Friday, 27 December 2013

Mick and the Mouse


I want to tell you all a story that has been unfolding in the pub over Christmas. One of my regular customers is Mick, known far and wide as Mick the Buddhist. Let me tell you that the Irish are great for giving nicknames but not know for their imagination. Skinny Tom is normally skinny, Fat Paddy will undoubtedly be a bit chubby.  Mick is a handyman who can turn his hand to anything, often with mixed results, but always with the best intentions. Mick never married and lives alone in a little cottage on the edge of town. A few years back Mick decided to try out Buddhism. The chanting, vegetarianism and avoidance of alcohol did not last long but some of the other ideals have stuck as well as the nick name.

Anyway on with the story. A few weeks before Christmas, Mick landed into the bar and mentioned he was having a problem with mice. As you are aware, Buddhists don't harm another living creature, which left Mick in a quandary. As a good Buddhist he should welcome the mouse into his home, on the down side Mick was being eaten out of house and home by the furry little fella.

A couple of days later I came across a "live capture trap" in the hardware shop. It was only a few euro so I bought it and dropped it out to Mick's house. I knew he was home because his bike was resting against the wall and smoke was curling from the chimney. Mick answered the door covered in wood chippings. He was making a set of book shelves for someone which sloped both left and right: if that is possible. I gave Mick the trap and he was delighted.

It was nearly a full week before Mick turned up for a drink, he was not his usual cheerful self.

"How did you get on with the trap," I asked him.
"It worked just grand," Mick said "I nabbed the little guy a couple of days ago."
"What did you do with him," I enquired as I filled his pint.
"That's the problem, I still have him."
"I though you were going to let him free outside," I asked
"I was reading on the Internet, do you know that if you let them go within a mile and a half of the house they can find their way back. He is such a little thing I am not sure if he is able for the wild," Mick mused.
"Ah for God sake Mick it's a mouse and Kerry is hardly the wild," I teased him dropping his pint on a beer mat.
"I suppose you're right Squid," he agreed.
"I bet you've been feeding him," I said.

Mick looked like a kid caught with his hand in a sweetie jar "Just a little," he mumbled.
"Your such a softie Mick," I laughed.

Pubs in Ireland are founded on the notion that if a story is funny, it is fair game to tell anyone. That night the story of Mick the Buddhist and his new friend spread far and wide. By closing Mick had heard at least a hundred Micky Mouse jokes. On Christmas morning Mick set out on his bike, with the little mouse dangling from the handlebars, looking for a suitable place to release him. After a few hours he decided on a wooded area close to town. Mick opened up the trap, the little mouse scampered out vanishing into the undergrowth.

It was half past eight that night when I got a call from a distressed Mick the Buddhist. While Christmas day had begun calm and clear a substantial storm front had settled over the country.

"Squid I know it is Christmas but do you think you can give me a lift, its an emergency," Mick said.

"No bother Mick where do you need to go," thinking he would say the doctor or hospital.

"Not far, Barry's Glen and bring a torch," Mick said before hanging up on me.

I picked him up five minutes later and raced over empty roads the mile or so to the woods.

"What are we looking for Mick," I asked.

"I let the mouse go but when the weather got bad. I could not rest thinking of him out in it." he said.

It was at this point I nearly threw him out of the car but the look on Mick's face was so genuinely upset I kept driving. We searched the woods for near an hour in the lashing rain. Of course; no sign of the mouse. In the end even Mick realised the futility of what we were trying to do. I left a very despondent Mick back to his house that stormy Christmas night.

Let me tell you he was a changed man when he arrived tonight for a few pints. |He was beaming from ear to ear.

"Mick, how's things," I called as he arrived in the counter.

"You would not believe it Squid, I had a Christmas miracle," Mick enthused.

"I did not know Buddhists believed in either Christmas or Miracles," I said loudly enough so all at the bar got a chuckle.

"Shut up and let me tell the story you messer," he said not rising to the bait. The few men sitting around pricked up their ears as Mick's adventures were nearly always funny.

"I was fair upset last night when we could not find that little mouse. I was so bad I even tried a bit of meditation. I don't know if it was the meditation or the hot whisky's but I fell asleep on the rug in front of the fire. It was still dark when I woke up, as stiff as a plank. I was about to take myself off to bed for a second sleep when I heard a sound from the kitchen. I waited a bit then I heard it again, it was a crunching. When I turned on the light the little mouse was sitting as bold as you like in the middle of the table. He had chewed the away the corner of the cornflake box and was sitting up on his hind legs munching. He did not even run when I turned on the light. I could not believe he found his way back." Mick told the hushed crowd at the bar.

"It must have been a homing mouse," offered one of the customers which got everyone laughing.

I did not have the heart to tell him that where you get one mouse you get loads, I think the story of the homing mouse miracle of Christmas is much better than one too stuffed with cornflakes to run away.






Saturday, 21 December 2013

A quick Joke



A trainee began working in the city morgue. His very first job was to move three new arrivals. The trainee was a bit taken aback as all three corpses had smiles on their faces.

"Is it normal that they would be smiling like that?" the trainee asked the pathologist.

"Not really," replied the doctor.

"You see this first one," the pathologist said indicating a white haired man in tattered clothes "he is a Scott's man who scrimped all his life never parting with a penny unless he had to. Yesterday he won 100 million on the lotto and dropped dead of a heart attack.

"What about the next man?" asked the trainee pointing at a well groomed gent in a night shirt. He had to be 90 years old if he was a day; with huge grin on his face.

"That is Rene, a wicked womaniser. He married a 21 year old dancer and died in bed on the honeymoon night," replied the pathologist covering up the old man.

The last body was in a terrible state, while a lot younger that the other two, he was covered in burns from head to toe. The smoke was still drifting up from is clothes, like the others he was smiling happily.

"What is the story with the last man?" asked the puzzled trainee.

"Oh that is Paddy the Irish Golf Pro, he was hit by lightening," said the pathologist.

"That's tragic," said the trainee "why is he smiling?"

"He thought someone was taking his photo."

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Apprentice


In the far south of France, nestles Carcassonne, a magical fortified town who's existence can be traced as far back as the Roman Empire. In 100BC, a garrison encampment was formed on high ground overlooking a natural fording point on the river. This land has been constantly occupied ever since. Despite current appearances, this occupancy has been anything but peaceful.

Morning light floods the cobbled streets painting ancient buildings in hues of rust and gold. The place has a feeling that only comes with age. You cant help but know that these walls, these streets, have witnessed deeds of bravery and savagery in equal amounts. The very stones are steeped in human emotion, perhaps that's why this town has a magical feeling.

Uneven streets twist narrowly among buildings. Everything is quiet only flocks of finches break the silence of the early morning. It is hard to imagine that  blood once flowed on these streets, bodies dismembered and lives lost in needless combat. All paths through this historic town lead to a central concourse. The square is a wonderful work of engineering that no modern man would ever dream of undertaking. The cobbles cover a full acre, undulating gently. One end is flanked by a fast moving stream, emptying eventually into the main river. The square is speckled with mature trees and hemmed in on all sides by majestic buildings. The cathedral spire rises high above the town, the morning sun making the golden cross at its tip twinkle. The only sign of life in the whole town, comes from two little shops standing side by side in this fairy-tale setting.

When you're a baker, life starts early and Monsieur Arnaud Gras rose so earl,y it was still the night before, when he arrived to light his ovens. As the smell of freshly baked bread fills the square, a stooped figure emerges from the gloom. A walking stick tapped across the cobbles to the café next to the boulangerie. M. Benoit Delarge was well into his eighties, sleep did not come easy to him. Even though no customers would rise for hours yet, he set out cast iron seating in the square. As the sun rose, M. Gras joined him from the bakery and the two old men sat enjoying a café au lait with fresh pan au chocolate still hot from the oven.

