of venue finalization to the Society’s Logistics Committee headed by Ms. Lakshmi Prasad. Even last week , at the Society’s meeting for review of the Anniversary Program, Lakshmi had confidently affirmed that her group was in touch with the hotel and Majestic Hall was settled. There in Vijay’s mind the hotel was being vey unprofessional by denying the promised venue at the last moment.

Seething with anger he decided to go in person and give a piece of his mind to the hotel management. Being a well known name in social circles, Mr. Vijay was promptly shown into the office the Sales Director Mr. James Callaghan. The conversation that followed went something like this:

Vijay : “James, are you even aware of what your staff have done? We have such an important function tomorrow and they are going to ruin the whole thing by forcing us into the cramped Business Hall. And this after I got the okay from you two months ago! And you know how much business our Society has been giving your hotel in the past few years.”

James :” Mr. Vijay, first of all very nice to meet you in person again. Of course I know how much the Indian Engineers Society means to this hotel. And I always give you the best possible deal. But this time , I am sorry, you people have not acted in a professional manner. We waited as long as we could , but at the end of the day , business is business and in the absence of proper confirmation from your side, we had to give the Majestic hall to another party. But even now, I am trying to help you. Though you have come at the last moment, I am willing to work flat out to make the other hall available to you tomorrow!”

Vijay: “ I think you are forgetting how good a customer we have been. And what do you mean , no confirmation?! After me speaking to you, our Logistics Committee has been regularly following up with your staff – in fact practically every week. And I hear from them, that your people were dilly-dallying suggesting that the Majestic Hall may not be available for us and very next week saying it will be. And so, today I finally decided to take the matters into my own hands and called up only to be told we were not getting the venue. So I am forced to come here and confront you. Sorry to say this, but this time your hotel did not treat a long-time customer in the right manner!”.

James : “ Well Mr. Vijay, I have spoken to all our concerned staff and have gotten the entire picture. Let me tell you what exactly happened. After your initial contact, your people kept calling on and off. Then we told them that they have to fill and submit a booking form, duly signed by an authorized representative of your Society. Then the record would be created in our booking system. And then 4 weeks before the actual program date, an advance has to be paid. Normally we charge 50% advance, but in your case we were willing to accept even 25%. All this was communicated time and again to your people. But the problem is that every time a different person from your group would call up, give verbal assurances and then we wouldn’t hear from that person again.

Mr. Vijay, end of the day we are running a business. There is quite a lot of demand for the Majestic Hall. So we do need to have things in writing and some sort of advance payment to justify us turning down other requests. Finally we had no choice but to give the venue to another customer who promptly complied with our very minimum requirements. There is no way we could justify any further delay to our management. So , in fact , I am sorry to say, in this instance your people have acted in a very unprofessional manner.

However, let us now discuss how best we can enhance the arrangements in the Business Hall so that you are at least able to conduct your program tomorrow and make it a success”.

Faced with the undeniable facts placed in front of him, Vijay realized that his Committee had been negligent in doing the paperwork required by the hotel and in following the required procedure. They had made assumptions and taken things for granted – leading to this fiasco. He realized that the old business adage “A customer is always right” is not always right!

Our Judge Robin Barratt

Robin Barratt copy Profession:     Author, Writer and Publisher Nationality:    British Email: robinbarratt@yahoo.com Website:         http://www.RobinBarratt.com Facebook:       http://www.facebook.com/robin.barratt1 Robin is a writer and author and has written hundreds of articles for magazines and newspapers worldwide and is a genre best-selling author of five non-fiction true-crime books, a biography, a self-help guide and has edited, written and published a number of industry specific manuals and trade directories as well as two coffee-table photographic portfolios. Recently Robin was commissioned to ghost-write and publish a tribute book about Abdulla Ali Kanoo, the late Chairman of one of the biggest merchant families in Bahrain, and in 2012 compiled edited a travel anthology titled: My Beautiful Bahrain and is currently planning a follow up. Robin loves travelling, exploring and experiencing, and his all-time favourite quote is: “If you don’t want to lead an ordinary life, don’t do ordinary things!” Robin found the stories very interesting, but felt that one or two of them could do with some work in the crafting. His feedback has been shared with the various entrants. Thank you Robin, it helped immensely that you have lived here in Bahrain as the challenge was set here.

THE CHALLENGE

Twilight in Bahrain – You’re near the American Mission Hospital crossing the street near the building that everyone says is haunted. For no reason at all you get a really sinking feeling… what happens next? And here are Robin’s winners:

