“Why are you upside down?”
“This is who I am Joan. Not a man, but a bat.”
“You’re an eejit Bruce, get down.”
“I will not. I will hang here until sundown, whereupon I will emerge to feast on gnats and flies. Now, please Joan, the light.”
Joan ignored him, as they knew she would. She no longer searched for him on a Saturday morning; he was always in the garage.
She never fetched the straw broom first though. She always gave him a chance to speak, for a fresh nugget of madness to drop from his scarlet face. This she would take to Susan and Ethel at Ground on the High Street. Over a dark wooden table, they would break his words apart like chocolate, and agree – Joan’s husband was mad.
What had she talked about before, she wondered, as she padded across the cold linoleum. Had there been anything, beyond the usual?
Didn’t matter. She was shielded from inquiry now by a black leathery wing and found purpose in its shadow.
Susan and Ethel called her Batwoman. She laughed.
Bruce shook. Even with his religious observance of toe curls, his muscles would soon give out. Every week, they gave out.
He clung on anyway, squeezing his eyelids tight against the strident light to make a darkness. This grey scrunch he made blue, filled it with squeaks and bombing untraceable flight.
When Joan returned, Bruce had already descended and was getting back into his pyjamas. She almost dropped the broom; gripped it tight.
“Silly really,” he said, wiping his eyes. “I couldn’t be a bat, could I? Too heavy.”
He went to move past her. The broom came up, bristles barbing his soft neck.
“If you’re not a bat,” said Joan, “then what the hell are you?”
(c) Niall McKenna
I had only moved to the city a few days ago. It was quite the adjustment, going from the family farm to Belfast. The big smoke. And I don’t know if it was the air pollution or the anxiety of finally being here, but my chest did feel tighter.
This was my first time out on Union Street. I wasn’t out back home, but now, here, I could start anew.
The street was littered with packs of men and women, laughing, joking, getting off with each other. I’d never seen two men kiss each other before in the flesh, I tried not to gawp, but I couldn’t help myself.
I made my way into Kremlin, my heart thumping in time to the music. As I approached the bar, a woman sidled up next to me.
“You're new here, aren’t you?”
“What gave it away?”
“Well, to be honest, I don’t know many gay blokes who’d go clubbing in khakis.”
Georgina was a stalwart of the Belfast gay scene. She was so glamorous, I didn’t think people like her existed in Northern Ireland. She smiled-
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be a cow. Look I’ll buy you a drink and let’s have a chat outside, after all, anyone worth knowing knows who I am darling.”
After buying me a drink, she led me through the dance floor and into the smoking area.
“How are you finding it then, Belfast?”
“It’s definitely a big change. But, I needed it, you know. I was ready. After years of hiding, of being lonely, I just can’t wait to find my people, find my place.”
“Can’t you see?”
She took my hand, although it was the middle of November, our breath hanging in the air as we spoke, somehow her hands were soft and warm.
“You're standing right in the middle of it."
(c) Caitlin M Kearns
“Erm….well….aaah….yes!” He stood, looking perplexed. “Why are you upside down?”
“Well Officer; that’s a very good question! I was just hanging around here as my friends were late for a meeting, and decided to have a mooch around – pass the time you know? And then, it just happened – must have stepped into a loop of rope and……WHAM! BAM! CRASH! There I was hanging here upside down!” Could you be so kind as to cut me down? I’m starting to get a bit dizzy.”
“I’m not sure I can do that Sir! We had a call saying someone had broken into the Church… I have reason to believe that was you!”
“Not me Officer, the doors were open and the light on – maybe the person who left this rope for me to step into! By the way – what’s your name?”
“PC 449 Roberts, and I’m going to have to arrest you, just not quite sure how I do that with you being upside down! Think I’ll wait for back up! Can I have your name Sir?”
“PC Roberts eh? Good, good! My name is De’Ath.”
“Yes! Now please cut me down, I have a schedule and I’m going to be late.”
