New Normal? September 2020

The first challenge for September 2020 is to use a song title or song lyrics in a topical way. Please be aware that copying out lines of song lyrics breaches copyright laws.

Congratulations to Peter Hilton whose story, “A Walk on the Wild Side,” has been chosen by Kay as the winner.

The day I met Marie.

 

She was special, how did I know? Well I realised the first time I saw her, sat in the University library, in deep concentration with books scattered all over the desk. Her shiny long brown hair hung over her face, when she looked up I saw her face, soft pale skin, twinkling blue eyes, a gorgeous smile. I had walked over to her side, desperate to speak to her.

“Hi, I’m Andrew,” then I froze.

“Hello Andrew, I’m Marie.”

Our eyes occasionally met, she was amused by my lack of conversation. I gathered up her books, we left together, walked away.

That was over forty years ago, today we celebrate our Ruby Anniversary, surrounded by our loving family. We raise a glass to our children, the grandchildren giggle, mischievous as usual.

I wouldn’t alter a thing, we stayed together, I wasn’t meant to be a bachelor boy.

Erica McKinnon

156 words

THOUGHTS ON WORDS AND MUSIC

Just over ten years ago the choir sang Mozart’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ as my wife’s coffin left St Leonard’s church.

It is only today, when responding to a writing challenge set by my U3A’s ‘Writing for Pleasure’ group, that I started thinking about the so called ‘classical’ composers and their use of lyrics – except, of course, they called them script, texts, poems, libretto, books, and so on.

My thoughts then turned back to the words of ‘Ave Verum Corpus’.  Obviously, the text is in Latin, and I’m quite sure that most of the congregation would not have understood the words or their meanings.

Yet the miracle is, that Mozart’s words and music coalesce, and the spiritual affiliation of the two enlightens everyone, and everyone does understand.

© Bob Reader August 2020 – 132 words

IMAGINE

Imagine wearing masks,

To do your simple tasks,

Like riding on a bus,

Because of a virus.

Imagine empty roads,

Imagine schools are closed,

And that there is no sport,

Not of any sort.

We stand 6 feet away,

From people every day,

To stop infection spreading,

And we cancel every wedding.

Ten mourners are allowed,

To minimise the crowd,

At end of life committals,

Which may seem rather fickle.

Imagine eating out,

Because, without a doubt,

That’s all that you can do,

For that’s embargoed too!

Few people go to work,

Which some see as a perk,

Because they’ll get some pay,

From the Government of the day.

Imagine no performing arts,

Performers banned from taking part,

In concerts, plays, or cinemas,

Making us so insular.

Society stands still,

While those of us with skills,

All dressed in mask, and gown, and glove,

Seek help and guidance, from above.

But there are those who die,

Despite how hard we try,

To beat this curséd epidemic,

Because it has become systemic.

The year is 2020

This virus harms so many,

And the Reaper with his scythe,

Gathers those who don’t survive.

©Bob Reader August 2020 – 193 words

Stand by Me

Anna remembered the panic when it all kicked off in March. Her mother was the first to phone the minute lockdown was announced.

‘Have you heard the news, love? We’re not going to be able to leave the house. We shan’t be able to collect Charlie from school anymore.’

Anna grimaced. At the hospital they’d known this was coming for weeks, everyone talking about lack of PPE, new wards opening up, others closing. Staff were frightened, hardly able to take in what was happening. And that was before sorting out the home situation.

‘The schools are shutting, Mum. He won’t be there.’

‘But you still have to work. Surely nurses’ children can go to school?’

‘I can’t let him, not with his asthma. This thing attacks the lungs …’

‘So what are you going to do with him?’

‘I don’t know, I really don’t. You just keep indoors, keep safe.’

Her parents were the least of her worries. They were over seventy but they were fit, they had each other and they could get on-line deliveries. It was Charlie who was the problem – Charlie, her darling little seven-year-old, so sweet, so clever, the apple of her eye. She turned it over in her mind but she could see only one solution – his father. It wasn’t a welcome prospect.

Anna and Matt had been divorced for six years – far longer than they’d actually been married. No one was really to blame. Anna had been pregnant and they were blissfully in love, but they soon discovered they didn’t know each other very well. Certainly nothing had prepared them for sleepless nights with a new baby, not to mention money worries. Matt’s way of coping was to go down the pub and stay out till late. Anna felt angry and alone. She filed for divorce on their second wedding anniversary.

So eventually Charlie had started on the merry-go-round of fortnightly visits to his father, when he got new toys and sweets and lots of attention from a series of women called Tania, and Lexy and Kate. Anna was sure Matt loved his son, but he’d been completely unreliable when they were married. Could she really trust him to do this?

She dialled his number. ‘Matt, it’s me. Where are you?’

