Sunday, 17 March 2019

Soft Centre

by Matthew Roy Davey

chocolate milk

The previous tenants had abandoned some of their stuff when moving out: books in the bathroom, a Japanese doll in the spare room, dirty dishes in the sink.  The estate-agent apologised and told us it would be taken care of before we moved in, should we like it. 
In the fridge was a box of chocolates and a pint of separating milk.  I opened the chocolates.  Lying on the hard-centres was a piece of paper, folded once.  I took a chocolate and opened the note.
‘Maria,
I love you
ALWAYS!
Xxx’
I felt like a thief, reacting with no flash of joy, sad instead, a nothing meant for someone else.  I wondered why they’d left in such a hurry.  The chocolate was cold and hard. 
Maria had not seen the note but then neither had my girlfriend.  I would not make the same mistakes.

About the author

https://matthewroydavey.wordpress.com/  

Saturday, 16 March 2019

If It's Too Good To be True

by Allison Symes

  frothy milkshake


You know the old “you can only have three wishes” ploy - well I think I’ve found a way round it. I was clearing my late mum's place before putting it on the market. Dad died years ago and Mum got a new lease of life to be honest. Think very old school. I don't miss him but Mum's another story. Anyway I found this old lamp.

Course I know the old tale. Mum took me to all the pantomimes when I was a kid. Later, she introduced me to the theatre, Shakespeare especially. Anyway for a laugh, I rub the lamp. What harm could it do?

I tell you I nearly joined dear old Mum when that genie turned up. He was surprised to see me though he was sorry to hear about Mum.

Then I found out about the scam. Mum and the genie had a good  racket going. Her only wish was for dirt to blackmail people with who would pay up and keep quiet. She would ask for two small payments only to be paid in cash. They were never more than £5000 each and often much lower so the people concerned felt they were getting off lightly! No wonder we could afford all those theatre trips. Mum worked as a hospitall cleaner!

What does the genie get  of it? If he gets sent back to his world, he'll be put to death for corruption so the longer he stays in his lamp the better. The great thing is as Mum's only heir, I inherit her wish so we can keep this going!

It has been an eye-opener to see how many on Mum's list she didn"t get to do. I must be off now. Have lots to do!


About the author 

Allison Symes is published by Chapeltown Books, Cafe Lit, and Bridge House Publishing amongst others.  She is a member of the Society of Authors and Association of Christian Writers.  Her website is www.allisonsymescollectedworks.wordpress.com and she blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today - http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/author/allison-symes/


Friday, 15 March 2019

Regret Long Ago Over a Large Single Malt


by David Deanshaw 

a large single malt

I believed


We met and I was smitten
And I believed in you

You made me happy
And I believed in you

We travelled and you taught me so much
And I believed in you

You showed me galleries
And I believed in you

You talked of history
And I believed in you

We loved each other
And I believed in you

You strayed
And I still believed in you

You betrayed me
Yet I still believed in you

We parted and you pursued me
But I had stopped believing in you.

DD June 20xx


About the author 

David Deanshaw is the author of  The Price of Loyalty and an associate member of the Society of Authors.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Rabbit's Rough Justice

by William Edgar

orange juice 

My name is bunny rabbit and I would like to say that it is unfair that rabbits are at the bottom of the food chain. Why does everybody want to eat us. Where I live there were sixty of us a few months ago and now we are down to thirty. Fox's, dogs, human beings and birds of prey all want to eat us and all we eat is grass and clover and if we can get a carrot it is yummy to the tummy. Foxes creep up on us in silence when we are in the fields and they run at us so fast we have very little chance to get away and dogs are just the same. There is one dog that barks at us before it tries to catch us and we run because we know it is coming. Human beings are the worst; they can fire a gun from a long way off and we just hear a big bang and one of us falls over with a hole in them. Another thing that a human being can do is put nets around the way out of our dens and send a ferret in to chase us out and as we are running away from the ferret we get caught in the net. A young lady rabbit had six baby bunnies and she took them out into the field one day and a big bird of prey swooped down and grabbed two of the little bunnies with its claws. The little bunnies had no chance and they were never seen again. Human beings laugh at us and call us randy because we breed so fast but we have to breed fast because if we didn’t we would soon all be eaten. M.Ps actors and pop stars speak up for Badgers and Fox's but nobody ever speaks up for rabbits where is the justice in that. I would like to say to anyone that reads this if you know where rabbits live throw us a carrot and keep your dog on a lead.  