Another resident of Carcassonne famous for particular habits was Mademoiselle Annabell Rossier. Mlle. Rossier is a spinster who lives in the largest house on the square. She is renowned for her bad temper and sour demeanour. Dressed nearly entirely in black, she snarled at every man, woman and child that crossed her path.  Mlle. Rossier was despised by every shop owner in town. She was particularly nasty to people forced to serve her in shops and restaurants. The only place she was ever greeted with a smile and a warm welcome, was at the Café of M. Delarge. No one could figure out why he was always so cheerful towards the inhospitable crone.

Today, the young man that M. Delarge employed suffered a terrible barrage of insults from Mlle. Rossier, when he accidentally spilled her coffee. Young Luic came storming into the shop, slamming the cup and saucer into the dishwasher.

"She is such a battle axe, why do you put up with her?" he demanded of M. Delarge.

The old man chuckled,"She is not all bad you know, she has a wonderful side.."

"There is nothing but hate in that woman," fumed Luic.

"I think you're wrong Luic, you have to look past the front and see the woman beneath," said the old man wisely.

"I think you have been seeing things," huffed Luic, filling a fresh coffee for Mlle. Rossier.

"I tell you what, come open the shop with me in the morning, and you can see for yourself," said M. Delarge. After some persuading, Luic agreed to rise at 4am to help the old man open up.

***
Luic accompanied the shuffling old man along the cobbled streets into the still dark square. As delicious steam billowed from the bakery, they unlocked the café, turned on the lights and started the coffee machine. Luic placed the metal tables and chairs outside the shop while M. Delarge prepared the first coffees of the day. Half an hour later, M. Gras appeared with a basket of fresh pastries. 
"Good morning Benoit, I see we've company this morning," said M. Gras, sitting at the table. The old café owner laid out three large coffees for the gathered men. M. Gras took a tape player from under his arm, which he put on the table, but didn't turn it on. As the sun rose, the old men chatted about mutual friends, and Luic sipped his coffee, watching the finches flutter from tree to tree. As the sun began to chase shadows into the deepest corners of the square, the door to Mlle. Rossier's house opened. She glided down the stone steps, dressed in a gossamer nightgown. The two old men smiled at each other, and winked at Luic. M. Gras turned on the tape player, delicate notes drifted into the air. Mademoiselle Rossier was clearly sleep-walking, but she had the most beatific smile on her face. As the music reached her ears, she began to twirl and dance. For a full ten minutes, she performed a joyful ballet around the square. To Luic, Mlle. Rossier was so different, she was beautiful and happy. When the music finished, Mlle. Rossier faced the three men, giving them a deep curtsy. Monsieur Gras and Delarge stood, bowing back to the sleeping woman.  Mademoiselle Rossier disappeared back into her house, closing the door on two smiling old men, and one shocked younger one. M. Delarge turned to Luic, "Now, you see there are many sides to people."

"Perhaps you're right," said Luic

"This is our little secret, not even Mademoiselle Rossier knows about our morning dance lessons," said Monsieur Gras, taking his tape recorder back to the bakery. Monsieur Delarge smiled as he gathered up the cups, "You were a bit unlucky, actually," he said.

"Why's that?" asked Luic.

"Most of the time she wears nothing to bed, it must have been chilly last night," laughed the old man, shuffling away on his stick.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The First Turkey



This is a story told to me by my mother, about her mother, from a time before she was born. Granny Begley was only mammy Begley back in those days but I can never bring myself to call her anything other than Granny Begley, it would be too weird in my head.

This takes place in the late 1930's, Granny Begley was married a few years at that stage but already had three small boys out of a family that would eventually encompass a full nine brothers and sisters. Granddad Begley had just began working for Captain Raskin as a farm hand. Working as a farm worker was not a well paid job and with a growing family, existence for the Begleys was hand to mouth. The few coins in Granny Begley's purse never went far but Christmas week highlighted just how little they had.

The Begley family had three forms of transport, Granddad Begley had a bike, weighing as much as a small car and made from the indestructible metal that comets are made of. The second was shanks mare, or walking to you and me. The final mode of perambulation was Neddy and his little cart.

Neddy was the family donkey, who once secured between the tines of the cart, could move heaven and earth, if he felt in the mood. On the day of the dreaded Christmas shop, Granny Begley hitched up Neddy, with the three kids loaded aboard, she struck out for the town. She had a week's wages in her purse which didn't amount to a hill of beans. Christmas dinner would be sparse. Granny Begley hoped she could stretch to a broiler hen for roasting on the most holy of days.

As they clip-clopped the five miles to town Granny Begley drifted off into a world of her own and failed to hear the flat bed truck rumbling up behind the cart. It over took them on a bend, wobbling dangerously on its hard rubber wheels. The back of the truck was stacked high with wooden crates, each stuffed with a huge gobbling turkey. The driver shook a fist out the window as he raced away at the break neck speed of 30 miles an hour.

Neddy bucked and skidded between the tines of the cart. Granny was too much of a lady to say anything bad about the driver of the truck, but she went very red. She got Neddy steadied and it was a minute or two before they were ready to continue on their way. Three bends later that they came across a smashed timber crate in the middle of the road.

"Woah," called Granny hauling back on Neddy's reins.

"Would you look at that lads," said Granny to my tiny uncles hunkered down in the back of the cart. "I wonder where the turkey got ta?"

As if in answer to her question the turkey gave a loud gobble from the field next to the road. He was wandering around clearly dazed from his confinement, as well as having just survived one of Ireland's first car accidents.

"Come on boys, don't let him get away," called Granny Begley bounding over the dyke, into the sodden field followed by three very excited little boys. So began the great Christmas rodeo. They chased in circles but the outcome was never in doubt. A turkey never lived that could outrun a hungry Irish man. Once the gobbling tearaway was apprehended, Granny Begley wrapped it in her shawl so he couldnt fly again. The Begley clan raced back to Neddy who was nibbling at the grass growing in the middle of the road. Granny dropped the turkey in the back of the cart instructing the three boys to hold on to it. They had their work cut out as the turkey out-weighed the oldest boy by a couple of pounds. Granny turned the cart for home spurring Neddy into a gangly trot.


This is the story of how the Begley family came to have a huge glistening turkey steaming on the dinner table that Christmas day for the very first time. Everyone dove in to their dinner except Granny Begley who could only look at her plate, downcast and worried.

"Why are you not eating Mammy," asked Granddad Begley.

"I can't touch it, tis a sin," Granny mumbled to her husband.

"Whisht woman, eat your dinner," he said with a laugh.

Granny picked but got no satisfaction from it, neither did sleep come that evening. Nothing would do her but to be waiting at the gate the next morning when the priest came to open the church.

"Morning Mrs Begley," said the priest when he arrived.

"Father, I think I've done something terrible. I need to make a confession,"said Granny Begley
.
"Just give me two minutes Mrs Begley, I will be right with you," said the priest walking through the church turning on the lights. Ten minutes later Granny Begley found herself in a confessional shaking in her boots. The shutter slid back, "Bless me father for I have sinned it has been three weeks since my last confession" said Granny Begley.

"Tell me your sins, my child," said the priest from behind the grill.

"I have taken what is not mine father and defiled the most holy of days with my treachery," Granny said.

"What do you mean Mrs Be - my child," said the priest.

"I found a turkey on the road father, I killed it and feed it to my family when it was not mine in the first place," said Granny knowing this was a damnation offence. She was taken aback by the laughing from the far side of the grill.

"Mary, it's God's will that you found that turkey before a hungry fox. He works in ways that none can understand and if he intended you to find the bird, that is what he made happen. Leave here with a clear conscience, enjoy what God has delivered to you."

Despite this reassurance, from this day to the end of her time, Granny Begley could never eat turkey.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Granny Fitz


Running a bar in a small town along the west coast of Ireland qualifies you for many roles, financial adviser, councillor, medic, peacekeeper not to mention the provider of drinks and hangovers for a whole community. You will find the young and not so young rubbing shoulders nightly  you may even find a dog or two snoozing under an owners stool while they mingle. Any of you that have read my stories will know that I am a bit of a dog lover. I have never yet encountered a dog that caused me an ounce of bother in my bar but plenty two legged customers have ended up on the pavement, backside first.

