The Short Story Exchange - Share, Read & Comment.

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The Short Story Exchange - Share, Read & Comment.
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Let's galvanise an energetic, experimental and enjoyable short story group.

I would love to read your work, give comments and get the ball rolling: so send them through!

The idea is for it to be open to anyone, writing in a general, literary style. But as long as you're proud of it and excited to share, genre is quite irrelevant. Get sharing, get sharing, get sharing!

Harvey

Hi all, 

With autumn approaching, I dug out an old story from a 'Dark and Stormy Night" prompt. Don't groan too loudly! I've never submitted it anywhere, just wrote it for fun, kind of a running thought concept. Comments welcome.

Above Albert’s Head    

    “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”  

   Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s famous words from 1830 are prophetically fitting two centuries later as I stand looking out the small oval window of my tiny pod perched high in the skeletal remains of the Albert Memorial. It hangs there above the gilt bronze head of Victoria’s beloved consort, like a hammock, or more still, like a large cocoon from which I might escape, were I a butterfly. There are times when I wish I had wings; it would make the ascent into this miserable abode much easier. But I am well hidden from most eyes, at least the ones of the living. The view is only of a pigeon’s nest; occasionally one alights, eyes me with suspicion. Not a grand view but better than the one seen by the under people. They are the ones that live in the tunnels, pitiful souls, white as opossums skittering across the road at night.

    The wind rocks my pod gently, like a hand on a bassinet. I crave sleep, crave a glass of wine, crave a bag of Cadbury chocolate buttons. But London has changed, landmarks gone except for a few exceptions, like the gothic canopied one in which I reside. Those of us who still live here make do with what we can scavenge. My grandparents talked about the world war, the second one, when London had raids and shortages. But since the big blast most of those who survived went to Scotland and Wales or Jersey or Guernsey. There weren’t that many. I often wish I had gone. But here I am, holding on to this old family hand-me-down, Bulwer-Lytton’s "Paul Clifford". I’ve read it cover to cover until I can recite certain paragraphs. I wish I had thought to grab "Harry Potter" instead. 

    It was no small feat getting this makeshift shelter from our garden to here, it's the size of a mini Cooper, but the hovering mechanism still worked and it was necessary to escape. When I told Eleanor, the pod’s GPS identity, to drive the pod to Albert, the name of my lover at the time, this is where she came. That’s okay because both Alberts are dead and here is better than nowhere. I managed to cable the vessel in place, and I use a small rope ladder to get up and down.

    They say the air’s not so good but I don’t worry too much. What exactly am I living for anyway? I do have one friend. His name is Mick, says he was named for some rocker back when. Mick’s okay, he scrounges for food with me. We planted some potatoes and turnips here in the park, over near a tree. Water comes from the Thames; some days it’s good, some not so much.

    I like to walk around what’s left of old London. Mick often joins me. We find odd things in the rubble: chargers, phone implants, hover shoes. But there’s no way to charge them, just like there’s no lights except those torches we light at Albert’s feet. Sometimes Mick sleeps with me. It’s crowded, but it’s nice to have another body with you on a night like this. I’d call him but he’s hard to find. Sometimes I think maybe I just made him up. You know, like an imaginary playmate. I don’t know any more. Maybe Albert will hear me if I whisper to him. I’ll tell him my name: Victoria.

Hi guys, hope you are all well. Haven't been on this site for too long (definitely not actively, though I've been on one or two of the JW courses etc). Anyway, thought I'd put this short story on the site to 'test the water'. It was written a few years ago in what seems a simpler and almost nostalgic time (pre-covid, pre-brexit, pre-a lot of things really. How times fly.

From what I recall it was a short story competition entry about creating a new fairy tale about London. There is a myth that if the Ravens leave the Tower of London, then The Crown will fall, and that, I guess is what this is all about - sort of... Anyway, if I remember rightly I'd been reading some Neil Gaiman and 'The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared' at the time which may or may not explain something. Enough excuses - This is called:

"The Unkindness of Ravens"

Once upon a short time ago, beneath a blanket of night four ravens met. Wind wails as they eyed each other suspiciously. Their names were George, Grog, Rhys and Mabel.

A street-lamp fizzes overhead.

Rhys finally speaks, "No-one saw you?"

"Next stop the taxidermist tray?" George squirms, "No chance!"

"Why here? Why now?" Grog grumbles.

Rhys glances at Mabel who utters a single, chilling word, "Insurrection."

The street-lamp flickers and dies.

George and Grog are silent.

“Revenge?” smirks George, “For real!”

"London looks after its own," Mabel sighs, "but she’s forgetful, needs reminding."

"This is the time!" Grog chuckles excitedly, hopping from foot to foot.

“We are London’s Guardians,” Mabel continues, "Our duty is to help her. You sure about these two?”

The street-lamp fizzes into life.

Mabel nods, "It is decided."

With that, she launches herself northwards.

Rhys bows to George and Grog then flies south. George and Grog then take flight: George going east and Grog west.

Insurrection had wings.

****

Outside The Tower of London, a glassy frost lay on the ground. Bells chimed seven times and in the raven enclosure, the largest, proudest of the brood opens its steel sharp beak, bellows, “Ready!”

A flurry of feathers and the ravens circle the grounds.

Below, each raven spied the blood-red tailcoats of the Yeomen and Raven Master before landing on the pedicured grounds.

Today would be unforgettable.

Every raven scanned the sky while pecking and prodding the frosty ground searching for food.

Naturally, the ravens were the first to see the tiny black specks in the distance and hear the low shrieking calls carried on the winter sky. 

