Category Archives: Odd Shorts

Miscellaneous short stories and flash fiction

Tender Mercy

We’ve been keeping a few chickens for some years now, but last week I discovered one of them is masterminding a plan for world domination. Anyone who knows chickens understands that they are destined to rule the world, it’s just they’re not big enough. You only have to see one pounce on a careless mouse in the yard, stun it with a savage peck and swallow it whole, to realise that there is no mercy there at all. When a hen pecks, it hurts – I’ve still got a tender bruise on my thumb from one yesterday. The best anyone can hope for that mouse is that was at least unconscious when it went nose-first down a chicken’s throat.

We only have five hens, and a pair of ducks that I never really wanted in the first place, but my eldest insisted. The hens are white, except for Ace of Clubs, who has this black blob on her back, between her wings. Mostly we just call her Ace, and she spends her life pecking around the yard and plotting how to get inside the netting that protects my little vegetable patch. Before last week I didn’t worry about anything more serious than defending my tender shoots.

Last Tuesday, just after breakfast, Ace slipped out of the yard and headed into the centre of town, which I thought was odd and so I followed her. It’s a small place, and we live near the edge, so you have to ask yourself, why would a chicken bother with the mile or so walk to the shops? It’s not like feathers or chicken-poop are legal tender.

She spotted me following and flew up on to a low branch of a ragged sycamore.

Who? Me? Heading into town? No, just gonna snooze here. In the sun. Maybe count the buses.

There’s only four a day of those, so probably even Ace can manage it.

I went to work, but used my lunch break to check on Ace, who was still perched in that sycamore. When I was done at the end of the day, and scattered corn in the yard, she bustled back to peck with others, but definitely giving me the eye.

See, good bit of tree-sitting. Very fine. I’ll do something different tomorrow.

On Wednesday morning, I went to work as usual, and then doubled-back. I parked well down the road and waited, and sure enough, Ace marched past with a very determined stride, and headed into the little 70s housing development a quarter of a mile from our house.

I followed carefully, and saw her peck on the door of number nine, Piccolo Drive. A young woman opened the door and Ace went in, which for anyone who knows chickens it’s perfectly normal. One of our previous hens used to nip two doors along and tap on the window, persuading our tender-hearted neighbour to put half a biscuit out for her.

Even so, I was suspicious and moved closer. Fortunately, the home owner was one of those corporate event wait staff, you know, white blouse, black skirt, and easy to spot through a lounge window. Along with five other, apparently identical corporate event wait staff.

Anyone who knows corporate wait staff could tell you whether or not it’s weird. I know it’s definitely strange when all six waitress clones sit and pay attention to a small white hen.

That’s when I knew that Ace was planning world domination. I didn’t know exactly how, but I am sure a chicken mastermind can achieve anything it wants, one corporate event at a time, one insidious contract tender after another.

Once I thought about it, the plan was obvious genius. A team of zombie waitress clones influencing business leaders, one at a time. I’m sure someone who really knows wine and canapés can tell you how it’s done.

Now there’s no way I can allow Ace to achieve world domination, but then I can’t kill and eat her either.

Actually, I can, but that’s not an easy option to sell to the kids.

The next day, I shut Ace in the coop and went to watch the zombie waitresses at number nine. They were obviously confused by the loss of their leader, and I saw them pacing in what I can only call an agitated way. Finally, they all emerged, all identical, and drove away in completely different cars, which might have been weird, or maybe normal. I’m sure someone who really knows zombie waitresses could tell.

The next day, my youngest accidentally let Ace out and she was off to number nine before I knew what had happened. I didn’t bother to follow because I knew she would just hop up into a tree and pretend that nothing was happening. So I told my youngest not to let her out again, because Ace was sick. That was a stroke of genius, because if she was sick, she could suddenly die, and that was the end of her plot for world domination,

I watched Ace very carefully on Saturday, and she was obviously watching me in return. In fact, I realised that I had been rumbled, and the next time she got the chance to give orders to her zombie waitresses, I was a dead man. Probably choked on a cocktail stick and buried under a pile of disposable plates.

