Sunday, 24 November 2013

Mr Scrunch

I have the most wonderful lady who visits my bar for lunch. 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. Here's what she told me today.

When I was a young girl, the town was much smaller place but that didn't stop it from having the most interesting people. One in particular was Scrunch, an old man with a huge bend in his back. Poor old Scrunch was so twisted, 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. Far from seeing his affliction as a hindrance, Scrunch enjoyed the way his deformed back made him stand out from the crowd. He was surprisingly nimble and used two tiny walking sticks to help him get around, dispensing smiles and greetings with all he encountered.

Time ticks by, as it inevitably does, and Scrunch shuffled off to a better place. Back then, funerals were major social events, attracting huge numbers of people to pay their respects, and catch up with friend and foe alike. Mr Scrunch presented a particular difficulty to the undertaker. Not one day in his whole life had Scrunch ever lain straight in his bed, his final resting place proved to be no different. Try as he might, the undertaker couldn't get poor old Scrunch into the coffin. In the end, he drilled holes in the bottom and winched Scrunch flat with some bailing-twine. Scrunch's bones groaned with the strain, as his back straightened for the very first time. Once finished, the man draped a silk sheet over Scrunch's chest to hide his handwork.

People came from far and wide for the funeral. Every one of them commented on 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 by the time he began. The priest was in full flow, raging against the evils of drink, when a loud snap ricocheted around the church. Scrunch sprang forward, sitting up straight in the coffin and scaring the life out of everyone there.

It was Scrunch's last, and best, trick. Once everyone realised that he wasn't actually coming back from the dead, the congregation howled with laughter. By all accounts it was the happiest funeral ever to take place in the town.

If you enjoyed Mr Scrunch, you can find a collection of similar stories for your reading pleasure on;

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

 "What's your singing voice like?" she snapped.

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

"Our group...," it was clear that our meant her, "is primarily concerned with musical productions. All speaking parts would be held by lead actors, 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 societies.

"Well, if you can’t sing here, you'll never manage on stage?" chirped in left-bookend-girl.

"Exactly," added, right-bookend-girl, not wanting to be outdone.

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

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


Laura was strikingly beautiful but she did everything she could to hide it. She draped herself in over-sized dungarees: huge knitted jumpers, chunky glasses and always some kind of floppy hat pulled down over her face. She seemed determined to cover every possible inch of skin. Some days, the only part of Laura visible were her eyes, huge pools of innocence beaming from a frame of auburn curls. The other reason Laura went unnoticed was her near complete silence. Laura had a stutter, which got worse when she was nervous. Often Laura was so quiet you wouldn't realise she was in the room until she materialised in front of you with her angelic smile.

As well as beauty, Laura had grace, a quality most people failed to notice, but not Sarah Callaghan. Sarah was the blond tyrant that murdered my artistic dreams with one cutting remark. She had an extra nasty bit of her withered heart reserved specificity for Laura. She deliberately crumpled costumes, ripped seams, dumped stuff on the floor, 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 slide. Only her eyes betrayed the hurt with an occasional tear. 

Late December and rehearsals were ramping up in preparation for the Christmas show. Try as we might, Laura and I just couldn't keep up with everything. We often had to stay behind to finish up while the rest of the cast went home. Tonight, was worse than any other. 

It had been a full dress-rehearsal with opening night only a few days away. Laura and I were mired in a blizzard of costumes, all needing to be to ironed, pressed, mended or steamed. Everyone else had vanished in a whirlwind of air kisses - bitches. 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 behind me. I was outside the school gates when I remembered I'd left the Sarah's finale costume steaming in the dress bag. It would be in tatters if I left it there all night. I had to go back. 

I caught the janitor as he was locking up the main doors. He let me into the auditorium where the lights were out. I had to feel my way through the cavernous room, eventually finding the stage door. I pushed it open and heard a noise coming from the costume room. As I got closer, the noise transformed into the most wonderful singing I've ever heard.  I inched closer and listened. It couldn't have been Sarah, she wasn't that good, in fact, none of the cast were this good.

