Two Weekly Challenge: Week 8
Use one of the following as the start of a story:
- “Don’t move,” he whispered.
- The scream sounded far away.
- I turned away before s/he could see my face.
Congratulations to Bob whose story, “Don’t Move” was selected as the best for this challenge.
The scream sounded far away. She hadn’t noticed the uneven ground. Sue lay on her front, feeling shocked and sore. The cold surface beneath her body, was freezing. She began to shiver. Slowly, she attempted to sit up, her black tights were ruined. The contents of her red bag were scattered nearby. Sue attempted to reach for her bag, unfortunately her right wrist appeared injured. The pain was excruciating, her distress evident. Slowly, she gathered her valuables together, regretting her earlier decision to go for a walk.
The country lane was quiet, it wasn’t a route she usually followed. Sue breathed a sigh of relief when she saw a large white van in the distance, heading in her direction. The van abruptly stopped, narrowly missing her. She leant against a tree. It was a struggle to walk, she must have twisted her ankle as she fell.
The van door opened. A muscular young man got out, walked to the rear and opened the back doors. He had a long straggly beard, with dark hair tied in a ponytail. A dirty white shirt hung over the top of his jeans, he slowly walked towards her, she was suddenly very afraid. He didn’t say a word to her, his behaviour seemed bizarre.
“Thank you for stopping, I fell, I’ve hurt my wrist and ankle. Actually, I’m feeling dreadful.
My boyfriend will be worried.”
He stood upright, peering down at her. She continued to talk quickly, trying to appear calm. Suddenly, she was taken by surprise, as he scooped her up, then headed towards the van. She began to scream, then struggled without success to loosen his grip. She was flung on the hard van floor, leaving her stunned. The doors slammed shut. Sue heard him chuckle as he started the engine, the radio came on at full volume. It was pointless to continue shouting, she closed her eyes, tears silently fell.
Sue lay curled up in a ball, with no idea of the direction they were travelling. The back of the van was dark with an unpleasant damp smell. Occasionally, she would be flung from side to side, causing her to feel sick. The roads seemed full of pot holes, and tight bends. Her pains became insignificant, she was petrified, her heart racing.
She had set off for her walk after breakfast, quite happy. Now, she was facing a nightmare. The van continued to travel at high speed, speeding around the bends, twisting and rattling. Occasionally the van would bounce, causing her stomach to lurch. How long had they been traveling? it seemed like forever.
Eventually, the van came to a halt. She couldn’t hear any traffic, it was deathly quiet. The engine stopped. Sue had no inkling of the torment that lay ahead, she began to cry, the wet salty tears ran down her cold cheeks. Her wrist and ankle were throbbing. She wanted to go home to Dan, what would he be doing? Would he
be worried? Would he have phoned her friends? Would he have fallen asleep? Surely, he would have realised she was missing.
The front door of the van opened, then almost immediately slammed shut. Heavy footsteps approached, coming to a halt, as the back door was yanked open.
She glanced up, as the tall dark figure reached out, forcibly grabbing her arms, then dragging her out of the van. Her legs fell to the ground, scrapping against the gravel. Suddenly he pulled a dirty, foul smelling cloth from his pocket, pressing it against her face. She couldn’t breathe, her eyes were focused on the tattoos covering his muscular arms, her eyelids began to close, they felt heavy, as she drifted off to sleep.
In the distance, someone was shouting.
“Wake up, wake up.”
She was roughly shaken by the shoulders. She could smell the dusty atmosphere, feel the chilled air, and now see the grime. A menacing face above her.
“Move, get moving.”
Sue attempted to sit up, blinking at the bright torch shining in her eyes. She felt dizzy and nauseous. Her finger tips stroked her clammy hand.
“Where am I? Please don’t hurt me.”
She sat on a smelly metal bed in a small out building. Her hand reached out for the cracked cup, full of water. She quickly drank it all, spluttering, as her hand shook.
“Get moving, stop snivelling, you look a mess. Why did I pick you up?”
She heard his loud cruel voice echoing, whilst she stared at the bare walls. Her arms were shivering against her body. She tried to pull her flimsy cardigan across her chest, before staggering on to wobbly feet.
“How long have I been here? Where are you taking me? Please let me go home,” she pleaded.
“It’s a mystery tour,” he sneered.
Sue felt him press her injured wrist, the pain shooting through her whole arm. She attempted to resist, as he pulled her forward, towards the broken wooden door. He
appeared wild. Weakness soon overcame her, her floundering limbs became still. With
extreme force, she was soon thrown into the back of the van. She had noticed a secluded area, surrounded by a copse of trees and dirt tracks.
Praying, then dreaming of Dan’s arms wrapping around her, pulling her close to his taut chest, keeping her safe. The smell of his familiar aftershave would touch her nostrils. She turned onto her side, trying to keep warm. The rattling sound of the van, mingled with the constant vibration, as it gathered speed.
Thoughts of the dark stranger made her shudder. She recalled his rough hands stroking her bare neck, and the pungent smell of his breath, as he leant over her body. She had no idea where they were heading, or his future plans.. Exhaustion eventually succeeds, her eyelids droop then drop.
“Sue, hurry up, it’s lunchtime.”
Sue looks up from her keyboard, smiling at her boyfriend Dan. She pauses.
“I’ve almost finished writing my short story. The ending is always difficult.”
