Nice ‘n nasty.

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It was hard to stay “nice”. Sometimes it hurt.

Sarah, her twin had no such qualms, had risen to the top, stepping on whoever dared get in her way. Sometimes Jenny felt like a failure by comparison.

The day had been awful, an argument at home, a put down at the school, nothing was going right. What a birthday!

It slipped out at recess. Her year four pupils had been discussing star signs.

“When’s your birthday, Miss?” an eager voice chimed. Should she lie?

“March 12th.” She hoped they didn’t notice, but they did. Jace caught on right away.

“That’s today! Is it your birthday today?” She nodded. Her eyes moistened as the word caught on and “happy birthday” squeals and songs sped around the playground. it didn’t stop there… Grubby hand written cards appeared, candies wrapped in pages stolen from exercise books and a small bunch of ragged daisies and dandelions appeared on her desk. Best of all was the shy hug from Eisha, the girl that hardly ever spoke.

Back home nestled contentedly with a cup of tea she surveyed her  news feed, predictably full of her sister’s birthday posts, food, wine, luxury presents and false smiles. She grinned into her tea cup. She’d had something better.

“Putting your feet up love?” a voice whispered in her ear. “I managed to get off work early. I felt so bad about this morning. I forgot it was your birthday… thought we could go out, do something.”

“It’s OK, I had the best day ever!”

“Really? I’m so glad… Here … for you.” Embarrassed he thrust a bunch of daffodils into her hands. She knew they were only Tesco, he’d forgotten to take off the label, but to her they were perfect, as all her presents had been.

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strange bonding.

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He had to go – one last time, while he could still make the climb.

His companion was not the best, but everyone else “had commitments”. He’d met him in the park sleeping rough, a turbulent young fella Chase was, with hard, rebellious eyes.  He hadn’t understood but he’d been willing, for the pittance Jim was able to pay, (already sleeping rough, what had he to lose?) He was sullen, but, considerate of Jim’s aging frame, he carried the rucksack, appreciative of the new sleeping bag and use of bed and shower as they prepared.

The slope steepened, the going was harder. Jim had to stop frequently to catch his breath.

“Why are you doing this?” Chase asked. “If I were your age I’d be curled up in an armchair.”

“ You’ll see when we get there.” Chase thought the old duffer mad, but he’d been kind, besides he liked crazy folks, he was half crazy himself. He didn’t care. Help the old duffer up the mountain and maybe he could doss with him for a while after, till things turned sour…

The road lay far behind, the car a matchbox toy. Things were quiet up here. They sat and ate sandwiches feasting their eyes on the growing panorama.

“Wait till we get up.” Jim whispered, “It takes your breath away.” It was beautiful, Chase thought, but not worth this whole expedition – Jim must be in his seventies, maybe more! A cold thought hit. Suppose the old man was to peg out up here, would they hold him accountable? He’d have to leg it if something happened…

Nothing did happen. They camped under the stars, Chase gathering wood, Jim starting the fire. Chase watched the flames as the bacon and sausages sizzled on their sticks and the foil wrapped potatoes steamed. Jim knew what he was doing that’s for sure.

“You must have been a bit of an adventurer when you were young?” Chase ventured. He wasn’t much for conversation, but he was curious.

“You could say that,” Jim beamed. He went on to tell tales of his youth and how he’d found this place. Chase listened entranced. Despite himself he liked the old duffer.

“So why the mountain?”

“I was pretty wild back then. I could be myself up there. It puts everything in perspective, everything is small, seen from up there, only the important things are big – like the sky! … and you can see the horizon…”

They made the summit next afternoon. While not requiring much in the way of hard climbing it had been long and arduous, Jim was exhausted.

“Just help me on that big rock up there and I’ll rest a while.” Chase was concerned. Shedding the pack he picked Jim up in his arms. He was surprisingly light.

“You’re a good lad Chase,” Jim whispered. “Don’t let folks ever tell you otherwise.”

Together they sat above the world looking down on scattered clouds, distant hills, and swathes of pine forest. Chase gasped, awestruck, head turning to appreciate the 360 deg. horizon.

“I think I understand now,” he breathed.

“I thought you would. It’s not something you can explain, but I just had to feel it one more time before I go, kinda get me ready.” Chase looked alarmed. “Now don’t worry son, I’m not gonna peg out on you, still got a bit of strength left. I just need to rest a bit”

“Just as well, ‘cos I’m sure not gonna carry you all the way back,” Chase teased. Then he realised – yes, he would if it came to that, and bugger the consequences. He liked the old duffer – he liked the mountain too.

