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The Deadly Game

Picture from Unsplash

The sun was already at its height, yet they had put only 5 miles between them and danger.

Peelo, the dwarf, was beginning to tire: his short legs were not designed for running. Lisette was bronzed and fit but the scene at the stone sacrifice had shaken her badly and impaired her ability to think, she was relying on Peelo and Mikal to lead her to safety. Peelo knew the way to the castle and had promised he would take her there, Mikal had offered the protection of his sword. They all knew that on the way there would be many hazards.

“Let’s stop a minute,” Lisette said. “I’ve got a stitch.” She had seen the strained expression on the dwarf’s face and knew he needed a respite, but would be too proud to ask.

Mikal looked up at the sun doubtfully. “We ought to press on if we’re to reach the castle before nightfall.”

“Only a moment,” Lisette pleaded. She rested against a rock and watched the dwarf drawing deep breaths. What a fool she had been to get caught; although she knew that there was an ever-present danger of Trogues jumping out and stealing unwary maidens for sacrifice, she had never thought it would happen to her: it was something that happened to other people. But this morning she had been captured and carried to the stone of sacrifice before she had time to give more than a few frightened squeaks of horrified protest.

The sun had shone on the glinting knives of her captors, and she could smell the blood of the previous sacrifice, making her believe her last hour had come. She had found herself regretting all the things she would never do, all the sights she would never see, when Peelo had flung himself into the midst of the gloating Trogues. In spite of his tiny stature, he had wrought destruction among them with his burling stick and thrown the ceremony into confusion.

While the Trogues’ attention was concentrated on Peelo, Mikal the warrior had sneaked up to cut her bonds and pulled her off the stone. At that, the Trogues had set up a fearful outcry but, between them, Peelo with his burling stick and Mikal with the two-edged sword, had cleared a path, leaving a heap of dead Trogues. Mikal had pulled her along in Peelo’s wake as the dwarf led the way full pelt towards the mountains.

Peelo had got his breath back. “Come on,” he said, “we’ve got to go. We’ll take this path,” he pointed to a narrow ledge that ran round the side of a rocky outcrop and seemed to lead to the summit of one of the major peaks.

“Must we?” Lisette asked fearfully. “I’m terrified of heights.”

“Peelo is right,” said Mikal, “if we take the lower road, we’ll be waylaid by the helio-monsters. I’ve used all my magi petards and only have my sword. It isn’t much defence against a helio-monster, and neither is Peelo’s burling stick.”

“But the high road goes through the Blurdles’ lands,” Lisette protested, “they’re almost as savage.”

“This is not the time to argue,” said Peelo, “just follow me. You ought to be thankful Mikal and I were passing and saved you from the Trogues. Rest assured, Mikal’s sword and my burling stick are equal to most hazards we could meet on the high road.”

Mikal turned to her. “Have you no weapons for attack or defence?”

“I’ve a cloak of invisibility here in my pouch. It can only be used three times before it loses its power, so we must save it for a real emergency.”

The journey along the high road was as difficult as Lisette had feared.  A lightning bolt came down but luckily missed them. Twice they were attacked by marauding Blurdles, but Mikal’s sword was more than a match for their tiny darts.

At one awkward place, the ledge dwindled to almost nothing. Lisette was struck rigid with fear and took a careless step which nearly caused her to fall, but just in time Mikal’s strong arm bore her up.

Light was beginning to fade but the castle was in sight when Peelo, who was leading, turned and put a finger to his lips. He whispered that there was a sharp-eyed Mindeldrayg lying across the path which, if it saw them, would certainly sting them to death.

Lisette produced the cape of invisibility from her pouch and handed it to Peelo. The dwarf donned it and crept past the Mideldrayg. Once safely out of reach, he removed the cape, carefully wrapped it round a stone and threw it back to his waiting companions. It was deftly caught by Mikal who repeated the manoeuvre and then threw the cloak back to Lisette.

The dwarf and the warrior watched in horror as Lisette fumbled the catch. The cloak flew past her and floated away, down the side of the mountain. Lisette panicked. She tried to rush the Mindeldrayg, but it was no good. As soon as she came within the grey scaly creature’s sightline, she was done for. Its long tongue flicked out, puncturing the skin of her upper arm, injecting venom. She staggered and fell, crashing down the mountain to her death.

“It’s not fair,” Ellen whined at her brother once the die rolled to a stop showing a score of 1, which meant her health dropped to zero. “You always make me be the rotten maiden and it’s really hard for her to win.”