Two of my most regular customers are Granny Fitz and Bobby. Mary Fitzgerald lives four miles outside town with twelve grown children. They are all married but never quiet cut the apron strings, every last one of them are living within ten minutes of where they were born. I have no idea how many grandchildren Mary has but it seems half the towns calls her Granny Fitz. With so many people calling her that it was only natural it spread to the rest of us. Bobby is the latest in a long line of dogs that shared Granny Fitz's life, they were all border collies.

Every Thursday Granny Fitz and Bobby would walk the four miles into town. Regular as clockwork she would collect her pension, visit the Co-Op and order what she needed, call to the butchers and various other shops along the way picking up items here and there. At each stop Bobby would wait patiently at the door until she finished talking and came walking back out. When a full round of the town was done they would stop by the church for a chat with Mr Fitzgerald who has been resident in the cemetery for over ten years. Bobby never felt the tug of a lead on his neck, he never needed it. You would always find him six inches behind Granny Fitz's heal watching every move she made with utter adoration. When lunchtime rolled around Granny Fitz would call in to me for a bowl of soup and a toasted ham sandwich. At first she left Bobby outside like everywhere else she visited but I insisted she bring him in. Bobby slinked in at first, not believing he was allowed. That first day Bobby lay at Granny Fitz's  feet expecting to be hunted out into the street at any moment. Since that day he walks in with a huge doggie smile on his face. I always get lick and a head nuzzle from him before he settles down at Granny's feet while she eats. After lunch one of Granny's huge extended family would come and collect her shopping, dropping it back to her house while she and Bobby made their own way home using shanks mare.

A few weeks back Granny never turned up for lunch on Thursday which did not bother me much, she may have been away visiting relatives but when the following Thursday came and went without a visit from my most regular customer I made a call to one of her daughters. It turns out that Granny Fitz had taken a serous turn and was in hospital. For a woman who never saw 7am in bed her end came quickly. Not a house or business was not saddened by her passing.The funeral was one of the largest I can ever remember.

Now in this part of the world when a person dies the funeral will make its way from the church via the house of the departed to the cemetery. Like I said Granny lived four miles from town, despite the graveyard being next door to the church Granny Fitz's remains were slowly driven the length of the town allowing everyone to honour the passing of remarkable woman after which the mile long precession of cars made its way to Fitzgerald's, the house that half the town could trace their ancestry to. The hearse slowed as it approached the Fitzgerald homestead.

If you ask me to explain what happened next I cant. Bobby launched himself over the hedge, racing at the barely moving hearse. He barked incessantly ,it was not an angry bark but a pleading, heart broken cry in the only voice a dog possesses. Bobby jumped and clawed at the glass separating him from Granny Fitz, howling like he was being ripped limb from limb. The hearse gathered speed but even in third gear Bobby kept throwing himself against the glass. It was a heart breaking sight, the whole four miles Bobby ran faster than I have ever seen a dog run. When the hearse stopped at the grave yard Bobby's chest was a blur of movement as he wolfed air into his lungs, resolutely staying his course by remaining at the side of Granny Fitz, by her side to the end.

As the coffin was lifted to the shoulders of her six oldest sons, Bobby lay prone at the head of the mourners, keening. I looked into the eyes of that dog and I will  never be told that they don't feel. If a dog could cry, Bobby was shedding floods. He was a dog no more, but a mourner, pure and simple. As the six sturdy men carried the coffin to the freshly opened grave Bobby remained, as he ever had, six inches behind Granny Fitz while she made her last trip through the graveyard.

When the coffin was lowered Bobby niched forward on his belly until his mussel and front paws hung over the edge of the grave. The priest began the service but Bobby could not contain his grief. Surrounded by a dozen Fitzgerald children and nearly seventy grandchildren, everyone knew the chief mourner had four legs. Bobby whimpered loudly, whining with sorrow. In the end it got too much for the priest. He turned to the undertaker and said quietly "Can you do something with the dog Sean." The burley undertaker had taken two steps towards Bobby before a deep voice rumbled from the assembled crowd "Sean Ryan, touch that dog and you will regret it for many a year."

The sound of Michael Fitzgerald's voice was enough to stop any man in his tracks. The whole Fitzgerald family closed ranks around the little black and white dog while respecting  his sorrow. The undertaker retreated quickly. The priest finished the prayers and the congregation shook hands with the family. People drifted away, many to McFinnigans, were we raised a glass to a wonderful woman who would be long missed.

That night after cleaning up I locked the bar and walked towards home,my journey taking me past the grave yard. Something made me want to have a final word with one of my best customers. I walked through the moonlit headstones coming to the freshly closed grave but I was not alone. Bobby lay across Granny Fitz with huge sorrowful eyes. I hunkered down in front of him, rubbing his neck. "I miss her too boy" I said, before leaving the dog and his mistress alone in the moonlight.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Mr Scrunch



I have the most wonderful lady who visits my bar for lunch from time to time. She is living proof that a body ages, while the brain remains as young as you wish it to be. She has a lifetime of stories which she gladly shares with anyone willing to listen for a few minutes. Here is one story she told me last week which left me weak at the knees.


When I was a young girl, the town was much smaller place but seemed to be bursting at the seems with interesting people. One in particular was Scrunch, an old man with a huge bend in his back. Poor old Scrunch was so doubled over he only ever saw where he'd been, never where he was going. He was a jolly old lad, who delighted in playing tricks on us children, making us jump with good natured frights when ever he could. Far from being a hindrance, Scrunch enjoyed the way his deformed back made him stand out from the crowd. He was very nimble, using two tiny walking sticks to help him get around the place. When he was coming up the road towards you, he looked for all the world like a crab scuttling along on four legs, dispensing smiles and greetings with all he encountered.

Time ticks by, as it inevitably does, and Scrunch shuffled off to better place. Back then, funerals were major social event, attracting huge numbers of people to pay their respects and catch up with friends and foe alike. Mr Scrunch presented a particular difficulty to the undertaker, not one day in his whole life had Scrunch ever laid straight in his bed, his final resting place was going to be no different. Try as they might, they couldn't get poor old Scrunch to lie down in his coffin. In the end they drilled holes in the bottom of it and winched Scrunch flat with twine. As his back unfolded of the first time his bones groaned with the strain. Once he was secure, the whole contraption was hidden under a silken sheet, laid across Scrunch's chest.

People came from far and wide, and every one of them commented what a fine tall man Scrunch was when he was lying down. The parish priest was a stern old bugger, but he said a good mass, every seat was taken and men stood ten deep at the end of the church. The priest was in full flow, raging against the evils of drinking, when a loud snap ricocheted around the church like a gun shot. Scrunch sprang forward sitting up straight in the coffin, scaring the life out of the whole town. Once the screams died down, people realised what had happened the whole congregation howled with laughter. It was by all accounts the happiest funeral ever to take place in the old church.


If you enjoyed Mr Scrunch, you can find a collection of similar stories for your reading pleasure on;
http://www.amazon.com/Misadventures-Father-Tom-Squid-McFinnigan-ebook/dp/B01AGW4PU2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1456185974&sr=8-1&keywords=the+misadventures+of+Father+tom

Monday, 18 November 2013

Where's Laura?


Glee has wrecked school drama societies if you ask me. In the Eighties, the drama group was a complete mystery to everyone, except the ones in it. Nobody knew what they did, who they were, or what was involved, except that they were the super nerds of the nerd universe.

In my mind, I was a superstar waiting to blossom into utter fabulousness, darling, the reality was much duller. I was a tall, stringy girl, as straight as a beanpole, with wire-rim glasses and hopeless taste in fashion. I dreamed of performing on stage, but sadly I possessed the most terrible voice, even I knew it was horrendous. On the first day of High School, societies set out their stalls to entice freshmen to join their ranks. The queue for the drama society was by far the smallest. Even so, the gang of giggling drama Nazis sitting behind the table, eyed me with utter disdain.

