Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Secret Code

by Copper Rose

mulled wine

”What are you doing?”

“Packing my special case.”
“What for?”

“We’re heading out.”
“Where to?”

“You know.”

“No, I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Tommy winked at Dick. “Sure you do. They just gave us the secret code to head out.”

“Secret code?”

Tommy put his fingers to his lips. “Not so loud. Somebody’s going to hear you and blow our cover.”

“What cover?”

“We don’t want anyone to know where we’re going.”

“I don’t know where we’re going.”

“To get the drugs, you idiot.”

“Why are we going to get drugs?”

“Because of the secret code.”

“What secret code?”

“The trees are naked and ready to go,” Tommy whispered close to Dick’s ear.

Dick stared at Tommy. “That’s not a secret code to go and get drugs.”

”It’s not?” Tommy held a pair of socks in his hand above the open suitcase.”

“No, it means they’re having a Christmas tree decorating contest down at Elk’s Club.”

About the author

 Copper Rose perforates the edges of the page while writing unusual stories from the heart of Wisconsin. She also understands there really is something about pie.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Spiced Wine

by Lynn Clement

spiced wine 

 ‘T’was the night before Christmas, when after our dinner

Not a villain was stirring, not even one sinner,
The detective’s stocking was hung up with care,
In hope that Saint Nicholas soon would be there,
The snow it lay softly on the footpath,
The copper’s wife was taking a bath,
The camera pans in on the tranquil scene,
Fooling us all, because then there’s a scream!
The Christmas murder has begun,
The nation tunes in for ghoulish fun,
Inspector’s phone rings by his bedside,
We know what is coming; he’s offered a ride,
Down to the village through the fake snow,
On the edge of our seats - we viewers go,
Will we see blood, or an axe, or a rope?
Maybe a bad man selling some dope,
The Christmas tree lights the village square,
But - by now we all know there’s a murder done there,
The body is laid in the Santa’s grotto,
Pinned on his shirt is a Christmas motto,
The detective will solve that; it’s a clue you see,
We puzzle to fathom it, you and me,
We’re gripped by the gruesome amidst fairy lights,
When in walks an elf in some lurid green tights,
‘It was you,’ says the copper pointing his way,
‘You done it and I can prove it today.’
The elf tried to run but was stopped when his bells,
Got caught in the doorway – we heard his yells!
‘You left this note on the victim’s chest,
I recognise your writing; it’s not the best,
You killed Santa here in this shed,
And pinned the note on his coat of red.
‘Elf and safety applies’, so it says,
‘There’s no way on earth I’m pulling your sleigh.
The reindeers have fled because you are cruel,
I’ll get revenge you big fat fool.’
Take him down and book him Jones,
I’ve had enough I’m going home.’
The Inspector trudges through wind and snow,
He pulls his coat to, his nose all aglow,
His wife is waiting with the red wine,
There’s no way a murder will stop her good time,
We watch fulfilled as he goes out of sight,
‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!’