Soon the humans spotted them too. Tiny spots gathered above them, growing larger, then raven-like. Two ravens became four multiplying until there were too many to count. The sky was a carpet of black as long as a football pitch, and loud as match day. And still it grew.

"Ravens United.. LOL! " one joker tweeted.

Soon the grounds were alive with a scratchy whooping chorus. Ravens churned like bubbling oil, and trapped in the slick, the topcoats of guards bobbing up and down as ankles were beaked and pecked mercilessly.

The media drank in the spectacle, viewers checked calendars to make sure it wasn’t an April Fool stunt. Others mumbled doom-laden omens.

Quick as the flood of ravens arrived, it’d gone.

Not a single feather remained.

Social media was alive with speculation about what this meant: Would The Crown really fall? Was some kind of abdication in the ether? But more importantly, “Where were the bloody ravens?”

Pretty quickly, ravens became all the rage.

The Queen called Downing Street, the PM convened cabinet, and they called for… an inquiry.

Interviewers snubbed Hollywood in favour of ornithologists and twitchers. Journalists plundered arcane sources of information and anyone who'd ever fed a bird was touted as an ‘expert’.

Everyone had suggestions, but nothing worked. No-one knew where the heck they were. Or how to get them back.

Day One: The ravens' favourite foods were food-parcelled to the grounds.

Day Two: Kestrel trainers swung lures over their heads 24/7 to entice the ravens home.

The Palace grew anxious and the Queen refused to watch Countryfile, in case her "blessed birds" were mentioned... Emmerdale and The Archers became hits with hastily improvised raven-storylines. Even Corronation Street swindled in a ‘retired Yeoman’ subplot into the mix. Eastenders tried to get in on the act but the writers couldn't quite figure how to merge Peggy Mitchell or Phil for that matter, a garage and a Raven's appearance into the mix - Hollywood CGI might've helped cut the mustard but the producers just didn't have the budget. So..

The world wobbled uncomfortably.

Then half way through day three something otherwise unremarkable happened: A twelve-year-old called in to Tony Kincade’s talk radio spot:

"Hi Tony," the kid stammered, "I'm calling about the ravens."

"Everyone is… What’s your idea?"

"Well,” the kid stuttered, "We should all say sorry to each other."

"You what?"

"My teacher says that many ravens is called an unkindness of ravens, right. And that doesn't seem fair. I mean, they're birds, they don't know what's kind and what's not, so, we're blaming them for just doing what they're meant to..."

"I hear what you're saying, but..."

But the kid seemed undaunted but quickened his words. In the background a bell could be heard, "So maybe we need to call it something else. I'd feel bad if I was always told that a group of us is not nice, and anyway, if you feel bad about being unkind to someone, you... say, sorry..."

"And that’s what we should do?" Kincade sniggered, "Just say sorry?"

"Maybe they'll see we mean it and return. If not, at least we’ll feel a bit better."

The kid abruptly ended the call - he was going to be late for his next lesson - leaving Kincade in silence.

Then Kincade smiled, "What do you think, people? Let’s ‘av’it. Should we I don't know, ah sod it folks, let's make HashtagJustSaySorry happen!"

The broadcast got reported, repeated, and facebooked and re-tweeted. Even before the end of the kid’s next lesson HashtagJustSaySorry had built up pace and shockingly started going viral.

Even the Queen played it twice on her IPad before personally phoning Number 10.

The PM listened and choked, "But we have an inquiry to..."

He was about to argue the point forcefully when his aide reminded him who he was speaking to. The PM meekly answered, "Right away, Ma'am."

Hotlines buzzed with many languages, some growled, "From a child," others shrugged and finally answered, “Why not."

Five raven-less days was too much. Three was bad enough.

 So, on Day Four, at 11 o'clock, HashtagJustSaySorry occurred.

 ****

10:30am (BST): Roads are cleared for cavalcades to reach the place of Mutually Agreed Apology.

10:49am: The first dignitary cautiously arrived, glad to be the first since this would show they were ‘up for it’ as the kids would no doubt call it, but also cursing his earliness.

10:55am: Long-mutual enemies edged towards each other. Religious leaders of all denominations pixie-stepped towards those that until that point were in acid opposition. 

10:56am: Feuding neighbours nodded at each other, began saying, “This has gone on too long.” Most, if the truth be told, had no idea why all the fighting and bad-word bantering had actually begun in the first place, and even if they could, maybe now wasn't the right time to bring it up.

10:57am: Hands quiver readying themselves to shake another while saying that word. Sorry does seem the hardest word.

10:58am: Cameras take sneaky-peak searches for anything remotely Corvid in the background. Nothing.

10:59am: The world waits.

Finally…

11:00am: Bells chime; a Mexican wave of handshakes and a single, sincerely spoken word echoes across the globe:

“Sorry!”

For a second, everyone forgets about ravens and enjoys the warm flood of joy coursing through them. Even the PM chokes back a tear. For a second the world felt fuzzy, warm, safe.

That kid was right; saying sorry really did feel good.

Then, everyone coughed… Everyone remembered: Ravens!

****

Had it worked?

Everyone waited.

Screens across the globe showed a continuous unending screensaver of empty sky above the Tower.

Then… 

“Over there!”

Cameras frantically spun, woozily focusing on a distant black dot. It grew gradually becoming a non-descript black bird, then…

“It looks like… I think it is…. It is. It definitely is a… Raven. Wherever you’re watching, I’m happy to report… The… Ravens… are… back!”

The ravens chuckled as they listened to the jubilant celebrations below.

Grog and George smile, “Home at last!” then chows down on his luxury rations.