The scream sounded far away …
The scream sounded far away, breaking the utter silence of the summer evening. It was piercing, full of pain. My heart started pounding and I sat bolt upright from where I had been lying in the heather, stretched out after a welcome picnic of pork pie and tomatoes, my head on my rucksack, a can of lager next to me. I looked around. Nothing. All I could see were the purple moors and far away in the valley a distant village. No noise of cars. The road was well over two miles away. In the blue sky were the white contrails of a plane heading for New York, and nearer a buzzard soaring through the stillness of the air.
Had I been mistaken? Could it have been a dog fox calling for its mate? No – it was a human scream, I knew it. I scrambled to my feet, pulling my binoculars out of my rucksack, and quickly scanned the horizon. To the north everything was heather in all its August glory. Looking south, down towards the valley, the way I had climbed up, there was a clump of silver birch trees and to the left a black expanse of mud and water. It had been a wet July and the ground was boggy. But there was no one – no movement, no flash of colour from a brightly coloured cagoule to tell me another person was within earshot.
I had intended wild camping in the heather, just in the lee of an overhanging rock, but I left my gear and started down the track again. I couldn’t get any speed up. The way was slippery and strewn with boulders. When I had made it as far as the silver birches, I started to call out, but there was no reply, except for some wildfowl which flew off from the muddy water when they heard my shout. No other sound, not a breath of wind. Reluctantly I climbed back up the track, where I pitched my tent and sat sipping the lager, contemplating the surrounding country until the light started to fade and the first pinpricks of stars appeared above me.
I was tired, but I slept fitfully that night, tossing in my sleeping bag. By the time dawn came my feet felt icy. I brewed some coffee on the camp stove but it made no difference. I started shivering. The scream was reverberating in my head.
I had planned to continue north but somehow I had lost all enthusiasm for it. I needed warmth and the reassuring presence of other human beings. So I decided to go back the way I had come and within an hour I was back in the village trying the door of the Royal Oak. Luckily they took bed and breakfast guests and the dining room was open. I ordered porridge and bacon and eggs with more coffee After a while I was starting to relax and the jitters I had felt all night were beginning of fade away.
As in all pubs, there were old photographs on the wall – sheep fairs and carnivals from the 1920s, the village school with girls in pinafores and boys in caps and short trousers. But another photo caught my eye and I stared. That clump of silver birches alongside twisted metal. I asked the landlady about it when she came to collect the dirty plates.
‘A German plane came down on the hillside in August 1940,’ she said. ‘Been on a bombing raid to Liverpool and got lost somehow. The crater’s still there. It’s full of mud now.’
‘Were the airmen rescued?’
‘All killed, I believe. They buried them in the churchyard. You can see the grave just beyond the lych-gate.’
I thanked her, paid the bill and set out for the churchyard, where sheep were grazing quietly, keeping the grass neat. Everything was silent and the sun was out. It was going to be another beautiful day.
But I could still hear the scream.
A Bucket of Ashes.
I turned away before he could see my face. Would it be possible to walk out of the pub casually as if I never intended to enter in the first place? I was too late.
“Amanda?” said a voice I remembered from long ago. “It is Amanda, isn’t it? Please, don’t run away.”
What do I do? Do I lie? I’m sorry Peter, I didn’t see you it’s so dark in here. Do I brazen it out? Well spotted! I wondered if you’d recognise me.
“Hello Pete.” As I turned round my face reddened like my eighteen-year-old self. We had last met when I was that age, which was over forty years ago, and yet we still recognised each other. Physically, we had changed; grey hair, glasses, extra weight but beneath that superficiality there was still a certain something that was familiar. He was smartly dressed which was one step up from the jeans and t-shirts favoured in our youth.
“Let me fetch you a drink,” he said. “I remember you used to like Bacardi and coke. Have your tastes changed?”
I laughed, “How embarrassing. I’ve never touched that drink since one excruciatingly humiliating night at Uni. A glass of white wine would be fine. Thanks.”
As he went to the bar, I watched him. He had been my first serious boyfriend and we had been inseparable at college before being estranged by university and life. Despite our families living in the same West country town, we had not encountered each other again. His email had come out of the blue and when he suggested if I were ever in our hometown that we should meet up, I had agreed. Now I wish I had not. I was not ready to rake over the past. What was that quotation? “I tell you the past is a bucket of ashes.” I was still trying to remember who had written that when Pete returned.
“I hope you didn’t mind me making contact after all this time?” he said as he placed the drink in front of me. “Your name came up on LinkedIn and I thought I would risk it being really you. I’m so pleased it was.”
We spent the next couple of hours enjoying several drinks and comparing how the years had treated us. He was a widower with two daughters and a beloved grandson. He had lived and worked in the town where we grew up and had little ambition to go anywhere else.
“Would you believe, I even live in the house where I was born? My parents left it to me when they died. You must come and see it.”
I explained that I was only in the area to clear and sell the family home after the recent death of my mother. I told him about my career in academia and that I was now mainly concentrating on writing textbooks for students. I enthused about my life in the city; how I loved the theatres, the restaurants, and the speed of life there. Unlike him I had no children.
“Have you not married?” he asked. “Only I see you use your maiden name. Luckily, otherwise I wouldn’t have known it was you.”
