Thursday, 24 May 2018

Where We Were Happiest

 by Bren Gosling


Father took pleasure seekers out in a boat along the coast. The trip lasted a little over two hours, across the Bay to the lighthouse and back. I collected fares: the silver sixpences of the pleasure seekers, in a bucket I otherwise  used for crabbing. Janey liked to come and see us off. My sister was what people in those days referred to as an’ imbecile’. Mother said it was on account of the way Janey came out, with the cord wrapped around her neck like a hang man’s noose. It made her turn blue as the salt wrapper in a bag of crisps. The mid wife nearly didn’t save her.
   Janey was loved. She grew to be a beautiful young woman, in spite of the way she was…When people remarked on how beautiful my sister looked, mother used to stare into nothing and mumble nature is cruel that way. Janey drooled a lot. She waved her arms up and down as seagulls do when they are defending. She never spoke a word any of us could understand, only squawked. Other kids made fun of her, soon had her christened the ‘gull- girl’. Father taught her to swim, well it was more doggy paddle than swim really. He’d take her out to waist deep, cradle her in his arms, then let the water lift her until she floated. The sea was Janey’s medicine, father said. It kept her calm. Happy days…
When I became older, father encouraged me to better myself, leave Yorford Bay and see more of what the world had to offer. I joined the navy. The war came, and I survived it, but that is a different story for another time. Mother and father were killed when the post office got flattened by a German bomb; the Luftwaffe often dumped bombs on east coast towns like ours before heading across the North Sea on their return leg. Janey ended up in an Institution. They looked after her well, so far as I could measure, but not long before the war ended, she died. I decided to scatter her ashes where we were happiest.
     Each year I come back, and, no matter what the weather, I take off my shoes and socks and paddle the foreshore. Time slips away, the moments and hours of my life tumble into consciousness all at once, like the shingle thrown against my feet by the breaking waves. The salt – kissed air on my face and seagulls crying down the wind bring everything back, as if then were now, and I am collecting silver sixpences once more.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Someone, somewhere, is suffering horribly

Marilyn Pemberton 


I stand at the counter, my head hardly above the edge, staring at the man with one eye. Luckily it is not in the centre of his forehead, that would be weird, but where his second eye should be there is just smooth skin. His one eye is black and seems to me to gleam with malice.

“Yes? How may I help you, young lady?” His voice is actually quite pleasant, so perhaps his eye is glinting with merriment instead.

I look down at the piece of paper I have clutched tightly all the way from the house and start to read from the top of the list that she has scrawled: “An owl’s eyeball.”

“Blue or brown?”

I squint at some squiggles, “brown.”

“Any other owl parts, whilst I am there?”

“No, the next one is from a lizard.”

“OK, hang on, that is in a different section.”

He rises silently into the air and hovers about five feet above me, scanning the small wooden drawers that fill the whole wall in front of him. He finds the one he wants, opens it, extracts an eyeball and pops it into a brown paper bag. I find it strange that in this day and age he still writes the label by hand.

“What next?”

“A lizard’s gizzard, and also the tip of the same lizard’s tail.”

“Oho! This sounds like a powerful spell. What’s it for?”

I have to admit that I don’t know; she is not one to share with a mere apprentice. 

I continue down the list: the egg of a phoenix, a cuckoo’s heart, three hairs from the back of a black bear, a pound of sugar and a bottle of Chianti.

The shopkeeper laughs, “She does like her wine doesn’t she? How is she?”

What can I say? She is a crabby old witch, literally, who makes my life a living hell. I hate her with all my being, even though she is my mother. It is easier to lie. “She is well thank you. There is just one last item. A kid’s liver.”

“What sort of kid, hairy or human?

“Human?” I screech. “It must be the hairy kind. ...... Mustn’t it?”

“You don’t know what the spell is for, do you? I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you both and you can bring the unused one back, as long as it is still fresh. There isn’t much call these days for a dried up kid’s liver, whichever the type.”

He disappears for a few minutes then returns with two more labelled brown paper bags, one also with a big black X marked on it.

“The one with the X is the human liver, just to be sure. Hang on and I’ll just make sure all this lot stays cool until you get back.”

