Monday, 30 September 2019

The Doll by Sara Burgess

Another one is calling you, calling upon you. You describe it as an urge. It creeps underneath your skin. It gestates there. You can see it in your mind’s eye. You imagine holding it, placing it in your room, at the end of your bed, on a shelf. You think about the right way to make it real, what size it is, what colours to use. You can hardly wait to meet it.
   Then one day, you find the right stuff; vintage burlap with a fine weave, a fat quarter of ivory wedding dress silk or a square of peach coloured velvet. Sometimes they demand a deviant touch. Thighs or biceps in Victorian flowered cotton or striped mattress ticking, a secret feature for you to enjoy. You collect the ingredients, scour shops and tins for the buttons, a crocheted doily, a strip of ribbon.
   You draw the features in lightly, choosing the best angle for the eyes, the tilt of a brow and a rosebud mouth. But none of your cutesey faces. This is a proper character who fills your head. You catch an expression in strands of cotton, a French knot for an eye, and satin stitch lips.
    Now that the features are laid down the fine silver needle slips a stitch or two in place. A pale green wink and mulberry smile. The hint of a blush drawn on with a crayon. And then for the cutting. It’s best that the body, neck and head is in one piece. Arms and legs can be slipped into the spaces you left when you machined the outline. You can hardly wait now as the machine purrs on the last seam.
    You want to see what she will wear. She is plumped up with filling, elbows and knees flattened in with a seam, and there she sits. There is a tiny smile, a hint of a glint in her eye.
    She has no hair yet, but that doesn’t matter. You start with the lingerie, the silk, the lace, the layers she might reveal with a cock of the leg. Like a tiny harlot, she brazenly sits, waiting for you to construct a camisole, as if bearing her poitrine to the world is her destiny.
    It can take a good hour to make a dress, even for one so little. The puffed sleeves need gathering, all raw edges must be oversewn, before they are set in the bodice. Cuffs need to be ironed, hems and trimmings arranged, all in perfect miniature, no corners cut.
   There is always a mixture of wool that is just right. It has to be the correct blend, for now she is real, she has substance. A touch of grey mohair, purple alpaca and a tint of silver. As soon as the first strands are sewn in place, she looks pleased. She is proud to be here. She is becoming.
   There are more things she wants now she has burst forth. Albertine wanted a mohair shawl, a cat and a mate. Beatrice wanted an aran coat, Noah a silk shirt, Ceridwen a hat like mine, the hussy. And will she keep it on? Like the drop of a hat it’s gone. It’s here, it’s there, oh she is a handful, that Ceri.
   There are animals too. A tweed dachshund called Frederick, a felt dog, and of course there were the mermaids. How bewitched you can be by a doll who has not yet arrived. But here she is. Aunt Maud. As soon as they are ready they tell you their name. They always tell you their name.
   And now Aunt Maud sits proudly at the end of your bed. Watching you. Watching you while you sleep.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Blink by Clair Wright

Thousands of miles above, the satellite registered a smooth stretch of land, like a scar.
The previous day’s image showed a close tapestry of streets and buildings, each tiny square representing a building, a home.
Now, through the dust, it was flat and featureless as a desert. 

Hundreds of miles away, seismic monitors recorded a huge spike, followed by a series of peaks like a mountain range. Computers processed data on the tectonic shifts which had caused this once-in-a-generation geological event.

In distant towns, pictures fell off walls. Cups rattled in cupboards. Car alarms burst into a pointless, tuneless dawn chorus and sleepy people stumbled out of bed to find their keys.

On the morning news, over coffee and cornflakes, we watched grey figures poke amongst the flattened remains of their homes. Women with silent toddlers on their hips dragged out anything which might be useable – a dented pan, a grimy blanket, a single shoe.  

In the television studio, experts pointed to the satellite images, and the seismic spikes and peaks.  They marked the epi-centre on the map, and defined the areas of greatest impact. Across the bottom of the screen flashed a number to donate to the disaster appeal, between the football scores and the lottery numbers. 

The cameraman wiped the film of dust from his lens and turned back to the reporter, standing in front of a toppled apartment block. Curtains fluttered at gaping, lopsided windows. A group of rescue workers, caked in dirt and sweat, dug through heaps of rubble. The diesel engine of a JCB rumbled as it pushed at lumps of concrete and buckled girdlers. 

The reporter coughed to clear the dust from his throat.

A shout, and the rescue workers clambered towards a man crouched amongst the crumpled concrete, peering at a screen.  The reporter followed, the camera close behind. The men crowded around, the reporter leaned in closer; the camera focussed on the grainy image on the monitor.