1st Place Scott Birch

Out In

I keep my eyes down walking out of the American Mission Hospital on a hot, humid summer day. The sun is very bright and feels like a weight on my back. So I keep my head down and stay out of the way of a crowd of moving feet. The street is dusty, dirty, noisy, overcrowded and ripe with the smell of sweat, rubbish and car exhaust. I’m immersed in the noise of people. My sunglasses have steamed up within seconds of me leaving the hospital Don’t stumble and fall, you’ll catch something. My body is wet and sticky under my work shirt. I have to look up when I want to cross the road. Cars are still moving quickly so I have to see further than 10 metres. I have to get back to the office. Time to brave the sun, and so I raise my head, blinking even behind my sunglasses and finding my chance to cross to where my car is parked. As I scurry across the road I take in the crowds, the cluttered shop fronts and dust everywhere. Then, like all the other times I’ve left the hospital. I see the empty block. The empty flats have been that way for years. The block sits brooding on the corner a few busy metres from the main road. Haunted, people say. Any building emptied by a landlord’s ill fortune is haunted in Bahrain. Nonsense, superstition, underlying fear, all permeates the madding crowd like background radiation. After my first appointment, walking back to my car, I looked at the windows and was struck by that sudden feeling of disquiet. I saw black holes into dead rooms, windows into nothing When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you, somebody once said. That night, I dreamed of the haunted block. Somebody I knew but couldn’t see was whispering into my ear. In you go, your turn now. The street was dark. Everywhere is always dark in all my dreams. The crowds of people were just dry silhouettes, mannequins made out of floating soot. The windows were at ground level, or I was floating towards them, being wound in like a fish on a line. The block appeared much bigger. The windows themselves yawned wide to swallow me, the scenery and the world. They would suck me in and I would be gone. I woke up with a start, entangled in drenched sheets. And that’s how it continued for most nights – a reoccurring nightmare. Some nights I would look at the windows from afar and tell the familiar voice no. Other nights I would
murmur ‘yes’ and find myself flying through the window frame into utmost void. That’s when I would wake up shivering and gasping for breath. And here I am today, back on the street. I look down again, step onto the pavement. I’m a little dizzy from the heat. My gut sinks a little. The block stands a few metres back from the road. Is it my imagination or is it wrapped in silence? The windows from the first floor and higher up stare back at me; blank, empty, somehow scary. A big concrete cuboid covered with black compound eyes. The traffic is slowing now, bumper-to-bumper. Anxious, shiny faces perch on hunched shoulders behind greasy steering wheels. I hear a radio up loud through an open driver window. More news from Syria: bodies have been found, claims made, denials issued Chemical weapons. It’s terrible over there, a whirlpool of hate. I’m walking along the dirty pavement with a sick feeling in my belly to match this bad news. The future of Syria looks so black, dark seeds of hate germinating, uncoiling, spreading within the nation. Groups of people coalescing and setting themselves against other groups of people in pitched battles. There’s so much conflict in Arabia and everywhere else. In Bahrain on streets like this one, angry youth fester in discontent. It breaks out in riots, kids throwing Molotov cocktails and burning tyres, to be met with tear gas, a toxic, stinging white mist as if to answer the poisonous black fumes. Where will this violence, this division take us? Into what hole could Bahrain be dragged by extremist madness? I look up briefly at the haunted block again. Those rectangular frames around darkness are looking back at me and I wince What is in there, through those windows? I can’t see in. Head back down; I’m walking through a cloud of sweat, breath and harsh, querulous voices. I remember the calm voice of the doctor whose surgery I’d just left. Please sit down. It was hard to meet his dark, gentle eyes. We’ll need to perform a resection and anastomosis. After … There have been advances in therapy. We can help you manage the side effects with anti-emetics and other medications … I remember Dad in hospital years ago. He couldn’t talk and he was so frightened. His eyes wide open, blue irises framing black terror or blinking with surprised pain I can’t say it. Nurses in clean white uniforms brought in what looked ludicrously like a little shopping trolley with sickly-bright yellow bags riding on it. The bags carried the black hazardous materials symbol that looks like a clutch of scythes Poison. The nurses moved calmly, spoke reassuringly. I
remember the smell of antiseptic and a note of something coppery under it, a faint suggestion of the butcher shop. Clean, white trousers and shoes swished past me hunched in my seat Not me too Dad I’m not strong it’s too much and you’re not here anymore. The haunted block stands there looking strangely cold in the heat of today. I’m drawn to look at those windows and I wonder what’s inside those rooms I think I know oh god no. Everybody around the haunted block looks so busy, but the block still to my mind lends this corner of the street an air of tension. As if in affirmation, I see an argument break out between two labourers. Fast words a- jostle with the vowels and liquid consonants of the Southern Sub-Continent tumble between frenetic mouths and flashing eyes. Many of the citizens of Bahrain are this angry and even more hostile towards each other. It’s all over social media. People on both sides of a chasm within their minds are hurling abuse at each other in text online, or on placards and posters. Terrible words of hatred. How can anyone call a group of people that? Communities, sects, cultures – you can’t just excise them from your imagined utopia as if they were a disease! Dehumanizing terms that historically have prefigured outrageous conflict have been thrown around with abandon Toxic vocabulary. Don’t they see where such abuse can lead? Don’t fall in. The dangers of social division, people against each other? They only have to look a few hundred kilometres away, where a lexicon of dehumanisation has seeded, grown and borne its evil fruit. A country divided against itself, fighting itself, literally poisoning itself Don’t say those things. Dad lay there in his hospital bed. He couldn’t talk, but he really wanted to voice his urgent thoughts. I had my voice, but I wouldn’t say what was on my mind. I can’t say the word. I have to go home and tell my family and friends the word, the terrible word. There’s a bench on the street, set back a little in a tiny square. I reach it and slump down onto the hard surface. An old man has obviously been watching my progress. I see his dusty shirt as he bends towards me and I look up at him. There’s concern all over his ancient, creased face. He asks ‘You are okay?” “Yes,” I say and I’m trying to smile. But he’s looking closely at my face and then he touches my shoulder. He’s worried about me. Something inside me breaks. I cringe and now the tears come. It is big and broken and I’m trying to push it up and out of my chest through my throat, one painful cry after another. My face drips. Grief and fear heave up in shards from my straining gut, from that dark thing deep inside me. I can’t say it. I just can’t. So scared, so scared my body at war with itself destroying itself they want to put poison in
me to kill the thing inside me whose name I can’t utter and terror rises in me from the dark place uncurling and writhing like a snake. I see the hazardous material stickers again Dad looked so peaceful but he was pale and so very cold. On television were Syrian bodies laid out in rows. Stinking diesel fumes from a passing truck fill the air. I remember the Bahraini doctor at his desk, only kindness in his obsidian eyes, and I see blooming clouds of black and white. I have to go back to my family and friends and say to them the name of the terrible thing and I don’t know if I can do it, if I can say it to myself let alone to anybody else, if I can go into that dark place. The tiny part of me that always observes knows that the old man has stepped back. My grief is too open, too raw for him to continue comforting a stranger on the open street. My sobs are less frantic, I’m regaining control of myself, but I continue to cry into my hands, eyes screwed up against a bright sun and an oncoming tunnel pulling me into an abyss of hurt. I feel like an empty shell about to fall apart. What are my chances? How long have I got? Maybe I shouldn’t have been so angry with myself, with everything. I should have thought more, learned more about life from those around me Dad. I should have taken more care of myself. I should have appreciated everything and everyone I have had in my life. I shouldn’t have ignored what I really knew deep down. I’ll have to look this in the face now. Head up! All the thoughts come just like they do to the people that I read about in the magazines. All the same syrupy platitudes suddenly mean everything, right here in this street. Fill the void. Make my days count, forgive myself, forgive everybody else, let the light in, do this business of living right You can still make a full recovery from Stage 3. The storm is over in a minute. I can’t say it yet, but I will be able to soon. I can look at it for what it is. Tears did that. They washed the lying metaphors away. Out is not in. disease is not sentient. It has nothing to say to me but death. People throw the word as an insult because they don’t want to sit and talk. Such a label can never be real, but I’ve got the real thing, so I will have to fight. It is not part of me I am not a community there is a difference there are cells and there are people. I stand up and walk again. The old man is farther off but looking at me. I smile because now I can and I give him a little salute. I will say the word tonight. I know before I look up at the haunted block that the spell is broken. I could get somebody to open it up for me. I could walk into those rooms and see that they’re not so dark, the sun reaches them too. I would step through the doorway and see that those interiors are touched by light.

2nd Place L.P.

Note: Our winner has decided to remain anonymous preferring to use the initials L.P. for the story:

