November 2020

Challenge: Either a free task which contains speech or your character meets a stranger who offers him/her what they most desire. What happens?

Congratulations to Sarah whose story, ‘Where there’s a Wall’ has been judged by Frances as the best challenge this month.

The Golden Hen

He stared in amazement through the window, his magic seeds had quickly grown into an enormous plant that reached the clouds. William pulled on his jacket, then he ran outside to investigate. He liked an adventure.

‘Bye Mum, see you later.’

He speedily climbed the strong branches of the plant, covered in moist green dangling leaves.

When he reached the top he rubbed his eyes in disbelief. A large stone castle stood in front of him. He searched the exterior, until eventually he found an open back window and climbed inside the dark cold castle. William heard a cluck, he looked down. In a corner he could see a golden hen. He heard voices and crept further to a doorway, where he could see a Giant sat at a huge wooden table which was covered in gold coins. William watched his huge fat fingers pick up each coin as he greedily counted his money. Then his eyes darted around the room, his drool was dripping down his chin.

‘Where’s my eggs and bacon?’

‘I’m waiting for Clara to lay an egg, my dear,’ whispered his wife.

Suddenly, William saw the Giant thump the table, his wife trembled.

‘I’ve changed my mind, I will have chicken for my lunch,’ he bellowed.

The room shook then the lights flickered. William dashed and scooped up the frightened hen, then made his escape out of the small window. He breathed heavily.

He ran  holding the hen tightly under one arm, her golden feathers were flying everywhere. William scrambled down the numerous branches of the tall plant. Feathers floated past him, down to earth. He sighed with relief when his feet touched solid ground once more.

He gently placed Clara next to the shed.

‘I’m home Mum, I’ve brought you a present,’ he shouted.

Clara sat peacefully and laid an egg.

Erica

311 words

The Gift

Chapter 1 Feelings of Inadequacy

My piano stands hopefully waiting for music to emerge. I can sense its approval  when a competent pianist plays on its usually badly played keys. I sense its  groan of anguish when I sit down to attempt Gymnopedie, the same mistakes repeated again and again.

Even the dog looked anguished at my repeated attempts to master  just the first  four bars.

Bed time, I think of the wasted decades buying endless sheet music which forms a discarded mound in my music stool.    

Should I have played more, studied harder and tried to focus on this one skill?  Mum practiced for hours a day, becoming a concert pianist . My sister, Sarah ,whose little fingers sparkled over the keys, Is a professional pianist. I do wish I could become a superb player too or at least half competent.

Chapter.   2

I am visited by the Muse in the night

Chapter  3

Joy to the World

The Muse stood behind me at the piano. “ ‘  Gymnopedie  ,Simplified version’!”  he  screamed. ‘Satie would turn in his grave”.

 “This is my level’. I explained wishing it were true

The Muse took my book and tore it up.  “ N o more Music books” he said, “ You  know this piece. It’s in your head. Just play.”

Now Gymnopedie mellifluously flowed from the piano as my fingers flittered over the keys. My body swayed lyrically backwards then forwards, my head almost touching the keyboard, my hands rising and gently landing to play the sweetest notes.

Next Art Tatum and Chopin then Rachmaninov and Beethoven. All mastered.

No audience to hear me and no witnesses  to my genius.

Just  harmony and unity  between me and my startled piano.

At last

Jenny

The Wonderful Mr. Crow.

Amanda slipped out of the gate at the bottom of the garden. Ahead of her was a stretch of green punctuated by clusters of old, established trees and, in the distance, she could see a glimpse of the lake shimmering in the Autumn sunshine. She loved their local park. Leaves had fallen in the night and she heard them rustle underfoot as she made her way to her favourite bench. Her father had left for work at the local hospital and her mother was occupied with seeing her baby brother was fed, washed, and dressed. She knew she had some time to herself where she could not be seen or heard as she wanted to sob her heart out.

As she curled up on the wooden slats of the bench the tears began to flow. Soon single tears turned to a constant flow which were then accompanied by gulps as she fought for breath. Amanda was so distraught that she was unaware of a being sitting at the other end of the seat until it spoke.