“Don’t be a sore loser,” he said scornfully, “you were Peelo as well. I was only Mikal.”

“And game master,” Ellen sulked. “It’s about time we tried another adventure. I’m sick of this one. Let’s start a campaign with different characters – and this time I refuse to be the damsel.”

Guest Written By Pamela Cleaver

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Hide Away [4]

In this piece of fiction Ruby, a young woman, has forged a friendship with Henry, a retired gentleman who lives up her street. Unfortunately Henry has a bad fall. [Read Parts 1, 2 and 3]

In this episode Ruby finds a way to say farewell to Henry and all he has meant to her.

Mabel was wearing a cosy knit jumper and I tucked my hair under a warm hat before I clipped on her lead ready for her walk. As I crossed on the common, watching my little dog sniff twigs and scamper on the grass, my mind wandered to Henry’s funeral a few days ago. 

It had been a quiet affair, held at the local crematorium and attended by a handful of people, most of whom I knew from the pub or the village shop. I suppose I had expected to see the numbers swelled by acquaintances from days gone by, friends he’d made with Audrey, from the place they’d lived when Bruce was a boy; I’d felt a little disappointed on Henry’s behalf. He was such a warm, open man, it seemed a weak representation of the connections he must have made.

The hymns were stirring. I felt confident that Henry had left instructions that we should remember him while singing something “we could get their teeth into.” I could barely stem the flow of silent tears when the pastor read the obituary which presumably Bruce had compiled. 

Henry and Audrey had been so young when they had married, but their love had stood the test of time. I could hear his voice in my head telling stories of their happy life together, he was always so respectful of the woman who’d stood beside him for nearly fifty years. When their family became three, they’d sent Bruce to school, spent summer holidays at the beach with picnics and eaten Christmas dinners together, pulling crackers and wearing paper crowns.

When the mourners adjourned to admire Henry’s floral tributes in the garden of rest I had laid down my simple posy of flowers and greenery, picked from my own garden that morning. That was a legacy Henry had left, the borders he’d helped me dig were now planted with a mixture of bulbs and cuttings from his own plot. He’d shown me how to stake sweet peas and where to site spring flowers so that they were protected from the worst frosts. I could look out of my kitchen window anytime and be reminded of my old friend. I would enjoy the year round colour from flowers and shrubs that Henry had helped me plant.

People were milling around, some offered condolences to Bruce. I wondered how soon I could leave without looking impolite. Catching Bruce’s eye I smiled weakly, before heading to my car, a weight of emptiness settled around my shoulders. As I drove to work it had begun to rain; tears for my friend, which had seemed appropriate.

  • – – –

“C’mon Mabel,” I called my dog now. “time to go.”

I was low-level dreading this. Bruce had called by earlier in the week, suggesting I go round to Henry’s house one last time, before the house clearance firm came.

“Take whatever you like, Ruby,” he’d told me. “I’ve already got Mum’s jewellery and a few things to remind me of Mum and Dad. They kept so much stuff, frugality bred from wartime attitudes I suppose. It all seems like junk to me, but if there is anything you can use, you’re welcome to it.”

Mabel was quite excited, her little stumpy tail was wagging as I slid my key into the lock for the last time.

“Henry’s not here, sweetie,” I spoke to her softly, but she shot off, investigating all the corners of his cosy living room. I unbuttoned my coat, but kept it on, along with my hat, the heating had been turned off since Bruce returned to Spain.

I gazed sadly at the shelf of photographs in their frames: Audrey’s arm round Bruce, formal in his scout’s uniform, Henry and Audrey on their wedding day, Henry standing with hands on his hips and their dog Archie at his feet. I was shocked Bruce didn’t seem to have taken any of the pictures proudly displayed – I picked up the one of Henry with the dog and put it in the cloth bag I’d brought.

Mabel had curled up on the armchair that she’d often shared with Henry, so I moved quietly round downstairs, selecting some items which held memories of my old friend. I opened a kitchen cupboard and took out the mug he always gave me when I came round for coffee, and the dish he liked to use for apple pie or crumble. 

From his bookcase, stocked with the detective novels he’d loved to read, I removed his book on mushrooms, and another he used for identifying birds – these brought back many happy memories. There were a couple of saucy books there too, James Hadley Chase with scantily clad girls holding guns on their covers. You old dog Henry I thought, and this made me chuckle.  

The red address book was near the telephone, on top of some folders which were labelled as household bills. There’s a lot to sort out when somebody dies, and I didn’t envy Bruce the task of wrapping up Henry’s affairs, although I imagined he’d left things pretty neat.