I acknowledged that I had never married but before he thought I had been pining for him for forty years, I explained that I had had several long-term partnerships. The last of which had finished only recently. This information appeared to please him and when I eventually told him I had to return to my hotel he asked if I would be able to have lunch with him the following day. I could see where this was leading and knew that I had to put a stop to this before one of us was hurt.
“Pete, I really did love you when we were teenagers. I was devastated when we parted. You won’t believe I cried for several days but, as they say, “That was then, and this is now”. I have enjoyed this evening, I really have. It’s been great to catch up. But tomorrow I leave, and I won’t be returning. My life is not here. I look forward to the future and I try not to dwell on the mistakes of the past. I even have a new companion and she’s waiting for me at home.”
I hated myself for misdirecting him. My companion was a delightful, young dog who took up my days, but I felt that the implication that I was gay would lessen the blow of walking out on him. As I left him sitting there, I remembered the writer of the quotation which came fleetingly to mind, it was Carl Sandburg and his verse had captured how I felt.
I speak of new cities and new people.
I tell you the past is a bucket of ashes.
I tell you yesterday is a wind gone down,
a sun dropped in the west.
I tell you there is nothing in the world
only an ocean of to-morrows,
a sky of to-morrows.
“Prairie” by Carl Sandburg
“Don’t move!” he whispered, raising his arm, then bringing it down sharply.
Olga remained perfectly still and made no sound.
She couldn’t see much in the half light of this garret. She was looking out on to the street, sniper’s rifle poised, pointing it at a German officer.
Her breathing was very shallow; very quiet. She was completely calm.
She squeezed the trigger, and the German fell.
Olga was an elite Russian sniper, a graduate of the Central Women’s Sniper Training School, and she was already credited with 66 confirmed kills.
The Soviet Union had realised that women were better snipers than most men, and had successfully deployed them across their armed forces, mostly with infantry regiments.
Between 1941 and 1945, a total of 2,484 soviet female snipers were functioning in this role, of whom about 500 survived the war.
Olga had at last reached Berlin with her regiment, and was now embroiled in the tense room to room fighting, with the ruthless, unforgiving, battle hardened, German SS troops.
Separated from her unit, she now worked alone, and constantly hoped that the next human being she saw close up would be a Russian Comrade, and not a Nazi.
As soon as her shot had been unleashed she moved swiftly, and noiselessly, away from her firing position into a neighbouring room.
This basic procedure was vital, for if her position had in any way, been compromised when she’d discharged her gun, then machine gun or artillery fire would instantly have been concentrated on her location.
She quickly settled into her new sniping position, and started scanning the surrounding streets.
Suddenly she heard a noise behind her.
Automatically, she rolled onto her back, and fired in the direction of the noise.
There was a thud, and a Waffen SS Oberschütze (senior rifleman) fell to the ground, dead.
Instantaneously, his associate returned fire, but his shot missed Olga, and he died too.
Once more Olga moved into another room.
It was then that the voice came.
“Cut!”, shouted Spielberg, “It’s a wrap! Well done everybody. That was perfect!”
© Bob Reader May 2020
“Don’t move!” he whispered, putting a hand over her mouth. “Don’t make a sound.” She felt his breath on her neck, as he dragged her backwards down the narrow aisle, between rows of racking. Paula fought to free herself, but his strong arms just gripped her tighter.
It was six weeks since Paula had started at the hotel. It was her first job since leaving college and she enjoyed the work, particularly when Stafford, the manager, was around. She smiled when she remembered the impression she had made on him. He had offered her the job after a very brief interview and asked her to start the following Monday. On her first day he had shown her around himself and personally made sure she looked smart in her new uniform. He had stressed the importance of looking attractive in her role as a receptionist and had inspected her from all angles.
He had also introduced his deputy, Vera, who was less impressed. She seemed to have taken against the new girl from the start and Paula could not understand why. She had shown respect for the older woman, and tried to be helpful and friendly, but could not penetrate Vera’s iron curtain. Paula felt uncomfortable every time she heard the click-clack of Vera’s high heels approaching, and dreaded the hostility the woman seemed to project towards her.
So this evening she had made a decision. Sitting alone at reception, after most of the staff had left, she had sat down and typed a letter. “Dear Stafford…” it began. She had printed it, signed it, and was just tucking it into one of the hotel’s cream envelopes, when she heard a sound from the service corridor behind her. No-one should be in there so late, she thought. She opened the door and called out, “Who’s there?” No reply. A number of doors to various storerooms opened off the corridor. The first door, to the linen store, was unlocked, so Paula stepped inside and felt in darkness for the light switch. Before she could find it, she was grabbed from behind and a man’s voice whispered, “Don’t move.”
She struggled to bite his hand, to kick his shins, to escape his grasp, but to no avail. She was dragged away from the door. The man swore as he banged an elbow in the darkness. Then there was a thud as he tripped on a mattress that lay on the floor and, still struggling, they both collapsed onto it. As she fell, Paula grabbed at a shelf to save herself, but only succeeded in bringing down its contents. Towels, sheets, and pillowcases rained over them. Paula suddenly found herself free of the man’s grasp. She pulled a sheet from over her head and screamed, “Help!”
