Monday, 22 October 2018

Georgie's Ascent

by Robin Wrigley

red wine

‘Mr Bannister, tonight will be the most critical period for your daughter. If she can pull through the next twelve to twenty-four hours, she should have a good chance of a full recovery.’
     The surgeon, still in his theatre scrubs and the girl’s father regarded the small anesthetised child in the framed bed. Each man locked in their private thoughts.  
     ‘Thank you, I know you’ve done all you could.’ Andrew Bannister’s voice cracked as he squeezed the surgeon’s arm gently and then allowed himself to be ushered from the room.
     From there he headed back to the children’s recovery ward to comfort his other daughter and son who lay in adjacent beds bruised and bandaged.
     ‘How’s Georgie, Dad?’ they asked in unison.
     ‘She’s doing fine. Try and get some sleep now and do your best not to worry – you’re all going to be fine.’ With that Andrew bent over and kissed each of them on the forehead before leaving the room.

‘Mr Bannister?’
     Andrew looked up from his desk to see two traffic policemen standing in the open farm office door.
‘Yes, how can I help you?’
‘I’m afraid your wife has been involved in a fatal accident.’
The word ‘fatal’ sliced through him.

Georgie’s sleep was restless as she struggled unconsciously with the hospital security bands in place to limit her movement. Her lips moved and occasionally she let out a whimper; in between times she called for her mother.
     In her many and varied dreams, she heard a loud explosion. People were screaming. Later the deafening sound of a engine. The bright sun above was splintered by the spokes of a spinning wheel.
     Then she was on a high cliff top and Jason the horrible boy in her class was pushing her off the edge. She grabbed at air and found a large multi-coloured umbrella in her hand and started to float like the lady in the film. Down, down she went. There seemed no end to her descent. The sea below was blue-grey and menacing; the white tipped waves appeared like fingers of huge hands trying to grasp her and pull her below to hidden depths.
     The umbrella started to save her and stop the descent. There were soft voices and ladies singing. Everything was becoming brighter. A huge shining light seemed to be directed towards her. An old bearded man waved to her from behind the light as she continued her flight.
     Now she was surrounded by beautiful white doves with green fronds in their beaks weaving this way and that around her. They appeared to be guiding her and she became even more alarmed as she couldn’t work out how to steer the course of the umbrella.

Her fears increased. She heard her daddy’s voice calling her.
     ‘Georgie, Georgie.’ She felt drops of water. She opened her eyes. His head was above her and beyond his smiling face, streaked with tears she saw two doves painted on the hospital ceiling.