‘At home, why?’

“Alone?’

‘Yeah. Remember Kate? Well, she left. According to her I’m a moron with an over-sized ego. I’ve had plenty of women say the same, so I’m beginning to think it’s true. And with this lockdown I’m even out of a job. I’m going to be furloughed, whatever that is. Suddenly people are using new words I don’t understand. What’s it like at the hospital?’

At least he had the decency to ask. ‘Chaos. Look, Matt, I’m going to ask you a big, big favour. I’ve got to go on working. I’m a nurse, and believe it or not I think it’s my duty. I can’t just stop. But I’ve got Charlie. I daren’t send him to school, not with his asthma, and on top of that there’s a danger I could bring the virus home from the hospital.’

‘Well what am I supposed to do about it?’

‘I’m asking you to please have Charlie at your place until this is all over. I understand it’s a lot to ask, but I’ve no choice. You won’t be able to bring any of your girlfriends home now anyway.’

‘Shit, what am I going to do with him all day long? It could last for months!’

‘You’ll have to do some schooling with him. Obviously he has to keep up with his reading, but there must be loads of other stuff you can do together.’

‘Are you mad? I’m not a teacher! It’s fine minding him for a weekend, but all the time? I don’t think I could do it.’

‘Well you’ll have to! You’re his father. Do you think this is going to be fun for me? I might not be able to see him for ages. Please do this for me, Matt, please.’

When he finally, grudgingly, agreed, she rang off and burst into tears.

Anna spent the next few days wracked with misgivings. Charlie wasn’t a parcel to be tossed around. He was old enough to understand about the virus, why he couldn’t go to school, and why she had to work to look after poorly people, but how he would react to being with Matt full-time she had no idea.

So she was relieved to find how quickly he settled. She talked to him every night on the phone or on WhatsApp. Amazingly Matt was rising to the challenge.  They were making models of the solar system, doing simple computer programming, kicking a ball around in the park. All things that were beyond Anna’s capabilities. It was a surprise and a comfort. One day they attempted to make a chocolate cake and she was amused to see them both on the screen chomping on it and laughing. When she got married this was how she’d imagined family life to be, and now, ironically, she wasn’t even part of it. Watching them together made her feel terribly lonely.

But time passed somehow and it was the end of July. They could all meet face-to-face again in Anna’s garden. She wasn’t sure if she was allowed to hug her son, but she did it anyway and it felt wonderful.

‘I can’t thank you enough for doing this,’ she said to Matt, while Charlie was delving in the shed for his old toys. ‘I couldn’t have coped without you. But I’ll be able to take him back soon. The wards are quieter now so I’m being reassigned to a different role. Plus there’s a lot more testing. I would feel safe having him at home.’

‘What you could use is a change of scene after all these months,’ Matt said. ‘I know a guy with a holiday house at the coast. I’m sure he’d lend it out for a week. What do you think?’

‘You mean Charlie and me?’

‘Well, I thought I could come too – that is, if you don’t mind.’

Anna was caught unawares. She hadn’t expected this. But how could she refuse when he’d been so supportive – far beyond her expectations?

‘I never realised all you have to do for a kid,’ he went on, ‘but we’ve got on like a house on fire. I’m going to miss him.’ There was a short pause. ‘We used to have good times too, remember?’

Anna’s voice softened. ‘Yes, I remember.’

‘I’m not such a bad bloke, Anna. I know we can’t put the clock back as though nothing ever happened, but we both love Charlie.’

What was he suggesting? She wasn’t sure and she wasn’t going to get her hopes up. This mad year had taught her that nobody can predict the future. But a few days at the seaside wouldn’t hurt. They could be a proper family, just for a while. What the new normal was going to be was anybody’s guess.

Frances

Parody to the tune of Teddy Bears Picnic

Don’t go out in the shops today

It’s better to stay at home.

It’s lovely out in the malls today

But I’m here and ready to roam.

Covid 19 is how I am known

Fear and death, I carry and hone

For that’s the way to make people groan and fear me.

Every human who’s still around

I’ll silently watch and wait for.

Every human who takes no care

I hide and patiently wage war.

Coughs and aches are part of my trade

Keep them down and always afraid.

For that’s who I am and I love to hurt and maim you.

If you go out in the streets today

You’re sure of a big surprise.

I’m hiding out on the walls and doors

To impact you all by surprise.

Relaxed and normal you want to be

Lockdown is past or so it seems.

But that’s the trick I like to play on you humans.

Covid 19 is on the move.

It’s rapidly on the move

There really is little doubt.

Watch out catch them unawares

But no the humans are learning to look around.

Vaccines, anti bodies are fighting now

They sing and shout with joy, they really are fighting back.