He puts everything into one large Co-op bag, waves a hand - wands are so last century - and the contents are soon covered in a thick frost, which will keep everything fresh until I reach home. I am not trusted with money so the shopkeeper puts it all on account. As I leave through the door only a small number of people know exists, he blinks, or maybe he winks, it is hard to tell.

When I get home she is standing at the Aga cooker stirring the contents of a large saucepan with a long wooden spoon. She is wearing a brightly coloured apron, covered in small white ducklings and sweet yellow chicks. I notice she is still wearing her slippers that look like the heads of innocent puppy dogs. Anyone looking through the window would think she is making soup for the family lunch; how wrong they would be!

She glances at me quickly but says nothing, merely beckons. I hand her each of the brown bags, reading out the labels until I come to the last two.

“I didn’t know what you meant by kid’s liver. The man gave me both sorts but I assume you mean the goaty kind?” 

“Of course not! What would I need a young goat’s liver for? Give me the other one!”

She takes the slimy dark-red organ out of the bag and holds it reverently in the palm of her hand. It is so small! I feel the vomit rise in my throat at the thought of where it has come from. I squeeze my eyes shut and try to think of kittens and sandcastles and ice cream until I am sure that I won’t embarrass myself by throwing up. I open my eyes in time to see her putting the final ingredient into the ghastly stew that is now bubbling merrily, emitting a green, noxious fume. She hums tunelessly to herself; here is someone happy in her work.

She then starts to mumble an incantation in a language I have only just started to learn. With a sinking heart I recognise the word “BxƾɝͽѦ" and I know that someone, somewhere, is suffering horribly.

About the author

Buy "The Jewel Garden" now at  or

Member of the Society of Women Writers & Journalists
Member of the Historical Novel Society
Member of the Society of Authors

