Monday, 15 July 2019

The Window by Gareth Clegg


It looked incredible. Black oak aged for three centuries, originally used on an ocean-going vessel from the heart of the age of sail. The price had been incredible too—over two thousand pounds. But, how many people could boast a window frame dating back to the early seventeen hundreds?

We’d seen an advert about the wood beam, reclaimed from a Whitby shipyard as they wrapped up their business because of the current economy, and just couldn’t resist.

We made a real feature of it in the bedroom, decking the room out in an opulent array of pirate maritime chic. When it was complete, the room was the spitting image of something you’d expect to see in Pirates of the Caribbean. My wife and I laughed at the imagined view of Johnny Depp flouncing around from the table filled with map charts to lean into the soft oval curve of the frame and the beautiful window seat it edged in its ancient dark timber.

We both loved it, and it wasn’t until the third night that I awoke dripping with sweat and feeling as sick as a dog. The entire room seemed to be shifting and rocking. The nausea was unbearable.

It was pitch black. Rain lashed at the glass panes, thunder roared amidst the brief flashes of light that illuminated the room through the heavy velvet curtains.

In an attempt to settle my roiling stomach, I rolled up to sit on the edge of the bed. My feet almost recoiled from the wooden flooring. It was so cold that it felt wet.

Another flash and the bellow of thunder that followed almost made me leap out of my skin. In the pitch blackness, I reached for the bedside table hoping a sip of water would calm my grumbling belly. I couldn’t feel anything there. I must have rolled too far along the edge of the bed.

My hand crept out for the lush crimson fabric that covered our gorgeous window. As I pulled the curtains to allow some light in, my stomach lurched as I took in the scene outside.

It was a full-blown storm. Rain lashed across a dark moonlit sky into the crashing waves, throwing great plumes of snowy white spray and foam thirty feet into the night air.

I blinked back my shock, this must be a dream. I pinched myself, but instead of waking, my body protested with a sharp stab of pain in my forearm. Then I saw it.

The cold floorboards were black with moisture from a stream that seeped from the frame. Blood welled on the sill and soaked the window seat cushions before oozing out and dribbling over the lip, falling to the floor in a grisly waterfall. Salt spray and the iron tang of blood filled my nostrils.

My scream woke me.

It was pitch black. Rain lashed at the glass panes, thunder roared amidst the brief flashes of light that illuminated the room through the heavy velvet curtains.


***

I sat staring from the window in my room, white uPVC, cold and clinical. In fact, there’s no wood in the room, it’s all plastic of some sort. Nothing to remind me of dark wooden timbers. The view between the white-painted metal bars is pleasant enough, trees and a well-mown grassy lawn that mirrors the calming green walls.

They said I didn’t stop screaming until they sedated me, that I’d rubbed my hands raw trying to scrub away whatever I thought was on them, but I’m better now. I’ve told them what they needed to hear—that it wasn’t real.

Now I sit silently in contemplation in my pleasant surroundings, rocking gently to an unseen rolling sea. But even with the plastic blinds instead of curtains, I can sense the storm growling, a bass rumble that I can feel within my body as the darkness gathers in the distance.

It will arrive tonight, as it has every night for the past five years.

How do I know it’s been five years?

I reached up and my bleeding and splintered fingernails scratched another line into the dark bloodstained timbers of my cell.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Earth 2.0 by Andrew Shephard



The solar system of Star 95
closely matches project requirements.

Give me a percentage.

Percentage of what?

Of finding a planet as neat as Earth.

Could be as much as sixty, sir,
according to our best scientists.

The reactor lasts fifty generations?
Seems hard to believe.

We are at the limit, Mr President.
One hitch in the first thousand years
and we could run out of gas.
 
The volunteers – I’m concerned.
Will they survive the radiation?

Models show some damage to the genes.
Whoever lands on two point zero
may look… different.

How different? Better or worse?
No, don’t tell me.
Prepare the launch.




