Retelling – Week 43 of the 52 week short story challenge

A retelling of the Latest Decalogue by Arthur Hugh Clough – http://www.bartleby.com/71/1423.html

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You should have one Leader, but if you have more

You’ll split the vote with three or four.

Keep no graven Edstone, there to be

Worshipped or paid for fraudulently.

Swear not at all, for each banned curse

Will only make the purging worse.

Beware the conference, if you attend

Your delegate may not be your friend.

Honour the Party, that is, all

From whom Compliance may befall.

You shall not kill, but use your knife

To stab in the front and take a life.

No other Party may ever compete

Your loyalty has to be complete.

Steal from the members, an easy feat

It takes such little skill to cheat.

Accuse who you will and let it lie

Festering in the media whilst Eagles fly.

Covet the prize that others achieve

But keep the best tricks up your sleeve.

Run up a spreadsheet to garner those who

Would ever dare to oppose you.

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Tragedy Ends in Romance – Week 42 of the 52 week short story challenge

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I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar…  Scrub that. I was actually working in a small bakery. The owner – Charles – liked to refer to it as an ‘artisan bakery’. I felt that profits would be up if we sold a few more sausage rolls and pies, instead of sourdough loaves and sweet potato pasties.

Most of our customers were pretty ‘right on’. Men with long revolutionary’s beards and tight red jeans. Women with layers of tie dyed clothes and multiple piercings. Charles had squeezed in a couple of bistro tables and spindly legged chairs in order to upgrade us to a cafe. Fairtrade products were stacked artistically on the counter tops and a shiny cappuccino machine was Charles’ latest toy.

We were rarely busy.

I started there as a Saturday girl while I was still at school. Saturdays were slightly busier because of the weekly market outside. When I started doing my ‘A’ levels I had Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons free so Charles offered me some extra work.

This was partly to give Charles and his partner Aimee some quality time together. Aimee did most of the baking, as well as serving in the shop while Charles indulged in intellectual conversation with one of his many mates who perched precariously on the chairs, bought one cup of soy milk pumpkin latte and stayed until closing time.

Quality time.

Aimee and I got on well. I’m sure that she would have liked to run up some sausage rolls but Charles was adamant that everything in the shop was vegetarian friendly.

We had our secrets, Aimee and I.

On market day we often had disappointed customers who pulled faces at the very thought of sprout and coriander quiche, or Savoy cabbage and marrow ciabatta, before rushing off to the chip shop or Maccy D’s.

Charles refused to admit that, however honourable his principles were, the general public did not agree with him. The cafe was losing what little money was being made on the bakery sales, and there were not that many takers for the hefty loaves that were more suited to being used in dry stone walls than gracing tea tables.

I could see the signs, and was casting around for alternative employment when fate changed the course of my life.

On an even more sluggish than usual Thursday afternoon, I had cleared all the tables bar one, washed up and was in the bakery at the back of the shop when I heard a huge crash.

Aimee was upstairs in the flat having a lie-down. Charles was sitting at one of the tables with his friend Ben.

Well, he had been sitting at the table with Ben.

When I looked through the door into the cafe all I could see was dust and the front of a large van poking through the place where the shop window used to be.

‘Charles? Ben?’

The van’s engine was still running and I could see a man slumped over the wheel. I couldn’t see Ben or Charles.

I couldn’t see any chairs or tables either.

I backed into the bakery and got out my phone.

‘Police, Fire or Ambulance?’ said the operator.

‘All three I think. A van has crashed into the shop front  where I work. There’s a man unconscious and I can’t find my boss – or his friend.’

The operator assured me that help was on the way and that I should stay in the bakery in case the shop front collapsed.

I did as I was told, listening out for any sound that Aimee might have woken up. I had a feeling that she was pregnant – but hadn’t told Charles – and once she went up for a nap it would take more than the shop being destroyed to wake her.

The fire brigade were first on the scene.

I showed them where the rear entrance to the bakery was, and two very large and rather handsome firemen joined me in order to carry out their assessment of the damage. One of them managed to get into the van and turn the engine off. I saw him look at his companion and shake his head.

The man in the van was dead.

There was no sign of Charles and Ben.

My fireman took me upstairs to check on Aimee. She was fast asleep still but we woke her up in case the crash had affected the structure of the flat as well.

We sat in the back of an ambulance; we were both shaking and neither of us was brave enough to ask the other about the whereabouts of Charles.

My fireman came back looking puzzled.

‘We’ve checked. There’s no one in the cafe. A lot of mangled metal and we’ve got the guy out of the van. Are you sure there were two people in there?’

I shrugged. They had certainly been sitting there when I’d cleared the tables and did the washing up  but I hadn’t left the bakery until I heard the crash.

Aimee began to relax a little.

‘Could they have gone somewhere else?’

I shook my head. Charles rarely left the cafe during opening hours unless he was shopping for supplies and he tended to do that on Sundays.

A policeman tapped the fireman on the shoulder.

‘We’ve found them.’

‘In the shop?’ Aimee was trembling again.

‘No. One of your neighbours spotted them. They were in Maccy D’s eating burgers.’

I’m not sure if Aimee would have preferred Charles and Ben to have been squashed under the van. She was so angry.

A shamefaced Charles and a grinning Ben appeared in the doorway of the ambulance.

I got up.

I had the distinct feeling that I wasn’t needed.

The fireman held out his hand to help me down the step.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

‘I think so. I’ve a feeling my job prospects just took a nose dive though. Even if Aimee forgives Charles for his lapse, the shop is pretty well wrecked. Do you know why the van crashed?’