‘My, you are upset.’

The voice was deep and resonant. It had a slight croakiness as if the speaker had a sore throat or was unused to speaking. Amanda ignored it as she had been told, on numerous occasions, not to speak to strangers in the park. However, the tears began to stop, and she sat still.

‘You can tell me what’s wrong you know,’ the voice continued, ‘I won’t breathe a word.’

The voice sounded so kind and caring that Amanda peeped over her now wet scarf to take a look at its owner. To her astonishment, perched on the arm of the bench, was a large, black crow.

‘Are you speaking to me?’ asked a bemused Amanda.

‘Of course,’ responded the crow. ‘There’s only you and me here. Now, tell me what’s wrong to make you cry so much. You’re normally such a happy, little human.’

‘You know me?’

The crow looked at her with his bright, black eyes and said, ‘Look above. We all look out for our favourite people,’ and, indeed, there above them circled three or more crows. ‘That’s my family.’ He rustled his wings in acknowledgement to their cawing. ‘So, what’s wrong?’

‘Well,’ began Amanda, ‘my granny is very ill, and we can’t see her. I can’t go to school because my friend is sick, and I may have it too. Daddy is worried he may have to stay home then he can’t help people. Mummy is worried that my baby brother may catch it. It’s horrible!’ and Amanda burst into tears again.

‘Shush,’ said the crow. ‘It can all be sorted. Tell me, what would you most desire in the world?’

This was an enormous question to ask a six-year-old. Amanda could have requested all the sweets she could eat in a day, all the toys being advertised for Christmas on TV, or a new pair of winter boots. Instead, she simply said, ‘I want everyone to be better.’

The crow nodded its head, flapped its wings, and flew off into the sky. Amanda followed its flight until it became a black dot in the distance. Feeling surprisingly more light-hearted, she rushed home to tell her mother about her amazing conversation.

Her mother was in the kitchen feeding her baby brother when she burst through the back door.

‘Hey, young lady, where’ve you been?’ her mother gasped. ‘And slow down!’

Amanda was breathing so loudly from running home, and from her excitement to tell her mother about her encounter, that her words came out in an unintelligible rush.  ‘Mum, I’ve just been speaking with Mr. Crow and he cheered me up and I asked him to help everyone and ……’ but before she could finish her mother quietened her and turned up the radio where an announcement was being broadcast: the vaccine will be available to vulnerable adults and health care workers by the end of December………

‘That’s wonderful! Mandy, everything is wonderful!’ and her mother danced round the kitchen holding her daughter by her hands.

When they eventually stopped Mandy’s mother took a deep breath and said, ‘Now what’s all this about you talking to an old man in the park? What have I told you not to do?’

Mandy took a deep breath, ‘Sorry, Mummy,’ but as she looked out of the kitchen window she stared up into the sky, ‘Thank you, wonderful Mr. Crow.’

Helen

Wishful Thinking

‘Good morning,’ greeted the Good Fairy.

‘Hmm, there’s nothing very good about this foggy morning nor any other for that matter,’ grumbled Tim as he glanced cautiously around at the sudden appearance of what seemed like a puff of smoke rising up into the air. He couldn’t see anyone but he felt pretty sure that he could hear a voice.

‘But of course there is,’ the Good Fairy replied. ‘I’ve been observing you for many months and I have been very impressed by what you and your team have been doing in all this time.’

Tim still couldn’t see anyone nearby but was intrigued by what he thought he had just heard. He felt bound to answer.

‘We’ve all certainly been working flat out to try to save lives, control the epidemic and to produce a vaccine, but with this second wave of the virus I begin to wonder if we will ever get it under control.’

‘That’s why I’ve called to see you this morning,’ replied the Good Fairy. ‘I’m aware you have just come off a twelve hour shift and that you are feeling extremely tired. I am here to grant you just one wish as a reward for what you have all done in the last twelve months.’