"Name," said the one in the middle with the perfect make-up and professionally styled hair, which looked ridiculous on a sixteen year old.

"Sally Ann Farmer," I said, handing over my pre-filled application form.

"You know, you actually look like a farmer," said Miss Middle America, causing her bookend groupies to stifle mock gales of giggles. She plucked my form off the table using her finger nails, her pinky finger cocked high as if it were a bag full of dog dodo.  As she read down the page, she made a decidedly unimpressed litany of uhmms and ahaas.

 "So you want to be in the chorus line, what's your singing voice like?" she asked in a terse manner.

"I'm not much of a singer, I'd be fine with speaking parts."

"Our group is primarily concerned with musical productions, all speaking parts would be main roles, and all would be required to sing. Sing something now," commanded the hard faced beauty queen.

"What, here?" I said, looking round at the milling students signing up for other societies.

"Well if you can’t sing here, how will ever manage on stage?" chirped in left bookend girl.

"Exactly," added right bookend girl, not wanting to be left out.

"I can't," I whispered, going red, right down to my toenails.

"Then the stage is no place for you," said blondie, stabbing my dream in it's heart, with her pitiless eyes and icy words. 
"But, we're always looking for stage crew," said blondie, with a sniff.  That was how I became one half of our school drama costume department, the other half being the lovely Laura.




***



Laura was a strikingly beautiful girl, but she did everything she could to hide it. She draped herself in oversized dungarees: huge knitted jumpers, glasses far too big for her face, and always some kind of floppy hat or other, pulled down over her face. She seemed determined to cover every possible inch of skin, leaving just those blue pools of innocence beaming from a frame of auburn curls. The other reason Laura went unnoticed was her near complete silence. Laura had a little stutter, which got worse when she was nervous. In the end, Laura preferred to say nothing at all, she was so quiet, you would not even realise she was in the room, until she materialised in front of you with her angelic smile.



Most people failed to notice Laura's grace, but it wasn't lost on Sarah Callaghan, the very same blond tyrant that had snuffed out my artistic dreams with one cutting remark. Sarah was the leading lady, in everything. Mrs Wiscon was the school drama teacher, but Sarah was the one pulling all the strings, and she had an extra nasty part of her black and withered heart reserved specificity for torturing Laura.  She'd deliberately crumple costumes, rip seams, throw things all over the place, but mainly she was just down right spiteful. She would yell at the top of her voice, "Where's Lalalalala-Laura," something her troop of evil minions found side-splittingly funny. Any lesser girl would have snapped and slugged her, but Laura just let the abuse wash over her, seemingly oblivious to it. Only her eyes betrayed the lie as they glistened with tears.



Rehearsals were ramping up, in preparation for the Christmas show. Try as we might, Laura and I just couldn't keep up with everything, so we often stayed behind to finish up, after the rest of the cast had gone home for the evening. Today had been a full dress rehearsal, and the opening night was just days away. Laura and I were left with a blizzard of costumes to iron, press, mend, and steam. Everyone else had vanished in a whirlwind of air kisses, hours ago. It was nearly dark when I said good night to Laura, leaving her ironing one last shirt in the costume room. She smiled, and waved as I left, banging the fire exit door leading directly out of the dressing rooms behind me. I was outside the school gates when I remembered, I had left the Sarah's finale costume, steaming in the dress bag. It would be in tatters if I left it all night, there was no choice, I had to go back. 

I just caught the janitor as he was locking up the main doors, he let me into the auditorium, but all the lights were off. I had to feel my way through the cavernous room, edging closer towards the stage. As I pushed open the door to the dressing room corridor, I could hear a hum coming from the costume room. As I got closer, the hum transformed into the most wonderful singing I've ever heard.  I inched closer, it couldn't have been Sarah, she wasn't that good, in fact, none of the cast were this good.

I peeked around the costume room door, but the room was empty. On the ironing-board, the cooling iron stood on its end, steam gently swirling upwards from its ticking hotplate. The wonderful melody filled the room, seeming to be everywhere at once. I tip-toed in, afraid to make a sound, for fear of breaking the spell. The singing came from a big wicker hamper, we used to store costumes between shows. It had to be Laura, sitting in the box with the lid closed, singing, who else could it be? But could it be her?

"Is that you singing, Sally Ann," boomed Mrs Wiscon's voice from behind me. I nearly jumped out of my skin, and the singing stopped at the exact same time.

"Jesus, Mrs Wiscon, you scared me," I said, clutching my racing heart.

"Don’t take the Lord's name, young lady," scolded Mrs Wiscon, "but that singing was amazing, why didn't you tell me you could sing like that."

"I can't Mrs Wiscon, honest," I said, telling the truth.

"Of course you can, I just heard you. If it wasn't you, who was it then?" she said, waving her arms about her, to the clearly empty room. I heard a near silent "no" come from the basket beside my legs.

"I can't sing when people are watching me, I get nervous," I said.

"Don't be such a Silly Billy, its only me," she said, getting a little cross.

"Please, Mrs Wiscon, I can't."

"You can, and you will, young lady," she said, her tone stern.

After a long pause, and a little time to think, I said, "Okay, will you just stand outside the door, and I'll try."

Mrs Wiscon gave me a look, but did indeed step out into the corridor. I stooped very quickly and whispered to the basket, "Laura, you better sing now, or we are both in trouble, and your secret will be out in the open."

Several seconds of silence followed, then the first words of "Bring in the clowns" came dancing from the wicker basket. The song was perfect, in every way: each note crystal clear, every tone rich, but more remarkably, every single word clear and without a hint of stutter. When the song was nearly finished, Mrs Wiscon appeared at the door, I hid my mouth behind my hands, and tapped the basket with my shoe, silencing Laura in perfect time. Mrs Wiscon cheeks were glistening with tears as she rushed at me, throwing her arms around me, crushing me to her heaving breasts.


"You’re a miracle, child. A miracle," she half sobbed, half laughed, into my wiry hair.

"I'm not, and that's the truth," I said, but my words were muffled, and she was beyond listening. She babbled on and on about, a star is born, and diamonds on a beach of sand, as well as other such rubbish. The thing is, she was right, she just had the wrong diamond. I'm ashamed to say, I wanted it to be me, I wanted this reaction, this love to be showered on me.

"You must come to my office in the morning, we'll talk about what part you'll play in the show, this weekend. I know, we have had no time to rehearse, but that will make it all the better, such a surprise."

Somehow, I ended up nodding as she left the costume room, blowing kisses as she went. Once the emergency door slammed, I flipped the lid off the wicker basket. Laura stared at me with huge eyes. She was wearing a Snow White costume, her hands clasped to her chest, and she looked a vision. I dove into the basket, giving her the most enormous hug, "Why didn't you tell me you could sing like that?"

"I can only do it bbb-by myself," she said, echoing the lie I told Mrs Wiscon.

"But you did it when you knew me and Mrs Wiscon could hear you?" 

"Yy-you couldn't see mm-me, and ss-she did not know it was mm-me," Laura said.

"We'll have to figure some way out of this mess," I said. We sat in the bottom of the hamper, excited and terrified, without the faintest idea what to do.




***






The next day, I sat in Mrs Wiscon office, and tried one more time to get her to forget the whole idea.

"Honestly, Mrs Wiscon, you don't know how terrifying getting up in front of all those people is for me!"

"Let me tell you, Sally Ann, if you only sing, one tenth as well as you did last night, you'll be the hit of the show. What's the worst that can happen? You forget the words, or freeze up. It happens all the time, trust me, Sally Ann, it will be fine." Had she no idea that forgetting the words, or freezing up, was like a death sentence to a high school girl. It looked like there was no way out of this, for either me, or Laura. Secretly I was glad she was so persistent. Deep inside I wanted to be on that stage, too feel the adoring eyes of the audience on my skin, and hear the thunder of their applause. I wanted to feel that just once in my life, and Laura was my secret weapon.