At 6.00 o clock, they’re making me sour

While sprays and gels are sapping my power,

‘Cos that’s the way, you’ll kill and ensure your safety.

Margaret Smith

“When I’m Sixty-Four”

“Police? I wish to report I’ve killed my husband.”

Succinctly and emotionless, Barbara gave her details to the anonymous voice and with a shaking hand she put down the phone. She sat stiff and still on the stairs to wait for the emergency services to arrive; for the flashing blue and yellow lights to stop outside her front door. Now was a moment of peace before she was caught up in the inevitable chaos that surrounded a sudden death.

Peace, would she ever have real peace again? How had it come to this? How had thirty-nine years of marriage ended in Andrew sitting in his favourite armchair, his life-blood soaking into its fabric? Had anyone asked Barbara whether she led a happy life she would have answered in the affirmative or, at least, she would have six months ago. She knew her friends felt that she was to be envied. She and Andrew had no financial worries as his job as a conveyancing solicitor was well paid. They had a lovely house, in a quiet suburb of Nottingham which she kept spotless; where she entertained his friends; where she cooked their meals and where their boys grew up. The boys: she would have to tell them but not now, not just yet.

Everything had started to fall apart in March 2020 when, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, the country went into Lockdown.  Along with thousands of other businesses, Andrew’s office closed. He, along with his fellow workers, were forced to conduct meetings at home using technology but soon, even Estate Agents ceased trading.

“Are you working in your office today, Dear?”

“No point,” he had replied. “The house market’s frozen.”

For weeks, which turned into months, Barbara and Andrew were forced into each other’s company.  Despite having been the perfect wife and homemaker for their years together, suddenly nothing was good enough for Andrew.

“Barbara, I said coffee at 11.00. It’s now ten past.”

“Barbara, don’t place my shirts in the cupboard like that, Can’t you see the clothes hangers are facing the other way?”

“Barbara this meat is overcooked. You know I like my steaks rare.”

“Barbara, haven’t you bought more whisky this week?”

It was a Tuesday when he lost his temper completely. Admittedly, he had been drinking and she had messed up the weekly Ocado shop, forgetting his favourite breakfast cereal, when he hit her for the first time. The blow landed in her stomach and winded her. She was too shocked to say anything, but she ran upstairs to cry, privately, in the bathroom. The pain was bearable but what was not, was the smile that touched his lips after that first blow. Of course, he apologised later, but Barbara knew it was not sincere; he had taken pleasure in hurting her.

The violence continued almost daily. He always hit her where marks would not show, never on her face or lower arms. On one unforgettable occasion he had held a pillow against her ear and punched with excessive force. She had been deaf for several days.

On the afternoon of his death Barbara had been watching an episode of “Downton Abbey” on Dave. Andrew had walked into the room, taken one look at the television, and demanded she turned it off. Barbara did not have the strength to disobey.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “Next week I’m sixty-four. I think it’s time to retire. They’re looking for people to take redundancy; should rake in a bit there. Just imagine, you could have me home permanently!”

Barbara let the words sink in without her commenting, but Andrew did not seem to be aware that she had not spoken.

“Anyway, what are you doing for my birthday?”

“The same that you did for mine. Nothing’s planned,” and she left the room quickly.

She heard him shouting from the kitchen, but she allowed the noise of the kettle to drown his voice. When Barbara returned some twenty minutes later there was no tray in her hand. Peter did not look up as he was engrossed in a comedy programme he had wanted to watch, so he did not see the kitchen knife she was holding. He was laughing at some joke when she plunged its blade into his neck hitting a carotid artery.  Barbara did not mind if the scar showed.

The flashing lights alerted her that the emergency services had arrived and when there was a pounding on the front door she quietly stood up and went to greet them.

“When I’m Sixty-Four” from the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. Released May 1967. Writers: Lennon and McCartney.

Helen

Better Than Revenge

The blade glints in the moonlight as I stroke it. It’s beautiful; long, lean, and lethal. Polished steel that will pierce clothing and flesh, and slide in easily as I press it between his ribs.

I hear footsteps on the towpath and step back under the bridge. Not many come here at night. That’s why I chose this place, but these are not the footsteps I’m waiting for. I watch as a young woman passes. She doesn’t see me standing in the shadows. She pauses and looks at her mobile and in the light from the screen, I glimpse her face. Nice face. Reminds me of Libby. She shouldn’t be here alone after dark. Doesn’t she understand the risk? She moves on and silence returns. Then I feel it again, that dizziness I had earlier, and for a moment, my hand gripping the knife goes numb. Must be excitement at the prospect of what I’m about to do.

