Tag Archives: fantasy

Bonnie and the Chico (3)

A sci-fi children’s story about a girl living on a space station with an automated ‘nanny’ robot (written in 1974)

Guest Author Pamela Cleaver

Image of a cute robot from the stock pictures on Pixabay

Read Part 1 and Part 2 first, or dive in here.

Not long after the chico had to step in for her mother, and recount a bedtime story, Bonnie had her eleventh birthday which meant that she had to take her examinations which would decide her future career and what sort of training she should have. There were physical tests, oral tests and written tests and Bonnie was very nervous about what the outcome would be. The chico accompanied her to the education centre but was not allowed to go with her into to examination room and Bonnie had a chilly feeling when she knew that she would have to rely on herself alone. There would be no memory banks to help her this time.

The tests were gruelling and the papers hard. For once Bonnie gave every bit of her attention to her work and concentrated as never before to marshal the facts and express herself clearly. She did not want to leave her parents who surrounded her with love and understanding and go to live among strangers and above all, she did not want to leave her chico, who now seemed almost like another part of herself.

Her mother was waiting for her when she got home after the exams. “Do you think you did well, dear?”

“It’s hard to tell,” said Bonnie with a sigh, “but we shall know tomorrow when we hear the results.”

The chico was behaving strangely. He was rolling back and forth across the room on his castors, he was whirring and clicking as if he had got hiccups. Mrs Aldridge gave him a startled look. If he had been human, she would have said he was pacing up and down muttering to himself, the very picture of nervous anxiety – but she knew this could not be for robots have no emotions. She made a mental not to get a cybernetic expert to check him over.

Next day, Bonnie and Mrs Aldridge had an appointment at the education centre to see Bonnie’s teacher and hear the results of the exam. As her mother was coming too, Bonnie did not have to take the chico with her. When she told him to stay in her room and wait until she got back, she thought she heard a curious humming noise coming from the robot, almost like the buzzing of an angry insect.

At the education centre, Bonnie and Mrs Aldridge were greeted by a beaming teacher. “Well Bonnie,” she said, “you did better than I dared to hope. There is no question now of you having to go to earth to boarding school. Bonnie has been selected to be a story-teller Mrs Aldridge,” she explained to Bonnie’s mother. “We always knew that Bonnie had a vivid imagination but it was very undisciplined and unsuited to our times. Many of the stories that she has written in the past have been totally irrelevant to modern society, but in her exam she produced a piece of work that combined the old with the new, that interpreted old ideas in a new way.

“We anticipate that she will become the creator of talking books and video-tapes. Of course she will need special training but we can have the tapes of the course sent here and she can continue to work at home. What do you think of that Bonnie?”

Bonnie was dazed. She managed to say something appropriate and went off into a rosy dream of the future, scarcely hearing what her mother and teacher were saying as they discussed her future in greater detail.

On their way home, Mrs Aldridge asked Bonnie about the story that had so impressed the examiners.

“You see, Mum, I often used to write fairy tales for my homework,” she said, “sometimes ones you had told me and sometimes ones I made up myself. The teacher used to correct them severely. I was always being told that princes and dragons had no place in today’s world, so in my exam I was very careful. Do you remember the time you couldn’t get home and the chico told me a fairy tale? I explained how he had translated all the olden-day, fairy tale things into modern ones. Well, I wrote that story just as he told it to me.”

“But Bonnie, it was the chico’s story that got you through your exam not one of your own. What will you do when he is not there beside you to convert the stories?”

“Oh I can do it myself now,” said Bonnie confidently, “I see exactly how he did it. Anyway, there will be lots of time for you to tell him and me fairy tales and for him to retell them in his own way. That will give me plenty of ideas.”

When they got home, Bonnie rushed to her room to tell the chico what had happened, while Mrs Aldridge put through a video call to her husband to tell him the good news. While Bonnie told the chico everything that had happened, his circuits whirred and clicked smoothly and contentedly. When she had finished, Bonnie gave the chico a big hug round his metal chest, although she feared he would not know how to interpret it.