"Well, I wouldn't feel too bad, if I could sing through a veil, or something. So long as people can’t see me, I feel better," I said. Laura and I had discussed this last night, if we had to sing, she would do so from some place hidden, and I could try and mime along with her. Our biggest chance of being discovered, was if I missed some of the timing, then everyone would know it wasn't me singing.

"After that sad song last night, what about a widow, with a black dress and a widow's veil. That might work. We could bring down all the lights, just have one spot light on you,” Mrs Wiscon mused aloud. "Have you a song that you want to sing?" Mrs Wiscon asked.

"In the arms of an Angel, by Sarah McLoughlin," I said, it was Laura’s favourite, and one hell of a song, it would fit in perfect for what Mrs Wiscon had in mind.

Mrs Wiscon sat back in rapture, "That's a perfect song for your voice, perfect choice. We must keep this between ourselves, do you think you can pull it off without a rehearsal?"

“I'll give it my best shot," I said. "Do you think we could dress one of the costume hampers as a coffin?" I asked.

"That would be fine, but don't make it too maudlin. We don't want the parents getting the hebigies, do we?"



Laura was waiting outside the door for me, we walked together in silence until we were alone. The poor girl was nearly bouncing with anticipation, waiting to find out what had happened. When we reached the costume room, she blurted, “Wwww-what did she say?” Her eyes were huge, and terrified, under today’s hat selection.

“She said we – I have to do it, I’m sorry Laura. I tried to talk her out of it,” I half lied. Her tears began to flow as the reality of the situation dawned on Laura. For the first time, I saw just how vulnerable this girl was, but she was the key to fulfilling my one and only dream. Just once I wanted to stand on that stage, and have the whole world love me. Was that too much to ask?

“I think I have a way of making this work," I said, taking Laura's elbows in my hands, making her look at me in the face. "Mrs Wiscon wants me to dress like a widow, which is great, because I'll have a veil and no one will be able to see my lips. But better still, I convinced her to let me dress the hamper as a coffin. You hide inside, then I can give you a signal when you should sing, and when to stop. It will work, I promise," I said, wrapping my arms around the sobbing girl.

“I cc-can’t go out ttt-there,” she said, pointing out the door, towards the stage.

“You can, sweetheart. It’s our only chance, or should I go back and tell Mrs Wiscon the truth.”

“NN-NO , Please,” Laura grabbed my arm, terrified that she would be made go on the stage herself. It was a nasty trick, but I had to play it. The tears came in floods now. I held her in my arms again, until she seemed all cried out.

“You can do it. One way or the other, I'll be right there with you, I know we'll get away with it,” I said, with as much compassion as I could get into my voice. From my shoulder, I heard a tiny “O-K”, and our fate was set.

***

The night of the performance arrived all too quickly. Mrs Wiscon was constantly fussing around, making sure I knew what I was to do, while trying to keep it from everyone else in the cast. The lead up to the performance was dominated by Sarah, faffing around, like the world depended on this show. She kept throwing tantrums, and saying how everyone was letting her down. I actually over heard her tell one of her minions, that she was carrying the whole cast on her back – wagon. Wait till she gets a load of the final song, I thought with an internal smirk. 

The curtain went up and everything was forgotten but the performance. The show was a raging success and the last act was It’s a hard knock life, from Annie. The whole cast were on stage, which gave me and Laura the chance to get into our positions. I gave Laura a huge hug as she got into the basket.
“I love you Laura, your amazing!” I had no intention of saying that, it just came out, because it was true. She smiled, and took the microphone Mrs Wiscon had given me. I had picked up another one earlier, one which was turned off. I covered the basket in the cloth we had made to make it look like a coffin, well kinda. I pushed the basket to the middle of the stage, behind the final backdrop, and waited. On stage the last part of the show climaxed, and the audience applauded, the cast took several bows, but were taken aback when Mrs Wiscon strode out to the middle of the stage. I watched it all through a rip in the backdrop. Mrs Wiscon raised her hand, and the applause died away.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you could bear with me for one more minute. We have a very special, last minute addition. I introduce to you, a first time performance by, Ms Sally Ann Farmer.”

Mrs Wiscon left the stage, shooing the bewildered cast before her. There was a scattering of polite applause from parents, who didn't appreciate the spot light being taken from their own little darlings. I could only imagine the worried look my own parents must be wearing, on hearing my name. I took a deep breath as the auditorium went pitch black, there was no turning back now. I heard the backdrop in front of me rustle upwards, the butterfly’s in my stomach went into overdrive. I bowed my head and felt the spotlight fall on me.


The music began very soft, only barely audible, but growing in volume. The atmosphere was magical, and the song was completely suited to the setting. I raised the fake mike to my veiled face, and gave the basket a gentle tap.  Even though I knew what was coming, I was still knocked sideways when Laura began to sing. A voice, hand-picked by God himself, enveloped the room. Not one person who sat in that darkened theatre, will ever forget the beauty of Laura’s voice. I was so captivated by her singing, I nearly forgot where I was. I could feel every heartache she had suffered, every frustration and disappointment of her life, poured into the words of her song. As if in a dream, I walked to the front of the stage, moving my arm and making the gestures we had practised in the dark recesses of the costume room. Something terrible happened, as I looked at the amazed faces gazing at me, I realised that none of this was for me.

How could I steal this magical moment, from a girl that never once asked for anything, but deserved so very much. I knew there was only one thing I could do, I lifted the veil, and lowered the microphone. I pressed my finger to my lips, in the gesture that every kid knows is, “Shussssh”. 

I felt the intake of breath from the whole audience, but the powerful song kept them silent. In the wings, I could see Mrs Wiscon plonk herself onto the nearest flight case, unable to believe what was happening before her eyes, and sadly I could see the delighted smile on Sarah’s face. She must have thought I was lip sinking to a cd, they all must. In the end the song came to an end, and the lights come up. 

Not one hand clapped, not one sound was made, as two hundred faces stared in bewilderment at me. I turned my back to them all and threw the cover off the basket. When I opened the lid, Laura was curled into the corner, like a tiny abandoned kitten. I smiled at her and held out my hand. Thinking our trick had been found out, she started to cry silently, but she took my hand and climbed out of the basket. Laura stood beside me on stage, shaking from head to toe. We stood there in silence, looking at the bewildered crowd before us. I reached down and took the microphone from Laura's shaking hand. I put it to my lips and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, you have been listening to the wonderful, Laura.” My hand was shaking so much, I let the microphone fall to the floor.


It was like a dam had burst, everyone in the room stood and the applause was thunderous, nearly lifting the roof clear off the building. They cheered and shouted for more. In the wings, every member of the cast was hugging each other, with the notable exception of Sarah, who just stood with her mouth in a very unflattering O.


Beside me, Laura had stopped shaking, but was clearly in shock. She stared, and stared, and stared. After a full minute of a standing ovation, I took Laura by the hand, leading her toward the wings. Waiting there were her friends, many of which may not have been friends before, but they sure were now. Just before we reached the curtain, I felt Laura’s hand pull out of mine. She stood rooted to the spot, still on the edge of the spotlight. She turned back, and slowly walked to the middle of the stage. The applause died away, as this little weird girl, who had sung so wonderfully, stood stoic in the middle of the single circle of light. When the room was silent again, Laura stooped down and picked up the dropped microphone. I saw Laura’s fist tighten around it, as she raised it to her trembling lips.
“Thank you all so very much,” she said, clear and stutter free. 

This time, the roar of the audience did take the roof off the place, and even the black heart of Sarah broke, because she clapped like her life depended on it, crying like a baby. 

That was when Laura finally took her bow.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Last Sight


'Why have all prison transports such lousy suspensions?' Jerry thought to himself, as the retro-fitted school bus bounced him around like a bucking bronco.

He knew the world looked at him as a third class entity or even fourth if there was such a thing. He was a three time loser: drugs, laziness, and greed. They made sure he stayed locked up. If anyone ever asked what he was in for he'd reply, "Stupidity." In prison, he was even more of a nobody than he'd been on the street. Any mystique he'd welded with the fools he called friends cut no mustard with the hard men behind bars. Life in prison was long stretches of boredom, punctuated with moments of outright fear. That's what prison was - fear.