The Dentist

I put my hand on my cheek and couldn’t help but feel sorry for myself. My jaw felt like it had been pounded at with a hammer. They said I wouldn’t feel anything from the numbness, but what they hadn’t mentioned was that the feeling was repulsive in and of itself. Every time I swallowed, I felt as though someone had cut off part of my tongue and replaced it with a heavy sack of tiny needles. After sitting in the dentist’s office for 2 long hours, as he carried out his bloody and gruesome work inside my mouth, I felt I needed some fresh air. Living in the neighbourhood meant I could afford to walk around and allow the breeze to blow away some of the painful memories and sights of that night. I took my bag, mumbled a ‘thank you’ to the receptionist through all the gauze in my right cheek and stepped outside of the American Mission Hospital in Saar. I took a deep breath and swallowed a chunk of left over blood. Yuck. Half my tongue was numb, my cheek was beginning to swell up, and my stomach was busy pumping acidity. Needle. Drill. Knife. Blood. Needle. Drill. Knife. Blood. My head swirled. Stop it, Arlette. It was bad enough to sit through, there’s no reason for you to replay it in your mind over again. I looked up at the full moon and pondered what awaited me. Looks like it’s going to be a long walk home. I stepped out onto the main road in Saar and crossed the street to the other side. I needed to be away from all the noise so I walked inside the compound I lived in when I was younger. It was quite a large place with around 50 white Victorian-styled villas. They all looked the same on the outside with well kept gardens, fresh flowers along the entrances, and brown picket fences surrounding them. Although they all adhered to identical exteriors, they were home to varying secrets and stories. As I reached the second block, I found myself staring at the Harper’s house. I spent so many days in it with my childhood best friend, dancing around and playing pretend. Around the corner was the Anderton’s house. I recalled how I broke my leg running down the stairs and was grounded for the rest of the month for running indoors. It felt nice to reminisce about my childhood. I walked further across the street and saw a house that looked very different than the rest. It looked a lot older with unkempt grass, chipped paint, and a broken fence. It was the house of the three boys who had a physically abusive mother. I couldn’t recall their name, but I remember it ended quite badly. Their mother had suffered from psychosis and was a threat to her children, but the father couldn’t afford to be at home as often as necessary due to his high-powered job. Things eventually changed when she had her worst episode and ended up choking her youngest son, Kieran. She was taken away and the family had to return to England to stay with their relatives. It was quite heartbreaking. After that incident, the house was deemed ‘haunted’ and had been abandoned ever since. I walked over to the park and sat on one of the swings. I saw myself playing hopscotch and 40/40 with the other kids. They were such beautiful memories. My head was starting to throb so I walked up the stairs to the pool and laid on the hammock seat by the adjacent trees. I gazed at the dark sky and felt the blood rush to my head, back to my jaw, and then down to my stomach. The full moon was so beautiful. I allowed the silence to sink in and tried to enjoy the moment while it lasted. It was getting late, but I needed at least 30 minutes of solitude before heading back home. As the minutes passed by, the night breeze became colder. The chill began getting to me and I knew I couldn’t handle sitting out in the cold much longer, so I got up and started heading back. Strangely enough, I had a very eerie feeling walking back. I wasn’t a fan of walking in the dark, but I had walked these streets many a times as a child and felt safe revisiting my childhood. I was about to head towards the gate when I turned around to take one last look at the neighbourhood I once called home. I took a deep breath, swallowed more blood, and sighed heartily. Right as I was turning back, I heard a loud noise that made me jump. Oh Lord! It was merely a cat rummaging through garbage. Then I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. The side of the ‘haunted’ house had a green symbol painted on it. It looked freshly painted. Hmmm…how strange! The more I looked at it, the more I noticed other peculiar characteristics. The main door was run down, but the doorknob seemed to have been recently renovated. How bizarre! Why would anyone only renovate the doorknob? I slowly walked a bit closer to it. The tips of the fence had small red marks. I put my finger on one of them to feel the texture. It was moist and warm. I looked at my finger and noticed the paint was still wet. That’s odd. I smelled it and immediately got goose bumps. It was blood. My whole being was telling me to run away as fast as I could, but I heard a small screech. Oh no! What if someone’s in there? I heard the sound of an old squeaking door slowly open and slam. There was another screech. Oh no. Oh no. I pushed the fence forward and walked to the side of the house. I looked through the window and into the darkness. I must be imagining all of this. Yes, it’s probably the anaesthetic from earlier. This is all in my head. Squeaking door. Screech. Oh Lord! A small candlelight appeared at the back of the room. I heard the voice of a baby crying in the background. Oh good God, there’s a baby! I didn’t know what to do. I considered leaving, but there was a baby. Why was there a baby in an abandoned house? “Is anyone there? What’s going on?” All I heard in response was the squeaking door, the baby’s cries and an old woman shrieking. “Hello? What’s going on? Are you all right? Who’s there?” I freaked out. Hearing the baby cry and the woman shriek gave me the urge to do something. I reached into my bag, took out my perfume to use as pepper spray and stormed in. Simultaneously, someone started whistling. You can do this, Arlette. You can do this! I moved towards the light and felt something on my shoulder. Oh boy. Goosebumps invaded my whole being. I turned around and it was her. I can’t believe it’s her! “Hello, Mrs….” Yikes. She looked really old. She had a torn white gown on and was reaching for my face. Breathe, Arlette. Breathe and back away slowly. “Kieran…” “No! No!! I’m Arlette! I used to live across the street from you! Remember? I’m not Kieran!” Her eyes widened as she reached for my throat. I quickly moved my hand in an attempt to spray her with the perfume but I lost my balance and fell backwards. She landed on top of me. I tried to wiggle myself free from under her but she held my shirt and pulled it towards her. I felt her body weigh heavily on me. Her white hair was slowly making its way over my face. I noticed a strange burning smell and wondered if it was her stench. I then looked to my side and noticed that the perfume bottle had fallen, broken into pieces, and landed on the candle. It caught on fire. She grabbed my throat and placed her thumbs on the hollow at the base of my throat. I tried to push her off, but I couldn’t breathe. Breathe, Arlette! Breathe! The burning smell was getting stronger as the room began fogging up with smoke. The woman’s screams were ringing in my ears. Someone kept opening and slamming what sounded like old wooden doors. I wondered why they were more preoccupied with that than helping me out. You can do this, Arlette! I mustered enough strength to bend my knee upwards and kick her in the stomach. She rolled over and her dress caught on fire. I coughed and breathed and coughed and breathed. The burning smell was suffocating me. I tried to get up, but fell down the first and second time. I tried a third time and managed to start running. She screamed at the top of her lungs. I ran as fast as I could. Before long, the whole house caught on fire. I laid on the street in front of the house coughing as the flames grew bigger and bigger. The woman’s screams were getting louder. And so were the baby’s. Oh no! I forgot about the baby! I got back up to run in to the house, but a man came out of nowhere and tried to stop me. “The baby! There’s a baby in there!” The baby’s cries were heartbreaking. The woman continued screaming. The fire grew bigger. “Calm down. Are you okay?” “But the house! We need to stop the fire! The woman is still alive! Kieran is still alive!” The woman’s screams began quietening down, but the baby continued to cry. Every time he did I felt my heart break into smaller pieces. You must save him, Arlette! “It’s okay! Calm down. It’s all going to be okay.” He hugged me hard. “The baby! The crying! There’s a baby! I need to save the baby before the fire gets to him!” I yelled at him, failing to understand his calm demeanour. “Shshsh. It’s okay. There’s no fire. Calm down. It’s just me. It’s all going to be okay. There’s no fire. It’s just us.” I felt him hold me tight as he calmed me down. I looked up and found myself by the pool on the hammock. I must have fallen asleep earlier. “It seems you were having quite the nightmare.” “I suppose. Gosh, it seemed so real!” He giggled. “It’s okay. It’s all going to be okay now.” He put his hand on my cheek. “Ouch!” I felt my jaw and cheek throbbing. “Sorry! Are you okay?” “Yeah. I just had my wisdom teeth pulled out and it still really hurts.” I rested my head on my hands. “Man I hate dentists.”

 3rd Place Noor AlNaimi

That Feeling

Lights. They surrounded everything on that eerie street where the world seemed to be in busy turmoil. Cars swerved past our vehicle; honked and slithered so close they threatened to scratch my husband’s new convertible. ” Who in their right mind gave you a license? ” Shouted Mo out the window as I slumped back against the leather seat. It was dark and blurry; I didn’t like the rocky way we had to careen through the tight pathways, much less keep up with my husband’s short temper about the places I pick and their impossible locations. “I told you we should’ve gone to the Ritz.” He said. …And It was such a good night too. I thought annoyed; we had a very nice dinner at La Fontaine, took a long walk around the villa and I even managed to get Mo to comment on a few of the artworks displayed. Yes, granted all he said was. ” I’m not paying two thousand dinars for a doodle!” But still I made him look. Now I had to survive my husband’s Saudi style driving which made ‘Fast and the Furious’ look tame. “Slow down.” I said as we passed a red light. “And get smashed to the side? No! Let me handle this.” He scoffed all masculinity and steel. It was a busy street and that night the traffic was worse than usual. I looked out the window to watch flashes of buildings as we passed all I got were little glimpses due to the speed we took. What agitated me most were the blinking lights around us, they were blinding and overpowered my vision so I had to squint most of the way until we arrived at another speed bump. “Stop!” I screamed, the whole world shook in that instant, my heart plummeted to my stomach as the car screeched to a halt, almost grazing the hunched figure mere millimeters away from the front of the car. “Oh my god.” I mouthed as we gazed at the woman who was standing in those macabre lights, like a nightmarish being. Her face was grotesque. Her skin wrinkled and swarthy. She looked to me like she had seen much of the world and did not like it. Her yellow eyes looked at us with deadly promises after the near fatality we could have caused her. A sense of dread crept through my whole being, the hair on my back stood on end and at that moment everything stopped. She stared at us and then drew her lips up exposing her teeth in what can only be described as an animalistic snarl. “Oh my god…oh my god…”I kept saying my palm against my gaping mouth, “We almost ran her over.” I whispered, staring at her as she crossed over to the other end of the road seemingly unharmed. She was an old woman I realized. I watched her walk over to the other side of the road, her body heavy, balanced upon those shaky limbs. A poor old woman. I thought once more trying to calm myself and shake off the image of her horrid snarl. It was only nerves due to our would-be accident, I should brush It off like Mo and steer myself away from those murky thoughts. “We didn’t.” My husband replied. I thought I saw him breathe a sigh, but it was very swift, as if he too wanted nothing more to do with the scene, he cruised away just as swiftly, far off towards the wide highway. But even after we reached the house, I still couldn’t shake off that memory of her face. Glaring and hateful, there was a world of evil in those eyes…so much evil. I shuddered thinking back on her wild features, tossing that foreign feeling aside. I felt my husband take my hand in his with a tight squeeze. He seemed to notice me rallying with myself, and I responded with a smile.  Pull yourself together. I thought as we finally walked into our bedroom, the lights were dimmed thoughout the house, the kids were probably sleeping soundly, this was usually my favorite time of the day yet it felt very wrong somehow. “I should check on the kids.” I said fighting the need to just dive into the sheets and call it a day like my unruffled husband, who was changed and ready for bed. Our near calamity was already a thing of the past to him. I darted out of our room towards the nursery, a flicker of lights greeted me from within, and I had to squint once more as I opened the door, left slightly ajar, to the kids’ bedroom. I peered inside, expecting to see two angelic faces upon their pillows just like it was every night. I saw feet. Little feet curled against the crumpled pillows and hidden beneath the covers were the rest of their little bodies. With relief, I adjusted them, chuckling at the grimaces they gave me before finally, they were properly placed. I retreated back to the bedroom to find my husband already asleep with an orchestra of snores; I rolled my eyes and drifted past the bed to change out of my dinner attire into some very comfortable pajamas. I proceeded next to slip into bed for some much needed rest. It never ends. I thought with a contemplative smile. I went on to replay my day, trying to extinguish that ridiculous dread I was feeling, purposefully tossing that image of that horrid misshapen woman out of my mind. Poor old woman-walking the street, relax! My cool mind told my frantic heart; somehow through the night I found the right corner for slumber, but I drifted from dream to dream all random fluff and blackness. When daylight broke I was back on my feet once more, padding upon the floor towards the kids’ room, my husband had probably woken up earlier with work calling off the hook. “Noor.” He said from the doorway, his eyes wide in an expression I did not see very often. “What’s wrong?” ” I found this.” He said and handed me a piece of paper, “It was under the door.” As I unfolded the scrap of paper, my heart began that familiar frantic tempo, reminded of the sensation I felt the night before, the note read: ” Who in their right mind gave you a license?”