Hi, I just wondered, how do you define “short?” Is there a word limit you would consider people should stick to? My first attempt at a “novel” fell several thousand words shorter than most people’s! 🙂

Hi. I wrote this a while ago. The aim, to some extent, was to experiment with writing as a female first person narrator. I enjoyed the process – but would value feedback from the reader’s perspective. Thanks. Peter.

 

Rock Chick (1193 ww)  

 It's a stiflingly warm afternoon, and I'm lazing beneath the patio table parasol at the rear of a rather tired-looking six-bedroom country house. I must remember to get the decorators in to repaint those flaking window frames. I did mention it to Dave, but he never got around to sorting it out. It's up to me now, I suppose. After all, the house is mine, and I can certainly afford it.

'Nanny?" It's my granddaughter.

"Yes Millie?" She's a lovely kid – just seven. Pretty – all tumbling blonde curls and an enchanting smile. A potential heart-breaker if ever there were one. She looks a lot like me when I was her age. Yes – more like me than her mother. They do say that looks can skip a generation.

"Mommy and Daddy must have lost this ball when they played tennis this morning."

"I'm sure you're right Poppet. Leave it here on the table then, and you can give it back to them when they come to pick you up later."

"Okay, Nanny." I watch Millie as she places her find carefully on the table top, before skipping down the garden towards the tennis court to resume her exploration. I envy her energy. I used to have lots of that too – but I’m almost a pensioner now, darn it! Ah well!

Nudged by a welcome, though all-too-brief, gust of marginally cooler air, the ball rolls across the table towards me. I pick it up. It's just a tennis ball. Yellow. Slightly scuffed. Like any other. Like ... yes ... like the ones we used when we had knockabouts at Deepfields Hall, back in the day.

We'd just returned from a big US tour – our second of three, and by far the most successful. The heavy rock band had come home to rural Shropshire in order to rest and recuperate and write songs for our next album. We’d rented that thumping great manor house – bigger even than this one – complete with its own recording studio, outdoor pool, games room, and a tennis court. The idea was that we'd work and also have some fun.

I have a few photos inside. I'll fetch them. I'm not sure that revisiting days past is necessarily all that wise though – especially given the circumstances. I'm no longer the same woman. Not by a long chalk.

Okay. What have we got in here? There are pictures of the band members – mugshots, I guess you’d call them. I’ll lay them out on the table. Chris Watkins, Steve Randall, Brian ‘Mick’ Michaels, Dave Taft, and me – Lucy Donoghue – before I became Lucy Taft. There are a few photos of the guys on stage here as well. Blimey. Look at us – all hair and hormones. Dave and Mick are at the front with Steve standing back bashing away at his bass, while Chris at the rear batters the drums in a frenzy of flying dreadlocks and a shower of perspiration. That was Phoenix, and it was quite a night, as I recall. Better than the first time we’d played there – when our original drummer, Neil Spender, keeled over after injecting some dodgy heroin. He never woke up again. God! Stupid bugger! What a tragic waste!

People used to believe, and still do, that touring with a band is a dream lifestyle. In truth, though, it can be an absolute nightmare. We’d spend several hours on a plane, before spending many more cooped up in a van or a bus. You can only tolerate being confined to a tin box for so long, before the mind begins to rebel. Sadly, the search for an alternative so often leads that mind into a bottle of booze or, worse still, pills, or even a syringe. Of course, it’s all too easy to be wise after the event!

Another photo of Dave. This was taken in calmer times at Deepfield. He used to wear those rather sexy shorts for tennis. I wonder what he did with them. I don’t remember seeing them again afterwards. We didn’t play all that much tennis, mind, and neither of us was any good really. It did bring us together though – albeit in a rather bizarre way. I can still feel the pain in my eye. Dave didn’t mean to hit me with it, but I was distracted by his gorgeous tanned legs and took my eye off the ball just long enough. Poor Dave. He was mortified. I dropped to my knees, howling, as I clutched my eye, fearing blindness at the very least. He helped me to the kitchen where he patiently – and very gently – dabbed it with a cloth dipped in cold water until the ache began to ease. There was no lasting damage to my eye – but our professional relationship was about to be completely blown apart. Dave was almost overwhelmed with sorrow and I had to shout at him.

“Dave! Stop apologising!”

“I’m so sorry Lucy.”

“Dave. I said stop it.” I pointed at my still sore eye. I couldn’t help myself. “Now kiss it better.” We were married about three months after that. The match was drawn. Love all! Ha!

We had over thirty years of marriage and some great times together – along with the occasional squabble. It’s so sad: even though Dave had a full and productive life, a fatal heart attack at 62 still seems so unfair. It’s been ten months now. Crikey – I do miss him. Still, I have my daughter, and her daughter, Millie – who I can now see trying to sneak up on Gint, my ginger tom. She’ll be lucky.

What about the remaining photos? There’s another of Brian Michaels – or ‘Mick’ as he was known. He was at Dave’s funeral. Of all the guys in the band, he’s the one who seemed best able to hold his life together. He didn’t marry, although he always had a pretty girl in tow. In truth, he was the best looking – even better than Dave. Nice guy, too. He was so supportive when Dave died. If ever I needed anything – even if it were just a shoulder to cry on …

Here’s a picture of me on stage, viewed sideways-on standing at the keyboard, and wearing the tiniest of denim hot pants. People used to say that I had a great ass. In fact, it was voted the best female backside in rock and roll two years running – according to Butts and Boobs magazine anyway. On reflection, it’s all a tad mind-boggling. I mean, did people really read that stuff?