We had Ace for dinner on Sunday. The kids were upset but I promised them that she was really ill, and it was a quick death, and she really would want us to enjoy a chicken dinner. We cooked her long and slow, and even the kids stopped crying once they tasted the amazingly tender meat.

On Monday morning, one of the ducks gave me a funny look. When we got her I was going to call her Rubber, but my eldest insisted on Mabel. The other one is called Beaky and, as anyone who knows ducks will tell you, is obviously as dumb as a peanut, but Mabel has that spark of malign intelligence in her eyes.

At that moment, I realised that I had been quite wrong about Ace, who didn’t have the brains for the whole zombie waitress scheme. This was all Mabel’s doing, the only real contender for criminal mastermind, using Ace as a patsy so that if it all fell apart we would have chicken dinner, not duck a la foiled plot.

I had no choice. I had to warn the family and deal with Mabel, but it turns out that they were all involved with the world domination scheme. I did try to tell them that there would be no place for them alongside the ruling duck, but they absolutely refused to believe me and, well, that’s why I’m here.

I need help. Serious help. It’s not just the ducks, you see? The turkeys are behind it all, not only seeking world domination but also outlawing Christmas. I know, because a sparrow whispered it in my ear. At least, I think it was a sparrow. Certainly a little birdie told me.

Just one thing I’d like to ask, Doctor. Do you keep any sort of poultry? Or budgies? Have you recently fed pigeons in the park? Do you, or any of your family, have contact with parakeets? Or have ostrich feathers in the house?

Please sit down. This is important.

Could you loosen these handcuffs? My wrists are getting tender.

# # #

This is a work of fiction.
Yes, we keep chickens, but none of them is called Ace and the nearest corporate event waitress lives at least three miles from here, which is further than even the most determined chicken is prepared to walk in pursuit of world domination.

This story was inspired by the #BlogBattle prompt of Tender, and a very strange dream.

Images from Pixabay.com

Way To Go Gnome

I turned up to do some general tidying around the gardens at the Duckwater residential care home and noticed that someone had installed a garden gnome over the weekend. It’s not unusual – friends and relatives often do things like that to liven the place up – and someone had spent a bit of money on this one. Every so often, the little fishing rod dipped twice, flicked from side to side and bobbed once more. It was an eye-catching rhythm, bob, bob, swish-swish bob. I couldn’t tell whether it was battery-powered or had a cunningly disguised solar panel, but I caught myself nodding my head in time with it. Bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

Even so, it was a stupid place to put it, causing awkward wheelchair access right where the path around the pond was narrowest, between the safety rail and a bench where friends and relatives could sit with their resident and watch the ducks on the pond.

I did my job, working round the little statue – all green trousers and a sloppy pointed hat, perched right on the edge of the pond, fishing rod doing its bob, bob, swish-swish bob, but no smile. I don’t like garden gnomes, and their inane cheery disposition, but a frowning gnome with lips pursed into a grimace is even creepier.

That bob, bob, swish-swish bob got on my wick after a while. An annoying movement that kept catching my attention and then got me nodding along to it.

When I was done for the morning, I mentioned it to Laura, the manager, just in case she wanted it moved. Whoever originally installed it ought to be the one to shift it somewhere better, but moving a garden gnome meant being paid for another hour’s work.

“Ugly, grumpy-looking thing,” Laura decided. “Can’t stay there. I mean…” bob, bob, swish-swish bob. “Aw, look at that, waving his fishing rod around. I mean, really, it only needs to move a little bit.” She nudged it with her foot. “That’s heavy, John. Is it going to be difficult to move?”

I crouched down to get a grip on Grumpy’s elbows, which was tricky because he was partly under the safety rail that stopped runaway wheelchairs or zimmers ending up in the water. I tried to lift him.

The fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob, BOB, BOB.

“Someone must have cemented him down.” Which was odd because the concrete edge on the pond was encrusted with moss, but there was no sign of anything scraped away to make a clean surface. “I can bring a pry bar on Wednesday and try to shift it.”

“Yes. That would be good. Thank you, John.” Laura shook her head. “People are just so inconsiderate.” She shook her head again. “That’s odd. Where are the ducks?”

I hadn’t noticed their absence. Sometimes, depending on the day, I sit on one of the benches to eat my lunch and throw the odd crust for the ducks.