Sunday, 21 October 2018


by Richard  C Elder

a (very) Bloody Mary 

Billy Williamson stands in the hallway of his home staring at the midnight street through one of the grubby panes in the front door. The wrought iron gate separating his garden from the world is closed. He frowns and reseats the NYC baseball hat, gets it sitting square across his broad skull. The privet hedge either side of the gateposts is a mess, growing wild as weeds. Trim it first thing in the morning, soon as the frost lifts. He turns and looks up the staircase; it’s barely visible in the gloom and muddy orange light percolating through the glass, but he could climb it with his eyes shut if he had to. Ten steps up, turn to the left, three steps more. 
Barney stands on tread number ten, his eyes black and round as marbles, staring down at Billy. Light floods the landing when the bathroom door swings open. Barney snuffles and dips his head before turning away to climb the top treads. The light dies at the clack of a switch. Slippers scuff across carpet and the woman says, ‘Off the bed, you little shit.’ 
Billy sighs and gives the hedge a last look. Am I getting forgetful, or what? A rocket explodes above the roof of the house across the road, and he grins at the expanding ball of emerald green diamonds. Another streaks into the sky, orange sparks blasting from its tail; a crackling, blinding storm of blue-white magnesium stars arc through the air when it detonates.
He climbs the stairs, taking his time for there’s a dull throb in the middle of his chest.
Janice - his wife for the past forty-three years - is at the far side of their bedroom, her back to the door. She’s sitting on a thickly upholstered stool at her faux oak dresser. There’s a free-standing vanity mirror in front of her and a table lamp to one side. She dips her fingertip into a small pink glass tub, scoops out a knob of moisturiser and dabs it over her face. Leaning close to the mirror she spreads the cream over grained skin, her features glowing sickly yellow in the light from the low energy bulb.
Standing just outside the doorway, Billy murmurs, ‘You finished in the bathroom?’ 
She freezes mid-knead, her eyes swivelling in their sockets at the sound of the voice. The room is dead silent. Stretched out on the floor beside the radiator, Barney raises his head and looks at Billy. Janice turns, slow as treacle running off a cold spoon, the stool creaking like a worn hip beneath her. Tortoise shell varifocals crammed onto her face, she peers into the murk at the far side of the bed. She can see the shape of a man, a big square-shouldered man, standing motionless, his features no more than hints of a nose and mouth, grey blotches-on-black.
Leaping to the bed she pulls a large black-handled kitchen knife from under the pillow and holds it high above her head, the tip glowing like a distant star. Her voice is shrill with adrenalin and shock. ‘Stay where you are you bastard or I’ll stick you! You hear me? Don’t you bloody move!’ Snatching her phone from the bedside table she taps 999 and screams her address, that’s there’s a maniac in her bedroom, to get here NOW, RIGHT NOW! 
She stands her ground, the bed, the blade and her gown the only things (she sleeps au-naturel) between her and the intruder. Glancing at Barney she decides when, if, she gets out of this she’ll tie the useless mutt into a sack, fill the bath and toss him in. 
Billy steps into the room and touches the light switch. Janice retreats a half step, squinting in the glare, tightening her grip on the quivering knife. ‘Cops are on the way,’ she growls, her brow furrowed deeper than corduroy, blue eyes glittering. She jabs the knife in his direction, keeps the threat real.
 ‘It’s me. Jan, it’s me,’ says Billy as he takes off his baseball hat, rolling it into a tube then pocketing it. Nodding at the knife, he asks, ‘And when did we start doing that?’
Janice stands slack-jawed, speechless for once in her life. Barney gets to his feet and trots across the laminate flooring, his nails click-click-clicking as he makes his way to the landing to stand beside Billy. The pair of them look at her, waiting for something, anything, she might care to offer as an explanation for the mad-ass behaviour they’ve both witnessed.
She lowers the knife to belly level, keeps the blade pointing at him.  
‘You’re dead. A year dead, you boring, limp-dicked old bastard,’ she hisses, her face twisted into a sneer. ‘You’re dead and bloody buried, and you’re going to stay that way.’ 
She runs across the bed, the mattress rebounding below her naked feet, dark-green quilt rucking and twisting like wind-lashed ocean. The ceiling light is a cable car in a hurricane, hurling shadows from one side of the room to the other. Billy’s legs turn to lead as he tries to get out of her way, but she’s coming at him like a cheetah, teeth bared and moving so fast she’s almost a blur. The blade skewers him and Billy gasps like his heart has stopped, then gasps again, incredulous; there’s no pain, no impact driving him back to the bannister, no struggle with a madwoman. The knife and Janice pass through him like he’s nothing more substantial than steam.     
A brief cry followed by heavy thuds has him spinning round, peering over the handrail. She’s lying at the bottom of the stairs, face down on the gold and red hall carpet. Her breadstick left forearm is snapped in two, the right trapped under her. Barney whimpers and looks at Billy; both of them race to the hall. 
‘She’s alive, Barney,’ says Billy, kneeling beside his wife. 
Her eyes flicker then open, her breathing deepening as she moves her head from side to side and wiggles her toes.
The pain in his chest is back, sharper than before. He rubs the front of his coat, yelps as his knuckles sizzle. There’s a palm print staining the grey denim. No, not a stain: it’s luminous and glowing with heat. It’s a small palm, thumb pointed upward to his throat, fingers splayed and covering his heart. The middle finger is unusually short. 
Janice moans and rolls over, panting like a dog. A couple of deep breaths then she sits up and gets her feet under herself. Pushing her heels into the carpet, she slides up the wall. A protruding shard of bone drags across the wallpaper, pulls grunts from deep in her throat. Blood paints her forehead, nose and cheeks from a gash in her scalp. The knife’s still in her white-knuckled fist, her skinny forearm a minestrone of raised blue veins and tensed muscle. She slashes at his throat but all she cuts is air. She stabs at his stomach and almost overbalances when the blade and her fist meet no resistance. As blood sheets down her face an eerie blue light fills the hallway. 
Billy jerks a thumb over his shoulder, says, ‘You pushed me down the stairs. You murdered me.’ He fills with pain. Pain and sadness. Sadness and regret. Whatever he is.
She laughs in his face; bloody saliva flies from thin lips drawn back to expose tiny sharp teeth. Leaning forward till they’re almost nose to nose she whispers, ‘Go haunt a bloody graveyard,’ then clamps the blade between her canines. Scrabbling fingers find the night latch. She unlocks the door and pulls it open an inch. The blade zings as she trails it from her mouth, gets it settled in her hand. ‘Piss off out of my house, freak.’
Billy’s face contorts, the lips thickening, teeth elongating, his pupils expanding to black saucers set in green orbs. Sulphurous breath streams from his nostrils, swirling round her face, burning her skin. Hell looks her in the eyes. 

