What felt worse, how normal things used to be, or how terrible they became?
I laughed when they came. I did your job, I told them. Laughter was the best
medicine, but it wouldn’t cure the gaping hole in my chest, self-inflicted agony, from
where blood oozed like the toothpastes they gave us. Just a little pressure, and it all
came rushing out.
How could you laugh when you might break at any moment?
The fog is going to be terrible tonight. Uncle won’t come. Some birthday!
Annalise was dismal. The cake was ready, and Mama rushed past the simmering
Sauerbraten to hide it, as Annalise entered, her face flushed poppy-red due to the
The velvet curtain behind her concealed Vati, his breath hushed, lest the curtain
They were both going to pretend that they had forgotten her birthday. It was a
terrible strategy to duplicate so frequently, but it always seemed to work.
‘Mama, what- ‘
‘Now, now, Schnuki, Vati will be home soon. You wouldn’t want to go to bed
hungry, would you? So, let me make dinner peacefully.’
‘But, Mama- ‘Annalise's protest was feeble. But her voice had the slight tremble in
it that preceded crying. As she turned, her parents shared a glance and thought
together: ‘Happiness before surprises.’
Suddenly, she looked up. ‘Is that- Uncle! Uncle!’ Annalise bounced with joy. Uncle
was Vati’s friend, and her favourite person in the entire world. She hadn’t expected
him to come tonight, he was so busy.
As he appeared, the cold wind whistled in. Something seemed to be amiss. His kind
face looked downcast, resembling her own, when she didn’t want to eat her
vegetables but was trying to please Mama. It was probably because of the stress of
the police job he had been enlisted in.
Vati emerged from behind the curtain- So they hadn’t forgotten after all! - with
balloons full of candy and éclairs. It will be fun to pop. He and Uncle looked at each
other, talking without words. Vati’s face, wrinkled with smiles and tension,
‘You said you’d tell us days beforehand, Warin!’
‘I did tell you about the inspections! I told you that all the Jews from Vienna have
left, but you insisted on staying! I can take Anna, but- but-’
‘That won’t be necessary.’ Vati’s voice was icy.
‘What? You can’t- ‘
‘Dan! Warin!’ Her voice softening, she turned to Annalise. ‘Let’s see the decoration!’
The candles on the cake flickered with the wind. Mama smiled, but she looked like
Ms. Boesch had when she had given them the Speech.
First, Miss had said that the special kids had left school. After a few seconds, she
added that the Jews were special too, so they couldn’t attend school
anymore. Now, Uncle taught her. She could still hear him shouting at Vati.
‘Mama, why is Uncle speaking in the forbidden tone? Is it related to the
Every night, more of their neighbours were disappearing. All their belongings were
intact; they were the only elements missing from the houses. The street was almost
empty now. Mama and Annalise spent many nights trying to solve the mystery.
Whenever Vati saw them, he pursed his lips in a disapproving manner. It was
probably because Vati hated the police.
‘They are inhuman, greedy, cruel mercenary villains. You shall never join them.’
His tone suggested not that she couldn’t, but that she wouldn’t be able to.
‘What do those big words mean?’
‘I’m afraid you’ll know soon,’ Vati had said sadly, but why would learning the
meaning of words be sad?
Maybe his hatred for the police was why Vati and Uncle were fighting?
A cacophony shook the walls. Mama stopped Annalise from rushing out, but she
fought her way out. What if Vati disappeared too?
She saw the curtain first. The beautiful velvet, the one thing Mama had asked for
on her birthday, was ruined due to red drops. Vati smiled and beckoned to her.
Blood, blood, blood. Pain, suffering, agony. He smiled as he clutched his chest. ‘Ich
liebe dich, meine kleine Prinzessin.’
I love you, my little princess.
He winced as he lay down and closed his eyes.
When she turned, Mama smiled, even as Annalise took in the blood pouring from
her, the way love did. Behind her, Uncle was sobbing quietly, a small device in his
bloodstained hands. A gun. He did something with his fingers to it-
‘Happy birthday, Lisa.’
Was this his present?
(c) Pragya Rathore
Glittering in a December night, the river waters swell and suck and curl
back on themselves, as if resisting the logic of their journey, then surrender
and continue. Two metres below the surface, being carried towards the
estuary, is James, his arms, legs and head shifting not under his own will
anymore, but only in the strong currents. They say that at least one body a
week washes up in the muddy estuary of the Thames, many never to be
identified, and James fully intended to be one of them. As soon as he hit the
freezing mid-channel water, the shock paralysed his limbs, defeating his
body’s instinct to struggle and survive, and he lived for two more minutes
while he was dragged deeper and further into the embracing flow. The river
has him now; he has entered its underworld of darkness and silt, fish and
hidden junk; only it knows what will happen to him next.
By the Tate Modern, as James passes under the Millennium
Footbridge, the part of the river that holds him – as if the floodlit art gallery
reminds it of better alternatives – dithers again, circles on itself, spinning
the body around, and reverses. James tumbles back past the South Bank,
unnoticed by the revellers still lurching from bar to bar. Bubbles of air force
themselves into his lungs, his eyes open, his body spreads out like a startled
seagull’s, he punches through the surface head first and flies backwards
and upwards, legs and arms flapping, onto the middle span of Waterloo
Bridge, landing on the pavement on the other side of its railings. He leans on
them, grabs them, shaking his head, snaps into a body-remembered
position, thinking nothing at the city night’s blankness.
‘Hey! You all right?’ The voice is behind him. He turns. A woman
stares at him, while holding her mobile in front of her, its light a star. ‘You
all right?’ she repeats.
He looks down and notices that his left foot rests on one of the rails;
his right hovers just above the pavement; his weight is beginning to pivot on
the top rail. He looks at the inviting swirl much further below him, doesn’t
climb higher but says nothing to the woman either.
‘Can I say, “Don’t do it”?’ she asks. ‘Is that a bit corny?’
Somewhere inside, a remote, different part of him laughs.
She comes up to the railing, about four feet along from him, and leans
on it looking at the river as he is doing, but further into the distance.
‘I’m Camille, by the way,’ she says. ‘I was just on my way home from a
party –thought I’d walk – and I’m a bit pissed. I’ve no idea how to do this, or
what to say.’ She glances at him. ‘I think it’s best if I keep my distance, like
this - isn’t it? - while being companionable, talking? That’s what they do in
films or cop programmes. You’re not really going to do it, are you?’
James hangs his head. His body feels weak, as if he’s been clinging
onto the railings for hours. He slightly turns to take her in. Middle-aged,
slim, in a long denim coat, hair dyed red, heavy lipstick. She’s put her
‘So, what’s it about?’ She looks directly at him this time. ‘If I can ask
that.’ She has big, wide open eyes that look a lot more worried than she
sounds. ‘A girl? A boy?’
He stares into the water and feels his chest and lip trembling as he
watches lights slithering across the surface like mobile oil paintings.
‘Girl,’ he says after a while.
‘Will you be offended if I say she isn’t worth it?’
That almost-laugh again, from both inside him and away somewhere,
as if from a different James in a different world, one not as empty.