Jerry's eyes still stung.

'Hold still,' the doctor had said, pinning his eyes wide open spraying that horrible smelling stuff all over them. 'This will make defects clearer on the scan.' 

For months his eyesight had been failing. His vision had blurred and narrowed until things were just smudges of light and dark. As he looked through the grill on the bus window, he wondered if these snow covered fields were his last glimpse of the free world.

The trip to the eye specialist in Fargo had been a welcome break from daily grind of life in James River Correctional Facility. James River had one decrepit transport bus which just about ran. It seemed colder inside the thing than outside, if that were possible. As he shivered in his seat, the shackles on his wrists rattled and that was despite his black duffel coat over the prison jump suit. Fat Pauli was driving the bus and guarding him for the day. Fat was no understatement when it came to describing Pauli. He must be every ounce of two hundred and eighty pounds of bone idle blubber. No point in sending a second man, even knocked out cold, nobody was running anywhere dragging that great lump along behind them. The falling apart bus, and lack of guards reinforced Jerry's belief that he was less than worthless.

Fat Pauli fumed behind the wheel as they crawled along at four miles an hour, his massive bulk blocking the tiny farts of heat the air-con unit was puffing out. Whatever the hold-up was it didn't bother Jerry, he had years to kill. Pauli on the other hand was going to be late for his Friday night poker game. When they reached Casselton, his minder had had enough. He swung the creaking rust covered bus off the Interstate and onto the rutted back road.

"Hold on to your breeches, this is going to be bumpy" he yelled over his shoulder, as he ground up through the gears. They gathering speed and shimmied on down the line, with the road to themselves.

"I know every shortcut in the state," he yelled back at Jerry, sounding like a red neck tour guide.

"Don't go rushing on my account, Officer," he said, settling back like he was being chauffeur driven. He caught the angry crease in Pauli fat forehead and smiled to himself. The bus picked up pace, making the ride even more uncomfortable. The road narrowed and soon trees replaced open farm land, and then the road began to snake. Pauli’s fat foot was still planted firmly on the accelerator when a deer bounded out of a bush. It was only a reactionary flick of the wheel, but it was enough to send the rickety bus sliding full force into a massive pine tree. Like all the bad luck in his life, Jerry never saw it coming.

***

Cold air brought him round. He was sore but not the searing pain of broken bones or ripped flesh. His eyes took in what they could and he picked out the slumped figure of Pauli ahead of him, his jelly belly swallowing half the dash. He got his feet under him and moved to the front.

"Hay," he called but the guard didn't move. "Pauli, wake up man!" That was when he noticed the trickle of blood that ran from the man's cauliflower shaped ear.

"Aww shit man, what the fuck Jerry?" he said to himself. He didn't like Pauli but he didn't want him dead either. The cold rushing into the wrecked vehicle soon snapped him out of his stupor, he couldn't just stay here, he'd freeze to death. He was on a tiny back-road, miles from anywhere and in the middle of a blizzard. If he was getting out of this, he was getting himself out. Through the grill he could see the bunch of keys dangling from the guard’s belt. He reached his fingers through the metal lattice but they were way out of reach. He looked around and noticed a window near the back of the bus had popped open. He shuffled back and got his fingers around the edge then pulled for all he was worth. He shot back on his ass as the grill came off like a knife being pulled from a soft pound of butter, this thing was nothing but rust and paint.

He eased himself out the smashed window and sank up to his knees in the fresh snow. He waded forward and climbed into the cab, shaking Pauli by the shoulder, but he was gone.

"Looks like you took your last tour chief," he said to the dead man, as he unclipped the keys from his belt. Once he'd got the handcuffs off, he pulled off Pauli’s winter coat and snow boots, they were no use to him now. He found the guards wallet but left the gun holstered on his belt. It was one thing to be on the run, but thing to be on the run and armed. That was sure to get you shot first, questioned later. Time to move.
***




All night he ploughed through the woods of Fort Ranson State Park, the trees blocking the worst of the winter wind. Even double coated and booted, he was frozen to the core when fresh snow began to fall.

"Just keep moving," he said to himself, but his body desperately needed to stop. His limbs were numb and he was dog tired.
"You stop, you die," he told himself again and again, through trembling lips. At least the falling snow covered all signs of his passing, not that his blind eyes could tell.

Morning came, and with it the first helicopter. Twice he had to bury himself deep in snowdrifts, covering himself completely to hide from the thermal cameras. Eventually they moved off and he trudged on. The woodland gave way as he rose higher into the mountain. Scrub covered by deep snow made the going hard. "Shit! Fuck! Bastard!" he exclaimed each time his numb leg vanished under him, threatening to break a bone or twist an ankle until at last it happened.

"For fuck sake! Fuck!" he shouted, grabbing his shin. His fingers came away covered in bright red blood. His numb fingers played across a taut length of barbed wire, completely hidden under a bed of white innocence.

"Barbed wire means livestock, livestock means farmers and farmers mean farmhouses," he said, trying to see the best side to his injury. His deficient eyes scanned the vast expanse of white, squinting to help them focus. In the distance he had a notion of a darker area, more square than nature was fond of making, he headed for it. Now he moved slowly, testing each step for more hidden bobby traps.


The barn was long abandoned, or only used for high grazing in summer months. The door hung by one hinge and slammed in the wind. He slipped inside pulling the door shut. Inside was heaven after the hours of biting wind. Gaps in the timber let in silvers of winter light to illuminate dancing dust motes disturbed by his passing. In the gloom of the barn he was all but blind. He felt around and found a mound of dry brittle hay and threw himself into it exhaustedly. Sleep came in an instant.

It was fully dark when he woke, the growling of his stomach rousing him. It was two full days since his last bite of food and he was starving, but even worse than that was the thirst. He raised himself up on his elbow, hearing another low rumbling growl but this one came from his left, not his stomach. Wolf was all he could think. He eased himself away and backed along the side of the barn. His shoulders brushed some tools and he grabbed a handle and held whatever it was out to fend off the attack that was sure to come. The growl came again.

"Easy boy," he said, and felt the edge of the door at his back. He pushed it open and felt the bite of the storm outside. Inside were fangs and outside were claws. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Keeping the door open, he huddled out of the worst of the wind and waited for something to rip into him, but it never came.

Through the passing hours, the growls subsided, and an uneasy truce was called. In this tiny barn both beasts realised shelter would have to be fought for or shared. Sharing seemed to be the best choice. Dawn came sending golden light creeping into the barn. In the far corner Jerry could just make out glowing yellow eyes hovering in the darkness. As the light grew stronger, the wolf in the corner was transformed into a skinny mongrel with ribs showing under paper thin skin. Jerry lowered his shovel and said, "You scared the shit out of me boy." With the immediate treat lifted his thirst returned with a vengeance.

He found a rusted bean tin which he filled with snow and held it close to his body. As he waited for the snow to melt, the dog watched his every move. He searched the building for something edible and came up empty handed.  "I may as well be on a fucking desert island," he mumbled to himself. He was soon getting sips of metallic tasting water from this can as he hunkered near the door. The dog's eyes locked on him.

"What lockup are you running from?" he asked the pup and as if knowing the question was for him, the dogs ears pricked up and he cocked his head to one side. This got Jerry laughing good and the dog settled back into is position, chin against the floor.

"We'd picked a hell of a barn to hide in," he said to the mutt. With that the dog began to whine.

"Oh come on! It's not that bad," he said to his new cell mate but soon the dog began to shiver and shake. Jerry edged closer, a step at a time. That was when he found out this little dog wasn't a dog at all, but a bitch, soon to be a mommy.

"Good Girl, it will be ok," he cooed at her but stayed out of snapping range. She eyed him with pain filled eyes, deep pools of hurt and mistrust. They said to him 'I got bigger fish to fry right now, you can stay but no touching -OK'. Jerry got the message loud and clear.