As he walked slowly away from his twelve hour shift Tim tried to rationalise his thoughts. He wondered if he was hallucinating or not because he felt so utterly exhausted. He moved towards his car, longing to get home to grab a few hours sleep before the next shift started once again. He could hardly think straight and didn’t want this ‘conversation’ going on in his head. He knew about schizophrenics who constantly heard imaginary voices, usually brought on by stress and anxiety. He wondered if he was suffering from stress and whether he should sign off sick for a few days. He certainly had a headache and had felt dizzy several times whilst at work. Or was he perhaps starting with the virus? He desperately hoped that wasn’t the case. He opened the driver’s door of his car but once again thought he heard a voice.

‘As I have said, I am here to grant you just one wish. What will it be?’

Tim stopped in his tracks and then muttered to himself, ‘well of course it would be that within the next few months my team will have produced an effective vaccine that is safe for everyone to have.

He got into his car and drove home carefully, aware that he was feeling light-headed and desperate to get to sleep. The house was empty. His wife had gone off to work and the children would be on their way to school. He put the radio on whilst he made himself a hot drink and a round of toast. His mind suddenly cleared as he heard the news reporting that the London based team had now just got a safe vaccine out which they were about to start administering to the frail and elderly in the population within the next few weeks. Tim was astonished that he hadn’t heard this news before he left work that morning but he knew that his own team were very close to producing a vaccine. He didn’t begrudge the fact that they weren’t ‘first to the post’ knowing that theirs would be ready within a few weeks. It too would help thousands, if not millions of people.

So, had he been hearing voices in his head earlier on that morning as he left his department or could there be such a ‘thing’ as a Good Fairy?

‘I wish!’ he muttered, but didn’t dwell on the matter for long as he wanted to get to sleep in order to feel refreshed before returning to work that evening.

Margaret R.

The Quarrel

“I’m home Dear,” called Debra, from the hall. There was no answer. She peeped into the sitting room and saw Stanton sitting in front of the TV, in his usual chair with a glass of whisky in his hand. He didn’t look round.

“Don’t you want a light on my sweet? It’s not good for your eyes to sit here in the dark, you know.” Stanton was silent.

“You’re not still cross with me, are you?” She asked from the doorway. “You know I had to go to WI tonight. I was on tea duty and the ladies were counting on me.” Debra walked across the room, picked up the Radio Times, and tried to appear absorbed in the list of programmes.

    “What are you watching dear?” she asked, ”that’s not your usual sort of thing, is it?” No response.

“I didn’t stay a moment longer than necessary. I left as soon as it was over and came straight home. It’s only ten o’clock now.” The only sound was an advertising jingle from the TV.

“Don’t you think you’re taking this too far Stanton? You can be very spiteful at times, you know.” She slammed the magazine down on the coffee table and stalked towards the door.

“Alright, if that’s the way you want it, you can sit here watching rubbish and nursing your grievances all night, for all I care. I’m going to bed.” She stormed out of the room.

As the door slammed, Stanton’s hand dropped from the armrest and hung down slackly at the side of her chair. He did not react as his glass hit the floor and whisky spilled across the carpet.

Next morning, Debra woke alone in bed. She hurried downstairs and found her husband still as she had left him. She screamed.  The doctor told later, he had been dead for 12 hours.

Peter H.


A CONVERSATION

‘Don’t know how we lost to that lot!  Should’ve scored at least two!’ said James indignantly to Bob as they left the City ground.

‘You lost because Bristol City are obviously a superior team to Nottingham Forest!’ said Bob.

‘Rubbish!’ said James, ‘That ref was biased!  We should have had a stonewall penalty!’

‘Oh like last season, when your winning stonewall penalty was never a penalty at all, as confirmed by Match of the Day?’

‘Well, I’ll give you that one.’ said James sheepishly.

‘D’you fancy a pint?’ said Bob.

‘Whose round is it?  Must be yours!’ answered James.

‘OK, I’ll get them in, but you’ll have to buy a round before we leave this time!  Or are James’s pockets still all sewn up?’ said Bob laughing.

‘Better than your short arms and your very long pockets.’ was the retort.

Bob laughed, and they strolled over to the pub.

It was busy inside, but Bob is an expert at pushing his way to the bar and getting served.  He soon came back with two pints of beer.

