The Harmony Aggro [4]

Image from Pixabay

Continuing a Sci-Fi tale written by Pamela Cleaver in the 1970s, originally published in Space 2, an anthology featuring new writers. While the technology and style references have become out-moded, the plot is intriguing. In a new-town, acts of violence have occurred involving 2 unusual looking groups of males. Inspector Deeping has apprehended the lads in silver clothes. Interrogating them, he must keep a open mind because their story involves time travel – read on to find out more.

“For what purpose is time travel used in your era, Lant? Surely not to visit other centuries and work off your frustrations?”

The boy smiled. “No indeed. The Guardians have it under very strict control. The only people who are allowed to use the machines are researchers. During the great war at the beginning of the 21st century, the last of the wars, many important historical records were destroyed and we know little of what happened before the 20th century. The historians need the time machines so that they can build up their records. We should not have used the one we came in, but when we missed our harmony therapy, we felt all sorts of strange desires hitherto unknown to us and we wanted to steal something. A time machine is what we stole.”

Inspector Deeping breathed heavily and sighed. “All right constable, take him down to the cells and put him with the others, I’ll see him again later.”

He walked from the interview room and out of the station. He did not want to talk to anyone for a while, he needed time to think, to decide what to do. He was still slightly incredulous about the whole thing, but he knew that he had no alternative but to believe Lant’s story. And if he did that, he must decide what to do with them. He could not take them to court, he could not punish them in the here and now. Equally, he did not feel it would be right just to send them back to their own time, letting them get off scot free – they might come back again. And the scarlet-robed Pelleans were still at large, which presented another problem. He toyed with the idea of making them hand over their time machine and using it to go forward into their time to have a sharp word with their Guardians about an appropriate punishment, but there would be all sorts of difficulties and he knew he would never have the nerve to do so.

Then it was that he had his idea. It was a gamble, but if it worked, it would solve all his problems. Briskly he walked back to the station, went into his office in a high good humour and sent for Lant.

“I have been thinking over what you have said,” he told the boy. “Under the laws of this time and this country, you deserve a severe punishment. If I take you to court, you will probably be sent to prison which you will not like, but as the circumstances are very unusual, I am ready to make a bargain with you. You understand what a bargain is?”

Lant nodded his head, shaking the blue and green locks of his hair vigorously.

“I want to rid this area of all time travellers and go back to my ordinary everyday life.”

Lant said, “I think we too would like to go back to our ordinarr, everyday life. We are a little tired of this adventure now we have achieved what we came for. That fight we had with those boys was marvellous.”

“Right,” said Inspector Deeping, “you can go back if you will do something for me first. I want you and your companions to find the Pelleans and persuade them to go back to their time too. I don’t care how you do it, you can persuade them peaceably or you can fight them. Now, can you do that? Will you be able to communicate with them?”

Lant nodded. “I can speak 21st century Pellean a little, enough to do what you ask. But how can you compel us? Once we have left this building, how can you be sure we will seek out the Pelleans and not just get into the time shuttle and go back to our own time?”

That, as Deeping knew, was the sixty-four dollar question; this was where his gamble came in, he had no means of enforcing his will. He took a deep breath. “I can’t,” he said. “I can’t make you do it, but I trust you. I believe that you are the sort of person who, if he gave his word, would keep his bargain. Am I right?”

Lant’s face was transformed from pale seriousness by a brilliant smile. “You are right, if we give our word, we will do it and I give my word.”

“Right,” said Inspector Deeping, “and when you get home, perhaps you’d better go back to your therapy sessions again, although self-control is really better, you know.”

Lant looked at him wistfully. “I should like to be able to learn discipline myself,” he said, “but although we managed to outwit the Guardians once, we shall not be able to do so a second time. They will make us report to them daily and give us extra therapy.” He sighed. “After a while, I expect we shall forget this ever happened.”

“It’s more than I shall,” said Inspector Deeping heavily and he pressed a bell on his desk and arranged for the boys to be released.

The next day, a series of unusual reports landed on Inspector Deeping’s desk. Late the previous evening, there had been a curiously inept gang fight on one of the housing estates at the end of the town. Four boys in silver gear with green and blue hair had been seen fighting with three boys with shaven heads, dressed in scarlet robes. One report had not even been sure it was a fight, more like a strange, new ritual dance, the witness said. Another report said that a strange craft had been seen in the moonlit sky, not exactly a flying saucer, more like a monster sewing machine shuttle.

As Sergeant Peel brought the reports in, he looked more and more puzzled. “Do you think the whole of Everington is suffering from illusions?” he asked.

Inspector Deeping received the reports with evident satisfaction and put them in the file he had made for the unusual crime wave of the past two weeks. When yet another report came in from an excitable woman who had seen a silver shuttle in the sky just before midnight, which had suddenly vanished rather than flown off, he heaved a great sigh of relief and marked the file “closed“.

“You can put that away now,” he aid to Peel, “we shan’t have any more trouble from the silver mob or the scarlet robes.”

He told Sergeant Peel the rest of the story. Peel found it hard to accept the fact of time travel, but grudgingly went along with the Inspector. “How did you get rid of them all, then?”

“I simply set a thief to catch a thief,” said Inspector Deeping, “and I killed two birds with one stone. They may be old fashioned ideas, but they work.”

This concludes the story, but look out for more Guest Posts by Pamela Cleaver.

The Harmony Aggro [3]

A Short Science Fiction story by Guest Author: Pamela Cleaver

Continuing a Sci-Fi tale written in the 1970s, originally published in Space 2, an anthology featuring new writers. While much of the technology and style references have become out-moded, the plot is intriguing. In a new-town acts of violence involving 2 groups of youths have occurred. Inspector Deeping is keeping an open mind, enlisting his teenage son to assist in the apprehension of the lads in silver clothes. When questioned, the story they give is mind-bending – read on to find out more.

Peel thought about it. “I suppose that’s possible; if there’s nothing to overcome, nothing to strive for, nothing to stimulate them into action, people do get bored, especially the young ones. But all that stuff about time machines, you don’t believe that, do you?”

“I keep an open mind – who knows what will be possible three hundred years from now? Even a hundred years ago, did people think men would ever get to the moon, apart from Jules Verne, that is?”