‘So, has she chucked you? Turned you down? Doesn’t realise you
exist? Sees you as a friend? That’s the worst. I can tell you all about that
one.’ She gives an exaggerated, bitter snort.
‘We’ve been friends for a couple of years,’ he says, still gazing into the
river - as if presenting his case to it, giving it reasons to take him. ‘Then I
told her how I felt about her. And she didn’t want to know. She won’t even
speak to me. I think she’s started to laugh at me.’
‘Definitely not worth it,’ says the woman. ‘Where’s all this happening?
‘We’re both at UCL.’
‘UCL? Uh-huh. Hmmm.’ She frowns and nods. ‘So, you’re going to
throw that away? A brilliant education, along with everything else? Great
‘I don’t want it. I don’t want any of it.’
‘I suppose it wouldn’t help to tell you no one is worth that, what you’re
thinking of doing? No one in the world. Whatever she’s done to you. Or that
there are plenty of other girls out there?’
He slumps down, one foot on the pavement now, his head hanging
between his shoulders.
‘And it won’t help to tell you that if you stick it out, you won’t feel like
this in six months? So if you jump down there it’ll have been for the sake of
six months’ pain. Or so. Well, a year say. One year’s… payback, you could
call it.’ She glances across at him again. ‘That’s all. Exactly enough time for
a gap year. Travel. You’d come back a different man.’
He finds himself smiling – not because he believes what she says, but
because of her. Because of a sort of impossible bravery, he can hear in her.
He could almost not jump – for her.
‘So, have you travelled much?’ she asks him. ‘In your short life? You
know – you look out at that river and it could be the Orinoco, the Nile, the
Mekong. The Amazon. If you use your imagination. So much out there.’
A convulsion rips through him, short and brutal – not a laugh, but
something else that makes him grip the rail harder. Then he gets control of
himself. ‘No, I haven’t travelled much.’
‘And have I, you ask. Yes, thank you. All over the place. I’ve had many
adventures. I don’t know how I’ve survived. But I didn’t get to be this wise by
accident, let me tell you.’
His body shakes and he leans forward, holding himself against the
railings. What he again thinks may be laughter runs away from him, then
turns into sobs, much heavier, deepening as he kneels down.
She comes to sit beside him, takes his hand. ‘Come on,’ she says. ‘It’s
ridiculously not worth it.’
‘I would have done it. I was really going to.’
‘I know. You weren’t kidding.’ She yanks on his hand encouragingly to
make him sit on the pavement with her, facing the small-hours traffic. ‘Then
of course there’s the Ganges,’ she says. ‘You’ve seen nothing till you’ve seen
(c) Dharmavadana Penn
Daylight was beginning to soften as George pulled his cardigan over his head and
flapped loose grass away with his hand as he approached the back of his grandpa’s
bungalow. He had just finished mowing the back lawn, a chore he undertook every
Sunday afternoon to help his weary grandfather.
He entered the small kitchen where everything was in arm’s reach. Tea-stained
mugs cluttered the surfaces over to the right, and to his left canned foods formed a
barricade beneath the low wall cupboards.
‘Tea, grandpa?’ he called in the direction of the lounge.
Grandpa heaved an affirmative and George set to work, peeling away the top from a
new milk bottle. He scraped the cream sitting thickly on top and spooned it in a
fresh mug and poured tea over the top. Just the way his grandpa liked it.
George noticed tea bags mounting in an old, lidless tin container with French
writing inscribed on its sides, so he emptied these out and replaced it where it was.
Then George was in the lounge where his grandpa was sitting as still as the rest of
the room. It was like walking into an old antique picture.
The smell of the room was a collection of old times. Old fabrics and papers that
lounged in corners like old lap dogs. The most prized paper of them all was the VE
Day paper printed by The Daily Telegraph printed back in May 1945, framed in a
glass case with a section of shelf all to itself.
The room seemed to be losing its colours as they wore thin in the wallpaper and the
carpet and the tops of shelves as the dust continued to settle.
Now, grandson and grandpa are sitting before a muted television set in seats that
were finely sculpted to the body through years of use. From the hall came the
constant tick tock of the grandfather clock and occasionally the rustling of parrot
feathers from the aviary hanging before the lounge windows through which the
striped lawn could be seen laid out like a fresh new carpet.
George remembered only a year ago not being able to touch the floor in the same
seat in which he now sat. He also remembered how his grandma, Veronica, used to
bake cookies and offer him more than he could possibly eat. He thought about the
colouring set he and Veronica would sit around, drawing flowers and people sitting
outside their houses. That all stopped when she passed six months ago.
Grandpa was too old for fun and games. Nowadays George would just sit by his
side and ask questions, answers to which it seemed only his grandpa could
He turned to look at his grandpa’s ancient features with the same close interest as
museum goers studying ancient artefacts.
’Grandpa, why is your hair grey?’
‘It was the air that made it go grey, boy. Hot air while walking through miles of
deserts, frosted glacier air from the poles, heavy air before thunder, still air in the
tropics, spiced air in the Mediterranean, salted air out at sea. Eventually it turns a
man’s hair grey just like it has mine. Just drains the colour right out of it like thin
dye. That’s why.’
The boy leaned over the arm of his chair making the faded seat cushion groan
‘And why do you have to wear glasses all the time? Thomas at school wears glasses
but only for reading.’
‘Because when you’ve read all the books there are to read in the world and you’ve
seen all the magnificent sights that you’ll never forget, and you’ve written all the
love poems your mind can come up with, and when you’ve opened one hundred
thousand letters and read just as many manuals, your eyes begin to grow tired.’
Grandpa’s eyes slid to the right to take in George’s face. They moved along as slow
as old stones. George felt an unmistakeable force in those eyes which sat deeply in
‘What about your skin?’ George asked next. ‘Why does it have wrinkle lines all over
‘Our skin shifts and shapes and forms like the plates of the earth, boy. Every time
we smile or get cross or shout with our mouths wide open or cry and throw our
heads into our hands, our skin loses its softness and get all these lines. Nothing
you can do about it, though.’
George saw the webs of wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and he wondered how
many times his grandpa had wept.
The boy’s eyes settled on the whitened scar running down the right side of his
grandpa’s temple. He didn’t want to ask about that. Instead he asked, ‘Why are
your ears so big?’
Grandpa gave a wheezy sigh, chest lifting in a slow wave and his nostrils flaring to
let the air back out.
‘When you’ve heard enough screaming and shouting and sirens and gunfire and
heard trees fall in the forests and storms break open the sky and rain pummel the
‘But it is so quiet in your house, grandpa,’ said the boy.
‘Yeah, well, silence is a sound all on its own and you’ll hear plenty of it too when
you get to my age. I’ve heard it in churches, in funeral homes, in cemeteries and all
through the night. Sometimes it is that that keeps me awake at night over the
aches and pains an aged body picks up over the years. Anyway, after years of
listening to laughter and lies and lust and passionate speeches, and the rumble of
trains on tracks and loudspeakers and crowds, and theatre music and radio talk,
all of these things and much more make your ears grow large.’
‘Why do you always have the tv on mute?’ asked the boy.
‘Because I’ve heard just about enough, that’s why. And since I have watched more
hours of talk shows than time you have been alive, I know what’s going to come up
next. I don’t need to lip read to know this strung up woman’s about to launch a
verbal attack on her abusive partner.’