“I rather think being arrested will make you late Sir!”
“Hmmm, OK, but just cut me down!”
“Just promise not to cause bother!” And with that he took out his penknife and climbed onto the plinth to reach the rope more easily.
As the 8 ton bell came hurtling down to crush the policeman, De’Ath brushed himself down, and strolled over to check his handywork.
“Yep, I was hanging around waiting for you Officer Roberts your time was up! Bang on schedule! Now where are Plague, War and Famine, they’re late!”
(c) Hilary Taylor
Estelle says;” Roger’s just parking the car”. She’s been waiting for him all day, just like yesterday and every day. Joan says that John went to the doctors with a bad cough, he isn’t back yet and it’s not that far. Freda had a fall, she forgot that her legs don’t work anymore. Her skin is Rizla thin and blows in the breeze, her shin still bleeds.
Estelle’s daughter takes her out like a Christmas ornament. But not this year, not whilst “all this is going on. “Joan lost her Grandson in Afghanistan, she still doesn’t know what for, why he was sent. It was on the news she says to no one. Freda asks why they are sat so far away? She cannot even see who they are.
Estelle thinks the news just repeats itself. “I’d turn it over if I could find the thing”.
Joan misses John though he doesn’t talk much anymore. She says he left his teeth on the bookshelf. They are still there like a trinket. “What’s on the telly?” she asks. “I suppose all this is still going on”? Then Freda closes her eyes and begins to snore.
Estelle notices the person looking in at the window. She seems familiar somehow, but she’s not sure. She says she gets lonelier every day that no one calls anymore. And them nurses in their polythene pinnies all cover up their faces. She doesn’t know who anyone is anymore.
Daisy knocks at the window and shouts to Joan; “hello in there,”
“What’s new? Asks Joan like a castaway.
“She won’t hear you” says Estelle. Where’s the thing for the telly?”
“You’re sitting on it!” says Joan and prods Estelle with her stick.
Freda breathes her last and no one is aware.
(c) Steve Goodlad
Pamela had only just sat down when she heard her name being called, “Miss Heatherington, please go to room 12, second on the left, Melissa Holme will see you now.”
Pam stood up and gathered her belongings. She searched for her phone. The receptionist looked up and rolled her eyes.
“You’re sitting on it!”
Blushing, Pamela scooped up the offending object and scuttled across the floor. She passed a line of wire racks each packed with an array of multi-coloured leaflets - the words ‘Mental Health’ seemed to feature prominently on each pamphlet.
The door to room 12 was ajar. Pam slipped inside, “Hi ya, Mel, how’s things?” The pair exchanged a weak handshake. Pam sensed a couple of inquiring eyes closely examining her, searching deep into her face, seeking answers.
Melissa Holme indicated for Pam to sit. She turned to face her computer screen and gently tapped the keyboard. “Well Pam, I was worried about you. I called at the flat, but a neighbour had said you had left a few days previously. She also said that Rob had been taken away, in handcuffs, by the Police and you left the next day carrying a holdall.”
“Nosey cow,” muttered Pam. Melissa winced, “Well? Is that true?”
Pam felt a sudden surge rise through her body, she pushed herself forward. “Look it not all Rob’s fault, you know, he was great, caring and kind until …….” Pam paused and drew breath, “It happened.” Pam’s eyes started to fill up, Melissa handed her a paper handkerchief.
Composing herself, Pam carried on, “He took it really bad you know, he lost his job and, like, he started doing drugs, just to pay the bills and stuff.”
“Do you know where he is now?” Pam shook her head. “Somewhere down south, I think.”
(c) Graham Crisp
We’d been tramping these hills for hours. The views were spectacular, but we were on a mission. We had to find the Gab Stone.
You might ask what it was. I mean, with such a strange name, why was it important? And more importantly, to whom?