“I suppose not, but even if his story were true, it doesn’t hold water. You told me they had harmony therapy or whatever it’s called to overcome their aggression, so how come he and his friends are aggressive?”

“I asked him that and it seems that they just did not report for treatment – it’s some sort of electric impulse which is applied to the brain cells. I suppose it was a bit like playing truant- you know how at that age youngsters are almost automatically against authority.”

“But why pick on us to relieve their tensions?”

“They chose the 1970s, if you please, because they read in their history books it was a lawless age. What do you think of that?”

Peel snorted. “Why didn’t they choose one of the many times when a war was on, or Chicago in the twenties for instance?”

“Their knowledge of history does not go back much before the 20th century and he says they did not want to kill people, just to act tough and destructive.”

“Well, I don’t want to believe it,” said Inspector Deeping, “but there’s a strange sort of logic about it. I’m going to have another talk with Lant. Leave the others for now, put them in the cells and we’ll see what else he’s got to say. Look, you’re off duty now, aren’t you? You push off and I’ll tell about it tomorrow.”

Deeping thought that Peel was looking at him as if he were quite mad. Perhaps he was. But the story he had heard was not quite as fantastic as the one he had thought up earlier when he had wondered if the silver-gear buys were visitors from space. If Lant was making this up, he ought to be writing science fiction, not mugging old ladies and destroying telephone kiosks.

When he went back to the interview room, past the impassive constable standing just inside the door, staring straight ahead, he saw the strange boy Lant sitting calmly at the bare table, his long legs in the silver trousers and boots stretched out, quite relaxed. Now he saw all the gear together, Deeping was not surprised the lab had not been able to analyse the scrap of material. It was obviously something made by a technology far more advanced than anything the 1970s could produce. The inspector felt that Lant’s very appearance bore out his story, but there were still a lot of things he wanted to know before he could be completely convinced.

He asked the boy about the crimes. To his surprise, Lant did not deny them but seemed rather proud of them. He admitted to taking part in three muggings and four of the cases of vandalism.

“Why did you choose old people to attack, not ones your own age? Don’t you think it was cowardly?”

“But it is the old we hate, not the young,” said Lant as if it was self-evident truth.

“But why?”

“Because in our time, people live to very great ages through drugs and skilful treatments not known in your times; the old ones are in charge, they make the laws, they tell us what to do and we may not argue. When we missed our harmony therapy session, we realised we hated them. Hate was a new emotion for us and we found it exciting.”

Deeping was repelled but he had to admit to himself that there was something in what Lant said.

“What about the telephone boxes and automatic vending machines?”

“Please?” said Lant, puzzled.

“Those things you broke up, why did you do that?”

“Oh,” he said, “the teleport stands and the informers.”

It was Inspector Deeping’s turn to be puzzled.

What did you think those things were that you destroyed?”

“I am having a little difficulty with your speech,” said Lant. “I learned as much late 20th century English as I could from a hypno-educator, but seem not to have it all just right. The red boxes I took to be teleport stands where you materialize and de-materialize when the Guardians summon you, no? And the others, where you press buttons, were for reporting to the Guardians, no? We attacked those because they symbolize the authority of the Guardians. The devices were primitive examples, but we thought we recognized them. Were we not right?”

Inspector Deeping began to be sorry he had embarked on this conversation; he did not like the glimpse of the future it showed. He explained telephones and vending machines as best he could, but felt Lant was very contemptuous of such simple concepts of communication. He tried another tack.

“Who are the Guardians?”

“I think in your time they were called the police,” said Lant, “or maybe soldiers, I am not quite sure which. I have not understood quite perfectly the difference between the two.”

“The Police see that the laws of the land are carried out,” he said, “and I am a policeman. Soldiers are to protect a country from its enemies.”

“You are then a Guardian?” asked Lant. For the first time he seemed apprehensive. “We have broken your laws? What then will you do with us?”

What indeed? It was a good question – Inspector Deeping was beginning to wonder that himself. How could he take these people to court? Even if he believed this strange story, who else would? And there was still another question unanswered. “Are some of your friends dressed in red robes with shaven heads?”

“No,” said Lant, “that is not the way we Lemnians dress, it sounds to me like Pelleans of the 21st century. Are they here too? It was in their era that time travel first began and they may be here to investigate your time.”

“But why did you come to Everington, our town here?”

“The co-ordinates we used to choose a place to land are those of a great city in our time and it was too in the time of the Pelleans. To us and to them it would be an obvious choice.

Inspector Deeping marvelled that the dull little town in which he lived would one day be a great city. It was almost harder to believe than anything that had gone before.

To be continued (here)

The Harmony Aggro[2]

Image from Pixabay

Continuing a Sci-Fi tale by my Guest Author Pamela Cleaver. Written in the 1970s, it was originally published in Space 2, an anthology featuring writers new to the genre. While much of the technology and style references have become out-moded, the plot is intriguing. In a new-ish town, acts of violence have been happening, involving two groups of youths unfamiliar to the culture, which has Inspector Deeping baffled.

Next day, Inspector Deeping sent Sergeant Peel on a tour of Everington’s trendier shops that catered for the tastes of the young, to make enquiries as to whether they sold many silver suits or scarlet robes. He then read the reports through again and tried to assess an analyse the crimes. He thought about his conversation with Tim the previous evening and smiled to himself about the new vogue word “intergalactic”. He knew “way out” and “far out” – he even new that “near in” was sometimes used as an alternative, but “intergalactic” tickled his fancy. He had been a science fiction addict since he had come across his first copy of Amazing as a boy, which was probably why he liked the word.

He toyed with a pencil and stared out of the window. He began to think of intergalactic in its SF sense and a wild thought occurred to him. The silver-gear boys couldn’t possibly be from another planet could they? The first wave of an invasion from space who had landed in Everington? He let his imagination fun free for a few minutes, then laughed, shook off his fantasies and went back to his paperwork.

When Sergeant Peel came back from his tour of the boutiques, he was tired and frustrated and no further forward with the case. There was no call for silver gear or red robes, he had been told by the shop keepers.

“That means they haven’t got any – they always try to tell you things are unfashionable if you want them and they haven’t got them.”

He stretched and poured himself a cup of coffee from the electric percolator in the corner of the office.