I peeked in but the room was empty. The iron stood on its end, steam gently swirling upwards from its ticking hotplate. The wonderful melody filled the room, it seemed to be everywhere at once. I tip-toed in, afraid to make a sound, for fear of breaking the spell. I honed in on the perfect notes until my hands were resting on a lid of a wicker costume hamper. With a heave I threw up the lid and there was Laura, sitting in the dark and singing like an angel. I was about to say something when a voice boomed from behind me.  
"Is that you singing, Sally Ann?"  It was Mrs Wiscon, the drama teacher. I nearly jumped out of my skin and let the wicker lid fall back in place. 

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

"Don’t take the Lord's name, young lady," she scolded, "but that 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 asked, waving her arms about her. I heard a near silent, "no," come from the basket beside my leg.

"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 passed before the first notes of Bring in the Clowns came dancing from the wicker basket. The song was perfect in every way: each note crystal clear, each tone super-rich, but more remarkably, every single word 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's cheeks were glistening with tears as she crushed 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. I know, I know, the show is nearly upon us but that will make this all the more special."

Somehow, I ended up nodding as she left the costume room, blowing kisses as she went. Once the emergency door slammed shut, I flipped the lid off the wicker basket. Laura sat there wearing a Snow White costume, with her hands clasped to her chest. She was so pale she was nearly white herself. I dove into the basket and gave 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'd 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." 

"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 next.


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 it is, getting up in front of all those people!"

"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." 

It looked like there was no way out of this for 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, if only once in my life, and Laura was my secret weapon.

After hours of persuading I got Laura to agree to do it. 

"Sss-so long as ppp-eople ccc-can’t see me!" she said, her only condition.

"They won't. I got this all figured out. Trust me," I said and it took me a second to remember how Mrs Wiscon had used the same battering ram on me only a while ago. 

"We need a sad song. Something that I can dress like a widow for. A black dress and a black veil. We'll bring down all the lights, just have one spotlight on me, standing over the coffin."

"C-c-c-c-coffin," said Laura, aghast.

"Yea, coffin. We'll drape the hamper in cloth, you can hide inside with a mic and sing, I'll stand on stage and mime."

"I-i-i-it will n-n-n-never work."

"Sure it will, trust me!" 

I was going to hell for this.


"What are you going to sing?" asked Mrs Wiscon, on the morning of the performance.

"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 our plan.

Mrs Wiscon sat back in rapture, "That's a perfect! 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 and hurried out the door. 

Laura was waiting outside for me. “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 lied. Her tears gushed. Laura had pleaded with me to get Mrs Wiscon to forget the whole thing. I'd lied that I would. For the first time I saw how vulnerable Laura was, but she was the key to my dreams. Just once, I wanted to stand on that stage and have the whole world love me. Was that too much to ask? I wrapped my arms around her. 

“I cc-can’t,” she blubbed. 

“You can, sweetheart. It’s our only chance. Or, should I tell Mrs Wiscon that it's you who sang, not me.”

“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. 

“You can do it. One way or the other, I'll be right there with you,” 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.


That night, Mrs Wiscon was constantly fussing around me, making sure I knew what I was to do, while trying to keep our plan from everyone else. The lead up to the curtain-call was dominated by Sarah, faffing around, like the world depended on her performance. She kept throwing tantrums, and saying how everyone was letting her down. I actually overheard her tell one of her minions that she was carrying the whole cast on her back – wagon. Wait till she gets a load of my song, I thought with an internal smirk. 

The curtain went up, the lights blazed into life and everything was forgotten. Two hours later the curtain fell on a huge success. 

"More! More!" 
Yelled the crowd and the whole cast went on stage to take a bow. This gave me and Laura the chance to get into our positions. I gave her a hug as she got into the basket.