Permit me to give you a brief background. This stone, which is nothing to look at, has the most notable qualities. It has been behind the success of many orators, poets and writers. Once it was in the centre of a stone circle in the west of our country. They used it for ancient rituals before the invaders came and called our rituals heathen. They brought their beliefs with them and converted many of our people.
Eventually, the circle and the stone were abandoned to all but a few diehards of storytellers and shamans. To be named as one you have to be crowned with a Garland of mistletoe and holly at midnight on Midwinters’ night while seated on the Gab Seat.
The invaders dealt what they thought was a deadly blow. They levelled the stone circle to reduce the power. It didn’t. They took the Gab Stone and hurled it aside. We are looking for it. We have a vague idea what it looks like, but do not know where to look. After months of scrying, a priest decided the stone was at the top of a hill. So here we are, climbing yet another hill. My body ached, my muscles felt like jelly. I flopped down onto the grass, but it was hard, it was a rock.
My companions shouted in joy.
“You’re sitting on it!”
I jumped up and sure enough, there outlined was the rock, the Gab Stone. I could be crowned after all!
(c) Felicity Edwards
I looked into the pod and blinked. The words just tumbled out.
“Why are you upside down?”
A peeved voice replied, “How do I know? I presume I’m dead. Judging from your wings, you’re an angel. Maybe it’s because of the position I died.”
“Oh dear,” I said, “I thought they’d given up executing people in like this. We’ve had an increase in arrivals without their heads, but I thought inverted crucifixion wasn’t practised anymore.”
“I wasn’t executed. I died a natural death.”
“In that position? Humans weren’t designed to be upside down. What happened?”
I checked the arrival form. This young man wasn’t destined to die until his eighties. “You’d better tell me what happened.”
“‘I’ve been caving since I was a kid with my Dad later with a group of friends. We were doing a system we have been into before. There’s a narrow passage we call the birth passage. I tried it. I’d done it as a kid. I went in headfirst with my arms outstretched above. It was so narrow I wriggled with my hips and pulled with my hands. Then I got stuck in this upside-down position. That’s when I realised I was in trouble. My arms could not come back and there’s no room to turn. I yelled. My brother grabbed my ankle to pull me back. He only managed a few inches, before my legs got stuck. They tried to use a pulley and rope, I moved about six inches, but the rope broke. I slipped back. By now, I was feeling bad. My head and chest were filling with blood. It was so constricted I couldn’t breathe. Then I ended up here. It literally was the birthing canal from that life to this.”
(c) Felicity Edwards
‘Why are you upside down?’
I couldn’t see where the squeaky little voice was coming from but it was definitely addressing me, because there was no one else around. Turning slowly in a full circle I surveyed the floor and the walls of the cave carefully.
On a high bit of rock in a gloomy corner, I spotted a little upside down face with bright eyes watching me. It had big ears and delicate leathery wings folded around itself like a monk’s cloak.
‘Did you speak to me?’ I asked, feeling a little foolish.
‘Obviously,’ was the reply. ‘There’s no one else here so unless you are very dim you will realise that I did.’ It smiled then, showing sharp little teeth.
‘Well, it is very dim in here,’ I replied huffily. ‘In fact I would say it’s quite dark. Another thing, you are the one who’s upside down. I assure you, I am standing upright on my own two feet.’
‘It’s a matter of perspective,’ came the retort. ‘If you are on my patch you are the one out of kilter. Stands to reason. But we do have some similarities!’ A sound like a snigger emerged.
Before I could engage in further conversation a fellow-explorer called from the entrance.
‘Come along Ears, we’ve got another site to visit before the bus comes.’
Old school friends can be so cruel even when we’re grown up. I suppose I’m lucky they dropped the ‘Bat’. Or worse, they could call me Batty. I wouldn’t mind Batman but I’m not sure my new friend would approve.