“There is one thing, though,” he told the Inspector. “Constable Hobbs has been over the last telephone box they smashed up and he found this caught on a nail.”

He threw a piece of silver material onto the Inspector’s desk. Deeping picked it up and examined it. It was most unusual, not quite like anything else he had ever seen. It was soft and flexible but it was not woven. He crushed it in his hand experimentally and then opened his fingers. The material sprang back at once to its original shape without a crease or mark on it.

“One of these new, man-made fabrics, I suppose. It looks expensive. Better send it down to the lab to see what they make of it and tell them we want some answers quickly. It’s the best lead we’ve had so far.”

Sergeant Peel picked up the fabric with a sigh and went out with it.

The lab rang back the next day, apologetic and chagrined. They were completely baffled. Analysis had not been able to identify the components of the material which answered to none of the known tests. They could only think it was some new, experimental cloth recently, or not yet, marketed. Sergeant Peel got the dreary job of ringing round the fabric manufacturers to see if they could help. Inspector Deeping began to wonder if his “visitors from space” theory was not so wild after all and then told himself severely that if he did not stop thinking on those lines, he would have to give up reading science fiction. He went across to the pub opposite the police station for a beer and a sandwich for lunch.

At about half pat two that afternoon, he received a phone call from Tim.

“Dad, get down here quickly!” said his son, “your silver-geared boys are in the club. They’ve smashed a television set and are trying to pick a fight!”

“Don’t let them get away, Tim,” he said urgently, “even if you have to fight them until we get there. Do you think you could hold them?”

He could almost hear Tim’s grin over the phone. “Yeah,” he said, “they haven’t much idea about fighting and it just happens that most of the rugger team is in here at the moment. Okay, burn down as fast as you can and we’ll hold onto them.”

Inspector Deeping left his office quickly, gathering up Sergeant Peel and Constable Hobbs on the way. When they arrived at the Youth Club, it was quite obvious a fight had taken place; there were overturned tables and chairs, the television set was, as Tim had said on the phone, well and truly smashed and everyone in the place looked ruffled. But Tim and three of his friends were sitting on the chests of the silver-gear boys, holding onto their wrists. The faces of the captives, framed in blue and green locks, were neither angry nor disconsolate as the Inspector had expected, but triumphant and pleased with themselves.

The boys did not resist arrest nor make any fuss when they were taken down to the station. While Constable Hobbs was booking them, Inspector Deeping had a quick word with Sergeant Peel.

“We’ll question them separately,” he said, “you and I will question each one for half an hour and then compare notes, before we go onto the other two, okay?”

Peel nodded and he and Deeping went into separate interview rooms with a boy in each, while Hobbs kept a watchful eye on the other two.

After half an hour, Inspector Deeping returned to his office with a glazed look about his eyes and waited for Sergeant Peel, who joined him within a few minutes looking thoroughly angry. Peel sat down heavily in a chair and said, “I think I’m being conned. I’ve never heard such a load of codswallop in my life.”

Inspector Deeping looked at him carefully. “Tell me what he said.”

Peel was disgusted. “It was trash, you don’t want to hear about it.”

“I do,” said his superior, “because I want to compare it with what I was just told.”

Peel sighed heavily, poured himself a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette. “Would you believe he told me he came from the 23rd century in a time machine, and nothing I could say or do would make him change his story?”

“I would believe it,” said Deeping grimly, “because I was told the same thing.”

“Ye gods, they must think we’re green!” said Peel. “Kids like that make me sick. They’ve been caught now, so they might as well tell us where they live, who they are and all that so we can get on with charging them. They must know we’ll find out the truth eventually.”

Inspector Deeping tilted his chair and put his feet on the desk. “Did he tell you why he came here from the 23rd century?”

Peel looked at him curiously. “I didn’t ask him, I just told him not to be such a fool and to start telling me the truth. We never got beyond his first statement.”

“Well I tried a different tack, I played along with Lant, as this chap tells me he is called, and asked him why he came here. It was a remarkable piece of fiction, if fiction it was. He says that in his time, everything is peaceful and beautiful. War has been abolished, there is no crime because everyone’s needs are provided for and there is no aggression because everyone is given harmony therapy.”

“You don’t believe any of it, do you sir?” said Peel anxiously.

“I’m not sure yet,” said Deeping slowly, “but let’s suppose for a minute I do. Wouldn’t you have thought that those conditions would make for an ideal world? I would, so I asked him, if everything is so marvellous, why would he want to leave such a wonderful time and come back to our era?” His pipe had gone out, so he relit it as he waited for the Sergeant’s reaction.

“I bet that foxed him,” said Peel, “if life was like that, stands to reason everyone would be contented.”

“It didn’t fox him at all, he said that was just the point. Life in the 23rd century, he says, is too perfect. There is no friction, no challenge and in spite of all the entertainments provided, he and his friends are bored to screaming point.”

To be Continued (here)

The Harmony Aggro [1]

Silver shoes

A Short Science Fiction story written by Guest Author: Pamela Cleaver
This story was penned in the 1970s – more innocent times. Sci-Fi was in its infancy and much of the technology is out of date. Originally published in an Anthology entitled Space 2

Inspector Deeping was worried: it had been happening for a fortnight now and he couldn’t understand it. If Everington had been a big city, it would have been understandable. Muggings, vandalism and other crimes of destructive violence happened all the time in cities, but Everington was a suburban district which had only recently developed from a village to town status by the addition and accredition of various housing estates.

His first thought, when the crime figures for his normally peaceable area went rocketing up, was that some criminal element had moved onto one of the newer estates, but he had immediately checked and found it was not so. There were one or two bad eggs in the new batches, but they soon proved they were not involved in Everington’s new crime wave.

The other thing that troubled him was the description of the criminals; in the few cases where they had been seen, they did not appear to conform to any known group. Threee elderly people had been knocked down and rendered unconscious – straight-forward muggings, Inspector Deeping had thought, except that the victims had not been robbed and the crimes seemed gratuitous and motiveless. From the description of the assailants, seen in the half dark, he had built up a curious picture. It seemed they were young people (no-one was sure if they were boys or girls) their hair was long, the locks dyed a mixture of green and blue. They wore silver trousers, jackets and boots. It sounded even stranger than the usual weird teenage gear.