The morning hours passed as the mangy little dog shuddered through labour and into birth. Jerry found a dish and poured some water into it for her, shoving it towards her mussel with his toe. She cocked her head and lapped greedily at it, Jerry topped it up with his can as the hours ticked by. Three little puppies arrived, two flopped to the ground slimy and still. The little black dog nursed them with her long pink tongue, but her efforts were for nothing. Jerry couldn't help saying, "You're a great little mommy, you know that girl? It’s not your fault."

As the third little body entered the world, the little dog licked with vigour, cleaning the tiny pink nose and rubbing the black belly with her glistening snout. She licked and licked until the puppy let a weak cry. The dog's ears perked up and if a dog is capable of smiling, this one grinned from ear to ear.

"Would you get a load of that," he said, forgetting himself and reaching out to rub the little dogs head. As his palm touched the dog’s neck she went rigid, looking sideways at him, expecting the worst from a life time of abuse. They both stayed still for a long second before her long pink tongue flopped back out and she continued cleaning her new-born and allowed him to gently stroke her neck. When nobody else on earth could give a damn, she accepted him. That was when he noticed the blood. As the little dog pushed the lone pup towards painfully empty teats, he watched the pool of red spread.

"That don't look right girl, that don't look right at all," he said but what could he do about it. He watched as the little pup began to suckle, as its momma's head flopped to the floor. Jerry stroked the dog’s neck.

"You did so good," he said, and in the distance he heard the thump thump thump of a chopper searching for him. He looked into those innocent eyes and saw the wisdom of ages in there.

"No more pain for you and I'll take care of your little one," he said rubbing the dog’s neck one last time. He scooped up the tiny crying pup and laid it where the little dog could see it. Weakly her long pink tongue licked the tiny blind pup, and with three happy swishes of her tail, the light in those beautiful eyes faded and died. Wiping away the tears he pushed the little pup against the dog’s tummy, helping it to find a teat.

"Drink up little guy, it might be a while before we next get a meal." He sat beside the little dog, encouraging the pup to suckle until the last heat left her body. He found some old sacking and made a little pouch which he stuffed with straw for the new born pup and as light was fading out of the day it was time to move. He unzipped his coat and placed the pup against his chest where it could feel the beat of his heart. He trudged out into the night, heading back toward the road. This little guy hadn't much time left. He hadn't gone ten steps when a bull horn blared "Freeze, US Marshals. Put your hands in the air."

"Don't shoot," he yelled to the voice he couldn't see.

"Get your god-damn-hands in the air," replied the incensed man.

"OK. OK, don't fuckin shoot," he shouted realising that this was going to be the best outcome for his new little friend. This way he'd be back in custody but the pup would get a home. Jerry raised his left hand high but as he tried to pull his right free of the jacket the cloth wrapping the pup snagged on his sleeve. He felt the kick in his shoulder as he was flung back, but never heard the shots. Soon combat helmets and huge automatic weapons filled his vision.

"Get that god-damn-gun," a faceless voice commanded. Jerry sucked at the air but it wouldn't go in his lungs. He felt the blood bubble into his throat.  A rough hand ripped open his jacket and grabbed the piece of sack cloth. The pup gave a cry.

"Jesus, it wasn't a gun it was a fucking puppy," the trooper said, pushing back his helmet showing a startled, but kind face. Jerry managed to wave the man closer and whispered, "Take care of that little guy, he's all I got."

He looked down and saw the tiny black puppy lick once at his knuckle before the sight finally fell from his eyes.


The End.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Inside



Have you ever woken up and not felt yourself.  I stood before the shaving mirror shaking every so slightly on the chilly bathroom tiles. Something was not right, I felt - strange. It was not that I felt ill, it was different, I seemed fuller. I was feeling things where their were never feelings before. I ran the cold tap and splashed my face, the bite of the water flushed the feeling out of my mind.

Later on the bus ride to work the feeling came back, but stronger this time. It is hard to describe how your body feels, mostly you don't feel it at all, and when you do it is rarely good news. I felt a tightness down my right hand side spreading up my neck. I could feel the blood as it moved, my head ached as if my brain was pushing against the inside of my skull. This all felt uncomfortable but somehow normal. Then between my ribs I felt the touch of the passenger seated next to me. I turned my head but there was a good foot of space between me and the young woman looking out the misted bus window. I felt it again but this time the pressure was outwards not inwards. I could see nothing touched me. Running the fingers of my left hand under my coat I felt the feeling one more time, the tiny bulge pressed back against my fingers.

Once off the bus I ran the last few hundred yards to my office building, dashing into the toilets I locked myself into a cubical stripping off my jacket jumper and shirt. For an age I explored my side with eye and finger, I could see nothing that should not be there and more important I could not feel it inside any more. I dressed and went to my desk where I was less than useless for the day as I compulsively caressed my side.

That night I again examined myself, this time in a full length mirror and completely naked. Lights on full with extra lamps plugged in and shining on the my torso I searched in vain for the mystery lump. I had just satisfied myself there was nothing to be found when I felt the pressure again, deep under the muscle. Standing with my right arm ramrod straight in the air, naked as the day I was born, I saw the skin push out ever so slightly in a rounded hump for a second before sinking back. My fingers now frantic searched rubbing the skin to a raw red as they dug and kneaded to find what could not have been there.

No sleep came that night, I lay awake searching for an answer that would not come. The pressure came several times, each time stronger than the last. I spend the whole night with my left hand resting on my ribs. I was just dozing off when the pressure shot up to a piercing pain. My hand clamped down on my ribs the lump reared up with a vengeance. A tiny sliver wiggled free under my fingers and with nerves inside and outside my body I felt the tiny thing wriggle and crawl over the crest of my rib before diving deep into the flesh on the far side with a ripping like shards of glass under my skin. I bolted up in the bed, soaked in cold sweat and sick to my core. I could still feel it moving, burrowing deep where the nerves could not reach. I was not alone, there was something inside.

The following day I was waiting at the doctors office hours before it even opened. There was no sleep going to come until I got an explanation for what was happening. The feeling was not only growing but it was spreading, tendrils of tickling movement pin pricked my skin spreading from side to shoulder and along my arm. As I sat in the waiting room I felt the sensation reach my hand. I watched as the skin twitched with the passing of ghastly fingers through my flesh. Tiny lumps hurdling the tendons and bones before vanishing into the thick flesh of the palm once more. I tried to explain all this to my doctor who could not keep his eyes free of worry. He examined my skin, probed my flesh, took my fluids and measured every vital statistic know. He settled in his chair saying it was going to take some time for the tests to come back. Then he fondled an organ more responsive to the touch of logic, he delved into the far reaches of my brain. I nearly wished for him to call the men with white coats and cart me off, that would at least mean that what I felt could not have been felt. He declared me sane and blew my mind.

That was two days ago, I have not slept, I have not eaten, I have only felt. What exists within is eating now, I can feel its tiny teeth tearing at my organs. I feel it writhe and squirm as the swarm becomes one before dividing once more. An hour ago a white hot needle pierced the back of my eye. A huge shadow swam for a second in the depths of my eye before a flick of its rat like tale shot it out of sight beginning the searing pain once more. When the screeches began I knew I could not continue.

Standing on the edge of the cliff I looked out across the waves as they marched from the horizon. In my pocket my phone rang.
"Hello," I answered
"This is Doctor Casey, we have got your blood work back and we need you to come in for a second test," said the man on the other end. His words were insignificant. I knew they would poke and point, calling it names that even they did not fully understand. In the end they might label it cancer. He felt the tiny hoard munch on with glee. I coughed a splatter of blood on the screen before I could at last answer.

"Thanks Doc, I will be on my way now," I said, turning off the phone and popping it back in my pocket. As I watched the razor sharp rocks and breaking waves hurtle towards me I could feel the thing in side beat and push to be free of this meat coffin. I wrapped my self tight as the lights went out.


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Boom!