Coma (blog bite 5 from a short fantasy story)

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deer

“I want to stay! I want to stay! Please Doc give me another shot!” Alex sobbed. But the words no longer found utterance, trapped as he was in the useless shell that had once been his body, muscle and sinew slowly wasting away as he himself wasted inside, trapped!

Tears of frustration forced their way out seeping between prison bars into the old world he’d once known. A nurse noticed, retrieving a tissue to wipe them away.

“Poor sod.” She muttered. “He must be conscious somewhere inside.”

“Nonsense,” said the impassive doctor at the foot of his bed. “He’s practically brain dead. Not much hope there. ” The nurse slipped her hand into Alex’s, as the doctor strode away, leaning over to kiss his forehead before, with a sigh, she resumed her duties. The small touch of humanity made the pain even more poignant. Something broke inside. Like a torrent of water it gushed forth its pain and fear then suddenly, without the injection, without Doc, he was there…

Animal foot prints in the snow? Something had passed this way. He stood at the edge of a forest. Passing among the trees he glimpsed tiny faces peering out, curious, but strangely unafraid. Chipmunks and squirrels dashed through the trees as if intent on appraising their visitor. A deer raised its head in his direction but did not run away; rather, satisfied it returned to its grazing, impassive…

*

“I thought you’d make it here eventually!” Doc was walking through the trees towards him.

“Am…am I dead?”

“No,” Doc smiled. “You are very much alive Alex, perhaps more than you’ve ever been.”

“But then how… You didn’t give me a shot… at least I don’t think you did…”

“There never were any shots Alex.”

“I don’t understand…”

“No but you will.” He fell silent for a moment looking around.

“It was like this at the beginning,” he continued, “before they began to prey upon each other. That’s why the smaller, weaker ones flourish in such abundance now. There’s plenty of room for them to expand with the cities gone.”

“Cities? What cities? Where is this?”

“Not where, when!”

“So much was destroyed in those final years, now it is being replenished. These trees are young, a mere one or two hundred years. This was a city once, an urban area reduced to rubble. Now the sands of time have clothed it once more with beauty, and nature, once perverted by man, flourishes.”

“People moved away from the cities after a while to make a new start at life. They took what was useful and left. Hardly any knew anything of the new agrarian lifestyle most were to pursue. Few survived but those few were special. Most were happy to leave, in fact most already had left of their own accord for one reason or another- they couldn’t buy or sell. They’d been hunted, lost families and loved ones; these were the survivors. Like the animals they were few, but their needs were few also, content to be alive, to be free. Some had survival skills and helped others, all were ready to learn. From one day to the next farmers became the new elite, teaching businessmen and ex heads of state how to farm and care for the land.”

“How do you know all this? Who the hell are you anyway?”

Doc smiled. “You think I’m a figment of your imagination don’t you?”

“No you… you were…”

“Was I?”

“I don’t know! Am I going crazy?” Doc stopped, taking Alex’ hand he looked deep into his eyes.

“You’re not dead and you’re not crazy Alex.”

“Then what?”

“I brought you here for a purpose. You’ve always been a traveler, reveled in new cultures…”

“Yes, but never anything like this”

“No, not like this. I want you to talk about it, write a few more books. Use your celebrity status to pass on the message.”

“I’m hardly a celebrity.”

“Not yet, but you will be, if you accept the task.”

Coma.

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children playing

(third blog bite of a short sci fi/fantasy story)

Alex woke with a jolt in his own personal penitentiary, aching to feel the response of his body. Hope glimmered. “Doc” said there’d be other times…

“Stupid, stupid idiot!” he admonished himself “Doc” was a fragment of dreams, a character created by his subconscious due to his administering the medication. It was all an illusion, a paradise conjured by the meeting of a desperate mind hallucinogenic drugs.

Would the real doctor return? He had no way of knowing. Fear seized him. Night came with its nightmares, but none as bad as his waking state.

Morning dawned, faces swam and retreated, the drip rattled as it was changed. Then there he was, Doc.

“Bet you thought I wasn’t coming!” he grinned as Alex felt the prick of the needle.

*

The hospital gown was gone; replaced by a shirt and loose, brown, cotton pants.

