Showing posts with label Booklet 7. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Booklet 7. Show all posts

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Avenging Ghost by Eva Bell

Except for a few twinkling stars in the sky, the night was pitch dark. It was rumoured that on every New Moon night, the ghost of Rita Ribeiro haunted the resort where she committed suicide five years ago. Ronald Costa, who was a member of the Anti-superstition Forum, boasted that he would spend a night at the resort and dispel all rumours of a ghost.With lights turned off, Ronald settled down in a chair in that very room, relishing his whisky. He recalled the night when he had slipped arsenic into her drink because she attempted to blackmail him. Rita was a well known TV artist and he was an ambitious politician, libertine to the core. Their affair was kept under wraps and their rendezvous clandestine, as neither of them wanted to be the subject of gossip and speculation.
Ronald was on his fourth peg and things began to look fuzzy. But he poured himself another peg and saw there was still a quarter bottle left.
“Don’t get too comfortable” a voice whispered in his ear, as a wraith-like apparition stretched both her hands to his throat. “Ronald dear, you might have escaped the hangman’s noose, but not my revenge.”
The next day the staff found him lifeless and slumped in his chair with the empty glass in his hand. “Must have been a massive heat attack. Poor guy!” they said. They never guessed that a criminal often visits the site of his crime, confident that he would never be caught.


© Eva Bell

Shielding by Graham Crisp

“Mabel, are you OK? I’ve tried ringing you but there was no answer, can you come to the door. I know you’re in because the kitchen light was on, I just want to make sure you’re OK.”Mavis was repeatedly tapping the brass door knocker fixed to the centre of Mabel’s front door. She stretched up to peer through the diamond shaped frosted glass that was cut high into the door, seeking out any signs of movement inside.
A light suddenly beamed through the opaque glass and Mavis could hear rustling on the other side of the door.
“You can stop that racket now, Mavis, I’m coming.” Mabel’s welcoming tones made Mavis sigh with relief. She rested on her heels as the door slid open and Mabel’s familiar face appeared into the daylight.
“Look, I know you mean well, but there’s no need to fuss, I’m just shielding. You know with all this virus malarky going on, I just thought that I should keep my head down.” Mavis was unconvinced with her explanation. She reached out for Mabel’s hand, immediately noticing it felt cold. “You look tired Mabel, can I come in an make you a cup of tea?” Mabel glanced quickly over her shoulder.
Seizing an opportunity, Mavis pushed hard on the door.
“Hang on,” Mavis exclaimed, pointing to the floor. “Whose shoes are these?” Mavis gestured towards two Ralph Lauren monogrammed white trainers sitting neatly at the bottom of the stairs. “They’re definitely not yours.”
Mabel shrugged, refusing to make any eye contact. Mavis went on the offensive, “They’re Pamela’s, aren’t they? She’s back, again isn’t she?” Mabel slowly nodded her head, leaning forward, she whispered, “HE’S back, Parsons is out, it’s only a matter of time before……” Her voice tailed away.
“Oh Mabel, what are we going to do?”


© Graham Crisp

The Big Issue by Steve Goodlad

“What you lookin’ at?” I would never have believed your reaction. I only said hello. If I had asked for money, you would have looked the other way? If I showed you a Big Issue or an empty Costa cup? Enclosed in a car on a motorway, your instinct is to nose and your rubber neck turns the opposite way when you are exposed.
If I had shouted for help, what would your Samaritan do? Helping is an extreme sport here, like swimming with a dolphin but then you might see that it’s a shark, or a U boat. So, you don’t take the risk, you follow the shoal. You only get picked off if you show no control

I am not selling double-glazing or signing you up for a donation or sizing up your clothes to judge your financial status whether you wear designer labels, or market stall specials. I have no intention to follow you, I am walking in the opposite direction. You look back at me like I am diseased, unclean or carrying an infection.

I only said hello and you had me arrested for suspicious behaviour, disturbing the peace.
For smiling in public, being friendly, letting my guard down. It’s not the done thing, people are locked up for such perversion. Snarl, frown, stare at the ground, ready to react, like a normal person.