‘Cheers!’ said James and took a sip.  

‘Cheers!’ replied Bob, and drank a deep satisfying draught.

‘Who’s your next game against?’ asked Bob.

‘Derby County,’ answered James, ‘at the i-Pro stadium.’

‘Whoa, that’s a massive one,’ said Bob, ‘Who’s going to get the bragging rights then, do you think?’

‘The Reds of course,’ came the reply, ‘2-0!  Who have your lot got?’

‘Cardiff away.  The Severnside derby as it’s known.  Always a difficult game to predict, but I feel we must have a chance of winning this season considering how well we are playing.’

James went to the bar to get a second round of drinks, and when he got back Bob was talking to a work colleague.

‘James, this is Paul.’ said Bob.

‘Hi James.’ said Paul, and James reciprocated.  ‘I see you’re a Forest fan then?’ continued James.

‘Yep.  Have been for 20 years now.’ answered Paul.  ‘Seen some great times, but these days we seem to be establishing ourselves in the second tier of English football.  Gone are those days of regular League Cup wins, and even further away are the great days my dad witnessed, when we won the European Cup twice.  A great achievement for a provincial club.  In those days a team couldn’t afford to lose a home and away tie on the aggregate score, because that meant the team was knocked out of the competition.  So for two seasons Forest did not lose a tie at all – some feat!  Not like today where mini leagues are played and teams get so many second and third chances to progress in the competition.  What major trophies have Bristol City won?’ Paul asked Bob mischievously.

James grinned.

‘None!’ answered Bob, ‘The best I can offer is runners up to Man U in the FA Cup final, Winners of the Welsh Cup and The Anglo-Scottish Cup, and three times winners of the Cup for third and fourth division sides, originally known as the Freight Rover Trophy.  From 1980-82 we got relegated from the old first division to the fourth division in successive seasons – just 747 days – and have often been the nearly boys, losing cup semi finals on three occasions, including one against Forest in the League Cup in1989.  One really has to have a concrete constitution to remain a Bristol City fan!  Someone once asked me ‘Whyare you a Bristol City fan?’  I replied, ‘Well, I just woke up one morning and I was a Bristol City fan!’

James and Paul laughed, and James said, ‘I’d rather be a Forest fan!’ Paul nodded, and they both chuckled in a satisfied manner, before everyone finished their drinks and made their respective ways home.

©Bob Reader November 2020 – 630 words

Wishes do come true.

It was a Milk of Magnesia day.

Muddy grey clouds hung over the roof tops. They were matched by my mood and apathy which I was trying to dispel. I had dozed intermittently when I became aware of a figure looming over me. A welcome cup of tea, I thought idly.

‘Pardon my intrusion,’ he stood resplendent before me dressed in fine livery. 19th Century clothing drew my immediate attention to his velvet jacket and breeches. The incongruity of his appearance in my time and space startled me. It’s hardly an everyday experience to be visited by a ghost: especially since I don’t believe in them.

‘What on earth…’ I stuttered. He slid onto the Stressless chair beside me. How appropriate I reflected as my stress level soared.

‘Keep calm dear, keep calm,’ his tone an echo of Michael Winner. The patronising effect of that commercial resonated instantly. Irritated, I collected my scattered wits.

‘Who are you?’ I demanded.

‘Allow me to introduce myself,’ he replied, ‘I’m Johann Strauss.’

What could be more reasonable? All morning our music centre had played his Viennese waltzes over and over, forcing my husband to  escape and mow the lawns. It was my idea of heaven: his of hell. Here was my hero. I melted and fawned like a love-sick teenager.

‘Oh…what a delight to meet you,’ I gushed.

‘I’m here to give you what you most desire. I feel I know you well. You will have music made from your own fingertips.’ The words of Strauss  unveiled things hidden from everyone. Only I recognised the truth.

Learning to play the piano had been hard work even though I longed to do so. It seemed like studying two languages simultaneously. One language for the right hand and one for the left. When you considered the hand co-ordination and finger dexterity, the obstacles seemed huge. Demoralized at my poor skills my motivation faltered. I was defeated.