“Foxes?” I had never seen the pond without a single duck visible. “But there would be feathers, right?” The fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob. “Grumpy probably scared them away.”

Laura sighed. “Something else to deal with. And…”

“Coming through, coming through.” Mrs Patterson announced herself, arriving at a stately pace with her walker, and one of the nursing staff at her elbow. “Well he’s an ugly little devil. Just let me sit.” The nursing staff folded down the seat built into her walker. “Thank you, dear.” She gave me a grin. “Silly place to put a gnome, John. I’ll sit and have a word with him. See if I can get him to smile.”

The fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob, bob-bob.

“Oh look…” Mrs Patterson manoeuvred closer to Grumpy. “Tick-tock, tick-tock, like a little metro-gnome.” She chuckled to herself. “So, what do you call yourself, little fellow?”

Laura nodded, smiled, and made a decision. “John? Could you come and shift that gnome this afternoon?”

“Yeah, yeah, no problem.”

I drove into town, bought a couple of sarnies, and dropped by my lock-up to get a pry-bar, bolster chisel and hammer. I parked in my usual spot and headed down to the pond, and walked into a developing crisis. Laura was there, pink and flustered, and at least half the nursing staff were out and about.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“John? Can you help us look. We’ve lost Mrs Patterson. Her walker is still down by the bench, but no-one has seen her since this morning.”

We searched for probably an hour or more, and I finished up at the bench, where Mrs Patterson’s walker was still parked beside Grumpy.

“Did you see anything, mate?” I asked the gnome because there was no-one else to talk to.

Grumpy’s fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

Laura appeared at the far side of the pond and walked round, shaking her head as she drew close.

“It’s time to call the police,” she said wearily.

“Yeah. And tell them to question Grumpy. Little beady eyes, no fixed abode, fishing at all hours.”

Laura managed a weak laugh. “Except he’s got a very fixed abode until you move him… probably tomorrow now. Don’t suppose the police will want you touching anything.”

Tomorrow became the day after, and then next week, and finally let’s just wait and see, because Mrs Patterson had done more than just wander off. The police wrapped everything in blue-and-white tape, asked endless questions, mounted a major search, and did television appeals which included phrases like possible abduction and very concerned for her safety, because even with her walker frame, Mrs Patterson had a top speed of snail’s pace and coming down to the pond was a major expedition.

The police tape eventually came down, their investigation became ongoing, and I had more than two weeks of catching up on grounds maintenance to do. Not that I mind. They’re paying me by the hour. It’s surprising how much there is to do, weeding, a bit of light pruning, and a couple of barrow-loads of crisp packets, coffee cups, drink cans and miscellaneous rubbish. I’m sure some of it was down to the police search teams, but honestly most of it is from the residents and their visitors.

I divvied up the rubbish into general and recycling, and finally took the weeds, clippings and stray banana skins to the compost heap which is hidden in a clump of rhododendrons. I keep nudging Laura to let me grub those out and plant native shrubs, but the words noxious foreign weed just don’t register with her.

Someone had been messing with my compost. The heap wasn’t just kicked around, but dug up, flung far into the shrubbery, and where it had stood there was now a deep pit showing ripped rhododendron roots.

I called Laura.

“Probably just teenagers,” she grumbled.

Seriously? If I find a teenager prepared to dig a hole like that just for a lark, I’m gonna take them on as an apprentice.

“Thing is, Laura, that hole…”

“You can just fill it in, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s big enough for a body, isn’t it? And see that there, half way up the far end…”

“Bit of stone?”

“I think it’s a finger bone,” I told her, because I’d already walked round and looked closely, so I was very sure it was a bone. “And then there’s the really weird thing…” I pointed to a gap in the rhododendrons where three Grumpy clones were gathered together, fishing rods doing an occasional bob, bob, swish-swish bob. “That’s more than just a prank, right?”

“Um.” Laura stared, fishing rods flicked back and forth, and she just tuned out for a while, lost in the beguiling bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

“Probably ought to get the police back,” I prompted. “Because this is just freaky.”

“Yeah. Right. I’ll go call them.”