George assisted his grandpa in setting his mug of tea back on the coaster beside
‘And what about your nose?’ asked the boy, not really interested in the show.
‘Same idea, kid. You walk through miles of meat markets, exotic bazars with
endless passageways, smell fresh food money can’t buy you, the smell of sweat
when you’ve worked every hour in a day, the smell of home when you’ve been away
for longer than you can remember, the smell of iced cake and pine on Christmas
day, the smell of logs on an open fire, the smell of the earth you walk on. All of
these things give you a superior sense of smell and makes your nose grow.’
The boy turned to focus on the tv screen and sure enough the woman was going
after the guy who it appeared had been up to some dirty deed. The live audience
sneered silently while others were shaking their heads.
George scrolled his eyes across all the tapes and CDs and books and magazines
resting on a plank shelf held up by nails. He looked at the walls and saw all the
pictures from the different countries of the world. The memorabilia neatly shelved
in the cabinet to his right. The pieces inside, such as the gallantry medals and
postcards, were things accumulated and hard-earned from Asia to the Middle East
to the Americas.
George turned back to his grandpa and saw something unsettling. The hairs on his
grandpa’s arms were beginning to straighten and the skin was covered in
‘Grandpa, what’s happening?’
Then the doorbell rang, and the silhouette of his mother darkened the glass.
Grandpa wiped down his arms. Exhalations sawed rigidly between his teeth and
into the dusty quiet room.
Grandpa said, ’Not everything you see and hear and feel will be good, understand?
And there won’t be anything you can do to stop those memories sitting in your
head like a curse. Now, go and open the door for your mother.’
The boy got up and was making his way over the faded blue carpet, feeling
‘You hear the clock out in the hallway?’ his grandpa spoke up just before the boy
reached the front door.
‘Sure, you can hear it from every corner of your home.’
‘Many things in life we can hold on to, some of which we have no choice but to live
with, but time isn’t one of them. Make sure never to waste a second of it. Now go.’
(c) Matthew Thorpe-Apps
The Quarantine was finally over and the Chrisard students entered school on
Monday at eight in the morning.
Teachers were greeting them at the door with happy smiles and tight hugs. Students
were laughing and jumping, rushing to their classrooms, almost dancing of joy. They
were very excited to finally meet their friends and teachers in real life, and not only
through the screen.
The first English class went by very quickly. Soon, the bell ring invited students to
go out to the playground.
Suddenly, they heard an extraordinary noise. It was like a tearing sound of a
desperate cry. It was in the air surrounding them. They looked around to see where
it came from. Then, they saw it…
On the stairs above the lunchroom was the most spine-chilling figure they've ever
seen in any movie or book. It was shaped like a woman dressed in long, white, ripped
sheets with a hood covering her face. She was floating up the stairs, with desperate
movements, and emitting the sounds of a wounded animal, or a hungry vampire.
The children looked at the faces of their friends and noticed they were extremely pale,
almost translucent from fear. They wanted to scream and run, run very fast and very
far away. Run and never look back…
Then, something horrifying happened: the students couldn’t move at all. They were
paralyzed, some of them still held the snacks, books and cellphones in their hands.
Also, they couldn’t speak or scream, as they had no voice. It seemed that the White
Ghost Lady had bewitched them and kept them under her spell. They could just
observe what was happening around them, as if they were visitors in an unknown
The students looked at their teachers, who didn’t seem to notice the Ghost and didn't
realize something was wrong. It turns out that sometimes adults cannot see the same
things as children, especially when it comes to spirits…
The situation worsened every second as the White Lady's inhuman screams grew
louder and louder.
Then, one of the girls named Lara remembered that her grandmother once told her
a very mysterious story which happened in France hundreds of years ago. The scary
tale now came to Lara’s mind:
In the thirteenth century, there was a castle in the mountains of southern France
where a King and his family lived happily. One day, the King went to fight in the war,
and didn’t come back for many years. His wife and children missed him so much,
that they went looking for him all over the country. Fortunately, they found the King
and after the war ended, the family returned home safely. But when they arrived to
the castle, there was a Ghost there: a Weeping Lady dressed in white, ripped sheets
with a hood covering her face. She wouldn’t stop howling and emitting the most
inhuman sounds. The royal family was terrified and asked the Kingdom’s Magician
for help. The Wizard explained to them that this particular ghost always comes to
places that had been abandoned for a long period of time and cries because she
suffers from loneliness. As she is a spirit, the White Lady does not perceive things
the same way as the human beings and doesn’t realize when the inhabitants finally
return to their homes or castles. She thinks that she is still alone and keeps shedding
The King asked the old man:
- Magician, what can I do to break the spell and free my castle from this terrible
- There is something… a secret way to make her go away. – responded the
Wizard. – But you will have to follow my instructions very carefully and
- Yes Wizard, I will do as you say, please tell me this secret way! – begged the
- You have to call the Weeping Lady by her REAL name: “Margaux”. It is
necessary to pronounce this name with no mistakes, loudly and clearly, three
times in a row. After you do this, there is something else… In order to break
the spell, you and your family have to sing a song that comes directly from the
melody of your hearts.
- A song, which song? – the King was confused.
- I cannot tell you because the song doesn’t exist yet. You and your family will
have to create it during a magical moment. But I can tell you this: only your
own hearts know it… - the Magus responded enigmatically.
- We will do our best then... Thank you very much Wizard! –and as a token of
his gratitude, the King gave the old man three gold coins.
After remembering this story, Lara thought that maybe the same Lady Ghost from
her Grandmother’s legend had appeared in Chrisard school in 2020, since the
building was abandoned for many weeks because of the Quarantine. After all, the
spectres don’t have a physical body, so they do not age. The girl suspected that the
White Lady was only crying from loneliness and needed help to understand that the
students had already returned to school.
Lara wished that she and her friends could do something about this mystery. Then,
she had the most unbelievable idea! She concentrated intensely and tried to transmit
telepathically to other students all the things she knew about the Lady Ghost from
After few minutes, Lara realized that she was able to communicate with the other
children without words and explained her plan to them.
At noon, an unimaginable thing happened at Chrisard’s playground:
- Margaux, Margaux, Margaux … - all the students pronounced loudly and
clearly the White Lady’s name with an impeccable French accent.
Then, they began to sing the loveliest song to the rhythm of their hearts. The lyrics
spoke of solidarity, companionship, respect, joy, honesty, courage, learning, about
being true to yourself and loyal to your friends.
While listening to the song, the White Lady stopped moaning and crying. Very slowly, she took off her hood and showed a beautiful Angel face. She smiled gently at
everyone and waved goodbye, rising to heaven.
Little Detective Lara and her friends solved the mystery and saved Chrisard school.
Now that they had recovered the building after the Covid-19 Pandemic and the Ghost
invasion, nothing would stop them from enjoying it fully, studying, playing and just
(c) Anna Jozefowicz
1. A vast sea monster of tremendous strength, described as the most powerful
and dangerous creature in the ocean.