(c) Elaine Peters
“Stop off at our house and pick up the fishing net,” D’Cunha yelled, his voice implying he was in a hurry. His son paddled towards the house and picked up the fishing net. “Dad wants to get to our boat quickly, mom,” he babbled. “Have something before joining your father for deep-sea fishing,” the woman urged. “Oh, no thanks, I’m in a hurry.”
Nature slowly unfolded her treasure at the first ray of sunrise. It was sunny morning but suddenly it started to rain. “Where is my raincoat dad?” “You're sitting on it!” Oh shit! The boy lowered his brows. “Hey, pull in the net,” D’Cunha shouted. “Sure,” the boy replied.” “Ain’t fish inside?” D’Cunha raised his eyebrows. “No dad, it’s full of plastic waste!” His breathing quickened and his palms got sweaty. “Ugh, Take out the trash, please.” grumbled D’Cunha. They found large amount of plastic deeper in the sea. It was disturbing.
After some time, the boy drank water from a plastic bottle that he carried and threw it in the sea. “Don’t do it again. The sea is our home,” D’Cunha said to his son before he could get a word in edgewise.
“But dad, the waste can be found largely along the shores!” the boy exclaimed. “No son, one can find it in the deeper parts of the ocean as well,” D’Cunha replied though he was not very educated. But even so, the harmful effects of plastic waste were not unknown to him.
“I want to try to raise awareness on plastic and its detrimental effects on the environment,” he decided, “I must approach the local authority for help too.” The boat sailed through the blue waters as the morning sun made ripples of gold everywhere.
(c) Dipayan Chakrabarti
My uncle Neil made his annual visit to India each year in February. Sometimes he’d travel with my aunt and cousins and sometimes he’d travel alone. And on each of those visits he’d come laden with imported stuff that we could own only in our dreams. As heavy as his luggage was when he came on holiday, it was as light when he returned to England.
On one of his visits, in the early 80’s, as was his custom, he packed his bags and travelled with his whole family; his wife Lenny and his three rambunctious children whose accents where so clipped that we found it difficult to converse with them. Among all the luggage they carried, Uncle Neil had been quite secretive about one suitcase which he never let out of his sight. It was a gift for his tomboy sister – a rather large and…dangerous gift, not just to handle but also to carry across international borders.
So, once they touched Indian soil and the customs official asked, “anything to declare?” Uncle Neil nonchalantly shook his head and said, “no.”
Still, they decided to open some suitcases, so rather than stand, Aunt Lenny placed Uncle Neil’s special suitcase flat on the floor and sat upon it. Then a thought struck her and she turned in panic to her husband.
“Neil,” she seethed. “Don’t tell me you packed the gun for Georgie!”
He grinned at her; with a sinking heart, she knew that he had done just that.
“Where is it?” she mouthed.
“You’re sitting on it!”
Her face reddened.
Meanwhile, the customs official zipped up the suitcases he had opened and turned to Uncle Neil.
“Have a pleasant holiday,” he said and moved to the next traveller.
Uncle Neil never exited the airport faster than he did that day.
(c) Cindy Pereira
Mr Ninian’s garden was beautiful. In high summer, Mr Ninian grew delphiniums, hollyhocks and convolvulus, not to mention lonicera, flax and hypericum. Peter was his next-door-neighbour. He washed his hair once a fortnight and shaved when there was a ‘z’ in the month. He lived on a mixture of dry corn flakes and TCP. He cast envious glances over the fence at Mr Ninian’s garden. His own was full of nettles, ragwort, dock, abandoned mattresses and decaying copies of the ‘Worthing Advertiser.’ Some of Peter’s mixed flora might have been attractive in the wild, but not in Mahonia Avenue.
One day Peter decided to annoy Mr Ninian. He walked into Mr Ninian’s exquisite vegetable garden, bursting with greenery, and sat down on his prize marrow. Mr Ninian rushed from his house and yelled:
‘What the hell do you think you’re doing, Peter?’
‘I’ve grown attached to your marrow.’
‘You’re sitting on it.’