My daughter, Cassie, came round to collect Millie a short while ago, and I’m now alone in my oversized pad. It holds so many wonderful memories, and I’m not yet ready to part with it.

It’s been a hot, sticky, day and I just enjoyed a cool shower. Looking in the mirror as I dry myself, it’s good to note that I still have a half-decent butt – despite my age. And now, as I peer through the window, I can see that Millie has forgotten that tennis ball after all.

Hmm! I wonder if ‘Mick’ Michaels might be up for a game. 

 

Hi, Just joined the group.  This is my first short story and just under 1000 words.

All comments and criticisms welcomed!

Respect The Old

Because of COVID-19, masks are now mandatory in shops.  For the last few weeks Roger has kept the same one in the back pocket of his jeans.  He will put it on at the entrance to a shop and then whip it off as soon as he comes out. He hates breathing the accumulation of detritus that has deposited on the inside of the mask over time.  It now smells bad.

On this Sunday morning, Roger wakes up early as usual and heads to the kitchen to enjoy a cup of tea with his newspaper. But he is out of milk.  After a shower and getting dressed, he walks down to the village shop,  putting his mask on at the doorway and buying the milk at speed.  His abrupt exchange with the lady behind the perspex screen looks rude and impatient but he finds the mask suffocating and can’t get back outside quickly enough. On leaving, he fails to look where he’s going and clumsily barges into a little masked lady with a walking frame.  She mutters something at him in an unfamiliar tongue, her angry eyes burning into him above her own face covering. He puts both hands up for a double wave of sorry but she just glares at him and says something quietly which he can’t understand.

Stepping away from the shop, he reaches a hand to his ears to pull his mask off.  He fumbles for the elastic loops but can’t find them.   He hates the thing and is starting to hyperventilate as he tries in vain to remove it.  Where is it? He can no longer feel a mask on his face.

He selects the mirror app on his smartphone and sees unbroken flesh where his mouth was.   You can't scream through your nose and Roger has just discovered that.  In panic he frantically claws at his face which soon oozes blood.   He can’t walk home as he can only breathe through his nose and so is out of wind within a few steps.   He struggles to fill his lungs and leans against a wall, terror rising in his chest and his heart pounding in his ears.  

Feeling dizzy and frightened, Roger slumps to the ground.  With his chin on his chest he sees his shirt reddening as the blood drips from his torn face. Somehow he manages to call the emergency services. They answer him: 

      ‘Emergency, which service?’  

With no other choice he stays mute.  

      ‘Do you need Fire, Police or Ambulance?’  

He can’t respond.  

      The call handler continues:  ‘I cannot release your line until you say that you do not need an emergency service’ and then, ‘If you are unable to speak but need an emergency service, please tap the handset, cough or make a noise’. 

He taps the his phone ‘tap, tap, tap, tap, tap’. The operator now connects him to the police. They can’t hear him but he continues to tap responses.   

      ‘We are on our way, we will find you soon.  Please stay calm’ 

These words from the police operator offer some relief and he fights to control his breathing. He tries to quell the panic in him but how he wishes to open his mouth wide and breath deeply of the cool morning air. 

From where he is sitting, Roger has a good view up and down the street. He sees a police car turn up from the main road and drive slowly towards him. He signals them with a wave.  They stop, leave the car, walk towards him and recoil in horror as they see his face.  He looks at them in terrified disbelief as he sees that they too don’t have mouths.  He screams silently as his world goes black and he slides, sideways, to the ground.

Roger’s nightmare continues. He screams but this time he hears himself. As he opens his eyes there’s a nurse at his side. 

      ‘Dr. Henry, he's awake!’ she calls.  

Roger puts a hand to his mouth and feels…lips. He can open his mouth. The doctor arrives. 

      ‘You've had a bad time my friend.’ he says. ‘You’ve been shouting out and you’ve made deep scratches around your mouth.’    

Dr.Henry shows Roger a facemask in a ziplock bag.

      ‘And how long have you been using this?’  

      ‘Since we had to, I don't know…four weeks or so?’  

      ‘Never changed it?’  asked the doctor. 

      ‘No, never,’ replied Roger, ‘I just keep it in my back pocket…pull it out when I need it’.  

      ‘We’ve sent it for analysis.  I’m wondering if some contamination caused this hallucination.  Judging by the way you’ve torn up your face you must have been terrified. We’ll keep you under observation for now’    

After two days of various tests and scans, he is released from the hospital and gifted several fresh masks. Dr Henry wishes him well and tells him,

      ‘It's funny, we haven’t found any reason for your hallucination.  We gave you an EEG and a CT scan on admission but didn’t find anything unusual.  Your blood tests and the tests on your mask didn’t show anything untoward so it's a puzzle. But don’t keep using the same mask without washing it!’

‘Thanks Doctor’ I’ll be more careful about that now!’

Back home he puzzles about what might have happened. He never takes recreational drugs, is teetotal and is careful what he eats.  It’s almost like a spell he muses.

As he leaves the village shop a few days later, he meets the walking frame woman. 

      ‘Had trouble with your mask then dearie?’ she cackled looking him directly in the eye.  ‘I’m sure you'll be more respectful to old people in future.  

He holds the door open for her as the hairs on the back of his neck bristle and his skin goes cold.

 


Hi all how do I join this group please if possible?

Alan Whittaker A Short Story

 

ESCAPE FROM DAESH

 

This piece is around 1400 words. The completed version is about 5800 words.

 I have written this story about a 13-year-old Syrian refugee, who has left his family behind in Syria. Much of this story will be fictionalised, and will go back to around 3 years, when the boy decided to leave the worn-torn trauma of his homeland.  His journey to the UK is based around him stowing away in the back of a truck, with the hope of arriving in England to a new life.