“Do you like your new look?” Doc chirped. “I thought you might want to blend in more.”

“Well it sure beats that gown! Simple and functional, suits me!”

“Yes, I think it does,” Doc said slowly, looking him over. “No multi-million fashion industry here!” he added, as if picturing with pleasure its demise, “or Anorexia.” A cloud of sadness passed his face, then he continued. “No gyms either, there’s plenty of “work out” to be got out in the fields. No uncomfortable business suits for anyone! The air is fresh and unpolluted, there’s plenty of good food for all, rest and exercise, the little ones thrive on it.” Alex remembered the healthy, laughing children at the pool.

“My kind of place!” he agreed. (If only it were real)…

“Let’s look at the school!” Doc grinned. Strolling over the hillside they sighted a crowd of children sitting under an oak, a vivacious young woman standing among them.”The location can change with each lesson.” Doc informed him. “Today it’s here.”

The children flocked to him. He gathered them in his arms as they laughed and squealed. They seemed to know him. The teacher was unconcerned at the interruption of her lesson, smiling flirtatiously at Alex. They began telling Doc some of the places they’d been and things they’d done. Alex listened enthralled. This school was no longer about books it seemed one joyous festival of learning, doing and experiencing!

“There are whole areas for them to come where they can learn constructively. ” Doc explained, “They come any time they want, it’s not required. Some parents also teach them at home, but they like to come, there’s no need of cajoling. Even reading and writing are not compulsory, though they all learn because there are so many beautiful books and stories. Some things must be learnt the hard way and reading is one of them, but it’s taught without pressure so some learn early others late. You’d enjoy teaching here.”

“Me a teacher?”

“Why not?”

“But what would I teach?”

“Oh, believe me you’d have plenty to teach! As you can see this school system is quite different!” He laughed and the sound was pure joy reflected in the laughter of the children. It all became one and blended together as darkness invaded.

The Price of Peace

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from May 2014

Song Bird Songs

After_the_Battle

(Short story for the theme “Loss”)

 Dusk hung over the grim Northumbrian field, veiling, but not obliterating the sights that swam before Edwin’s eyes. Shield and banner, once glorious in their pomp, now lay in jumbled heaps amidst torn limbs and lifeless forms, contorted, muddy, and everywhere was the stain of blood. He leant on the shaft of his sword to steady himself, red streaking the fair hair and face in lurid patterns of death, his lean form panting hard. It was over. They had won! He was alive and relatively unscathed, but inside dwelt a sickening emptiness.

Senses reeling he staggered forward, blue eyes shot with scarlet, searching among the heaving bodies for what he could not find, the living body of his brother. He had seen him go down in the first charge, like a bird pinioned in flight, the bright eye shocked, unbelieving. Wulfric had thought…

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Beginning Again (coffee flavoured).

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coffee

She hadn’t wanted to do this. It was too painful. Images flashed before her eyes as she neared the old café. Images of Colin in bed with her best friend, blurs of flesh seen through tears. Kori was hers; there was no disputing that. He could see her weekends, that was only fair, she knew he loved her too. He’d always been a devoted father; she couldn’t fault him in that.

The coffee shop bustled around her as she sought out his table, reassuring in its ambiguity. There he was, she could spot that smile anywhere, though today it was dimmed, without its normal sparkle. Kori burst into rapture.

“Daddy! Daddy,” she squealed fighting the restraining strap of her buggy. He rushed over to release her, clutching her in his arms, tears welling.

“Daddy where you been. I missed you.” The three year old lisped affection broke Lia’s heart. Why did he have to do this, reopen old wounds.

Setting Kori on his lap he looked steadfastly into her eyes.

“We need to talk Lisa.”

“I won’t stop you seeing her. She needs a father. You were always a good dad to her, just not much of a husband.” She sensed the spite on her tongue, the salt on a raw wound but she couldn’t help herself.

His eyes darted warningly at Kori, didn’t want her caught up in all this. Perhaps it had been a mistake to bring her, but what other option did she have; besides a part of her wanted this revenge, to see him suffer. She looked up rebelliously twisting the knife.

Tears welled over, the smile puckered. She felt cruel, vindictive. Why did it have to end this way?

“I told you I’m sorry. I’d do anything to undo what happened that day, anything to make it up to you. We were drunk, I told you…”

“I’ve heard it all before, Colin,” she snapped.