Then there were four telephone boxes that had been smashed up, and six automatic vending machines that had been battered. The blue and green haired boys seemed to be involved in some cases, but in others there were some even stranger characters : shaven-headed hooligans dressed in scarlet robes.

“Are you having me on?” Inspector Deeping asked Sergeant Peel severely when he brought the reports in.

“No, honestly sir, that’s what the woman said who saw them running away. I asked her the same thing. Thought she might have been …” and he tilted his wrist to signify drinking, “but she was sober as a judge, and swore that was what they looked like.”

Inspector Deeping sucked on his pipe sceptically, but put the reports in his file. If they were not logical, he wondered where the strangely garbed youngsters were coming from. He asked his car patrols whether they had seen any groups coming into Everington from outside the district on motor bikes or in jalopies. But they had seen nothing unusual over the past two weeks. Not really surprising, he said to himself cynically, Everington was the sort of place you went away from, not came to.

He decided the only thing to do was to consult an expert, and who would be more knowledgeable about teenage behaviour than another teenager? So after supper, he took Tim, his seventeen-year-old son, for a walk.

“I want to pick your brains,” he told him and Tim came willingly, flattered to be consulted. “I want to know about any groups round here who dress in a special way,” he said.

“What – like the Skins in their bovver boots, or the Angels in their leather jackets?” asked Tim.

“That’s the sort of thing,” said Inspector Deeping, “but we know about them, though. Are there any new groups?”

Tim shrugged. “The Skins have mostly grown their hair, they call them Suedeheads now, you know, and they don’t wear bovver boots, they’re into crepe-soled boots with wedge heels. The Angels are still around, but not much in Everington.”

“Any others?”

“Most of the kids are into embroidered denim, but that’s general,” said Tim, “not any special group. There aren’t really any gangs in Everington.”

Inspector Deeping made much of lighting his pipe before he asked his next question. “What would you think of chaps with their hair dyed green and blue, wearing silver jeans, silver jackets and silver boots?”

Tim breathed a great sigh of admiration. “Wow, way out – like intergalactic, man!”

Deeping tried not to smile. “Intergalactic – that’s a new one on me.”

“It’s even further out than way out,” said Tim patiently, “it’s the ultimate.”

“I see, but do you know about this group with the silver gear?”

“No,” said Tim, “but I wouldn’t mind!”

“I don’t advise it,” said his father repressively, “they’re in big trouble. Look Tim, you don’t mind me asking all this?”

The boy shook his head.

“Well there’s another group even odder. They wear scarlet robes and have shaven heads. Do you know them?”

“Nope,” said Tim, “but they don’t sound very turned-on. Say Dad, are you really looking for kooks like this, or are you putting me on?”

The Inspector shook his head. “I said almost the same ting to Sergeant Peel when he told me about them. I really have got problems dressed in those clothes. Do one thing more for me Tim? Keep your eyes open at the Youth Club, will you?”

Tim agreed, and they continued on their way.

To be continued (here)

Hide Away [2]

Continued from previous post

My heart plummeted two days later when the hospital’s number flashed up on my phone, a call to tell me Henry had taken a turn for the worse. In the absence of any close relative, they asked would I come and sit with him, he was fading fast.

Henry smiled weakly as I pulled a plastic chair closer to his hospital bed. I wasn’t convinced he recognised me. I took his hand in mine. Once strong and capable, now its joints were pronounced. The loose, transparent skin clearly showed his raised purple veins.

“How are you feeling Henry? You’ve missed a lovely sunny day.” 

He looked slightly confused, and soon his eyelids fluttered shut. I picked up his paper with the crossword, which would usually be at least half complete with Henry’s distinctive sloped writing. Today it was pristine, untouched. I pushed down my despair and remembered happier times when we’d sit in opposite armchairs, Henry throwing out clues for me to solve. He always knew most of the answers. Reading so much had made his vocabulary excellent, but occasionally I’d solve a clue that he couldn’t. If we were unsure, he’d fill in our guess with faint writing, not easily done with a ballpoint pen!

When Henry’s eyes next opened, he began smiling and waving, greeting people who I couldn’t see. He would reach down, moving his hands as if petting a dog and grinning widely. Although it was a little unnerving to watch, I was glad he was having a happy dream. 

I wandered away to get a coffee from the vending machine then tried to get comfortable in the plastic visitor’s chair with my book. The nurses moved about quietly, intermittently checking Henry’s pulse and the tube which drained his bladder. I stood up to stretch my stiff shoulders and move my legs. When I checked the time, I knew I should get home to Mabel.

Henry’s eyes opened again so I whispered hello.

“It was you who realised that something was off, wasn’t it?” he asked, as if he and I had been in mid conversation.

“Yes,” I agreed, hoping I’d fall in step when he told me more.

“You wondered how he could afford that holiday.”

“I did,” I nodded, although I was none the wiser.

Henry drifted back to sleep, leaving me wondering who he had mistaken me for. My guess was Audrey, although it could have been any female from his past. 

When I lay in bed that night, I wondered who Henry had been discussing. Whose holiday budget had raised his concern? It wasn’t a topic which had cropped up in any anecdotes he’d previously shared.  Before closing my eyes to sleep, I said a prayer for Henry to feel stronger, to rally with his health improving. Having observed him since he’d been admitted to hospital, my desperate fear was that I was watching a clockwork toy as it wound down. 

Hospital had made Henry a fish out of water, separated him from his beloved garden and cosy house crammed with decades of history. I was sure if he could come home, he would make a better recovery. I wondered fretfully when Bruce would call me, or whether he’d already contacted the hospital directly.

The next day was Sunday, so I was able to visit Henry after lunch. I brought a small piece of apple pie, which I hoped might cheer him. He seemed a little more alert than the previous day.

“Hello, have they fed you?” I pulled up the orange chair beside his bed.

“Yes. There was this bowl of grey mousse, I couldn’t tell whether it was starter or dessert.”

“What did it taste like?”

“Nothing really, I ate it first anyway.”

I laughed, feeling equally puzzled. “Perhaps it was mushroom soup?”

“Could have been,” his smile squeezed at my heart.

“Well you can have this later.” I slid the lidded box onto his tray. “It’s made with apples from your tree that we picked this summer.”

“I’ll have it now,” he looked quite animated, and I felt strangely proud.