– END –

Congratulations! Everyone and thanks for taking the challenge.

Our Judge: Rebecca Young

Rebecca Young is an award winning journalist who has also worked in public relations and marketing and publishing. She is working on her first book: The Pessimists Guide to Optimistic Thinking. She also blogs for family and friends at http://www.youngsontherun.blogspot.com/.

As a member of the Bahrain Writers’ Circle Rebecca is an active member of our Creative Writers’ Workshop group and has won almost all of our monthly challenges. She graciously agreed to judge this month’s challenges and has provided helpful and detailed feedback to all our entrants.

Thank you Rebecca!

THE CHALLENGE

This was the prompt for the challenge story to be completed within 2000 words:

The prompt:

“The plane lifted off the runway and into the air. The person next to you turns and quietly whispers in your ear, “I know I’m supposed to keep this a secret, but I absolutely must tell someone.”

And here are Rebecca’s winners:

1st Place Simi Kamboj

If I Could Tell You

We are withholding Simi’s story as she is developing it further.

2nd Place Kelli Horner

The Secret

Eliza counted the money in her wallet- $42.58.  She had splurged on a coffee and a blueberry muffin at the airport Starbucks.  It was the first time she’d had Starbucks since Craig left four years ago.  Her per diem was fifty dollars, which seemed a bit much, but she wasn’t going to complain.  She had already figured out that she could pocket forty if she ate the continental breakfast at the hotel, drank the coffee at the training center and stuck to fast food for lunch and dinner.  One-hundred and twenty bucks could get Colby a new pair of shoes and Alex a new winter coat.  Plus she could pay the gas bill for the month.

She sighed and buckled her seat belt. Eliza knew that she was lucky for this opportunity.  There were people who had been at the office a lot longer than her but her boss, her friend Pammy, knew Eliza was struggling to make ends meet.  She offered Eliza the trip as a much-needed break from her role as single mom of three, with the added bonus of paying her overtime.  It would mean filling the refrigerator, paying the rent she owed and guaranteeing that the water would stay on for another month.  Pammy was her savior.

Eliza closed her eyes, determined to forget about her financial problems for a bit and maybe even sleep a little.  The flight was nowhere near full and the passengers seemed to have stopped boarding.  She smiled, grateful to not be sitting beside anyone.  She had just started to put her feet up on the seat beside her and open a well-worn copy of Pride and Prejudice when an airline employee helping an old man down the aisle stopped beside her.

The old man seemed lost inside his too-big suit jacket.  He reminded her of the old man from Up– big nose, bigger glasses, a shock of white hair on his head.  The employee gently turned him toward Eliza and, pointing to the aisle seat said, “Mr. Watkins?  We’re here.”  The old man, who had been watching his shuffling feet, slowly lifted his head and adjusted his glasses.  He looked confused and it seemed to take him a moment to remember where he was.  The employee handed him his ticket and the fog seemed to lift.

“Right, sorry,” he said, cheerfully and allowed the employee to help him into the seat and to buckle his seat belt.  The old man smiled broadly at Eliza and she couldn’t help but smile back at him.

The plane lifted off the runway and into the air.  Just as Eliza unbuckled her seatbelt, planning to move to the window seat, for a little extra room, the old man touched her arm, startling her.  His eyes were twinkling and he smiled a wide smile.

“I know I’m supposed to keep this a secret, but I absolutely must tell someone.”  He looked around as if to check if someone was listening.  Eliza smiled politely and waited, hoping she wouldn’t have to humor him for too long.  “I’ve just won the lottery.”  The old man giggled and covered his mouth, like a schoolgirl.

Eliza smiled politely and said, “Well, that’s wonderful.  Congratulations.”  She continued her move to the adjacent seat when he took her hand, stopping her.  His hand was cool and papery.  His grip was tighter than she would have expected.

“I’ve never even played the lottery before.  Did it this once, on a whim.  My buddy Arnold plays every week, the same numbers, the same order.  ‘Give it a go, Eddie,’ he said.  That’s me, Eddie Watkins,” he said, slowly offering his hand across the seat.  “So I did.  I played my birthday, my wife’s birthday and my daughter’s birthday.  I almost played our wedding date but then had a feeling that I should stick to birthdays.  Good thing I did, huh?”  Eddie giggled again.

Without prompting, Eddie started talking.  Eliza found herself drawn into conversation with him.  When the drinks trolley rolled by, and Eliza asked for the complimentary water, he offered to buy her a sandwich and a coffee (whoever heard of paying for coffee on an airplane, he muttered).  He told her how he and his sister had practically raised themselves after his dad walked out.  His mom was working three jobs, just to keep them from starving.  “That’s where I’m going now,” he told her.  “My sister’s.  With all this money, I want to finally give her all the things we never had growing up.”

His sister April was younger than him but already in a home.  “It’s a real nice place- it looks like a real house,” he admitted.  “But I wouldn’t want to live there.  A lot of rules and the cook burns everything.  No satellite TV, either.  I don’t know what I’d do without my Jeopardy,” he laughed.   “Oh listen to me, droning on.  What about you, young lady?  Do you have a family?”

Eliza, somewhat reluctantly because she didn’t really want to bother him with her problems, said her husband had walked out as well and since then, it had been a real struggle to keep her and the boys afloat.  She had considered taking a second job, but when she mentioned it to Pammy, she had suddenly gotten a ‘well-deserved’ raise.

As she was telling Eddie about Alex begging to go on the class camping trip (which should be free because it’s camping, for God’s sake) suddenly, as though a light had been switched off, Eddie looked confused.  Eliza stifled a laugh; he looked like a little lost puppy dog, looking at her with those big eyes, head tilted to the side.   He was quiet for a few moments and Eliza began to feel nervous.

“Eddie?” she said gently.  “Are you okay?”

He looked at her and smiled a weak smiled and chuckled, but it was almost as if he didn’t recognize her.  Eliza watched with growing concern as he looked around.  She could see the panic building in his eyes, his mouth dropping open, his hands trembling slightly.  He looked at his own hands and saw the ticket he was still clutching and seemed to visibly relax.  And just as quickly, his eyes lit up again, he smiled laughed a genuine laugh.

“Tell me about your kids?   Me and my wife, God rest her soul, we never had any babies of our own.  How many do you have?”  Eddie asked.

Eliza started to tell him about her boys and then hesitated.  “I thought you said you had a daughter?” she asked, thinking she had misunderstood.

“Oh no.  Edith wanted children so bad, but it just never happened.  One of my life’s biggest regrets, though I couldn’t do anything about it,” he shook his head wistfully.  “But tell me all about your boys.”

Eliza told Eddie all about the boys- how headstrong Alex was and how, even at seven, he had taken on the role of ‘man of the house.’  Colby was her artist, her dreamer, always painting and coloring, seeing the good in everyone he met.  The baby, Cash, was nothing but spoiled rotten, she said, laughing.

“A mother’s love,” Eddie mused.  “I can see it all, right here in your face.  You just want to take care of them.  I know you’re doing your best.”  Without warning, Eliza teared up at Eddie’s kind words.  Eliza took his hand in hers again.

They continued to talk, telling each other stories about their families and the lives they’d lived.  Before she knew it, the pilot announced that they would be landing in a few minutes and Eddie began to fumble around in his jacket pocket.  Pulling out his checkbook, he wrote a check and folded it up.

“Young lady, I’d like you to have this.  I don’t know if it will help but I hope you’ll accept a little generosity from an old man.  There’s no way I can even hope to spend this amount of money in the time I have left on this good earth.  I might as well share it around, wouldn’t you say?”  He smiled and handed her the check.

Five million dollars, it read.  Five million dollars?!  Her breath caught in her throat and she covered her mouth to hide a gasp.  Tears welled in her eyes and she pressed the check to her chest.