Monday, 10 December 2018

A Song for Christmas

    by  Steve Carr  

                                                           hot chocolate                                                        

I was sixteen.
Ma’s upright piano stood against the wall in the dining room where it had been since Ma and Pa were married. It was Grandma's piano, but she gave it to my Ma as a wedding present. It was made of mahogany and Ma polished it almost every day. I was sitting at it just plucking randomly on the black keys when Ma placed a bright red runner across the top of the piano and a few minutes later placed the crèche on the runner. She arranged the figures of Mary and Joseph around the baby Jesus lying in a manger.
“You’re late puttin’ that out this year, Ma,” I said.
“Each year there are more and more boxes of Christmas decorations to sort through,” she said.
I strummed several keys with an unmelodic result and heaved a loud sigh.  
“Have you decided yet which song you’re going to do for the Christmas service?” she asked.
I rapidly tapped the D flat key three times, producing a discordant sound. “Not yet, Ma,” I said.
This was going to be my first solo in front of the congregation of the Piney Creek Baptist Church, and on Christmas morning to-boot, so I wanted it to be perfect, something that everyone would remember. 
“Christmas is only two days away,” she said.
“I know, Ma,” I said. I closed the cover over the keys and got up from the stool. “Where’s Pa?”
“He’s out in the barn gettin’ the wagon ready for tonight’s hayride,” she said. “If you’re not going to practice your music you should go help him.”
“Yes, Ma,” I said.
Sitting on the coffee table was the three-tiered candy dish that Ma set out every Christmas. It looked fancy, like it was made of etched glass, but it was plastic. Pa had given it to Ma their first Christmas together as a married couple, back when as Pa always liked to say, “They didn’t have two sticks to rub together to make a fire.” They still didn’t have much money, but me and my little sister, Kaylee, never went without. Starting on the twelfth day before Christmas, Ma loaded all three tiers of the candy dish with homemade chocolate fudge, sugar cookies topped with icing made from powdered sugar and colored with blue, green and red food dyes, and possibly every kind of nut known to mankind. I took a cookie from the top tier, stuck it between my teeth, and held it there while I put on my coat, hat and gloves.
I bit into the cookie as I opened the door. The front yard was covered with a light dusting of snow. On the other side of the road our corn fields looked bleak and barren, with broken, brown stalks sticking up here and there out of the frozen ground. I swallowed the piece of cookie and marveled at how the icing tasted like their color, although Ma never added flavoring to it. The red tasted like cherry, the green like mint, and the blue like berries.
I stepped out onto the porch and closed the door behind me. As I ate the rest of the cookie I watched Canadian geese flying in a V formation as they crossed the sky. Kaylee came around the side of the house and ran up the porch steps. She had our pet Manx cat, Stinky, in her arms. Stinky was the same age as Kaylee, ten. Kaylee had tied a large silver bow to Stinky’s collar. The cat was used to being decorated for the Christmas holidays. Kaylee had been doing it to her since both of them were four.
“Pa says I can go on the hayride tonight,” she said excitedly. “If Ma says it’s okay.”
She nuzzled Stinky’s light gray fur. “Do you know what song you're going to sing?”
I brushed cookie crumbs from my coat front. “Not yet,” I said. “Why?”
“I like that song about the drummer boy,” she said. “Bum, bum, bumty, bum, bum,” she intoned. “That one.”
“Yeah, I know it,” I said. “I’ll think about it.” I started down the steps.
“Do you think Ma is going to say no?” she asked.
I looked over my shoulder at the worried, gloomy look on her face. “I’ll talk to her if she does,” I said.
“You’re the best brother ever,” she shouted. She went into the house loudly humming the tune to “The Little Drummer Boy”.
I walked around the house and to the barn. The ground crunched beneath the soles of my sneakers.  The warmth inside the barn enveloped me as I walked in and closed the door. Pa was up in the loft and pitching hay into the wagon that was positioned beneath the loft. He was wearing his favorite blue flannel shirt, the one Ma had given him two Christmases before.
“I’m here to help,” I yelled up to him.
He dumped a pitchfork full of hay into the wagon. “Shouldn’t you be workin’ on your song?” he asked.
“I’ll do it tomorrow,” I said. “I just have to decide which song I’m going to do.”
“I’ve always been partial to “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” he said as he leaned on the handle of the pitchfork.