Tucking into it with the spoon I’d brought, his eyes shut with pleasure as he chewed.

“I can taste the sunshine,” he smiled, and I think both our minds drifted back to the afternoon picking up windfalls with Mabel keeping us company in his back garden.

“I used to scrump for apples when I was a boy,” he passed the tupperware box back to me, traces of crumbs left behind. “Only the once mind, because the village copper told my Father what I’d done and I got a proper hiding. Me and my friend Tommy had to rake up leaves in the orchard where we’d stolen the apples to make amends for our theft.”

“How did they know it was you?”

“Tommy ate some of the big apples, didn’t realise they were sour ones for cooking. When he got guts ache, his Ma was worried, and that’s when the truth came out.”

“Silly boy!” I laughed. “Well I suppose you both learned some valuable lessons.”

Henry looked suddenly tired, his eyelids drooped and his mouth went slack. I watched his chest rise and fall, his breath seemed more laboured today.

Picking up my phone, I flicked through my messages, then to pass more time, I scrolled through my photos and found some of Henry, me and Mabel. He was wearing the scarf I’d knitted him for his birthday, had it tucked into the neck of his jacket. In another Mabel was curled in his lap while he held a fan of playing cards – probably beating me at gin rummy! This dear man was a part of my life and I didn’t want to let him go.

I saw a nurse at the door and stood up to talk to her.

“Has his son Bruce been in touch?”

“I think he phoned for an up-date on his progress, let me check our records.” 

In a few minutes she came back, her thin plastic apron swishing against her green cotton dress.

“Yes he’s called once. Of course Henry wasn’t quite so frail then …” her voice trailed off, and we both watched his sleeping form in the bed. “I think we’d better call him again.”

With a heavy sense of inevitability, I returned to the plastic visitor’s chair.

Henry stirred a little. Seeing me it took a few moments, but he registered who I was.

“Oh Ruby sorry, I don’t want to sleep when you’re kind enough to visit me.” 

“Don’t fret Henry,” I took his hand in mine, “you had a big meal, it would make anyone tired. Do you want to do the crossword? I’ve brought a pen.”

Folding the paper to the correct page, I read out a couple of the clues, but he was stumped by them. I knew one of the answers so I wrote it in.

“Well now we have that one, we know that game bird, 8 letters, begins with a P,” I said looking at him expectantly.

“The truth always comes out,” he said.

Now I was stumped, were we having a conversation where he’d dreamed the earlier part?

“What do you think to pheasant for game bird Henry? It’s the right amount of letters.”

“Sounds right Ruby, pencil it in.”

We didn’t get much further with the crossword because Henry couldn’t concentrate and I felt too worried to care about anagrams or clues.

“Tell me more about your parents, were they strict?” I couldn’t help wondering about getting a hiding.

“My Father was firm but fair. I got into lots of scrapes as a boy, always breaking windows or going where I shouldn’t.” Henry’s voice was low, I leaned close to catch his words. “But I never stole again, not after those apples.”

“And your mother?”

“She was lovely, a good cook, like you. Once she let me eat a whole bowl of cake mix!”

“What – raw?” my eyes went wide.

“She knew I loved to scrape the bowl, so one time she gave me the mixture rather than baking it into a cake. It must’ve been once rationing ended and we could get eggs again.”

“Did you like that better than cake?”

“Oh yes,” he nodded, his eyes getting the look of someone lost in a memory.

“I made banana bread once, the batter for that was nicer than the cooked version!”

“Banana bread? I’m not sure I’ve tried that.”

I noticed the nurse was hovering again, holding a little plastic cup.

“Looks like it’s time for your pills Henry. I should get back to Mabel.”

As I stooped to kiss him goodbye his eyes met mine. “Thank you for everything Ruby.”

“Friends don’t need to say thank you,” I said, fighting the threat of tears.

To be Continued …

Hide Away [1]

How could a few sentences make my attitude flip 180? But they did, they had, and I felt as if I’d been ambushed.

I’d lived in my house for about 3 years, enjoying a fairly quiet life going to work and fixing-up my houme and tiny garden at weekends. I knew my neighbours on either side just enough to pass the time of day. Walking regularly to the common with my dog, however, I’d got talking to Henry, an older gentleman who lived a few doors down. He’d owned several dogs over the years, so we’d chat over the wall if he was in the garden. Mabel, my pug, would happily delay her walk to go through his gate and mug Henry for a fuss.

Before long, we’d struck up a proper friendship. I’d pop in for a coffee whenever I could and often I’d invite him to mine for Sunday dinner. Mabel adored Henry who lavished affection on her; while rubbing her ears he’d regale me with stories of his past. He’d had an army career and a happy marriage. Their one son now lived abroad. Henry was widowed, but kept busy with his garden and a handful of friends who he might join for a pint at the local, but  it was evident he sometimes felt lonely.

When Henry took a tumble in his garden, it was my number he rang. I raced round to his house and covered him with a blanket, helping him sip sweet tea for the shock while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. He hated to cause a bother, but I could see he was in pain.

I visited him that evening, but was distressed to see him so pale and drained when he was usually rosy cheeked and cheerful. I blamed the broken bones, harsh hospital lighting, perhaps the pale green gown he was wearing (which would make anyone look washed out) but concern flared in my gut. By the end of the week he was no better. I noticed lines of strain on his face. A nurse took me aside to say he was barely eating.

“Can I call someone for you Henry?” I poured water into a cup and passed it to him. “Should I let your son know you’re in hospital?”

“Oh there’s no need to bother him Ruby,” he patted my hand. His eyes seemed to shift to the middle distance, looking pale and a little watery.

“Let me take Bruce’s number in case,” I pressed, getting my phone out of my bag.

“I don’t know it by heart,” he said fretfully, “but it’s in my red address book, near the phone.” Of course someone of his generation would write all their contacts in a book, their life wasn’t keyed into their phone.

Letting myself into his house, I brought Mabel for company. She sniffed around happily, and managed to find a corner where Henry had dropped a few crumbs. I located Bruce’s number and dialled. It went to voicemail so I left a message about his father’s broken hip and my concerns about his frailty. Before leaving Henry’s neat kitchen, I checked the contents of the fridge, disposing of some milk and foodstuffs which were past date.

