Tuesday, 22 October 2019

More Than Anything


by G. Allen Wilbanks

hot chocolate

“I love you, Mommy. More than anything.”

Sandra picked up her two-year-old son and hugged him. “I love you, too, baby.”

As the boy toddled away, she turned to her husband with a gloating smile on her lips.

“Did you hear that? He loves me more than anything.”

“It’s not a big deal,” said her husband.

“You’re just jealous.”

Her husband laughed and pointed down the hallway. Sandra turned in time to see her son pick up their orange and white tabby, Muffin, and squeeze the cat to his chest.

“I love you, Muffin,” the boy said. “More than anything.”

About the author

www.gallenwilbanks.com

Monday, 21 October 2019

The Cure

by Sue Cross

 a cup of strong, sweet tea

I woke up on a golden September morning feeling groggy and disorientated. Sun was streaming through a sparkling window and outside I could see trees and a clear blue sky. The air around me had an aroma of lavender, together with a hint of antiseptic. In the background I heard a persistence beep, beep, beep.
   “Where am I?” I asked the person hovering over me. She had purple hair and was wearing a blue loose fitting top with matching trousers and had an efficient air. I had never seen her before.
   “You’re in the Eternal Clinic. The doctor will be here shortly. Would you like a cup of tea?”
   I viewed the various wires that were attached to me and, although the thought of a cup of tea was tempting, I decided that it would prove too much of a challenge to drink it.
  Before I had time to decline her kind offer, the doctor arrived as promised. He was young with dark hair and smiled broadly as if thrilled to see me. Like the purple-haired lady, I had never set eyes on him before.
   “I’m Doctor Brown. How are you feeling?” he asked as he checked various impressive looking monitors.
   An apt name, I thought, as his eyes were the colour of chocolate. I answered his question “Not bad – a bit cold. What day is it?”
   “It’s Monday. Nurse – turn the heating up please and get Mrs Robins another quilt.”
   The nurse disappeared the Doctor Brown proceeded to detach me from the myriad monitors. I regretted not having that cup of tea and wondered what I was doing in this establishment. Eternal Clinic was a strange name for a hospital, I thought. What was I doing here? Had I had a facelift? And why was I so cold?
   A different nurse came into the room bearing a quilt with a pristine white cover.  She smiled and tucked me up in a comforting way as if I was a child.
  I thanked the nurse before turning to the doctor, “How long have I been asleep?” I asked.
  He looked at some notes at the end of the bed before answering, “Er – sixty years give a day or two.”
   I sat bolt upright, my heart pounding. Had I heard him right? “Did you say sixty hours? Have I been in a coma? Did I have an accident?”
  His serious demeanour left him for a moment and he allowed himself a little chuckle.
   “No, you’ve not been in a coma. You decided to be frozen and today is the day that you’ve been resuscitated.”
   I’ve never been good at maths but even I could work out the fact that I was now a hundred years old.
   The door opened and the first nurse came in bearing a tray of food - scrambled eggs on toast and a mug of tea. Devoid of my encumbering wires, I tucked in. It was delicious. The doctor had left me to enjoy my meal and digest the news of my freezing. It was all rather bizarre.
   The nurse told me that her name was Naomi and showed me a buzzer. “Use this if you need anything,” she announced before leaving me to ponder the strange state of affairs in which I found myself.
   I decided that I must have defrosted as I was no longer cold and kicked the quilts off my bed.  Gazing round the room with its ice-blue coloured walls, I spotted a calendar with today’s date 4th September 2045. Why had I decided to be frozen and why had I chosen to be resuscitated today? Why not next week?  Why not next year?
   There was a large television screen on the wall in front of me. Reaching for the buzzer on my bedside table, I pressed it and waited.
   Naomi was with me in a trice.
   “Could you show me how to work the television and may I have a mirror, please.”
   Opening the drawer of my bedside table, she retrieved a mirror and was about to leave when I reminded her about the television.
   “Just speak to it and it will come on.” She looked at me as if I was a rare specimen and, I suppose, I was.
   Feeling foolish, I looked at the television and in my clearest voice, commanded it to start. In an instant it came on.  It was the good old BBC news. So, some things did not change.  But, I wondered what ravages the deep freeze had done to my face and braced myself for the worst. Knowing that I was a hundred, I did not relish what my image would reveal.
   I took a deep breath and looked into the mirror. A fairly youthful woman with reddish hair and a pale complexion stared back at me. I wondered if I had actually died and was in that state where I was floating around somewhere near the ceiling and viewing the whole scenario. Or was I perhaps dreaming? Just to check, I pinched myself so hard that I winced.
   At that moment the newscaster on the television spoke out. “On this memorable day many across the world will be resuscitated. Sixty years ago a ground-breaking secret experiment took place when brave volunteers chose to be frozen. Many had incurable diseases and hoped that a cure would be found when they were woken up.” The reporter continued on this earth-shattering theme for some time. I spoke sharply to the journalist on the wall, “Turn off.” And, as if by magic, all was silent. So, I’m one of God’s Frozen People, I thought.
    Doctor Brown came back into the room, still looking thrilled to see me.
    “I’ve seen the news. I’m one of those volunteers aren’t I?”
   He sat on the end of the bed. “Yes,” he said and continued without irony. “And the good news is that we have now found a cure for cancer. You will start your treatment soon. You could live to be a hundred.”
                                                                         