© Steve Goodlad

The Plan by Hilary Taylor

Her biggest mistake was to pretend she enjoyed camping, just so he would remain interested in her. Since then, he had insisted every spare hour be spent hiking hills, canoeing on lakes, and sleeping under canvas if the weather didn’t allow them to sleep under the stars!
She stared at the view, tall trees, everywhere. What were they? Elms,Oaks? How the hell was she supposed to know? If she asked him, he would just sigh and call her ignorant. She had to admit that the scenery was gorgeous, all those colours reminding her of the racks of coats she longingly looked at when she last went shopping. How long ago was that? Months she guessed, he had made sure that she never got a chance these days, and it just wasn’t the same shopping online, she needed to feel the textures, put items together to assess the effect, and in any case, he had cancelled her credit card.
He had looks, charm and money, but even her mother had seen through the fa├žade and told her those things, especially the money shouldn’t matter. “Of course it matters” she had retorted, and refused to speak to her mother for months. What she hadn’t realised, was that he would be so controlling, so possessive. Yes, she had loved him, but a girl needed a pair of Louboutins, a Vera Wang outfit, pampering, bling. She did NOT need to be scrabbling around in mud, cold, damp, bored… so bored!!!
Enough was enough. Tonight would be his last. Somewhere in the middle of those trees, in the dark, some wild animal would attack, tearing at his flesh with huge yellowing fangs, killing him and dragging his body away from the camp:- or so she would tell the police tomorrow morning.


© Hilary Taylor

The Phone Call by Elaine Peters

Mary shuffled over to the side table and picked up the phone.

‘Hello? May I help you?’ she spoke clearly; she hated when people didn’t enunciate properly.

There was a clicking sound then a female voice with an American accent set off on her prepared script.

‘Good morning, ma’am, please may I speak to Mr Frank Brown? I’m calling with very good news for Mr Brown.’

‘I’m sorry. Frank Brown is not here. I’m Mrs Brown, you can talk to me.’

‘No, ma’am, I need to speak to Mr Brown. I have some good news to give him, and I have to speak to him personally.’

‘I’m sorry, that won’t be possible. You’ll have to speak to me if there’s anything to do with him.’

‘Ma’am, Mr Brown will really want to speak to me. I know he will. I have great news to tell him.’

Mary sighed. She hated these calls. She hated what she had to say.

‘You’re too late, he died last year.’

The line clicked dead and the good news lady hung up without further conversation.


© Elaine Peters

The Apology by Graham Crisp

The credits at the end of another EastEnders episode were rolling down Mabel’s TV screen when the doorbell rang.

“I wonder who that can be?” Thought Mabel, “I don’t get callers at this time.” She hesitated for a second, but fearing that it might be an emergency, she shuffled along the hallway, checking that the chain latch was secured, before she opened the door.

“YOU”, Mabel exclaimed, “What do you want?” A young woman stood before her. She spoke softly. “Look Mum, I don’t want to make a fuss, I just want to say sorry to you and to Dad.”

Mabel’s eyes narrowed, “You're too late, he died last year.” She released the chain from its base and waved the woman in. “Come on Pamela, it's cold standing here, go into the living room, you know where it is.”

Pamela, head down, entered the house and headed for a chair in the living room. “NOT THERE, that’s your Fathers chair, sit here on the settee.”

“How did he …….?”

“Heart attack, it was swift”

“I’m sorry.”

“Well after all you put us through, after you did …… what you did……. he was never the same.”

“Ostracised at work and here only Mavis, two doors down, and Mr. Patel in the corner shop, were speaking to us, what would you expect?”

Pamela dabbed her eyes with a greying handkerchief. “Honestly Mum, I am really sorry.”

Mabel stood. “Anyway, you’re here now, I’ll put the kettle on.”

Mabel slipped into the kitchen, she pulled two cups and saucers from the top cupboard. Her keen ears heard footsteps. She peered out of the kitchen just quickly enough to see her front door closing.

Mabel looked sideward into the living room; she saw that her purse was missing.


© Graham Crisp

Bob & Phyllis by Liz Breen

There was so little to smile about, that’s what Joanne’s neighbour had said. It’s so miserable now, she went on. Joanne only wanted to know if she wanted anything from the supermarket as she was going to get some bits. Ooh, go on then, Iris said, fetch me some of those minty biscuits with the foil wrapper.