  

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

She's Not Crying Anymore

by NT Franklin

spa water



She looked at the tiny child in bed, barely a third the size he should have been. Sick his whole life, and now bad sick. A tear dropped onto the mattress. She hadn’t realized she was crying again. Little Billy stirred and she looked away, wiping another tear off her cheek. A deep breath to regain composure, then she was back to being strong. For Billy.

Billy rolled over and brushed limp blond hair out of his eyes. “Mommy, you’re here.”

“Yes, Billy, Mommy’s always here for you.”

“And you’re not crying. I like it when you don’t cry. Everything is going to be okay.”

“You keep telling me that, honey. How are you feeling today?” She asked but didn’t need to. The look in his eyes told her everything. It wasn’t going to be a good day, not that there had been many recently.

“Okay. About like yesterday.” Billy grimaced and looked at the wall after he spoke. His hoarse voice was weaker than yesterday. She knew he was lying.

This routine was repeated day after day. She didn’t want her little man to have to lie anymore. He wasn’t feeling ‘about like yesterday.’ He wasn’t okay. She wasn’t okay.

Every time she administered medication, she tried not to, but still cried. More and more medication was needed to dull the pain in his eyes.

Billy tried to smile. “Don’t cry, Mommy. I love you. I want you to be happy.”

She had to turn her head away when he was struggling and rasping the words out. Her jaw hurt from clenching her teeth. She wasn’t going to cry anymore, even if it broke her teeth. She was going to be as strong as Billy.

Here was her little man, barely enough hair left to get into his eyes, comforting her. “I’m okay, honey. Mommy loves you, too,” she said.

The doctors gave him less than five days. Billy had been fighting for almost two years; she could hold it together for a few days. She would be selfish and not share him. She alone, would spend his final days with him, her only son.

For the next three days, she pulled herself together for Billy. She spent the days holding and tending to Billy, never once crying.

For the next three nights, she awoke in a cold sweat. The longer she was awake, the angrier she became. Why my son? Why him? It’s not fair. Pounding her pillow didn’t help. She fought off the urge to cry herself to sleep each night; she had to be strong for Billy.

Come the fourth morning, she no longer had to pull herself together for Billy.

On the following Saturday, the funeral was a blur. The casket was surrounded by blue flowers, Billy’s favorite color. Friends stopped to give her hugs. Most of the other young mothers were crying, but not her. Billy wouldn’t have wanted her to cry. She managed to be strong when she was led away so the tiny casket could be closed. Everyone heard her best friend say, “she’s not crying anymore.”

The mourners winced at the snap of the casket closing.



About the auhtor 

NT Franklin has been published in Page and Spine, Fiction on the Web, 101 Words, Madswirl, Postcard Shorts, 404 Words, Scarlet Leaf Review, Freedom Fiction, Burrst, Entropy, Alsina Publishing, Fifty-word stories, Dime Show Review, among others.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Storm Clouds