About the author

Sue Cross has published two novels, Tea at Sam’s and the sequel, Making Scents. Her latest work is a compilation of short stories titled Stories to Go, ninety-three very short stories. Please visit her on www.suecross.com
   

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Takeover

by Allison Sumes

dark hot chocolate


Mary looked at her outline. Yes, the story should work. The characters intrigued her and she was looking forward to writing them up. But that would have to wait. Tonight she'd be off to Jerry's restaurant for dinner with Dan. She'd show him her life wasn't being taken over by her writing. She was tired of the quarrels and simmering resentment.

Okay she'd be dining alone but Dan would be there with the tart from The Red Lion. Dan had moved on far quicker than Mary would've liked. But there was nothing to stop her shimmering in wearing her little black dress and purple three-quarter length coat. He could see what he was missing. And the tart from The Red Lion could see for herself what classy meant and how she was not in Mary's league.

There was one niggle with one of the characters Mary was trying to resist the urge to fix now. Simone was showing signs of wanting to dominate the plot but that would soon be sorted out. Mary had dealt with troublesome characters like that before. They learned to behave or were written out.

But Simone was different. She wanted more than a life on paper, created to dance to the tune of her creator.

And she got it.

Later that night it was Simone who wore Mary's purple coat and went to Jerry's restaurant.
Mary was trapped in the paper. She was screaming.


Author Bio
Allison Symes, who loves writing and reading fairytales with bite, is published by Chapeltown Books, Cafelit, and Bridge House Publishing.  She is a member of the Society of Authors and Association of Christian Writers.  A round-up of her writing is at http://allisonsymescollectedworks.wordpress.com and she blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today - http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/author/allison-symes/

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Going for Bronze

by Gill James

sports drink

Today for Eva it was the cross-runner, perhaps the most difficult of all, and she was nicely distracted by the TV screen in front of her.
Up went her heart-rate and her speed as the four young men in their canoes passed the finishing line first. Back to normal speed and then another surge of effort as two young ladies secured another gold.
Seconds later she reached her own finishing line. 
 “Third in class,” said the machine.
“That would be a bronze, then,” thought Eva, though the class was age 60, weight 64 kilos, level two difficulty.   