‘Officially no but unofficially the paramedic thinks that the guy had a heart attack and was probably dead before he hit the window. I guess we should be grateful that the cafe was empty and you were safe.’

I could have been mistaken but I had a feeling that my fireman blushed when he said this.

He really was very handsome.

‘Do you actually like all this veggie stuff?’

‘Hate it. Aimee and I often have ham sandwiches when Charles has to nip out to the shops.’

‘Only,’ and he blushed even more, ‘I was wondering if you’d like to go out for a meal – when you feel better of course.’

‘I’m fine. Now I know that Charles and Ben are okay – and that Aimee will finally be able to own up to Charles that she doesn’t like veggie stuff either. It’s a shame about the poor man in the van but it could have been much worse – couldn’t it?’

He nodded and looked at his watch.

‘I finish at six. Are you free tonight?’

My turn to nod.

We didn’t go to Maccy D’s.

Our first date was at the little Italian restaurant far enough away from the cafe so that I didn’t have to look at the boards across the window and the yellow police tape flapping in the wind.

My fireman – now known as Tommy – has become a permanent fixture in my life and I had very little inclination to look for another job.

Aimee and Charles – and the new baby – gave up on the bakery business.

I lost contact with them but I heard that the insurance payout was very generous.

It was a shame about the man in the van though.

 

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Tragic Romance – Week 41 of the 52 week short story challenge

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The boy and the girl were eighteen years old when they met on social media in 2008.

As well as being American teenagers, they both suffered from cystic fibrosis (CF); a genetic disease which they were both born with.

A cruel disease that causes a build up of sticky mucus in the lungs, digestive system and other body organs.

People with CF often look ‘healthy’ but a large part of their lives is taken up with physiotherapy and having to use a nebuliser to disperse the mucus.

The mucus can lead to chronic infections and the need to be given in-patient treatment in hospital.

Many people with CF have to take a cocktail of medication to keep their symptoms under control – and often that isn’t enough.

So these two young people had already been battling against diseases when they met online.

He was in hospital at the time and she was at home but having a difficult time with her breathing.

Whilst social media often gets the blame for stalking, harassment and sending out the wrong messages, for these two young people, it gave them the opportunity to share experiences, to understand feelings that those around them could not comprehend because they weren’t teenagers with CF.

Not surprisingly, they grew closer despite the physical distance between them.

In time that closeness developed into love.

Another cruel aspect of CF is that the risk of infection is even higher between CF sufferers.

The girl knew about this. Her consultant had emphasised this risk to her throughout her young life.

The boy she fell in love with on social media had an added disadvantage; he had a particularly dangerous infection that could pose a risk to the girl’s life.

The people around them knew about their love but also knew that meeting in person could threaten both their lives.

The girl took a decision; she wanted to meet the boy in person – whatever the risk.

He drove for six hours to meet her.

The magic became a reality and they married in 2009.

Their health deteriorated.

They both had to give up work and by 2014 lung transplants were necessary to prolong their lives.

The boy had his first, and despite the chronic infection that complicated his CF, it was a success.

The girl had to wait and then cope with the devastating news that her Medicare insurance had run out and that she would have to leave hospital for sixty days in order to qualify for more treatment.

But she was too ill to stay out of hospital and had to rely on public medical insurance back in her home town.

Away from her husband and away from the large hospital that was experienced in treating her condition and doing lung transplants

Red tape prevented them from being together.

Red tape prevented the girl from getting the medical support she badly needed.

They drew up a bucket list of things they wanted to do:

  • to drive through every state
  • to learn another language and visit the country where it was spoken
  • to write a book together about their young lives
  • going shopping together
  • watching TV side by side on the sofa

Friends set up a crowdfunding page to pay for the girl’s transplant.

She is still waiting.

Her husband was admitted to hospital and died in September 2016.

Red tape ruined two young lives and cut short their happiness.

In England in the 1940s, the National Health Service was created to provide a free medical system for all ‘from the cradle to the grave’.

The Conservative government are trying to sell the NHS to private providers; hell-bent on destroying a service that has saved so many lives, in order to line their own pockets.

Save our NHS so that this kind of cruelty won’t happen in our country.

Cut the red tape.

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A Secret – Week 40 of the 52 week short story challenge

‘Whose turn is it now?’

Suzie looked round the table and pointed at her aunt.

‘Auntie Carole! Come on Auntie Carole. You must have a secret tucked away?’

Carole felt a cold shiver down her spine and did her best to avoid looking at her mother who was sitting next to Suzie.

‘I might have to think about that Suzie. Move on to someone else while I do?’

Suzie looked disappointed but turned instead to her Uncle Paul.

‘How about you Paul?’

Squeezing his wife’s hand, Paul looked as if he were dredging up a past memory.

‘I know,’ he said. ‘Before I was courting your Auntie Marie, I actually fancied her friend Deborah. In fact I thought I was going to the pictures with her but she never turned up. Luckily I bumped into Marie, invited her to the pictures instead and the rest is history.’

Marie punched him in the arm.

‘You never told me that! You told me that you were going to meet up with some mates who let you down! I didn’t even know that you fancied Deborah!’

He squeezed her hand again and smiled.

‘I did say it was a secret. I didn’t tell you because once I’d spent the evening with you I didn’t fancy her anymore.’

‘Did Deborah ever tell you why she didn’t turn up?’ Suzie asked.

‘She went out with a guy called Tommy instead. You knew Tommy didn’t you Carole? He was in the same gang as you and your friends for a while.’