 They had smashed the walls where the framed pictures hung; generations of his family; their faces had bullet holes in them. Cousin Turko and her friend were taken to Deir ez-Zor and handed over to a Saudi man, a judge in the Sharia court. The first night, he summoned her to his bedroom. 

 

The sound of a woman’s moans and cries jerks Tariq out of his nightmare. The light from his phone only reaches a few feet. But he can just about see to the rear of the truck, which is loaded with some kind of contraband; he’s not sure what cargo it is. He’s never seen the inside of a truck before; but he can only see the wall of boxes and crates in front of him.

 Tarek had been on the road for a long time. He was weary and his nerves were frazzled. His eyes burned and his hands trembled. Shortly after he ran away, two bristly men with the look of the vulture in their eyes had approached him at the tea stall, promising him work in a rich person’s house in Europe far away.

 But he knew that he couldn’t trust them, or anybody for that matter; he had to be on his guard all the time, trusting nobody. He shivered. The 

 truck was getting colder and colder. It felt like the nights he spent on the hill, safe from the carnage, watching as his village burned.

 

     ‘Hey boy,’ a girl shouted from somewhere near by. ‘Boy, I’ve bought some candles with me that I stole from the Mosque.’          

         

     ‘You’ve stolen from the the house of God?’

         

      ‘Yes,’ cried the girl. ‘I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to see anybody in the truck.’

 

The wax from the burning candles dripped onto her soft fingers; causing her to moan. He could feel something hard on the floor next to his feet; he tried to shove it out of his way, then another voice, out of nowhere, screamed in his direction. Tarek peered around and made out a huge dark shape but all he could really see was a glint of gold teeth in the light of the candle.

 

     ‘Get off, that’s my bag you Syrian rat, move, fuck off you peasant’ Toothy snarled.

 

Tarek couldn’t move or find any free space so he had to squeeze so close to Amal that he could hear her heart beating. His mind wanders back to when he was about ten years old, he remembers the time when he and his sister Sofia used to play together after school; Momma would meet them at the old iron gates. She would always be smiling and very happy. 

  Momma would always take us to my cousin’s house on the hill, my aunt would cook us some Harisi. She would give us some to take home for Papa but Sayadieh was his favourite.

 

      ‘Hey you, girl, what’s your name?’ Tarek whispered through the dense light of her dim candle.

      ‘Why do you want to know my name?’

      ‘I don’t know, just thought that I would like to call you my new friend. I’m Tarek’

       ‘And I’m Amal’ she murmured shyly, ‘Can I call you Tarek?

       ‘Yes, sure.’ 

Feeling bolder, Tarek asked, ‘How old are you?’ 

       ‘Twelve but nearly thirteen, how about you?’

 

Amal could see Tarek’s big eyes looking at her; she was chewing her long fingernails. She tried to pull the black flea-bitten shawl over her face, to conceal her bashfulness.

 

      ‘Thirteen,’ he declared, ‘and I’m not a boy, I’m a man.’

     

Amal tried to hide her smile. ‘Why are you running away on your own? 

 

     ‘Where’s your family?’

 

     ‘Why are you asking? I don’t know you.’

 

 Tarek was abrupt but regretted it as he saw her face crumple and eyes fill with tears.

  

       ‘I have escaped Daesh, they have killed all most of my family, destroyed our town of Najaf’. Her voice was weak. She was upset: could feel the tears running down her dirty unwashed face; they were dripping down onto her hand and causing the remains of the candle to flicker.

 

It cast a pool of light that made them feel like they were alone, despite the hoarse breathing and rustling around them….. 

 

She stammered. 

 

    ‘I don’t have anybody left. I hid in an empty barrel that was in the back of a burned-out jeep. I was scared of somebody finding me. I must have been in the drum for a long time.  I was so scared of Daesh. I didn’t dare move from where I was. I had no food, just some water that was left in the remains of the jeep. It was dirty, but I was so weak and thirsty, I think that it made me sick.’

 

     ‘When did you decide that you had to get out of the barrel?’

 

     ‘When it was dark, and silent. I was freezing, but I knew that I had to make a move that night.’

 

‘I would have been scared’ said Tarek. 

 

        ‘Yes, probably so replied Amal,                       

        ‘I was scared that somebody might have caught me, and give me to Daesh; they would have sold me to the bad men, and they would do bad things to me.’ 

        ‘I was so frightened, so……’ Amal’s eyes filled with tears.

 

Tarek scowled.

 

       ‘I will never go back while Daesh are there but I worry about my family.  I feel sad and guilty but I couldn’t take any more punishment from them dirty pigs. The only reason I was able to run away is because I hated my papa, he didn’t like the fact that I stood up to him, even though I’m only thirteen years old, maybe its because I’m stronger than he thought I was.’

 The memories drew over him like black cloud drifting overhead, and he fell silent…

     

     ‘Tarek,’Tarek the girl shouted, ‘what’s wrong with you? I’ve been calling out to you. The truck is going slower; I have been throwing bits of burnt wax at you. I’m scared, why have we slowed down?’

 

There were shouts from within the truck; refugees were scrambling to hide behind the contraband. Some were crying and shouting out loud. I can’t go back; I can’t go back. They will kill me; don’t let them take me back. I’m begging you all, somebody please help my child and me.

                       

     ‘I don’t know,’ Tarek, whispered, ‘maybe we are at the port ready to cross to England but I’m terrified as well. The doors might open, and we could be found and sent back to that filthy camp in Calais.’