She walked away and there was a sudden rustle in the depths of the rhododendron. It was probably just a cat or squirrel, spooked by four Grumpy clones going bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

That movement, it catches the attention. I could lose myself just staring at it.

Bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

I hurried after Laura. I was certain there were only three of them a moment ago.



Way To Go Gnome was written in response to the November #BlogBattle prompt of Hypnotic.

Image from pixabay.com

Edgewise

It’s a sure sign of a dissatisfied customer when my toes can’t reach the ground. Nevin the blacksmith was at least as big as the battered warrior holding my throat, but he just stood back and watched. No loyalty there, just a business arrangement.

“Broke.”

That’s not my fault. In fact, that is Nevin’s fault. He does the metalwork, I add the magic. That’s how magic sword manufacturing works. The magic can’t stop the steel from breaking, but the really good stuff can make it cut through sorcerers, demons, other magic swords and…

Urk?

“Broke how?” Nevin asked gruffly.

“In battle.” The warrior lifted me higher, which was fine because toes far off the ground hurts just the same as almost touching.

“Broke how exactly? You hit something with the sword, or something hit you?”

The warrior dropped me, turned on Nevin, and then thought better of it.

“Another sword did it.”

Nevin scratched at his beard. I used to think he must have a really itchy chin, but it’s his way with stroppy warriors in the smithy. It reminds them that his fists are big and his forearms are thicker than the average leg.

“Show me the bits.”

The warrior kicked at the rough sack he’d dropped when he first came in – you want to see, you pick it up.

Nevin scratched his beard again until the warrior crouched, rummaged, and held up a sword in two parts. It was one of the really cheap ones Nevin knocks out and calls a Bearkiller, because the sort of fool who buys a cheap sword will always go for something called Bearkiller, or Demonslayer. I’m no expert in this stuff, but I know swords break, and I know that the Bearkillers can snap if the user sneezes too hard.

“Fix it.”

Warriors are like children. It broke, fix it. They don’t ask can it be fixed? With a broken blade like that, Nevin would hammer out the pieces and make something like a chunky dagger, and one of the skinny, flashy blades he calls a Windslicer – cheap, fragile, but makes a really impressive whistling noise cutting through the air.

“Needs magic to fix,” Nevin said, more to me than the warrior. “I’ll get the heat going.”

I don’t do magic, I collect magic. Applying it to the swords is easy, but nothing I’ve got can repair a sword. Like I said, Nevin does the metalwork.

The smithy is poorly lit and once Nevin starts pumping the bellows, all you see is the glow of the coals, unless you know where to look. While the warrior was bedazzled by the sparks, Nevin slipped a freshly-made Bearkiller off the pile and set it close by. We ought to practice this misdirection routine for the next dissatisfied customer, but there’s no real point. Warriors who buy cheap swords rarely live long enough to complain about workmanship.

“Come on, man,” Nevin growled, and he was right – I was daydreaming, whilst the warrior was inching closer to where he might see what we were doing.

“Stand back,” I said, as commanding as I could be, and the warrior inched closer instead.

I picked a jar of whispering prayers off the shelf and tossed two into the fire. I like the prayers – I buy them a dozen the farthing from a decrepit monastery a half-day’s walk away. A sword bound with one of those prayers will tell the wielder how fine and proud they are. You can see it the moment they pick one up in the smithy – yes, yes, I am!

Never burn a whispering prayer. A banshee scream of terror ripped through the smithy driving the warrior two clumsy steps backwards. I already had my fingers in my ears and Nevin – well the big lump doesn’t hear so well after so many years of hammering.

Next I took a sun potion and flicked a drop into the cherry coals and just for a moment a blinding noon light flared out. I usually use a drop mixed with a little brandy and work it into the blades to give them that alluring glint in the dark that says look here, I’m a magic sword. I’m told that glint can attract goblins in the night, but none of our customers has ever complained about that.

“Are you ready for this?” I called out, reaching for the edge charms. “This can be…”

I had no idea what would happen to an edge charm in the fire. When I attach one to a blade, it holds the edge forever, provided you keep the metal out of the sun. I suppose I ought to mention that when we sell a sword.

“Ready,” the warrior grunted.