2. Something large; behemoth.
The sea is not a place for the foolhardy or the arrogant. The depths are filled with
more than water; the gloom of the deep is for the good of all. While the ocean has
an abundance of beauty and wonder, there is also a darkness and melancholy
hidden within the waves and currents. The creatures found in the water surpass
mere sharks and whales, true leviathans of the deep reign in the furthermost
corners of Poseidon's kingdom. However, not all deities remain in their slumber.
The obsidian waves parted before the ship’s hull. The glasslike sea slowly being
carved by the relentless wood. Froth splashed against the side of the stained oak,
like a fervent painter upon his canvas. The night sky was lightly clouded, hazy grey
swirled over the inky heavens, obscuring the moon but still allowing the sky to be
visible. The constellations burned bright above the ship, writing ancient stories in
the heavens. Captain Elijah Ahlstrom sighed lowly, a visible breath rising into the
arctic night, as he gently steered the ship though the still water, wary of ice in the
darkened ocean. The sky above was reflected perfectly in the sea, showing the
clouds stirring softly in the nocturnal breeze. The twilight night held a hint of
serenity, calming the captain’s anxious mind though his fingers continued to beat a
steady rhythm into the wheel. The rest of the crew slept below, resting before their
tasks in the morning. Elijah shifted his weight slightly, his dark leather boots
creaking in protest into the night. The clouds were slowly drifting apart, allowing
some of the light from the moon to land upon the water. The water seemed to
gather mist on the places where the lunar beams struck. Elijah's eyes were drawn
to the strange sight, held there by a strange desire.
The moonlight grew stronger as the clouds dissipated, allowing the entire rock to
appear. Elijah's eyes remained fixed on the moonlight on the sea, swaying lightly.
The moonlight never faltered on the onyx water, the white and black clashing in
haunting beauty. The boat seemed to drift faster toward the misty water, Elijah
having let go of the wheel. An eerie sound filled Elijah's ears and seemed to beckon
him on, sealing his ship's fate as the sound heralded him closer. A low keening wail
sounded leagues below the surface, disturbing the calm waters, and stirring
something deep in the primal thoughts of the enraptured man. The dull thrum
emitting from the lunar rays, grew louder as the ship drew closer. Mist billowed
over the waves, seeking the hull with a faint desperation. Elijah began to breathe in
time with the soothing sound, exhaling with a wistful smile gracing his lips as he
was tugged back into more pleasant times.
The water swirled lightly as something stalked out of sight below the surface, the
deep current beat weakly against its powerful form. The being's scales bulged with
every movement as its muscles grew taught against the sea's desire. The serpentine
form stretched deep into the water as its head sought out the wooden vessel far
above, the crimson eyes drifting over the surface in search of its prey. Far above
Elijah continued to stare, the incandescent white danced with the ghosts of a past
long gone within Elijah's grey eyes. His mouth twitched lightly as though wishing
he could address this perfect sight, yet all words failed to encapsulate the feelings
which stirred his soul. The sails twirled with the twilight breeze, carefree in the eye
of the storm which swirled around them. The silence of the night lay heavily over
the ship as though it was a shroud.
The crisp night’s silence was shattered by an unsure voice, the first mate had
appeared at the stairway to the quarters. His eyebrows were furrowed together as
he stared at the unresponsive captain, whose eyes never wavered. The first mate’s
worry kept his eyes away from the hypnotic sight which lay some distance from the
“Sir? Erm… some of the men are complaining about sounds below the ship. Have
you seen anything out of the ordinary?” The first mate's worry had leaked into his
voice, as he regarded the captain’s blank eyes. Sighing lightly, the man wandered to
the side of the ship, and peered over the side and gazed into the water. The man
gazed deep into the abyss, struggling through the pitch-black water. He had
challenged the abyss, and it had its answer waiting. A glint of red drew his
attention, steadily growing larger; the scarlet orbs never wavered from its target.
The man struggled to form words as the beast began to take shape, its massive
body appearing behind its furious glowing eyes.
As the leviathan of the ocean bed broke the surface, ice cracking under its
primordial rage, it let out a grating screech piercing the calm night, wrenching
Elijah from his celestial prison. Water boiled into steam at the points closest to the
monstrosity, as its fury and bloodthirst manifested. The ancient horror slammed
into the side of the vessel, causing the wood to crack under its weight, and Elijah,
along with his first mate, were thrown to the floor. The colossal snake began to
wind its frame around the ship slowly, water being sprayed everywhere in its fury.
Elijah strained to collect himself after the lunar phenomenon, trying desperately to
think. The scales of the beast shimmered against the light like unholy diamonds.
The first mate scrambled to his feet in an effort to round up the crew, but the tail of
the beast slammed into his chest sending him hurtling towards the mast of the
ship. The horrifying sound of splintering filled Elijah's head, yet the mast seemed to
be untouched. Elijah realised too late as scarlet began to pour from the dead man’s
chest, his shirt barely disguising a bloody ruin which was once a torso.
Elijah's mouth opened to roar for help as he knelt on the soaking wood. The
moisture soaked into the cloth, colouring the fabric almost black under the fading
light. It was then his dark grey eyes met the creatures crimson gaze, and the world
seemed to stop. The wind forgot to blow, the waves halted, and Elijah's breath
refused to leave his lungs. The behemoth’s head tilted slightly, jaws slowly drawing
apart, as it stared at the proud captain. Elijah could not draw his eyes away from
the monstrosity. The deck was abruptly bathed in moonlight once more, painting
shadows alabaster in majesty. The glistening body of the leviathan caught Elijah's
attention, mist rising from its scales as the lunar beams hit the water dripping from
its coiled body. Moonlit water always was beautiful.
(c) Owen Reilly
Sunlight filtered through the trees, falling on crisp leaves and mossy stones. Birds
whistled to each other. Somewhere, a dog was barking playfully. It was cold, but
not too cold, just right to be a perfect day. Except for the girl. She’d been crying for
a while now. He wasn’t sure if, or when, she was going to stop.
Tears fell down the girls’ face, her shoulders shaking with every breath. Finally,
after what felt like hours, she looked up.
“How could you do this to me?” She shook her head. “After EVERYTHING, you just
leave? Did you think I wouldn’t care? Did you think I’d be happy?”
She paced, her feet crunching leaves, her breathing becoming calmer. This was
either acceptance, or the calm before the storm. Probably the latter.
She spun around fiercely, her hair whipping against her face as she came to a stop.
Yep. Here we go. Showtime.
“WHY? WHY NOW?” she was waving her arms around. “Everything is good…was
good. Whatever. I don’t understand. Not at all.” Her arms dropped. “How can
everything we had yesterday just be gone today? I need answers.”
He looked at her in silence. She wasn’t done shouting yet, he could tell by the way
she was standing; fists clenched by her sides, head tilted slightly. She was biting
her bottom lip. She always looked so cute when she did that, even though it
normally meant trouble was coming.
He remembered the first time he’d seen her, how she didn’t look away when she
caught him staring at her, how she stuck her tongue out instead of smiling, how
she held his gaze without looking away until he did. She was so different, he loved
that about her. He smiled sadly. Things change, they always will.
Uh-oh. She’d stopped biting her lip and was taking deep breaths. He was tempted
to leave now, but knew he had to stay. This WAS all his fault after all.
