Friday, 31 March 2017

Another piece of flash fiction from my files

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Leave 'er!

Mick was getting impatient.  Why was Robbo standing there like a plank, looking at the bundle on the ground?
     Shes 'alf dead, cant yuh see?  Fuckin leave er, mate.
     Robbo made no move.  The globes on the park gates lit the scar on the side of his face.
    ‘She’s nothin’ to you,’ said Mick.  ‘Just some old tart.’
     Robbo said nothing.
     Look, if were still ere an someone comes. theyll think we fuckin done it.
     Robbo turned his head.  Mick had seen that look many times, in gang fights, in police cells, in the underpass where the two of them, empty handed, had faced the Mullen brothers and their baseball bats.
     You dont fuckin tell me what to do. You can piss off. Im stayin, alright?
     The bundle of clothes moved slightly.  A whimper escaped from her tortured throat.  Mick spat and moved away.
     Im out of ere.
     Go, then! Go on, get aht of it!  Robbo knelt beside the woman and took hold of her bloodied hand. 
     She was middle-aged and chubby, wearing heels and a skirt that was too short, for her and for this weather.  Shed been badly beaten.  In the dim light, her frightened eyes looked for his.
     Im here, okay?  I’ll stay with you.  No ones gonna hurt you any more.  He felt a movement in the hand he was holding.  ‘Can you hear me?  No ones gonna hurt you any more.
     He felt for his phone.  Hed never called 999 before.

Robert was 12 years old again, holding his sisters hand.
     I wont leave you.  He heard his fathers step on the stairs, heard the belt buckle being loosened.  I wont run away this time. I won’t.

Robbo was still sitting there, cradling the womans head, talking to her, when the ambulance lights turned in at the park gates and came bouncing over the grass towards them.  A police car followed.
     He didnt move.  Didnt struggle when they cuffed his hands behind his back and shoved him into the car.
     The sergeant sitting in the front seat turned and glared at him.
     ‘What did you say, scum-bag?’
     Robbo said it again, almost to himself, ‘I didnt run away this time.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Here's a double helping of fantasy, a 1600 word story, from the guy who didn't think he could write fantasy. I suppose mine is too rooted in reality to be out and out fantasy - no swords, sandals or mythical beasts. Still, I hope you enjoy it.