Then she whipped away the rest of the sheet, to reveal her assailant. To her amazement, the face of Stafford emerged blinking, into the light. He looked just as surprised as her, as he realised her identity. Embarrassed, he stammered, “I’m so sorry, my dear. I thought you were someone else.” At that moment, the door opened again, and the light came on. Paula heard the click-clack of high heels and saw Vera striding down the aisle, her face distorted with rage. She made straight for Stafford. “What the hell are you doing with her? You arranged to meet me here!” She slapped the manager’s face, spun round on one high heel and stormed off.
Stafford rubbed his burning cheek and turned to Paula. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, my dear,” he said. “It was just a silly mistake. I never intended you any harm.” Paula said nothing. Silently, she reached into the pocket of her uniform jacket, pulled out a cream envelope, and handed him her letter of resignation.
Two Weekly Challenge: Week 9
- What if someone finds a business card dropped in the street and phones the number on it?
- What if a gardener or a builder laying foundations digs up something unexpected?
Congratulations to Peter Hilton who won this challenge with his story “The Cobble”.
Julie wasn’t happy, the builders had arrived. At 7.15am, the doorbell had rung, causing her to rush downstairs, nearly tripping over her silly cat who was balanced on a step. She pulled back the net curtain to see the two young men stood by their white van. She paused, then slowly opened her front door.
“What are you doing here? I assumed the work was halted because of lockdown.”
“We arranged the date love, don’t worry we will obey the social distancing,” he replied.
Julie had been looking forward to her new extension. It would mean room for utility, two conservatory chairs, and a downstairs toilet. She was surprised to see the builders, during the Pandemic, it was classed as unnecessary work. Still if they were allowed to continue, she would just have to keep well out of their way.
“Before we start digging the foundations, two cups of tea would be nice, two heaped sugars please.”
Julie had to smile at them both, before turning to go inside. The men knew she couldn’t make them tea during the lockdown. She could foresee her day being very different. It had been very quiet these past few weeks. Her life had been turned upside down. Firstly she had learnt to master online shopping, which was far from easy. Securing a free slot was a work of art.
She enjoyed her daily walk, going out early, before too many people were out and about. Then she would have a friendly chat with her neighbour over the fence, discussing their worries and concerns about the deadly virus that was circulating the country. A daily phone call with her family was very welcome. She missed them very much. Her garden was her retreat, a place she could relax and unwind. It was beginning to look very colourful after six weeks hard work.
Julie tried to ignore the men working in her garden, deciding to sort out a drawer, that she could barely close, it was the accumulation of many months papers and letters. It was after lunch, that she heard the commotion. The two men throwing their shovels down, shouting and using colourful language. Even the cat charged behind the chair. Looking out of the kitchen window, she noticed the men peering down at a box on the lawn, perhaps made of metal. She wished her eyesight was better, as she squinted in the bright sunlight.
Julie decided to investigate further, after all, it was on her property. Whatever they had found was definitely not theirs. She opened the kitchen window, gaining their attention.
“What’s all the noise, what have you found?” she shouted.
“It’s a box, we’ve found an old box. It looks interesting. Shall we open it? Let’s open it.”
“Of course you can’t, bring it here and put it in the porch.”
“Is there a reward?” they chuckled.
“Maybe, we will have to see.”
The comment seemed to placate the two men, who continued to work, occasionally glancing over at the box. Julie could tell they weren’t very happy, especially as they had found it. Curiosity surfaced, however she couldn’t go outside whilst the men were still there. Whose box was it? It certainly wasn’t hers. Would she be safe opening it by herself? A gun, a finger, money? Her mind went into overdrive. Why would anyone want to bury a box? It seemed strange, unless they had something to hide.Picking up the phone, Julie rang her daughter to tell her the news, and ask for advice.
“You must be joking Mum, the builders have found a box in your garden? Be careful.”
“Of course I will. I’m just concerned about, what I will discover when I lift the lid.”
They spoke for a while. When Julie ended the call, the builders were clearing up, ready to finish for the day. They waved as they walked back to their van. She picked up a cloth and cleaner, before going outside to wipe the box. Ten minutes later, she was ready to open it. Would she be opening Pandora’s box, and cause more trouble? Feeling excited, yet apprehensive, Julie opened the catch easily. She took a deep breath before opening the grey steel box, which felt quite heavy.
Staring at the number of contents, she realised it was a time capsule.She put on a pair of gloves and gently explored the items.It amazed her that someone, maybe a hundred years ago, had buried the box in her garden. A postcard was dated 1916, the words written, resulted in her crying. There was a shell case, a decorative metal broach, a notebook of which every page was a record of a soldiers time in the trenches. A memorial plaque and scroll sent to the family by the British government, on behalf of the King. A telegram, and finally a chaplains letter about the young soldiers death. Every death a tragedy. Julie picked up the box with the love it deserved, it would be safe in her possession. Tomorrow she would email the local museum for advice. It had been an interesting day, one she would never forget.
Jada stared in fascination at the small rounds of metal the colour of gold in the palm of her hand. She found them digging in the garden, and she closed her eyes, imagining. They took her back to another time, another place, far away from the life she had to live.
She dipped an old toothbrush in water and cleaned them carefully like they did on television. At the library she found a book about old coins. Constantine the Great, a Roman emperor. That was his face from centuries ago when their garden had been – what? She didn’t know, but perhaps there’d been a Roman villa here before there’d been a city and a housing estate. Perhaps a Roman soldier had stood on this very spot and the coins had fallen out of the pocket of his tunic.