I visited Henry as often as I could during his stay in hospital, I may have been the only friend who did. At first he was cheerful, joking and charming the nurses in equal measure. I encouraged him to talk about his wife Audrey, it seemed to energise him to tell how they first met and fell in love.

“She was a looker, always had lovely pins,” his face relaxed and got a faraway expression, remembering the twenty-one year old with auburn hair who had stolen his heart.

“She wouldn’t let me walk her home the night we met. Said she’d already made arrangements to leave with friends. Oh I tried everything to persuade her, but I respected Audrey for that. I admired that she stood by a commitment.”

I liked the sound of Audrey myself. Nowadays too many people had “FOMO”,  meaning they’d say yes to everything, before cherry picking the best offer, thus letting down a string of people.

“It was the happiest day of my life when Audrey agreed to marry me. Though our wedding day wasn’t fancy by today’s standards, it was the start of a wonderful partnership.”

“What about when your son was born? That must come a close second for your best day.”

Henry thought about this. “Men waited outside the maternity ward back then, we weren’t allowed in to give our wives moral support. When it was all over, the nurse put your baby in a nursery for the father to view the child through a window.”

It sounded very different from the current practice, fathers filming the birth, or the newborn nestling skin to skin with its mother to help form a bond.

“Now I think about it, I watched Bruce grow up behind a pane of glass,” he continued, his voice weaker. “His mother doted on him. She was his constant companion, forgave him everything. I worried he was being spoiled but what could I do? I just about scraped home in time to read him a bedtime story, but at weekends he had little interest in helping me tend the garden.”

Henry had never talked much about his son before, so I was reluctant to interrupt his flow.

“He would help himself to my things without asking, not returning them to the right place. I often found our possessions broken and discarded. The gramophone, my watch, Audrey always had an excuse for his behaviour. She was such a sensible, principled woman but when Bruce acted out she had a blind spot.” He shook his head, his hand moving fretfully against the blanket.

“You must be proud of him now,” I tried to steer Henry to happier thoughts. “He has a good job and lives in a nice place. Have you ever visited him?”

“We were going to go, but when Audrey’s health broke, our trip was abandoned.”

Visiting time was nearly over. Nurses began coming round with trays of hot food, so I changed the subject.

“I’d better get going Henry, your shepherd’s pie is here!! I said brightly. “Oh look, fruit crumble and custard.” 

I grabbed my coat off the back of the chair, then pressed a kiss against his papery cheek with genuine affection. “Hurry and get better so I can cook you a pie with apples from your tree.”

[To be Continued …]

Reviewing YA Romances

7.23 am  : k. monroe
We all start off as strangers
  The heroine, Natalia Volesky, is being texted by an unknown person, it seems to be a boy, but she has no recollection of meeting him.  Talia and her boyfriend Brett seem like a ‘power couple’ but he doesn’t like  the close contact between her and the mystery texter, infact he doesn’t like Talia following her own interests period!  

Talia has a best friend, and a close family but even at home she has troubles.  Talia needs to be strong, to get to a place where she wont tolerate bullying or violence.

Mystery boy is funny and caring and a great listener, but he has his own issues. Why does he want to maintain this friendship in its virtual state? Talia needs to draw him out and bolster him, as much as he needs to support her.  

This sweet, uplifting story is told in texts. It’s romantic and humorous, poignant because it carries more than one serious message.  It will be popular with the YA market and those who love young romance because they enjoy being reminded of their first love.

Currently available on Wattpad

Readers of romance may also enjoy:

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before : Jenny Han

Kissing is the Easy Part : rainbowbrook [available on Wattpad]

The Shiver Trilogy : Maggie Stiefvater

Eleanor and Park : Rainbow Rowell

Always a Lady

A beautiful, but poignant tribute written by my Father about his beloved spaniel – a working dog and key member of our family.

We first met when she was two years old. Her father was a famous field trial champion with similar achievements going back all down the sire’s line as far as the pedigree reached. On her dam’s side  there were one or two field trial awards sprinkled about, but mostly, there was clear evidence of a gamekeeper’s faithfuls like Jenny (no Kennel suffix) or Flikka. Anyway, her dam was a really cracking small springer who had the trick of keeping one eye on her boss however far out she seemed to be going. Her boss was one of the nicest gamekeepers I’ve ever met.

This small, 2 month old chubby chops was lent to me to try each other out. With my elder daughter I slowly walked and talked her up along the edge of one of the release woods near the keeper’s cottage: she followed with some hesitation but no attempt to break back or into the wood. When we got back (carrying some of the way, because small legs get tired) we popped her down by a likely looking wood pile and encouraged her to seek!  She gave that rat and rabbit smelling wood pile such a combing, with her fat little bottom and docked tail showing fully her pleasure in the work.

My daughter and I took her back to the outdoor run with her litter brothers and sisters who were just about to have their evening meal, as they were being weaned from their dam. Food, the most important event in any healthy dog’s life. Slurping and jostling each other with their backs to us, ‘our’ little bitch ignored the food. She sat facing us, looking unwinkingly at us with that peculiar intentness that is a gift beyond price. It was that which decided me to have her.

I left her with the gamekeeper for one more month as I had a rather jealous, stern Weimaraner bitch that I did not want to tyrannise her too much. My elder son came to collect the puppy with me and sat with her and the Weimaraner in the boot to see fair play. Within 24 hours of arrival she proved she had a memory. I had bought a rabbit skin back too and hung it in a tree for a later use as a dummy. In the night the wind picked up and blew the skin down. When I turned the pup out for early morning penny-worths and a run, she made straight for the shrubbery, where, unknown to me, the skin lay under a tree. She ate it whole and ran back mighty pleased with herself.

From then on her training was a pleasure. She had her mother’s trick of always keeping one eye on me whatever she was about. I found I did not have to bother about hares or rabbits. She would course them for about 20 yards, then return as she early found they were much quicker than her. Maybe she would not have ever reached a field trial, but she was a mighty putter up of game, quickly learning to get down-wind of bits of cover to save pushing through everything, she could also gauge content by nose. 