“Oh Eddie, oh I can’t take this,” she whispered, pressing the check back into his hand.

“You can and you will, young lady.  It’s not a request, it’s an order,” he smiled.

“This is too much,” she said.

“Please, take it.  It would make an old man so happy,” he seemed to plead.

“Eddie, this is unbelievable.  I cannot even begin to thank you.”  She leaned in awkwardly for a hug, trying to turn sideways with her seatbelt still fastened.   Eddie suddenly looked frightened and shrank back.  “Oh!” Eliza exclaimed.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to, I mean… I was only trying to…”

He stared and, again, gave her a chuckle and a dismissive wave, but almost before she’d had time to figure out what she had done wrong, he smiled brightly.  He took her hand in his and held it until they landed.  “Come and meet April,” he said.  “She’ll be waiting for me.”

Eliza helped Eddie off the plane to the waiting wheelchair.  She walked up the jet way with him, with one hand in his and one hand clutching the check inside her wool coat.  Her smile stretched from ear to ear.  She was already planning vacations and new wardrobes and savings accounts.  There would be trips to the water park that summer, maybe even a week at the beach.  It was the beginning of a wonderful new life for her and the boys.

Eliza accompanied Eddie all the way to the baggage claim area.  A woman Eliza’s age approached them as they reached their carousel.

“April,” Eddie said, reaching out his hands.  Eliza stopped, confused.  He had said his sister was younger, but this woman had to be thirty to forty years younger than Eddie.  How could she be his sister?

“Daddy!” the young woman exclaimed.

“Daddy?” Eliza and Eddie asked at the same time.  April’s face fell and she glanced back at a man standing beside the carousel.

“Excuse me,” Eliza said, offering her hand.  “I’m Eliza.  I met Eddie on the plane.  But I’m a little confused.  He said his sister April was meeting him today.”

“I’m his daughter.  My name is April.  Since his sister June died a few years ago, he’s gotten confused and sometimes thinks I’m her.  It’s gotten worse lately, which is why I convinced him to fly out here to live with us.  Me and my husband.”

“Oh,” said Eliza.  Then, as the realization began to dawn on her, she gripped the check harder, tighter, afraid to ask, but knowing she must know.  “Is it… does he have… ?” she started, letting the question hang in the air.

April smiled sadly.  “He wrote you a check, didn’t he?”  Eliza nodded.  “That started just after June died as well.  He became convinced that he won the MegaMillions.  He’s been writing checks left and right, to anyone and everyone who takes a moment to talk to him.  The truth is, I cancelled his checking account over a year ago.  If I didn’t, he would have been bankrupt and writing bad checks all over North Carolina.”

Eliza stood rooted to the spot as April’s husband loaded Eddie’s bags onto the trolley. She waved a weak goodbye to the family, still unable to move.  Eddie smiled back at her and called out, “I hope life treats you well,” giving her a wink.  April began to push his chair towards the exit when Eliza heard him ask, “June, what’s for dinner?”

3rd Place Michelle Schultz

Visions

We are withholding Michelle’s story as she is developing it further.

Something different

This time we’re putting on another entrant’s submission after consulting with him so here it is! Do comment and let us know what you think.

The Delivery by Emad Alfons

The phone kept ringing like a staggering siren, on and on it relayed in the abandoned room. Mayor Bernaski has just left his office heading to Heathrow’s airport to catch his 11:45 flight to Moscow. A few miles away from the central state building occupying the backseat of his bulletproof 745 BMW an alarming buzz itched his right thigh. Again he paneled his cell phone to silent mode but luckily he could still feel it’s vibration throbbing his thigh. Peculiarly he gazed at the screen wondering at the unknown number appearing on the monitor, he gently pressed the answer button and uttered a hesitated greeting tone. The signal was weak and the phone’s charge about to die. Few could be heard from his assistant Tony who tried contacting him at the office but got no reply. Fortunately the message was delivered and the mayor informed of the swap, to take place at the airport. Boris Patel was to be replaced at the mayor’s assistance instead of Tony. The brief chat ended followed by a squeaking low battery indication.

A few minutes later avoiding downtowns crowded streets the driver made a complete halt outside Heathrow’s airport. Patel was alerted on his walkie-talkie of the mayors arrival, hurdling his way to him at an alarming pace. The mayor was joined by his private staff and secretary who accompanied him on every foreign diplomatic event. Regulations committed and check-in cleared the mayor along with 4 of his private staff boarded the plane.

Yuri Bolakov an ex-KGB agent sent his advisors to declare a press conference to be conducted shortly after the mayors arrival. Accommodation was finalized at the Four Seasons hotel and a private duplex suite secured with the supervision of highly ranked statesmen. Conference invitations delivered, attendees informed and the hosting hall ready for the conference. Bolakov made sure that everything seemed normal, his duty was to ensure that this feeling of comfort was present and sensed evidently.  His fierce features and shallow smile made the flow of work managed to complete perfection. All was set early before the plane took off Heathrow’s airport.

The plane took off on time, the busy staff started their work immediately soon after the seat belts icon dimmed. The cabin crew offered cold mint and hot towels, while the mayor being handed his towel gestured with his fingers to the crew member and ordered a cup of coffee. Briefly after the order, Patel followed the white shirted crewman, dipping his hand into his right pocket to grab a black device with a small screen, one of those digital type bleeping devices. The mayor’s phone already dead asked his assistant to put it on charge and was handed another to carry out his phone calls. With each of his team busy with scheduling and planning, his personal bodyguards keen to every motion, no one paid attention to the most obvious detail, the coffee.

Patel was back to his seat beside the mayors secretary, he turns to her and quietly whispers ” I know I’m supposed to keep this a secret, but I absolutely must tell someone”. His words startled her and instead of looking back at her computer screen, her eyes grew weary and worry crippled down her spine. “I think the mayors life is in danger” he added, making sure his voice was only heard by the secretary.

Coffee was served in a paper cup on a small platter with sugar and cream on the side. The mayor immediately poured the cream and added a pack of sugar to his hot drink and started sipping his first mouthful of hot toxin. The coffee contained Ricid, a highly poisonous powder which the crewman added 100mg of it carefully into the cup. The toxin circulates through the blood faster when accompanied by a sugary substance, with minor flu symptoms appearing within 8 to 10 hours. The toxin was now running through the mayors system, and the flight to Moscow would approximately take 6 hours.

“I can’t clearly know where the threat is but the mayor is in danger” Patel continued his chat with the secretary, with her eyes fixed on his lips as if reading his words. There was no appealing threat present on board, no peculiar movements or any sense of instability. Patel could not sense any present danger threatening the mayor’s life on the plane, but the message he received on his private device made him insecure. A professional security man could not figure where the threat lies.

The coffee cup lay empty in front of the mayor and the sense of warmness cuddled his belly, not aware that a toxin will soon be clotting his veins.

The plane arrived at Moscow’s airport at 5:15 with Patel tilting around himself searching for traces of threat but what made matters worse is the normality of things which dissipated a sense of security at it’s most. The adrenaline pumping through Patel’s and the secretary’s veins made everything seem alarming to them, rechecking the mayors luggage and personal belongings. The bodyguards too sticking to the mayor after Patel informed them of the threat. Shortly the staff and the mayor left the airport heading towards the hotel, with the mayor releasing his first cough between his palms. It appeared normal to Patel and thought it was due to atmosphere’s change giving it no much attention, but when the mayor started feeling dizzy and his limbs getting loose and vulnerable he had to act. All his attention was focused now on saving the mayors life, giving no much attention to traces of threat as he knew that the danger had impacted already.

They arrived at the hotel and were welcomed by Bolakov, showing them the way to their rooms. The Mayor was tired and feeling cold by now and prompted angrily at Patel to lead him to the restroom. Holding him by his arms with the help of the bodyguards they penetrated directly the suite with Patel’s eyes grabbing the features of a familiar face, the white shirted crewman standing before Bolakov. His eyes said more than his mouth could utter and took his first steps towards the crewman. He stepped rigidly in front of Bolakov and asked if he could call in for the hotel’s doctor for a quick check up to the mayor. He tested the crewman’s reaction with a few questions and recorded his body language and eyes. He knew he was involved in the scene but the mayor’s life was important at the moment. He accompanied the doctor to the suite where the mayor was fidgeting like a newborn baby lying helplessly on the bed. The doctor predicted a form of seizure or epileptic defect and soon injected the mayor with a mixture of tranquilizers to stabilize the body. 10 hours have passed since the toxin entered the mayor’s body and was affecting the body’s organs. The doctor announced that the mayor should be sent to the hospital for immediate surveillance.