“I love you Laura, your amazing!” I had no intention of saying that, it just came out but because it was true. She smiled, and took the microphone from my hand as I closed the cover and draped it in black cloth with a white cross sown on it. 

I pushed my makeshift coffin behind the backdrop to the mark Mrs Wiscon had shown me earlier and waited. The applause began to wain and the cast scurried off stage in a gale of teenage squeals. I heard high heals click across timber and the crowd grew quiet. Although I couldn't see, I knew what was happening.

“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,” boomed Mrs Wiscon's voice and the curtain before me slowly hoisted high into the rafters. 

I couldn't see much. The room was dark and a shaft of light lay heavy on my black-clad body. There was a scattering of polite applause followed by silence. I could only imagine the worried look my own parents must be wearing. I knew they were in the audience.  It was now or never. I took a deep breath and bowed my head.

The music began very softly, only barely audible, but growing in volume. I raised the fake mike to my veiled face, and gave the basket a gentle tap with my foot.  Even though I knew what was coming, I was knocked sideways when Laura began to sing. A voice, hand-picked by God himself, enveloped the room. I was so captivated I nearly forgot where I was. I could feel every heartache she had suffered, every frustration, every disappointment life had dealt Laura, pouring out in that song. The beauty of it moved me more than anything before in my life and then I remembered the selfish way I had manipulated my friend to make this happen. 

As if in a dream, I walked to the front of the stage and made the gestures we'd practised in the dark recesses of the costume room. I looked at the sea of amazed faces gazing up at me and realised that none of this was mine. I was a thief.

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

I felt the whole audience hold its breath but the powerful song kept them silent. In the wings, I could see Mrs Wiscon plonk herself on the nearest flight case, unable to watch what was happening. I could see the delighted smile on Sarah’s face. She must have thought I was miming to a recording, they all must. 

In the end the song finished and the lights come up. Not one sound was made. Two hundred accusing faces stared at me with hatred. I turned my back on them and threw the cover off the basket. When I opened the lid, Laura was curled in the corner like an abandoned kitten. I smiled at her and held out my hand. Thinking our trick had been found out, she started to cry and climbed out. 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 her shaking hand and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen. Laura,” 

Nothing happened. Now my hand started to shake and the microphone fell to the floor with a thundering clunk.

We joined hands and began to walk off when one man stood up in the middle of the audience and began to clap. We stopped and looked over just as the dam burst. Everyone in the room shot to their feet and the applause was thunderous, nearly lifting the roof clear off the building. They cheered and shouted while in the wings the cast went wild. There was one notable exception, Sarah just stood with her mouth in a very unflattering O.

Beside me, Laura had stopped shaking. After a full two minutes of wild rapture, I pulled Laura by the hand and walked toward the wings. Waiting there were her friends, many of which were not her friends before, but they sure were now. As we reached the curtain, I felt Laura’s hand pull out of mine. She turned back, and slowly walked to the middle of the stage. The applause died away. This this little weird girl, who had sung so wonderfully, stood stoic in the middle of a single circle of light. When the room was silent, Laura stooped down and picked up the dropped microphone. I saw her 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. They hadn't even bothered to take the faded, No 26, off the side.

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 were stinging.

“Hold still,” the doctor had said, pinning his eyes wide open as he sprayed that horrible smelling stuff in them. “This will make defects clearer on the scan.” 

For months, his eyesight had been failing. His vision was blurred and narrowing. Now, things were just smudges of light and dark.

He gazed through the grill fitted outside the bus window. He wondered if these snow-covered fields were going to be his last glimpse of the world. The trip to the eye specialist, in Fargo, had been a welcome break from the daily grind of life in the James-River Correctional Facility.

The James-River bus was decrepit. He was surprised it still ran. It was colder in here than outside, if that’s possible. He shivered, despite the duffel coat he wore over his prison jump-suit and the shackles on his wrists rattled. Fat Pauli was driving the bus and guarding him. Fat was no understatement when it came to Pauli. He was two hundred and eighty pounds of bone-idle blubber. They didn’t bother sending a second guard, with Jerry being nearly blind. 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 coming from the air-con unit. 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 of the tail-back. He swung the creaking rust-covered bus off the Interstate, and onto a 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 road, sliding on the frozen snow. They should be using snow-chains for going on such backroads, but Pauli probably knew what he was doing.