Was this possible? What did his words mean exactly? I decided against questioning his intentions.

‘It’s ok with me. Go right ahead,’ my flippant reply on reflection, dismissed him as no more than an aberration. I gave it no more thought and resumed my dreamy state.

Johann dissolved as quickly as he came.

A flourish of notes from the Grand Piano drew my performance to its end. I stood up bowing low to the Sydney Opera House audience. I felt no joy even though I knew I had surpassed myself. The years had been wonderful and successful. I was known globally for my talent; except it wasn’t my talent. Playing was as easy as breathing.

I seldom practiced and could read any music instantly, I performed as a Maestro might. Music flowed from my fingertips as I observed my movements but somehow distanced and remote. Pink podgy digits danced along the keys, disassociated from my brain. My arms and hands no longer mine to control.

I glowed with pleasure as the music rained over me and poured through my surroundings.

But the challenge to play had vanished; my anticipation of its reward had evaporated; my fragile hope for improvements were granted.

I had what I wished for. I could make music.

But be careful about what you desire, we don’t really know what is good for us.

By M. Smith


IS THERE AN ABSOLUTE TRUTH?  BOB’S LECTURE!

‘There is no such thing as an absolute truth.’ said Bob as he put down his glass.

‘Of course there is!’ countermanded Sandra, ‘There has to be!’

‘I’m afraid there isn’t.’ continued Bob, ‘It is a man made concept.  There may be certain realities, such as chemical reactions, but truth is actually what an individual wants it to be, that is to say, what one perceives it to be; what one believes it to be; and even what one conceives it to be!  But it is never absolute!  It is always, subjective, elective, defective and selective!’

Sandra laughed, ‘You’re talking nonsense!’ she said.

Bob carried on,  ‘Allow me to elaborate.  Imagine you are sat in a football stadium and a controversial incident, involving two players in close contact with one another, both going for the ball, takes place.  The referee will have to evaluate the incident and pass judgement on it.  His decision will be advantageous to one side and unfavourable to the other.  All the spectators in the stadium will have seen the incident from where they sit.  Now, consider the make up of the seating in a stadium.  There are rows of seats rising from pitch-side to the top of the stands, each giving a slightly different elevated view to its occupant.  Now move along a row, seat by seat.  Each offers a slightly different eyeline to the location of any incident, and as one moves further around the stadium individual eyelines change significantly.  Spectators on opposite sides of the ground will see exactly the same incident, but from a diametrically opposed perspective.  From every viewpoint certain things will be seen slightly differently.  Imagine two totally different viewpoints.  Certain things will not be visible from one viewpoint, but not from the other.  

That being the case, each spectator sees a different image of the same event, and each instinctively believes it to be the absolute truth.  Therefore, if a stadium is populated by 100,000 spectators, then there will potentially be 100,000 marginally different concepts of what happened.’

Sandra pondered for a moment, then said, ‘But what about those spectators who missed the incident?  Perhaps they’d gone to the loo, or perhaps they were looking away, or looking at their programme when it happened.’

‘Good point!’ said Bob, ‘This will be the small percentage of spectators who will do one of two things.  Either they will always admit that they didn’t see the incident, or they will get information about what happened from second hand sources, and will, over time, come to a conclusion about the incident which they will always believe to be the truth.  They may even end up believing that they actually saw the incident.’

‘That’s interesting.’ replied Sandra.  ‘It’s making me think. I’ve heard the phrase ‘the victors always write the history’, and that must mean that there is at least one truth from the victors’ point of view, and another from the standpoint of the losers.  Yet the history books will contain only the selected versions of the truth that the victors want people to believe.’

She continued, ‘And as you say Bob, some of the history may well be  defective in order to present the elected point of view.  That means that all accounts must be subjective!’

She laughed, ‘I’m beginning to get this!’ she said, ‘It’s a bit like, ‘Who has what right?’  For example the right to smoke, or the right not to be affected by a smoker’s smoke.  Which right is the ultimate right, if there is such a thing?