The queue snaked around the carpark. More deadpan faces and tired limbs shimmied alone remaining the requisite two metres apart, face masks, like botox, no expression available.
Joanne moved along as she was supposed to, as the queue edged ever nearer the entrance.

Boredom took hold.

There was that game Joanne played years ago as a teenager with her siblings in the car. Her brother had just passed his test. They called it the Bob and Phyllis game, she remembered. You have to get your fun where you can these days, she decided.

The object of the game was to be in a queue, as in the car, all those years ago, and leave a gap between your car and the car in front to irritate the driver behind. Bob and Phyllis were named as the generic couple looking infuriated, in the rear view mirror.

Joanne watched everyone take a few steps forward but she held her nerve, smiling to herself. The rebellion, the minor victory against the establishment, was making her giggle. She stayed put as everyone inched forward again. She looked behind to see a face, annoyed, not seeing the humour.

“Can you move?”

Joanne smiled as the shopper returned to their space in the queue behind her. She counted to thirty in her head and slowly moved along, shortening the gap that had opened up. God bless, Bob and Phyllis, whoever they are.


© Liz Breen

Sorry by Elaine Peters

Jane stumbled down the kitchen steps still in her slippers. She was across the yard and through the gate into the lane that ran behind the cottages as if a demon was chasing her. She kept running until she reached the bus stop; the Number 12 was just arriving and she jumped on.
 
She had no money but luckily it was only one stop, and she was off again and beating on her mother’s door before the conductor could approach her.

‘What’s the matter, Jane?’ her mother was looking closely at her. ‘What is it this time?’

Jane’s mother was accustomed to her daughter turning up in hysterics swearing never to go back to her husband ever again.

‘Nothing, Mam, nothing. In fact, I … I …’

‘Just say it, love. Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad. We’ll sort it, together.’

‘Oh Mam. It’s bad, really bad. I think I’ve killed him. I hit him with the frying pan, the big heavy one. I'm sorry!’

Jane’s mother gasped in horror. One time Jane had cut the sleeves off his shirts because she thought he was cheating on her. Another time she’d claimed he’d hit her, but she wasn’t the one with bruises. This was another level.

She tried to keep her voice calm. ‘Did you do that on purpose?’

‘Well, I suppose I did. I mean, no! I didn’t really mean to but I just saw red, and before I knew it … Oh God, I think he’s dead!’

Mrs Gray looked at the white, tear-stained face of her troubled daughter. With a heavy heart she picked up the telephone.

‘Ambulance, please,’ she said, ‘and police.’


© Elaine Peters

Faces of Home by Michelle Weaver

I’m touching her face while those around me disintegrate into slurry. She’s stroking my hair; I close my eyes, relishing her touch. The sun in her hair radiant, inspiring me with its warmth. Like her sun baked face my rifle heats my gaunt cheek. I nestle up close, pulling Joe towards me, he’s still warm. Her love’s determined, matching my own as I repeat her words.

‘You have to make it home Joe, listen to me, please!’

I shake his shoulder, his water canister tumbles into the depths below. Her face is so clear I reach out to touch its beauty when Joe slips from my grip, sliding, his shallow breath a whisper. I gaze into her cornflower eyes, they shine, uncorrupted, so unlike mine.

'Did you do that on purpose?' I ask her, bewildered.

‘Danny, we need to move now,’ my brother yells, ‘hold on!’