Police constable Laura Engles has her gloved hand on the rusting wrought iron gate. Her colleague - constable Evelyn Simmons - is a few steps behind, talking on her radio, confirming their arrival at the address where an intruder has been reported. The cobalt strobes on the roof of their car hurl sheet lightning across the faces of the houses lining the street. 
The blast from a firework rattles windows, and Simmons curses under her breath. The job’s hard enough without pseudo-gunfire.
Engles looks back and mouths, Okay? Simmons gives her a thumbs-up. Engles pushes open the gate just as the front door is wrenched open, crashing against the wall and smashing several panes of glass. A woman bursts from the house, her face a glistening scarlet mask. She’s running at the policewoman, the knife flashing ominously in the strobe, yelling, ‘YOU’REDEADYOU’REFRIGGIN’DEAD!’  
Fast as a gunslinger, Engles draws her Glock pistol and snaps off a shot which drills into Janice’s throat, smashing through two cervical vertebrae. A cloud of bone chips, fat and gore follow the bullet which zips through Billy’s face before punching a hole in the kitchen door. Janice nosedives onto the concrete path, bounces and rolls to the side, ends up lying on her back on the lawn. The knife slips from her fingers into silvered grass; three strangled breaths and her chest sinks, never to rise again. As her vision fades to black she sees Billy drift past, his gaze fixed on something beyond the confines of the garden. Then Barney appears, his dachshund face seeming to smile before he too walks away. 

On the southern shore of Belfast Lough lies Ballyholme beach. It’s a sandy sheltered crescent almost a mile wide. At its western end stands Ballyholme yacht club. The dinghies in the yard are protected from the frosts and rain under bright-blue plastic tarpaulins, their halyards tap-tap-taping against bare masts in the freshening northerly breeze. To the east lies a low peninsula of fractured black rock topped with whin bushes and coarse, salt-scalded grass. 
Billy stands at the midpoint of the bay, just out of reach of the wavelets sliding over the hard-packed sand. A sprinkle of tiny lights are shimmering on the lough’s distant north shore, at the far end of the broad silver path laid on the sea by the full moon. It’s Whitehead, a seaside town he visited every summer as a child with his parents. 
A solitary cloud rises like smoke from the horizon, climbing toward the moon. His heart lurching, Billy gapes at the sky, blue-black and endless, the moonlight obliterating all but the brightest stars. He finds the cloud again. Its shadow falls on the brilliant pathway, a distant smudge tarnishing the silver. As the cloud climbs higher the shadow accelerates toward the beach. Billy looks down, sees Barney at his side.
‘That’s it, boy. Time for me t...’
The shadow sweeps over them and the beach is plunged into darkness. The cloud soars and the light returns. Barney whimpers, turning in circles, leaving scratches in the sand. He lowers his head and searches for scent but finds nothing. The wind strengthens, bringing with it colder air. He can’t stay any longer. 
A final look, just to be sure, then he lollops away, headed for home.   