 

 

Tarek, was trembling, he tried to tell the girl to stop panicking, but she kept on shouting, she was hysterical. Now everybody else in the truck was shuffling around, trying to hide behind each other, Tarek could only see the whites of their eyes, staring towards the back of the lorry.

 

The truck suddenly lurched to the side of the road with bodies flung around. There was cursing and sobbing.

 

Then it all went quiet.

     ‘Tarek what’s happened?’

       ‘ How do I know?’

       ‘ We have stopped?’ I’m scared - could it be the police?’ cried Amal.’

 

Voices could be heard outside.

 

They were unfamiliar voices. Footsteps trampling on what sounded like crunching gravel, the shadows of people moving around the front of the truck. The driver slammed his cab door he was murmuring something, but then he got back in the truck and pulled away.

 

As the tension in the truck eased Tarek began to fall asleep, his mind along with the strange surroundings began to play tricks on his imagination. 

 

     ‘I’m not sure Momma where Sofia is; I last saw her playing at the back of her friend’s house; maybe she’s looking at the chocolate in the store, you know she likes chocolate, but Poppa won’t let her have any. 

    

    ‘Will you go and look for her Tarek?........’

     

    ‘No mum, the store keeper won’t let me near his shop because he caught me stealing some food, he said that I haven’t got to go in there again or he will beat me.’

 

His thoughts were drifting back to the time when a cockroach clambered onto his bed.  He was only 9 years old at the time; the last thing that he saw before mom put the lights off was its hunchback shiny shell before the last of the lights disappeared; it crawled around his pillow making crackling noises with its twig-like legs.  The crackling becomes louder and louder, then he leaps up and shouts.

 

     ‘Amal, Amal, Amal!’ 

     ‘What?’

 

©Alan Whittaker 2020

 

Some of you were so encouraging about a short story about Gregory and the Blue Vase (title originally 'Something Special') that I've decided to follow one reviewers advice and develop a collection for a book. Is there a name for a book with sixteen short stories, all interlinked with an underlying plot drawing them together at the end?  Anyhow - the second tale is Breaking, Entering and the Big Bang. If you want to help out with some honest feedback I'd be very grateful. I value your opinion highly.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1XvwaRsd5lTzhWF20LoU31dO-uDmW09on/view?usp=sharing

Write on!

Harry

ps  - am looking around the forum for stories to return the support

Hello all. here is a short story that I'd really like your feedback on if you would be so kind.


The Unforgotten Ghosts Of Jasper’s Park

    

Calvin loosened his tie, undid his top button, and accepted the hum of traffic before an over shoulder squint at the Victorian style building. Pastel halls, pastel people, all so very neutral. Mundane meetings with people taking notes, practiced jargon, practiced smiles. Same faces, same chat. Urgh. A coffee and bagel would do the trick. A stroll through the park, where nature held onto existence, resisting against the looming concrete. Yesterday’s Calvin would have taken young Lacey’s offer of company. Today’s Calvin wanted time alone.

He rubbed under his screwed up nose; the freshly cut grass bringing both pleasure and discomfort, then tilted his head back to feel the midday sun and open breeze on his face, when Bam!

    ‘I’m so sorry,’ said the voice. ‘Are you okay?’

    ‘No, no, I’m sorry. I should have been looking.’

    The two faces froze, brows furrowed.

    ‘Calvin?’

    ‘Jennifer? What are you doing here? It’s so good to see you.’

    ‘I live near here. I’m out getting supplies for my arts and crafts business. Wow. Good to see you too. How strange. I’ve looked for you on social media.’

    ‘I don’t bother with that rubbish.’

    ‘Hmm. Should’ve known. Hey, come sit with me. There’s a bench over there.’ How could he resist his first love? His only love. The girl who moved to his town when they were twelve. The girl he secretly doted on throughout high school. The girl who eventually plucked him from the depths of the friend zone, when he lost his glasses and spots, and grew muscles.


Jennifer playfully stroked Calvin’s cropped hair. ‘I miss those curls,’ she said.

    He smirked at the wisp that still hung near her right eye, that she always tucked behind her ear. ‘The years have certainly been kinder to you. You haven’t changed a bit. As beautiful as ever.’

    ‘Still a charmer, I see. Remember our first date? At Jasper’s Theme Park?’

    ‘How could I not? It’s such a shame it closed down.’

    ‘Yeah. Sad, isn’t it? That place holds lots of childhood memories.’

    He held her gaze thoughtfully, and softly said, ‘I’m sorry.’

    ‘For what?’

    ‘The argument. Everything.’

    ‘We both had a part to play.’

    ‘But I shouldn’t—' 

Noise distracted him. Dogs barking. Laughing. People all around them, some staring. Talking, rushing, looking, walking, running, talking, looking, rushing. ‘Let’s go,’ he blurted.

    ‘What? Where?’

    ‘Jaspers. Memory lane.’ 

Jennifer studied his face. He assumed it was to see if he was serious, but hoped it was more to just study his face.

‘What about—’

‘They won’t miss me much.’ 

‘Is your car close?’

‘I haven’t driven since…. Besides, it’ll be a nice walk. I know a way to get in.’


Woodland wrapped around the small theme park, almost hiding it from the world. They manoeuvred through a narrow archway of bramble to a hole in the chain-link fencing. Calvin crawled through first, then held the chain open for Jennifer. ‘I feel like a schoolgirl again,’ she giggled.

    Calvin held a gentlemanly pose and said, ‘Where would you like to go first? The Big Wheel or the Dodgems? Or would you like a nice teddy from the coconut shy? My treat.’

    ‘Remember where we had our first kiss?’