“I can’t sing that in church,” I said.
“I guess not,” he said.
As Pa dropped hay into the wagon I spread it out, building a comfortable bed. Pa did the hayride during Easter and Christmas for the teenagers in Piney Creek. Being a small town, there was usually no more than twenty teenagers who participated. Pa started doing it when I turned thirteen and I suspected he enjoyed it more than I did.
Ann Chernay sat with me huddled under a quilt with cloth cut-outs of Christmas trees, candy canes and reindeer sewn onto the squares. She had her head on my shoulder and the coconut fragrance of her shampoo filled my senses. I was certain I was in love.
Between the clouds, bright stars glittered in the night sky. When the crescent moon appeared, its glow blanketed the fields in pale moonlight. The rhythmic clip-clop from the hooves of the horses was as relaxing as a lullaby. Pa had strung small, silver bells on the sides of the wagon. They tinkled gently as the wagon rocked and swayed.
We sang “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.”
Kaylee sat on the seat next to Pa, snuggled against his side.
Ann didn’t attend Piney Creek Baptist Church. I don’t know how she found out that I was going to sing a solo in church, but she asked, “Are you nervous about singing at your church on Christmas?”
“I can’t decide what song to sing,” I said.
“Do you know “Ave Maria”?” she asked.
“That’s not a Christmas song.” I sighed. “I’m beginnin’ to wish I had never told Reverend Smith I’d do a song at all.”
When Pa pulled the wagon into our driveway, everyone quickly jumped down and rushed into the warmth of our house. Ma had placed trays of sandwiches, cookies in the shape of Christmas wreaths with green butter cream frosting, and chewy Rice Krispy Treats, on the dining room table. The entire house smelled like hot apple cider that Ma served to everyone in red plastic cups
When her parents arrived to take her home, Ann kissed me on the cheek before she went out the door. “I’ll be at your church Christmas morning just to hear what song you select,” she said.
“Oh, great,” I said. My stomach quickly tied itself into a knot.
The morning before Christmas day, Ma and Pa cleared the place in front of the living room window where the Christmas tree would go. Ma placed a white sheet on the floor and scattered silver glitter on it. Pa placed the tree stand in the center of the sheet and Ma bunched it up around the edges to give it the likeness of miniature snow drifts. Boxes of tree ornaments were stacked against the wall.
“You comin’ with me to get the tree or are you practicin’ your song?” Pa asked me.
I glanced at the piano and was overcome with a sense of dread. “I’ll go with you,” I answered.
I was happy that Ma didn’t insist that I practice my song, or any song for that matter.
Pa and I put on our boots, coats, hats, and gloves and went out the back door. The ice crystals on the frozen ground shimmered in the dull morning sunlight that was filtered through thin, wispy clouds. Inside the barn, Pa hitched our mare, Gertie, to the slay. Before leaving the barn Pa handed me the axe. He led Gertie down the driveway and into the woods while I walked alongside him. The runners of the sled glided easily over the icy ground. The air was heavily scented with pine.
“Your Ma says you’re still strugglin’ with findin’ the right song to sing,” he said.
I grunted. “Nothin’ I think of is what I want to sing,” I said.
“Nothin’ will gum up the works than over-thinkin’ somethin’,” he said. “Sing whatever you think the baby Jesus would want to hear. It’s his birthday, after all.”
We didn’t go very far into the woods before we found the right tree.
“It looks like it grew specially to stand in our living room,” Pa said.
For the second year in a row I cut down our Christmas tree. We tied it on the sled and Gertie pulled it back to the barn.
For Christmas Eve Ma fixed a ham topped with pineapple rings for dinner. Ma always said the Christmas Eve dinner was “light,” which it never was. Along with the ham it included mashed sweet potatoes topped with miniature marshmallows, steamed asparagus, homemade applesauce, yeast rolls, and for dessert a Yule log smothered with chocolate icing. She covered the table with the white lace tablecloth that my grandmother passed on to her, and set candles in silver candlesticks on each end of the table. Before dinner began I played “O Holy Night” on the piano while my family stood around me and we sang it.
Ma timed that we began decorating the tree at the same time the movie “White Christmas” started on the television. Pa strung the lights on the tree, and then Kaylee and Ma hung the strands of popcorn and cranberries. We all hung the ornaments while Stinky lurked about under the tree and swatted at the hanging bulbs. Kaylee had attached a large green bow to the cat’s collar. Pa put the antique golden angel on the top of the tree. It had a small key on the back that when turned the tune to the song “Angels We Have Heard on High” played.  He turned the tree lights on just as Bing Crosby sang “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.”