I try to find the strength; her face and my brother's determination hauls me up to my feet. I hold on to him, my weight dragging him down. He slips and slides on the uneven, devastated ground, barbed wire snapping at us. Its sharp teeth, hunting us down. I hear his breath, ragged, it leaves his open mouth in streams. The pain in my head and stomach is interminable. I look down to see my blood pooling, dripping , the embedded shrapnel and I know I have to set my brother free. I begin to release my grip, until he looks at me; his eyes fierce. A look so familiar hold on…


© Michelle Weaver

The Visit by Graham Crisp

Charles glanced up at the clock, it was nearly midday. Any second now the telephone would ring as it had for the past ten years, twelve noon every Wednesday. His hand hovered over the receiver like a gunslinger in a wild west shootout. Sure enough, as the clock hands met, a shrill ringtone echoed around the room. His stomach tightened as he lifted the handset. As always, their conversation was littered with ‘how are you’, ‘are you looking after yourself’, ‘hasn’t the weather been awful’. Many other banal and meaningless phrases passed between them. There were numerous pauses, words drying up. During one of these breaks, Charles grabbed his opportunity to say, “Look Betty, I’m sorry but I don’t think I can visit you this Friday. Snow is forecast and you know how much I hate driving in bad weather”. Charles waited for a response, he could hear shallow breaths, then a gulp. “But you must come! It’s my birthday!” His eyes glistened. He’d forgotten. Charles quickly gathered himself and apologised. “Of course, Betty, how silly of me to forget, I’m doing this all the time lately, of course I’ll come. Is there anything special you’d like?” The call ended with the usual mutual, ‘Love you, miss you’. Although, in truth, Charles did neither.
Friday soon arrived. There were a few familiar faces waiting outside the main entrance. No one spoke, just a few cursory nods of acknowledgement. Charles waited for his turn to enter. The uniformed woman passed a metal detector across his body. She indicated with a flick of her wrist that he could move on. Charles stepped forward and momentarily glanced up at the sign, ‘Welcome to HM Prison Styal’.
Charles whispered quietly, “I’m not sure I can do another five years of this.”

© Graham Crisp

The Mourner by Hilary Taylor

She circled the two obituaries and set about preparations. Black dress and coat, no imperfections allowed – the dead deserved immaculate mourners. How she hated this modern trend of casual gear, bright colours; so tacky! Tights checked for ladders, shoes polished, large black tote bag emptied. It was a military operation, but preparation was key.

On the day, she dressed with care, adjusted wig and hat, ensuring her features were covered, picked up her gloves, and headed off to catch the bus.

She preferred a burial to a cremation, there was something honest about being laid to rest under the earth and it gave her more time to observe her fellow mourners, ensuring there was no-one who could recognise her. She enjoyed watching people handling their emotions in different ways, the “stiff upper lip”, the weepers and wailers, and those who wanted to be elsewhere but felt they should show their respects!

She waited before taking a pew towards the back. This was a good part, hearing all about the “Dearly Departed”; she played a game trying to work out what the speaker really thought of their departed relative, or if they knew them at all!

Mingling loosely between a couple of groups, so neither would realise she had no connection to the deceased, or ask “Who invited you?”, she manoeuvred herself to the buffet table, filling her plate and sneaking extras into her oversize bag, enough for her tea for a couple of days.

Then, it was down to business. She had been blessed with unremarkable looks, so no one remembered her, or could describe her. Mourners were such easy targets, bags left open, wallets bulging. No one ever noticed the professional mourner sneaking out the room with her huge tote bag bulging.


© Hilary Taylor

Where do we go when we die? by Matt Allen

'Try not to think about it', I thought to myself - but it doesn't work, does it? As a piece of advice it's up there with telling the broken-hearted there are 'plenty more fish in the sea' or encouraging a person with depression to 'cheer up.'

It’s the question that affects us all: the wealthy, the poor, the old, the young. At some point everyone is confronted with it. What happens when we close our eyes for the last time? Does our spirit leave the fleshy vehicle of the body behind, and float to a new plane; legs, arms and eyes no longer required? It seems unlikely. Or do we return to the infinite oblivion that preceded our existence just a few decades ago? Everyone finds out in the end, yet nobody ever knows.

Why is it so frightening to be afraid of nothing? There's nothing to be afraid of. But I don't want nothing. I am not ready.

The electrode stuck to my shaved scalp pulls at the skin as I turn my head to look at the prison warden attach a second electrode to my leg. He tightens the leather straps that bind my wrists to the chair, and nods to the doctors in the observation room before pulling a blindfold over my eyes. I am plunged into darkness.

I didn't do it. I do not deserve this. But my pleas fell on deaf ears. I brace myself and whisper a prayer to a god I've never believed in. Wherever we go when we die, I hope at least my journey there is swift.