I wrote this poem in Loutro, Crete, after a boat trip at night. Riding the waves, there was a clear sky above (before the moon rose). With the roar of the boat's engine it felt like we were flying through the universe towards the stars.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Pole Dancing by Vivien Teasdale

Well, when you’re sitting in a caravan with the rain rattling down on the roof, you have to have something to do, don’t you? So, stuck inside, we put the bird pole outside the window and sat back to watch.

First came the blue and great tits, squabbling and fluttering from the peanuts to the fat balls. Their young ones came too, happily helping themselves until mum or dad came near, then there was a sudden flurry of wings, a gaping maw and the parent bird obligingly stuffed food down the nearest mouth. I’ve always had the feeling that it’s children who train their parents, and now I know.

That lot were soon shifted off by the woodpeckers – greater spotted ones, and we spotted them again and again as they wolfed down the contents of the feeders. For a while we were quite excited at the thought that we were watching a different variety – middle spotted woodpeckers, never before recorded in Britain. Then we read the book again and realised that the one with the red topknot was actually a juvenile. They don’t get the red patch on the back of the head until later. Oh, well, at least we hadn’t announced our discovery to the world before checking.

In turn the woodpeckers were chased off by a jay. If you’ve never seen one close up, they are beautiful birds, much bigger than you think and with a large, vicious beak. No wonder all other birds gave way to this visitor. He simply went for the peanuts and ignored the fat balls completely. Almost always when he left, he carried off a couple of peanuts, presumably for a later snack.

He was not the only one who wanted the peanuts. Cyril the squirrel sat on the grass and coveted them. Then he tried climbing the pole. It’s obviously quite difficult to do so with little paws that won’t quite go round the circumference. Even with four-paw drive, he only managed two steps up and one step back. Then he fell off.

They’re very persistent … things. He tried again and again until he got the hang of it and reached the top. Then he had to get across to the nut holder. He reached out. He fell off. He tried again. And again until he was finally swinging on the holder and, eventually, able to attack the wire mesh.

At this point, I rapped on the window. He leapt off and ran into the hedge. Five minutes later he was back. I rapped again. He looked at me. “You didn’t do anything before,” he seemed to say and ignored me. I went out and chased him off. The next time, I took the dog with me, so he did run a bit further away, but still returned within minutes. Battle lines drawn, I took drastic action. I greased the pole!

He sniffed at the pole. Decided the funny smell was harmless and leapt up. He slid smoothly and quickly down to the bottom. He sat on his bottom, still clutching the pole and thinking, “there’s something wrong here”. He tried again. Same result. He moved away, took a running jump to land three quarters of the way up the pole. He slid down again. He went away.

He brought a friend with him next time. They both contemplated the peanuts and the pole. They circled round and looked from a different direction. They retreated to the trees across the path, urged on by the dog who was trembling in excitement at seeing them so close.
Every morning after that, the squirrel would come, examine the pole and go away.

But a strange thing happened. One morning I looked out of the window. The peanut holder, which had been on the left, was now on the right. The fat balls were now on the left. I asked my husband why he’d changed them round. He thought I’d move them. Our nearest neighbours were more staid, more senior than us, so I can’t imagine they crept out of their caravan at midnight just to swap the feeders round. Anyway, the dog would have let us know if anyone had been sneaking about.

Possibly a pair of pigeons might have sat on the top, dancing in the moonlight, until they twirled the whole lot round. But I have a feeling that Cyril and his friend wrapped leaves around their paws so they could grip the pole sufficiently to turn it around, probably while muttering, “Ya boo, that’ll fox you.”

They were right, too.

Monday, 24 June 2019

The Way It Is by Chris Lloyd (a look at life from another angle)

The Way It Is.

A hot tin roof with a cat asleep on it
A plumber saying “it’s easy this bit”
A banker saying “we don’t talk shit”
A miner giving Maggie Thatcher a bit
Andy Pipkin saying, “I like it.”
You won’t hear of any of these.

Cameras getting your speed wrong
Politicians singing the same song
Summer sun that is three months long
Christmas number one’s that don’t drone on
A Eurovision song that’s not too long.
All things that will never happen.