‘That’s a good analogy of the point I’m making,’ said Bob, ‘insofar as there is no absolute answer; no absolute truth and no absolute right!’

‘Oh, but there is an absolute right!’, said Sandra laughing, ‘Women are always right!  Absolutely!’

©Bob Reader November 2020 –  638 words


A dream come true.

Rose had been terribly busy that morning serving in the tea shop. In a brief period of respite she found herself reminiscing about the coronation of George V and his wife Queen Mary, which took place in June 1911. She had read about the grand occasion, the parades and the peers and peeresses sweltering in Westminster Abbey in their ermine cloaks, tiaras and ball gowns.

How Rose would have loved to be there. She had an eye for fashion even though she could never afford anything but a plain frock. She wondered about life in London, a far cry from sleepy Wimbotsham. Would she ever get out to see the wider world far from Norfolk?

‘Could you bring some more tea and cucumber sandwiches my dear?’

The voice woke Rose from her reverie and she quickly took out her note pad and stood by the lady’s side to take down her order.

When the customer asked for the bill Rose placed it on the table and was about to move away, not wishing to be anxious for a tip, even though she hoped her service had deserved one.

‘How old are you dear and what is your name?’

Taken aback by a customer showing interest in her, Rose replied in a courteous manner and was astounded when the lady, whose name she discovered was The Honourable Mrs Ross, asked her if she would be interested in working for her at her house near King’s Lynn.

‘That is so kind of you madam, but do you need a waitress at your house?’

‘No of course not Rose, I am offering you a job as my companion. I am a widow now and find it very lonely with just my household staff. I want someone to keep me company and to be with me on trips to London and other places. But if you don’t think it’s right for you it doesn’t matter. I am sure I will find a suitable person eventually. I have watched you every time I have been here, and you seem just the right girl for me. What do you say?’

Rose hesitated for just a few seconds but the chance of expanding her horizons now seemed as if it was being handed to her on a plate.

‘I think I should like to be your companion Madam, but can I think it over? Of course, I would have to give notice to my employer.’

‘Naturally, my dear. I am so pleased you will consider it but don’t keep me waiting too long for your reply. Let me know by the end of the week. I will be here again on Saturday.’

Rose discussed the position with her parents, who both agreed it would be a step up from her present job and encouraged her to give it a try.

By the time Rose celebrated her 18th birthday in September 1911 she had been with The Honourable Mrs Ross for several weeks. The position was all she dreamed of. Her room was situated in the west wing of the house and it was bright and cheerful with pink, floral chintz curtains and a matching eiderdown. Once she had added a few of her belongings it soon felt like home. Her employer was particularly good to Rose and would often give her the odd silk blouse or scarf she no longer required. Any free time would find Rose browsing The Lady or The Strand Magazine, which were passed on to her. When Mrs Ross made one of her regular trips to London, Rose went along. Tea at Fortnum’s, browsing the fabrics in Liberty’s.  She was living her dream.

©Julia Powell 2020

Where there’s a Wall

Megan knew that the new neighbours would offer a social opportunity she needed.  Her  hairdresser, whose local information she trusted, confided, “They’re a retired couple  moving into London from rural Essex.” That’s what the estate agent had told her. Megan was looking forward to welcoming them when they moved in.

When the day came, however, it was an anticlimax.  Although Megan hovered pointedly in the front garden, the newcomers averted their gaze as they chivvied Johnson’s removal team.                        “Watch the step, Col,” snapped the lead man. “There’ll be hell to pay if anything gets damaged”.     Indeed, the retired pair from Essex did look forbidding as they thrust forward into the house. It seemed next to no time before their door was firmly shut.

 Megan felt snubbed. It wouldn’t be easy now to go round and introduce herself, despite her best intentions. Number 29 was her first house. She had worked hard , taking on extra copy-writing contracts to raise the deposit, and was keen to make a go of living in the property, to prove to herself that she could be a success in her own right, without her ex partner, Jed. There was plenty to keep her busy, but it would help if someone on hand took an interest.