Bolakov and the crewman vanished into thin air, leaving no trace of their presence in the hotel as if their mission has been accomplished. Patel couldn’t simply find them, he stormed the hotel and asked at the reception for the men but everyone denied their existence and some denied their identities. Everything about them was fake, the only thing true about them stayed unveiled. Bolakov and the crewman where members of a secret resistance to arms dealing who used their state jobs as war veterans to defuse any attempted threat to their country. Mr.Bernaski was there to sign a confidential treaty between both countries to import used weapons. Weapons to be used against their own countrymen and soil. The mayor was their target, they had to eliminate this threat at all costs and dismantle the root of future smart missiles being imported to their  country. Worst of all where the two parties behind the deal, a Russian warlord and an English secret arms dealer. The deal was far from legitimacy, but had to be covered delightfully by a diplomatic event, the mayor was attending.

The mayor arrived the hospital at 9 pm with severe neural failure and respiration low enough to decrease the heartbeat to 20 beats per minute. The toxin has been circulating his blood long enough to be curable, at 10:15 the mayor was announced dead.  Patel’s black device rang again and Tony’s number appeared now. Patel read the following message “Reach into the mayor’s right jacket pocket, take the bank card and head to the bank’s headquarters at 182 valon st and ask for Richard Daftport, he’ll lead you to the locker”.  Patel was now in the midst of confusion, alone and perplexed he had to know what was he involved in. He did as Tony told him and made his was to the bank’s main office asked for Richard and was lead to a private room where an iron box settled on a table. Patel was sure that everything had been settled beforehand and everyone played a specific role, each providing a piece of information. He was not asked for any identity nor to present any documents confirming his relation to the mayor.

He opened the box and started running his eyes over some papers with bank accounts and confidential contracts carrying the mayor’s name. He emptied the papers into a bag Richard provided him with and left heading back to the hospital. With all matters being settled by the embassy, Patel now drew patterns attaching one end of the string to another grasping the entire image. He possessed papers of the mayor’s secret contracts with warlords, Tony’s involvement with the Russian secret service police and a plot to assassinate the mayor. He knew that he had to act on both ends, submitting the documents to court and bring Bolakov, the crewman and Tony to justice.

The device rang again with Tony’s number, now the message read as follows “Delivery met”.

And here is one more entry!

The Dependable Passenger by Akbar Khan

That ringing! The alarm? The phone?!

I groggily rose from my bed and made my way to the source of my broken slumber. I pulled open the door, only faintly aware of my surroundings.

Slowly, it came back to me, as I looked at the bell boy’s face. “Senior, you wanted a wakeup call?”

“Normally one would just receive a call on the phone, not a personal visit.”

“Phones no work, sir. So I come to you.”

“Why, thank you.” I said closing the door on his tip hungry expression. My political preference holds me from handing out freebies, though political support is subject to change, now that I’m eligible for healthcare. What’s the harm in switching sides for a day or two?

The flight is way too early for my liking; a result of having your family book your flights.

Do people still dress up for flights? I guess you could call a hoodie neo formal, blue jeans go with everything. Flipflops, now that’s just being practical.

I rushed out the door with the pitter patter of my footwear on the cheap carpet, bags in tow. Meager belongings make for a good traveler.

Checking out is an easy process in a dump like this. No services offered, no services charged. I slammed down the bunched notes and keys on the front desk, thanking the cute receptionist on the way out.

Probably should have asked her name. On second thought what’s the point, it’s not like I have time to flirt and she probably isn’t single anyway.

Best not to get myself tangled with another exotic girl, not after the last one.

The taxi rides in Third-world countries are unpleasant, to say the least. Maybe if I paid a little more, I could have gotten the driver to turn on the air conditioning. They always seem to want to make conversation.

“No, really, I enjoyed my stay.” Been stuck in office meetings all week, not much of a vacation.

“Good, I’m happy you like my country. So you went downtown? Met a few of the honeys?”

Oh god! When has this become appropriate conversation? Whatever happened to talking about the weather or the economy? “Yeah, sure buddy, a few.” Smooth…

Twenty minutes of awkward conversation later, we reach the airport.

The airport, highly unremarkable, looks as if it was purposely built to bore any passing on-looker, deliberately lowering the expectations of incoming tourists. The rolling green hills, blue skies and silky sand on the beaches get a noticeable boost by comparison, especially if you had arrived on a flight from one of the local carriers.

It was about 10 before I plopped down on the seat. Economy class, not the most glamorous way to travel. I was looking forward to a quiet flight and to avoid social interaction by burying myself in the in flight magazine. The seat next to me was empty and I hoped it would stay that way.

“hmmm…”

A young lady in a pair of blue jeans and a plaid shirt was struggling to fit her bag in the overhead compartment. My large carry-on-bag was not placed in the most appropriate position. I decided to do the decent thing, get up and help. Ignoring my natural awkwardness, which insisted that my interest be better placed on this fascinating article about research done on drying paint.

Pushing my bag to one side, I managed to make enough space to slot her bag in place.

“Thanks.”

“No problem” I turned and got a good look at her. She couldn’t have been more than in her late 20s. Bright red hair framed her face, along with a friendly smile.

We took our seats, hers the aisle and the window for me. I tried busying myself with last view of the rolling mountains, out in the distance, trough the tiny window. I decided to go back to my magazine but quickly got distracted by my fellow passenger’s fidgeting.

Twirling her thumbs, it was quite obvious she was nervous. Just as the plane started to taxi, I noticed the blood drain away from her face. It was hard not to stare, her fear of flying was quite obvious.

The whine of the engine turned into a rumble as the plane started barreling down the runway. I turned to see the lady had her eyes locked front and was now gripping the armrests. I managed to hide my smile to the other side of my face, more commonly known as a smirk.

My covert amusement didn’t last long. Just as the plane lifted off of the runway. I hear her voice whispering into my ear. Personal space, along with flying, was not her forte.

“I must tell you a secret, I probably shouldn’t tell anyone this.”

All of a sudden we are best buddies; I seemed to have missed that memo.

“Umm, sure. If you want too.” She waited for a key moment, no escape! She could be any one of the horrors seen on the news or a combination. Question is, does she blow up the plane first, or drop the drugs to her cartel friends first?

“I’m afraid of flying.”

I masked my sigh of relief with a nervous laugh. “Well that’s not too bad. Lots of people are afraid of flying.”

“No, you don’t understand. I’m the air marshal on this flight.”

It was now my face’s turn to lose color. Odd that the increased possibility of danger is less terrifying than losing your comfy layer of defense against a highly unlikely danger. Chances that a plane would be hijacked are quite small. Suddenly, I feel like I’m in a really lame bar joke: A terrorist and a cowardly air marshal walked into a plane…

“I know this might be a little unusual..” understating a little aren’t we? “… but I really needed to tell someone.”

The plane lurched as it hit a pocket of turbulence, making her flinch. It almost seemed like the sky was reluctant to let go of his sway over the Ms. Air Marshal.

“Sure. Quite unusual actually. So how did you get into this line of work?” I hope I can carry the conversation long enough for her to relax.

“Two years of training. I passed my exam with flying colors, you know.” She said with a sheepish grin. It made me glad that I could take her mind off of her work disability. I’m still not quite sure if distracting an officer of the law is a good thing.

Weren’t air marshals supposed to be middle aged men with handle bar mustaches who don’t draw any attention? Then again, none would suspect the petite girl with hair bright enough to flag down rescue planes with.

“You’re fear of flying wasn’t an issue?”

“The simulator was well grounded. They didn’t really ask me if I was scared of heights. In fact I have never actually been in a plane before.”

Somehow I do not find the same level of humor as her voice suggests I should have. I guess this speaks volumes about the government and their ability to keep the public safe.

As the plane leveled off, Ms. Red Head seemed to have calmed down but her nerves seem to rattle in tandem with the plane through every pocket of turbulence.

I would have called this a smooth flight but sitting next to someone like her, makes you aware of the slightest bumps.

We had our in-flight-meal, as we chatted away. It might have been the free alcohol I happily downed. I do seem a lot more charming when filled with the right amount of booze. She on the other hand stuck to her juice.

Agitated voices began coming from the rear of the plane. This gradually got louder with one voice becoming the predominate character in the argument. Whoever it was, was slurring his words heavily, obviously intoxicated.