by James Bates

hot black coffee

A small group of Minnesota's criminally insane are housed in a gray, nondescript building on the outskirts of the town of Epps in the northwestern part of the state. It's flatland soybean and corn fields up there, and I'm getting to know the area pretty well. It makes sense. I've been coming here every month for the last thirty three months. It's where my son Tim has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life. I'm told he's never going to leave. Just imagining what he's going through inside those walls causes the storm clouds to start to build in my brain. I close my eyes and do my mental exercises to get myself under control. If those clouds build and explode into lightning who knows what'll happen? Someone could get hurt, that's for sure. They have in the past, and it hasn't been pretty. Thankfully, I'm successful. The anger settles and recedes. I feel myself calming down.
            I've had a problem controlling my temper my entire life. It started when I was young. If I didn't get my way, boy, I'll tell you, there'd be hell to pay. I used to get into a lot of fights. A few times I even ended up in the hospital. And that all happened before I got out of grade school. Fortunately, over time, I was able to change. What happened? I wish I could say that I had a simple answer or a magic formula, but it really just came down to wanting to do more with my life than spend it being a pugilistic jerk who settled his arguments with his fists. My father left home when I was nine, my mom needed me to help her raise my two younger brothers, so one thing lead to another and I just figured out how to control my temper, my anger, my rage. I learned to not let those storm clouds get the better of me. Apparently, I failed to teach my son the same thing.
            I pulled into the tiny parking lot and walked to the front entrance. The building is a former grade school that underwent extensive renovation twenty years ago. It's actually called the Marshall County Prison. My son is housed with a few other inmates in one wing called the Behavioral Study Unit. A team of doctors are analyzing him to see if they can determine why he did what he did. So far they have no answers.
            I shoulder my backpack and head for the front entrance. After going through two security checkpoints I'm taken to the nurses office where I met with Connie Greyeagle. She fills me in on the medications they are giving Tim. Nearly three years ago, my son suddenly snapped. He stole a rifle from a neighbor went on a rampage and killed seven people. He was twenty years old at the time. To make a long story short, the doctors think that there was something manifesting itself in his brain that caused him to do what he did. He's now a risk to society. Medication is one way they are treating him for his violent behavior and mood swings. Connie and I talk awhile and then she ushers me to Anderson Gingsrude's office, the psychiatrist in charge of my son.
            "Hi, Anders," I greet him and we shake hands, "How's Tim doing?"
            "As well as can be expected."
            The response he gives me is the same every time we meet, vague enough to give me hope without telling me anything concrete. That's fine with me. At this stage of the game, hope goes a long way. It's certainly better than nothing. I'll take it.
            Anders is a good guy. Fifty years ago he might have been a cigarette smoking overweight control freak who could have cared less about the patients under his supervision. But that behavior is not acceptable these days. He has the lean body of a marathoner (which he is), and a helpful manner. He fills me in on how Tim is doing, primarily about the team from the University of Minnesota who have developed a rigorous set of tests having to do with genetics and what part my genes could have played in influencing Tim's violent outburst. Let me tell you, knowing I might have had a role to play biologically in Tim's killing spree is sobering. It's something I'm having to learn to deal with and probably will be for the rest of my life. It's not easy, but I'm doing my best.
            We talk for a while. Then he walks me to my son's room, an eight by ten space made of twelve inch thick concrete, and tells me good-bye.
            Once inside I pull up a chair and sit down. Tim's taller than me by three inches and thinner by fifty pounds. They keep his head shaved due to the tests they run on him, but his eyebrows are still bushy brown and his eyes are the dark amber they've been since he was two years old.
            "Hi, son," I say. I watch him carefully for any signs that he recognizes me. There are none. He doesn't look at me. Or answer me. Or even acknowledge me. Nothing. He sits passively in a recliner and stares into space. Dr. Gingsrude tells me it's the drugs that do it; they make my once outgoing and effervescent son almost catatonic. "It's better this way," the doctor has told me, "He's easier to manage." His statement is not easy to accept, but my son is a cold-blooded killer who took the lives of seven innocent people. I'm trying to appreciate that, compared to being a violent murderer, him being in a catatonic state is better. It is better, right? I don't know. All I know is that he is my son and I still love him.
            "Tim, I've got something for you," I tell him and right then and there begin a one-sided conversation that will last for the next four hours, the amount of time I am allowed to spend with my boy. I take out a floral arrangement my wife Anne has put together. This time it's a pretty bouquet of yellow geraniums. I set them in the plastic vase I've brought with me (glass is not allowed) and fill it with a bottle of water from my pack. I set the vase and flowers on the night stand next to his bed. Next I take out a tin of cookies Jenny my daughter and Tim's younger sister made for him. This visit it's chocolate chip, a favorite of his from a time long ago. I offer them to him, but, again, no response, so I set them aside. I take out an iPod and plug it into a small boom box I always bring. I turn it on. I like to play the music Tim used to listen to growing up. He doesn't acknowledge he hears anything.
            Finally I take out the book I've brought along and settle in to read to him. It's book number three in a series by a Minnesota author set in the fictional town of Aurora, about a hundred miles east of where we are right now. All the time I've been with him so far, Tim hasn't responded to one thing I've said or done. But that's okay. He never does, and I'm used to it. I try not to let the sadness I feel get to me. There'll be time later for that. Right now it good to be with my son. I settle back and begin reading out loud.
            In no time at all, it seems, there's a knock on the door. It's an orderly telling me my visit is over. "I've got to go, Tim," I tell my son, "I'll be back next month." I stand up and kiss his forehead. I gather up my book and the other things I brought, put them in my backpack and quietly close his door. I walk down the hall to the nurses' station where I leave the cookies and flowers with Connie. He's not allowed to have anything in his room other than the bed, night stand and the two chairs.
            "Good bye," I say to Connie, "See you next month."
            "Good bye, Sam," she says, "Thanks for coming. He's the only one around here who gets a visitor."
            I shrug my shoulders. What can you say? I'll never stop coming; he's my son. I leave without saying anything.
There's a truck stop on the interstate a mile outside Epps and that's where I'm headed. I'm wiped out. I need some caffeine. Plus, I need some gas. I pull up to the pump and start to fill up my little Ford Fiesta. A car full kids pulls in on the other side and one of them gets out and starts filling the tank. A few minutes go by. I'm thinking about Tim and planning my next visit when a commotion startles me back to the present.
            An attendant is running out of the station, yelling, "Hey you guys, stop. You didn't pay for your gas."
            "Screw you, pal," the kid who was pumping the gas yells back.
            He's starting to get in his car when I step across the island and grab him and jam him up against a concrete support structure. He pushes back, slugs me in the chest and my vision explodes into bright light. Violent storm clouds build exponentially in my brain, billowing and turning black as night.
            I react quickly and grab the kid with both hands tightly by the front of his shirt, "Hey, there, pal," I say, giving him a shake and looking straight into his eyes, "It looks like you owe this gentleman here some money. Give it to him," I shake him, again. Hard. I can see his eyes roll back in his head. It is at this point, in the past, things could have gotten ugly. I could have gone berserk and maybe even beaten the kid to a pulp. Hurt him bad.
            But not now. Now, I get control of myself, grit my teeth and give him a command, "Didn't you hear me? I said, give him his money." I am right in his face and emphasize, "Now." I feel his hot breath on my face. It smells like fear. He must have sensed something in me. Something frightening. I know what he's feeling. He's feeling my rage, barely under control. Barely. I'm doing my best to keep it there.  
            So, he does the smart thing. He pays the attendant and even apologizes to the young man. And to me. "You did a good thing by paying," I tell the kid after things have settled down. "Make sure you don't forget next time."
            He blinks and gives me a nod. Then, without a word, he gets in the car and he and his friends slowly drive away.
            Later, driving home, I think about my son and how he's receiving treatment, now, for his violent behavior. I think of how the doctors are studying his genes and my genes to see if there's any kind of correlation; to see if there's something genetic that made him do what he did. They hope that that knowledge will help make treating him more successful, and possibly form a foundation for helping others in the future. My fingers are crossed that they will be. It never is far from my mind, knowing that I could have had a role to play in Tim turning out the way he did. The truth? I probably did. I know that. It makes perfect sense. That's why I see my son as often as I can. I'm his dad, and I owe him that much. Besides, it's the least I can do. We have a lot in common. Half of him is me, and, it's not too far of a stretch for me to realize the awful truth. It could easily have been me sitting in there.