© Matt Allen

Cloak Of The Wizard by Steve Lodge

Just before the Hotel’s mezzanine floor, the lift stopped and Tony’s double bass went through the ceiling a bit. The Lazy Minim Quartet were trapped. The lift light flickered. The early silence was broken by Rachel, the flautist. She punched the emergency button with no apparent success and then venomously turned on Tony.
“You’re a jinx,” she snapped. “Our first paid gig and you’ve gone and got us trapped in the lift. A lift, I might remind you, that we only took because of you and your vast instrument.”

Nick the guitarist laughed.

“This is not the time, Nick,” Rachel virtually screamed at him. It was like she was having a seizure. I desperately tried to keep my tambourine quiet in case she made me her next victim.

A bell rang. “There you go,” said Tony. “They know the lift is stuck. They’ll have us out in no time. I suggest we close our eyes, conjure up nice thoughts and just try not to think about our surroundings.”

“Try not to think about it?” yelled Rachel. “This has given me a captive audience to tell you exactly what I think of you, Tony. We only got this gig ‘cos your brother is the Hotel manager. The playlist you selected for tonight is horrible. I mean Palotai, for crying out loud. The famous unknown composer. Who will have heard of his Transylvanian Wolf Virgin Symphony or his Cloak Of The Wizard? Tony, what you lack in good looks, you certainly make up for in stupidity.”

The lift suddenly juddered and reached the mezzanine floor in no time. Rachel barged her way out of the lift, followed by Tony. As we came out of the lift, Nick turned to me.

“They’re in love, aren’t they?” he asked me.

“Totally.” I replied.


© Steve Lodge

Christmas Cheers by Elaine Peters

Benny couldn’t believe his eyes. He’d actually seen him, and it wasn’t even Christmas yet. There would be lots and lots more sleeps before Santa came to his house, yet there he was shopping in Tesco just like him and his mum.

Benny knew it was Santa Claus because he had exactly the same white bushy beard and red nose as in the pictures on Mum’s cards. Not shiny red like Rudolph’s of course, but quite red.
 
Like his whole face. He wasn’t wearing his special Christmas outfit yet because Benny knew he had to keep it clean until then. He just had on a rather grubby anorak.

Mum was going to buy a bottle of sherry for Granny because Dad said she liked a tipple when she came to stay. Benny didn’t hear what Mum replied but it was something about being pissed. Benny hoped they weren’t talking about the last time he wet his pyjamas.

Santa was in the drinks section as well. He was putting loads of bottles in his trolly. Benny couldn’t contain his excitement a moment longer. He ran up to Santa and whispered loudly.

‘I’ll see you on Christmas Day, hopefully.’

Santa didn’t say ho-ho-ho, he just said ‘Eh?’

Mum grabbed Benny and pulled him away.

‘So Sorry,’ she said to Santa. ‘Please excuse us.’

‘But Mum,’ Benny tried to explain as they hurried to the checkout. ‘That’s Santa, just not in his red clothes yet. He’s buying bottles in case people forget to leave him a drink. He needs something with his mince pie and carrot. A tipple, like Granny’.

‘Benny, that Santa will definitely not be coming to our house on Christmas Day.’

‘I know, I forgot, he comes the night before, and I probably won’t see him because I’ll be asleep.’


© Elaine Peters

One More Week by Liz Breen

Cynthia looked out of the window as she sipped the tepid water. It didn't taste nice and she wanted it to be colder. Jeanette sat quietly waiting for her to initiate conversation. Cynthia was having reflection time. Reflecting on why she bothered paying a stranger to listen to her complain about her life.

“I hate it when people call me Cyn” Cynthia opened with.

“Why?” Jeanette asked.

“Because I'm Catholic and it reminds me of the bad things I do” Cynthia said tapping her nails on the glass.

“Correct people, take control” Jeanette came back with.

Cynthia sat silently and stared at the small alarm clock waiting for her hour to end. There was still over half an hour.

“I don’t think this is working for me, coming here, talking to you” Cynthia said staring at Jeanette.
The sun appeared finally from behind a large cloud, pouring warmth and light into the small room.