“You were the one who said you’d never leave. NEVER. You were the one who
promised me that you’d always be here. And yet, YOU’RE the one who’s leaving.
Explain to me how that’s fair. How is it fair that I now have to pick up the pieces of
my life and start again, while you don’t have to do that?”
Her face crumpled. Shoulders hunched, she started sobbing.
“It’s just not fair.”
She sank to the floor, her back against a tree, and covered her face with her hands.
He hated seeing her like this, hated that he was the one who’d caused her all this
pain, but it was done. He couldn’t take it back. He had to face the consequences of
his actions, no matter how ugly.
“I just don’t understand.”
She was whispering now, her face still hidden by her hands. The diamond on her
left ring finger catching the sun and sending rainbows everywhere. He’d looked
everywhere for a ring as perfect as she was, but nothing seemed quite right. In the
end, he’d had it made especially for her. A one off, unique design. Just like her. The
look on her face when she saw it was worth all the time and effort it had taken;
nothing was as important as her being happy.
Now look at what he’d done.
She sat huddled on the floor, trying to catch her breath and failing. She needed to
cry, to let it all out. Wasn’t crying supposed to be therapeutic? Five minutes
later…or was it an hour? He didn’t know anymore; he’d lost all sense of time. All he
knew was that she was silent. The crying had stopped. So had the barking dog.
“I don’t really have much choice, do I?”
She looked up. Moisture glistening on her face, a look of resignation mixed with
sadness. She ran her hands through her hair and stood up, inhaling deeply as she
He watched her intently, silently. He’d always admired her strength, nothing ever
seemed to stop her, she just grew stronger with every obstacle flung in her path.
Was she strong enough for this though? This was different. This was him leaving.
She spoke softly, head down as if she were addressing the grass.
“If there’s nothing I can do to change things, then it’d be a waste of time and energy
trying to change them. So, I actually have no choice but to let you go. Even though
I don’t want to, even though I don’t completely understand what’s happened, I
NEED to let you go.”
She smiled softly as she looked up, a stray tear sliding down her cheek, the breeze
catching her hair in such a way that it looked like it was dancing.
“I’ll always love you. Always have, always will.”
God, he loved her. So much.
She was silent, staring at the grass, perfectly still. It was over. She wouldn’t shout
anymore, she’d still be sad sometimes, but he knew her well enough to know that
she’d got it all out of her system. He could go.
He turned and started walking away. If only he hadn’t been driving that night. If
only he hadn’t been texting. If only he’d hit the brakes in time.
He looked back at the gravestone, pristine and new. The girl sat wordlessly,
running her fingers over the engraving.
If only he had survived the crash.
(c) Emily Dixon
The old beggar sat on two sheets of cardboard outside the One-Stop. He was
wrapped in blankets and a torn sleeping bag its filling spilling out like a breaking
wave. His beard was white and as unkempt as his hair. He pulled a tobacco tin
from his jacket and proceeded to break up some dog-ends onto a cigarette paper.
Then he lit the rollie and started a long choking gurgling cough. He stubbed out the
cigarette and added the dog-end to his collection. People passed. Some looked the
other way; most didn’t even notice him sat there. A woman came out of the shop
and dropped some change in his used takeaway coffee cup. Then, glancing around
as if she was ashamed, she passed him a chocolate bar. She straightened up and
hurried away before he sorted out his gratitude.
‘See you, love.’
Time passed, he sat and tried to be grateful when someone dropped some coins. It
was awkward from so low down. He got bored. He felt invisible, not connected. His
bum was going numb. He stood up and shook out his bedding, then tried to make
the pavement more comfortable by padding it with one of the blankets. He looked
up at the sky and roared his anger at it, then sat on the blanket, wrapped himself
in his rags, and continued begging.
A youth approached him. He looked clean and as if he had slept between sheets.
The old man squinted at him fearfully, then his eyes focussed, and he relaxed.
‘You again? What do you want this time?’
‘Just a chat old-timer. Mind if I join you?’
‘It’s a free country.’
The young man squatted down beside the old man.
‘So, how are you doing?’
‘Same as usual, sitting on a cold pavement getting a numb arse.’
‘Have you thought about what I said?’
‘Nope. It’s all a load of gobshite.’
‘It’s more comfortable than sitting on a cold pavement.’
‘Watching telly all day?’
‘You could do other things. You could read like you used to.’
‘It’s not a life, is it?’
‘Is this?’ The young man waved his hand indicating the pavement.
‘It’s what I know.’
‘You’ve known more than this. You’ve worked. You’ve traveled.’
‘And I’ve minded my own business.’
‘You could write about your adventures.’
‘Set the record straight before I die, you mean?’
‘You’ve lived a life. Now’s the time to take it easy. Make some friends. Have a chat
and a laugh.’
‘I don’t want friends. I don’t get on with people. They’re all so…’
‘You don’t give them a chance.’
‘I did. Back in the old days, I did.’
‘Tell me about the old days.’
‘Ah. The old days. In those days you could travel by thumb. It made things a lot
better. You’d meet like-minded people on the road, and have a great time just
waiting for the next lift.’ The old man was smiling.
‘And what about the lifts? Some of them were brilliant too, weren’t they?’
‘I got some good ones. I guess that I was lucky. Hardly ever had any bother.’
‘You see? People are good.’
‘Were good. Back in the day. It’s not the same nowadays. It was Thatcher that
spoilt everything.’ He looked angry, waving his fist.
‘That was a while back. Isn’t it time to move forward? You could finish your degree.’
‘At the price of study these days! You must be kidding! You told me yourself that
you couldn’t afford to go to university. What makes you think I would be able to?’
‘Okay, but you could study without going to university. There are other courses.’
‘What’s the point for someone as old as me? I’m hardly about to start a career. Now
you, if you choose the right course, why you could get a numb arse sitting on an
office chair!’ He broke off laughing. ‘Give us a fag young man and stop squatting
there. Sit down.’
The young man stretched out his legs in front of him and produced a pouch of
rolling tobacco. They sat on the pavement smoking together.
‘I bet you can’t smoke in this hostel of yours.’
‘There’s a group that nips outside regularly. They’re probably the friendliest group
there. You’d like them.’
‘No, I wouldn’t.’
‘How do you know? You haven’t given them a chance. It would be like waiting for a
‘A lift into a coffin most likely. Next, you’ll be telling me they drink together’
‘We try to discourage alcohol.’
‘Not even a nip in my breakfast tea? And I’m supposed to find this place
‘Some of the client group have issues with alcohol and other substances.’
‘Substances?’ he roared, ‘If you mean drugs why don’t you say drugs?’
‘It covers a lot of stuff that might not be thought of as drugs.’
‘You lot these days, you’re so coy. Look, you just don’t like people being happy
however they get there, do you?’ The old man shifted his cardboard under him and
looked around. A young woman approached the shop apprehensively. ‘Spare us
some change love?’ He broke into a gurgling cough and spat some phlegm across
the pavement. The young woman ignored him and went into the shop. ‘Youth of
today,’ he muttered,’ no generosity, they’d let you die of thirst, all I want is a can of
cider. What have I got? A frigging bar of chocolate.’
‘If you went into the hostel, we could sort out your benefits, you wouldn’t have to
depend on begging.’