“Just give me a moment. This third one is tricky.” Instead of the edge charms, I eased the stopper from a jar of whitefire I bought from a warlock. It was supposed to be pure magic – I think he lied, but far safer than edge charms. “Here… third one…”

I tossed a piece of whitefire into the forge and bright, white light even stronger than the sun potion blinded everyone. When my eyes cleared, Nevin was standing before the forge, holding forth a brand new Bearkiller, smoke just curling around the blade. I still don’t know how he does that, but it impresses the customers.

“Your weapon,” he said and held it out.

The warrior took it, almost reverentially, and then tried a few test swings.

“Do that outside,” Nevin growled.

As soon as we were alone, he pulled the broken pieces of the old sword from the forge.

I went to the door and watched. The warrior took a few more good swings, gave me a glare, and then stamped off eastward which is where they say the armies are currently fighting.

“That third one…” Nevin pushed me out into the daylight so that he could see the warrior go. “Was that a charm?”

“No.”

###

I wrote this in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Charm.

Image from Pixabay

Hurry

In the car, hurry, worry,

Running late, worry, hurry.

Turn the key, come on, start it

Clicks and whirls but doesn’t catch it.

Growl and grind, and fading power

Turn and turn, and turning slower

Wretched beast, I hear what happened

Click and nothing, battery flattened

Out the box, the biggest hammer

Instead choose the ratchet spanner

Turn and turn the clicking ratchet

Drop it, curse and fail to catch it.

Down beside the engine block

Out of reach and really stuck

Scrape my knuckles, fail to reach it

How I hate the wretched ratchet.

I hate the car, its fickle state

All the worse when running late

Now I’ve really lost my cool

Gotta have the wretched tool

Dripping blood I gotta get it

Cursing blue of course I blew it

Straining hard could barely touch it

Failed to reach the wretched ratchet.

Need a stick to poke it loose

Saw the hammer resting close

Reached and grabbed and… darn it… NO…

The wretched hammer hit my toe

Darn it all, the wretched rush

Now can’t walk to catch the bus.


This piece of vaguely rhyming alliterative nonsense  was brought to you by the July #BlogBattle prompt of Wretched.

Outside The Box

Hey, Chazos, you gonna open it, or what?”

Maybe…” There’s a sinking feeling when you realise you’re talking to a god, and you know that never ends well. “I mean… didn’t work out so well for my sister.”

Chazos, man, you gotta have faith… I mean, honestly, your sister has the brains of a mouse. The Gods gave her a box with all the ills of the world in it and… well… I did say…. I mean they did say, don’t open it. I kept telling them that free will is nothing but trouble. So… you gonna open yours?”

It’s true about Pandora, not the sharpest tool in the… never mind. They gave her this jar, not a box, but telling her not to open it… that’s like a big sign, open here. If they’d said, it’s fine, open it any time, she might never have let all the ills of the world loose.

Some hope, but it might have bought a day or two.

My jar is different. It could do with a label to tell me what’s inside, but they never said not to…

Wait… who are you, exactly?”

Hermes. You know, messenger of the gods. Get about a bit. Everyone knows me. I was thinking of changing my name. How does Mercurius sound? A bit pompous, maybe? I was looking for something a bit more low-key, but hey, this all about you… So. Opening the box?”

Jar. It’s a jar.”

Hermes shrugged and did a little shuffle-dance with those winged sandals. “Call it a box. Trust me. Everyone else will. There’s marketing potential in calling it a box. Think of the publicity. Everyone’s heard of Pandora’s Box, but let’s face it, Chazos’s Jar… doesn’t really cut it.”

Apparently, one day, people will say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Tell that to Pandora. She’s never got over being blamed for everything bad in the world.

What’s in my jar… I mean, box?”

Apparently, one day, clear labelling and safety information will be the norm.

In the box?” Hermes did that shuffle again like he wanted to be somewhere else. “Nothing much. Just all the wonders of the world. Go on, open it. It’s gonna be great.”

Gods are tricky at the best of times and when one drops by for a chat, that’s it, your life is basically over. You can’t even say no, go torment another mortal. Once you’re it, you’re it, and doomed.