Like every Christmas Eve, Ma and Pa brought out one gift for my sister and me. Kaylee tore apart the shiny blue paper that was wrapped around a large box that Pa had placed on her lap. When she opened the box she screamed with delight. She pulled out a large stuffed gorilla, the one she had seen in the window of Tiswell’s Department Store. As she hugged it, I said, “I thought you said you were getting too old for dolls.”
“This isn’t a doll,” she replied curtly.
Stinky hopped up onto the sofa, sniffed the gorilla, meowed softly, and then laid down against Kaylee’s leg.
For several minutes I stared at the flat package wrapped in red tissue paper that Ma had set on my knees before I opened it. It was a framed photograph of Grandma sitting at the piano. She was the first person to tell me I had musical talent.  The smile on her face in the photograph was inscrutable. There was an envelope attached to the back. The words “For Music School” were written on it. Inside there was a hundred dollar bill.
Before we went to bed we went out on the porch and watched as large snowflakes began to fall.
I awoke Christmas morning not thinking about the presents that would be under the tree, or the aroma wafting from the kitchen of Dutch baby pancakes, something Ma only made on Christmas mornings. Tunes of Christmas songs cluttered my brain. Most of the night my dreams had been filled with panicky scenarios where my voice was gone or I forgot how to play the piano. I climbed out of bed with a headache. I dressed in my best pants, put on the tie Pa had given me for my birthday, and joined the rest of my family in the kitchen. Ma had placed a large Dutch baby heavily sprinkled with powdered sugar on my plate. I sat down at the table, avoiding looking at anyone, although I could feel their eyes on me.
“Merry Christmas,” Ma said as she kissed me on the forehead. She put a glass of orange juice by my plate.
“Merry Christmas, Ma,” I said, staring at the puffed-up pancake in front of me.
Peripherally I could see Kaylee stuffing large forkfuls of her Dutch baby into her mouth, hoping to speed breakfast along in order to get to the business of tearing open the gifts.
“Don’t let this singin’ at the church ruin Christmas for you,” my Pa said to me after several minutes of silence from everyone.
It had been a long time since I had done it, but right there, while staring at my Dutch baby, I began to sob. It surprised my family as much as it surprised me. They affectionately huddled around me as if I had just told them I was dying from a terminal illness.
“Let’s go open the gifts,” Pa said. “That’ll make you feel a little better.”
“Yay!” Kaylee exclaimed as she ran from the kitchen.
In the living room, gifts had been placed under the tree during the night by Ma and Pa. Kaylee passed them out and as we opened them, for that little while, I forgot all about singing at the church service.
Afterward, leaving wrapping, ribbons, bows, and our gifts, strewn about the room, we put on our boots, coats, hats and gloves, and left the house. There was about a foot of soft snow on the ground and our boots sunk in it as we walked to the car. I helped Pa clear the snow from the windows and then got in the back seat with Kaylee.
“Here we go,” Pa said as he started the car.
Kaylee grabbed my hand and held it all the way to the church.
The pews were full as they always were for the Christmas service but we found a pew near the front of the church. Reverend Smith’s pulpit was wrapped in gold foil with a large red bow in the front.
Reverend Smith was a tall, lanky man, who moved very slowly despite not being very old. As he crossed the podium he glanced at me and smiled warmly. Once behind the pulpit he gazed out at the congregation. “This morning, instead of starting the service with a prayer, we’re going to begin it with a gift to our Lord and Savior. Someone most of you know has a song prepared for the occasion of the miracle of the Christ Child’s birth.” He nodded to me and then gestured for me to come up onto the podium.
My mouth was dry and the palms of my hands were sweaty. I could hear the thumping of my heart.
“Sing what your heart tells you to sing,” Pa whispered to me as I stood up.
I passed by the piano and walked up to the podium. I looked at the expectant expressions on Ma and Kaylee’s faces. And then I looked at Pa who winked at me. I heard his voice echoing in my head, “It’s his birthday, after all.”
I opened my mouth, and sang.
“Happy Birthday to you,
“Happy Birthday to you,
“Happy Birthday, dear Jesus,
“Happy Birthday to you.”