Another chill went down Carole’s spine and she began to get a sickening feeling in her stomach. It was the mere mention of his name that caused it. That sparked a far too vivid memory of his dark curly hair and his dark brown eyes. She glanced over at her mother and saw the barely perceptible shake of the head.

They were conspirators.

Carole and her mother.

Keepers of a secret that no one else knew about.

‘Whatever happened to Tommy?’ said Paul. ‘He was always hanging around and then, when I came back from America there was no sign of him. I suppose he gave up on Carole when she went off to stay with your Great Auntie Meg in Wales. It would have been a bit of a trek for him – even on that old motorbike he had – but I thought he was really smitten with you Carole.’

‘Ancient history darling,’ said his mother. ‘Come on birthday girl, choose another person with a dark and desperate secret.’

Suzie grinned, loving the attention, loving the fact that she had her family around her on this special day. She looked round the table again.

‘Daddy? Have you got a terrible secret?’

Her father took in a deep breath which made his wife hold hers in fear of what would come next.

‘Okay. I have never told anyone this but when I was a bit younger than you Suzie, I pinched some eggs from the farm next door. There was a stack of boxes outside on a table and a honesty box. Your Grandma had sent me out to buy eggs but I spent the money on tobacco so I had to pinch the eggs instead.’

‘I’m shocked Dad!’ said Paul, trying to keep a straight face. ‘Did you get caught?’

‘No. I had a birthday the following week and I used some of my birthday money from my sister Meg to put in the box. That’s the only thing I ever pinched and I spent the whole week feeling dreadful.’

‘Your turn Suzie? What secrets have you got hidden away?’

Trying not to blush now that the wrong kind of attention was turned on her, Suzie gulped and turned to her Auntie Carole.

‘I went into your room to try on one of your dresses once. I saw a box of letters in your wardrobe and I was going to look at them but I heard Mummy calling me so I sneaked out again. Who were the letters from Auntie Carole?’

Her mother interrupted before Carole could speak.

‘I expect she means the letters that you and I sent each other when you were in Wales Carole. We used to write to each other every week without fail. I got rather lonely without either of my children at home. I didn’t know that you’d kept all those letters Carole. How sweet of you.’

The expression Carole saw on her mother’s face was anything but sweet and she knew that she would have to find a new hiding place for the letters that held her secrets.

‘But then I came along,’ said Suzie ‘And you weren’t lonely anymore.’

‘You were a bit of a surprise but you were also a blessing my darling. Daddy and I had you all to ourselves when you were a baby.’

‘Life in the old dog yet, eh Dad?’ said Paul winking and leering. His wife punched his arm again, a little harder this time and pulled a face at him. He shook his head in bewilderment, but made no more comments.

‘Have you thought of anything yet Auntie Carole?’

Carole took in a deep breath, far deeper than her father’s and squared her shoulders.

‘I do have a secret. There’s only one person in this room that knows my secret apart from me and it’s one that I’ve kept for years.’

‘Tell me?’ Suzie jumped up and down in her seat. Her mother got up from the table.

‘That’s enough now. I need to clear the tea things away, and didn’t you say that you and Marie were going on to friends this evening Paul?’

This time Marie kicked him under the table, and Paul, knowing his wife’s methods of non-verbal communication, nodded.

‘Come and help me wash up Carole dear.’

Now silent, Carole followed her mother from the room. Her father fetched Paul and Marie’s coats, then with Suzie holding possessively onto his arm, walked them out to the car and waved them goodbye.

Paul was quiet at first but once they were clear of the house, he stopped the car and turned to Marie in puzzlement.

‘What was all that about? All the punchings and kickings?’

Marie shook her head.

‘For an intelligent man you are incredibly dim at times.’

‘What? What?’

‘How old is Suzie?’

‘Fifteen. You know she is. It’s her birthday today.’

‘And where were you when she was born?’

‘In America?’

Correct. And where was Carole?’

‘In Wales with  Auntie Meg? She went there to recover from glandular fever.’

‘Glandular fever was it?’

‘I don’t know. I wasn’t here. She seemed fine when I went off to do my gap year in America and then I come back to find that she is in Wales herding sheep and my mother has had a baby. At her age!’

Marie looked pityingly at her husband.

‘Have you never wondered why it is that your parents, you and your sister are all fair with blue eyes, and Suzie has curly black hair and brown eyes?’

‘My God! Are you saying that my mother had an affair?’

Marie raised her eyes heavenwards.

‘You really are slow on the uptake sometimes Paul. Not your mother. Your sister. Carole.’

‘No! Who with? Some Welsh bloke? That would explain the colouring.’

‘Tommy. I saw the expression on Carole’s face when you mentioned his name so I didn’t say anything about what happened to him.’

‘What did happen to him?’

‘Motorbike accident. Well some say it was an accident, others say it was deliberate because Carole had had been sent away. Your parents wouldn’t tell him where she had gone and I don’t suppose he knew about your Auntie Meg living in Wales.’

‘But – but – if the baby was Carole’s how did Mum get away with pretending it was hers?’

‘Cushions, I suppose. People were a little surprised but a late life baby isn’t unusual. Your Mum and Dad went to Wales to see Carole for a fortnight and miraculously came back with Suzie. No one questioned it.’

‘So Suzie is my niece, not my sister?’

Marie nodded and put her hand on his knee.

‘What do I do Marie? What can I say?’

‘Say nothing. It isn’t your secret after all. I think that Carole came close to telling me once but your Mum came in and interrupted us. You love Carole and Suzie don’t you?’