“Oh Chico,” she said, “I’m so happy. I shall be able to hear the stories the old way from Mummy and the new way from you and I shan’t have to leave you for ages. You will still be my very own, lovable Chico. I do love you Chico, although I don’t suppose your circuits will understand that.”

But they obviously did for the chico said in his metallic voice, “And we shall all live happily ever after!”

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

A Witch in Time (2)

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

This concludes a story written in by my mother under the pen name Emma Payne. It’s pitched at the YA market and pre-dates the Harry Potter inspired flurry of supernatural tales. Previously 10-year-old Melina began to suspect that the things which made her mum perfect might have a catch, what if she was a witch! Start with Part 1 or read from here.

The final straw came when Miss Jeffers started to cast the form play. I had hoped to be the Princess, but Miss Jeffers chose Lucy Merkon. I was given the part of a lady in waiting, and Lucy’s understudy.

Lucy and I were old enemies, which made it worse. She turned round, her face a mixture of triumph and spite and poked her tongue out. I was furious and when I got home I told Mum.

“That Lucy Merkon! I’ve never liked her,” Mum said, “you’d make a far better princess. It would serve Lucy right if she fell ill and you took over.”

“She never so much as catches a cold,” I said gloomily.

“She might catch something worse,” Mum said darkly.

I thought no more about it until Mum was proved right, as usual. Lucy developed a rash and a fever after just three rehearsals, so I took over the part.

When I told Mum that Miss Jeffers said the doctor was baffled by Lucy’s symptoms, I caught her smiling and it gave me a horrible thought. Had Mum cast a spell on Lucy?

Next day when Mum was at the shops, I went into the kitchen to look at the strange book again: I wanted to compare the words with the witches’ scene in Macbeth. ‘Grockle the muncheon and slowly plebide the turlow’ did not sound much like ‘eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and toe of dog,” but then, perhaps Shakespeare had been guessing.

The book wasn’t on the shelf, so I began to rummage in other drawers in the kitchen. At the back of the knife drawer I found a strange little figure sculpted in pastry and embedded with seeds that made it look horribly spotty. I picked it up and tied round its neck with green embroidery silk was a label which read Lucy Merkon.

I dropped the figure back into the drawer as if it were red hot. That did it! Mum’s witchcraft was really out of hand now. Mrs Bearman had been talking wildly about witches and spells recently, she’d also been giving Mum strange looks. I didn’t think anyone believed in witchcraft nowadays, but the part of East Anglia where we lived historically had a strong witch tradition. It must have been closer to the surface than I knew, for that afternoon in the playground, Will Gandy said, “I hear your mother’s put a spell on my aunt and her dog. She’d better take it off or I’ll make you suffer. You’re a witch’s child.”

His friends began to chant, “Witch’s child, witch’s child,” and soon a menacing group had gathered. I was scared and began to cry, frightened as much for Mum as for myself. I burst out of the circle, through the school gate and ran home, where I threw myself sobbing into Mum’s arms. I told her what they had said.

“And don’t try to tell me it isn’t true, because I know it is.” I managed to say between hiccoughing sobs.

She hugged me tightly. “I’m not a bad witch, Melina.”

“But you are,” I wailed. “There’s Harold and Mrs Bearman and now Lucy.” I told her I’d found the strange book and the pastry person. “How come you’re a witch?” 

“It’s complicated, but I’ll try to explain. Have you ever thought what would have happened if some important event in history had turned out differently? If Richard III had won the battle of Bosworth, there would have been no Tudor kings.  Supposed America hadn’t fought the War of Independence and it had remained English, history would tell a different story, wouldn’t it?”

I nodded, I loved history, but I couldn’t see where this was leading us.

“Imagine time is like a huge tree, with the creation of the world the thick part of the trunk at the bottom. Each time an event occurs, that could have two possible outcomes, the tree branches so the two results exist as branches of equal thickness. Then when another crisis moment comes, the tree branches again.

“Each of those branches is another world or timeline. Beside the world where William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings, there is an alternative world where King Harold won.

“My world had the same history as yours until 1590. In that year Elizabeth I was queen of England and James VI king of Scotland. James had not yet married and his heir was Francis Stuart, earl of Bothwell, who was secretly leader of the Scottish witches. Have you ever heard of the Plot of the North Berwick witches?”