If you start any sentence with- In my day- it automatically qualifies you as a fuddy-duddy. The truth is; in my day the world was a whole hell of a lot more exciting. Twelve year olds today spend their free time crushing aliens on x-box or texting. When I was twelve I built a bomb to blow up the widow Flannigan’s wall.

 

It all started on a summer’s morning when I went to visit my friend Johnny. Johnny lived with his gran a few minutes away from my house. Johnny’s grans house was a huge old place with loads of bedrooms, sitting rooms and parlours. It was always so cold even in the summer time and smelled like an old man’s coat. The house had once been a bursting full to the seams with people but they had long vanished to the four corners of the world. We had explored the house from top to bottom but it was the attic that was most fascinating. The attic ran the full length of the house and you had to use a hatch in the landing to get up there. The whole place was packed with old furniture, suitcases and boxes packed full of the most amazing things. To a twelve year old this was an Aladdin’s cave of treasures. That morning we had been rummaging through boxes of records in paper sleeves shaded to yellow with the passing years. Johnny moved a big box revelling the corner of steamer trunk pushed far into the back. It looked like a pirates chest covered with a thick layer of dust.

 

“Would you look at that,” said Johnny pulling the heavy trunk to the middle of the attic where the single light bulb shone on it.

“Open it up would you,” I said imagining it full to the brim with gold and treasure. Little did I realise that the treasure it contained was much more valuable than any ruddy gems. Johnny flipped the clasps opening the lid gave with a rusty creak. The first thing that came out of the trunk was the stuff of dreams. It was a Second World War helmet with a bullet hole, can you imagine a real bullet hole. This helmet must have saved a soldiers life, why else would anyone keep a helmet with a hole in it. In my mind I could see him peeking out of a fox hole when Ping the German sniper picks him off blowing the helmet clear off his head. Johnny sat the helmet on his thick dark curly hair, leaping around, ducking behind boxes while making a pistol out of his fingers. We soon delved deeper into the trunk finding a gas mask, a funny torch with a red lens which was bent in half, a bunch of black and white photos and a load of letters all tied up with a blue ribbon. Down at the bottom of the trunk was folded a full army uniform, boots and all. We both had a go at putting it on but it was miles too big to even imagine playing in. While I was strutting around pretending to be on parade I felt a strange bulge in one of the breast pockets. It took some doing to get the button through the heavy material but it was worth it. In my hand I held a field manual for the Irish Ranger Unit – 1943. On the inside cover was pencilled the name Private James Quigley, just imagine the places this little book had been. It has ridden across oceans under bombardment from sky and sea. It could have even parachuted out over enemy lines, all the adventures this little book had seen to end its days in a dusty steamer trunk in Jonny’s Grannies attic.

 

For the rest of the morning we read through the little book. A lot of it was just lists of rules and regulations, none of which mattered a jot to Johnny or me. It was at the back we came across a section called Disruption of Enemy Activities. In here it described how to put a land mine in a sock coated with grease on the tracks of a tank to stop it, how to cut communication lines, report on troop movements and improvise explosives from readily available materials.

 

“That can’t be true,” said Johnny.

“Why not,” I asked believing that the Irish Ranger Unit knew more about making bombs than two twelve year olds.

“I have never seen sugar blow up anything except Mary’s backside.”  Mary was Johnny’s second cousin and they hated each other, she always called him stupid and he called her big arse which was at least technically true.

“It says here you have to mix them together with an ignition source and a detonator; whatever they are.”

“I bet we could build one, just a small one,” said Johnny bubbling over with excitement. Now I know you’re thinking that this is a bad idea but you have to remember we are talking about two twelve year olds with a trunk full of Second World War stuff and heads full of dreams. The only thing better than blowing something up would be blowing it up twice. So it happened that operation boom was born.

 

“Read back over that bit about what we need again,” Johnny said, he preferred to do the thinking and planning, I was relegated to the secretarial pool.

“It says, items such as icing sugar and nitrogen rich dry fertiliser can be used to create an expanding gas explosion. A detonator is needed to begin the reaction such as gun powder or explosive fluid and a fuse.”

“We have most of that stuff just lying about the place, Gran has bags and bags of icing sugar in the press and there is a tonnes of 10/10/20 in the barn. Where will we get gun powder and a fuse,” Johnny wondered aloud walking around the attic stroking his chin like some mad scientist.

“It said explosive fluid as well, petrol might work,” I offered

“It will make the sugar all squidgy, I can’t see that blowing up.” Scoffed Johnny.

“What if we filled a balloon with it and put that inside the sugar?”

“You’re a genius,” Johnny said again jumping around like a loon and slapping me on the back.

 

We snuck in the kitchen and Johnny lifted a full bag of icing sugar while I distracted his granny, we took a bucket of fertiliser from the shed and filled a jam jar with petrol from the lawn mower. I had to run home to my house to get some balloon’s that mam kept for birthdays in the top of the sitting room dresser.

 

Soon we sat in our laboratory, better known as the potting shed, with all our ingredients laid out before us.

“I still don’t see how this will explode,” I ventured

“I think we have to get it all wrapped up together; good and tight,” Johnny said making for the door of he shed.

“You mix the sugar and the fertiliser, I’ll find something to do the job,” he said running off towards the house again.

“How much will I mix,” I called after him.

“How do I know, Guess,” He shouted over his shoulder. I found a big flower pot and mixed scoops of sugar and fertiliser equally until I ran out of sugar. Then I poured some petrol into a balloon until it was the size of a sausage. Johnny came crashing back into the shed, in one hand he had a pair of tights in the other he held a pair of his grans thick woollen socks.

“What do you think, will these work.” I eyed the two options and did not fancy handling Johnny’s Granny’s tights so pointed to the socks and said “They will do the job I think, all we need is a fuse.

“Ah I was thinking about that,” said Johnny dropping to his knees stripping the laces from one of his shoes. He held the lace out, “What do you think?”

“Perfect,” I agreed and we got to work making our bomb.

 

We tied the lace around the petrol filled balloon and dangled it in the middle of the sock while filling all around with the sugar and fertiliser mix. When it was buried like a finger in a bucket of sand with the end of the lace dangling out, we tied off the top of the sock with a piece of string. Even I had to admit it looked very dangerous sitting there on the potting bench, ready to go bang at any second.

“What will we blow up with it,” I asked  

“What about the stone wall around the widow Flannigan’s paddock, Gran said she is nothing but a strap anyway.” So it was decided.  We picked a spot near a big tree where we could shelter from the blast, assuming that it would not rip the very tree from the ground as well. Johnny wedged the furry bomb into a crevice in the wall. Johnny struck a match while I looked on and held it to the end of the lace. First one match then another and another but the lace would just not take light. The most we managed was to singe the plastic bit on the end.

 

“Run back to the shed and bring the jar of petrol,” said Johnny. I did not have to be told twice, my feet flew across the fields. I was back in no time with the golden liquid sploshing around inside the jam jar. Johnny unscrewed the lid and dipped the end of the lace into the petrol letting it fully soak. It was time to try again, we were sure to succeed. You could cut the tension with a knife as Johnny drew the box of matches one last time. The head of the match flared into life and he moved the flame closer to the petrol soaked shoe lace. We were going to get the fuse going then run behind the tree for the explosion. As soon as the flame licked the lace it shot up faster than the eye could see. Johnny had over soaked the lace. We never got to take even one step before it went off, and go off it did. It was more a Phifft than a bang, we were enveloped in a huge plume of stinking smoke chocking and half blind we picked ourselves off the ground. When the acidic smoke cleared the Widow Flannigan’s wall stood exactly as it had before. Johnny turned to me, face streaked with soot and tears, his voice raw from inhaling the stinging smoke he croaked “Perhaps we should have used the tights.”

 

Every time I pass that stone wall I remember that day and all the other days Johnny and myself passed that summer. His love of all things explosive never left him as he is now a captain of the Irish Rangers, the story of his first attempt at making things go bang is a favourite with his troops.