The new neighbours had clearly noticed that the back garden wall was in disrepair.  Later that first week workmen turned up and replaced the missing brickwork. Not only that, they removed the top trim to build up higher than the original level so that Megan could no longer see into the next-door back garden with its neat borders and bird feeders.

“Uh, huh,”she muttered to herself in dismay. “They’re creating a proper barrier.”  There seemed no prospect now of neighbourliness .

Days gave way to weeks without any contact between the two houses and their owners. Then, as dusk was falling one Saturday in November, Megan and the woman from next door arrived at their respective front gates at exactly the same time, as though the strong, drizzly , gusts of wind had buffeted them there mischievously.

The lady walked with a stick and carried a large shopping bag in her other hand.  Clearly she was weary.  Managing the latch on the gate  became too much for her and, in her haste, she stumbled, narrowly avoiding a fall into the damp leaves underfoot.

“Let me do that for you”, exclaimed Megan, almost in spite of herself.”Your bag must be heavy”.  The woman’s strained face suddenly relaxed.

“Oh, would you? She said, and – having given way thus far – she accepted Megan’s offer to carry the bag up to the door of number 31 and see her  into the house.

“Just being neighbourly,” Megan smiled , and the woman smiled back.

“Thank you.  I’m sorry if we’ve seemed stand-off-ish, dear. We had a bad experience with our previous neighbours. They seemed intent on expanding over our boundary and things got very unpleasant. Indeed it made my husband ill and he’s never got over it…”

“No problem, I’m so pleased to make your acquaintance after all,”  Megan spoke soothingly. The heart-ache she had suffered showed in the drawn lines of the new neighbour’s face.

Megan understood now why the wall had been extended, but she felt it need not be an insuperable barrier. With empathy, they would make a new, amicable start.

                                             Sarah Robins

A WHIFF OF A PLOT

‘Ar, I be ‘e,’ said Long John Silver as he put down his empty tankard, ‘ an’ ‘oo wans t’know?’ he asked in a menacing voice.  The questioner looked at Silver’s bloodshot eyes glaring at him from under an unkempt set of bushy black eyebrows.

‘My name is Sir Percival Longstocking.’ answered the well dressed man who’d posed the question.

Long John squinted at him, stroked his beard, and wondered why this man couldn’t identify a well known one legged man, with a crutch and a parrot sat on his shoulder, and said, ‘And?’

‘I’m here for some information that I think you might have.’ said Sir Percival.

Long John’s senses snapped into danger mode.  He’d heard a recent rumour on the pirate grapevine that there was someone looking for something that someone might have, and Long John Silver had something in his possession that someone might want!

‘Such as?’ answered John, narrowing his eyes.

‘It’s to do with a journey you made to the Caribbean on the pirate ship ‘Xanadu’ a few years ago.  I believe you knew George Scarface.’ said Percival.

‘First, I bain’t no pirate,’ said John in a challenging manner, one eye closed and the other getting bigger.  ‘Don’t ‘e try and pin piracy on I, you nancy boy!’ he said in a manner which left no doubt as to the consequences of such an action.

‘And secondly, wot if I did know George Scarface?  Wot’s it to you, eh?’

‘Now, now, don’t worry,’ said Percival nervously, ‘I’m not interested in piracy.  What I want is some information about this George Scarface, and a document that he had.  If you have the information I need, I will pay you handsomely!’

John’s eyes lit up greedily.  He stroked his beard once more. 

Percival was pleased with John’s reaction and said,  ‘I’ve rented a room upstairs, here at the Llandoger Trow, where we can talk without fear of being overheard.  Will you come upstairs with me?’

Silver thought for a moment.  ‘This is a trap!  My guts don’t trust this devious dandy, and my information substantiates that!  ‘e don’t smell right, that’s for sure!

Silver stroked his beard once more.

‘Why don’t we go to a place I knows, where I guarantees we won’t be disturbed?’ Long John asked.

He watched Percival closely as he posed his question.

Percival seemed to be a little flustered according to John’s wordly wise eyes, but to everyone else in the bar he appeared to be perfectly calm. 

But he was troubled by John’s suggestion.  How to respond was indeed a serious problem.