Kori looked up alerted by the catch in his voice. “Daddy, what’s wrong, why are you crying. Shall I sing you a happy song?”

“Nothing’s wrong darlin’ I just missed you and mummy.” He put on a brave smile.

“And mummy?”

“Hell! Of course “and mummy!” You think I don’t miss you? Every morning when I wake up alone, every time I make a lousy cup of coffee,” a little of his sparkle came back.  Most of all I missed those first days when you looked at me with that doggie look, when I was your world … when you found time for me, before you got that God awful job.”

His arrow struck home. She was not entirely blameless. Home late every night too tired to talk, too tired to make love, work obsessed. Not any more, she’d had to quit her job, go part time to care for Kori. Would it have made a difference if she’d been there for him? “Probably not”, she told herself, but deep in her heart she knew. She’d driven him away. The fault was hers too.

Seeing her hesitation he grabbed her hand across the table.

“Lisa, please, I’m not asking you to forgive me, just please let’s try to get back together for Kori’s sake.”

“Kori’s fine with me.”

“You think so?” He glanced down at the anxious toddler, not understanding why her parents seemed so angry. Had she done something wrong?

“She would have been fine if she hadn’t seen you!”

Kori burst into tears. “No, I want to be with daddy. Daddy loves me!” The words sung like acid.

“She doesn’t mean that Lisa. She’s just upset. You love mummy too don’t you Kori? Tell mummy you love her Kori.” He prized her away from his shoulder looking in her eyes, but Kori was not to be placated.

“No, I hate her! She took me away from you! I hate her!” Colin looked up helplessly.

“Kori, listen to me. Daddy did something very bad, that’s why mummy took you away. It’s not mummy’s fault it’s daddy’s.” Eyes were watching over their coffee cups, a hush had fallen on the café. Lisa reddened, humiliated before all the world; their dirty laundry strewn for all to see. Why had she come? Why had she brought Kori?

“I’ve got to go!” she hissed grabbing a screaming Kori from her father’s neck.”

“No, don’t do this Lisa. You’ll regret it forever just like I regret what happened between me and Tansy. Some things you can’t undo.”

“Forgive me for butting in,” their heads swivelled, mouths open, as an elderly waitress set two cups of coffee on the table. “I couldn’t help but hear. It’s not true what you just said young man. Things can be undone. It ain’t easy, I’ll attest to that, but it can be done. Now why don’t you just sit right back down and give the poor mite back to her dad for a bit.” Nodding to a man behind the bar she pulled a chair from an adjoining table. Sitting she waved them to the other seats. Kori had stopped screaming, studying the old lined face. Lisa hesitated, then passed her back to Colin as he took a chair.

“Now you’s all can get back to your coffee, shows over for the day. Give these folks some space.” The waitress looked meaningfully around. Folks pretended to ignore them, resumed their conversations.

“My husband cheated on me once too, well more than once if truth be told.”

“What’s cheating?” a small voice interrupted.

“Why it’s when you play a game and someone doesn’t stick to the rules. You knows what cheating is child.”

“So daddy cheated and that’s why mummy’s mad at him?”

“You’s got it child.”

“But my friend cheats all the time and I forgive her.”

“Of course you do, of course you do, ‘cos she’s your friend right?” Kori nodded. “But some games are more important than others and you’re not supposed to cheat.”

“But daddy did.”

“Right child. Someone cheated on me too, honey and I’ll tell you I was angry just like your mamma, but I had to forgive him. See I didn’t have a job and I had five little ones not just one to take care of.”

“So you forgave him.”

“Yes, child I did. But you know what, that son of a bitch never cheated on me again and he dang well made it up to me. He was the best dam father and husband a mamma could ever want. He learnt his lesson and he was real sorry.” Her eyes shifted back to the man behind the counter and they smiled. There was something in that look that stirred doubt in Lisa’s heart. Could it be that she was wrong?

“See it were my pride that was hurting most. That he’d cheat on me and play games with someone else, that hurt.”

Kori nodded knowingly. “Best friends should always be best friends; they shouldn’t let other kids spoil their game.”

“That’s right honey, best friends are forever.” She turned to Lisa.

“Now I ain’t gonna say no more. Choices is yours to make. But I jus’ want you’ll to know it’s not impossible. It sure ain’t easy, but you got this little one to think of haven’t you.” She nodded at Kori and smiled. “Now don’t you go worrying your head little one. You ain’t done nothing wrong. Your mamma and papa they’s had a fight, but you’s had fights with your friends right?” Kori nodded. “And you’s worked it out, right?” She nodded again.