About the auhtor 

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In addition to Cafelit, his stories have appeared in The Writers' Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed and Paragraph Planet. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com. "Storm Clouds" was almost a year ago and is one of his top five favorite stories.

Monday, 11 March 2019

A Grandee

by David Deanshaw

fine cognac


Rupert Montague reached for the cut glass decanter and poured another generous measure of Remy Martin Grand Cru. He relaxed in his leather wing-backed Chesterfield chair and returned to the review of his future options. He was particularly pleased with his new Chesterfield; it added an additional touch of elegance to his study.

A Yule log crackled contentedly in the grate as he let the cognac trickle onto his tongue. The new decade would bring even more changes. The 1960s had shown that the aristocracy no longer ruled the roost.

Rupert was the last in a line of country bankers, his wife long dead and with no offspring, banking had been his life. It was therefore his duty to plot the next decade of the 1970s. There was after all no family to whom he could pass on the fruits of the family’s years of activity. Certainly, he had executives he trusted, but they were not family. A major City institution had now acquired a sizeable shareholding and would, ultimately, complete the purchase of the remainder. By the end of the decade he would have secured his retirement. Perhaps he would write a detailed history of the family. He would also travel, not a luxury he had allowed himself during his working life

The family’s wealth had come from the usual number of sources; patronage, marriage, land and of course hard work. Earlier generations had initially supported the Cromwellian cause and later been involved in the discussions leading to the Restoration in the 1660s. Hence their reward had been land and a title which had subsequently died out. Later generations had inter-married with other gentry, thus developing sizeable estates which had later been put to work producing food initially, then factories, along with cottages for the workforce. In short, a typical upper class English method of country style aggrandisement.