I shook my head.

“No? Well it’s only a footnote in your history books because it failed in your timeline, but in mine it succeeded. Three covens of witches, under Francis Stuart’s guidance, raised a storm that drowned the King as he was bringing his new queen home from Denmark. So in my world Bothwell became King Francis I and witchcraft became an accepted way of life.

“People with second sight and people who could harness magic were encouraged, instead of being hunted down and burned as they were in your timeline. We developed communication by mind-power and human energy instead of electricity. Transport was achieved by focussing minds instead of using engines. People learned to work with animals. America was colonised by traders rather than persecuted religious minorities. Hosts of other things were different.

“I’m not saying my world was perfect, trouble was caused by greed and fear because humanity is fallible, but I liked my world better than this one.”

“If you liked it so much, what made you leave?” I asked.

Mum laughed. “I didn’t mean to. It happened by mistake. I was working on a space-travel project that involved the pooling of mind power. I was using my technical manual (the ‘spell’ book you found) and was endeavouring to add the force of my mind to that of many others. Accidentally I turned over two pages, saying half of one formula and half of another. That sent me sideways in time and into your world. While I was trying to figure out how to get back, I had to blend into this world. Then I met your dad and fell in love, so I stopped searching for a way back. When you were born my decision to stay in this world was made.

“At first I tried to live by this world’s rules, but a little bit of witchcraft made life so much easier. I used my powers sparingly and thought no-one would know. But I didn’t fool you and it seems I’ve now made other people suspicious. I need to think how to correct this.

“Why don’t you reverse the spells, Mum? That would take the pressure off.”

Her eyes lit up. “I can do better than that, I’ll make them forget and we can start afresh.”

“Wonderful,” I said “and you must promise not to use spells any more.”

“Not even to help in the house?” she said wistfully.

“We-ell ,” I said wavering, “little spells for cooking and cleaning should go unnoticed.”

“Perfect,” she said smiling, “and I can teach you spells, you’d be easy to train, being half witch.”

“No thanks, I prefer to stay the way I am.”

Mum laughed and went off to undo the magical mayhem she’d caused, while I went upstairs to do my homework. I’d forgotten, until I opened my bedroom door, that I’d rushed out that morning and left my room looking as if a tornado had struck.

“Oh fiddlesticks,” I said to myself, “I wish I could use a little magic to tidy this mess.”

There was a noise like a rushing wind and my clothes lifted off the floor and bed to arranged themselves tidily in the open wardrobe. Books floated back onto shelves and the duvet shook itself and spread neatly on the bed.

I sat down, overcome by shock. I was stunned, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been. They say blood will out and I was, after all, a witch’s daughter.

THE END

A Witch in Time

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

I’ve mentioned in my ‘why write’ page that my mother was a writer. Here’s a story which she wrote under her pen name Emma Payne. Pitched at the YA market it was written before Harry Potter influenced so many authors of fiction. I’ve made a couple of tweaks to keep the plot current. Part 1 is here, the conclusion will follow.

My mother was a witch, but I had no clue until I was ten. Up to that age, children expect their parents to be all powerful, but after that, they begin to question.

Mind you, she was a fantastic mother, she never said “not now dear, I’m busy,” and she was brilliant at inventing games. She could tidy up in a snap as if by magic (which  is probably how she did it) and she ran the house without any fuss or bother. She was a great companion and she always took my side in any quarrels. She kept her promises and her forecasts always came true. I thought she was perfect until the fateful day I discovered her secret.

It was an autumn afternoon when Miss Jeffers sent us home from school early because she had a sick headache. On the way home, scuffing through piles of dead leaves, I planned to play a trick on Mum.

I opened the door soundlessly. The smell of freshly baked cakes drifted through the kitchen door, which was ajar. I crept across the hall and peeped in. Where was Mum? I saw a basin on the counter with a wooden spoon stirring vigorously, but no-one was holding it! I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Then I saw her: she was floating in the  air just below the ceiling, totally relaxed as if she was lying down. Jason, our cat was floating beside her, washing his paws. I watched in disbelief as a tray of cakes wafted out of the oven and arranged themselves on a wire tray, while Mum drifted above them. That was my first clue that she was a witch!