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Autumn Leaves

by Roger Noons

a large mug of gardener’s tea

‘Lovely morning, Harold?’
    He winced, believing anyone under forty years old should address him as Mr Roberts. ‘Morning … Jane.’
    ‘Beautiful day?’ She continued, looking around. ‘I love autumn.’
    He grunted; gazed in the direction of the sweet chestnut at the bottom of his garden, ignoring the leaf-strewn lawn.
    ‘My boys like to go to Hasbury Woods, collect conkers … kick up the leaves.’
    He sighed.
    ‘The colours of autumn leaves,’ she mused. ‘Make me wish I was a painter, or any sort of artist.’
    He nodded. ‘Leaves … yes …’
    ‘I’m going to collect some, make a flower, well a leaf arrangement for the table.’
    ‘Right,’ Harold said, offering his rake. ‘You start and I’ll go and fetch the wheelbarrow.’

About the author 

Roger is one of our regular contributors. His Slimline Tales was published by Chapeltown Books earlier this year and a short film has been made of seven of the stories from that volume.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Girl in the Coffee Shop

by Mark Kodama 

flat white

Innocent face,
Not a hair out of place.
I order.
You dip your head down,
Ever so slightly.
You are shy.

Head in a book.
Heart in your hand.
You are an image,
In my head.
Eternal youth.
Girl in the coffee shop.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Koko Want Banana

by  Mark Kodama 

banana milkshake

Professor Mann paid a visit to Professor Simian at Stanford University.  Professor Simian was one of the researchers studying Koko the gorilla who was taught American Sign Language.  While Professor Mann was reading the business section of the newspaper about the prime rate, Koko reached through her cage and nudged Professor Mann and then signed: “Koko want banana.” Professor Mann did not know sign language.

When Professor Mann failed to respond, Koko repeated “Koko want banana.”  When Professor Mann looked blankly at Koko, the gorilla began to get agitated.  Finally, Koko signed very slowly and very emphatically to Professor Mann: “Koko want banana!”

Professor Mann said:  “You’ve never really had your intelligence insulted until you’ve had your intelligence insulted by an ape.”