‘I’m a lost cause mate. Stop wasting your time on me.’
‘I’m not going to give up on you. Winter’s coming, and you’re not well. We could
look after you.’
‘Dying would be a release.’
‘You don’t mean that.’
‘Don’t you start telling me what I mean and don’t mean.’
‘Okay sorry. I just mean that there would be people who’d miss you.’
The door opened and the young woman came out.
‘Go on miss! Give us something if only a smile.’
She looked embarrassed and twisted her face into something that could have been
a smile if it had reached her eyes.
‘Well at least you tried.’ the old man laughed as she hurried away.
He turned back to the young man beside him.
‘What if I did come into your hostel? Then what? You’d try and get me to do some
voluntary work or something, wouldn’t you? Then you’d put me on a council list
and try and find me a proper job. I’m not suited to settled life. I don’t want to be
part of fucking society. For fuck’s sake, you’ll have me married with a mortgage
before you’ve finished.’
‘It’s not like that at all. Just more comfortable than here. You might make friends.
There again you might not. It’s up to you. But you ought to see a doctor about that
cough, and that’s hard when you have no address. That’s just the way the system
The old man gurgled some more and then coughed and spat.
‘I’m not as frightened of dying as I am of doctors.’
More people passed and he managed to hassle a few coins. He looked into his paper
cup and removed some of his money.
‘It’s not good to look as though you’re doing well. People get less generous.’
It started to rain. The old guy looked at the sky and raised a fist at it. Then he
pulled a piece of plastic out of his bedding and spread it over himself.
‘Sorry, there’s not enough to share. You’d better get going or you’ll catch your
‘I’m alright for now.’ the young man replied, ‘Look. I need to know your name. It’s
just for the records. I’m Adam by the way.’
‘You think I give a flying fuck about your records?’ said the old man, ‘I’m off what’s
‘Yeah, that’ll do. Off-grid. Now if you’d lied and said you needed it for your expenses
because you’d bought me a drink. Well, then, I’d have made something up, but if
it’s just for your records, you can keep calling me Old Timer. Lord Old Timer,
Gentleman of the Road, in full.’ he laughed and then some more, ‘Lord Old Timer, I
like that.’ then his laughter gave way to a coughing fit.
Adam looked concerned. ‘That cough of yours is getting worse. You need to get it
‘Argh. It’s nothing. Just a cough. The rain doesn’t help. Cider does. I call it cough
syrup. Why don’t you do something useful and go inside and get me a drink?’ He
spat into his hand and then wiped it on his sleeping bag. ‘I’m getting a bit tired
now, I think I might go somewhere for a kip.’ He struggled to his feet and picked up
his bedding and cardboard. Then he leaned on the wall, wheezing.
‘I think we’d better take you to hospital.’ said Adam, reaching for his phone.
‘No thanks, just leave me be now. Please’. He pushed himself upright and started to
walk away. People watched as he sank to his knees and then collapsed onto the
pavement. A red stain grew on his beard.
(c) Robin Mortimer
I am dead. I’ve been dead for a while. It kind of sucked at first, you know, no one
likes dying but to be honest not much has changed since then. It’s been a week
now. I’ve just been sitting around my apartment, mostly watching TV. I can still
hold the remote and lounge on the couch. It turns out I can’t really eat which is a
bummer but I don’t have to go to work anymore of course, no more being shouted
at by that pig equivalent of a human manager for stocking conditioner in the
shampoo section. I thought dying would be a little more, you know, walking
through walls or hovering or I don’t know reincarnating as a badger or something.
None of that has happened. I don’t think other people can see me. Every day I walk
down the same old streets of my small hometown that I always told myself I would
leave and no one turns an eye towards me then again they never did. I’m not
asking for a pity party. Yeah, my life kinda sucked in a small hometown kind of
way. All the smart kids left town for bigger and better things, all the pretty girls left
town for bigger and better men and all the loners like me ate entire boxes of pizza
in the apartments we could barely afford. Ironically, the only interesting thing that
has every happened in my life was dying. The memory still hurts a little, who would
have thought duck ponds could be so deadly. Shivers.
Anyway, I don’t have much to do right now. No job, no need to buy food and no one
seems to have taken my apartment away yet. I am beginning to think that no one
had noticed that I am dead. My manager was probably going to fire me soon
anyway and it’s not like I have a three group chats on my phone. I have friends, I’m
not a complete loser but no one has called or rushed into my apartment with tears
streaming down their faces desperate to know where their best friend Darrel has
been. I wouldn’t be surprised if my body were still sitting at the bottom of that
duckpond and I doubt the man who hit me with his car would stick around to call
the police. Before I fell unconscious, maybe I should have shouted a little more,
might have saved my life but you try getting your wits together when your semiconscious body is being pecked at by a duck.
I stand up from my couch and flick the TV off. I’m going to try check the cemetery,
see if there is any other ghost pals I can hang out with. If I’m lucky I might see my
The grim reaper poured himself another mug of coffee. People had been dying
everywhere this week and it was all the grim reaper could do to stay awake. Suicide
rates had been higher than ever and it was always depressing to bring those kind of
people down to the underworld. Where were all the interesting murders? He hadn’t
had an interesting murder for some time. Two thousand years of people burning
witches at the stake and poisoning rival kings with cranberry juice and now this.
Another plague to add to the black one and the great one, he’d seen it all before.
There was ding from the computer and the grim reaper twisted his desk chair
around to face it. Another drunk car crash. The grim reaper rose with a sigh and
picked up his scythe from its bracket on the wall, it was good to keep up
appearances and he always got a kick from the terror on those people’s faces.
Okay can confirm that my parents are not at the cemetery. No one was there except
a couple of teens spraying graffiti on old tombstones. I tried to scare them away by
running at them with my arms raised but they just laughed and strode off. Still not
sure if they saw me, though if they had they would have just seen a late twenty-
year-old with his arms in the air, not particularly frightening. Maybe I need a white
sheet with two holes poked in it or is that too comical? I’ve been reading some
books about death recently. There’s the ascent to heaven or hell I guess, the
Buddhist reborn thing, the whole haunting old houses thing, nothing about
someone just chilling in their apartment, guess that doesn’t make a great story. A
couple books mention the grim reaper of a guardian angel coming to collect the
dead souls, guess that bit isn’t true.
“Jesus Christ.” The grim reaper had barely sat back down at his desk before his
computer began to ping furiously. He flicked open his inbox to find several hundred
emails from heaven of all places. He slid his reading glasses onto his nose and
peered down at the messages.
“You!” The grim reaper leapt out of his seat with a yelp as someone burst through
his office door. It was an angel in the custom white robes and jetpack that humans
had for some reason interpreted as wings. She was breathing heavily with cheeks
“Why haven’t you replied to any of the messages from upstairs?” She said pointing
a perfectly manicured finger at him. “The boss is frantic.”
“What’s happened?” The grim reaper stepped back, wrapping his black cloak closer
“There is a soul you have not collected.” The grim reaper looked down at his check
list, it didn’t look like he had forgotten anyone. The angel snapped her fingers
“Do you know what this means?”
“Yes, yes Galadria I know. I must have accidently crossed off his name, calm down
it can’t have been anyone important.” Galadria flicked back her golden ponytail.