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Maybe I'll Grow A Beard

James Bates

Arnie Palmer 

Rob peered out from behind the Sunday sports section. Across the room he observed his wife Shelia, doing some sort of handwork with tiny needles. Crocheting, maybe? He didn't know. Had no clue. Didn't care. She was dressed in a teal blue, floral print skirt and a white peasant blouse. Her auburn hair was pulled back in a pony-tail. Her full lips and high cheekbones, once so beguiling to him, were now anything but, just plain and unremarkable, nothing to write home about. He sighed and turned back to check on the baseball scores but only for a minute. He was having trouble concentrating. "I wonder," he thought to himself, "If today's the day I tell her I'm thinking of leaving."
            Shelia worked at the local middle school as a teacher's aide. She was a diligent employee at the school, and she was just as diligent at home where she was as handy with a power drill as she was in the kitchen. She'd single handedly painted all of the walls in all of the rooms of their small bungalow style home. She'd put up book shelves. She'd pulled up all the old carpeting and sanded and refinished the wooden floors. She kept the house neat and clean and tidy. She cooked fabulous, healthy meals. She'd even made the skirt she was wearing.
            She'd also made the baby quilt laying on the floor between them. On it, seven-month old Emily lay rolling back and forth playing with a rattle. She'd recently learned how to turn herself over and now lay arching her back, attempting the feat yet again. Rob watched, disinterested, as his daughter made a move, and finally rolled onto her stomach. Imperceptibly, he shook his head, big friggin' deal.
            Shelia's excited voice cut through the silence of the room, "Emy, look at you. Good girl, sweetheart. You're getting to be such a big girl."
            God, how ridiculous, thought Rob. He set his paper aside, thinking, "I've had enough."
            At that same moment, almost like it was orchestrated, Shelia set down the project she was working on, a crocheted cap for Emily, and got to her feet. She reached down, and in one swipe picked up her daughter and carried her into the kitchen. "I'm going to fix Emy some cereal," she told Rob, "What are your plans for the day?"
            Rob got up and followed behind. He worked as an IT specialist for a large company in Minneapolis, twenty-five miles west of their home in the small town of Long Lake. He'd been there for ten years now, four years longer than he and Shelia had been married. It was a moderately stressful job so Sunday mornings he usually went for a long run to have some time alone and unwind. Usually, but not today.
            "There's something I need to talk to you about," he said, looked at the back of her head, noticing strands of grey, wondering what he'd ever seen in her, "Something I want to tell  you."
            Shelia took a small pan out from a lower cupboard and filled it with water, "What?"
            Rob watched as she added dry cereal, put the pan on the burner and turned the stove on, all the while bouncing Emily on her hip. "I..." he paused. Did he really want to do this? Did he really want to give up this life? His wife? His daughter? Their home? Security? Give it all up for his freedom and the chance to do whatever he wanted to do? Asked and answered. You bet he did. He finished his thought, "I'm thinking of leaving. Moving out. Steve from work says I can live with him. He's got an apartment near the office and some extra space. He says I can stay with him for a while."
            Before he started to ramble too much, he forced himself to stop. Was he nervous? Yeah, a little. But, truth be told, it felt good to get the words out and tell it like it was to Shelia. Who knew? Maybe she'd beg him stay. Maybe she'd break down and cry and plead with him not to go. Maybe she'd make good on her wedding vow to be a good wife to him and not take so much time with her precious Emy. Maybe she'd promise to make an effort to treat him like he deserved to be treated. The breadwinner. The man of the house.
            He waited for her answer.
            "So you really want to leave?" Shelia asked.
            "Yeah. Yeah, I do."
            Her answer surprised him. "Well, good," she said, "Great. In fact, it's about time. I'll tell you what. I'm going to feed Emy and get her changed. We've got a play date at 10 am at Susie's." She made it a point of looking at the clock on the wall. "It's 9:30 right now. I'll be home by noon. I want you out by then."
            She turned her back on him and set Emily in her high chair. Then she turned off the burner and went about finishing fixing breakfast for their daughter.
            Hmm. Unperturbed and feeling rather liberated, Rob walked to the back of the house where their bedroom was. That was easy. He scratched his chin, noting the rough feel of his whiskers, and at that very moment had a thought, "Maybe I'll start growing a beard. That'd be fun. It's something I've always wanted to do. In fact, now that I can do anything I want to do, I think I will. I think I'll grow a beard."
            He took down two travel bags out of the top shelf in the closet and began packing. Shelia had given him until noon to move out. Hell, he'd be gone way before then.
            Rob didn't hear the conversation coming from the kitchen. "Hi, Susie, it's me. Yeah, I'll be there in a little bit, but I've got some good news for you. Exciting news, in fact. It's about Rob. He's finally leaving. Yeah. Seriously. No, I'm good. I told him it was about time. I think he was shocked, but so what? I'm sick of him and his idiotic attitudes. Yeah, but don't worry, I'll figure out something. We'll talk more when I get there. Okay? Yeah. Bye."
            Shelia hung up and wiped some cereal from her daughter's chin. She grinned at the cute little girl and fed her some more food, leaning close so they could rub noses. Emily giggled. "We're going to be just fine, sweetheart," she said, her grin turning into a big smile, "I promise, Emy. It'll be just the two of us now, and we're going be just fine."

About the author

I live in Long Lake, Minnesota. I enjoy walking, gardening, bird watching, reading, writing, bicycle riding and playing with my four fantastic grand kids. I'm retired after working many years as a sales and technical development and training instructor. I have been writing for a number of years: haiku, poetry, short and long fiction. My stories can be found posted on my website: I collect old marbles, vintage dinky toy race cars and YA books from the 1900's and am a passionate yo-yo player. Life is good. I am a fortunate man.




Monday, 21 May 2018

Dawn Chorus

Drink: Rum

by Sandy Wilson


The cool morning wind coursing though his hair brought a memory to Billy. He is a small boy sat on the rustic bench outside his grandfather’s cottage waiting for the sun to rise. The old man steps out of the front door. They smile at each other and before his grandfather sits; he ruffles Billy’s blond curls with his broad hand.
“Present arms!”
They savour the silence for a while, then as the dawn chorus begins his grandfather, who had been a gamekeeper on the estate, tells him about the birds that are singing. How the skylarks, song thrushes, robins and blackbirds are the first to sing. Then the wrens and warblers, more sensitive to the coldness of dawn, join in. The still dawn air carrying nature’s hymns.
“Take Aim!”
Then, when the light brightens and food, the seeds and insects, are easier to find, the chorus fades.
He can see his grandfather now sat on the bench hunched forward, chin resting on the hands that grip his walking stick. He turns and smiles.
Billy felt the warmth of the rising sun on his face. It was going to be a fine day.
Surprised at the sudden volley, the audience of crows rose cawing from the surrounding trees in a cloud of black feathers and flew into the brightening sky.