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The Bench

by David Deanshaw

a nice cup of tea 

It was a perfect summer’s day, little in the way of clouds but with a gentle breeze. Temperatures were touching twenty degrees, ideal for my wife Pam, who was a keen photographer. The Botanical Gardens had an excellent reputation for its variety of trees, plants and colours. As Pam strolled round I looked for somewhere to rest my arthritic knees, which were making me hobble. I saw a secluded bower, with a bench. It was occupied by an old man. He wore a check jacket and grey flannels with a knife sharp crease; on the armrest beside him was a matching cap. I didn’t really want to disturb him, but I needed to rest.
I looked over towards him seeking to share his bench. He turned his face towards me, perhaps reading my thoughts; he nodded, as I approached slowly. I could see a tear was trickling down his cheek. His hands were clasped together, holding a handkerchief which was embroidered
It was a truly tranquil situation. We could hear a gentle chorus of birds hidden in the trees.
‘Peaceful,’ I said.
‘Yes, she loved it here.’
I hesitated fearing I had interrupted a tender moment.
‘How long ago?’ I asked.
‘Today, last year,’ he croaked.
‘I don’t want to disturb you.’
‘Not a problem. Perhaps you’d stay a while?’
‘Can we talk?’
He nodded.
‘Tell me about her.’
He smiled as he took a deep breath; obviously the memory of her was both pleasant and sensitive.
‘She was the kindest, gentlest woman you could ever wish to meet. She organised me from the day we got engaged, kept house, managed the money and the cooking.’
‘But you helped, providing for the family?’
‘Yes that’s what we men were for in those days. Then there were the children.’
‘How many?’
'Just two, one of each.’
‘But you helped?’
‘Yes of course. But whenever they fell or got bruised or scratched it was her warmth that mended them. She used to say, “There you are; Mummy mended it.” They’d recover as if by magic. I was the one who taught them to read; then listened as they read to me. I did sums as well – fractions they always found difficult, but not decimals later.’ He moved his head as if looking into the distance. ‘Now they’ve both moved away.’
‘Australia and New Zealand.’
‘Do they come back to visit?
‘Only for the funeral,’ his voice croaked again. ‘They stayed for three weeks to help me sort things out, then left.’
  ‘Would you want to go and live with them? ‘
‘Difficult, I’d have to be sponsored at my age. Besides, she’s still here with me, not out there.’
‘But do they want you to go?’
‘No I don’t think so. They only think of the future, not the past.’
At that moment, he leaned forward placing his elbows on his knees. Now, I could see, behind his back, engraved on the bench were the words, ’in loving memory of Amy.’ She had been “sitting on his shoulder” the whole time,
‘Do you do much with your time?’
‘Not really I don’t know what to do without her.’
‘You were obviously very much in love.’
‘I loved her more every day.’
‘Can I make a suggestion?’
 ‘Please do,’
‘A friend of mine decided some years ago that he knew nothing of his parent’s family or any of his ancestors. So he decided to write a book about himself for his children and the grandchildren. He wrote his life story all the way from junior school to retirement.’
‘Oh, I couldn’t do that.’
‘If I said that the most touching part of the book for me, when I read it, was the story of how he met the woman he would spend the rest of his life with. Right from first meeting, to falling in love and realising that they were soul mates. It was a love story that brought a tear to my eyes. What would you say to that?’
‘It sounds a nice story.’ He relaxed and lifted his elbows.
‘Anyone who read your story would learn just how much you loved her. My friend told me that it was a joy to write. Did your grandchildren ever meet Amy?’
‘No they stayed with the other grandparents for the funeral.’
‘Then why not write something for their sake. I am sure you have pictures too?’
He nodded.
‘Not just about Amy and me, but of the children too. What their parents looked like as they grew up.’
He was beginning to sound interested; and this did bring a smile to the old man’s face.
‘Do you know I think that I quite like that idea? We got a computer some years ago to stay in touch by email. My son recently introduced me to Skype. We take it in turns. We speak every Saturday morning at ten in the morning here, so it must be the same time out there only at night. Thank you for talking to me. Shall we stay in touch?’
‘I’d be delighted. Let me give you my contact details.’ With that I wrote down my email address and phone number.
‘It’s been a pleasure to talk with you.’
With that, I pressed one hand down on the armrest and got up. We shook hands and I walked away.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Superhero Worship

By Dawn Knox

Powerade (other sports drinks are available!)

Persephone Perkins fluffed up her blonde hair, smoothed the dress over her hourglass figure and knocked at Mr Chubb’s front door, taking care not to chip her blood-red nail varnish. Her real name was Phyllis but having come to Basilwade with her son – leaving Mr Perkins in another part of the country – she wanted to reinvent herself. And the name Persephone, she decided, rather suited her.
She’d moved into the house next door two weeks before and during that time hadn’t met her neighbour, although a letter addressed to Mr C. Chubb (Churchwarden All Saints), had mistakenly been delivered to her house, informing her of his name. From the uproarious laughter that frequently emanated from next-door, she guessed he was large and jolly, with chubby, red cheeks, so she was surprised when a small, skinny man with round, horn-rimmed glasses opened the door. 