The main family home was a large estate on the edge of the Fens of some 15,000 acres on which carrots and kale were produced. Later, cattle were introduced.

This patrician life style was natural to Rupert who took care to understand the needs of his staff. His father’s advice had been clear and unequivocal:-

“Always remember, Rupert, whilst the servants will always know their place, it is difficult these days to replace good staff. They are essential to maintaining our way of life”.

Even as late as the dawn of the 1970s he kept a staff of five to run the house and a further six to run the estate.

The incremental increase in the family fortunes had led to the next stage of the enhancement of their hold on their community. It was a natural development therefore to fund developments for others rather than soil one’s own hands. Thus the family had started a bank in East Anglia in 1764. Indeed their headquarters building was a grand edifice in the centre of one the beautiful cities of East Anglia. It was originally the family’s “town house”, now still used as bank premises. Following this initial success, a number of branches across the region were developed. This expansion into the towns of East Anglia had been driven by their greed to dominate their locality. Rupert’s grandfather had decreed that the family should balance their domination by becoming associated with philanthropy and a number of bursaries for the children of “worthy” employees were established. It was also decided that a large tract of green space near the centre of the city would be endowed for the “benefit of the populace at large”.


The fine quality cognac helped the musing process, the warmth of his fire and the comfort of his chair, all contributed to a sense of wellbeing. It also fostered a notion of creativity. It was then that he decided that he would set up a history scholarship to study the origins of their city. He already knew that an abbey had been founded in the 7th century and subsequently destroyed by Danish invaders a couple of hundred years later.

Despite his education at Charterhouse, an environment surrounded by wealth and privilege, it had been his time at Brasenose College in the 1930s which had opened his eyes to the inequalities in society.

At the start of the Second World War his bank had responded to the call for troops by the “careful selection” and release of some of the “less valuable” employees. At the same time he had agreed that only a certain number of his personal staff could leave and form the Montague Detachment as part of the East Anglian Rifles. The same decision was taken in respect of staff at the branches of his bank, assuring them all that their jobs would still be there at the end of hostilities.


Donald Burbage was one such conscript. He was a tall, intelligent man, from humble stock, who had worked hard at his matriculation in the 1930s. His reward had been a junior position in Montague’s bank. He was not a wealthy man but he had scrimped to save enough money to spend most of his savings on a special ring for his childhood sweetheart. She in turn agreed to wait for him on his return from the war. She had not really wanted him to volunteer, but his sense of duty and patriotism has been one of the reasons she had fallen in love with him.

Burbage was retained as Montague’s batman for the first part of the war until he was wounded, repatriated and later discharged. The damage had been caused when he had flung his body on top of Montague during an exchange of fire. In saving the life of a senior officer he was mentioned in despatches and awarded the Military Medal. On his return home, he took some time to recover but nevertheless volunteered to serve in the Home Guard. He had married his boyhood sweetheart and settled in a humble Council house in Ely town. He had re-joined the bank at its headquarters branch and was put in charge of securities – the ancient and musty world of wills, land charges held as security for loans and deeds etc. Rupert, although away on military duty, knew that of all people, Burbage would be discreet in dealing with such confidential matters, besides he owed his life to the peasant.

Burbage carried out these duties punctiliously. However, he suffered frequent periods of pain from the impact of the shellfire. Clearly this would render a truly successful career in banking problematical. He realised that he needed to be philosophical about the problem, accept it and live life as well as he could.

Montague, being aware of the damage his rescue had caused his employee, had given instructions that the staff should recognise that Burbage would suffer these occasional searing flashbacks which meant that he would need to leave the building until the memory had been erased, albeit temporarily.

Later during the war, Montague had also been invalided out and returned to the family business of banking. His time in the forces made him aware that society was changing. No longer did the ordinary resident in the street tug his forelock in his presence, despite his superior rank in society. A tradition had long been established that the staff would always stand up when he spoke to them during his branch visits. Before the war they had even been given clear instructions, “Yes Mr Montague” at first and then “sir”. With a “Thank you for asking sir” at the end of each conversation.

On his most recent visit, he called at the main branch in the city which was on the ground floor of the very building in which he had been born nearly 60 years earlier.

He spoke with the manager first of all. Later he would speak with others usually based on seniority. He always left Burbage to last so he could spend some time with him.