Asking a cop with a taser to think twice
Asking a drunk for drinking advice
Telling your cat not to kill mice
Not seeing MP’s involved in vice
Thinking Lidl sells that special spice.
Dream on.

Thinking your dog won’t jump in a river
Hoping you can actually touch liver
Reading Steven King without a shiver
Having chocolate but eating a sliver
Hearing someone say hither and thither.
All impossible (almost)

Selling a car for what you think it’s worth
Not getting squeamish at your first child’s birth
Buying bit coins to increase your net worth
Staying at your in-laws and being full of mirth
Not liking that actor, what’s his name Firth.
Ninety nine percent not happening.

Looking all day for a four leaf clover
Knowing someone who’s called Ben Dover
Giving your garage a massive makeover
Trying to climb the white cliffs of Dover
Having fond memories of Austin Rover.
Unlikely at best.

Being vegetarian, going to a meat fest
Arguing that the sun rises in the West
Lighting a fart to make a girl impressed
Loving the posh guy who says “I speak in jest”
Going to a gig wearing a string vest.
Nope not at all.

A bookie giving a sure tip for a bet
Thinking you could own a Lear jet
Smoking a very healthy cigarette
A Geordie who never says hello pet
A day in Whitby finding loads of Jet.
You’ll be lucky.

©Christopher Lloyd

Monday, 17 June 2019

The Ditchwater Report by Owen Townend




Judge Pebble Presiding

The Defendant: Mud Speck (representing himself)
The Prosecutor: Paper Scrap

The Charge: Trespass of the puddle beside the lamppost on the other side of the road.
The Plea: Not Guilty.

PAPER SCRAP - Mr Speck, you float accused of a serious offence here. You are aware that the puddle in question is only an inch deep, are you not?

MUD SPECK - I am. I refuse to further comment on such a shallow charge.

PAPER SCRAP - Mr Speck, this is a cross examination. You are expected to comment.

MUD SPECK - I refer back to my alibi.

PAPER SCRAP - Yes. Your alibi. I would like to clarify some detail.

MUD SPECK - If you must.

PAPER SCRAP - You claim that on the night in question you had...sunk? Is that correct?

MUD SPECK - Yes. To my usual crack in the pavement.

PAPER SCRAP - And the purpose of your visit?

MUD SPECK - I have relatives down there.

PAPER SCRAP - They can confirm this?

MUD SPECK - Yes.

PAPER SCRAP- Yet they remain unavailable for comment.

MUD SPECK - I am the only one of our family who rises.

PAPER SCRAP - Let the record show that Mr Speck is the only active member of his family.

MUD SPECK - Why is that worthy of note?

PEBBLE - Every word you say today is worthy of note, Mr Speck.

PAPER SCRAP - Thank you, Your Honour.

PEBBLE - That being said, do get to your point, Ms Scrap.

PAPER SCRAP - Of course. Mr Speck are you aware of the effects on our road by the winter just passed?

MUD SPECK - Objection! This seems very tenuous.

PEBBLE - Sustained. Ms Scrap, the point please.

PAPER SCRAP - Local ditchwater was frozen including the crack in which you and your family reside. Mr Speck, do you know what happens when a crack is filled with water and then frozen?

MUD SPECK - It depends on the size of the crack.

PAPER SCRAP - Not so. A crack always expands. I present to the court an official Ditchwater Report of the size of Mr Speck's residential crack before winter and after it.

Document is presented.

PAPER SCRAP - Please note how the crack has spread both ways by an inch.

MUD SPECK - Objection! I fail to see the relevance here.

PEBBLE - Overruled. I have looked over the report in my chambers. The new evidence is admissible. Please continue, Ms Scrap.

PAPER SCRAP - Thank you.

MUD SPECK - Just how is my crack relevant to this case?

PAPER SCRAP - It is not directly. Its lengthening, however, has led to a connecting secondary crack that runs much deeper and further out. More precisely this crack leads across the road to the lamppost and consequently the puddle that was illegally entered.

MUD SPECK - Objection! Your Honour, surely this is conjecture!

PEBBLE - Overruled. As you can see, Mr Speck, photos of this were included in the report.