She held out her hand, “Persephone Perkins,” she said, “from next door. Pleased to meet you at last.”
“Charlie Chubb. Likewise,” he said, straightening his glasses and blinking at the goddess before him.
She gave him her most dazzling smile, “I’m sorry to bother you, Charlie, but I wonder if you could do me the teensiest favour…” She held two red nails together to indicate how small the teensiest favour would be, “I’ve got an important meeting and my babysitter’s let me down… So, I wondered if you’d look after my son for a while. I’d be soooo grateful.” She pouted and fluttered her eyelashes.
Charlie’s cheeks reddened. He wasn’t used to women and especially not glamourous females like the one who now stepped forward and removed a speck of dust from his cricket jumper. When Charlie was nervous, he laughed which made him more nervous, until he became hysterical. As he choked back the giggles which were threatening to erupt, Persephone took advantage of the silence.
“What a kind man you are to help me out like this!”

“B…but… I don’t know the first thing about babies… And I’m on my way to a cricket game,” said Charlie, shock managing to stifle the laughter.

“You dear man!” said Persephone, patting his chest as if he’d told a humorous joke, “he’s six-years old and he loves cricket, don’t you?” she said reaching behind herself to drag out a small boy dressed in a yellow and black striped tee-shirt and jeans. 

Persephone patted the small boy on the head, “This is my son, Ulysses. You won’t be any trouble, will you, U?”

The young boy scowled, “I might,” he said. 

Charlie shook his head; eyes wide in panic, “I’m going to play cricket, I won’t be able to look after—” 

“Oh, he loves cricket! Don’t you, U?”

“No,” said the boy.

“And he doesn’t need looking after, he’ll play with his doll—”

“Action figure!” said Ulysses, glowering.

“Action figure,” said Persephone, leaning forward to straighten Charlie’s glasses, “You might need to clean these if you’re going to play cricket,” she said, “the lenses are steaming up.”

Charlie giggled and turned puce. 

Persephone spun on her spiky stiletto heel and after stooping to kiss Ulysses, she minced down the path.

“Behave for Charlie, won’t you, U?”

Ulysses wiped the crimson lipstick smear off his cheek and looked up expectantly at Charlie. 

“My name’s Waspman,” he lisped through the gap where his two front teeth should have been.  

“Quite,” said Charlie, “Well… err… laddie… if you’d like to come in, I’ll get my things.”

“Ah, Mrs Myers!” Charlie said as he entered the cricket pavilion bar, “I wonder if you could do me a favour, please.” He indicated Ulysses, “This is U… err… my next-door neighbour—”

“Waspman!” said Ulysses.

“Quite,” said Charlie with a giggle, “Yes, well, I’m supposed to be looking after him but obviously I can’t while I’m playing. You don’t think you could mind him for me, do you?”

“I don’t need looking after!” said Ulysses, “I’m a Superhero.”

Mrs Myers looked doubtful, “I’m not sure how I’m going to keep a child amused, Mr Chubb.”

“Oh, he’s got a doll… err… an action thing to play with. He’ll be no trouble.”

Mrs Myers scrutinised the action figure, “What on earth is that?” she asked, curling her lip in distaste, “it appears to be dripping something disgusting.”

“It’s Wormwoman,” said Ulysses, “She’s a superhero an’ she can escape from anywhere by exuding slime.” 

“Well, she’d better stop exuding it all over my floor!” said Mrs Myers.

Charlie took the opportunity to back out of the bar and made for the changing room where Mrs Myers couldn’t follow. 

“Brenda!” yelled Mrs Myers.

Brenda Baskin came rushing from the kitchen, wiping soapy hands on her apron. She was almost as tall as she was round with a smile which lit up her face. 

“Ah, Brenda!” said Mrs Myers, “You’re used to children, aren’t you? There’s a little chap here who we need to look after for Mr Chubb.” She hurried into the kitchen leaving Brenda to deal with the boy. 

“What’ve you done with him?” Mrs Myers asked when Brenda came into the kitchen.

“Poor lamb,” said Brenda, “apparently his mother’s dumped him on Charlie so she can have her nails done.”

“Yes, yes! But what’s he doing now? He’s not still dripping slime over the floor, is he?”