‘Of course.’

‘I expect that they will tell Suzie one day – but it’s up to them. Apart from which I have a secret that I’ve been aching to tell you all afternoon.’

‘Oh no. Not more revelations!’

She took his free hand and placed it on her stomach.

‘This is the best kind of secret. I did a test this morning. I’d like to keep it a secret for another couple of weeks though?’

 

 

 

One Character – Week 39 of the 52 week short story challenge

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There was a girl I knew at school.

Her name was Karen.

I didn’t know her well – we were in different classes and in different streams.

In an effort to be non-judgemental the streams were named after colours, but everyone knew that Red was the top stream, Blue was the middle stream and Green was the bottom stream.

I was in Red class, Red stream – eventually. During the first few days of my attending secondary school they managed to lose my records and so I was put in Emerald class, Green stream.

Not only that but they put me in the remedial class.

It was quite nice at first. We had our own little room in the old part of the school. We had a lounge area, some tables and a small kitchen area where our teacher – Mrs W – made us warm (but not hot) drinks.

We also had biscuits.

My friends were  a bit jealous.

I spent the first day colouring in.

I spent the second day colouring in.

I spent the third day colouring in.

Mrs W could see that I was getting a little bored and allowed me to cut out pictures for the others to colour in. The scissors were blunt ended.

This was when I met Karen.

She had a mop of mousey curls, a squint and her school uniform looked as if it had been made for someone much smaller and older. She was a quiet girl; most of my companions were quiet apart from one girl who rocked in a chair and occasionally screeched.

Mrs W and I learned how to calm the girl down after a few days.

My Mother did not think that I should be spending my formative years colouring in so she went into school with me after my first week.

The headmistress; a large, round woman who wore a lot of pale pink Crimplene, listened to my Mother with a patronising look on her face.

‘I’m afraid all mummies think that their girls should be in a higher set.’

My Mother, red hair sparking, said that she wasn’t moving until the demon headmistress had phoned my primary school and asked for my records to be sent over.

The headmistress phoned and was put through to my old headmaster; a lovely man who was so respected that he had a street named after him many years later. I liked him and he liked me. He told the headmistress about my academic achievements and even said he would drop my records over on his way home.

I was promoted the next day.

Being in the top class of the top stream was hard work and there was very little colouring in.

The scissors had points though.

One of my new classmates knew Karen. She wasn’t very nice to her; sneering at her old clothes, and on one occasion when Karen failed to respond to her teasing, this girl even pulled Karen’s curly hair.

My new best friend Georgina, and I pulled the nasty girl off and I took Karen back upstairs to Mrs W, who was quite pleased to see me.

She even let me make Karen a warm drink.

I wanted to know why the nasty girl had picked on Karen, and I got the answer from another girl who had been to the same primary school.

Karen lived in a children’s home.

That was why her clothes were old and didn’t fit.

That was why no one had sorted out her squint.

That was why she was so quiet.

I am ashamed to say that apart from saying ‘Hi’ in the playground or in the school dinner hall, I didn’t see much of Karen after that.

I was too busy being the school rebel and avoiding the headmistress.

Every morning at assembly (I went through an atheist stage where I pointedly refused to sing hymns and kept my eyes open during prayers), I fantasised about running up the steps to the stage and pushing the headmistress off.

In my fantasy she bounced like a giant rubber ball.

She bounced down the school hall and out of the double doors, finally fetching up against her office door.

It was just a fantasy.

Luckily the deputy headmistress took me for English and had my back when things became awkward – usually about my interpretation of school uniform.

Time passed.

I took my ‘O’ levels and I passed.

I went on to the local Tech to do my ‘A’ levels and I passed again.

After a brief flirtation with drama school, and working in bars, I ended up volunteering in a children’s home.

I began to understand what life must have been like for Karen.

The home was run by an older couple who treated the children fairly well but it was always an institution – never a home.

After three months of volunteering, I got a permanent job as a houseparent at another establishment. The staff team was younger; less rigid and I began to understand how we could change things to make life better for the children and young people we were caring for – and we really did care.

I spent ten years working in children’s homes.

I never forgot Karen and I did my best to make sure that those in my care had clothes that they liked – and that fitted.

I took them to medical appointments and I did my best to sort out issues at school.

Most of the staff I worked with tried to make the children’s lives as close to a home life as possible.

Sometimes we succeeded.

I qualified as a social worker and I watched as the homes were closed down because the current thinking was being ‘in care’ was unacceptable. Children were sent home to parents who didn’t know how to care for them and didn’t really want them anyway.

Some children were fostered and life improved for them. There were others who no amount of good fostering could help.

In those cases the children drifted into disaster and the foster parents became disillusioned.

It was while I was taking time out to raise my own family that the scandal broke in my home town.

The officer in charge of a children’s home was arrested for child abuse.

Physical, sexual, financial, psychological – you name it. He did the whole lot.

He was the officer in charge of the home where Karen was placed.

It wasn’t a life for her and the other children she lived with.

The abuse went on for years until someone had the courage to stand up and shout.

It wasn’t Karen.

The officer in charge was found guilty and sent to jail.

So was his wife and two other members of staff.

I’m sorry Karen.

Sorry that I wasn’t more of a friend to you.

Sorry that I didn’t understand what you were going through.

I never forgot you though, and now I understand.

That was why your clothes were old and didn’t fit.

That was why no one had sorted out your squint.

That was why you were so quiet.

 

 

 

Another Place – Week 38 of the 52 week short story challenge

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We are the Iron Men.