“No offence, but you’re not very helpful” Cynthia added.

“Sorry you feel that way, how would you like me to help you?” Jeanette asked, the corners of her mouth forming a little smile.

“Well, tell me what to do, to make the bad stuff go away. Tell me how to stop messing up and being horrible to people. I called my neighbour a fat cow the other day. She is fat if you’re wondering.” Cynthia was warming up, speaking more and more.

“Is this your mask?” Jeanette asked.

“What?” Cynthia asked, squinting her eyes in irritation.

“The rudeness, the provocation? Is this how you hide the real you?” Jeanette asked as she scribbled something on her pad.

Cynthia sat quietly a moment, then placed her glass down on a coaster.

“I might come back just one more week” Cynthia said as she touched her face.


© Liz Breen

Mask Dilemma by Elaine Peters

The blue and white protective face mask fluttered to the floor as the girl walked off down the road. Should Pat pick it up? Probably not, but then she might be looking for it later. She might not be allowed into a shop for essential supplies if she didn’t have her mask. She might be desperate for a pint of milk or a can of beans, or her mother might be waiting for a crucial ingredient for the evening meal. She looked young enough to live at home.

Pat worried about young people and families in these awful times. She herself was fine, retired with a good pension, bubbled with her gentleman friend – she hastened to assure everyone it was just a platonic relationship, she wouldn’t want any confusion over that. Just someone nice to have meals with, and in the old days to accompany her to the cinema and to visit National Trust gardens in summer. Now her outings were confined to the local supermarket once a week.

But people struggling in high-rise flats with three kids under six. What was it like for them? Pat thought the girl didn’t look old enough, but who knew?

She had paused to look in a shop window down the road. Near enough for Pat to catch her up and give her the mask.

Decision time. She could pick it up and say ‘Is this your mask?’ and the girl could say ‘Thank you so much, that’s very kind of you. I must have dropped it’. On the other hand, Pat thought, she might well say ‘Mind your own business, you silly old cow. I threw it away.’

Pat sighed. On reflection, she’d leave well enough alone.


© Elaine Peters

One Each by Andrew Ball

The line shuffles slowly forward, and I shuffle along with it. I nod to a couple of my neighbors -- the ones without masks that I can recognize -- and let my mind wander.

All this business with ‘social distancing’ and masks and whatnot: interfering with Nature, that’s what it is. When the Lord calls you, you’d better be ready to go, and not try to hang about here. And what’s with all this money that the federal gov’mint wastes on health insurance and medical research? Nothin’ more than water down a rat-hole. Don’t make a scrap of difference to the death rate. It’s still one each.

The line shuffles again. I’ve heard the rumors, of course; who hasn’t? But in a small community like ours there’s always some sore loser with an axe to grind, spreading malicious gossip; so I haven’t paid them no mind. Perhaps I’m about to find out if they’re true.

At last, I reach the front of the line and recognize the guy sitting behind the desk; it’s Caleb from the Lodge.
“Howdy, Bill.”
“Cal. Didn’t expect to see you here. D’you get paid for this?” I ask.
“Nah, that’d be illegal. Besides, some things are more important than money... Know what I’m sayin’? Anyroad, how many d’you want?”
“Just the one, please.”
“Really? Can’t be too careful, you know. They say it may be closer this time.”
“I’ll have three more then,” I say, not knowing if I’m joking.
“Sure that’s enough? Here, take half a dozen; I know we can count on you.”

So the rumors are true, then. Maybe we won’t have to rely on the Russians this time around. I carry the sheets over to the booth, draw the curtain behind me and pick up the pen.


© Andrew Ball

Glass by John Morris

Yosef lifted his glass and observed as the solitary ice cube shimmered against the sunlight. He gently twisted the glass, watching the ice cube slide about in the ever-increasing pool. Yosef focused in on the mundanity of the melting ice cube, phasing out the murmurs of those conversing around him, until all that was left was a thin layer of cool water, which Yosef then glugged down.

A woman in a black dress, clutching a matching handbag, glided through the crowds of well-to-do socialites, then deposited herself into the seat opposite him. She noticed the vapid expression on his face and sighed.