“Don’t you worry, Mrs Myers, he’s playing nicely with that doll. I’ve told him I’ll take him a biscuit when I’ve found the pickled onions. Vicar’ll create like anything if there aren’t any of those strong ones he likes for tea.”

Brenda placed a bowl of super-strength pickled onions on the table in the gap between the vol-au-vents and sausage rolls. She could have sworn the cucumber sandwiches had been there. Perhaps Mrs Myers had moved them. She had a few biscuits for the boy – but he was nowhere to be seen. Rushing to the door, she asked the spectators who were outside watching the match if they’d seen a boy leave the bar, but if he had, no one had noticed. As she turned around, she saw the flicker of a shadow beneath the enormous table on which the tea was being set. She gently raised the tablecloth. 

“What’re you doing under there? And why’ve you dismantled Mrs Myers’ cucumber sandwiches?” she asked, pointing at the empty plate, the heap of thinly sliced cucumber next to his knee and the buttered bread triangles which were scattered on the floor. 

“Cucumber’s disgusting,” he said flicking the pile with his finger.

“Well,” said Brenda gathering everything up and piling it on the plate, “lots of people do like cucumber sandwiches, so I’ll thank you to leave them alone. Here, these are for you.” She handed him the biscuits. “Keep your hands off the food and don’t touch the pickled onions or you’ll have Reverend Forbes-Snell to answer to.” 

Ulysses took the biscuits.

“What d’you say?” asked Brenda. She had seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, so she knew about teaching manners.

“When can I go home?” said Ulysses, spitting biscuit crumbs through the gap in his teeth. 

“Why are you washing those cucumber slices?” Mrs Myers asked.

“Health and Safety. You can’t be too careful these days,” Brenda muttered, placing her considerable girth between Mrs Myer’s inquisitive eyes and the plate of opened and empty sandwiches. If she was careful, she’d be able to clean the fluff and grit off the cucumber and reassemble the sandwiches before Mrs Myers realised what had happened. Brenda remembered the slime on the boy’s hands and wondered whether the buttered triangles would stand a quick dip in the washing up bowl but decided they’d probably disintegrate. She’d just have to check each piece as she reassembled the sandwiches and scrape off any slime if necessary. The last sandwich had just been placed on the plate, when she heard choking coming from the bar. 

“I told you to keep your hands off those pickled onions!” Brenda said when she took in the scene of the upturned pickled onion bowl and the stricken, heaving boy with his mouth open and hands wrapped round his throat. 

“Oh, lordy!” she said, rushing towards him. Wrapping her arms round the boy from behind, she pulled him into her cushion-like body, performing the Heimlich Manoeuvre. Ulysses gagged, forcibly ejecting the onion from his throat. It bounced twice and rolled under the table. 

“Well, I shan’t be washing that one!” she said, scooping up the other onions and dropping them in the bowl. “Now, sit down and wait for me to clean these up.”

To her relief, when she returned, Ulysses was sitting where she’d left him, although he was subdued after his recent encounter with the pickled onion. She wasn’t sure if the tears in his eyes were as a result of choking, the indignity of being seized in the Heimlich Manoeuvre or because of vicar’s extra-strength onions.

“Why don’t you go outside and watch the cricket?” she asked in her best grandmotherly tone.
“’S boring. I hate cricket!” His sulky expression returned. 

“I see. Well, why don’t you tell me all about… that?” she asked, pointing at Wormwoman, trying to disguise her distaste at the Barbie-like doll dressed in a brown, shiny outfit which was smeared with goo. 

For the first time since he’d arrived, Ulysses became animated and told her about Superhero Wormwoman and her exploits.

“I see,” said Brenda, feigning interest, “So that goo helps her escape from her enemies.”

“Yeah! It comes out here,” he said pointing to a small hole in her back “and I can fill the slime extruder here,” he said opening a small flap beneath the hole. “But Mum wouldn’t let me bring my spare slime.” He frowned. “Wormwoman’s got other tricks too!” he added.