There was a short silence, during which Silver thrust his head towards Percival’s, and raised his eyebrows questioningly.  ‘Well?’ said Silver.

Not being able to think quickly enough of a convincing reason to turn John down, Percival said, ‘Of course.  But you will tell me where we are going, won’t you?’ he said.

‘Casn’t do that.  Not in my best interests.  You’ll ‘ave to take my word that e’ll be safe.’ said John, ‘I don’t know e, nor owt about e, so I’ve got to watch out fer meself.’ he continued.  ‘And after all, it’s e wot wants the information, and it’s I that’s got it.  So that gives I the upper ‘and, don’t it?’ he finished.

Percival didn’t know what to say.  This response had thwarted his plan, which was to lure Long John to the room upstairs, where Percival’s thugs were in hiding, waiting for Percival and John to enter the room.  As soon as they were sat at the table, the plan was to overpower Silver, render him unconscious, and then get him into a cell at Percival’s town house before he regained consciousness.  This cell was a sub-cellar, a room with a hidden entrance, located beneath the house’s normal cellar. It was fitted with shackles, irons, and torture equipment, and there they would have ample time to search him for the treasure map of Skeleton Island, or obtain its location from him by fair means or foul.

‘Very well.’ said Percival as confidently as he could.  He took solace in the fact that he was more than a competent swordsman, but Silver was a man who’d lived on his wits all of his life and who did not recognise any fencing code.  The only code that meant anything to John was – ‘Silver’s Survival’!

The two men left the pub, Silver leading the way.  The night air was frosty.  John had had a fair bit to drink, and the cold air hit him hard.  He became dizzy, and immediately needed to urinate, which he did against the nearest wall.  Percival turned his back, and held a handkerchief to his nose.  Silver vomited, but remained standing, and was remarkably sharp for a man in such a state, a state of sharpness that had evolved over his whole lifetime in the company of fellow reprobates and ne’er do wells.

‘Follow me!’ said Silver spitting out residual vomit.

Percival followed at ten paces.

Silver turned down a dark, narrow alley.  Percival hesitated, but decided that he had to follow.  Part way down the alley Silver stopped, and steadied himself against the wall.  As Percival approached, John’s feigned unsteadiness disappeared, and he swung swiftly round, arm outstretched, and slashed Percival’s lily white throat with his perfectly honed and trusty cutlass.  Blood spurted everywhere, and Percival fell to the ground.

Silver wiped his face, and then the cutlass, on his dirty neckerchief, and just at that moment Billy Bones came out of the shadows.  John was not surprised.

‘Good work John.’ said Billy.

Long John Silver nodded.

‘Ar!  Daft bugger thinking ‘e could get one over on I!’ said Silver and put his arm around his fellow pirate, and they staggered back to the pub.

What Billy Bones did not know was that Long John had got wind that Bones had colluded with Percival in order to obtain the map, whilst pretending to be John’s friend.  And who knows?  Had John walked a little further down that alley, then perhaps he might have been the one laying dead on the ground, felled by Bones’s knife.

Once safely inside the pub, John went to the bar and rang the barman’s bell, and the room fell silent.  He put his hand into his pocket and withdrew a piece of circular black cloth, known as a black spot, and handed it to Billy Bones.

‘ ‘ere Billy!  ‘ere be a gift for e!’  said Long John Silver, baring his rotten teeth.

Bones looked at the black spot Silver had given him, and his face lost all of its colour.   It was an official pirate’s verdict of guilt for a serious offence, such as betrayal, and all pirates, except for the issuer of the black spot, were honour bound to kill any recipient.  The code had been configured in this way so that the issuer could never be accused of undertaking the killing themselves, because as soon as the issuer had presented the black spot, the pirates’ code dictated that he, or she, must depart immediately, leaving the recipient in the company of any number of men who could, and would, carry out the sentence.

As soon as Bones had the spot in his hand, Silver turned on his only heel and left the Llandoger Trow with the map and other important documents safely secured inside of his clothing, and he disappeared into the darkness to figure out just how he might get to Skeleton Island.

©Bob Reader November 2020 – 1258 words