Eventually he reached the desk at which Donald Burbage worked. He approached him and placed his hand on the old man’s shoulder. “How are you today, Burbage?” he asked with his usual genuine concern for his former batman. Burbage made a move to stand up, but Montague insisted; “Please do not get up old friend.”

“Well Mr Rupert, we are both very upset today.” He replied, his voice quaking with emotion.

“How so, my old friend?” inquired Montague.

“Well last night whilst we were watching Coronation Street we thought we heard a noise upstairs, but thought no more of it. When we retired to bed we discovered that the bedroom window was open and that my wife’s engagement ring was missing. She cannot wear it now because of her arthritis but she is of course sentimentally attached to it.”


“My dear fellow – I am so sorry, but did the servants not hear anything?"

About the author

David is an associate member  of the Society of Auhtors 

Sunday, 10 March 2019

The Stranger



by David Gower

strong black coffee  

The task was to write about someone unknown to the writer. Easy peasy or after some thought perhaps not quite as easy as it seemed.

Who to pick from the population of the globe? Some celebrity whose antics related to their life’s mission to ascend from Z to A celeb status? Spoilt for choice and with the associated problems that this writer recalls fondly the remarks of the judge who had to ask ‘Who are The Beatles?’ and was told they were a ‘jazz combo’. I seem to have reached a similar stage in life.

If not a celeb – whatever happened to the other part of the world and on what merit is such status granted?

Perhaps the subject could be a person with whom the writer could claim a tenuous link as in the fabled ‘six degrees of separation’. This is the theory that a connection can be made with anyone in the world through no more than six steps. As an example, I know someone who is a local political party member (step 1) They know the local Member of Parliament (step 2). The MP will have met their esteemed leader (step 3) who in turn will have met some foreign dignitary (step 4). Said Big Wig will doubtless have met their own national leader (step 5) and so I can claim a connection –albeit loose – with the leaders of the world.  I am sure they will be gratified at such closeness to me.  I have shorter examples linking me to Bill Gates (three steps) and H.M Queen (two steps) though to save embarrassment they are kept for later stories.

Perhaps a random picture of a person in a crowd seen in the newspaper? Here could be gold? Any talent or quality – good or bad – might be attributed to this image. What if by some chance they read the words and recognized themselves, worse if they felt libeled? Can one gamble on the experience of one’s tutor who says no one ever recognizes themselves in print? As Clint might say “Do you feel lucky? Well, do you?’ Perhaps not.

Time and tide move relentlessly towards the next session where one’s peers will read their prose, bring laughter or tears to the ears of their listeners. Something needs to be pulled out of the bag….now.

Pulled out of the bag! The phrase was a gift. The street had bags aplenty. Bags in doorways sheltering people. Anonymous people all of whom had lives unknown and each story an account of a journey from some unknown point to cardboard mattress. An earthly image of a fall from grace? A life where resilience had finally been punched senseless by life events as dull eyed pedestrians continued blindly with their shopping.

Who was the Man in the Bag? What does he tell me without words being exchanged? Not more than mid 30s, a thin rolled cigarette between stained fingers, worn shoes, body art including the teardrop tattooed at the corner of the eye. In prison the teardrop carried meaning but it could also be worn by those not realizing its significance. One teardrop means one person killed.

Thin, thinner than someone of his age should be – what is sometimes described as heroin chic.  Not so chic when one crosses the Rubicon from the desire for pleasure or dulling pain to a pressing and relentless need.

On the exposed wrist a military tattoo. That in itself tells a story.  Over the years a significant element of street homeless has been ex servicemen. We now encompass the group as suffering post traumatic stress disorder. Next time you ask somehow ‘How are you?’ Ask yourself have you time for their real feelings or are you simply looking for ‘Fine, thanks for asking.’

We train such young men to go into harm’s way on our behalf (though many might not want them to be involved). They see their mates killed or injured. They kill or injure others but the only people they can really talk to are those who understand…their peers. Civvy Street is too busy getting on with life to listen. Servicemen train to live in harsh conditions, they will look out for each other but when that network is lost the dreams remain. In the absence of mates who can take away the memories comes self medication.

So Man in the Bag medicates his day away as a shadow of his former self. Somewhere is a passing out parade photo, good mates and tough times shared.  The Man in the Bag has told us much without speaking but how can we tell him and his ilk the way ahead?

I walk on pondering the Man in the Bag.