Friday, 18 October 2019

The South Wood

By Shera Hill

Yorkshire Gold tea with a dollop of cream 

 Their families didn’t want Sara and Robbie to marry.
Sara’s father had promised her to fat, old Harvey Jones, the village butcher, whose barren wife had died the year before.
“Why would we waste your daintiness on that green lad, when for a mouthful of vows you’ll bring the family into the fold of one of the village’s richest man?”
“But I don’t fancy him, Da!” she pleaded. “His breath stinks and he always tries to lay hands on me.”
Her father hooted at that.
“Best get used to it lass—there’ll be a lot more than hands once you’re wed. Just give him a strong son or two and you can push him away. You’ll outlive him, be a well off widow, and soon enough have your pick of suitors.”
Robbie’s breath smelled like fresh grass.
His family had apprenticed him to the shoemaker. He wasn’t to marry for at least another five years.
They’d met at the marketplace, where Sara sold the eggs he bought for his master’s table.
Shy around each other at first, barely able to meet eyes, they fell to talking, and Sara had never felt talk come so easy.
Some weeks after their first chat, he said, “I’ll be at the fair Saturday. Comes midday, our master lets us off.” His eyes searched hers. “Will you be there?”
She nodded. “Aye, with my family.”
“Perhaps you can get away a bit.”
“Perhaps.”
He said, “I’ll find you.”
How easily she slipped away.
Da got drunk with Aldous Reynolds and his son Ollie. Ma cackled and gossiped with the other village matrons, while the younger brothers and sisters ran and chased and played.
She and Robbie stole away from the stalls, the peddlers, and the dancing bear.
They stole into the deep, shaded green of the South Wood—the soft, moss-covered ground.
After the fair they contrived ways to be together, though if Robbie’s master or her father found out, a whipping awaited them both.
“I’ll not abandon you,” Robbie proclaimed, once she told him, once she was sure, her menses stopped for over two months. “I love you Sara, and I’m not meant for a cobbler. I hate the stench, the treating of the leather. I hate my master,” and his face changed, suddenly much older than a lad of seventeen, hardening like flint.
“We’ll go to London,” he said, “my cousin works the docks. He makes a good penny loading and unloading the barges. His wife does stitchery for fine ladies—your being with child won’t matter to the needlework. They’ll know a curate to marry us. My master can find another boy to work his stinking shop, fetching and carrying. I’ll be out in the open air, by the river, close to the sea. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll even become a sailor—see the world! What say you Sara? Would you fancy me bringing you a silk scarf from India?”
“No!” she cried. “I’d not have you gone so long. I want you with me.”
He’d laughed and whirled her in his arms.
“Then perhaps we’ll go together…save our coins and take ourselves and our baby to the New World, America. What say you to that? The war’s over and they welcome those from the old country again. They say any man can make his way there. No lords or masters!”
“I go where you go,” said Sara.
That night she was to meet Robbie by the light of the waning moon. They would run away together, follow the road to London.
She bundled her few things in her shawl and eased out of the bed she shared with her two sisters. They slept still as bags of grain. She crept past her mother and father in the four poster, the newest baby between them, and down the basement stairs to the window that didn’t creak.
The moon hung low, gleaming golden like God’s lantern held to earth. The night felt cool, but not bitter, as if the moon itself shed a certain warmth. As she scurried from shadow to shadow it seemed almost bright as the sun, much too bright. The road would be illuminated, but how easily they could be seen!
Robbie was to wait for her by the church in the shadow of the South Wood. They’d walk through the night—be far away by the time they were discovered gone. Robbie’s master would try to get the law after them, but so many boys ran away from the villages that the Sheriff wouldn’t bother. Her father would curse her, make her mother swear to never mention her name, and marry one of her younger sisters to Harvey Jones.
Someone moved on the cobbles ahead of her—old Desmond Dower, the town drunk. He clutched a bottle of spirits whose pungent fumes reeked from twenty paces distant. Sara cowered in the shadows, and once he staggered away, ran toward the church, not caring for her echoing footfalls, the night and the glaring moon suddenly terrifying, like an omen she would never see Robbie again.
He emerged from dark of the recessed church doors and caught her up while she still ran. She stifled sobs against his shoulder.
“I was so afraid you wouldn’t be here!” she breathed.
 “Silly love,” he whispered, pushing back her hair, kissing her tears. “The devil himself couldn’t have kept me away.” He pulled her toward the road.
It was then they heard the shouts.
 Robbie’s face whitened like the bleached stones of an old statue.
“Run,” he cried, dragging her by the arm, racing them toward the South Wood.
But they weren’t fast enough.
Mounted, one of the men rode them down. He wielded a whip, and its crackling tendrils encircled her lover’s neck, jerking him back, yanking them apart.
She was screaming, and trying to break him free, but the sheriff leaped from his horse and slapped her away. He pummelled Robbie’s head and shoulders, puffing between the blows, “You’re indentured lad! Can’t take away what your master paid for.”
The other men caught up. Sara saw Robbie’s master, her own father, and Harvey Jones.
Harvey Jones spat on the ground. “She’s yours, Josiah. I’ll not have her now.”
Her father grabbed her by the hair. “Slut! I’ll teach you to go whoring.”
Laughing, the sheriff and cobbler bound Robbie like a pig to the slaughter, and then gagged him when he cursed their promises of the pillory and goal.
The cobbler pulled out a flask. The sheriff stepped over to partake.
Sara twisted free of her father, and snatched the pistol from the Sheriff’s belt.
In later years she said it was her first-born, David, growing strong and fine inside her, who gave her that courage, because as she held the pistol, her hands didn’t shake.
The men stared, then laughed until the cobbler spit up spirit. The sheriff started toward her.
“Give it me, lass, you’ve had your fun.”
She aimed for his head and put her finger on the trigger.
“Untie him,” she said, her voice firm and strong like a woman’s voice, a mother’s voice.
“Sara—you stupid sow—put that down, or it’ll go much the worse for you at home.”
“Shut your mouth, Da.”
Her father gasped.
“There’s but one ball in the chamber girl,” said the Sheriff. “You can’t shoot us all.”
“But I can shoot you,” she said.
“Is the lad worth hanging for?”
“Aye, and more.”
And they saw something in her moonlit face that made them know she would shoot, that made them know she wasn’t afraid of the gallows.
The sheriff cut Robbie’s bonds. He sprang to her side and took the gun.
“Over to the Andersons’ shed,” he croaked, still spitting out the taste of the Sheriff’s dirty rag. When they hesitated, he touched the pistol’s barrel to the shoe maker’s head. “I’d be hanged happy, knowing I sent him to hell.”
The ancient outbuilding stood a few paces away, at the village’s edge. Robbie pushed the men inside, slammed the door, and wedged a thick stick in the clasp.
The men pounded and threw their weight against the timbers, howling to alert the town.
She and Robbie doubled-up on the Sheriff’s horse, riding it hard, turning it loose at dawn to water and graze and eventually find its way back to the village. From there they disappeared into the South wood, and kept to it, two days paralleling the road.
Their first hour in London, they pawned the pistol, and used part of the money to bribe a drunken priest to marry them.
Robbie worked the docks for a year. Sara did needlework with the cousin’s wife, even after David was born, a fine, hulking baby.
The cousin and his wife saw them off as they took the ship to America.
They landed in Boston, and Robbie was right. In this land there were no Lords and Masters, each person could make of themselves what they would. Robbie never went to sea, but took the knowledge he’d gleaned at London’s docks and slowly built a business, until on David’s tenth birthday (and by then their son had a brother and two sisters), he owned his own ship.
Sometimes at night, in front of the fire, when one of their children asked how they met, Sara would smile and say, “I was selling eggs at the marketplace, in our village by the South Wood.”