Looking Back

I first noticed the difference in Tuesdays English lesson with 4B. I suppose most teachers can manage the usual trick.
     You know the one. Facing the blackboard, you might say, Dont go to sleep yet, Hutchings. Wait till the lessons finished. or (utterly reckless of your professional career) If you dont stay in your seat, young Potts, Ill glue your disgusting trousers to it. 
     Its a combination of your knowledge of the usual class suspects and an ear attuned to every sound in the room, from creaking floorboards to the rustle of paper aeroplanes. Snoring of course is a dead giveaway.
     That Tuesday afternoon I surprised myself. Terry Turnbull was dumbfounded.
     That wont fly, Turnbull. A Muller corner lid lacks the structural integrity for unpowered flight.
     I turned to face the class and an open-mouthed Turnbull - and immediately noticed a minor mistake Id just written on the blackboard.
     ‘After you’ve shut your mouth, you can come out here and cross the final T in tarts. And I shall be watching you. Dont even think about adding anything to the first one. A couple of seconds went by till they made the connection, then the whole class erupted with laughter.
     The bell sounded soon after. The class filed out, still talking about my supernatural powers.
     Driving home, it was very disconcerting at first not to have to check the mirror to see the traffic behind me. But already I was beginning to fantasize about how I might be able to use this new power.
     At home, I asked, Darling, can you see anything different about the back of my head? . . . Look closer, then. Anything at all?
     Sylvie carefully ran her fingers through my hair.
     Whats that? she shrieked. Oh, my God, what is it?
     She slapped my arm, quite hard. Youve been to that joke shop again, havent you?
     No, love. It just happened this morning. I dont know what it is. What does it look like?
     Its an eye - a bloody eye! It was looking at me.
     Yes, I saw you. You did look surprised.
     Of course I was surprised! She sat down suddenly on the nearest chair and started to sob. Youll have to see the doctor. I’ll phone Jim
     Oh, no, I said. ‘Ive seen those flying saucer abduction movies. No, weve got to keep this quiet.’ I patted her shoulder while I looked around for a pen and paper.  ‘Let’s think about it, Sylvie. This could open up possibilities we’ve never dreamed of.  Now if I were a football referee, or a store detective . . hm . . wonder if MI5 could use me? Is it something I could teach others to develop? Start an Academy of the Super Senses?
      Sylvia’s sobbing got louder.
     ‘Could you be quiet a minute, love? I’m thinking.’
     She rushed off into the kitchen. A bit early, I thought, to start the dinner. Has she got something special to prepare? It’s not an anniversary or something, is it? I’m not very good at remembering them.
     A thought suddenly occurred to me. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? How did I manage to see through my hair. It’s not short at the back. Sylvia hadn’t noticed anything odd till she parted it. No, not odd. Unusual, yes, Special, even. Special.  It’s special.  I’m special.
     The point is, how could I manage to see so clearly - even that uncrossed “t” on the blackboard - if my special vision was obscured by hair?
     The thoughts were coming thick and fast now. Next thing I found myself in the hallway, calling out excitedly to Sylvia, ‘Just had an idea, love. Nothing for you to worry about!’ I resisted the temptation to use the phrase “pretty little head”; I learned that lesson a long time ago.
     I grabbed one of my trilbies off the hatstand. Sylvia was always at me to get rid of them. ‘Nobody your age wears a hat like that now. It makes you look ten years older.’ She worries about things like that.
     First, I closed my front eyes - as I had already come to think of them.  Immediately the world went dark.  So, my special vision was somehow connected to them.  Just as well, otherwise sleep would be a real problem.  Carefully I put the hat on and lowered it over where I judged the special one to be, took a deep breath and opened my eyes.
     I could see clearly everything behind me. Wow! How far coulod this go?
     Pots and pans were clattering in the kitchen, as if Sylvia was searching for something.
     I wondered, could I?  Is it possible? If I can see through a hat, could I see through a wall?
     I turned so that my back was toward the kitchen.  Nothing at first.  I concentrated, willing myself to see, trying to become aware of the focus of the eye, extending that focus further and further, till suddenly . . .
     I could see Sylvia in the kitchen.  I could actually see her, through the wall, clear as anything.
     She was standing at the open door of the ‘odds and ends’ cupboard, where she kept the utensils that she hardly ever used. I could see that she was holding the cast iron frying pan my mother had given her some years ago. It was part of a gift set for her birthday. Can’t think why she’d looked that out. She had always resented it; called it a reflection on her cooking skills. Personally, I thought it was nice of Mother to try to help, always coming round with recipes for the dishes I used to like when I was at home.
     I was getting really excited now about this new-found skill, attribute, whatever you like to call it. What could I do with it? What could I not do with it? I needed to experiment.
     ‘Just going out, love. Don’t bother about cooking anything special; I’m too excited to eat much, anyway.  I’ve got to test this new skill, find out all the things I can do with it.’
     I was on one knee in the hallway, putting a shoe on, when I saw Sylvia coming out of the kitchen behind me.
     ‘No need to come with me, dear. You won’t be able to help. Just stay at home and get on with your wifey things.’
     I saw the heavy pan coming towards the back of my head, felt the wind of its swing, but I couldn’t do a thing about it, kneeling there.
     A blinding pain in my head, flashes of light.
     When I came round, much later, I was in a bed at the Royal  Infirmary, head bandaged and tongue babbling. They told me later that I’d been singing, ‘Remember you’re a Womble’ over and over. People do funny things under anaesthetic.
     Our GP was there, Jim Harrison. We’ve known him since schooldays. Sylvia was there, crying again. It’s an annoying habit. I’ve told her many times. The consultant was there. And the policeman. Forgot about him, sitting there taking notes. I wonder how many pages he had of ‘Remember you’re a Womble’. He was very young.
     Jim was on his feet and quickly came across to me.
     ‘Hallo, David, good to see you awake. How much do you remember?’
     Of course, I remembered everything. I pride myself on my good memory - well, except for birthdays, anniversaries, stuff like that. But I hesitated. I could see the warning in his eyes. I could see my little Sylvie, still shaking.
     ‘No, not much,” I said. ‘Did I . . . have a fall?’
     ‘We’re not sure, David. Sylvia was a bit confused when she rang 999. Then she rang me afterwards.’ Jim gave me a look that said, plain as anything, just as well she did.
     The young policeman got to his feet. ‘Excuse me, doctor.  I have to check.’ Then to me, ‘Are you sure, sir, there’s nothing more you can remember?’
     ‘Yes, there is.’ The room waited.
     ‘For some reason,’ I said, ’I think I was carrying a frying pan at the time.’
     He seemed to be satisfied. Sylvia gave me a trembling smile from across the room.
     Then it was the consultant’s turn. She told me I’d been taken straight to A&E and operated on. There was now a metal plate in the back of my head. She said they’d had a real mess to clear up, including what appeared to be a growth. Had I noticed anything there? 
     ‘No,’ I said, ‘What sort of growth?’
     ‘Nothing to worry about,’ she said, ‘We did a biopsy. It wasn’t malignant.  Anyway, it’s all gone now. You don’t need to worry about it.’
     ‘But could you identify it? I mean what sort of…?’
     ‘Just a growth. Just tissue. Nothing to worry about. Really.’
     All that was some weeks ago. Sylvia and I are picking up the pieces, as they say. She’s out of hospital, too. The other hospital, if you know what I mean. I’m on beta blockers for my blood pressure and on extended leave from school, and she’s on vallium again. The psychologist said we should take a break, get away from it all for a while. Bournemouth is still quite warm in September.
     There was one thing I didn’t tell him. Perhaps because I’ve now lost that special extra sense, as it were, another sense has become more acute. I feel it now, as I put my hands behind my head and settle back on the deck-chair, and the murmur of the waves a few yards away grows louder.