‘Why shouldn’t I? It’s only a bloody vegetable. You can’t eat the blasted thing, anyway. You’ve filled it so full of chemicals, it would rot your insides if you took a single bite.’
Afterwards, Mr Ninian complained bitterly about Peter to the Environmental Services Department of the Council. A jobsworth named Pritchard visited Peter and served on him an ‘improvement notice,’ a sort of referee’s yellow card which gave Peter forty days to transform his garden or he was out of his council house onto his substantial bat-like ear. On 20 July, when the Mr Ninian’s delphiniums were azure jewels, the hollyhocks pink flamingos and the convoluli had finer trumpets than Louis Armstrong, Peter hired a flame-thrower and razed the whole lot to the ground. ‘There,’ he subsequently said to Pritchard, ‘serve a bloody notice on him.’
(c) R.T. Hardwick
He didn’t want tears. He made that clear. There would be no ‘bloody vol-au vents’ either. Spicy food and a chocolate fountain were compulsory Wearing clothes, no matter what colour, was optional. Nudity was to be encouraged. The vicar claimed to be progressive, after all.
Whatever happens, Morris insisted, play that song, the song we agreed to, all those years ago, lying back, gazing up at the stars, deciding our exit music. Ginny remembered her song and then with a smile, she remembered, Morris’ choice. The pall bearers, or ball pearers as Morris joked, were to walk his coffin out with everyone on their feet, singing along to Three Little Birds.
The congregation gathered, a mix of eclectic and traditional mourners. Morris didn’t want mourners, though. What was it, he called them? Tunnel cheerers, that’s right, Ginny thought.
She was secretly disappointed that nobody was naked.
Make it joyful, he’d whispered, towards the end, his voice leaving him.
Have laughter at my wake and make jokes in my eulogy. If anyone falls into my grave with me, ten points for slapstick irreverence. Celebrate me, and send me off with giddy abandon.
Ginny got up and down from her pew in the church, checking the correct pages were marked, making sure her reading glasses were left ready at the lectern for the eulogy.
She sat down for the last time, ready for the service to begin and took a deep breathe.
“Where’s my hat?” Ginny said, much louder than she’d wanted to.
A voice, laughing inside her heart replied, “You’re sitting on it!”
(c) Liz Breen
“I’ve heard he’s an imbecile of unprecedented proportions.”
“He’s not that bad. I’m training him, showing him your ways, our ways. Please, it’s a big change. It’s … not easy for everyone.”
Harken scowled, “It’s been two weeks, Jenna. Son or no, either he measures up to being in our circle or not. I will not have an idiot as part of our community. It could be seen as a sign of weakness. And weakness, as you know, means death.”
Dread rose up, enveloping her like thick smoke, “I will speak to him.”
She left the imperious Count and went in search of Patrick. Her quick footsteps echoed along the darkened, stone hallway. This crypt was immense, so many rooms, passages, nooks and crannies. Completely stereotypical and a touch dramatic but what did she expect? They needed obscurity and acceptance. Her and her son. She would not abandon him to the light.
Finally, Jenna reached her assigned quarters, finding Patrick and groaned at the sight of him.
“Why are you upside down?”
“What vampires do, innit.”
“Only when they’re in bat form!” Jenna flapped her arms at him, “Get down from there before someone sees you or I’ll never live it down.”
Patrick obediently unwrapped himself from the metal bar and dropped, landing with surprising grace. He looked amused.
“Odd expression to use, innit, wot with you being dead’n’all.”
“Don’t be a smartarse, Patrick. You can’t be clever and dumb all at once. It’s preposterous.”
He stepped forwards and gathered her into his arms, resting his cheek against her soft, chestnut hair.
“You have to be more careful. They’re very … selective.”
Patrick sighed, “Can’t we go somewhere else?”
“Anywhere! This place is well creepy and … I don’t fit in.”
Jenna sighed and nodded, “Alright. Let’s go.”
(c) Rachel Smith
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