The feeling soon passes. I slip the knife under my coat and stretch my fingers, then check my watch; 11.45. He’s late tonight. I’ve studied his movements in detail, ever since I discovered where he was living. He’s a man of regular habits, this Samuel Elba. I know his routine as well as he does. Every Saturday night after a home match, he’s with his West Indian mates in the White Lion. Rough lot, they are. No better than him, though they may not have killed anybody. Seems they enjoy drinking until they’re totally incapable. That’s what happened that night, of course. They all got legless, then he got in his car and tried to drive home. He shot round that bend far too fast, just as Libby was crossing the road on her way home.

His spell inside seems to have taught him something, though. These days, he often leaves the pub before closing time and usually sober. Has to walk home, of course. Hasn’t got his licence back yet. He should be here by now. Wonder what’s kept him. He didn’t go back home, when he got out. Moved away to this place, where he thought no-one knew him, no-one would track him down. But he was wrong. Well, tonight I’ll teach this bastard a lesson. He took her life and now he’ll pay with his. Tonight he’s had his last evening in the boozer, His last rowdy session with his hooligan pals.

More footsteps coming. Male footsteps, this time. I peep out. It’s him! I take the knife out and gently test the edge. Sharp as a razor! I collect myself, take a deep breath. I’m ready. Then it hits me. A sudden pain right down my side. I drop the knife and stagger out onto the towpath. The world suddenly goes black. I can’t see. I feel giddy and lose my balance. I’m falling.

As consciousness returns, images float and merge in my mind. A canal bridge, a girl with a mobile phone, Libby. Then I remember. I wanted to avenge my lovely daughter, but I failed. Frustration rises in me and boils over. I try to sit up but I can’t. I discover I’m in a hospital bed, with tubes and wires attached to me. My hand is bandaged. As I struggle to raise myself, a nurse rushes over and presses me down on the pillow.

“Where am I?” I ask. “Why am I here?”

“Lie back. Take it easy,” she says. “You’ve had a stroke but you’re in good hands.”

“How did I get here?”

“You’re a very lucky man. You were alone in an isolated place but someone just happened to be passing when it happened. If it wasn’t for him, you might not have survived. You’d cut yourself badly and were losing a lot of blood but he used his football scarf as a makeshift tourniquet, then called an ambulance. You should be very grateful to him.”

“Who is he? How can I thank him?”

“You’ll meet him soon. He rang this morning to ask about you and he said he’ll come to see you this afternoon.”

And now he’s here sitting beside the bed, my rescuer, Samuel Elba. I’m lost for words. Can hardly bring myself to look him in the face. Does he suspect why I was waiting there? I try to whisper an apology.

He leans closer. “Don’t worry,” he whispers. “No-one knows about the knife. It’s at the bottom of the canal.”

There’s a lot I want to say but the words won’t come. We sit there in silence, looking at each other. I feel grateful to this man who saved my life. I feel ashamed of what I’d planned to do.

“Well, I’d better be going,” he says at last. “Just wanted to check you’re OK.”

I watch him walk across the room. He turns in the doorway and looks back. Is that a smile on his face?

Inspired by “Better than Revenge” by Taylor Swift

Peter Hilton

A Walk on the Wild Side

The last thing the reverend Timothy Tinswold expected to see on his morning walk, was a naked girl. He’d discovered Wiccan Wood shortly after moving into his new parish, and since the start of lockdown, he’d walked there every morning.

“We may be self-isolating, but we do need some exercise and fresh air,” he’d told his wife at breakfast. “You should come with me. It’s cool and shady there at this time of day.”

“No,” said Emily I’ve got a busy day ahead. I’ve got some writing to do and I’ve promised to look after little Malcolm. His mother’s helping out at the nursing home, so he’ll be here most of the day.”

So Timothy set out across the field alone, with his wife and her writing still on his mind. After producing several children’s books, Emily had recently taken to writing stories of witches and spirits, which Timothy felt were not entirely suitable subjects for a vicar’s wife to dabble in.

“Don’t be silly,” she’d said when he broached the subject. “There’s no harm in it. It’s just fantasy. There’s something about this place that brings it out in me.”

Superstitious nonsense, he thought, and superstition can be dangerous! He was deep into the wood, before he realised he must have strayed from his usual path. Never mind, he thought. It will be interesting to explore a new area. The path led downhill and he was intrigued by the sound of running water ahead. I didn’t know there was a stream here, he thought. He was soon walking along the bank of a lively brook, that bubbled over bright pebbles and led him towards an opening in the trees. He emerged from the shade into a small clearing, bright with sunlight. On the far side was a pool, and on a rock beside it, a girl was stretched out, basking in the sunshine. She was naked and wet, lying on her back with her eyes closed. Her long hair flowed like a waterfall across the rock and  over the edge in a golden cascade. Timothy stepped back quickly, stumbled over a root and fell backwards. The girl opened her eyes, sat up and stared.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” he mumbled, pulling himself up to a sitting position. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

The girl laughed at his confusion. She stood up and stretched her arms above her head. Timothy was shocked that she made no attempt to cover herself. He tried to avert his eyes but found it impossible to draw them away from her lithe suntanned body.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“My name is Lupina,” she replied.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” he said and immediately regretted the archaic language. “We haven’t met before.”