Colin picked up his cup of coffee and took a sip. “Not bad, but not as good as you make Lisa.” He looked up, “I want you back. I’ll make it up to you I swear.”

“You’re not gonna cheat again are you daddy?” the little face was serious.

“No sweetheart, I’ll never cheat again, daddy was an idiot, a stupid idiot, ‘cause I only really like to play with mama.” He looked into Lisa’s eyes and she felt her heart start to melt.

“I’ll think about it.”

“Good, well that’s a start.”

“And you can have Kori over anytime you want, she needs you.” A sneaking suspicion was forming in Lisa’s heart. She needed him too, needed to know it had been, as he said, a stupid one off thing fuelled by neglect and alcohol, needed to know he loved her the same way he loved Kori, not perfect, but love.

Colin raised his cup. “Here’s to the hope of some decent coffee in the near future.” He winked at the retiring waitress, “No offence, but no one makes it quite like Lisa.”

“None taken.”

Hesitantly Lisa raised her own. Kori leant to clink them together spilling some on the table. No one cared, it was just a spill, between they could clean it up.

A rabbit prolongs my life. (a true story)

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pupand rab

The Burmese doctor looked hesitant. They all knew, despite medication, she was slowly slipping away.
“She sees the spirit world and wants to go.” He whispered. “You need to rekindle her interest in this world somehow.” He glanced at the mother for reassurance. This was not something he usually told his English patients, but she understood. They looked down at the pale five year old, her lungs ravaged by double pneumonia, breathing barely audible as she slipped peacefully back into sleep.
“We could hospitalize her…” the doctor ventured. They knew it wouldn’t help any more than the medicine had.
“No!” the father exclaimed fiercely, “she stays here with us…”
The voices sounded distant to childlike ears, like the whisper of a dream. Around her the light glowed as she drew closer to the music that called her, soothing and peaceful. She felt at home here in this place. She was drifting home…
Angry tears welled up in the father’s eyes. He’d waited so long for this child, lost four already in pregnancies that ended in despair. He would not give up. He would fight.
He remembered her joy on her birthday when they’d bought her a kitten, a fluffy ball of ginger delight and her sadness when it died a few weeks later. An idea formed in his head. He’d get another cat, a pretty one, surely that would rouse her.
Cycling home from work he stopped off at the pet shop, not a cat of any description to be found…

*

She was aware of someone coming into the room, her dad’s jolly chuckle. Half opening her eyes she looked in amazement at the thick leather bag he carried. The purple and brown triangles were wriggling. Eyes popped wide in curiosity.
“What is it daddy?” the little voice piped with sudden interest.
“It’s a monkey,” Dad said.
It wasn’t a monkey, (dad was always a tease). Opening the bag onto the bed he let loose its occupant, a small, frightened, black and white rabbit. Running in circles about the bedding it flung one leg in the air, spraying the room with its jubilant freedom.
The little mouth puckered and laughed. A laugh echoed with tears by both parents.
“I don’t care about the mess, that rabbit stays.” Mother said stubbornly.
Stay it did for a whole blissful week as child and rabbit became friends. Laughter rang often through the room and more pillows were fetched so she could sit up and watch it. She even ate again sharing carrots with the rabbit.
Father was busy every night after work on his special project, a home for Bibi as he was now called.
One day father sat on the bed watching the child, eyes now clearer, sitting unsupported, rabbit in arms.
“He needs to move out to the shed,” he explained. “It’s too much work for your mother with all this mess he makes. I made him a nice hutch. When you’re well enough I’ll carry you down and you can go see him.”
Recovery went fast after that and soon she was rewarded. Carrot in hand, dressed in her dressing gown and smothered with a blanket, she went to look over her friend’s domain. All was perfect, a “bedroom” he could snuggle away in, a meshed area she could see him through and lots of fresh straw. Snuggling in her father’s arms she thrust the carrot through the mesh delighted as sharp, white teeth munched away.
Soon they were playing together in the garden, the old dog who’d played nursemaid in her infancy strangely accepting Bibi’s coming, as if also thankful for the service the little rabbit had performed. Later a cat was added again, the three often to be found snuggled together enjoying the sun.
And the child? She lived of course.
How do I know this is true? The child was me.