She didn’t tell her mother. The coins were something of her own that her mother couldn’t spoil, the way she spoiled everything else. Like the time she’d borrowed Jada’s best jeans – her only decent pair – and spilled curry sauce down them that wouldn’t wash out.
Most of the council house garden was a wilderness, but Jada had dug over a little plot in one corner where she scattered a packet of wild flower seeds. She wanted something beautiful to calm the chaos of their lives. So now there was a rainbow of scarlet poppies and other flowers, purple and yellow, she didn’t know the names of. Later she’d managed to buy herbs – thyme and rosemary – but she didn’t have much money. Only what she got from her paper round, and she needed most of that to buy shampoo and tampons that her mother couldn’t afford.
Jada’s father had left a year ago, and her mother didn’t bother with the garden. Didn’t bother with anything, actually. She just sat watching television all day – soaps and programmes about beautiful homes – though she didn’t try to beautify her own. Universal credit hardly lasted until the end of the week, so that was no surprise, but it was Jada who tried to keep the bathroom and the kitchen decent with an old rag and some bleach that had probably been under the sink since before she was born.
Sometimes, later in the evening when it grew dark, her mother got dressed up, put on make-up and high heels – stupid ones she could hardly walk in – and went out. Jada knew where she went. One night she’d followed her mother down to the industrial estate and saw it with her own eyes. It made her feel sick.
But at least the next day they had takeaway pizza or fish and chips instead of pot noodles and sliced white bread, and there’d be money to top up the phone. What else her mother bought Jada didn’t want to think about.
‘Now your stupid exams are over you can leave school and get yourself a job,’ her mother said, puffing on a roll-up, ‘Stop sponging.’
‘I’m not sponging!’ Jada retorted. ‘You’re my mother. You’re supposed to look after me. I didn’t ask to be born!’
Her mother sneered. ‘Bloody kids! When I was sixteen I was working in Woolies and giving your Nan half what I earned.’
‘Well you can’t leave school when you’re sixteen these days. You’ve got to do some sort of training.’
‘Do you? P’raps you could learn to do nails. Or work at a beauty salon. Facials and that. I could have been a beautician.’
When did you last do any proper work? Jada thought. Her mother was supposed to have some heart complaint, or at least that’s what she told them at the job centre.
‘I was thinking of going to college. A levels. History maybe.’ Jada said, as casually as she could, but she already knew what the reaction would be.
‘History! What d’you want to study that crap for? That won’t get you a job! Stop dreaming, girl. That’s all you do – dream. Planting bloody seeds like we lived in a palace. Growing herbs like you’re Jamie Oliver! Fat lot of good herbs are when we can’t afford to use the gas half the time.’
‘Better than what you do on a night,’ said Jada, then wished she hadn’t when her mother took a swing at her.
‘Don’t you tell me what to do, Goody Two-Shoes! If I didn’t go we couldn’t pay the rent and then where would you be? Get out of my sight!’
Helplessly Jada escaped to her room, rubbing her face to try and stop the stinging. To comfort herself she took her coins from their hiding place, contemplating them for a long time. Could she ever be an archaeologist? It seemed impossible, but her dreams were all she had to cling to.
The builder raises his loaded spade and deposits another pile on top of the growing soil heap.
“How are you getting on?” says Brian.
“The trench is nearly finished. We’ll be pouring concrete in a couple of days.” He drives his spade in again and is surprised to hear a metallic clunk. He sticks his hand into the loose soil and brings out a metal object.
“What’s that?” Brian asks.
“No idea. Do you want it?” He tosses it to the boy.
“Put that down Brian,” calls his mother from the window, “It might be dangerous.”
“Doesn’t look dangerous,” says Brian, peering at a smooth oval shape, like a cobble, nestling in his hand.
“Leave it alone. It might be a bomb!”
“Bombs don’t look like this, Mum.”
“Well, come and get ready, or you’ll be late for school. I’ve made you a nice packed lunch and you can help yourself to an apple.”
Brian examines the strange shapes engraved on the surface of the object, but he can’t make out the worn and dirty characters. He begins rubbing off the soil, that covers them.
“I won’t tell you again Brian. Come away from that trench. You’ll get your school clothes dirty,”
I wish she’d stop fussing, he thinks. What if she’d just stop bothering me? He watches, puzzled, as the cobble glows red in his hand.
“You’ll fall in and break your stupid neck,” yells his mother.
No need to be so stroppy, thinks Brian, astonished by the change in her behaviour. What’s got into her?
Brian walks to school, one pocket of his blazer bulging. In the classroom, he sits with Carol, who he likes. Their teacher is Mr Reynolds, who he doesn’t like. First lesson is history, and Mr Reynolds drones on about children’s experiences in World War II. Boring! Brian takes his treasure out of his pocket and shows it to Carol.
“What’s that?” she asks.
“Don’t know. I found it.”
“Might be a bomb.”
“Is that words on it?”
”Think so, but I can’t read them.” He begins to polish it with his hankie.
“Wish he’d shut up about evacuation,” says Carol. “He should be evacuated himself.”
What if Mr Reynolds was evacuated? Thinks Brian, still polishing.
The cobble glows Red. The teacher stops talking and horror spreads across his face. He rushes to the door gripping his stomach, and runs down the corridor towards the staff toilets.
“Did you do that?” asks Carol, looking very impressed.
“I’m not sure. I think it was the cobble.”