The little passenger next to me scraped up the last bit of her custard before squeezing out of her seat. She briskly walked down the aisle to the source of the commotion. I dived to my right to get a better view of what was happening.

The man had grabbed the collar of a terrified air hostess, while other passengers looked on in shock. He was stumbling a bit, not quite sure what to do now that he was in the commanding position he put himself into. He seemed more than happy to just continue yelling at her. Good

Ms. Scared of Flying, let loose a quick jab to his ribs, while with her free hand she swiped his hands away from his victim. Just as he buckled over in pain, she pushed him to the floor, pinning his hands behind him.

“Stop resisting! You’re under arrest!” She commanded, in a voice quite unlike the one that was whispered in my ear.

I didn’t see either of them for the remainder of the flight. Both seemed to have found seats next to each other, where he could be kept out of trouble.

Leaving the plane, I reflected on the day’s events. This had been without a doubt the most interesting flight I have ever been on. Maybe more people would fly, if they knew they were going to see some martial arts action. Hmm, that could actually work. I wonder if any of the airlines will let me pitch my idea…..

“Hey!” Ms. Kick Ass was jogging up to me a silly grin on her face.

“Hey. That was amazing! Good Job.”

“Thanks. I just wanted to say thanks for everything, Richard.”

“Oh it was no trouble. Wait… How do you know my name?”

“It was on the passenger list. I had to note it down for… official purposes, as a witness. Also your phone number. Anyway, see you around.”

Walking out of the airport, I couldn’t help but hope she would call. Things may finally be looking up.

inthegrowler

J. H. Bográn

Our judge for the fifth writing challenge of the year was born and raised in Honduras and is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor their official e-zine The Big Thrill.

His debut novel TREASURE HUNT, which The Celebrity Café hails as an intriguing novel that provides interesting insight of architecture and the life of a fictional thief, has also been selected as the Top Ten in Preditors & Editor’s Reader Poll.

FIREFALL, his second novel, was recently released by Rebel ePublishers and it is slowly, but steadily, earning starred reviews.

Website at: http://www.jhbogran.com

Facebook profile: http://www.facebook.com/jhbogran

Facebook author page: http://on.fb.me/ZJwEq0

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4307673.J_H_Bogran

Twitter: @JHBogran

ShortFictionWriters guild link: http://shortfictionwritersguild.wordpress.com/

The Challenge:

You are at the neighborhood garage sale, looking for nothing in particular. Something inside an old, wooden box catches your eye. The old woman who is running the sale comes over to say something about the object. What is it? What did she say and why? The word limit was 2000 words.

José Bogran’s winners for the month are as follows!

“Given the parameters you gave me I made judgement based on the use of the prompt, but also how to the story arc progressed, character development, as well as complication of the plot. I love complicated plots! Here is my list of winners.”

In First Place we have Rebecca Young

The Garage Sale

Being a yard sale queen required dedication. Sara religiously bought the local paper every Thursday afternoon and went through the listings. She could tell based on the classified ads which sales would yield the most treasures. “Estate sale” usually meant a good sale, but was always a bit sad. “Moving sale: Everything must go!” was promising. “Exercise equipment” was a bad sign as was “Men’s and women’s clothing”. These usually meant a depressed “cleaning-out-the-closets” and “giving-up-on-resolutions” affairs. The items would be dated, but not in a vintage way, just an old, shabby way, and prices would probably be too high for used. Everyone thinks their garbage is precious. In a small community, like theirs, all the yard sale devotees got to know each other pretty quickly. The McLaren brothers were always on the lookout for stuff like antique farm implements, old tools, model cars and planes and the rare gems: pedal tractors. The Hernandez family collected good quality baby clothing for an unending slew of expectant relations. “Cat sweater Mary” went for antique canning jars and just about any kind of collectible figurine which she resold on eBay.

Sara didn’t yard sell out of necessity or for the money which could be made reselling items. She, like all yard salers, really, did it for the possibility. Because there was really no telling what you might find. It was like being a treasure hunter, an archeologist.

Sara never had anything in particular she was looking for, but could sift the wheat from the chaff pretty quickly. She knew she had scored some fantastic finds over the years. Like a brand new Kate Spade bag for $10, an antique pedestal gumball machine, tin lunchboxes and nice clothes to outfit her whole family.

But Sara’s kryptonite was worthless sentimental memorabilia. The other professional yard salers shook their heads as they saw her snatch up photo album after photo album. Why would anyone want another family’s snapshots from “Thanksgiving, 1974” when even the subjects of the photos didn’t want them? Sara’s husband, Mike, also thought it was bizarre, but thought it might stem from Sara having no family of her own to speak of. After pouring over each new treasure for a day or two, Sara put these items in her craft room, on a shelf, where they sat. Armed with her map in the passenger’s seat, Sara set off. She was on her way to her second sale of the day, the first being a total bust, when she spotted the Holy Grail: the unadvertised yard sale. She signaled, pulled over and parked. Sara took a minute to scope it out from the car. It looked promising. She vaguely knew the seller, Mrs. Graham, an active older woman with a beautifully kept yard.

Sara strolled over, waving to Mrs. Graham. She walked slowly by the sheets and card tables set out on the lawn, gazing over the items. Mostly junk. Bowling shoes, a set of snow tires, ancient Tupperware, out-of-date clothes, a rowing machine, quilting frames and batting, crystal candy dishes, cheap figurines, As-Seen-On-TV gadgets and a box of crime thrillers and Harliquin romance novels. Sara did pick up a pack of 10 embossed Thank You cards that were marked 25 cents. She moved towards the garage. Mrs. Graham sat behind another card table, set right inside the garage door. A few more tables and some built in counters in the garage were covered with items tagged for sale.

“Nice to see you. Please take a look,” invited the old woman.

“Thank you. Has business been good?”

“You’re my first customer of the day,” said Mrs. Graham.

Sara wandered into the garage. In her experience, sellers kept their most valuable items close by or tucked away, so chances were good there were some treasures here. Lots of tools. They looked to be good quality. If she ran into them later, Sara would tip off the McLarens. There was an ancient chest freezer, an army tent, some Christmas décor and a trove of old Avon perfume bottles.

Then Sara spotted an art deco style Lane cedar chest. It was grimy, but could look gorgeous cleaned up. “Do you have a key for the chest?” she asked Mrs. Graham, who was watching Sara idly.

“No, but I think if you just press the lock in and lift up, it will open. It was my cousin Rose’s. She left it to me when she passed away a few years ago, but I have one just like it. Our grandfather bought them for us before we got married.”

“Could I take a look inside?”

“Why sure, I suppose,” said Mrs. Graham. “I can’t remember what is in there.” The older woman turned her chair to better view the proceedings.

Sara pushed in the lock, which resisted at first, but then she felt it give way. Her heart was pounding as she pried the heavy lid up. The trunk had a green felt lined insert with some old letters. There were some brown dried roses that looked like they would turn to dust if touched. Below the insert was a quilt, handmade, but ordinary. Sara lifted the quilt up gingerly. From underneath, a doll winked up at her. “Lo-lo!” Sara breathed.

The doll was beautiful, about 18 inches, porcelain face, arms and feet in a cloth body. She had silky dark brown hair, sparkling brown eyes and dimples. She wore a beautiful pink dress, bloomers peaking out underneath, white stockings and soft kid-leather shoes.

The doll was remarkable, but the most remarkable part was that Sara knew her instantly. She looked back in the trunk, searching for the white and pink trimmed hat she knew she would find. And there it was. “Just an old quilt and the doll?” asked Mrs. Graham.

“Yes. Oh and some letters too,” Sara turned, holding the doll. “It’s funny, I remember playing with a doll just like this when I was younger. But I don’t think she was mine.”

Mrs. Graham smiled. “I remember when Rose got that doll. It was for her eighth birthday I think. I thought she was so spoiled. I suppose her daughter must have played with her; that is probably when she got damaged. Claire never was very careful.”

Chills ran up and down Sara’s spine. She looked down at the doll, knowing she would see the right thumb was missing. “Her daughter’s name was Claire you said? Do you have a picture of Claire or your cousin?” Sara asked.

“Why, I guess so. Can you hold down the fort for a minute?” Mrs. Graham asked.

“Yes,” said Sara, looking up to note that there was one other customer now. An older man, who was intently reading the back cover of one of the romance novels. Mrs. Graham returned shortly with a cream colored album. She sat back down and started flipping through the pages. “I think this is the right one. Hmm. Here is one with Rose, but it isn’t very good. Oh, here we are.”