Cast in the image of our creator and set in the sand to watch the sea as the tide comes in and out without fail.

My ninety-nine brothers and I see a world passing us by every day.

We do not stand in a line; we are scattered along the beach and some of us spend much of our time under the sea, others are half-buried in the drift of the sand.

Dog visit us and their walkers watch as we are sniffed and anointed; it doesn’t matter because the salt sea water washes everything away. Dogs on leads and dogs running free; large dogs that bark and gambol, small dogs that yap and chase their own tails, dogs in collars and harnesses, dogs wearing pink tutus and sparkling jackets. We do not think that they choose their own outfits.

People come and go; old people arm in arm, or holding hands and walking sticks, families building sandcastles and collecting shells, fishermen in green waterproofs, young lovers, joggers and cyclists, photographers capturing us from every conceivable angle and those who are alone and choose to immerse themselves in the spirit of this place.

We see the changes; wind farms rise out of the sea, ferries and container ships pass us by, irritated young men on jet skis learn to avoid us, the coastguard makes regular passes on a quad bike to ensure that all is well.

We weren’t supposed to stay here.

There were who people wanted us to be taken away; they said that we were a hazard to small craft and to tourists who got stuck in the soft sand at our feet. Some conservationists were concerned about the bird population being affected by our presence but other conservationists were fascinated by the barnacles and other forms of life that grew on our bodies.

They moved some of  my brothers in order to satisfy the critics; away from the bird breeding area and the small boats.

The people wanted us to stay – and the people won.

We stayed.

Because the people wanted us to become a permanent part of their landscape and their lives.

Students dressed us in outrageous garb, rescuing their adornments before the tide came in. Some of my brothers have been given sunglasses, another has had a bikini painted on him.

We stand and we watch.

The seasons pass over us and we are sentinels in the rain, the sun and as the wind whips the sand up into hillocks by our feet or causes the sea to lash against us and bury us under the waves.

This is Another Place.

We are the music-makers,

  And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
  And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
  On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
  Of the world for ever, it seems.

Ode – Arthur O’Shaughnessy – 1844–1881

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Scientific Discovery – Week 37 of the 52 week short story challenge

‘Erwin! Erwin! Where are you?’

He could hear his mother stumbling up the stairs, so he pushed the box under his bed and went out to meet her.

‘What is it Mother?’

She looked at him, knowing that the innocent expression on his face was usually a sign that he had been up to something.

‘Have you been in your grandfather’s study?’

Erwin opened his eyes widely, knowing that it made him look even more innocent. He shook his head.

‘Are you sure?  He says that some of his bottles have been moved around. Have you touched them Erwin?’

‘No Mother.’ Erwin looked down at his feet, unsure if he could keep up the pretence for much longer.

‘Hmmm. I must insist that you do not go into that room. Your grandfather keeps some very dangerous chemicals in there. Promise me Erwin.’

‘I promise Mother.’

‘Get ready for church now. Don’t pull that face at me. We are going to church whether you like it or not.’

Erwin followed her sullenly down the stairs. He hated going to church; hated his mother’s devotion to her religion almost as much as his father did. His father opted to stay home on the grounds that his own religion did not agree with that of his wife’s, but Erwin was still considered a child and had to do as his mother told him.

As if having to go to church wasn’t enough, Erwin had to wear his best  – and extremely uncomfortable clothes. His collar was starched and stiff; the bow tie pulled it even closer to his neck. The suit was made of wool and it itched wherever it touched. His shoes; new and shiny black leather, were rigid on his feet and his toes felt cramped and uncomfortable. Having to sit in this discomfort was torture enough but for two and a half hours the preacher droned endlessly about original sin and retribution.

Erwin made a promise to himself that if he ever had children they would not have to go to church. He also decided that if he was going to be accused of being steeped in sin, he would do what he could to deserve it.

The moving of the bottles in his grandfather’s study had been done with a purpose. Erwin had only removed an old empty bottle but he had identified exactly what he needed.  Row on row of glass bottles contained liquids with exciting names and he had moved the bottle that he required so that it was hidden at the back where it wouldn’t be missed. He just needed an opportunity.

The opportunity came that afternoon. His mother was having a rest in her room, and his grandmother had gone to hers. His father had retreated to his workshop and Grandfather had fallen asleep in the sitting room, full of food and with the cat asleep on his lap.

The cat and Erwin hated each other. It loved his grandfather, tolerated his mother and anyone that fed it, but anyone else who approached it, or tried to move it from the furniture, would be greeted with a hiss and a slash of claws. It saved its worse savagery for Erwin however, who bore the scars of those razor sharp weapons.

It was the work of a moment when everyone was out of his sight, for Erwin to slip into the study, pour half the contents of the bottle into a spare and replace the original. He closed the door, breathed a deep sigh of relief and crept quietly upstairs to his room.

He pulled the box out from under his bed and after wrapping the bottle in an old blanket, he pushed the box back out of sight and lay on his bed with one of his many books on the chemistry and physics beside him. The first part of his experiment was complete.

Erwin decided it would be better to wait for another couple of days, although he moved the box into his wardrobe in case one of the maids was feeling particularly house proud and chose to sweep under his bed.

His grandmother spent the morning teaching him English; Father was at work, Grandfather was at the university and his mother was out visiting one of the ladies from the church. Erwin waited until his grandmother had gone for another lie down, before grabbing the box from his wardrobe and putting it into the middle of the room with the lid open and the bottle uncorked. He used the blanket to wrap round his hands before going in search of the cat.