About the author

Sandy Wilson writes memoirs, fiction and the occasional poem. His memoir Memory Spill recalls a Scottish childhood during the 1950s and 60s. He is a member of Otley Writers and has contributed to and published anthologies of their work The Pulse of Everything and The Darkening Season. His poems have been included in the international poetry anthology ‘Indra’s Net’.
Sandy blogs as

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Case Closed

Karen Schauber 

root tea 

Marcia takes care not to step on the cracks when she walks down the sidewalk. The marmots are abundant along the river side of MacArthur Island, in Kamloops.....and they're not too shy! Walking quietly and carefully with one's heels raised and one's weight on the balls of the feet, is the least one should do.

Marcia carefully avoids discussing difficult or sensitive subjects. Elephants have good hearing, detecting sounds as low as 14 to 16 hz (human low range: 20 hz) and as high as 12,000 hz (human high range: 20,000). Whispering a message through broken telephone is the polite thing to do

Marcia does not turn on the lights in her apartment at night. Ants are social insects, so when one ant enters your home, others follow. Marcia hears the footsteps of armies marching. She buys plush carpet. 

Marcia likes to wear high-contrast and bright coloured clothing. The bat faced toad found among the leaves of Amacayacu National Park in Colombia is masterful at blending into its surroundings. Marcia has a playful side and is not trying to make life difficult.
People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Leave Us Alone

by Sandy Wilson

Ricin cocktail

The exotically dressed people below waved almost as enthusiastically as the palm fronds that flapped in the turbulence of the helicopter as it rose thudding into the cloudless blue sky. The pale, almost albino, leader had made a speech while his acolytes poured drinks for a farewell toast. Jacob had signalled with his hands his gratitude for the hospitality and that he would return.
“That was absolutely fantastic guys, ” shouted Professor Jacob Rubin as he looked down and waved back. This was the high point of his career. Discovering this hitherto undiscovered race would place him in the pantheon of international anthropologists. He would be up there with Malinowski, Morgan and Margaret Mead. The city, concealed in the chasm, a massive split in the plateau, had astonished him. That such an advanced culture had remained isolated from the modern world was beyond belief. He felt lightheaded with sheer excitement. 
Equally excited in the seat next to him sat Eleanor Stanford. A young reporter with the New York Times, she had persuaded her editor to allow her to accompany the expedition. Even now, as the helicopter banked away from the forest cloaked plateau her finger tips were deftly dancing across her laptop keyboard. “I can’t imagine my Editor’s face when this ‘scoop of the century ‘ arrives on his computer.” Said Eleanor. “When will we be in range so I can send emails?”
“It’ll be at least two hours or more, ” said the pilot metallically over the intercom.
“Eleanor, don’t forget our agreement. I must read and approve your report,” said Jacob. 
“Just to make sure his name appears numerous times!” said his assistant Sam grinning.
“Quite,” said Jacob. “Quiet now, please, I’m going to try and translate the words spoken by his eminence at the farewell ceremony.” He inserted the earphone buds and listened to the recording on his iPhone while writing on a notepad on his knee.
They had been flying for almost an hour when Jacob had made a crude translation. “The leader guy said ….it seems to be a curse, Eleanor… it ends…’Our secret will stay with you always” His uncertain voice trailed away . But the reporter wasn’t listening. She lay against him, her lifeless head lolling on his shoulder. Jacob looked across at Sam who was slumped forwards in his harness. He wanted to tell the pilot but his tongue felt paralysed. His unseeing eyes stared out of the window as the helicopter fluttered down to land softly on the still surface of the lake and sank.