I opened the back door and stepped out into the damp garden. Unlocking the garden shed I got his fork down from its place on the wall, then I put it by the garden gate so I could collect it when I left. Once back in the kitchen I returned the shed key to its hook, everything was so orderly and logical, so very Henry.

I lifted Mabel so that I could sit in her warm spot on the chair, settling her back on my lap. One last time I wanted to enjoy this room and think back on happier times.

“Fancy a coffee Ruby?” I could imagine Henry’s low voice drifting out of the kitchen while the kettle boiled noisily. How I longed for the sound of Henry shuffling around getting out his favourite ginger biscuits while telling me about the birds he’d seen in the garden.

My eyes drifted around my surroundings, the familiar pictures on the walls, horse brasses decorated the beam over the fireplace and there was dictionary to the right of the armchair where he sat to complete the crossword. His glasses lay on top in their case and his old slippers were tucked under the edge of a footstool. That was a nice reminder of both Henry and Audrey, as I knew she had embroidered the rosy pattern on its top. I resolved to take the stool home. 

Making a mental image of this room and all the comforts with which Henry had surrounded himself, I hugged Mabel before setting her on the floor. She shook and stretched, her fore-paws long and her rear in the air. It was then that I noticed some newspaper in the fireplace, alongside an empty matchbox. I guessed Bruce had intended to burn them but been foiled by lack of matches – I’m not usually nosy but my curiosity was piqued.

I bent and picked up the cuttings. Yellowed and old, they felt brittle in my hands. They referred to a court case, and Bruce’s name jumped out at me, alongside the school he’d attended. I moved to the window to better read the faded newsprint. 19 year old Bruce had stolen from the village raffle funds, helping himself to the money from ticket sales. It claimed he had access to the parish secretary’s office when he worked at her house doing odd jobs. The amount of money he’d stolen was not a lot by today’s standards, but it must have been signifcant back then.

My heart beat fast as I scoured the other articles. One interviewed the parish secretary, Fenella Benton, who was distraught, shocked that a boy from such a nice family, could be so untrustworthy. I could see her point, when you knew Henry, you hardly expected his son to have sticky fingers.

“Oh Henry,” I shook my head, “you must have felt so ashamed.”

Placing the cuttings into my bag with the photos and other mementos, I fastened Mabel’s lead and tucked the footstool under my arm. 

“Goodbye Henry,” I told the empty room before I closed the front door. It was an impossible  juggle to carry the garden fork too, so I took Mabel home, then returned to collect it. My thoughts were focused on these new facts, considering what impact they’d had on my old friend.

Perhaps that’s why, when he and Audrey moved to this town, he had kept to himself. Having been the subject of gossip would make a person more circumspect next time around. It explained why Bruce hadn’t reached out to old friends of his parents’ when arranging the funeral.

I took the heavy, wooden handled fork round the side of my house and into the back garden. With a force that reflected my anger on Henry’s behalf, I sank it deep into a flower bed. It looked as if someone, in the middle of turning the soil, had abandoned it – good. It could stay there as my own memorial to Henry.

It wasn’t until the weekend that I recalled Henry’s odd remark. I was standing in my kitchen, drinking my first coffee from the mug I’d brought from his house.

“It was you who realised that something was off,” he’d said to me when I visited him in hospital. That strange conversation where I was sure Henry had mistaken me for someone else, probably Audrey. “You wondered how he could afford that holiday.” The pieces now fell into place, his parents had their suspicions.

Knowing Henry as I did, I imagined he’d found his son’s transgression hard to forgive and forget, but perhaps Audrey had managed to gloss over, or find excuses for it. Henry had implied they didn’t see eye to eye on their son’s conduct. 

My question was why keep the newspaper cuttings when they’d done so much to put the event behind them? Bruce had obviously wanted to erase the memories. If there had been matches in the box I’d have never discovered this secret. I felt vindicated that I hadn’t warmed to him.

Gazing at my garden over the rim of the coffee cup, I noticed a robin with a bright red breast, who alighted on the handle of Henry’s gardening fork. He admired the garden from his vantage point; cocking his head, with bright little eyes he seemed to watch me through the window.

“You were absolutely right Henry,” I mused, looking at the robin, “the truth always comes out.”

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Reviewing The Garden of Lost & Found

Book Review : The Garden of Lost and Found by Harriet Evans

The strongest influence over every element in this book is an appreciation of beauty. Its inextricably woven around the passions of the people who live within its pages and it bursts out of the beautiful, vivid descriptions of art, horticulture and architecture which are intrinsic in telling the story.