I slammed the front door and stamped noisily. When I entered the kitchen, Mum was standing by the cakes spooning icing over them while Jason rubbed himself against her legs.

Mum turned round with a welcoming smile. She offered me a cake to try while I explained about Miss Jeffers.

“Never mind, Melina,” she said. “I guarantee she’ll be well tomorrow.”

[“How?” I wanted to yell, “by magic?”]

After that I began to watch her more closely.

That evening she and Dad and I were sitting round the fireplace. We were arguing about the age of different types of rock. Dad said sandstone was older than chalk, but Mum disagreed. I just sat there like a spectator at a tennis match.

“Best not to argue with her Dad,” I warned, “she’s always right.”

Dad grinned. “I bet a box of those fancy chocolates you love to a tub of my favourite ice cream that I’m right.”

Mum almost purred. “Mmm, I can practically taste those chocolates. Melina run and get your tablet so that we can settle this. You left it beside the cook books.”

On the side in the kitchen, when I went to get my iPad, I saw that a thin book had almost slipped off the shelf. As I rescued it, I noticed it had a strange iridescent cover and the pages were smoother and shinier than paper, but it was the text that stopped me in my tracks.

‘After this,’ (it said) ‘grockle the muncheon and slowly plebide the turlow; this should create a smooth felox without unsightly veblons.’

It had to be a spell! This confirmed my suspicious, she was a witch.

At that moment she called out. “Having trouble, Melina?”

I jumped guiltily, and grabbed my tablet. “It’s OK, I’ve found it.”

I don’t remember the outcome of the argument, I went to bed early to think about my awful discovery.  There might be a simple explanation but I was strangely shy about asking. As she only did good things, I concluded it didn’t really matter; but I had to think again next day.

Mrs Bearman, our next door neighbour had a rather fat pug called Harold, who was the darling of her heart. Jason, our cat, teased him by using their garden as a shortcut, knowing he could outrun the breathless, overfed pug. However, on this occasion Jason misjudged his advantage and the pug’s snapping teeth connected with the tip of Jason’s tail. Jason howled and ran to Mum for comfort. She soothed the cat while saying dreadful things about the pug.

Soon after this, Harold lost his voice. When he barked, no sounds came out. I heard Mrs Bearman telling another neighbour that Harold seemed to be bewitched.

Bewitched! If that was the case I knew who had cast the spell, and was frantic in case Mrs Bearman guessed too. When I went into the kitchen to try and persuade Mum to remove the spell by hinting to her, I’m almost sure the potatoes were taking off their own skins, but I looked again and saw Mum had a potato peeler in her hand.

“Mrs Bearman can’t hear Harold barking any more, she says it’s as if he were bewitched.”

“Nonsense,” said Mum, “she’s just getting a little deaf.” And then she looked out of the window as if struck by a thought.

I sighed and went to help Dad rake up piles of leaves for a bonfire.

“Tell Mrs Bearman I’m planning a bonfire,” he said. “Don’t want to be blamed for getting smuts on her washing.”

She answered the door drying her hands. “Good morning, Melina.”

“Hi,” I was filled with the usual awkwardness at having to hold a conversation with an adult I didn’t know well. “I came to warn you we’re having a bonfire.”

“No, I am not in the choir,” she said haughtily.

She must have misheard. “Dad is having a fire, do you mind?” I said, a little louder.

“No, I do not mind that I am not in the choir. Why are you asking me this?”

“Fire!” I shouted, “fire not choir.”

“Fire?” said Mrs Bearman, alarmed. “Where is the fire? I must fetch Harold.”

I grabbed her hand. Slowly and clearly, with 100% eye contact, I said “Dad – is – having – a – bonfire.”

“Oh,” she was embarrassed. “How silly of me, I misunderstood.”

“How is Harold?” I asked, “is he better?”

“Letter?” she was off again. “Harold didn’t get a letter, who would write to a dog?”

She looked at me pityingly, but it was I who pitied her. I could only blame Mum for her deafness.

[To be continued …]