“Is it magic?”
“It seems to have an effect on people.”
Brian sees admiration in the girl’s eyes. He rubs the cobble and concentrates. What if Carol should fancy me? He smiles as the cobble glows.
When school finishes, Brian picks up his bag to go home.
“Can I come with you?” asks Carol.
“I’d like to walk with you.”
“But you live in the opposite direction. And someone might see us.”
“Don’t care if they do.”
“Well, alright then. If you must.”
He declines her invitation to hold hands but she walks beside him chattering, all the way to his gate.
Wish she’d shut up, he thinks.
Indoors, Brian finds his mother in the kitchen.
“I meant to cook your favourite dinner, sausages and chips, but I haven’t had time,” she says. “I’ll just open a can of beans.”
“But I don’t like beans Mum.”
“You’ll have what your given and be grateful,” she snaps.
This isn’t normal, thinks Brian. Must be the effect of the cobble. He settles down in front of the TV, with his plate on his knee.
“Not there!” says his mother. “Eat at the table.”
“But I want to watch Star Trek.”
“Not while you’re eating Brian. I don’t know what you see in that rubbish, anyway.”
“You haven’t given me a drink Mum.”
“There’s water in the tap.”
This can’t go on, he thinks. I must put a stop to it. While she is busy at the sink, he takes out the cobble and rubs it under the table. What if my mother went back to the way she was, he says silently.
“Sit up straight when you’re eating Brian.”
What’s gone wrong? It hasn’t worked. He rubs it furiously and repeats the words in his head. Oh no, it won’t even glow! don’t tell me she’s going to stay like this forever.
Brian has a sleepless night, worrying about his mother, Carol, and even Mr Reynolds. The cobble is in his bed beside him. When he leaves for school, he finds Carol waiting at the gate.
“Can I be your best friend?” she asks.
“No, of course not. You’re a girl.”
He rubs vigorously on the cobble in his pocket and thinks, What if they all return to normal? But nothing happens. Brian is desperate. What Have I done?
“You’re not listening to me,” says Carol, “If you don’t …”
“If what?” he says and the cobble glows red.
“You make me so cross,” says Carol, why did I ever bother …”
But he doesn’t hear her.
“I’ve cracked it!” he shouts. “You say What if to cast a spell and to reverse it, you say the words backwards. Why didn’t I think of that?”
Mr Reynolds greets them with a smile as they enter the classroom and Brian listens attentively to the lesson. I must go straight home after school, he thinks. I must check on my Mum and then put this thing back in the trench quickly, before they pour that concrete.
The Silver Piedfort
The coroner cleared his throat and stated that, under the Treasure Act of 1996, I should have declared my find and that my failure to do so within fourteen days could now lead to three months in jail or a fine or both.
“However, “he continued, “I do not consider this to be a deliberate criminal act. You, Miss Hardy, are just disorganised. I am, therefore, giving you a conditional discharge and order you to pay £250.00 towards the costs.”
I was so relieved not to be going to jail. I was not even insulted to be called “disorganised” as I knew that it was far from the truth but who was I to argue? I looked round to see if Kevin was in the public seats but there was no sign of him. Typical, the first hint of trouble and he had packed his bags and left me.
How had I, a respectable woman in my forties, come to be in this position? It had all started three or so years ago when I was helping Mother to spruce up her garden after Dad’s death. She had, understandably, allowed the flower beds to run wild. I was no gardener but could wield a trowel with the best of them.
“What if I find some treasure, Mum?” I had said knowing that it was highly unlikely.
“You never know. I’ve come across shards of Victorian pottery and even a piece of clay pipe. People have lived in this cottage for many hundreds of years.”
It was as I was digging up the root of a dahlia when my trowel hit something with a metallic clink. Despite the soil clinging to it I could see that it was circular in shape. I picked it up and took it over to where Mum was working.
“Talk about fate! What do you think this is?”
Mum rubbed the soil off the object and took one look at it, “I have no idea, sweetheart. It’s not a coin I recognise. It’s too big and too heavy.”
Later, after Mum had cleaned up the find, we both realised that, although it had some royal markings on it, it was not a British coin that we recognised. It was probably worthless, but my mother thought she could use it as a paperweight. That is exactly what she did.
Two years later, sadly, my mother joined my father and I was left to clear their home. My latest boyfriend, Kevin, came to give me a hand. I was under no illusion that it was my attractive personality that made him interested in me; my small inheritance was more like it. But he was amusing, and, at my age, unattached men are hard to come by.
We must have been packing items away for at least two hours when Kevin called me down from upstairs. “Hey, Catherine! What’s this?”
Looking over the banisters I saw he was holding that old coin in the palm of his hand. I had completely forgotten about it. I told him the story of when and where we had discovered it and, being a history graduate, he found it fascinating.
“Take it to the museum and see what they say. It looks genuinely old to me. Perhaps it’s worth a bob or two.”
So, I did. Their expert on coins, who looked at it, could not hold back his excitement and went on to tell me that it was silver and minted in the year 1322 to mark the ascension of Charles IV to the French throne. It was not currency but had been used either as guides for mint workers or as reckoning counters for officials. It was a rare find and was known as a “piedfort”. He informed me that I should bring it to the attention of the local coroner as it would be considered as “found treasure” and that I had fourteen days to do so.