Dust, darkness, silence.  Then a gasp, a sob, as the screen flickered with the slow, living blink of an eye.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Passport - Part Nine by Dave Rigby

More crashing sounds from upstairs.
    “Quick, let me undo that rope.”
    Despite his head wound, KT worked as quickly as he could to free Jack’s hands.
    “Now, can you use a gun?”
    “I’ve never handled any kind of firearm.”
    “Then take the knife. We’ll have more of a chance if we’re both armed.”
Jack didn’t like to say that she’d never used a knife outside of a kitchen. It felt weird holding it. She returned to her sitting position in the corner, put her hands behind her back and clutched the weapon.
    Sudden silence upstairs. She feared for the fate of the woman.
    A light flashed on in the cellar. Out-of-control footsteps hammered down stone steps. Rikard fell through the doorway onto the flagged floor, a wild scream of pain as his shoulder took the brunt of the fall and he crashed against a box of beer glasses. But he was up in a flash, pulling a sheaf of papers from his jacket pocket.
    “You’ll sign this page,” he growled, thrusting a pen towards her. “This way, our damn father’s inheritance will pass to me. I take it you’ll have been told all about the adoption sham.”
    So, Rikard knew as well. Of course! She’d been the last to find out.
    “I can’t sign with my hands tied,” she said trying to sound as pathetic as possible.
The sound of a bullet being fired in the confines of the cellar was ear-splitting. Suddenly there was blood everywhere. Rikard was wounded but still on his feet. Jack couldn’t fathom why KT didn’t fire again.
    “I won’t make the same mistake twice, old man,” Rikard shouted, hobbling across the room.
    Jack had a dreadful moment of realisation – only the knife could stop her brother now. The thin handle felt alien in her right hand. She rose silently. Rikard was hovering over KT, shouting wildly. She had to strike immediately…but where do you stab someone so it’ll do enough damage to stop them…without actually killing them. After all…he was her brother!
She couldn’t do it.
    But a beer stein was to hand.
    She brought it down on the side of his head and watched in horror as he slumped to the ground. Unconscious, but to her great relief, still breathing.
    “The damn gun jammed,” KT said, as he trussed Rikard, slowly but expertly. “That was amazing, you were so cool Jack. You saved your old dad’s life!”
    She was still shaking and almost failed to take in what he’d said.
    “What do you mean, KT? I don’t understand!”
    “I’m sorry. It was wrong of me to be so open. You see I’ve always been convinced that I’m your real father. Back in ’87, Martuska was seeing both James and myself for a while. She felt sure that James was your father – and Rikard’s. But from the day you were born, I could see me in your sweet young face and I’ve never given up on that conviction. Seeing you now as a grown woman, I’m more certain than ever.”
    Jack stared at KT. This was all too much to take in. But the longer she stared, the more she could see of herself in him. So many confused thoughts raced through her head.
    “If I ever tried to talk about this, Martuska would refuse to listen and she made me swear never to say anything to Rikard. But since James passed away and with me getting on, I can’t stay silent any longer. I hope you can forgive me.”
    Jack felt a sudden sense of peace. Sitting on the damp cellar floor, their arms around each other, she felt at home with this man in a way she’d never experienced with her father…or whatever he’d really been.
    “What do we do with my brother now?” she asked. “Despite how awful he’s been, I don’t really want to involve the police.”
    “Nor me,” KT said. “I need to speak to Stanley. He has this plan for my son which I’ve resisted up until now. But it can’t be avoided any longer. Stanley is back in the city. I’ll ring now and ask him to come and collect the three of us.”
    Once he’d made the call, they staggered upstairs to wait for the vehicle to arrive. It was a relief to find there was no sign of Rikard’s woman.
    “After all that’s happened, Jack, I’d quite understand if you wanted to leave immediately and return to England, but I’d dearly love for you to spend a day or two with us. And, I’m hoping Martuska will forgive me for being so open.”
    Jack decided it didn’t really matter whether he was her father or not. She wanted to stay and get to know him and her mother.
    “I would love to do that, KT, but I might be with you for more than a day or two.”

The End

Monday, 9 September 2019

Passport - Part Eight by Yvonne Witter

Rikard's hands were trembling and a bead of sweat fell on her face as he tried to tie Jack’s hands. He really was hopeless. As a Ranger Guide, she could tie better knots than this. The voice coming from upstairs was raspy and whiney, and the footsteps accompanying the voice were now at the top of the stairs, and the door handle shook. It was, after all, Saturday night and it seemed that the entrance door wasn't secured or someone with a key had let themselves in. Jack started to feel hopeful that this ordeal might soon be over.
   “Rikard! Rikard! I have been waiting for ages, I am so tired of your shit,” she whined.
   Rikard’s eyes widened, and he pushed Jack over as he fumbled towards the stairs. He used his index finger on his lips as a warning to be quiet, followed by using same finger to draw a swift line across his neck. She gulped. 
   “I am not coming into that dungeon for your kinky games tonight either, so just come on up. Now!” She tried to sound assertive.
   Last thing Jack needed was for him to have an accomplice, so she decided to check on KT. As she moved towards him, she noticed the pairs of feet through the glass panel which was at street level. That streetlight was all the illumination she needed. A phone hit the pavement first, then a handbag and its contents, then a female on her knees crawling to retrieve the spewed contents. The rain made it difficult to see her face clearly.
   Jack could hear footsteps in the building, so she quickly went back to where he had left her. Her heart sank as he came down the stairs, the fresh scratches on his face had started to ooze. 
   “I was neglected and ignored,” he spat, “whilst you were living like a princess. Now I want my inheritance, and you will not be getting any of it. Do you hear me? Nothing!”
   He was now holding a bottle of red wine and swigging in between sentences. His tirade was interrupted by loud banging on the door upstairs. This person was insistent. Rikard, tried to ignore the noise and carried on ranting over the din, then there was an almighty crashing sound. He jumped up and ran upstairs.
   Jack looked over at KT and this time went straight to him.  He winked at her with his left eye, whatever Rikard thought of him, he had over 30 years in the Secret Service and knew a thing or two about survival and mimicking death and dealing with amateurs. Clearly, he had a strategy for dealing with this erratic man who was her own brother. He showed her the pistol in his sock and the knife in his waist. They smiled at each other as she lifted her arms to show how loose the knot was.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Passport - Part Seven by Jo Cameron Symes

