Shepherd. (Christmas flash fiction)

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“Get out of my way scum! Get these beasts off the road!”
He could have said he had as much right on the road as they did, but he held his tongue. He knew better. Instead, nodding in a servile manner, he attempted to clear a path for the merchant and his retinue. The sheep, as always, were not co-operative, milling in confused circles.
“Incompetent imbecile!” the merchant muttered striking him a passing blow with his riding stick as he forced his way through. He said nothing, what was there to say. He was a shepherd, lowest of the low. Shepherds had a bad reputation and it was not altogether unfounded, He, himself, was no innocent, well what else was he meant to do, a man had to eat…
Settling down for the night he pulled the sheepskin cloak around him. It was cold out on the hillside, but the sheep must be guarded. He’d be out here for days seeking winter pasture.
When young he’d dreamed of having his own sheep, but that dream was long passed, as were dreams of a family. No, he’d be out here with the sheep, alone, abandoned till the day he died.
The sheep were restless, perhaps there was a predator? Grabbing his staff he looked around. Nothing! There was an odd stillness, a light wind blew up and the night sky slowly became defused with light. Fascinated he watched. Suddenly a face loomed in the darkness, glowing with power and light.
Terrified he ran cowering among the sheep. God had sent an angel to judge him! Surely an angel of death!
“Don’t be afraid, I bring good news!” a voice like water rang out. Speechless and trembling he cringed, not daring to move. “Good news, to bring joy to all people.” It was somehow the way he emphasised “ALL” that took away the fear. “For you is born today, in David’s city, a saviour, Christ the Lord.” A saviour, for me? The words resounded in his heart “ FOR YOU!”
“This shall be a sign. You shall find the baby swaddled and lying in a manger.” At these last words the sky exploded with light. Hundreds of angelic beings glowed, lending their voices to a chorus of, “ Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace to men of good will.”
His heart burst with joy, joining the heavenly chorus, for he had understood. The saviour was not only for the rich and mighty, for the holy and righteous, but for him also, and he had been chosen, above the merchants, even above princes, to hear the glad tidings and gaze on the messiah.
Grasping his staff, he’d dropped in terror, he left the sheep (surely God would care for them) and strode off towards Bethlehem. He was not alone he noticed, others had seen also. He chuckled, like him they were shepherds, the lowest of the low.
(This story was inspired by learning the view we have of shepherds is very different to that held in the Middle East back then when they were considered little more than dishonest vagabonds. Which makes the choice of shepherds even more meaningful.)

A true Christmas tale.

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It’s a long story how we came to be in the old farmhouse in Ireland realizing our dream. We, little nobodies, had helped stage a Christian camp for youngsters. They’d come, some eager, some confused. and some rebellious. We loved them, pulled our hair out at their antics and prayed (oh how we prayed!) Now it was over. They’d returned, tiny flames of love kindling in their hearts, to their domains, leaving a great joy of satisfaction in their wake.
There was just one problem. It was almost Christmas and while we had food aplenty and a roof over our heads, we had no money left, zilch, nothing, and there were children there, mine included. We explained there’d be no presents that year, no tree or decorations. They were such troopers, not a single complaint.
We made our own décor, holly and fir branches from the forest. Silvery yogurt tops, kept from the camp, were cut into snow flakes and suspended from fallen branches dabbed white with left over emulsion. It looked wonderful!
Christmas Eve was still special. We read old Christmas stories by candle light, and I sang my guys to sleep with childhood carols.
I came down to see the two teenage boys who’d helped with the renovations were gone.
“They went to look for a tree.” My eldest whispered. Due to a lot of boggy ground fallen trees were common in the surrounding forest.
Our Texan builder/handyman was heading out too. It was he who first dreamt up the project. His tiny 5ft 6 frame harboring a personality that somehow gave the impression of a 6 footer.
I joined my daughter and the other teenage girl who’d stayed to help clear up the aftermath of the camp etc. We’d almost done when the boys dragged in an enormous tree. I restrained myself from checking for axe marks (their hearts were surely right and the forest was common ground I reasoned.)
They set it up in a bucket which the girls artfully draped and we went about gleaning all the décor we could find, painted fir cones, odd bits of tinsel yogurt top snowflakes. It looked beautiful even without lights.

I was just drifting off to sleep when I was roughly wakened.
“Come on mum. We need you to help wrap.”
Our Texan angel had been to see a friend who owned a small toy factory. He’d been hoping there might be a few “old line” bits and pieces for the kids. But the Irish heart never gives by half and the little van was crammed with toys, enough for several presents for each child and lots left over to pass on to others, there were even fairy lights for the tree.
Imagine the wonder next morning when the children were awoken by Christmas angels (my daughter and friend had raided the prop box) and brought down to the old living room. There they saw a huge tree blazing with lights and an immense pile of presents.
They didn’t think it was Santa. They knew who to thank, and their happy praises sounded all day long. The presents were special because they knew Jesus had sent them and that made His birthday “magic”.
We adults of course didn’t get presents, or did we? The gifts of joy, love, peace and intense gratitude filled our hearts in a way presents never could. Jesus’ love for these precious children and the hearts that had given so freely of time, goods and sleep were more than enough!