About the author

Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 230 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies since June, 2016. He has two collections of short stories, Sand and Rain, that have been published by Clarendon House Publications. His third collection of short stories, Heat, was published by Czykmate Productions. His YA collection of stories, The Tales of Talker Knock was published by Clarendon House Publications. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. His website is He is on Twitter @carrsteven960. 

Sunday, 9 December 2018

The Nativity Play

by Lynn Clement

sweet sherry

The Virgin Mary has wet her pants
And Jesus is in a puddle,
Joseph is trying to tidy the barn
But he’s getting in a muddle,
The donkey is kicking a wise man’s leg
And the tea towels are all frayed,
The shepherds are pulling at their frocks
That their mothers have lovingly made,
Angels are dancing, their wings in a tangle
They clatter into the crib,
An inn keeper enters right on cue
And he begins to add-lib,
‘There’s no room in here,’ he says with a shout
‘I can’t afford to keep you.
You’ll all have to go I need this barn,’
Then the cow begins to moo,
Miss Jones is frantically playing the song
The one with the clippety-clop,
Dressed as a star, a kid enters the show
And she asks the crowd for a mop,
Everyone laughs and the parents cry
Another triumph for Miss,
The kids take a bow and beam through lost teeth
Their families blow them a kiss,
Miss Jones wipes her brow with a sodden cloth
Thank God that’s done for the year,
She smiles benignly at the throng,
Then heads to the pub for a beer.