It’s a rolling family saga, which begins at a pivotal, dramatic moment; feted artist Ned Horner, struggling with grief and the Spanish flu (which was sweeping the country) destroys his most famous painting, The Garden of Lost and Found, to the horror of his wife Lydie, and renders them bankrupt.

It leaps from early 1900s to 2014, introducing Juliette, Ned and Lydie’s great granddaughter. She’s a fine art expert whose life is made chaotic by the juggle of motherhood and work within the confines of a failing marriage. Barely keeping her own head above water, she is ill equipped to support her eldest daughter who is struggling with her own issues.

As the book continues, rolling back to Edwardian times so that the Juliette’s ancestry can be explored, it reveals a tight knit family bond is between two Desart sisters and their brother, pitting themselves against abuse at the hand of their twisted, vengeful governess. Yet despite some desperate moments love blossoms and their lives are touched with its beauty. Young artists and architects cling together, forming a supportive network, gradually eking out some success to enhance their lives.

Returning to the present, Juliette’s life changes quite dramatically as the result of events out of her control. On many occasions it’s unclear if she’s made sound choices for herself and her young family. However returning to the ancestral home seems to have a draw she’s powerless to resist, the house itself seems to possess healing properties for Juliette’s family, as does the gradual sweeping away of anything which conceals the real truth.

I loved the author’s descriptive passages relating to the beautifully detailed arts and crafts interiors and the gloriously vibrant borders and lawns which surround Nightingale House, finding them both soothing and uplifting to read. A counterbalance to witnessing Juliette’s struggles with choking weeds, heating bills and stopping tiles sliding off the roof in her efforts to restore the place to some of its former glory. What secrets will be uncovered and which relationships will survive the transformation?

This was an epic saga told with great pace and appreciation for setting as well as characters and action. I always enjoy stories which take the reader back in time to shed light on the present. This had plenty of likeable players with twists and turns to keep me entertained: giddy highs and crushing lows. However, with relatable inevitability, life moves on, love supports and secrets never remain entirely hidden.

Content Warning: This book contains themes of child abuse, social media bullying, and tragedy.

I listened to this novel on Audible but it can be purchased from booksellers too.

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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 [3]

Image from Pixabay

In this piece of fiction we meet Ruby, a young woman who has forged a friendship with Henry, a retired gentleman who lives up her street. When Henry has a fall which diminishes his health, she contacts his only son and visits him in hospital. Read Part 1 and Part 2 then continue …

How weary I felt when I got the call I’d been dreading about Henry from the hospital. I stood numbly, tears swimming in my eyes, as Mabel gambolled blithely around. She was sniffing leaves and tufts of grass on the common, completely unaware that one of her favourite humans was no longer alive. It made no difference that Henry’s death had in-part been expected, I still felt as if someone had chopped me off at the knees so I didn’t know what to do with myself. How could birds still be singing and people carrying out their daily business when my charming friend had shuffled off his mortal coil and was drifting about in the ether?

I clipped on Mabel’s lead and we walked home down the road. Of course I broke down in tears when I passed Henry’s house. It looked the same as always, with the curtains open and it was easy to imagine he was in his kitchen, boiling the kettle for his cup of tea and poached eggs for breakfast. I comforted myself by conjuring up an image of Henry in the slightly scruffy olive green cardigan and patched trousers that he always wore for gardening. Mabel slowed in the gateway and looked up at me hopefully.

“Not today sweetie,” I told her, stifling a sob caused by the realisation that the truth answer was, never again Mabel.

Once home I toyed with the idea of calling in sick, already a headache was tightening my temples, but I needed distraction rather than dwelling on the emptiness of a world without Henry. Once Mabel had settled in her dog bed, using her nose to nudge under the fleecy blanket, I applied some lippy then ran a brush through my hair before heading off to work.

When I got home that night, street lights were already casting an amber glow. Many houses had their curtains drawn and the  soft glow of electric light showed in the fanlights above their front doors. Indoors, I’d installed a timer plug, so Mabel never had to sit in the dark. She greeted me with wags and warm licks and I was just pulling her squirming body into a hug when there was a sharp knock.

Immediately Mabel morphed from cuddly companion to fierce protector, scampering towards the front door to deliver a menacing bark. I gave her a steadying look and went to see who it was. On my doorstep stood a middle aged man I did not recognise.

“Ruby Matthews?” he asked.