She had the usual particular stance and ‘yip’ when onto a rabbit. She loved water and swam quite flat with no fuss or tenseness. She played in the rubber boat with the children in the pool learning to trim to the set of a boat: anticipating its movements and shifting her feet. One of her favorite games, as a puppy, was hiding in the rubber inflatable boat on the grass with her two eyes peeping out of the top. She’d then run to nip my younger son’s bottom as he crept up, starck naked, to try and get in the boat too. Gales of laughter as this game went on for hours.

When she retrieved duck to me, she threw them sideways out of her mouth and turned back to the water. In this way I had to set her onto one or two runners that slipped straight into the reeds and had to be retrieved again. Once she realised this, she brought the duck to hand. She was always chancey on cock pheasants. On her first full working day she had a cock torn from her mouth by an aggressive labrador, one of a team of three worked by a gun’s wife; the bird spurred her in the mouth. I spent the rest of the season gentling her back to retrieving. 

On the last day of the season, our very last push through cover, I realised from the behaviour of both the Weimaraner and the young springer that a bird had drawn ahead of them down a ditch and hedge. I asked permission to follow up and set the dogs on again. Their eagerness increased each yard and from beside a pond at the hedge junction they pushed a cock pheasant. I shot it as it crossed the plough towards a wood and the springer was sent to retrieve. She had just collected it and was returning when the same black labrador rushed across the field and snatched the bird from her.

She adored wildfowling, starting at 18 months when she picked her first pinkfoot: a beautifully proportioned half-sized mutant. Even that was big for her at the time. If I was cross with her and swore at her (which I did I regret to say – having a low flash point and hot temper) she would not look at me for a while. She’d sit, back to me and very still, with her cheeks sucked in. All the family loved her dearly and if I or my wife had to scold the children, particularly the younger two, they would go and sit with the springer, resting their heads on her til they felt better. The Weimaraner accepted her and, latterly when I found my springer dog on Liverpool Street Station (nobody ever claimed him) he doted on the springer bitch, as did my wife’s grand little rough coated dachshund.

Sadly, all good things come to an end, and with tragic suddenness for the little springer bitch. She ran, as she thought, after me towards a road behind a sandy beach in Northumberland. My wife and younger son had just crossed, but I had stopped to watch a bird. I whistled and called but the noise of an old banger with three tearaways in it drowned my calls; with a sickening foreboding I thought “she’s going to be hit by the car”. I ran as fast as I could towards the road and heard the bang of the impact. My wife and younger son saw her turn to try to get back to me when she realised I was still coming from the beach. My younger daughter saw it all from our caravan. Lady died quietly while my wife and I stroked and talked to her. I knew she would never leave that Northumberland beach.

The children chose her name, Lady, which always seemed so opposite to her playful nature. As my younger daughter said to her mother: “When Daddy can bear to think about it, Lady was 10 years old and she had just had her most full and successful season. He would have hated seeing her getting gradually older ‘til the Awful Day.”

They say each man deserves one good dog in his life, and I believe in Lady I may have had mine. All I know is how much I still miss her.

4Thoughts

The #4Thoughts_Fiction meme is hosted on a #NSFW site, so be warned if you follow the link, but I’m no prude The prompt is currently ‘Longing’.

The Cowboy of Laredo

As I rode down thru’ the streets of Laredo,
As I rode into Laredo one day,
I see’d a poor cowboy wrapped up in a blanket
Laid out on a blanket and the colour of clay

“I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy,”

These words he did say as I boldly stepped by.
“Come sit down beside me and hear my sad story;

I was shot in the breast and I know I must die.”

“Let sixteen gamblers come handle my coffin

Let sixteen cowboys come sing me a song,
Take me to the graveyard and lay the sod o-er me,

For I’m a poor cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.”

“It was once in the saddle I used to go dashing,

It was once in the saddle I used to go gay.

T’was first to drinking and then to card playing,

Got shot in the breast and I’m dying today.”

“Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin,

Get six pretty girls to carry my pall

Put bunches of roses all over my coffin

Put roses to deaden the clods as they fall.”

“Oh beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,

And play the dead march as you carry me along.

Take me to the green valley and lay the sod o-er me,

For I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.”


I can’t say why my father had saved the words to this song, but a typed copy was amongst his paperwork which I recently cleared. It struck a chord with me, because it seemed to relate to my father who was a very principled man. It conveys that, as a counterpoint to his playful, teasing side – he enjoyed a drink with friends or a joke of a saucy nature – his code of honour was very strong.

I know he felt the imprint of any mis-steps he’d taken for the rest of his life – I think plenty of us do. He took some wrong turns with his career, he could be hot headed and outspoken when he should have kept his own counsel. Right to the end of his life he beat himself up over moments where he lost his temper, hadn’t given enough support to loved ones, or failed to guide them in the best direction.

I know my father had regrets but in my opinion it’s too harsh to judge yourself for shortfalls in how you nurture or advise others, because the result’s very quickly out of your hands. In the end a person can only take charge of their own life, the decisions they make and the paths they take.

No matter how true the concept: “what other people think of me is none of my business,” I think we are all haunted by our past mistakes.

This post is submitted to the writing meme #4Thoughts_Fiction hosted by the site IfSexMatters – if adult content doesn’t offend, why not visit to see what others have linked up : the prompt is Haunted.



4Thoughts

Don’t Let Him In (part 13)

This is the chilling finale of a spooky serial – please use the menu to read the earlier parts for the full effect.

[We join our hero J in a dream encounter. He’s trying to escape Danny who has been hypnotising children into a zombie state.]

Panting hard, and gripped with fear, J stood hunched over but faced his pursuer. He bent slightly at the waist to alleviate the grasping, vice-like stitch produced by running full-tilt.   Danny reached the bank of the lake, and stood knee-deep in reeds, glaring at J with menace.  J kept his head low, watching Danny via his reflection, rather than looking at him directly.

“You’re gonna regret interfering kid!” Danny’s voice was loaded with fury.  “You haven’t a clue what you’re dealing with.”  

He pushed his hood back from his face, revealing skin which was eerily pale in the moonlight. Although not wearing his clown make-up, he must use an eye-liner because his eyes seemed huge, dominating his face.  

“You won’t get the better of me.  I can’t stop now, I have too much to do.  My power is growing.  No-one will miss those brats, they were weak and ineffectual.  I can achieve so much more.”