About the author 

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Old Man Jasperson

by James Bates 

hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick

Ambrose Jasperson looked at himself in the mirror, fluffed out his full beard and pronounced to his wife, Emma, "Alrighty, then. Looks like Santa Claus is all set."
            He smiled at his reflection. From his natural beard, curly and white, to his cheeks rosy from a lifetime of dairy farming, to his belly jolly from a lifetime love of anything sweet (cookies in particular), he really did look like Santa Claus. The Santa suit provided by the senior living facility helped, too.
            A knock at the door. "Mr. Jasperson. Mr. Jasperson, are you ready? We're waiting for you."
            He adjusted the red blanket over his legs, rolled his wheel chair to the door and opened it, doffing is red Santa cap, "Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas," he greeted Maggie, one of Riverview's care providers.
            Maggie smiled, thinking that it was nice Old Man Jasperson, as he was referred to by the staff, was in a festive mood. She'd only worked at Riverview Senior Living for a few months and didn't know him very well, only that he was quiet and kept to himself in his room at the far end of the hall. She'd also heard that he'd lived there for three years, that he'd had a tragic life, losing his four children over the years to a variety of accidents and misfortunes, and that he'd lost his wife, Emma, to cancer five years ago.
            She'd also had been told that every year for the past three years he'd volunteered to be Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, and that said a lot, as far as Maggie was concerned. In her mind, Old man Jasperson must have something special going for him.
            She smiled, "Ready to go? They've just finished singing Christmas carols."
            As attendants went, Ambrose thought Maggie was fine. Nice. She left him pretty much to himself and that was a good thing. He knew most everyone at Riverview thought he was a bit odd and that was all right with him. If spending time by yourself working on a project and talking to your long departed wife was consider odd, well then so be it. They could get back to him when they were eighty-eight like him, and trying to live out the end of their life in a meaningful way like he was trying to do. Then maybe they'd have something to talk about.
            "I'm all set. Let the festivities begin," he said cheerfully. "Ho, ho, ho..." And he rolled out into the hallway but not before waving a cheery good-bye to Emma.
A few hours later, back in his room, Ambrose had changed out of his Santa suit, wheeled his chair to his one window and was looking outside. He lived on the first floor and had an unobstructed view of the parking lot. A few days earlier, a snowstorm had blanketed the world in white and Riverview's maintenance staff had decorated the front of the building with evergreen garlands and wrapped strings of colored lights around all four of the tiny evergreen trees near the entrance. It wasn't much, but he liked how they looked, festive and cheerful. He'd always enjoyed Christmas time, no matter how challenging his and Emma's life had been. He still did. There was a warm and snug feeling associated with this time of year that he loved.
            After they became too old to farm, Ambrose and Emma sold their land and dairy herd and moved into a small bungalow in nearby Redwood Falls. There they lived happily for nearly ten years until poor Emma died after a valiant year long struggle with cancer. Soon after, Ambrose's diabetes got the better of him, confining him to a wheelchair, and he moved into Riverview. That had been three years ago.
            Now it was just him. Well, he and Emma. Ambrose had to admit, it was nice to have her with him. It made his days less lonely.
            A knock on the door. Ambrose glanced at the clock. Eight-thirty. This was unexpected. He turned in his chair and asked, "Who is it?"
            "It's me, Mr. Jasperson. Maggie."
            "Maggie. Hi. What can I do for you?" He was still in a good mood from playing Santa. Plus, Emma was with him, sort of like Mrs. Claus. That helped.
            "I wanted to thank you for playing Santa tonight," Maggie said through the door."You did a great job. I was wondering...We have some leftover Christmas cookies from earlier. Would you like some?"
            Cookies? Absolutely. "That'd be wonderful, Maggie. Thank you. Just a second, I'll get the door." He turned to Emma and whispered, beaming, "Christmas cookies!" And watched as she smiled back at him, knowing how much he loved his sweets.
            Ambrose wheeled to the door and opened it. As Maggie came in and set the plate of cookies down, she noticed something on the little bedside nightstand. Curious, she pointed, "What have you got there?"
            "Oh, that," Ambrose said, suddenly embarrassed and turning red, "It's nothing."
            Maggie peered closely. It was a photo album, and it looked like it was stuffed full of old family photographs. "I don't want to pry, but they look interesting."
            "You can look at them if you want. Really, though, they're just old pictures." He paused for a moment, fighting off a sudden, encroaching melancholy. After a moment he said, his voice almost a whisper, "My...My wife took them. Emma."
            "Oh, my. I love looking at old photographs," Maggie said, enthusiastically, meaning it. It was one of the reasons she liked working at Riverview. She enjoyed being around old folks and hearing the stories they had to tell.
            Maggie's enthusiasm perked up Ambrose's' mood considerably. "Well, if that's the case you might like these." He grinned an impish grin, and wheeled next to his bed where he reached under and pulled out not one, or two, but three flat storage containers. "I've got photographs in all of them." He watched Maggie's eyes go wide. "Emma took pictures our whole married life. Do you want to have a look? I'm putting them in order in albums, sort of our family history."
            So that's what he's doing in here, Maggie thought to herself. He's organizing his life through old photographs. That's amazing. "If you don't mind, Mr. Jasperson, I'd love to see them."
            Ambrose smiled and pointed, "Pull up a chair, then. And, please, call me Ambrose."
            Maggie smiled, happy to finally be the first staff person in Riverview Senior Living to start to get to know 'Old Man Jasperson' better."Okay, then. Ambrose it is."
            "Great. But first, you might want to go get another plate of cookies. I've got a lot of pictures here."
            Maggie, grinned, thinking that she couldn't think of a better way to spend Christmas Eve. "Good idea," she said, "I'll be right back."
            After Maggie left, Ambrose selected a cookie off the plate and munched on it as he set about spreading out some of the photographs. He turned to Emma and said, "You don't mind sharing our photos, do you Em?" He pointed toward the door, "She seems nice." He listened for a moment in the silence of the room and then smiled, "So you don't mind? Good. I didn't think so." 
            He then happened to glance out the window and saw that snow was beginning to fall. He was quiet for a moment watching the flakes drift past the floodlights outside, carrying with them for him a lifetime of memories of past Christmases, memories that made him feel warm inside.
            He turned his head as if listening and said, "What's that? Why, yes it is Em. It really is a pretty scene out there. Like being back on the farm." The room was quiet while he listened some more. Finally he spoke, "I agree. Merry Christmas to you, too, Sweetheart. It's been one of our best Christmases ever." He paused once more, nodding his head along with what his wife was saying. "That's right, Em, I agree. Every Christmas is special, just as long as we're together."