“Think yourself lucky.”

Lucky not to have met her before? he wondered, or lucky to see her now, in her natural state?

Timothy tugged at his dog-collar, as inappropriate images flooded through his mind. The girl was clearly enjoying his embarrassment.

“Do you live in the village? he asked.”

“I live here in the wood.”

“Oh, I didn’t know there were any dwellings here.”

“There aren’t. I just live in the wood. Where do you live?”

“In the vicarage of course. I’m the new vicar.”

“I’ve seen the vicarage. It looks very homely. Can I come and live with you?”

Timothy had nightmare visions of trying to explain to his wife, or his bishop, the unexpected appearance of this beautiful young girl in his house.

“No you can’t,” he said, “I must go now and you should put your clothes on, before anyone else comes along. Not every man is as understanding as I am, you know.”

“I haven’t any clothes to put on,” she said.

“What? Are you a nudist?”

“I suppose I am.” She laughed again. “If you won’t take me home with you, at least promise you’ll come and see me again.”

“Certainly not. In my position I can’t risk being seen by one of my parishioners, lurking in the wood with an unclothed young lady.”

“Lurking is not what I had in mind,” she said and began to walk towards him, water droplets sparkling in the sunlight, as they ran down her silky skin. As she came close, he felt himself transfixed by her gaze. Her eyes were yellow and the pupils, almost closed against the sunlight, were vertical slits. He saw his own face reflected in them and shivered. He jumped to his feet and fled.

Hurrying back across the field he met old Mrs Cross, one of the few regular members of his congregation. She was often out early, picking berries. “Been in Wiccan Wood Vicar?” She asked.

“Yes, it’s a pleasant place to walk.”

“Don’t suppose you met anyone there?”

“No,” he lied.

“Not many people go there nowadays. Strange things have happened there, especially on the far side. People call it the wild side. Keep your wits about you Vicar.”

More superstitious nonsense, he thought.

Safely home, Timothy worried over how best to inform his wife of the incident and decided it would be diplomatic not to mention it. I won’t go there again, he thought. There are other places to walk. He slept fitfully that night, troubled by visions that kept mind and body awake. Next morning, he rose with feelings of shame and guilt.

“What’s wrong?” Asked Emily at breakfast. “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Ghosts do not exist,” he snapped. He left the table and went out. Timothy crossed the field and was surprised to find himself back in the wood. It seemed his legs had carried him there, against his will. I’ll find that girl and put an end to this, he thought, or I’ll never be at peace. For almost an hour, he searched for the path leading to the brook but without success. He listened for running water, but the only sound was his own footsteps. Even the birds were silent. Eventually he gave up and turned for home. Coming out of the wood, he spied Mrs Cross collecting mushrooms, and hurried towards her.

“Mrs Cross, you’ve lived here all your life. Can you tell me how to find the way to the pond in the wood?”

“Pond Vicar? What pond would that be?”

“There’s a clearing in the wood where the stream flows into a pond. I was there once but I can’t remember how I got there.”

“The nearest stream is the mill stream, other side of the village, Vicar. There’s no stream around here.” She shook her head as he hurried away. “Must be the heat,” she muttered.

As he approached the vicarage, Timothy saw that his wife’s car was not in its usual place on the gravel drive. Probably gone to fetch Malcolm, he thought. At the front door he reached into his pocket and discovered he had no key. Damn and blast! he thought. At the back of the house, he was surprised to find the patio door standing open. I wish Emily would remember to check the doors before she goes out, he thought, anyone could just walk in. He stepped into the sitting room and came to a sudden stop. Stretched out on the sofa was a naked girl.

“Lupina! What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for you, of course. I like your house.” She turned her yellow eyes on him. The eyes of a beast in search of prey.

“You shouldn’t have come here. We’re self-isolating. We don’t allow anyone to come indoors. I want you to leave immediately.”

“If you insist.” She stood up, stretched and walked towards the front door.

“Wait!” yelled Timothy. “you can’t just stroll out of the vicarage and walk down the road with nothing on.”

“You ordered me to leave.”

“I meant you should put some clothes on first. Come upstairs and we’ll see if we can find something in my wife’s wardrobe to make you decent.”