“Yes.” I was guarded, I hated door to door salesmen.

“I’m Bruce. Henry’s son.”

My brain felt porridge laden, but the penny did drop. “Oh, Henry’s … Bruce … Oh goodness, I’m so sorry for your loss. Would you like to come in?”

I stepped back as I held the door open, inviting Bruce into my home.

“Thank you, yes. It would be good to talk for a few moments.”

Mabel danced around his ankles, doing her best to charm my visitor, but Bruce ignored her and stood awkwardly just inside the room. 

“Can I offer you a drink? Tea? Coffee?”

“Thank you, coffee would be lovely.” Bruce had a soft voice, like Henry’s in timbre but with the edges rubbed off his once classy accent.

As I fussed about in the kitchen making our drinks and putting out biscuits on a plate, I tried to corral my thoughts so that I could ask some sensible questions. Then I carried the mugs into the living room.

“Settle down Mabel,” I chided because I noticed that she was nudging her favourite ball onto Bruce’s knee in an attempt to get him to play.

“The hospital told you he’d … that my father had died?” 

“Yes, they called me this morning.” I answered, reaching down for Mabel, stroking her plush fur for comfort. “Did you manage to see him?” 

“Yes,” Bruce looked at his hands, “for a few hours. But I’m not sure he realised I was there. He was drifting in and out …”

“I’m sure he was comforted to have you there.” 

The silence stretched, both of us thinking about the last time we had seen Henry.

“The funeral – will you have it here?” I blurted.

“I’ll need to check his papers to see if he had a funeral plan.” He stared off to the side. “I wondered if he wanted to be buried next to my Mum.”  Bruce’s voice wobbled then, so I looked away. “I gather you were friends? The hospital says you visited often.”

“Yes,” now it was my turn to fight back emotion. I picked Mabel up and settled her on my lap. “We made friends over this one.” I rubbed her velvety ears. “Your Dad was a genuinely lovely man, I used to visit him and work in his garden. Then, as we were both on our own, he’d come to me for Sunday lunch. I will miss him sharing his home grown fruit and vegetables.”

“I hadn’t seen him for years… not since Mum’s funeral. We weren’t exactly close.” 

Henry had said as much. As I examined Bruce, he seemed pretty composed, but grief struck people differently. To save any awkwardness, I steered things back on topic.

“If you put a notice of his death in the local paper, that should spread the word. His red address book is near the phone, it’s how I called you. That should have numbers of older friends, people from where you used to live.”

For a moment Bruce’s composure slipped and his face blanched under the tan, but he recovered quickly. 

“What’s the name of the local paper?” Pulling out his phone he tapped into its search engine the Bugle, the name of our regional paper. He got to his feet abruptly. “Right, my taxi will be here. Thanks for your help Ruby, and for your kindness to my father.”

“Not at all. Getting to know Henry, – well, the pleasure was all mine. I’m going to miss him.” I followed Bruce and we moved to the front door.  “If you need help with anything else, just ask.”

I watched his figure receding down the street and wondered why he didn’t stay in Henry’s house. Then I shrugged, of course Bruce would have booked into a hotel so that he could visit his sick father in hospital. Now that Henry was gone, it might feel odd to occupy his father’s ‘space’. 

As I cooked my solitary meal, and Mabel tucked into her kibble, I questioned why – when I was so very fond of Henry – I hadn’t warmed to his son at all.

To be continued …

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)

Hide Away [2]

A fictional serialised story about Ruby and her friendship with Henry, a retired gentleman. He’s had a fall and she visits him in hospital. 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 truly didn’t.

Henry drifted back to sleep, leaving me wondering for whom I had been mistaken. 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, he closed his eyes in pleasure as he chewed.

“I can taste the sunshine,” he smiled, and my mind 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, only traces of crumbs left behind. “Just 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 he 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, called the doctor 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 me, Henry 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 this game bird, 8 letters, must begin 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? I waited a while but he didn’t elaborate.

“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’d been alarmed to hear about getting a hiding.

“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 closer 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!” I said.

“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 in a newspaper make my attitude flip 180? But they did, they had, and I felt as if I’d been ambushed. But I’m getting ahead of myself – I haven’t even introduced you to Henry.

I’d lived in my house for about 3 years. I enjoyed a fairly quiet life going to work and fixing-up my home 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 dogs over the years, so we’d chat over the wall if I passed and he was in the garden and Mabel, my pug, would happily delay her walk, wandering through his gate to 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 I’d often 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 had a fall 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, particularly 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 …]