It was fast asleep in a pool of sunshine on the sitting room carpet. Erwin threw the blanket over it and gathered it up before it had realised what was happening.

He ran upstairs, put the wriggling, spitting cat into the box and shut the lid quickly putting his heaviest atlas on the top to keep it shut.

Erwin knew what would happen. Putting a cat in a box with an open bottle of poison could only have one outcome. If only he could think of a way of using a separate force to shatter the bottle – a separate force that could detect life – or death.

The box stopped shaking and Erwin felt sure that he knew exactly what the cat’s status was.

He still had time to smuggle the box downstairs and out into the woods at the end of the garden.

He opened the box and took out the bottle, thrusting it deep into the pile of rubbish that the gardener had amassed for a bonfire.

The cat’s motionless body was thrust deep under the rhododendron bushes, and Erwin finished his tasks by breaking the box up and putting it amongst the other pieces of wood on the bonfire.

When his mother returned, she found an innocent Erwin studying the books his grandmother had given him to read.

She looked around the house suspiciously but nothing seemed out of place, so she took off her hat and coat. It was later in the day after she had wandered round the garden that she realised that something was missing.

‘Erwin Schrodinger! What have you done with your grandfather’s cat?’

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Animal Perspective – Week 36 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

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Hola!

Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Scooby, I am eight years old and I was born in Valencia, Spain.  I am what is called a ‘random’ dog; you can also use the phrases ‘crossbreed’ or ‘mongrel’ but I prefer random because it suits my personality.  With regard to my parentage, rumour has it that a flat-coated retriever and a German shepherd dog may have been involved but hey – who really knows? Let’s face it – I am one handsome dog.

For the first three years of my life I was a Spanish dog; I poohed over low white walls, had no need of stairs and chased feral cats to my heart’s content.  That’s how we did things over there. My Spanish Mum taught me how to sit, stay, fetch, lie down and use my paw to make requests.  She also made sure that I had a pet passport and all my jabs were up to date.  I believe that she loved me very much.

In 2011 I came to England.  I don’t remember why.  It was cold though and I got into trouble over a neighbour’s cat.  You have to bear in mind that I was used to cats being vermin – like rats and pigeons and squirrels – there are kind people in Spain who try to look after the feral cats but there are so many that most people see them as a nuisance and don’t make a fuss if you remove one or two.

There was most certainly a fuss once I got to England.  I was no longer a bueno perro for doing what came naturally to me. I was the terminator dog. I was in deep trouble. Then I got out again.  Another cat bit the dust. My Spanish Mum could no longer cope with my Spanish ways and she signed me over to the RSPCA.

I was locked up for eighteen months.

My picture was on the website; a nice man did a video of me running around and playing with a ball, and I became very popular with the RSPCA staff and volunteers.  People came to see me and said how handsome I was – especially when I grinned or cocked my head to one side.  But other dogs came and other dogs went; as soon as people knew about my little problem with cats they turned away.  Many of them had cats of their own, or other pets that they thought I might take a fancy to.  I was an unknown quantity and people – quite understandably – were not prepared to take the risk.

There was a boy – well almost a man – who wanted a dog.  He loved animals and grew up in a house full of cats. His Mum promised him that when all the cats had finally made their way to moggy heaven, they would look into having a dog.  She told him to check the RSPCA web pages but not to fall in love too soon because they had to go on holiday first.  She also told him to put his laptop to some good use and do some research on what it meant to be a responsible dog owner instead of playing games where humans killed other humans.

His Mum spotted me on the web pages and pointed me out to the Boy and to his Dad.  His Mum liked my big brown eyes and the way my ears flopped over.  She could see that I had been at the kennels a long time and that I desperately needed a home of my own.  She told the Boy that if I was still there when they came back from holiday, they would come and visit me.

Right from the start the staff were very honest about my cat issues; from the very first phone call the Mum made, she knew what they were taking on but she and the Boy had fallen for my charms already (they had to work on the Dad a bit because he had never owned a dog before).

They came to visit me on the Mum’s birthday and took me for a walk in the wood outside the kennels.  I pulled a bit.  Well quite a lot actually but they persevered and by the time they brought me back to the kennels it was a done deal.  A deposit was paid and before they had even left a yellow sign with ‘Home check’ was put up outside my kennel. Somebody wanted me at last.

They came again the next day; the Boy was in charge because he was to be my new master – aided and abetted by his Mum and Dad.  I recognised them, and as a consequence began to show off my talents a little. I still pulled but they were impressed by the way I responded to basic commands (and the dog treats they bought me).

Each time they visited we got to know each other better and I began to love the Boy.  He hugged me and praised me – well all three of them did – but his actions were the most important.  I stopped barking when I saw them enter the car park and wagged my tail in ecstasy instead. Kind people cared for me and hoped that one day I would find the right family, and they had their fingers crossed.

One of the visits included a walk to a car; the Mum was worried about whether I would be nervous about cars as I’d been in kennels for so long.  Ha!  I jumped up onto the tailgate, sat down on the blanket and gave my famous grin.

‘Take me home now please?’

Unknown to me, the Mum and the Dad were doing things to make their house a safe haven where I couldn’t get out and chase the local cats.  They put trellis on top of the fence panels so I wouldn’t be able to climb over.  They found a dog-owning fence and gate maker who mended their old gate and made a special new one so that I wouldn’t get out of the back garden. They had loved their own cats and didn’t want to put temptation in my way.

They passed the home check and once the gates and trellis had been put up it was agreed that I could come home.