    ‘Of course. Next to the Dodgems. Seems like yesterday.’ Jennifer’s suggestive nod needed no further prompts. ‘Your chariot awaits.’

    They walked quietly, absorbing their surroundings. Over the years, Hale Wood had grown into every orifice, like it was feeding off the once popular theme park. Affected by recession, Jasper’s ghosts were plain to see. Stalls stood uncovered, abandoned. Rides froze mid pose, long given up their anxious wait for the power to surge back on. Rigor mortis fully developed. 

     Calvin touched Jennifer’s arm. ‘You okay?’

‘I’m a bit overwhelmed to be honest. I’m sad to see this place the way it is, but it’s like there’s a mystery to it. A romance. And I still have the same jittery feeling in my belly as when I came here as a kid. I bet you bring all the girls here.’

    ‘Only the ones I bump into in the park who I fall in love with again.’ He winced inside. The Jennifer of old would have been a sucker for a line like that, but what if she’s changed? What if she cringes and makes her excuses and leaves?

    ‘I never stopped loving you.’

    And there it was. He was back in a time when nothing else mattered, young and smitten. A time where he’d find those little notes in his sandwiches at work. The ones that forced a content smile, but were too gushy to show witnessing colleagues. The unrushed walks to the cafe by the seafront every Sunday morning. How he never began eating meals without her sitting at the table, wherever they were, and in whoever’s company. And how they would always open one present each on Christmas Eve; her wrapped in her Nan’s knitted blanket, all cosy, and her tears the year she unwrapped the ring, a temporary, not even genuine diamond, but never left her finger.

He took her hand. The left one. ‘Look where we are.’

    ‘This is the exact spot.’

    They moved closer, and Calvin embraced her perfume and warm breath before he explored her mouth like it was their first kiss. 

    ‘Well, you’ve certainly improved,’ Jennifer said.

    ‘I’ve been practising in the mirror. Come on. I want to show you something.’

    ‘Hey, don’t get any ideas. I’m not that kind of girl.’ Her face didn’t mean it. And he would have loved to relive their wild passion, but didn’t want to ruin the moment. He wanted to savour it.

    He led her to a looking tower and gestured to the base.

    ‘What? You don’t think I’m climbing up there, do you?’

‘No, look closer.’ The wooden frame was decorated with various etchings. One inside a neat heart read, JEN + CAL. 

She gasped, ‘I don’t even remember doing that.’

‘It’s my turn.’ He found a sharp stone on the floor, and underneath the heart etched, TOGETHER AGAIN. His smile faded and his face straightened. ‘Look. They’ve come for me. Time’s flown. I must’ve been gone ages. ‘I should head back.’ Back to pastel walls and pastel faces, assessments, friendly chats by day, alone with thoughts by night. ‘I don’t want this to end. Wanna walk with me?’

‘You know what? I think I’ll hang around here for a while. I can meet you tomorrow if you like? Same place, same time?’

The two waiting kept their distance. A middle-aged man, kind faced, patient, squinting into the afternoon sun, and a glossy eyed young lady, looking away, like she was intruding a moment. Calvin tightened his tie as he walked to them, pausing to turn and watch Jennifer go deeper into Jasper’s Park, candescent among its ghosts.

The man grinned at the young lady.

‘It’s sad isn’t it? He was driving, wasn’t he?’ she asked.

The man slowly nodded. ‘Yes. They all have a story.’


    



  




Can't see any contributions since June, so here's a short story I finished this morning. Something Special. Just under 2k words so a quick read. Any feedback very welcome indeed as I'm a novice at short stories.

Hello!!

I have a story for you to feast upon. I would love to get this submitted, as I think it's got potential. But plz, all feedback is welcomed!

It is imagery heavy, it's slightly surreal and it's unlike anything I've really written before (hopefully a little more literary). So I would love to know if it all works. It's 1,500 words ish. 

Hope you enjoy & have a lovely weekend :)

“A Power Line That Goes Out From A Cliff”

She twisted in her sheets: a pocked orb hung in the sky, a power line swooped out from a cliff and stretched to the horizon.

Barbara liked to get to her desk before 8am, giving exactly enough time to take off her coat, get everything out of her bag and make herself a cup of tea. In the staff kitchen it was all pencil skirts, striped ties, hellos, brewing tea, the soft whoosh of a rubber seal as the fridge door closed, the tinkering of teaspoons, tired laughter and dead faces. It was Monday. Barbara scuffled back to her seat in silence, tea in hand.

People think Barbara is a monster. Others think she will turn into one. She once tripped up Annabelle (lazy eye) on her way to the stage collect the art prize and her PE teacher had actually called her a monster. On average nuclear plants have around 50 REM of total exposure per year to their work force, which averages about 400 per unit. Barbara took the risk.

Barbara and her team turned switches, pressed buttons and monitored the readouts. Twenty-four-seven the plant ran. Growing energy, storing energy, injecting that energy out through dendritic patterns worldwide. Buttons flashed and her cold toes wiggled in her plastic pumps. She called a team meeting just after 11. They talked about different approaches for redistribution, storage, surges, currents and surplus, but they would never implemented incorrect protocol. Protocol would always, be referred to and always followed.

Barbara sometimes wished there were no people.

She thought about her relationship with Alan as an experiment. Barbara and Alan in a beaker. Heated up. It had caused a nuclear reaction. She really wished she and Alan had been recorded, measured against a control, the results published, and she wished other people had attempted to recreate the experiment in another setting to get the same results. She wished that she and Alan had been reduced to data. She wished she was just a thing, inside another thing, and that something pulled her around and shot her down a cable towards the light. Life would be easier that way.