Saturday, 9 March 2019

The Raptor

by Khalilah Okeke

flavoured water

He is on the prowl and will find her. He always does.
The forest growls - Alessandra, Alessandra - as he hunts through skeletal branches bent helpless in 
barring his glide. He soars beyond the needled canopies of evergreens into silver-crests of sky. 

The raptor returns from his vanish in the clouds and perches on a snag; his throne towering above the 
sealine. He watches the drifters on the strand. Their bound spirits escaping like hurling stones from the 
devil’s hot-throat. Eyes crawling toward nothing. 

Alessandra is among them. Hlicks the smell of her pulse on the winds hand and follows her, a bonfire 
blazes between them. She frolics with a man to the beat of palms pounding on goat-skin covered drums, their hips slither in rhythm. 

With an acrobatic swoop the raptor slips into the man like a phantom creeping through a bedroom 
window. He claws through his veinstalons climbing and nesting behind empty eyes

The raptor,  now the man; pulls Alessandra’s body close, his rushing desire rising. Alessandra snakes away into the 
ocean, abandoning the raptor on the sand.The blood red moon so close you can taste it. Her tangle of hair 
floating in the glass-covered sea.


Friday, 8 March 2019

Two Tickets To The End Of The World (Unused)

by Ray Daley

ice cream shake 


It didn't look much like a day for an apocalypse. "We haven't got the weather for it. Can't possibly be today, can it?"

I gazed at Michael. Of course, it wasn't the weather for the end of everything as we knew it. "Not a cloud in the sky, it couldn't possibly be the end of the world. Shall we keep walking?"

He nodded, we were in agreement.

The park was clothed in all its autumnal finery, leaves just starting to fall. The ducks were still on the pond. Surely they'd have known of an impending disaster? I even pointed to them, "The ducks are still here. They'd know, right? They always say animals sense such things first, don't they?"

Michael nodded. "That they do, that they do. I know, there's one sure-fire way to check. We need to go this way."

That way led us by the bandstand, where Jim Millers Brass Jazz Men were still regaling park goers with the smoothest jazz refrains.

Only that wasn't what Michael was looking for. If the jazz men were still playing, then there was still something worth playing for. Another plus in my book. Further down the walkway, past the bandstand, over by the old men playing chess. They were always here, the source of all knowledge in the park. Surely if they'd come out for another day of chess, then the world was going to continue revolving on its axis as it always had?

"He's not here," Michael said.

Then I saw it. The space under the elm trees where Rudy's hot dog cart always stood, rain or shine. No matter what the weather, or what kind of state the country was in, Rudy was always there.

Until today.

"No Rudy? But that's impossible." I was as shocked as Michael. "What do we do now? How long have we got left?" I started looking around. Was anyone else panicking? Rushing home to be with their loved ones? Trying to find new ones to love?

No, far from it.

The world of the park seemed to be behaving exactly like any other day before today had been. Except it didn't contain Rudy and his refreshing hot dogs.

As we stood there by a bench, a man in a loud suit walked up to us. "Ticket, sir? Madam?"

I looked at him. "What's it for?"

He proffered a ticket. It read:- One ticket for the end of the world. Access all areas. Termination guaranteed.

I could hardly believe my eyes. "You're selling tickets to the end of the world?"

He smiled. "Only a dollar. End of the world, or your money back? Buy now to avoid the rush. First hundred are assured a ringside seat, Miss."

I could see Michael reaching into his pocket for his wallet, so I pulled him away. "Come on. We'll get ice cream. The world can't end if we're having ice cream. It's simply not possible."

Michael wanted to buy a ticket. Heck, he wanted to buy two. I could see it in his eyes. But I had other plans that didn't include the end of the world, so I waved the man away. "We'll get some later, if you're still here. But right now, we're going for ice cream."

I had to practically yank Michael off his feet to pull him away from the man selling tickets to the end of the world.

As we walked, I could still see the confusion in his eyes. "Babe, was that a wise idea? If the world is ending, shouldn't we really have a ticket? Just in case?" I could hear the panic in his voice.

But we'd reached the ice cream stall by then, and it was still open. "One vanilla double scoop and one vanilla single scoop with a scoop of mint please."

If civilization was ending, at least we'd have ice cream. I paid and gave Michael his. "Here. Vanilla and mint, just the way you like it."

He was trying not to appear like he was looking around for the man selling tickets. "Can we eat and walk? We could listen to the music?"