Sometimes a story just gets a life of its own!

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I’ve never been one to plan stories, it just doesn’t work that way for me (and it’s definitely no fun). Rather stories seem to grow and develop a life of their own. It’s as if the story is already out there somewhere and I’m just opening the window to set it free onto the page.

Don’t get me wrong I also suffer the inevitable “writer’s block” sometimes when the damn catch on the window seems jammed and the weather’s too dark and cloudy to even catch a glimpse through the pane. But then, sooner or later, it always loosens, the glass swings open and I’m invaded by the most inspiring scenes and ideas and I just can’t wait to get to my laptop.

My present book seems to be the most “revelatory” yet. New characters introduce themselves in my head as I wake, parading their own personal diversity. I ponder and realise how well they weave into the plot, adding depth and emotion, so that later I sit, tissues in hand when a plot twist reveals their demesne.  Research (tedious as it tends to be) brings to light plot options, small details, and opens me up to places I’ve not been before in my writing. I wake each morning as if seeking to continue reading a book I’m wrapped up in, but it isn’t written yet! Reading and writing become one, with an irresistible urge to turn the next page, start the next chapter. My “overactive imagination” as my teachers called it has found it’s niche.

I’ll miss it when it’s finished (except that when the real work begins, editing, revising, condensing etc.) However I already have a tittle for a possible sequel lol! Meanwhile I’m in danger of becoming a recluse!

Are we being manipulated?

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“Only the farmers are free because they are not dependent on anyone else,” says father to son in “Farm Boy” (part of the “Little House on the Prairie”series I long ago read with my kids). The statement stayed with me. I love this series as a historical how to, survival guide. “Pa” could do everything, build a house, barn, furniture, grow crops,smoke bacon, hunt, trap and generally survive in the wild (Bear Grills has nothing on those 19th. century pioneers!) Many of the books explain just how he did it too. (If you thought they were just old fashioned kids stories think again – packed full of social historical detail)
Why has this statement stuck with me? The elder brother wanted to go into business where life was easier and more lucrative. Father was explaining to his younger son (Laura’s future husband) why he felt farming was better.Farming has changed a great deal from those times (and seems under attack from big corporations)yet I think there is a kernel of truth still in Pa’s statement. There are few professions in which we can be truly free to live according to our conscience without manipulation from the powers that be.
Living most of my life as a private tutor and children’s entertainer I had a large measure of freedom but not as much as these early pioneers. Of course a great factor is is our being greedy, the more we want the more we are open to manipulation.

Bear (Flash fiction)

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It was so long since Sam had let someone touch his heart it was all but frozen over. Yet, somewhere beneath the ice, warm currents of life still flowed, hidden, protected, waiting still for the thaw of spring.

It was a day as other days, riding the train home behind the newspaper, suit neatly fitting, briefcase at his side. He noticed the pretty woman as she came to sit opposite him, noted the ringless finger, but stopped at that. He hid behind the financial section, catching glimpses of her smile beaming at the toddler beside her.
Strangely it was “Bear” that made the introductions. Opportunity being literally dropped at his feet, he seized upon it without thinking. Their eyes met as he thrust the furry body into groping hands. Something passed in that instant. He glimpsed beneath the sunny exterior and saw pain. It was quickly covered, disguised by smiles. Yelling stopped, the youngster clutched the ruffled animal to his chest, eyes tumultuous.
“His daddy gave it to him,” she rushed to explain. “He’s very attached to it.” He noted a slight quiver in the lip. “He was killed in Afghanistan,” she whispered.
He couldn’t help but double check the finger. She noticed.
“We were to be married at Christmas,” she added defiantly. “He was an American officer. We met in transit. Things happened. He loved little Alex.” The eyes were tinged with sadness, underlying water showing clearly.
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t meaning to pry.”
“I know. But we’re OK now, aren’t we Alex?” She hugged the petulant youngster to her. “At least I have Alex.”
“He’s a cute little guy.” Sam’s smile was repulsed. The child had eyes only for Bear. Sam had never been good with kids. He retreated behind his newspaper, but it was no good, the ice had cracked.
He glanced over the rim, noting the tears she brushed aside. He couldn’t help himself. Moving to sit next to her he put a tentative arm around her shoulder. She didn’t push him away; rather she lowered her head to his shoulder seeking to hide the tears. Possessively Alex scrambled onto her lap.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed, “I thought I was over it.”
“Some things in life we never quite get over,” he responded, a far off look in his eyes. “You’re coping remarkably well.”
“You think so? Even when I got your suit soggy?” a glimmer of a smile appeared, as sunshine through the rain.
“I think you’re a remarkably resilient woman, and a pretty one at that.” He kicked himself. Stupid idiot! Why had he added that? She merely laughed.
“Guess I need to be – baggage!” She nodded at Alex, but there was no hint of bitterness. “Love me love my Bear,” she joked.
“I don’t think that would be so hard to do.” Sam replied. They’d each found a way to protect themselves, but the sun of her shield was melting his ice at an alarming rate. He didn’t mind.
Reflected in the train window the young sergeant winked, misty eyed, at Bear. He no longer needed the link. With a sigh he let go. They’d be OK now.