"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 farmland. 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, his jelly belly swallowing half the dash. Jerry got his feet under him and moved to the front of the wrecked bus.

"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 separation grill, he could see the bunch of keys dangling from Paulie’s belt. He reached his fingers through the metal lattice but couldn’t reach. He looked around and noticed the grill on a window near the back of the bus had popped off. 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.

He eased himself out the smashed window and sank up to his knees in the fresh snow. He waded toward the crushed front of the bus and climbed into the cab. He shook Pauli by the shoulder, but it was useless. He was gone.

"Looks like you took your last detour, Chief," he said to the dead man and unclipped the keys from his belt. Once he'd got his handcuffs off, he took Pauli’s winter coat and snow boots. They were no use to him now. Jerry took the guards wallet but left the gun. It was one thing to be on the run, but another 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, he was frozen to the core and now it was snowing again.

"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, but his lips couldn’t stop trembling. At least the falling snow covered all signs of his passing, not that his eyes could see his trail anyway.

Morning came, and with it the first helicopter. Twice he had to bury himself deep in snowdrifts to hide from the thermal cameras. Eventually, they moved off and he trudged on. The woods thinned out 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 legs vanished under him, threatening to break a bone or twist an ankle. Eventually the inevitable happened.

"For fuck sake! Fuck!" he shouted, grabbing his shin. His fingers came away covered in blood. His numb hand felt a taut string of barbed wire, hidden under the snow.

"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, squarer than nature is fond of making. He moved toward it slowly, testing each step for hidden dangers.

The barn was abandoned, or only used for high grazing in the summer months. The door hung by one hinge and slammed in the wind. He slipped inside, pulling it shut behind him. This felt like heaven, anything to be out of that wind. Gaps in the timber siding let in beams of winter light but they did little to dispel the gloom. In this half-light, he was as good as blind. He felt his way deeper into the barn and found a mound of brittle hay. He threw himself into it, exhaustedly, and sleep came in an instant.

It was fully dark when he woke, the growling of his stomach rousing him. He hadn’t eaten in two days now, and was starving. But worse than the hunger was his thirst. He pushed himself up on his elbows, hearing another low, rumbling, growl, but this one came from his left, not his stomach. Wolf, was all he could think. He backed away until his shoulders brushed some tools leaning against the wall. 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 along the wall until his fingers found the door. He pushed it open and felt the bite of the storm outside. Inside were fangs, and outside was freezing. 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 happen, but nothing did. The hours passed and the growls subsided. An uneasy truce seemed to have been called. Both beasts realised shelter would have to be fought for, or shared. Sharing seemed to be the common 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, its ribs standing out 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 desert island," he mumbled to himself. He was soon getting sips of metallic tasting water from this can. As he drank, the dog watched him, pleadingly.

"What lockup are you running from?" he asked the pup, and as if knowing the question was for him, the dog's ears pricked up. This got Jerry laughing and the dog settled his 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 it greedily. Jerry topped it up as quickly as his body could melt more snow. The hours ticked by and 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.

"You're a great little mommy, you know that girl? It’s not your fault," he said, but the sight of the two little puppies broke both their hearts.

As the third pup entered the world, the little dog licked with vigour. She cleaned his baby-pink nose and rubbed his chest with her glistening snout. She licked and licked until the puppy let out 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," Jerry 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. They both stayed like this for what seemed like ages but she made the first move. She lowered her head and she resumed cleaning her new-born, happy to have Jerry’s hand resting on her fur. He stroked her neck and felt the touch of another living creature for the first time in years. There’s not much touching in prison, well, not the enjoyable kind anyway. When nobody else on earth could give a damn, she accepted him. He watched as the little mother pushed her baby toward painfully empty teats and that was when he noticed a small dribble of blood.