She thought of the day she arrived, September 17th, a man with a high vis jacket, pointed at a clipboard and a hard hat, saying welcome as Barbara and few others smiled at each other. We track everything. He said. We keep track of even the smallest injuries he said. We track everything. Explain Alan then, she thought. A poster on the wall fell down (blue tac gave up). Barbara tacked it back on smiling and reading the words she helped restore: every piece of safety equipment gets tested at least once every fuel cycle (18 to 24 months) and most of it is tested to some level every month. Barbara wished Alan had been a fuel rod.

On a day that wasn’t 17th September, Barbara smiled at the new girl. With Barbara’s kind words, she’d laid out a nice soft bed to sleep in, but underneath the mattress were knives, great blades chanting in unison “we track everything.” The girl was fired for having sex with a technician. But Barbara had made it very clear.

Morning Alan. She had typed in an email that morning. Bits of data fired off through great connectors. Like great pylons, and looping cables off into history.

Here’s the document requested. All the best, Barbara.

A few letters, like a ‘q’ and the capital ‘M’ got caught like debris in the reeds of a flowing stream flowing. The capital B rolled her eyes and muttered, ‘typical.’ A few seconds after the letters arrived, they were shot back down the tube, towards the light. Message Sending Failure: Email Address No Longer Valid.

She’d meant to send it to Peter, who’d replaced Alan. Then came another email.

Let us meet again this evening. Please? From Alan.

She read it and thought of the pylons. Impossible. She imagined how the land just stopped. And went vertically down, into the water, to be disintegrated, to be turned to sand and to be put in little yellow buckets, to be played with, to be toyed with. The image was mostly blurred. Despite its lack of detail, she found rage. They track everything, Alan. You know this. Barbara imagined walking into her house, taking taking her fruit bowl and launching it at her lemon yellow wall and watching the peach juice drip down. Soft, blissful rage, like a dial jumping from green to red and the glass exploding. It was blissful, with Alan, wasn’t it? A tropical palm-beached vacation away from beep boop bop bap. It had felt like a visceral, bright purple and orange. 

But, just a feeling, really, wasn’t it. 

But, you have a wife. She replied. Barbara felt sorry for his wife now. It was all she could think of to say. She wanted to say I miss you.

As she walked to the control room her eyes dragged along the dirtied carpet. Orange swirls and purple streaks lit up her vision. Flashbacks of evenings with Alan out by the cliff, next to the pylons and the sea and the sand. She looked up there was a grassy field and the wind was strong and it was blowing her long white skirt so it licked up around her ankles. Her eyes were stinging. Alan was sat on the bonnet of his black Ford. Alan chuckled, the long grass caressing the laces of his shoes. 

Her hand touched the silky plastic handle to the control room and she entered.

Alan, it’s from the customer service desk from section 4.8, they asked for metrics. They said you are behind on the South Western Area and are susceptible to urges, I mean, surges. Alan come with me tonight.

Thanks Miss. Broccoli.

Barbara stood holding the door ajar. In front of a large, oval circuit board, two men, in different coloured Harrington jackets both stood staring at her. Alan is dead Barbara. One of them said, looking pained. But he did not comfort her, he dialled a number and spoke with his hand over his mouth and then hung up.

She apologised and returned to her desk. She looked out at the curved exhaust towers of the power plant which plumed fog. A black thick dust that looked like death. It was 4pm in winter and sad. The days are dying early now she thought.

She wrote down on a piece of paper ring mum, next line, clean slippers, next line, new collar for Fred, next line, visit Alan.

Her head felt heavy and so she made tea and had a what-are-the-kids-up-to type conversation with Francesca, dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief while she stirred. She got back to her desk, just as the mug was burning her hand and she waved it in the air to cool it off. You can’t un-feel an affinity beyond what real ground can hold. She thought of the grass lapping up to Alan’s shoelaces. Terminal, which meant, a field of grass suddenly stopped and dropping vertical to the sea below and turning into sand. 

After work, she slotted jangling keys into the green Peugeot 106 and streamed down purple roads. The dying light cast long blue shadows across fields. Her dimmed headlights cut into the hedgerows.

She parked in a lay-by overlooking the sea and began to walk up the verge towards the cliff. Over the crest, was Alan, sat on the bonnet of his black Ford. His hands rammed down into the pockets of his cream Harrington jacket. He was staring straight out into the slowly dying light. The power lines looped off the cliff into pylons and off into the horizon. She walked up to him and sat down on the bonnet. He kept looking straight out. And then spoke softly, they hold magic in them. Barbara chuckled. She smiled and let the words hang in the air, like cables.

The darkness weighed down on her shoulders, as the dim lights blinkered out from ships in the distance. Her lip quivered as she remembered his face staring out to sea as the sun went down over the water. Remembered him saying something about connections. But all she could see now were the pylons and the ships flashing and the moon’s glare staring at her. Barbara had said, not knowing where it had come from, that she wanted to be a movie producer and he’d laughed and she said, James Bond and he’d laughed harder still.

Alan was too engrossed in laughter to hear Barbara say goodbye and get off the bonnet. She watched the car roll down the verge towards the cliff edge. He was still laughing, now lying back on the bonnet, James Bond, he shook his head, he smiled up into the sky, serenely accepting that the black car, like a cloud of black dust, was rolling. And with all the power of silence, it fell off the cliff. She looked up at the pocked orb in the sky staring at her. The power lines whirred as they swooped out from the cliff and into a row of receding pylons, out beyond the horizon. The sea whispered to her, telling her to shush.