About the author:  

Shera Hill was born in Wichita, Kansas, but now lives in California. She’s always been an avid reader, with most of her working life in the book world. Although recently retired as a library branch manager, she's written poetry, short stories, and novels, since she was a child.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

The Warning

by Alison Allen

a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape


My French teacher claimed she kept a gun in her handbag.
      She liked to tap the bag in lessons, when someone was stumbling over basic vocabulary, or when Martin Chumley was playing the fool. ‘There’s a revolver in here,’ she would tell us, giving each ‘r’ a dramatic roll, ‘and I’m not afraid to use it.’
      She stood on the raised dais in front of the blackboard like a West End star, pointing to the handbag as though it contained something explosive. The only weapon we actually saw in her hand was a wooden ruler – painful enough if she caught you across the knuckles when you weren’t expecting it.
      How a young French widow ended up teaching in a boys’ school in the 1950s, I’ve no idea. I was too young at the time to imagine a previous life for any adult, but I suppose it would have been the war that brought her to England. There must have been thousands of displaced people like Mme Jerome across Europe long after the conflict ended.
      I think we were all a little in love with her. Even a stolid, no-nonsense Englishwoman in a tweed skirt would have stood out amongst the rows of male staff at our school. As it was, Mme Jerome’s foreign nationality, like the sensuous curves of her mouth, gave her a powerful allure. Her clothes, though invariably modest and sombre, graced her shape with unmistakable French style. She had little need for the ruler. We never played up in her lessons like we did with poor old Trimble, the Chemistry master, who was half-deaf when he joined the school and thanks to us, half-mad before he reached retirement. By contrast, Mme Jerome’s sallies with the ruler were mere play-acting. When she set us written work and took to wandering around the classroom, each of us was secretly waiting for her to pause at our desk and stoop to correct something, enveloping us in her perfume and the intoxicating closeness of her person. Maybe that accounts for the halting progress we made in French.
      Then Reg Sproat joined the school. With his hair slicked back into a Brylcreemed DA, and his tie flapping from his pocket, his casual disregard of the uniform regulations indicated his contempt for authority. He had the sort of attitude that didn’t so much hit you as knock you over and pummel you senseless. He cheeked Mr Jones, our form tutor, within the first half hour, reduced Trimble to a stuttering wreck the following day and replaced Martin Chumley as class ringleader without even trying.
      With some anxiety, we waited to see what Reg would do in French. Other teachers were fair game, but the normal rules of ‘them and us’ did not apply to Mme Jerome. I don’t think I was the only one who felt the desire to protect her. In the event, nothing happened. She glided into the classroom in her usual serene manner and Reg did nothing out of the ordinary. We allowed ourselves to relax.
      As Reg settled in, he got louder and bolder. He became one of the regulars waiting to be caned outside the Headmaster’s office. The teachers found it impossible to get him to do anything. I never saw him lift his pen in class and he never opened his mouth without making a sarcastic gibe. Mme Jerome’s lessons were no exception. I could see, day by day, the frustration building in her eyes.
      One Wednesday afternoon, Reg was lolling in the back row with his feet up on the desk beside him, using his own desk lid to hide a fag. The door of the classroom opened. In those days, we were expected to stand when the teacher walked in. Mme Jerome entered, bringing a cloud of scent with her. As one, we got to our feet. All except Reg.
      ‘Asseyez vous,’ said Mme Jerome. She looked at Reg. The corners of her mouth tightened. He returned her gaze, his eyes lazily insolent, his smile an obvious challenge. Someone opened a window but there was no disguising the smell or the blue haze hanging by the ceiling.
      ‘Sproat, will you please remove your feet from the desk and put out the cigarette.’
      My heart winced for her politeness, for the French accent that made her so vulnerable.
     ‘No, ta very much. I’m comfortable as I am.’
     The rest of us exchanged uneasy looks. How far was he going to take this? Should one of us intervene? What would Reg do to us afterwards if we did?
      Mme Jerome put her handbag on the desk. ‘You had better do as I say. This is your last warning.’
      This could only end one way. We’d watched Trimble capitulate in seconds, his face a red wash of humiliation and anger. Hattersley, the Geography teacher, normally a reasonable man, had erupted in a volcanic rage we’d never suspected he possessed, without making the slightest impact on Reg.
      Reg did not move. His smile grew wider. ‘Warning, eh?’
      ‘I have a revolver in my handbag and I know how to use it.’
      I wanted to groan out loud. How could she have made such a fool of herself? She would never regain the upper hand now.
      ‘A rrrevolverrr?’ Reg repeated. My hands bunched into fists, ready to smack the stupid grin off his face. He put his head on one side. ‘Is that the French for ruler, miss?’
      Martin Chumley sniggered. Reg’s eyes glinted in triumph. Then I saw the colour suddenly drain from his face.
      I turned. Mme Jerome’s handbag was open and she was standing behind it. But she did not look much like my French teacher any more. Clasped in her hands was a Smith and Wesson pistol. Even from where I sat, I could tell it was real. There was nothing amateur about the way she slowly raised it, nothing random about its aim. She cocked the trigger.
      And the room fell silent.