Kevin greeted me, when I returned home, with great excitement and a glass of bubbly.
“Since your phone call,” he said,” I’ve been looking up on Wikipedia about piedforts. Did the museum chap tell you that only three have ever been found in England and that one had sold at auction in 2007 for £1,800?”
“Wow,” I replied whilst bubbles went up my nose.
“I’ve been on to Portcullis Auction House in town and they have a rare coin auction in a month’s time. They were really excited to hear what we have and would be pleased to sell it for us. They will put it on-line as well as both French and American buyers would be interested. How about that? We could go on that holiday we promised ourselves.”
To my shame, I was so pleased that Kevin was thinking about a future with me that I did not tell him about the instruction to inform the coroner. I also did not say that I would have liked to keep it as a memento of that lovely day with my mum. I found myself attempting to keep him happy, so I agreed with his plan.
Fourteen days later an official letter came to the house. Its contents told me that I was requested to attend court for not having informed the coroner that I was in possession of some buried treasure which had an intrinsic metal value. The museum must have informed officials who had been waiting for me to report it.
So that is how I ended up in court and nearly in jail. My lawyer had argued that, after the deaths of both my parents, I had not been thinking straight and that I had developed a sentimental attachment to the object. Better that than telling him about Kevin’s keenness to sell it.
The item is now in the local museum, I am now out of pocket with the fine and lawyer’s fees and Kevin is God knows where. I wish I had never found that silver piedfort.
(Based on a real life case with names changed and writer’s imagination added! Helen)
IN THE GARDEN
Matilda, a lifelong spinster, was in her dotage and loved gardening.
She had just moved house, and had brought all of her treasured plants with her; flowers, shrubs, pot plants, bedding plants, and even a small tree.
The shrubs had already been replanted in her wonderful large new garden, by a professional landscaping firm, and Matilda was now positioning and planting border and bedding plants, aubrietia for the gaps in her Cotswold stone walls, alpines for the small stone trough, and shade lovers to be planted beneath the garden’s existing canopy of trees, as well as finding locations for her many pot plants.
But the tree she had brought with her had had to go back to the landscaper’s yard to be looked after until it could be put where Matilda wanted it to go in her new garden.
She was very busy, very happy and very content.
Whilst working she could not help thinking about what the landscapers had found buried, just where she wanted her tree to go. She couldn’t believe it, nor all of the hoo-ha that followed the discovery; the media coverage; a TV News interview; interest shown by the police and the local coroner; and the general astonishment displayed by her new neighbours, as well as the local community as a whole. What were the chances of such a find?
She’d been working in the warm sun for nearly two hours now, so it was time for a cup of tea. She put down her trowel and went into the kitchen.
‘Fancy that!’ she kept saying to herself all the way back to the house, and continued with the same thought as she brewed her tea, and prepared a tray with cup, saucer, milk jug, teapot, and a clotted cream scone with home made strawberry jam.
A year had already passed since the discovery which had prohibited the planting of her tree in her chosen spot, whilst scientists, archaeologists, and officials all came to her garden.
Today, her tree grew on its chosen spot and was thriving, and it was to a table and chairs situated in its shade that Matilda took her afternoon tea. She settled down, poured a cup of tea, and started to devour her scone.
‘Tomorrow’s the day when I’ll be given the answers.’ she thought to herself. ‘I’m sure it will be on the news, but I do hope that nice man, Richard, rings me and tells me first. What was his job title? Ah yes, ‘Finds’ Officer’. Just fancy that. A whole human skeleton wearing Saxon gold jewellery and surrounded by other precious artefacts, lying in a stone coffin, in my new garden! I’d always believed that these people were cremated, but it seems that inhumation was popular too.’
She finished her scone and tea, and dozed off. When she awoke it was getting chilly, so she packed up and went indoors to get warm.
Next morning, Matilda had just finished her breakfast when the phone rang.
“Hullo Mrs Morris,” said that lovely man, Richard, The Finds’ Officer who was dealing with Matilda’s case. “How are you?”
“Oh, hello Mr Richards, I was hoping you would call.”
“Well, I expect you’re excited,” said Richard, “and anxious to hear the news?”
“I most certainly am!” said Mildred.
“Well, it’s taken over a year, but The British Museum have examined the body and everything else found in the coffin, including the gold, and they have declared all the artefacts as Treasure, and the museum wants to keep the items. That means that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will make a reward to the finders, who are you and the chaps from the landscaping company, and the judgement is that the reward should be shared equally between all parties. There were three workers planting your tree, and you were also present. Therefore each of you have been awarded a one quarter share. The Treasure Valuation Committee has gauged the market value to be £30 million. That means a reward of seven and a half million pounds for each of you.”
Everything went quiet. Matilda was stunned.
“Hullo! Hullo! Mrs Morris!” shouted Richard, anxiously, down the phone.
“Yes, yes, I’m still here.” she said. “I’m just so shocked. Excuse me. I have to sit down!”
“Take your time,” said Richard Richards, “I can understand how much of a shock this must be.”
After Matilda had regained her composure, and she and Mr Richards had chatted for a while, it was agreed that Mr Richards would visit Matilda a few days later, and sort everything out that needed to be sorted. It was then that he told her how elated the landscape workers were, and how they planned to buy new houses, new cars, and have luxury holidays and so on.