Sara looked and there was a faded shot of a woman and a teenage girl. She thought the woman could be a slightly older or more care-worn version of herself. They had the same nose, the same eyes. The teenage girl was beautiful, with long, thick hair and high cheekbones, but she looked unhappy.

“Is that Claire?” asked Sara, pointing to the girl.

“Yes, she must have been about fifteen or sixteen then. Right before she ran away from home.”

“She ran away? Did she ever come back?” asked Sara.

“She would turn up every few years. I think she had a child, but I can’t remember if it was a girl or boy even. It broke Rose’s heart. She’d show up for a week, and then be gone for a few years. Then eventually she disappeared for good. Rose always hoped Claire would come back one last time but I don’t think she ever did.”

“I know this is going to sound crazy, but I think Claire might be my mother. I was left in a park when I was five years old, but I have memories of playing with a doll just like this. I called her Lo-lo. Same missing thumbs.”

Mrs. Graham turned pale. The album in her hands trembled slightly. “My cousin called her doll Lola.” She studied Sara. “You do look like her. Rose, not Claire.”

“Could it be possible?” asked Sara, cradling the doll. “Yes,” said Mrs. Graham. “It could be. Please, sit down and we’ll chat.”

In Second Place: Simi Kamboj

A Bohemian Tale

We are withholding Simi’s story as she is developing it further

In Third Place: Adnan Al-Baroudi

The Fate of Hikori

Middle aged, tall and stubble bearded Nathan traced the footpath along a set of detached houses. His forbearing eyes fell upon a small crowd mingling around plastic tables, shoddy stalls and strewn appliances; the garage sale his fellow anthropologists directed him to.

“Good morning.” Nathan softly spoke in a voice gruff and jittery. The stout, chubby cheeked old woman of East Asian descent in a flowery patterned white shirt and comfortable white knee-length shorts shifted her gaze up to the man towering over her. “I’m looking for any old valuable items you might have, family relics preferably.”

And then, it caught his eye. He knew he would have a very small window of time to go through all her packed boxes aligned in the back of the garage, but Nathan was a man accustomed to trusting his guts, and his guts told him there had to be some answers residing back there.

If Nathan ever had to make a career as a household thief, he wouldn’t get far as an organized one. The loud rips continued to echo inside the garage followed by violent clangs and noisy shuffles while he hastily sorted through regular household assortments. Eventually pupils widened excitedly. Rolled beneath old dusty blankets were a set of rugged scrolls.

Nathan, breathing heavily and wrestling with his nerves, kept the scrolls concealed as he crept into her traditionally decorated house. He found the small dimly lit toilet room and as slowly and gently as he could, he began to roll open the first scroll.

He nervously cleared his throat, stole a quick glance through the small crack in the door and proceeded to study the manuscript. The oil colors and dried ink was as fresh and preserved as though it was penned yesterday, drafted neatly with careful and affectionate attention. It was an outline of a middle aged Japanese man, bearing the confident eyes of a sophisticated gentleman in that period, with a solid brow and stern features. He bore a traditional Japanese goatee, greyed with age, as was his brushed back shoulder length hair. The portrait also contained a print on the corner that read: The ambassador of his lord, The Shogun, 1867.

Another scroll also penned by the same ink and familiar brush strokes contained a dazzlingly detailed portrait of a woman. Her young features wore a subtle smirk, and her brow was cynically uplifted accentuating the penetrating gaze of her eyes. She brushed her black hair back and tied it into a flowery bun, locked in place with a golden ornament of a bird of prey. The high collar of her garment was silk and colorful. The artist spent an obsessively long time on her character. This one had a rather significant print on it that read: The Queen, 1867.

He then unrolled the final and more ornate scroll and recognized the ink used that matched that of all the sketches he’d seen. The hand writing was cultured and stylish. It was undoubtedly that of a talented artist. Nathan began to read the words contained.

It is with a heavy heart my lord that I must convey to you this letter. I am afraid there is no soaring swallow that may sweeten this song. I will not be returning to Kyoto. The terrors I have witnessed bestowed upon the people of this land are beyond anything I have seen conceivable by a natural being of this world. The lush grass and hanging orchids here presents the onlooker with an evergreen spring, but behind the veil resides an outrageous demon. And I am now a prisoner of said demon.

My lord, I carried out my mission as instructed. The rumors were true. It is as we feared. The Hikori Clan has been wiped out. I took the opportunity upon my arrival to speak with the inn keepers and villagers, and although they indulged some of my questions I could not get all the answers. Harbored beneath their tired eyes and polite smiles I sensed a mystery untold. I also felt that I was being watched, assessed. My entire presence there felt rehearsed. I was directed to places subliminally from the moment I arrived. I cannot describe the feeling. It is as if I had walked on to a Nogaku stage and a spirit had been sitting over my shoulders manipulating the entire play.

I did however manage to piece together parts of this intricate puzzle surrounding this self-proclaimed queen and the disappearance of Hikori Nagatomo and his family. It began with an orphaned girl at an early age; adopted into the ruling clan. She was tended and loved by The Daemyo. The noble warlord ensured she got the best education, the most grueling of martial training and to witness firsthand his day to day handling of affairs. It is a curious thing. This ruler had already many a sons and daughters, and yet it was as though she had taken center stage in his life.

One morning many years later the people of this town woke up to discover that the ruling family had been murdered in their sleep, save one; the frail and sickly uncle of The Daemyo. Typically that would have meant he was the inherent ruler, however, that is not how it went. In a public statement only hours after the incident he transferred clan rule over to the adopted sixteen year old girl. She was to inherit the land, the palace and the loyalty of every Samurai in the land.

No one questioned the order; all quietly obeyed.

And so, as swift as a crisp cold wind beneath a shadow swept moon her reign of terror fell upon the people. She proclaimed herself queen and established a legion of Royal Guards, mighty masked warriors who adored her and have dedicated their lives to protect her until their very last breath. No one is allowed to see her except a select few women who form her personal aide and council, even the general of her army visits only on rare occasions.

The fate of the Daemyo’s uncle remains a mystery. Some say he too was murdered shortly after, others say he became her prisoner. Personally, I like to believe he was wise enough to leave.

I was finally granted an audience with her majesty and presented myself to her as an envoy along with Captain Pierre, a foreign veteran and part of the French Military Mission to Japan. However, I felt early on that she saw through our disguises. I have never met a more fascinating woman. The brief conversation we shared reflected a lot of intelligence. She wore a soft smile under a ridiculing gaze, and harbored an assertive voice behind a veil of politeness. And yet, beneath her calculating watch and beauty there was a brewing storm inside. In her eyes I could see the notions of madness. Their unmistakable attempt to tidy her appearance failed to conceal the loose locks of hair and the account of sleepless nights under her pupils. Despite all that however, I had no hold on the direction of our talks. I know my lord that I was sent to evaluate her… spy on her, but I couldn’t help but get the feeling that she was evaluating us. There was no deterring the notion that she is not a woman to be trifled with. She was quick to turn our ‘intelligent conversations’ into a terrible mind game. I began to discover that my thoughts were being manipulated. She was gradually transforming me into one of her subjects. My every attempt to get any information from her turned against me. A fish caught in a current my lord is doomed to embrace the waterfall. And hers is a mighty current indeed.

Heed this warning, my lord. Japan is facing a threat like none the world has ever seen. We should never cross the queen. If it is access through her territory we seek, we should pay any tributes she requires. If we can avoid it then we must do at all costs, lest we instill her wrath and lead to our ruin. This realm is lost. It is too late for me.

Two eyes in the long grass; the light buried in darkness; the fate of a land vanished.

“You’ve been hiding all this time.” Nathan confronted the stout old woman in her doorway. Her chubby wrinkled cheeks tilted timidly into a smile.

“Is’a long story, ye’a?” With her slanting eyes on him the smile gently faded, “Ve’y long ago, is’a bad hist’ery.”

“How much do you know?” Nathan persisted as she journeyed back into her tea room. “Where is she buried? Where is her palace?”

“Angry man take a tea.” She mumbled. “Still the mind, eas’a the soul.”

“Hikori.”

This time she paused, then slowly turned to face him.

“Your great ancestor was the uncle to The Daemyo, wasn’t he?”

“Hai.” She whispered with a solemn nod. Finally, he would get his answers.

November 2017
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