About the author:

 A former English teacher, Alison Allen has published study guides on poetry for GCSE students. After completing an MA in Creative Writing, she is currently working on a novel for children. She also writes short stories and poetry, both of which have appeared in CafeLit and Writing Magazine.



Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Think Pink

Hannah Retallick

pink lemonade


I told Jess I didn’t want a kitchen that colour, but she went ahead and did it anyway. Think pink. What is that song? From a musical…the one with The Audrey and The Fred, who can both dance but barely sing.
Funny Face, that’s it – ‘Think Pink’ from Funny Face. My face ain't funny today, I’ll tell you that for nothing.
Pah, where is she? Hiding, no doubt, like there’s anything I could do. She’s always been this way. Eccentric.
Can you imagine what my dear mother-in-law must have said on the most important day of her daughter’s life when she saw the bride in hot pink and the three bridesmaids in white? I was probably making a hash of my tie in another room, oblivious to everything else but my creasing shirt and sweaty feet and the best man’s antics. (That’s a whole other story.)
Whatever my mother-in-law said to Jess at that moment, it can’t have been pretty. Oh dear oh dear! Classic. I mean, white is virginal; red is…ya know. But pink? What the hell is pink?
She was a stunner though.
And now this. Eccentric is as eccentric does. Jess has excelled herself. Tiptoes into the room, no socks, never socks. She’s blushing her favourite colour while she wraps her arms around my waist. Don’t be cross, please don’t be cross, you got to choose yellow for the living room and I don’t like yellow, please don’t be cross. Yes, dear, well that’s, it’s quite, isn’t it, uh huh. Sniffing her strawberry shampoo. Curling my fingers around her blonde split ends, tempted to tug, gently, jokingly.
I’d told her I didn’t want a pink kitchen, but she’d gone ahead and done it anyway. What’s a guy to do? Paint over it, I hear you say. Ha! You might not value your life, marriage, and happiness, but I do.
So, I look again.
Pink. Pale Pink. Rosy Pink. Dusty Pink. Happy Wife Pink.
It ain't such a bad shade.

About the author

Hannah Retallick is a twenty-five-year-old from Anglesey, North Wales. She was home educated and then studied with the Open University, graduating with a First-class honours degree, BA in Humanities with Creative Writing and Music, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. She is working on her second novel and writes short stories and a blog. She was shortlisted in the Writing Awards at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2019, the Cambridge Short Story Prize, and the Henshaw Short Story Competition June 2019. https://ihaveanideablog.wordpress.com/