As he spoke he glared at J, his focus never wavering. Even observing him via his reflection, J felt unable to look away.  There was an uncomfortable feeling from staring at Danny, but something other compelled him. J was required to look at him, deep in his dark, unblinking eyes. J began to relax, allowing his body to drop its guard.  He could hear Danny talking, but the words no longer made sense. A buzzing sound was building in his head and simultaneously he felt rather heavy and tired.  There seemed no reason why he was standing by the lake; it would be so much nicer to sit down, perhaps even lie down, because he was very, very tired. As if weighted with lead, his eyelids yearned to droop and close, yet something in the buzzing made him keep focusing on the pale boy’s face, upside down on the surface of the water

At that moment the moon went behind the clouds. In the ensuing darkness Danny’s reflection disappeared as if a switch had been flicked, and his hypnotic eye-contact with J was broken.  J gasped a breath in surprise, it was as if he’d been plunged into icy water.  Snapping out of the trance in a nano-second he realised that watching a reflection of Danny had offered no protection at all, he’d been moments away from becoming a successfully hypnotised zombie.

Danny, however, still chanted his mystic words and used his trance-inducing stare. He had failed to notice that his intended subject was no longer under his influence.  He continued to recite and stare, while moving his feet ever closer to the edge of the deep, still lake.  He stumbled a little which was his undoing, because his wobble shifted his point of focus as he struggled to regain his balance.  He continued his mesmerising routine, but now – as the moon pulled free of the clouds – he was looking at his own reflection in the lake.  

Danny’s droning speech continued and his eyes were unblinking.  J, however, stuck his fingers in his ears and turned his head to the side so that he was only aware of his pursuer from his peripheral vision.  

No longer hearing Danny’s words, J wasn’t pulled into a trance as he had been before.  From the corner of his eye he observed that the older boy continued creeping forwards, the water at the lakeside was now lapping over his black trainers.  J tensed, suspecting the crazy fool was trying to reach him by wading through the water. Without knowing how deep the lake was, it seemed an extreme plan.  

He blinked and rubbed his eyes, it was hard to watch without looking directly.  Without his fingers blocking his ears, he detected a less commanding tone in Danny’s speech than before, and sounded almost sleepy.  He had crept further forward and was, shockingly, thigh-deep in the water.  J could hardly imagine he was still being chased, instead it seemed that Danny was in a trance.  J risked a direct look, and what he saw amazed him.  Danny’s eyes were locked onto the eyes in his own reflection.  His lips were moving, reciting whatever he usually did to bring vulnerable children under his influence, but he was accidentally hypnotising himself!  

Danny chose that moment to bend at the waist so his upper torso came forward, his face was almost in the water!

J gasped in shock. “Stop!  Wait!” he called, but Danny took no notice.

Smoothly, calmly, as if it was the most obvious thing to do, Danny sank his face into the water.

The sky went dark again, thick clouds obscuring the moon, but even in the reduced visibility, J stumbled forward to help.  His legs sank into the achingly cold water and he strode forward with big, slow steps, feeling the drag and suck of the black lake around his lower limbs.  He still couldn’t see a thing, the moon remained behind a blanket of cloud, but he knew the direction to head.  

J swirled his hands blindly in the water, feeling the occasional tickle of water weeds, but no arms or legs to grab onto.  J began to panic, how much time had passed? When the moon broke through again, he was able to see more clearly.  But there was no trace of Danny.  

J was standing right where Danny had sunk into the water, but the older boy had disappeared without a trace.  He scanned the lake’s surface all around while his bleak feeling escalated. There was nothing to be seen.  Apart from the ripples that his movements were making, the lake was smooth as glass and silent.  

Silent as the grave’ was the ghoulish phrase which popped into his head.

J’s electronic alarm blurted which jolted him awake.  His body felt stiff and cold and, as he swung his feet out of bed, he saw they were scratched, scraped. His feet were sore, the toenails were encrusted with dirt.  He’d need to get showered before his Mum saw the state of them, but first there was something he had to check.  

J tiptoed onto the landing and put his head round Lulu’s bedroom door. His heart lurched with relief.  His sister was sitting on their mother’s lap, arms wrapped around her neck, talking softly.  His Mum looked up and, catching his eye, she smiled.

“Lulu would like boiled eggs and soldiers for breakfast.” she told him.  

He grinned and backed out of the room. Around the lump that was suddenly in his throat, he called downstairs to his dad with the food order.  Next minute Dad thundered up the stairs to join Mum and Lulu in the bedroom.  J smiled and rubbed his head, padding carefully to the bathroom to grab a shower, a bubble of joy lodged in his chest.

Sunday rolled around, sunny and mild. J was clipping the lead onto the dog’s collar, preparing to take her for a romp in the woods and fields, when  Lulu dashed into the hall. She skidded to a halt by the rack of wellies and outdoor shoes.

“Can I come?” she asked, looking at him with pleading eyes. She began sliding her toes into pink glittery boots.

“OK,” said J – everyone was spoiling Lulu this week, they were so pleased to have her back to her normal, cheeky self.

“I hold the treats J,” she told him firmly, reaching up for the bone patterned tin where they stored bacon flavoured bites that the dog loved.

He smiled to himself and grabbed bags and a tennis ball before they set off.  The dog was excited to get going and fairly dragged him along the paths towards the wood.  Lulu kept up a stream of little girl chatter, J listened, but an answer wasn’t required very often.  When they came to the fork in the path which led to the lake, their dog dragged them towards it. She loved to paddle round the edge of the water.

J approached the lake with great trepidation.  It was the last place he’d ‘dream’ encountered Danny, yet nothing had been seen of him since.  J felt guilty to play any part in the boy’s disappearance, but he was glad the danger he presented was removed.  Not only had his sister returned to normal, but he’d seen Katie Thompson around school, back to her bright, perky, pre-hypnotised self.  

The dog pulled to be let off and scamper about, but J couldn’t shake a feeling of foreboding. Lulu sneaked her smaller hand into his.

“I don’t like this place,” she said and sidled up close.

“Nor me Lulu,”  he replied, calling the dog back.  “Let’s take this crazy hound to the fields, shall we?”

He called and tugged on the lead, while Lulu held out a treat which the dog vacuumed from her fingers with enthusiasm.  Casting one last, wary glance at the surface of the lake and the dark secret it hid, J and Lulu walked away.