Or I could choose not to open the box. Just because Pandora was told correctly not to open hers doesn’t mean this isn’t some sort of double bluff.

Maybe if I just open it a crack…”

It was a perfectly ordinary box, that just happened to look exactly like a jar, red clay, nicely fired, decorated with depictions of the gods in black. The cap was a carved piece of wood, caulked with some wax and painted with Hermes’s wings. I gave it a little twist, broke the seal and just lifted it for a heartbeat.

Wowza!

A hurricane blasted past me, wild and hot and yet strangely comforting, leaving me filled with joy in its passing. For a moment I couldn’t breathe, and then I looked at the world anew.

Good one, huh?” said Hermes. “We call that one love. A truly great wonder of the world. We had a few false starts, but don’t worry, we put the rejects – lust and greed and obsession – in another box. Oh. Damn. That was Pandora’s box.”

I had never felt anything like it. “So… that was love. Right. So is that it?”

Hah. Of course not.” He did that shuffle dance again and then caught me staring. “I can teach you, if you want. Heel to toe and a little slide… Gonna be all the rage one day… or you could just finish opening your box.”

I was tempted – learn the dance of the Gods – but that wasn’t going to end well, was it? Look at the fella as stole fire from them. Whichever way you cut it, gods are a bloody vengeful bunch. I could just see it – learn the dance and then spend eternity pushing a rock up a hill or having my eyes pecked out by enraged sparrows. When you think about it, gods are not the smartest – why the same rock, up the hill, forever? Imagine the commercial possibilities of people condemned to move an infinite pile of decent building stone to a conveniently placed builder’s yard.

Come on, you know you want to,” Hermes said and I cracked the box open gain.

Oh… my… that is… ahhhh…”

Yeah. I wanted to call that one ooh-ooh-ohh, but I got overruled, so now we call it beauty.”

I wanted some more of that, and amazingly it had already spread out and was all around me.

Right…” I pulled the cap off my jar… box… and let out all the remaining wonders of the world. Except for something small and pale, like a tuft of wool, stuck in the bottom. “What’s that?”

Hermes did the dance again. “Not sure. Give it a poke.”

I did.

Ow. That’s sharp.” I poked more cautiously, and it spooked, leaping out of the box and biting the end of my nose in passing. “What was that?”

Surprise.”

Yes. Very. But what was it?”

No. The second greatest wonder of the world – surprise.” Hermes pointed to a tree where the little tuft of wool was perched. “See… oh. My bad. It’s not surprise after all. Another failed prototype. I was supposed to put that in the other box. But I thought, and it really is a wonder of the world.”

My nose was bleeding.

What is it?”

Stupidity…” Hermes shrugged. “A wonder of the world. It’s out now. Sorry. People will always wonder why you thought it was a good idea to let it out. Anyway, got to dash…”

What did I say?

Never ends well.


“Outside the Box” was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt Liberate.

Images from Pixabay.

Short Fantasy

And for our trusty dwarf… there’s a map to the Orchard of Lyre.”

Locrian of the pointy-ears knows I hate being called a dwarf. I’m not. I’m really not. I just need more time to reach my full vertical potential.

Lyre? Really? Is that a joke? You know I can’t sing.” Which is another point that says I’m not a dwarf, because everyone knows that all the little fellas can sing like a bird.

No, no, it’s just the map says it’s not far, and you’ve got the shortest legs.”

One day I’m gonna rip those pointy ears off his head and shove them up his nose. Instead, I took the map, which looked genuinely old and potentially real, and went to gather supplies. It’s hard to stay angry with Locrian when he waggles his ear-tips, and this was serious stuff – questing time to fend off the latest attack.

This year, Dark Lord Agnion has sent a plague of ravening gator rats. There’s not many of them just now, but by harvest there will be hundreds of thousands, devastating our crops. So, I got the Orchard of Lyre, and the possibility of a magical instrument to tame the gator rats and lead them out of our lands.