The girl followed him up the stairs and into the bedroom. Timothy opened the wardrobe and began rummaging among the garments inside. He pulled out a long red dress and was about to hold it in front of her, when he heard sounds that made him shudder; a car engine, crunching gravel. He rushed to the window and looked down to see his wife climbing out of her car.

“Quick. In here,” he said.

He bustled the girl into the en-suite and shut the door, then hurried downstairs to greet his wife.

“Hello Dear. Where’s Malcolm?” he asked.

“His mother’s bringing him over shortly. You’re looking guilty, Timothy. What have you been up to?”

“Nothing Darling. Had a little walk in the wood, and I’ve just got back.”

They both looked up as a door slammed upstairs.

“What’s that?” asked Emily.” Is someone up there?”

“No dear. No, of course not,”

“Well don’t just stand there. Go and check.”

Timothy felt tremors in his legs as he climbed the stair, with his wife close behind him. In the bedroom, everything was in order. “You see?” he said. “Nothing to worry about.”

Emily pushed passed him.

“No. Don’t,” he yelled as she made for the en-suite and threw open the door. Timothy buried his face in his hands. “I thought so!” she announced triumphantly. “This window is open. It was a draught that made the door slam.”

Timothy peeped through the doorway. The room was empty. “Emily Darling,” he said when they were safely back in the sitting room. “There’s something I want to tell you. Please sit down.” At that moment, the doorbell rang.

Eight-year old Malcolm had arrived and was installed in front of the TV with his tablet and mobile beside him. Emily was busy on her laptop. “I’m just popping over to the church Dear,” called Timothy. “Won’t be long.” That strange girl was preying on his mind. He couldn’t shake off the images of her lovely body and those inhuman eyes. Inside the cool, silent church, he knelt before the altar and prayed.

He was just locking up the church, when his phone rang.

“Timothy, I need you,” screamed Emily. “I can’t find Malcolm.”

He rushed to the vicarage and found her standing in the garden, trembling and looking out across the field.

“One minute he was watching TV, next minute he was gone,” she said. “I’ve searched the house but there’s no sign of him. He must have come outside. Timothy felt his blood turn to ice. “You search the garden,” he said. “I can see Mrs Cross over there. Perhaps she’s seen him.” He ran across the field.

“Yes Vicar,” said the old woman. “I saw a little boy, walking hand in hand with a young lady in a long red dress. They went into the wood and I thought, I hope she knows her way about in there.”

Timothy’s heart was racing as he ran into the wood.

It was evening and growing dark when Malcolm came running back to the vicarage alone. “Are you alright Sweetheart?” asked Emily, hugging him and fighting back tears. When she was sure he was, her thoughts turned to her husband.

“Do you know where the vicar is?” she asked.

“He said he was going for a walk with Lupina,” said Malcolm, and he told me to come straight here.”

Police searched the wood from end to end, but the reverend Timothy Tinswold was never seen again.

Peter Hilton

Inspired by “Walk on the Wild Side” by Quincy Jones

The Challenge for the second part of September is to write a scene following on from one we submitted at our Zoom meeting on September 2nd. A little explanation may be necessary to introduce this piece.

A Script.

 Sue has been travelling in Australia for six months. She has flown home from Melbourne to Birmingham airport. Her mother is waiting at Arrivals. Sue runs to her mother and they hug.

Mother-“ You look so well, I’ve missed you. Have you had fun? I’m looking forward to hearing all about your travels.”

Daughter- “I’ve missed you too Mum, it’s been great, I’m so glad I went. There’s so much still to tell you.”

(They walk to a taxi, an hour later they are sat drinking tea in the conservatory looking at photographs).

Mother-  “The photo’s are terrific, the scenery is outstanding Sue. Which was your favourite place?”

Daughter- “I loved everywhere, Sydney was good, but Melbourne, I could live there.”

( Daughter speaks softly, avoiding eye contact, Mother appears nervous).

Mother- “What are your plans Sue, are you going to look for a job? I decorated your bedroom, do you like it?”

( Daughter hesitates).

Daughter- “Mum I’m not staying, I’ve come for a holiday, that’s all. I’ve given my future a lot of thought, I want to stay in Melbourne. You will have to visit, it’s lovely.”

( Mother wipes a tear from her eye).

Mother-“Sue, what will you do, how are you going to fund another trip?”

Daughter-“I’ve enrolled for a Nurse Degree Course in Melbourne, and I’ve met someone.”

( Daughter reaches out to hold her Mothers hand.)

Mother- “You’ve met someone?”

Daughter – “Yes, his names Ben, I know you will like him.( She pauses and smiles). He’s asked me to move in with him. I’m home for three months, Ben’s managed to get some leave, so he’s coming over, he’s dying to meet you.”

Mother- “Sue, I thought something like this would happen, it’s not a complete surprise. Come and look at your bedroom.”