I just nodded and started licking my ice cream. One damn fine frosty friend.

He was still there, selling tickets by the bandstand now. And people were buying them too! Idiots like Michael who were willing to believe that you needed a ticket for the end of the world. People who thought that it sounded like a really great deal, at just a dollar!

I carried on enjoying my ice cream. The jazz was pretty darn good too. Smooth, just like the vanilla goodness.

The man got closer and closer as we ate. I could see that Michael already had two dollars clenched tightly in his free hand.

I took the last lick and finished the cone.

"Ticket, sir? Madam?"

Just as Michael was about to hand him the money, I took a knee.

"Honey, what are you doing?"

I reached into my pocket and took out the box, flipping the lid open.

"Ticket, sir? Madam?"

Michael's eyes glowed with rage. "Go away, dude. Can't you see we're having a moment here?"

"These are the last two tickets I've got left, sir!"

Michael gave him daggers. "And what, pray tell, do these tickets give us?"

"Guaranteed access, sir."

I could see the hand holding his two dollars turning into a fist. "Access to what? When's it happening?"

"Two minutes from now, sir. I'd hate to spoil the surprise. Money back, if you aren't satisfied."

Michael just shoved the man away, as hard as he could.

I looked up at him. "Well, Michael? Traditionally a proposal needs two people? Are you in?"

Michael smiled at me. "Yes. And yes!"

"Ticket, sir? Madam?"

I got up and punched him square on the jaw, knocking him right off his feet. "You can take your end of the world and shove it right up your arse, mate! I've got a wedding to plan! He said yes!"

About the author 

Ray Daley was born in Coventry and still lives there. He served 6 yrs in the RAF as a clerk & spent most of his time in a Hobbit hole in High Wycombe. He has been writing stories since he was 10. His dream is to finish  the Hitch Hikers fanfic novel he's been writing since 1986.

https://raymondwriteswrongs.wordpress.com/
http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?235688




Thursday, 7 March 2019

You Didn't Notice Me

by Mari Phillips

brandy

You didn’t notice me. Your mother was in the bed opposite mine and I guess we were both engrossed in our family tragedies. Mine was a stroke, and it was touch and go; that’s what the doctors said. “Hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. Is that what they said to you?”
Both unconscious, wired up to machines and drips, all tubes and beeps, like noisy traffic lights at the crossroads of life. I sat and held her hand for hours and chatted as they tell you to do; sometimes whispered in her ear with a snippet I thought she would want to know. Her eyes didn’t flicker; her life trickling away, like a stream drying out in a hot summer. Days that felt like months.
You tried to do the same, but I watched you struggle and saw your frustration. Trying to chat to someone who didn’t respond; waiting for death; oblivious to the last fragments of life. You buzzed about, always tidying, fussing and checking, but I’m not sure you were really there. I sensed your pain but couldn’t help. When she died, and the doctor apologised, you cried but not for long.
 “I have to get back to work,” you said.  
I thought it strange that the breathing tube had slipped!

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Full Disclosure

by James Bates

pink lemonade

I have to be honest. Growing up in the fifties my heroes were television cowboys who used guns and other firearms to solve their problems. There was no such thing as reasoned discussion among those guys. No way. Got a problem? Let's meet out in the street. Compromise? No one knew the meaning of the word. Violence was the norm.
            I can name a number of politicians who come from that same era. They are egotistical men spewing hatred and malevolence with derisiveness ruling their every waking moment. It's sickening see, and it's apparent they never grew up past the fourth grade mentality prevalent in the boys back then.
            Fortunately, most of us did. But that was long ago, and these days it's obvious many didn't - the deed was done and the die was cast. It's almost as if we've reverted back to those my way or the highway, uncompromising wild west days of my youth.
            Almost.
            In her bedroom, my granddaughter and her friends play quietly with dolls and stuffed animals using their imaginations to create elaborate games usually based on what they observe in everyday life. I listen and hear as problems are solved by talking and reaching a common middle ground. When the girls argue, it's respectful. You can tell they'd rather solve whatever the issue is between them and keep playing together, than not, and end up alone. They play for hours like this. They're only seven years old. They're smart, compassionate and it's delightful being around them. I can't help but thinking...maybe there's hope for us yet.

 

About the author 

Jim counts himself as a lucky man because he has his grandchildren in his life. His stories have appeared in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed and Paragraph Planet. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.