Unsung hero. (A true life “Fairy Tale”)

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from November 2014 (yet again this seems appropriate.)

Song Bird Songs

fairy tale

There were a lot of medals in my mother’s family including 3 Victoria Crosses (the highest British award -quite rare) and I grew up hearing about them, but this is a story about another kind of courage.

My grandfather  took part in one of the WW1 Christmas Eve cease fires so well depicted in “Joyous Noel”  (If you have yet to see it this year is the perfect time!) It tells how the war stopped for a while on Christmas Eve and both sides met to celebrate Christmas, play football and show pictures of loved ones, thus realizing their common humanity.

Soon after this he and a friend were trapped behind enemy lines. Unable to break through back to their unit they began to wave their arms above the trench they were trapped in, in hopes of being shot (they’d heard the injured were sent home). Eventually they were captured…

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Dream Master (no. 3)

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flash fiction from October 2014

Song Bird Songs

lights
The darkness was soft around her like a comforting blanket, warm and snug, endued with a faint glow. Embedded in the walls, if such they could be called since they had no substance, glimmered pinpoints of light, momentarily flickering. She reached out her hand, as in slow motion, clasping substance in the mist. A jewel glistened within her hand, glowing in the darkness. She reached out eagerly to get more wondering at the rainbow forms glistening on her palm.
She was aware of a being beside her his face picked out in silver light. The dream master was here.
“I’m sorry you had to come alone,” he whispered, his voice an echo of the stillness. “This lesson cannot be taught another way. I wanted you to overcome your fear of the darkness, those black times when clouds of doom and destruction overcome your life.”
Reaching up he plucked a delicate…

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Dream Magic.

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(From September 2014)

Song Bird Songs

dreams med

Do we all dream alike? I’m often amazed at dream concepts related or portrayed in paintings and movies so vastly different to my own. I wonder at the diverse worlds we enter when sleeping.
Personally my dreams generally come in two varieties, what I term “frustration dreams” (often after a stressful day) where I’m trying to find something (a place, person, or item of clothing – even the bathroom!) but just can’t find it.

The other more usual dreams are practical or inspirational. In these dreams I discover solutions to problems, new creative ideas and of course my best stories! I often take it for granted that if I “sleep on it” the answer will probably be right there in my head when I wake up. I’ve discovered though many folks find this unusual. Do my fellow writers also glean words and stories in that wonderful stage between sleep and…

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The Dawning.

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from July 2014

Song Bird Songs

syria

Night was dark, all encompassing around him, punctuated with the echoes of far off shelling. He wanted it to be over.
The sheet clung to his body, damp, confining. Gone were the boyhood sounds of nature, gone too the human hubbub that distracted his thoughts during the day. At night he was alone with his fears; he could not hide from them. Again and again he traced threads in his head, patterns that had brought him here. He was not enamored of the man he had become, the blood of conflict stained his hands also. Faces loomed from the darkness of memory.
Once there had been love, and light. He had walked in sunshine. Now that was over and night ruled his ruined heart. Where was it going to end? Hate begets hate, when would he be free to love again?
A passing vehicle made patterns of light on the…

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The “Act” of Writing.

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from July 2014

Song Bird Songs

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She picked up her pen staring at the blank sheet before her. It began.

Her hand moved, forming shapes on the white surface that wove the magic of words. She became more engrossed, captivated by the pictures forming before her eyes. The dirty casement vanished; coffee cups dwindled to nothing as a fresh breeze took the air.
She was transformed, re-clothed in silk, her features rearranged as she breathed in the role. Fingers formed the words she would utter, mind already scripting the scenes. Willingly she stepped into the world she was creating, breathed in the perfume of a hundred flowers as her eyes searched a velvet sky for details of the flying beasts above her, all the while her fingers dexterously capturing the imagery.
Slowly from the dust her counterpart took shape, his features refined by the art of the pen. Looking inward she formed his thoughts, his character…

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