MUD SPECK - This is ridiculous. Just what do you believe I did at this other puddle? There are no recent reports of damage or erosion, at least as far as I've seen.

PAPER SCRAP - Not damage. However the mud speck population has been significantly reduced recently. It is my belief through absorption.

MUD SPECK - Ludicrous! That is a ludicrous accusation! How could you even back it up?

PAPER SCRAP - Further measurement.

MUD SPECK - Of cracks?

PAPER SCRAP - Of you. Your Honour?

PEBBLE - Bring forth the ruler shard.

A shard of a ruler is brought into the courtroom by Ripples.

PAPER SCRAP - Mr Speck, you were last measured as being half a millimetre tall, were you not?

MUD SPECK - Yes.

The ruler shard is stood beside the accused.

PAPER SCRAP - Officer, please state the current height of Mr Speck.

RIPPLE - A millimetre exactly, ma'am.

The jury are audibly shocked. The accused quivers.

MUD SPECK - All right! I absorbed one little clod! Are you satisfied?

PEBBLE - Seize the defendant.

Multiple Ripples move in to hold the accused in place.

MUD SPECK - One little clod! It was nothing! I could have done much worse!

PEBBLE - The charges have changed. Mr Speck, I would advise you to watch what you say from now on. (to Ripples) Take him to the holding crevice.

The accused is led away. He struggles.

MUD SPECK - How dare you! Absorption is my right! My absolute right!

PAPER SCRAP - The prosecution rests.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Dusty Western Track by Dave Rigby


A man wearing a hat is up ahead, holsters strapped to left and right thigh, each holding a six-shooter. He’s running.
The first thing that strikes you is the horse. There isn’t one. Why is the man running?
The second thing that strikes you is the feeling you’re in danger.
You look down at dust-covered boots. They feel solid and comfortable. But they’re not your boots. The trousers are worn and frayed at the ends. They’re not yours either. But the nightshirt tucked into the trousers is yours.
Your head is throbbing. Reaching up you touch a bandage. When you examine your fingers, there are smears of blood.
You’ve no memory of the clothes, the head wound, or how you got here.
The man is still running, getting further and further away.
A sudden squall blows dust in your face, your eyes water, you spit and spit, breathing is difficult. By the time you’re finally able to open your eyes, the man has disappeared.
You keep walking hoping to clear your mind, hoping for some clue or some memory to fall into place.
A huge cactus stands by the side of the dusty track its spines threatening. A merciless orange sun beats down on you. In the distance there’s a derelict house, its roof half-collapsed, window and door frames missing.
Maybe he’s in there. Something drives you forward, despite the obvious risks. You need to find out. Your pace quickens. When you reach the barn, you duck inside without thinking, instant relief from the sun as you shelter under an undamaged section of roof.
He could have been there in front of you, guns levelled but there’s no sign of him. You sit on the bare floor, back against the wall. Despite everything and all that you don’t know, you fall asleep.
You dream of your mistakes, real ones and imagined ones. You dream of a man running down the road a man who turns into a horse. You dream of talking to the law, of a betrayal as it will be seen.
By the time you wake, you’re gazing up at stars and you’re cold, so cold.
He’s standing over you. A broken nose, scrawny beard, missing teeth, eyes narrowed. Your time has come, but all you can think about is those missing teeth, more gaps than teeth and the smell of his breath, too close to your face.
A sudden vision of a broken window, flames licking around the drapes, the panic. How could you have forgotten? A figure outside in the dawn half-light watching you, a tiny pinprick of red, a puff of smoke. They’d promised revenge. He was there to deliver, the man with the six-shooters.
The nightmare unfolds in your head.
You remember running hell for leather in your night clothes, just wanting to survive. In your panic you’d fallen, hit you head on the rocky ground, blood everywhere, jagged pain. The neighbour you’d barely spoken to for years, an old feud, had helped with a makeshift bandage. Borrowed boots and borrowed trousers. There was no going back. Not really a decision – just instinctive self-preservation.
Except it hadn’t worked, because here he is, looming above you. You try to speak but your throat is parched and you’re unable to utter a word.
It’s almost a shock when he places a blanket around your shoulders. The man with the missing teeth smiles a crooked smile as he helps you to your feet and points to the corner of the barn. A hunched shape in the moonlight, the man with the six shooters, except he no longer has them.