I sharpened my sword, took up my walking staff, and strode off westwards towards the fabled Orchard of Lyre. It was a truly uneventful journey, no more than three gangs of bandits that barely slowed me down, a grove of beguiling maidens that took me a week to escape because leaving too soon would be rude, and a really nasty splinter gathering firewood one evening. After barely a month, I found myself in a field of blue bells, graceful stalks higher than my head, and impossibly vast trilling bells that summoned rabbits from all around. Given a heavy cart and a team of oxen, I might have been able to get one of them back home in a year or two.

A ragged wind-chime bush clinked and chinked, and I could have stripped it and gone, but as any magical gardener will tell you, wind-chimes are just noise, not music, and will never tame any sort of beast, let alone a gator rat.

Beyond the blue bells lay the orchard itself, long lines of tall and stately fiddle trees, with bark so smooth I could never climb it, and the windfalls were nothing but smashed wood and broken strings. In the heart of the orchard I found a ring of duets, plump golden fruit in pairs, singing sweet arias, and easy to reach, but picking pairs is impossible – one fruit always comes away first and then they both shrivel and die.

Then I came upon the orchardess, who looked me up and down, but mostly down, and she told me,

Go down the far end.” She gestured and the bangles at her wrist glinted in the dappled light – simple brass bands but powerful symbols of her devotion to the orchard. “You might find something in your size.”

I thanked her and walked on, out of the towering fiddle trees, through a rolling rock garden, and then behind a rough hedge of wild plectrum shedding their flaky seeds, dotted with soulful jasmine and clusters of lively bluegrass. I skirted round a compost heap of faded melody, weedy arpeggio and chord wood, and there were the nursery beds of experiment and improvisation. Hybrid poppies and whistling reeds jostled with wild drum trees, humming reeds of all sizes and grumpy bass staves, but nothing was properly ready or seasoned, or even well-tempered.

In a corner, almost forgotten, was a shrubby piccolo tree, still too tall for me to pluck, and adorned with thorns to keep me from climbing. After all my efforts, my quest was going to end in failure, so I sat under the tree to think. From the low vantage point I saw a shadow, a hint that all was not lost. At the back, barely visible and tangled into a stand of whispering willow, was some wind-damaged wood, a branch slightly bent and drooping. Just in reach, and fully ripe, I found a low-hanging flute.


(This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt for May – Flute.

Image from Pixabay

https://pixabay.com/users/schwoaze-4023294/

https://pixabay.com/photos/subject-musical-instrument-3647587/

)

Memories Going Pop

What flavour of pop would you like?

That’s a question I’ve not really thought about for getting on fifty years, but it was a part of any visit to my Welsh grandparents in Bristol. Sometimes it would be the question on the day, or it might be in preparation for the next visit, but it’s a part of three intertwined memories in a magical land of choice and adventure.

Going to see them was not a major expedition in itself – about three minutes walk – but once there it was a step into a huge and marvellous house. Actually, it was a pretty normal-size house, but I was small so it looked big, and it had more rooms than my parents’ house – a lounge, a dining room, a kitchen, and in the middle the games room. Somehow that made it special, something beyond the normal defined by my parents’ place.

With the benefit of hindsight, it was an ordinary family home from a time when there might be a single live-in servant, probably living in the attic room reached by a cramped little staircase. I wasn’t allowed up there very often, and only under supervision, probably because there were no locks on the hatches through into the rest of the roofspace. I do recall that access to those spaces was important – Grandpa had to get in there to empty the buckets and bowls under the leaks in the roof.

I’m not even sure that my grandparents’ house had any bigger footprint than my parents’ house which was built in the thirties, before the modern trend of creating estates of cramped shoe-boxes. That “games room” was probably meant to be the “parlour” whilst the dining room at the back was probably a “rear parlour”, or something like that. But, when I was four, the games room was a huge empty space, with old-fashioned lino and French doors out into the yard, past the rear dining room and kitchen, thence to the tiny garden where Grandpa would mow “roads” into the lawn and make “traffic lights” with a stick, three tin cans and some candles.

In spite of its tiny size, my grandparent’s garden was as huge as the house. At the far end, hiding under a shrub, was a fern, just like the myriad that grow all over our farm in Cornwall, but my grandmother assured me that her fern was where the fairies lived. It’s amazing what you believe when you’re four, but then I also had a wheat field, so these things were obviously true. I know that only a dozen or so wheat plants graced my field, all germinated from the seeds on a single ear my parents found in a layby on a drive back from somewhere. It doesn’t matter – a wheat field two feet by one and fairies under a fern formed a self-perpetuating belief. I must have been at least five before I started having doubts about those fairies, even though the ongoing wheat crop was still real.