     Perhaps I ought to check up on this strange little growth in my left armpit, like a ring of cartilage. I’ll see Jim when we get home. I won’t mention it to Sylvia, though.  It might be a bit much for her.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

An episode from my ultra-pure youth.

The One that Got Away

She was sitting on one of those uncomfortable iron slatted benches that used to be anchored on concrete bases in our parks. This one faced a deserted playing field beside the County Education Centre.
     I was strolling round the edge of the field. It was a warm summer evening in my last term at the Grammar School. She and I were part of a gathering of some fifty pupils from a number of schools in the South Bucks area. From Friday to Sunday we were expected to converse, sing, read, make jokes and declaim poetry entirely in French. In its way it was the definitive "le weekend". The Academie Francaise may have hated that adulterative phrase and its recent intrusion into the purity of their beloved language but they would surely have approved of the idea: English boys and girls spending a whole weekend being as near French as possible.
     I was usually shy around girls, even at seventeen. I'd been at an all-boys school since I was eleven; my pastimes were either solitary reading or the obligatory "healthy outdoor pursuits"; and my female cousins lived too far away to allow social forgathering or covert exploration.  But Frenchness it seems works on other levels than language.
     Judy was small and slight with short, very blond hair. She would not be called pretty but she had an air of calm self-possession that immediately attracted me.She had two books on the bench beside her and one open on her lap. She looked up as I approached. She didn't smile a welcome but neither did she look away.
     I forget what I said to open the conversation but it was almost certainly a question about what she was reading.  It was not in French. Mock horror from me; a half smile from her. Perhaps, I suggested, this was why she was sitting alone, out of sight of inquisitive teachers. 
     Within seconds we discovered a shared passion for the Romantic poets. We chatted, we smiled, we finished each other's quotes from Shelley, Keats, Byron, Browning and his Elizabeth. We even dipped into Rimbaud and Baudelaire. We delighted in our shared enthusiasm.
     The light was fading. I don't remember if any others strolled by; we might not have noticed if they had.
     Someone had to break up our joyous tete-a-tete. Two seventeen-year-olds of opposite sexes sitting together in the gathering dusk of a summer evening could not be allowed. In 1952 the parameters of moral turpitude were clearly defined.
     'Come on now, you two. Inside with you. The dance will be starting soon.'  
     Our joint protests, even in untidy French, fell on deaf ears.'Oh, Mamselle. Nous n'aimons pas la danse. Est-ce que possible que nous restons ici? Nous lisons les poemes Francaises. It's French poetry we're reading.' (hastily shoving aside the Shelley and bringing out the Baudelaire.)
     Weekends like this always finished with a dance. It was a good excuse to keep all the hormones - raging, simmering or apparently dormant - herded together in one place under the vigilant eyes of chaperoning schoolmasters and mistresses. No matter that Mr H.C. (Harry) Todd, our Francophile English teacher, had whisked Miss Elizabeth Thompson (History) off to France last summer in the sidecar of his motorbike - a cause of much lurid speculation in the upper forms . 
     We went into the hall. Judy disappeared either into the crowd or to her dormitory. I can't remember if I enjoyed the dance or even if I danced at all. I never saw her again.
     Our brief meeting is sweet in my memory.