Monday, 3 June 2019

Platform 3 - Part 5 by Vivien Teasdale


Pink lady was crying, almost as if she cared. But grown ups didn't care. They just moved you from place to place and never listened. They shouted, just like bald man had shouted at her when she saw what he was doing to her friend. He'd shouted in the loudest voice she'd ever heard and she'd known then that she had to run. Run and run and never stop. But then railway man had found her, given her hope and now it was all going wrong again.

   Sobbing, Sandra wrenched the gate open and ran. Ran away yet again, and this time she was never going back.

   She didn’t really see the blue car as it swerved across the road towards her. She didn’t really feel the bonnet crumple as she bounced across it and was flung up into the morning sun before she hit the verge and everything just disappeared.

   For a second, the driver seemed to hesitate and then the blue car screamed away from the scene, leaving Sandra lying in the road and Monica screaming as she ran towards the little girl.



  ‘Winwood,’ Eddie told Monica as they sat together in the hospital corridor. ‘We’ve been … disturbed about that place for a while but never had enough evidence to do anything about it. Now we have reason to investigate fully. The superintendent there is keen to root out any problems. Keen to be seen to be active in the inquiry. If anyone can sort things out, he can.’ He looked up as Tony came out of the side ward. ‘All ok?’

   Tony shrugged. ‘They don’t know. We can go in, in a minute, love. They’re just … tidying up.’
 
   They were interrupted by a young policewoman. ‘Before you do, could I have a word?’ she asked.

   ‘Have you got him?’ Monica glared at the girl in front of her.

   ‘Oh yes. He was in such a hurry, he took a bend too fast and skidded into a ditch. I’m glad to say he’ll have a colossal headache, if nothing else. And that will be the least of his worries. Prisoners have their own code of conduct, especially where children are concerned.’

   Monica smiled. ‘Good.’

   ‘I believe you knew him, Mrs Dawson. And you, Mr Langford. You worked with him, in your previous post, too.’

   They both gaped at the constable without uttering a word.

   ‘It was Peter Crosier,’ she said

   'But he’s ...’

   ‘Yes, Mr Langford. He’s superintendent at Winwood.’ For a moment the policewoman stared at Eddie, then turned to Monica. ‘Don’t worry, we will get things sorted. He’ll be charged with the attack on Sandra as well as whatever is uncovered in future. Please, you will let me know … if … when she comes round, won’t you?’

   ‘Of course, we will.’ Tony agreed. ‘We’ll invite you all to the celebrations, too.’
Eddie shook his head slightly and stood up, resting one hand on Tony’s shoulder, the other on Monica’s. ‘Look, I’m glad the fostering, the probable adoption has been agreed and all that, but … she’s a long way to go and … in view of … well, you know.’ He faltered to a stop under Monica’s hard glare.

   ‘She’ll be ok. She’ll be our little girl from now on. No-one is going to harm her ever again. We’ll take care of her. No matter what.’

   Tony put his arm protectively round his wife. ‘’Course we will, love. Now come on. Let’s go in and sit with our new daughter.’ Tony scowled at Eddie, nodded to the police woman, then he and Monica disappeared into the side ward where Sandra lay, a small figure on the large hospital bed.

   Wires and tubes surrounded her, and for a moment they were both back in another ward, watching their son losing his fight for life.

   Tony reached across and grasped Monica’s hand. ‘It’ll be alright, love. It can’t happen again.’

   ‘Can’t it? She looks so like Stevie sometimes. What if …?’

   ‘She’ll be alright. She will be alright!’ Tony said, as if repeating the words would make them come true.

   He took something from his pocket, gently placing the object in the centre of Sandra’s cold hand.

   Her tiny fingers lay unmoving in Tony’s calloused palm. Then they slowly closed over the little black and white shell. Her lips twitched slightly as she tried to smile.