Erica McKinnon

303 words.

A DAY IN THE TRENCHES

Scene 1

HOW DO WE SAY GOODBYE, WHEN WE KNOW WE’RE GOING TO DIE?

A World War One Trench.  Two great friends, Michael and Paul, are waiting for the whistle:-

the order to go over the top

Michael – I’ll be glad to get out of this bloody cold, wet, trench.

Paul – I wouldn’t be in such a hurry, if I were you pal!

Michael – Can’t be worse than this!

Paul – Oh, it certainly can!  You might die!

Michael – That might not be so bad!  But I’d miss you – you lunatic!  Best pal I’ve ever had!

Paul – Aw, shucks Mike!  You ain’t so bad yourself!

Michael – What if we never see each other again?

Paul – Don’t worry about that!  We’re sure to meet in Hell – and we’ll know what it’s all about, won’t we?

Michael laughs. – It might be better than this!

They both laugh.

Michael – I’m scared.  I don’t wanna die!

Paul – You ain’t the only one chum!

Michael – And I don’t want to die without saying goodbye Paul, nor without telling you what a great guy you are!

Paul – Come on now Mike, don’t get maudlin.  We need to be full of that mad determination that we are going to survive – both of us!

The whistles blows.

Michael – Here we go Paul!  Love you!   Bye!

Michael reaches the top of the trench and meets a hail of machine gun bullets.  He dies instantly.

30 seconds later Paul’s dead body falls on top of him.

© Bob Reader August 2020   267 words

Scene 2

THAT SAME EVENING BACK AT BATTALION HEADQUARTERS

IN THE CHATEAU

Four Lieutenant Colonel (LC) Battalion Commanders are sitting around a dinner table enjoying roast pheasant and a fine red Bordeaux, and are discussing the day’s actions.

LC Watson – Lost virtually a whole platoon in today’s attempt at rushing the Hun.

LC Flowers –  Me too!  Fritz’s goddam machine gun nests did for most of my chaps.  Not expecting replacements until the day after tomorrow.

LC Walker –  We advanced 10 feet before we were wiped out.  Poor bastards.  Didn’t stand a chance!

LC Morrison, who has been listening intently whilst enjoying his pheasant, sips his wine, raises his glass, and says – Dulce et Decorum est, pro patria mori.*

LCs Watson, Flowers and Walker, all standing, raise their glasses in unison – Here, here!

LC Morrison – Right!  Enough of today.  Let’s talk about who’s going over the top tomorrow.

© Bob Reader September 2020 – 168 words

* It is sweet and fitting, to die for one’s country.

The scene is inside a cubicle of the sort found on hospital wards, with the curtains closed . A teenage boy is lying in the bed, with wires and tubes attached and a number of screens monitoring his condition. He wakes up and looks around, confused.

Boy (calls);    Is anyone there? What’s happened? Where am I?

There is no reply. He pulls out the attachments, gets up and peeps out. The room is lined with curtained cubicles identical to his. He peeps into several cubicles and in each is a boy, identical in size and build to himself, asleep in bed. A look of horror creeps over his face.

Boy;                My God, this can’t be right. What’s going on?

A nurse enters.

Nurse;            What are you doing? Why are you out of bed?

Boy;                I want to know where I am and how I got here. Have I been in accident?

Nurse;            No, nothing to worry about. You’re still a little confused but that’s perfectly normal. Your head will soon clear.

Boy;                Have I had an operation?

Nurse;            Not exactly.

Boy;                What does that mean?

Nurse;            We’ll soon have you on your feet and then the doctor will explain.

Boy;                I’m confused. I don’t remember anything.

Nurse;            Your memory isn’t fully functioning yet, but it soon will be.

Boy;                It’s scary. I can’t even remember who I am.

Nurse;            We’re calling you D3 at the moment. You’ll be given a more personal name later.

Boy;                You mean you’re going to invent a name for me? Don’t you know who I am? I don’t like this. I want to leave this place.

Nurse;            You’ll be told everything you need to know shortly. Now please go back to your bed.

Boy;                No way! I’m getting out of here.

Nurse;            If you won’t do as you’re told willingly, we’ll have to make you. I’m going to summon help.

She runs to the desk and presses a button. An alarm sounds. The boy looks into other cubicles and sees an identical boy in each. A doctor comes running.

 

Boy;                I want a mirror. I want to see my face.

Doctor;          There’s nothing to worry about. It’s just that you’ve woken up too early. I’ll check you over and if everything is OK, we’ll get you dressed and you can begin your induction straight away.

Dave;             Induction? What’s that?

Doctor;          Please try to be patient. I’ll explain everything later. First I’m going to give you a little sedative, so I can do the checks.

Boy;                No you’re not. I don’t trust you.