“A twin brother?!” Jack said, in shock.
   “Yes. He’s quite different to you, I’m afraid,” Martuska said. “KT was keen on us becoming a family at first, but he was such a difficult child and I was still working as an agent. We were both so busy working long hours that we didn’t give him much of a life at all. He grew up on the streets, more or less, and became completely uncontrollable. He still sees me occasionally. After all he is my son and your brother.” Martuska handed Jack a note.
   ‘Meet me at Café Noir in Lukas Street at 6pm tonight. Come alone – Rikard.’
   “Is that all?” Jack asked, disappointed at this short missive.
   “Yes. After all, you are a stranger to him, I suppose.”
   Darkness had fallen and the streets of Budapest looked pretty, all lit up at night. There was a slight chill and Jack drew her coat around her. She walked past the safe tourist area till she came to Lukas Street which was decidedly more down at heel. Rubbish littered the small street and a sudden yowl of cats startled her from her reverie.
   Jack stood outside Café Noir. Red and white checked tablecloths adorned small circular tables with black chairs around them. A couple of waiters were going round the tables, lighting candles for the evening shift. She peered in the window, but could not see any customers at any of the tables yet. She checked her watch, but it was definitely 6pm, so she entered the café. A waiter looked up at her.
   “Sorry, we’re closed until 7:30pm,” he said.
   “Oh, but I was supposed to be meeting someone here at six,” she said.
   “It’s ok, Hamid,” a man said as he stepped out from the shadowy corridor at the back of the room. “This is my sister,” he continued. Hamid looked at Jack in silence.  
   “In fact, why don’t you guys take the night off? We’ve got some catching up to do,” Rikard said, looking at her. Hamid stood there in shock.
   “But Sir, it’s Saturday night, our busiest night of the week!”
   “Yes, but this is a special occasion. A family reunion. It’s a private matter, so I’d appreciate it if you’d leave. Now!” he said sharply.
   “So, I take it that you’re the owner then?”  Jack said nervously.
   “Yes. Have a seat,” he said, and he pulled out a chair.
   The light directly overhead illuminated his features and she could see him clearly for the first time. She gasped as she realised that she was staring into the face of her father. The only difference being that Father’s eyes were blue, but Rikard’s were green. He took out a cigar from his jacket pocket, and lit it then blew a huge cloud of smoke into her face. She coughed loudly.
   “Jacqueline, eh? Dearest sister Jacqueline.”
   She looked at him. 
   “You know, I’ve always wondered what my life would have been like had I grown up in England? Had I had your life, instead of my own.”
   “My life wasn’t always easy…” she began.
   “Don’t!” he shouted as he banged the table with his fists.
   “You have no idea what my life was like. How I was hungry, neglected, bullied, beaten, How I had to learn to be tough, to fend for myself at such a young age. Don’t you dare tell me that you’ve had a hard life! You have no idea what a hard life is! In fact, I think it’s time you found out, don’t you?” he said as he reached into his pocket and brought out a gun which he aimed at Jack.

   He motioned with the gun for her to get up. She stood slowly and he ushered her out the back. He opened a door that led to a cellar. It was dark, and cold. Water slowly trickled down its walls.
   “Head down the stairs! Now!” he said.
   Jack stepped down into a pit of blackness. Her eyes adjusted and with the light from the landing she was able to see a little now. She gasped as the figure of an elderly man formed from the gloom. He was slumped heavily against the wall. Blood trickled from a wound on his head and his eyes were closed.
   “That’s KT,” Rikard said. “He always was a useless idiot!”
   “You’ve killed him! You murderer!”  Jack shouted.
   “Be quiet!” he said. He reached on the floor for a length of rope. “Now, hold out your hands,” he ordered. She began to slowly raise her hands together furiously thinking of some way she could distract him. She needed to get that gun and get it fast, or else she’d be dead meat. Like KT, over there.