Later the editor of the Times wrote: It is now six months since the expedition, led by Professor Jacob Ruben, last made contact with their support team. Extensive searches have found no trace of the personnel or the helicopter and we must now accept that the intrepid explorers, including our own brave reporter Eleanor Stanford, have bee lost. It is not the first expedition to search for the mythical civilisation. Two previous attempts were made on 1935 and 1957. Both vanished without trace.

About the Author 

Sandy Wilson writes fiction and memoirs, and sometimes poetry. He is a member of Otley Writers and has contributed to the group’s anthologies ‘The Pulse of Everything ‘ and ‘The Darkening Season’. His childhood in Scotland during the 1950s and 60s is remembered in his memoir ‘Memory Spill’. His poetry has been published in the international poetry anthology ‘Indra’s Net’.
Sandy blogs as -

Friday, 18 May 2018


by John Riley

fruit juice 

Jimmy was the name that had been tossed down after him, along with a blanket and a second-hand pair of baby shoes, when the woman dropped him out of the bus window into the arms of Otis, who had just sold her the juiciest Red Delicious apple she'd ever bitten into. While Otis certainly had a knack for matching the right type of apple with the right customer, he was more than an apple peddler. His roadside stand sold a variety of fruit and vegetables and after a few years Jimmy was big enough to help set-up the stand each morning and take it down at night. He enjoyed the challenge of placing the short-lived items in their proper places. Vegetables were complacent. Cucumbers, snap peas and butter beans were content to lie side by side, squash and corn longed to be together. Fruit needed deeper study. An apple is offended by a fig's soft insides, while grapes are happiest draping the peaches. Pears remained inscrutable.

The fruit and vegetable stand was beside a busy state road and late one September afternoon an interstate bus pulled onto the gravel byway. For several minutes Jimmy filled sturdy brown bags for the travelers. Peaches and, oddly, carrots moved the fastest. The rush was winding down before he noticed the girl, about his age, watching him through an open bus window. He wandered over, leaving Otis to finish serving the last customers.

The girl knelt on her seat and stuck her head out of the bus window. “There's always a future in food,” she said.

You have to rotate the stock daily.”
That's my mother over there, smoking the Chesterfield. She likes to blow smoke rings.”

Then she said, “Come inside so we can talk openly.”

The rubber treads on the three bus steps were worn gray. She directed him into the window seat. “I bet this bus has been plenty of places,” he said.

Mostly back and forth from Mobile to Wheeling.”

You look like a boy who has found himself a good place to be,” she said.

I'm still figuring out the fruit.”

The girl was looking over his shoulder. Jimmy noticed her mother's cigarette was bright red on both ends.

It's lipstick,” the girl said. “She wears too much of it.”

Jimmy began to think more deeply about the bus. It'd be like two worlds. The one outside speeding by, the one inside holding still.

The bus can't leave until minds are made up,” the girl said, and pointed toward the passengers milling around the stand. A few of the men peeled peaches with pocketknives. “Mother has stopped making decisions. She wants me to make them for her.”

Probably for the best.”

They sat silently. The bottom of Jimmy's feet began to itch. He watched the mother blow the smoke rings. When the circles broke the smoke hung in the air for a moment.

Finally, the girl stood up. “What's your favorite?”


I'll remember that,” she said and headed up the aisle. When her little hand gripped the exit's silver pole she looked back and smiled for the first time. “You can call me Roxanne.”

Jimmy watched her skip over to Otis. She reached up and tugged his sleeve. The old man's face broke into a broad smile. He put his hand gently on her back and began pointing out the displayed items. Then he showed her the empty baskets stored beneath the tables. At the end of the day they'd load the unsold produce into his old pick-up and take it home for the night.

The strangers began to climb back on the bus. The mother was the last one to board. She sat down beside Jimmy, let out a deep breath, pulled a copy of Photoplay from a bag beneath her seat, and said “I don't think we'll ever get there.”

She had blond eyebrows and a bridge of fine hair across her upper lip. It's like a light fur, Jimmy thought, put there to gather sunlight.

The big engine started up and the driver, wearing his blue uniform and black-billed hat, released the air brakes. The bus slowly pulled away. Outside, Roxanne bit into a shiny yellow pear.