“Are they as messy?” Brenda asked, frowning at the slime on the floor.

Ulysses ignored her question. “An’ I’ve got Spiderman, Waspman, Bugboy an’ Grubgirl at home! But Mum wouldn’t let me bring them.”

“That’s an awful lot of creepy-crawly Superheroes,” she said.

“Brenda! Where are you?” called Mrs Myers from the kitchen although from her tone, she might just as well have said “Brenda! Come here!” 

“Why don’t you take Wormwoman outside for some fresh air while I help Mrs Myers?” she asked the boy.

He looked doubtful but before he could speak, there was a deafening crash. 

“Oooh!” gasped the spectators outside and someone shouted, “Six! Good old Chubby!”

Brenda hurried to the door and poked her head outside, “Well, Charlie’s on form! That’s another six he’s scored and it’s the third window he’s broken in the pavilion this season. He’ll be Man of the Match… again and I expect we’ll slaughter Wickleston… again.”

“What?” Ulysses asked, his voice rising in incredulity, “That weedy man from next-door broke a window?”

Brenda nodded.

“He hit the ball all that way?” He pointed at the far-off figure of Charlie standing by the wicket, giggling uncontrollably.

“Charlie’s a demon batsman. Mind you, he’s a demon bowler too. You wouldn’t think it to look at him, would you?” 

“He doesn’t look like he’s good at anything,” Ulysses said, “I thought he was a wimp.”

“Well, I always find appearances can be deceptive,” she said tartly.

“Is he some kind of Superhero?” Ulysses asked in awe.

“Absolutely,” said Brenda, “in fact…” she paused and looking right and left as if checking for eavesdroppers, she whispered, “Don’t tell anyone but he’s actually Cricketman.”

“Cricketman!” said Ulysses, his eyes wide and his mouth open. “Can I go and watch him play?”

“Absolutely,” said Brenda with relief as Mrs Myers bellowed from the kitchen. “Brenda! Why are vicar’s pickled onions in the washing up bowl?”

Persephone balanced her mobile phone against her ear with her shoulder and splaying her fingers in front of her, she studied her nails. 

“Hello,” came the disembodied voice from the phone’s speaker, “Phyllis?”

“Hi, Mum. I’m Persephone now, by the way, not Phyllis. Please try to remember.”

“Well, how are you and little Ulysses? You haven’t answered my last few calls? Are you settling in okay?”

“I’m fine, thanks, Mum. I’ve just been so busy.” She pulled a tendril of hair and allowed it to spring back into place. 

“And how’s Ulysses?”

“He’s fine.”

“Can I speak to him?”

“He’s at the cricket club with his new friend, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, lovely, he’s found a friend!”

“Yes.” Persephone stroked an eyebrow back into position, “Charlie Chubb from next-door. U thinks he’s wonderful.” 

“That’s good. Do they go to the same school?”

“School? Oh, no! Charlie’s an adult. Between you and me, I think there’s a bit of hero-worship going on which is rather odd because Charlie’s such a puny little man. Definitely not hero-material but apparently, he’s a brilliant cricketer. But the good news is, U doesn’t play with those Superhero dolls as often – not now he’s taken up cricket.”

“How marvellous! He’s never shown any interest in sport before.”

“I know! I’m not sure he’s any good at it but he wanted me to buy him cricket gear and he wears it all the time which is a bit of a pain as it needs a lot of washing to keep it white. I drew the line at buying him horn-rimmed glasses like Charlie though.”

“Ulysses doesn’t need glasses, does he?”

“Oh no, he just seems to like copying Charlie. I don’t mind the cricket but I wish he wouldn’t imitate Charlie’s laugh. It’s driving me crazy…”

About the author

Dawn’s third book ‘Extraordinary’ was published by Chapeltown in October 2017. She has had three other books published as well as stories in various anthologies, including horror and speculative fiction, and romances in women's magazines. Dawn has written a play to commemorate World War One, which has been performed in England, Germany and France.