By this time I had my own lead, half-check collar and a harness which the Boy bought with him whenever they came to take me out.  He always had his Mum or his Dad with him when we walked but on this day he took me out alone.

When we got back to the kennels he didn’t hand me back the way he used to.  His Mum and Dad appeared from the office and they were both smiling.  The Boy was smiling.  They lifted up the tailgate and as the Boy strapped my harness to the safety belt, I smiled too.

We went home.  Mi casa.

Adios.

 

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Recent News – Purged – Week 35 of the 52 week short story challenge.

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‘So what are you going to wear?’

‘When?’

‘To go to your party?’

‘What party?’

‘Doh! You’ve been going on about this party for aaaages! You don’t seem to be looking forward to it much?’

‘Party? Oh. That party.’

‘YES!!! What are you wearing? Have you bought anything new?’

‘Should be red really but at the rate things are going it might be black.’

‘Boring. What kind of food will there be at this party?’

‘Hmmm. Plenty of sour grapes. Maybe a bit of humble pie. No jelly and ice cream I’m afraid’

‘Yuk. Will there be drink?’

‘Well, the main person in the party doesn’t drink – and he’s a vegetarian too.’

‘Fruit juice and dips then?’

‘Probably.’

‘You don’t sound very excited about going any more. Will there be lots of people going that you know?’

‘Yes, but not necessarily people that I want to spend time with.’

‘Why are you going then?’

‘I suppose you were going to find out eventually anyway. I’m not allowed to go to the party now.’

‘What!’

‘Not just me. Lots of people have been told that they can’t go.’

‘But you told me that you paid money to be in this party. Are they going to give you your money back?’

‘Doesn’t look like it. They’ve made a lot of money out of people like me and none of us can get our money back.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because the people in charge of the party have decided that we aren’t welcome, and that we’ve done something wrong.’

‘What did you do? Was it really bad?’

‘Not really. I shared someone else’s ideas on Twitter and unfortunately there were some words in the ideas that the people didn’t like.’

‘You shouldn’t have shared them then – not if they were bad words.’

‘Ah, but they only became bad words a couple of weeks after I had shared them. I’m not psychic – as you know. Some of the other people in the party have used much worse words than me and they are still allowed to go.’

‘That’s SO unfair!’

‘I know. At least I know why I’m not allowed to go. There are many who haven’t been given a reason.’

‘That’s even more unfair. I bet they are upset.’

‘Some of them are angry, but some, especially the older people; they are very upset, especially as they have been told that they won’t be informed of the reasons why they can’t go until the party is over.’

‘Can’t you stop them?’

‘Oh, we are trying but every time we try they make up a new rule to stop us.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Ermmm. I know. You know in football – you have to score goals to win.’

‘Everyone knows that. What’s it got to do with your boring old party?’

‘Suppose every time you went to score a goal you found that someone had moved the goal posts closer together so that it was harder to get the ball between the posts?’

‘That’s cheating!’

‘Yes.’

‘You’re always telling me that cheating is wrong.’

‘Yes.’

‘What about the man? You know, the vegetarian man who doesn’t drink booze?’

‘Oh, he hates cheating too. He really wants us to be there. He’s very cross that we are being stopped from being a part of it all.’

‘Why doesn’t he tell the nasty people off then?’

‘He doesn’t like being nasty to others. He is a very kind and honourable man.’

‘I don’t like the sound of the other people though. They are bullies. You always told me to stand up to bullies.’

‘Yes, and I have been standing up to them. There are more of us standing up to them than they realise.’

‘I don’t think I would want to go to a party with them. Can’t you start up a new party and not invite them?’

‘We could  – but the party belongs to the party members – not to the bullies who keep changing the rules to keep us out.’

‘What happens next?’

‘I’m not really sure – none of us are that sure. We have to keep trusting that good will win over evil.’

‘Like in fairy stories?’

‘Yes – but this is real.’

‘Does that mean you can’t have a happy ending?’

‘Not necessarily. We can’t give up though.’

‘I’ve got an idea.’

‘I love your ideas.’

‘Let’s have our own party. With jelly and ice cream. To cheer you up.’

‘Okay. What shall we call our party?’

‘You choose.’

‘I name this party – the Purged Party.’

‘That isn’t a very nice name.’

‘It isn’t very nice being purged.’

 

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Loneliness – Week 34 of the 52 week short story challenge

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Dear Diary

I am writing this because my new counsellor has suggested that putting my thoughts on paper would help me with my anger issues.

Anger issues.

That’s what the judge called them anyway. My counsellor says that I got off quite lightly as most people who cause that level of criminal damage will get a prison sentence – even if it is only suspended – and some kind of community service.

My counsellor wants me to start from the point where my issues first emerged. So here goes.

I wasn’t very happy at school. Things weren’t too bad when we all wore uniform and were supposed to look the same.

Except I never did.

Being ginger was bad enough, being overweight and ginger was worse but being unfashionable, overweight and ginger meant that I was the butt of jokes from my fellow pupils and even some of the teachers.

Sixth form was a nightmare. Having always felt comfortable in my uniform, I turned up every day in a suit, smart shirt and tie. I stood out from the Goths. the Emos, the lumberjack shirts and skinny jeans. I was the best-dressed pupil in the school and put most of the scruffy teachers to shame.

My counsellor says that I might have felt less awkward if I’d had siblings to talk to – or even a father – but there has always only been me, my mum and my grandma. They like the way I dress.