About the author

Somewhat of a romantic, Jim has a soft spot in his heart for the traditions that make this time of year special.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Mr Flange Bestows a Gift

by Kathy Sharp

 a hot toddy

Septimus Flange was a gentleman with a most singular means of locomotion. He did not so much walk as flow along the grimier side of the street. Moreover, young Mr Flange exhibited an equally singular expression of concentrated purpose on his pinched and narrow countenance.
Something had set him thinking of the late Mrs Flange. An unhappy woman, indeed, as Septimus had remarked to the rector at her funeral, who would have been a great deal more unhappy had she known the fate that awaited her beneath the wheels of a runaway cart. The pair had been thus parted after only half a year of marriage.
There were already several ladies fancying themselves suitable for the part of the second Mrs Flange. Not that Septimus matched any ideal of masculine beauty, but he did have the air of a man with prospects.  For all that, he was in no hurry at all to remarry. The querulous demands of his wife, while she lived, had come as some surprise to him. There was no denying, he thought, that women changed their tune mightily after the wedding, and he would take a great deal more care in any second choice.
‘Mr Flange, sir. Oh, Mr Flange!’                                               
Septimus’ thoughts were interrupted by a young person hurtling across the street towards him. He sidestepped smoothly and flowed on, a little faster, fearing the outburst to be a distraction and that he was about to fall prey to a footpad.
But the young person persisted. ‘Mr Flange, sir, do you not remember me? At Spriggot’s?’
Septimus turned, and cast a steely and cautious eye on his pursuer. He had, in fact, had dealings with Spriggot’s Emporium, and, on reflection, he recognised the young man as one of Mr Spriggot’s assistants. Or one of Mr Spriggot’s former assistants. Spriggot and his Emporium were now conspicuous by their absence from the mercantile scene. There had been that most unfortunate business with the Customs men, all still sub judice. So this young fellow was likely to be in search of a position. He was undoubtedly a low person, and rapidly falling lower, to judge by his shabby and down-at-heel appearance.
Nonetheless, Septimus eyed him keenly. A young fellow fallen on hard times and desperate for employment could be very useful. Very useful indeed.
And besides, it was Christmas, and the gift of employment to this young man, even with ulterior motives, would certainly count as Mr Flange’s contribution to Good Will to All Men. Or at least to this one.
‘I may have some work for you,’ said Septimus, loftily, ‘Do you have a name?’
‘Oh, yes, sir, God bless you, sir! My name is Dickens, Charlie Dickens.’

About the author

Whales and Strange Stars. Lovely historical novel set in the marshlands of 18th century Kent. 
The sense of place is perfectly captured, and the writing just dances off the page. Highly recommended.’

Thursday, 6 December 2018

The Last Christmas Day

By Alan Cadman


a shot of JD

I’ve only been invited because Shirley died recently and I’m a relative. The contents of my will must also be very important to them. I’ve decided it will be the last Christmas Day I’ll spend with this lot. Shirley and I never had children; we used to enjoy the festivities differently to the rest of the family. We indulged in wild parties year after year; drink, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. I hate being old Uncle Jimmy now, propped up with a glass of sherry and a stale mince pie. None of my money will be going to these strangers.