Another important feature of my grandparent’s house was the all-weather facilities. When it was wet, I could run around the games room, or even pedal my tricycle, trying not to trip over the skittles board (circa 1940) in the corner, and brought down from that mysterious attic because it fascinated me. The games room was a malleable space, vast and flexible, waiting on the whims of my imagination. My grandfather added extra magic in the form of boxes. Really big boxes. OK, calibrate really big with four years old. Even so, they were genuinely on the large size because next door to the family business was a television hire, and these were the boxes that held new TVs. Not only were there boxes, but inside lurked an intricate array of cardboard packing that could be stacked into a shanty town from the edge of tomorrow. Or a spaceship. Or a boat. Or… Like I said: magic.

In one corner of the games room, tucked up by the chimney breast, was a metal meat-safe hanging on the wall, complete with a perforated zinc door. Inside would be a leg of lamb for roasting, and on the floor, underneath, a crate. I think it was grey, but that’s uncertain, because all that really mattered were the bottles of pop.

Does anyone still call it pop? Back then it came in glass bottles and maybe you could buy it in the shops, but my grandmother bought it from the van that delivered around the area. The Corona brand is gone now, but when my grandmother asked what flavour of pop? I knew exactly what I was getting. There was lemonade, and lime, orange and I think something in red, but like the Corona brand, that memory is gone. What I remember clearly is that my Grandmother always had a selection available, and my only challenge was to choose.

Whatever the flavour, those are the three enduring memories: the vast house, the wonder of the games room and the crate of Corona.

And roast lamb, of course. You can’t be much more Welsh than roast lamb. Even if it was from New Zealand.


This was written in response to the June #BlogBattle prompt of Corona.

Airtight Zeal

Roger went off this morning, which was pretty inconsiderate. I thought we were getting along so well. I still have David, of course, but that’s just not the same. It’s just as well I that I picked up Ian last night, although I suppose I’ve known for some time that Roger was going.

It’s a shame, but honestly Roger was losing his hair, and I really liked it the way it was when we first met. Perfect, pitch black and very straight, cut short so it would lift slightly as a spiky halo. Ian’s hair is pretty dark, but more a deep brown than black, but still there’s a lovely crisp straightness. I hope Ian will be with me for a very long time.

David’s hair is beautiful, or it was. I still brush it for him, but the lustre isn’t there any more, and I just find him too cold.

So, Ian…” His fringe was a bit disarrayed and I brushed it straight. I think he smiled – just a twitch of the lips, a teasing invitation. It’s hard to tell and I need time to get used to a new man. “What do you think?”

A whisper, so soft, but I caught the words. “You are beautiful. Your home is beautiful.”

I stroked his hair again. “Breakfast?”

Not for me, but you go ahead.”

He has such lovely eyes to go with that hair. So fresh and clear.

I put some toast on, brewed coffee and got out my best knife. “Sure you won’t have any?”

Well…”

There you go.” I put more toast on and went to the fridge. I had bottles in there, which is silly because they don’t need to be kept cold. “I got these for you.” I think he smiled as I put them on the breakfast bar, just a tiny curl in the corners of his mouth. “I think it will work.”

He tipped his head to one side, contemplative, and that ghostly smile was still there. “Yes.”

And this.” I got a perfectly clear plastic box from the cupboard behind him. “I made this. Airtight. What do you think?”

Perfect,” he whispered, so softly that I might have imagined it.

I have to go out first. I won’t be long.” I stroked his hair again, for reassurance. Such beautiful hair. “It’s Roger, you see? Now don’t be jealous. It’s all over between us. He’s really gone off and that airtight bag is starting to leak.”

Ian still smiled and I straightened his head. Such beautiful clear eyes. Formalin would do the trick.

I put David back in the freezer. He makes such a mess if I let him thaw too much.


I wrote for the May #BlogBattle prompt of Airtight.