I wanted to go onto university – Cambridge or Oxford – and to study politics, philosophy and economics like so many of my  political heroes did. I didn’t do well in my ‘A’ levels though; I was thrown out of the debating club for losing my temper with someone who just would NOT accept my opinions.

Things went downhill steadily after that and the principal told me that I would have to leave the course because of my anger issues.

The situation made me feel low and alone. Why couldn’t people ever see things from my point of view? Even when I shouted at them to get their attention?

My GP signed me off with social anxiety and suggested that I take up some hobbies to try and help me relate to other people. She gave me a list of local groups – one of which was a political group that I liked the look of.

It took a great deal of courage to attend that meeting but the people were very welcoming. Most of them were older than me – middle-aged and pinning their hopes on a party leader who was also middle-aged.

I threw myself into the group. I walked the streets putting leaflets through door; after the first couple of occasions I got into arguments with passersby who wouldn’t agree with my opinions.  I was encouraged to stay behind at headquarters and put leaflets into envelopes after that so that other people could deliver them safely.

A red-letter day approached. Our leader was visiting the branch and I would get the opportunity to meet him – perhaps even get my photograph taken with him. I was so excited and my mum and grandma clubbed together to buy me a new suit, a crisp white shirt and red tie. They said I looked the business and the leader couldn’t fail to be impressed with me.

I met the leader. I had my photograph taken with him. I tried to tell him my ideas on policy and how he should take me on as a member of his campaign team so that I could advise him. He wasn’t mean to me but he didn’t really treat me with the respect I know I deserve. He shook my hand, wished me luck and then moved on to the next group of people who were waiting to meet him.

I felt gutted. This man was my hero and he completely failed to see my potential.

The only bright spot in that day was the commiseration I received from a couple of other people who also felt they had been slighted by the leader. They were closer to my age, they took me out for a drink after the meeting and told me that there was a splinter group forming that would be supporting a different candidate for the leadership.

They made their candidate sound like the only person who could save the party. He was young; a family man who had policies that I liked the look of. My new friends told me that I would be a valued member of the new group and that this was the way of the future.

They collected me for the next meeting. No one had ever done that before. I’d always  had to make my own way to the meetings and back. My new friends introduced me to other new and important friends who let me have my picture taken with them. I already had a Facebook page and had even ventured onto Twitter but now I was being shown how to use social media to support and promote our rightful leader during the election process.

I put the pictures on my Facebook page. Now other people could see how important I was and what a valued member of the party I had become. My mum and grandma were very impressed and told all their friends and our family about it.

With other members of my new team, I attended political rallies. I met our prospective leader, and he made me feel very special. He gave me an important role. I was to get myself a seat near the front of the room at each rally and cheer my head off whenever he spoke. I took it upon myself to boo and jeer when the man I used to respect was speaking. I glared at his supporters and if I was challenged I told them that they didn’t know what they were talking about.

The opportunity of a lifetime arose when I was asked to be part of an interview for a news special on TV. They said that there would be three young people – one for the old leader and two of us for the new leader (to be). We would be asked to give our opinions about why we thought our candidate would make the best leader.

This was my glittering prize.

The day came and I my friends took me to the studiom. I sat around a small table with another lad and a girl while the cameras rolled. The girl spoke first – she didn’t say a lot but I agreed with what she said. The other lad was to speak next and then me.

I felt like I was going to burst. I knew that my mum, my grandma and all their friends would be watching. This was my moment.

The other lad spoke. He was calm and relaxed. He smiled. His words were reasonable.

They made my blood boil.

My turn.

‘You’re talking rubbish!’ I said. ‘Everyone hates your candidate so he’s going to lose.’

There was silence.

My carefully composed statement had vanished. My face was red with embarrassment and anger.

I looked over to my friends. They had vanished.

The girl who had been in the interview with me gave me a dirty look and walked off. The other lad laughed and said ‘Is that the best argument you can come up with? Pathetic. Just like the bloke you are supporting.’

It’s a good job he moved fast because I wanted to hit him so much.

There was no sign of my friends when I came out of the studio. I had to go and draw the last of my benefits money out of the bank in order to get a train home.

Mum and grandma were very kind. They said my new suit looked very smart and that the other two young people looked very scruffy by comparison.

I tried to get in touch with my new friends but there was no response to my calls or texts.

Then I got the letter. It was delivered by hand but I wasn’t quick enough to see who put it through my letterbox.

I was told that the interview had been embarrassing for the party and that I had let them all down by my stupid and aggressive response. They asked me not to come to any more meetings and that my membership would be suspended because I had brought the party into disrepute by my actions.

I went to my room to calm down. I looked on Facebook and Twitter but all I could see were people laughing at me. I was alone.

A plan hatched in my head. I had some money tucked away in my sock drawer. The money was spent on spray paint. Blue spray paint.

I went down to the party headquarters. It was Saturday night and there was no one there. I sprayed paint over all the windows that I could reach. I left the cans in a heap by the front door, went home and went to bed.

The police came the next morning and arrested me. My fingerprints were taken and matched up with those on the cans. I wore a hoodie but forgot my gloves. There was CCTV footage of me buying the paint in the hardware store, and the pub opposite the headquarters had more footage of me spraying the windows.

There weren’t many people in court that day; mum came but grandma wasn’t well. My guilty plea made the process much quicker. There were cameras and reporters outside the court but my solicitor had advised me not to say anything in case I lost my temper again.

I think that I might feel a bit better now I’ve written this down. My mum says I am a good boy but I’m in my twenties now and I need to grow up.

But how?

Dear Diary.

At least I have you now and I am not so alone.