“Is this really how it’s going to do?” She spoke in a sharp whispered tongue.

Yusef finally placed the glass on the table. He smiled. “I’d rather it not go anyway.”

“Yeah, well, you know the rules.” The woman removed a silver flask from her bag, then reached for the empty glass, but Yosef grabbed her wrist before she could.

“Amara?”

Amara gave Yosef a deathly stare. “Do not say my name aloud.”

“Do we really need to do this?”

“Let go of my arm.”

Yosef paused for a moment, thinking through his options. There was no way to escape, and even if there was, there was nowhere he could hide. The only option was to talk his way out, and he was losing faith in that option.

Yosef let go and Amara emptied a black liquid from her flask into the glass.

"Here, drink this."

“I’ll do anything.”

“I’m sorry… Please, Yosef.”

Yosef nodded. His hand was shaking now. He took the glass and stared at the liquid within. “Will it hurt?”

“No.”

He placed the glass against his lips. "Well, at least that’s good.”

Yosef closed his eyes, then tipped the black liquid into his mouth.


© John Morris

Home Remedies by Eva Bell

Many years ago when Technology hadn’t taken over our lives, we lived in the lap of nature among green sheltering trees, and the whisper of wind in our ears. Like other mothers in our village, Mother had her own formula to keep us strong and healthy. It was a tablespoon of castor oil every Saturday morning to cleanse our system from all toxic elements that might have found their way into our system. Every three months there was a de-worming medicine too.

How we hated those Saturday mornings! We would cry and protest and try to hide, but to no avail. Held down in a chair, our nostrils pinched together, the nauseous oil was forcibly poured down our throats. We were starved of breakfast until our first trip to the loo. Needless to say that for most of the day, we were trapped indoors out of sheer necessity. I still feel like puking at the very thought of castor oil.

This was a regular shindig that annoyed my mother and the other grown-ups. They discussed how to put an end to our weekly wails.

“Shove a teaspoon of sugar in their mouths after the castor oil goes down,” someone suggested.

This only made us puke all the more.

Then my father had a brilliant idea. He thought of mixing the oil in a glassful of sweet lemonade to make it more palatable. This merely prolonged our agony. But he was not a guy to tolerate backchat or disobedience.

One morning, substituting for mother, he arrived with the concoction in one hand and a rattan in another. “Here, drink this” he bellowed. There was no escape.

My city bred children today call it cruelty, which would have been reported to the police and the Ministry of Child Welfare.


© Eva Bell

Gargoyles by Stephen Isle

Rush hour in Cardiff, and jib-pulling commuters pushed through a busy drizzle. Hurried heels slid on slimy cobbles, while the castle tower wound in its wet neck. The gargoyles lining the castle wall, stared with glass eyes. The vulture and lynx, the anteater with its new nose, and the hyena, hunched and ready to ransack.

Running for cover, I cut through the arcades. I had just enough time. Past the violin restorer and his hand-written sign, the board games specialist that only opens Tuesdays, and the fancy dress shop where a busty superhero pressed against the glass.

Weighed with work-day hassle, I reached my shop and found a man on the ground, lying across the doors on flattened cardboard boxes, wrapped in a sleeping bag that was split and shedding stuffing.

‘Not today, come on!’ I said out loud, to myself.

On reviled tiptoes, I stepped over him and by the time I had unlocked the doors, he had hauled himself to half-mast.

‘I’m sorry. I’ll get out of your way now, in a minute.’

His voice was deep. It had a quality. While he rolled his bedding, I stood and unfolded my arms.

‘Look, I don’t open for a bit. Do you want to come in and warm up?’

He stopped and looked up, through his wild, matted eyebrows, looking for truth.

‘That’s kind.’

I sat him at the counter and I made coffee.

‘Here, drink this.’

‘Oh, thanks. Is it caffeinated? I don’t drink caffeine. But thanks, genuine.

‘You said “Not today” when you saw me. What’s happening today?’
I hadn’t meant him to hear.

‘It’s nothing. My investor is coming to check things over.’

‘I hope it goes well for you. Good things happen to good people.’

He smiled, left and closed the doors quietly.


© Stephen Isle