“I thought updating your list technology would have sorted this issue. I can
understand all the haunting in the middle ages but everything is automated now,
you shouldn’t be so careless. When I come back you better have that soul.”
Galadria slammed the office door behind her before the grim reaper could add
anything else. He took another sip from his coffee and then spat it out again. It had
gone cold. Damn. Pesky souls, this was going to be a lot of paperwork.
There was a knock at my apartment door. I sat up from my place on the couch. A
visitor, a real-life visitor. I couldn’t believe it. Somebody had come, somebody must
have noticed my absence. I straightened myself up and darted towards the door. I
bet it was Fran, we saw each other nearly every day at Ricky’s Convenience Store.
Unless she had died about the same time I did, she had been about eighty. But
someone had to have noticed I was dead by now, somebody had to have cared.
I flung open the door.
“Well this is awkward.” The grim reaper said, clutching his scythe to his chest. “It
seems that I forgot about you.”
(c) Hannah Burgess
Jim instinctively hunched as the bitingly cold wind sliced through him on the
exposed platform, making him shudder. The drop in temperature had been as
drastic as it had been sudden. He turned his jacket collar up and not for the first
time that evening, cursed his reluctance to ever drive again. Rubbing his gloveless
hands together to keep warm, he glanced around at his surroundings. Although the
station appeared deserted, the feeling of being watched persisted, the eerie silence
only punctuated by the monotonous rhythmic clunking of the platform clock
He stared longingly down the track even though he knew his train wasn’t yet
due and was just about to relieve the monotony by once again pacing the length of
the platform when a noise to his right startled him. He turned just in time to see an
empty tin can skimming along the platform’s surface towards him. Convinced it
was just the wind, he allowed himself to relax, but immediately tensed again when
he saw that none of the other detritus littering the platform was moving. The wind
had momentarily subsided.
Somebody had clearly kicked the can and Jim once again scanned the
vicinity, positive now that he wasn’t alone. Still he couldn’t see anybody. Suddenly
aware of just how vulnerable he was, Jim slowly backed away.
Whilst he’d welcome some company, even if they didn’t feel comfortable
talking to him, an aggressive drunk or a group of boisterous teenagers were the last
thing he needed. He didn’t want to become another filler piece for his local
newspaper. Another statistic that the public had become almost desensitised to. He
silently prayed his train would soon arrive.
Whoever had kicked the can had chosen not to reveal themselves and that
only served to fuel Jim’s anxiety.
Still backing away, he eventually collided with something hard and
unyielding and he cried out in alarm. Jim spun round, his briefcase raised in front
of him as a shield, though what good it would do he had no idea. He let out a small,
nervous laugh of relief when he realised it was only a lamp post. Glancing round he
saw that he was now outside the waiting room and was shocked to see the
silhouette of a woman through the frosted glass to his right. How she had got past
him and into the waiting room he had no idea, but the chance for some company
was something he couldn’t pass up. Sometimes there was safety in numbers. He
just had to be mindful that she was a woman alone and would be apprehensive of
his intentions. It wouldn’t do to scare her.
He tentatively opened the door and stepped in, but the room was empty.
Jim could feel his heart racing but before he could dwell on her impossible
disappearance his attention was drawn to the sound of approaching footsteps
outside. Still confused but eager to see who was out there, he turned and left the
waiting room only to be confronted by an empty platform. The toilets were locked so
other than the waiting room there was nowhere they could have gone.
Despite the cold Jim could feel his cotton shirt clinging to his damp back as
he cautiously made his way along the platform. He was determined to find whoever
it was that was taking great delight in tormenting him.
He stopped abruptly. Although he hadn’t heard footsteps this time, he just
knew that somebody was close behind him. He could sense it. The first thing that
struck him was the terrible smell of decay. Then he could hear laboured breathing
and finally he felt someone’s breath on his neck.
The meagre contents of his stomach felt like they’d turned to liquid as fear
threatened to paralyse him. Convinced he was about to be mugged by some meth
drinking vagrant, Jim mustered the last of his waning courage and spun round
with fist raised poised to strike, but again nobody was there.
A child’s laughter drifted through the still night air and he thought that he
caught a glimpse of a young girl turning a corner further up the platform near the
waiting room he had just left. He hurried back in their direction, desperate to speak
to them. More laughter followed, first from the opposite platform and then from
behind him. Still he saw no one.
His mind sought to calm him telling him it was just kids pranking him, but
something didn’t sit right. Visions of that night threatened to overwhelm him, but
somehow, he managed to calm his emotions. He could have just left and tried to
find a taxi, but something compelled him to stay.
He rolled his shoulders trying to ease the tension, but anxiety and fear
weren’t about to release their grip any time soon. The silhouette in the waiting
room had been too large for a child and how would a young child’s breath reach his
neck? Was an adult with them, encouraging them, orchestrating it all? And how
could they disappear like that? There were too many unanswered questions.
If the children were alone, he knew that he’d never be able to board the train
and leave, despite their behaviour towards him. What if something happened to
them? If he read in the news some days later that a child had died after larking
around at the station, he’d never be able to forgive himself.
If something happened to them like… like… He smothered the memory
before it could take root. He couldn’t afford to relive that incident not now, not ever.
Its approach unnoticed, a train suddenly hurtled through the station
causing him to cry out in shock, throwing wrappers and empty polystyrene cups in
the air, the draught it caused making him wobble on his feet. He had been
perilously close to the tracks. He turned to face it, watching as the mostly empty
carriages raced past, the few faces he saw within nothing more than anonymous
His train would be here soon.
When the last carriage had passed, he found himself looking at a young girl
on the opposite platform. Though he continued to stare, his brain refused to accept
the gruesome image before him. Her dress was torn and splattered with blood and
a bone protruded from her left arm, under which she somehow cradled a cherished
dolly. She was staring at him, her bruised and cut face expressionless.
Jim stepped back trying to put more distance between him and the image he
knew couldn’t be real, but the sound of the waiting room door opening behind him
made him turn. Once again nobody was there. When he looked back the girl had
The sound of running footsteps coming over the footbridge paralysed him
with fear, but as quickly as they had appeared, they vanished again. A few seconds
later a football bounced down the stone steps onto the platform in front of him.
Terror constricted Jim’s throat and his heartbeat at an alarming rate. He stopped
the ball with his foot and looked up just as a young boy in a bloody and shredded
football shirt came racing down the steps towards him at a speed that shouldn’t
have been possible.
Fright became panic. Jim screamed and turned to run but blocking his way
was a young woman. She too was covered in blood. Her neck lolled at an
incongruous angle to the rest of her body. Screaming again and desperate to evade
the horror show around him, Jim lost all perception of the platform edge and
stumbled backwards onto the tracks.