“And who can blame them.” said Mrs Morris, “If I were their age I’d probably do the same, but I’ve decided that I’m giving my share to the cats’ home. I didn’t have this money when I moved here, and I don’t need it now. My share’s been lying there in the ground for all these years, waiting to do some good, not to bolster the bank account of a financially comfortable old woman. And I hope it will do the landscaping guys and their families some good too, improving their quality of life, presenting better opportunities for their children, and allowing them all to live comfortable and happy lives.
And she smiled contentedly.
THE BUSINESS CARDS
I picked a business card up off the pavement this morning, as I was walking to work.
Old Nick’s Curiosities,
Tel: 0356 9101 2151
email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Website – hww.mephistophelesandassociates.co.netherregions
Well that freaked me out, I can tell you! I was so shaken that I sat down on a nearby empty bench, and as soon as I was seated, my whole body became extremely hot. I loosened my tie and undid my shirt collar, and as I did so I became aware of a strange stench, and that somebody was sitting next to me.
I turned and looked, and saw a stereotypically dressed city gent – rolled umbrella, bowler hat and folded copy of the Times under his arm, and froze when I looked at his eyes. The irises were red, and the pupils were yellow.
I looked away only to notice that the world before my eyes had frozen. Nothing moved.
“Bad morning.” he said to me. “I do hope you will visit my emporium. Would you like to come with me now?”
“N n no!” I replied, then thought I ought to add “Thank you.”
The stranger smiled. His teeth were as yellow as his pupils, but were very pointed and sharp.
“Oh, I really do think you should come now!” he said, and the scenery around me suddenly changed, and found that I was sat in a massive shop full of all sorts of weird and disturbing bric-a-brac.
“This isn’t bric-a-brac.” said the stranger.
“God, he can read my mind.” I thought to myself.
“Please don’t use that word here, not even in your thoughts.” came the reply.
“What word?” I asked, puzzled.
“The ‘G’ word of course!” he answered, stamping his foot.
I didn’t say any more, but I didn’t have to, did I?
“Would you like to browse.” said the stranger.
“No thank you!” I said much more firmly this time.
“Oh, don’t be like that,” he said, “most of my first time customers feel that way.”
“I’m not bloody surprised!” I thought, then realised that he knew exactly what I’d thought.
“Have a quick look around!” he said, and my eyes popped out of their sockets, and went zooming around the emporium, up and down stairs, along galleries, into and out of small rooms, wandering through large shop displays, and then eventually returned to their housings in my head.
“Well, you’ve seen it all now!” he said. “You may purchase whatever you desire. The price is one soul.”
“NO THANK YOU!” I said emphatically, and suddenly I was back on the bench next to an angel.
“Oh, well done!” it said to me, “That was fab-u-lous!” I’d heard that phrase before, but couldn’t place it. “You were so positive with your negative answer that I was enabled by your strong disdain of Satan, to whip you away instantly! You’ve made my aeon! Allow me to introduce myself. Here’s my card.”
He placed the purest white card in my palm. Its embossed letters glowed with a holy light.
THE ACADEMY OF ARCHANGELS AND REDEEMERS OF SOULS
Head Office:- Paradise Place, Elysian Fields, The Celestial City, The Promised Land. GOD HVN
(All communication via the Prayer Channel please.)
MICHAEL – Faith (Chair)
RAPHAEL – Healing, Science and Maths depts.
GABRIEL – Messenger Services
JOPHIEL – Beauty, Wisdom and Illumination depts.
ARIEL – Nature dept.
AZRAEL – Dept. of Death
CHAMUEL- Depts. of Love, Adoration and Peace.
“Welcome back.” said Michael, “I’m so glad you didn’t succumb.
You have an important future!”
THE BUSINESS CARD
It’s 1943 and the war is at a crucial stage. A young lady, aged 29, called Margaret Brown finds a business card left outside her front door. The card has a name and a telephone number, with a hand written message on it: Margaret -”please call, it’s important.”
Margaret is a loner, she likes to keep to herself and is not interested in engaging in local tittle tattle with her neighbours, and is therefore not that popular. She wonders if the card is some sort of joke? She is neat and tidy in her appearance and very methodical and organised.
She works at the local engineering company as the secretary to Michael, the boss – he is not a nice man and she feels unappreciated for the long hours and hard work she puts in; she’s worked there since leaving school at sixteen and knows everything about the business. Michael is often on the phone to people she does not know and he comes off the phone very agitated and cross; she wonders, who are they?
She deliberates but decides to call the number and a man with a warm, kind sounding voice answers, saying he has a proposition for her that is of national importance. He wants to arrange to meet her rather than talk on the phone. Margaret is overcome with a sense of fear and excitement. She arranges to meet Mr. X at 10.am on the Saturday at an agreed destination in the local town and after a few niceties Mr X explains to Margaret that he is a government official and although he has known Michael for some time, he has recently started to feel very uncomfortable and suspicious about how he is using the information he has been given. During the war, Michael’s company had been making specialist ‘widgets’ which were an important component of a special type of gun that was being used by our infantrymen. X had very good reason to believe that some of these widgets were being contaminated and rendering the guns ineffective. Furthermore, X also had evidence that Michael was receiving illicit payments from a contact with German connections. ‘How can I help?’ asked Margaret. ‘Very simply’ replied X, ‘ I would just like you to discreetly make a list of Michael’s phone calls and leave the rest with me!’