Doctor;          Help me restrain him nurse.

They both move towards him. He runs into a WC and locks the door. He studies himself in the mirror.

 

Boy;                Oh God! I’m the same as all the others. We all look  the same! What are these bloody people up to?

Nurse;            Open this door D3. You don’t know how lucky you are. You should be very grateful to Doctor Brian. After all, he’s the scientist who created you.

Boy;                Why are we all the same?

Nurse;            But you’re not the same as the others. Perhaps that’s why you woke up before them. Doctor Brian has made you stronger in mind and body than other boys. You are to be their leader.

Peter H

Challenge: So much has happened this year. Look back on the major news events and tell your story as if you were there when the action occurred.

THE DAILY DISPATCH

(Issue 35353  11th January 2020)

CHINESE FAIL TO CONTROL DEADLY VIRUS IN ‘LAB CITY’

by our Far East Correspondent, Nick Nocuous

Reports are coming out of the Chinese city of Wuhan, of a virulent man made virus, which, somehow or other, contaminated the local population as early as November 2019.

Tight security surrounds the city, where there are known to be covert government biological laboratories, and all movement of people is being severely restricted, with the local population being told to stay at home.

All travel has been suspended, and large numbers of police, all wearing head to toe protective clothing, have been drafted in to man the airports, railway stations, and exit roads, to ensure that these restrictions are rigorously enforced.

Sources tell me that this virus contaminates at alarming rates.  Any infected person will leave traces of the virus on hard surfaces, such as door handles, worktops, phones and computers, paper, tableware etc., where it remains actively infectious for at least three days, perhaps even longer.

It can also be transmitted by inhaling the breath of an infected person who is standing within two metres of someone else.

Once in the body it attacks the respiratory system, causing the production of large amounts of defensive mucus, which further restricts breathing.  Supply of oxygen to the lungs diminishes.  The body gradually weakens, and it becomes difficult to perform normal daily tasks.  A patient’s sense of taste commonly vanishes, and appetite frequently becomes suppressed, inevitably reducing the intake of nutrients.

The gestation period is believed to be approximately fourteen days, and sufferers who have survived, have all been severely ill for at least six weeks, before there is any sign of recovery.  Those same sources report many fatalities, and confirm that the death rate is increasing at an alarming pace.  There is no official information about deaths nor the disposal of infected bodies, but many of my contacts suspect that they are being burned.

Survivors tend to retain the heavy mucus like coughs, and doctors believe that this is an indicator that the virus is still active.  One of its characteristics seems to be that it will ease up, and a corresponding improvement in the patient’s condition is seen, which can last for weeks, or even months, but suddenly the virus will reinvigorate itself, and mount a further pernicious attack on an already weakened immune system.

Governments around the world are extremely concerned about what is happening in Wuhan, and also at the lack of credible information that is forthcoming from the Chinese authorities.

All major foreign governments have independently reached the same conclusion, and that is that they believe this virus is so difficult to contain and control, that its prospect of becoming a global pandemic is a certainty.

And those same foreign governments are extremely concerned about the motives for, and necessity of, creating such a virus, and wonder how it has come to infect the general population, when there are agreed international standard procedures for handling, storing, and controlling such menacing matter, an agreement which the Chinese helped put together, and to which they appended their signature.

 

©Bob Reader September 2020 – 524 words

A most unsatisfactory day

There was I on a peaceful Sunday morning, leaning on my stick and pondering my thoughts, when suddenly a canvas sheet was thrown over me. What the ….?

I heard snippets of a conversation between the men who were tying the sheet with strong ropes.

‘Should have taken him down years ago. When I think what he did,’

‘You can’t change history. We have to learn from it and move on.’

I was not sure where this was leading and why I was being covered up. All too soon it became clear. Because of the canvas I could not see anything, but I heard what sounded like an angry mob. They were shouting and chanting ‘Black lives matter.’

Well of course they do. They helped me build my empire.

I felt things being thrown at me but they weren’t rocks. I wondered if they were eggs.

Somebody shouted, ‘Let’s see his face.’

Good, I thought. Then I’ll be able to see you. I have never seen so many people in all my life. A mixture of races and colours and all terribly angry. Within minutes three men had climbed up beside me and horror of horrors, were attaching ropes around my neck. They couldn’t strangle me. I’m dead already.

Worse was to come. I was pulled off my plinth and dumped onto the floor, whereupon several of the rabble stamped on me. Not satisfied with that I was then dragged to the quayside and thrown into the harbour. This is where I now lie, waiting for someone to pull me out.

When I think of the good I have done for this city, donating to churches, hospitals, schools and even representing Bristol in parliament I am at a loss to understand why I am now lying at the bottom of the harbour.

Julia Powell ©2020