He landed heavily and cried out with the pain. His left leg was bent under
him and he had no doubt it was broken. Judging by the searing pain his right
shoulder was dislocated. Tears streaming down his face he looked up hoping that
someone somewhere had seen him fall or heard him cry out and would come to his
rescue, but no one did. Instead his gaze fell on the woman and two children. They
were standing on the platform edge staring down at him. No, that was wrong he
realised, they weren’t standing, they were hovering, perhaps six inches off the
ground. The boy had the football tucked under his left arm and they were all
smiling. Their clothes were no longer bloodstained, and their bodies were
unblemished just like they’d been before he’d killed them in a hit and run accident
several months before. If he hadn’t reached over for his phone... If he hadn’t tried to
text… If he’d just kept his eyes on the road…
Jim lifted an arm to reach out to them, to plead for help but as one they all
slowly glanced to their left. Hope fluttered in his heart when he thought that
perhaps they’d seen somebody coming to help him and he followed their gaze.
Instead his train was finally here.
(c) Jeff Jones
The sign of the honeybee had hung on the shop front for a hundred years, or
at least that’s what the locals would have you believe. A whole century it had flown
on the wind, its huge eyes – all-seeing with a thousand lenses – watching the
comings and goings of the little town. If only it could speak . . . what stories it
It really was a work of art. Delicate wings of transparent chiffon, veined with
strands of saffron to give them strength, stood proud of the base-board. Why, one
could almost imagine the creature leaping from its frame and taking flight. It must
have been re-painted on several occasions, or how else would its contrasting stripes
of butterscotch yellow and mocha brown have retained such vibrancy.
Melissa had come upon the charming town of Bradstoke almost by accident
whilst en-route to view two potential shop premises in nearby towns. Feeling
peckish and having an hour or so to spare before the next viewing, she had
followed the sign to the little car park just off the High Street, but despite strolling
its entire length had failed to find a café or restaurant. Instead, she’d had to make
do with a packet of crisps and a bottle of water from the newsagents.
It was as she’d stepped outside of the newsagent’s that the sign of the bee,
suspended from the premises opposite, had caught her eye. Window frames,
painted buttercup-yellow, drew her attention to the large ‘To Let’ board, and from
where she stood her own reflection smiled at her, willing her to take a closer look.
She’d crossed the road and taken down the phone number, and it had all started
from there really.
Apparently, over the years, the premises had been home to a variety of
enterprises, but despite having no link to the bee, not one of the previous
occupants dared to have the sign removed. Local legend spoke of how the honeybee
acted as protectorate of the community, and so no-one had ever wished to risk illomen.
It had to be fate, for what better advert could there be for a sewing studiocum-coffee shop
than her very own sewing bee to welcome customers at the door.
Melissa stood stock still for several moments, hypnotised by the bee’s gentle
lulling swing as it played on the southerly breeze. Then, beaming from ear to ear,
she turned to admire her newly painted business name which now adorned the
shop front - Snip ‘n Tucker - written in cursive, amber-coloured lettering with a
honeybee trail at its tail end.
With a contented sigh, she retrieved the key from the pocket of her summer
dress and unlocked the shop door. Only it wasn’t really a shop . . . or at least not
yet. It soon would be though, as she was due to open the following day. Hands on
hips, she determined a flightpath through the maze of cardboard boxes strewn on
the floor from the previous day’s delivery.
At least she hadn’t needed to re-decorate, for the walls were already freshly
painted in subtle tones of apricot and cream; deliciously tempting! And she’d spent
the whole of the previous week setting up six little sewing stations in readiness for
Bolts of vibrant fabrics, in a multitude of floral prints, lay stacked upon
vanilla, wooden shelves whilst wicker baskets, in all shapes and sizes, boasted
buttons and various other sewing notions. Hexagonal frames, displaying tonal
cottons within their cells, were slotted together on the central wall to form a bright
and busy focal point. Her dream of the pleasant little community where she
intended to nurture a bustling hive of activity was taking shape quite nicely.
All that remained now was to set up the little café towards the back...
Early-morning sunshine streamed through the large display windows. Melissa
opened wide the small window at the top, encouraging a cool breeze to enter, and
began to unpack her wares.
Matching crockery in lemon and white was neatly arranged on the dresser and
interspersed with bulbous jars of her own organic honey, their inviting labels,
printed on a gold background, pleading to be purchased. Tiny ceramic pots of
creamy honey-butter were dotted about, and the space between was scattered with
sprigs of dried lavender, adding colour to the display.
A handsome slab of sage, honey and roasted red pepper cornbread to tempt those
with a more savoury palate, and sticky honey cakes drizzled in lemon frosting for
those with a sweet-tooth, were placed in air-tight canisters to keep them fresh. A
variety of organic fruit teas, as well as the more traditional earl grey and breakfast
tea, and an impressive range of coffees were added to the chalkboard menu. Just
one more display to sort and she’d make herself a cuppa, perhaps even indulge in a
slice of cake; after all, she’d worked hard all morning.
On a small, circular table, draped in a dandelion print, Melissa arranged jars
of royal jelly, beeswax and banana lip balms and little pots of propolis cream, all
lovingly prepared by a close friend, and all, of course, organic.
Ah, job done. She snuggled into a cocoon-shaped cane chair, strategically
placed next to a products catalogue, and curled her feet beneath her. Inhaling
deeply, she encouraged the steaming peppermint tea to clear her head and calm
her busy mind. Memories and daydreams drifted into one, becoming less coherent .
‘Daughter, you have proven yourself to be my most loyal attendant,’ The
Queen Bee said. ‘And now you shall be amply rewarded.’ Her Queen was soon to
die. Her own sister – a younger, more fertile queen – was already waiting in the
wings, plump with royal jelly and ready to supersede their mother. Having stung
her opposing sisters to death, the younger had proven herself worthy of the title
and was growing impatient.
‘When the sun sets on this glorious autumn eve, both your life and mine will
end, and you shall receive a new life of your choosing. Take from the hive a
plentiful supply, for you have earned a thousand times your weight in golden
The attendant did not know how to reply. She loved her Queen and had been
faithful and loyal to her ever since the very first day of her employ, but she too was
growing old and tired of this life.
So, they sat together at rest, watching the evening sun as it dipped on the
horizon one last time . . .
Melissa came back to the present with a start, spilling the last dregs of her tea
into her lap. Where was she? For some moments, she failed to make sense of her
surroundings, then slowly . . . gradually, they grew once more familiar.
When she was born, her grandmother had chosen the name Melissa, derived
from the Greek word for bee. Neither of her parents had objected; in fact, they had
considered it rather sweet.
But now her grandmother was gone.
On her death-bed, Melissa had made her a promise – that she would put her
inheritance to good purpose, and in doing so create her own, personal utopia. So
here she was, fulfilling that promise. Fortunate enough not to require the income
from this new venture to support her day-to day living, she had already decided to
donate its proceeds to charity. She was certain that the Bee Friendly Trust would
be able to put the money to good use. She smiled to herself, glad that she could
Rising stiffly from the chair, her aching back reminded her of all the lifting she
had done that day. There was just one last item to place. Wistful with fond
memories, she carefully unwrapped the framed photograph and placed it in the
centre of the dresser. Lily Rose Hummel – her grandmother. From the open window,
the pleasant hum of a honeybee drew closer and closer.
Serene, sleepy, satisfied.
Landing softly atop the photo frame, its saddlebags swollen with pollen, it
watched her contentedly. Both queens in their own right – her grandmother and
this little bee and this world, all the more rich for having had them both.
(c) Catherine McCarthy