"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. Slowly the pool of red was getting bigger.

"You did so good," he said, feeling his eyes grow misty. In the distance he heard the, woop-woop-woop, of a chopper as he looked into those innocent eyes. They were closing in on him. It was only a matter of time. Her eyes began to close and her breathing was getting rapid and shallow. The life was draining out of her and Jerry hoped she wasn’t in any pain. She lay her head against his leg as the effort of holding it up became too much. She was slipping away. She had given up everything for her baby, but it hadn’t been enough. It was going to become an orphan, and in this frozen wasteland, survival would be impossible.  

"No more pain for you. Rest now, Girl. 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. Wiping away tears, Jerry held little pup against the dog’s tummy, helping it to find a teat, and take in whatever milk it could. The next few hours could be very long for the both of them.

Jerry found some old sacking and made a pouch, which he stuffed with straw, to keep the pup warm on the journey. Once the pup was well wrapped up, he opened his jacket and put little fella inside, where it could feel the beat of his heart and get the heat of his body. He trudged out into the night, heading back toward the road. It was a huge chance to take but this little guy needed his help.

He hadn’t gone very far 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," came the reply.

"OK. OK, don't fuckin shoot," he shouted, realising that this was going to be for the best. It was a pipe dream to think he could have made it back to civilisation and still keep his freedom. This way, he'd be back in custody, but the pup would be warm and safe. They might even let him keep it. Jerry raised his left hand high, but as he tried to pull out the hand holding the pup, a shot rang out. It was like being kicked by a mule. He’d never been shot before. He lay on his back, gasping for air when a forest of gun-barrels 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 up in 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," the trooper said, pushing back his helmet, reviling 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." Jerry 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


Have you ever woken up and not felt yourself?  I stood before the shaving mirror, shaking every so slightly, my feet rooted to the chilly bathroom tiles. Something wasn't right. I felt...strange. It wasn't ill exactly, it was something different. I seemed fuller. I was feeling things where there were never things to feel before. I ran the cold tap and splashed my face, the bite of the water flushed my mind clean and the feeling receded.

Later, on the bus-ride to work, the feeling came back but stronger this time. It's hard to describe how your own body feels. Mostly you don't feel it at all, and when you do, it's rarely good news. I felt a tightness down my right-hand side spreading up along my neck. I could feel my blood as it moved, my head throbbed, as if my brain were pulsing against the inside of my skull. I felt uncomfortable but still somehow normal.

I was still concentrating on this paradox when I felt someone poke me in the side. I turned my head but there was a good foot of space between me and the young woman who looked out the misty glass. I was poked again, but this time I could see that nobody had touched me. I ran my fingers under my coat and explored my skin. A tiny bulge pressed back against my fingers before withdrawing slowly and vanishing.

I bolted from the bus the moment it stopped and ran to my office building. I dashed to the toilet and locked myself inside. I stripped my jacket, jumper, and shirt. For an age, I explored my body with eye and finger. I could see nothing, I could feel nothing. But it had been there. I dressed and went to my desk where I was less than useless for the day. Time and again I caressed my side...searching without wanting to find.

That night, I examined myself in a full length mirror. Lights on full, with extra lamps plugged in and shining on the my torso, I searched in vain for the mystery lump. I had nearly satisfied myself there was nothing to be found when I felt the pressure again. This time it was deep under the muscle. With horrified eyes I watched the skin of my side push out. Slowly it rose, paused then quivered before sinking back. My fingers, now frantic, searched and rubbed my skin until it was red-raw. I dug and kneaded to find what should not...could not, exist.

No sleep came that night. I lay awake, searching for an answer that wouldn't come. The pressure came several times, each time stronger than the last. I spent the whole night with my left hand resting on my ribs, waiting for the next appearance. I was just dozing off when pain shot through me. My hand clamped down against my ribs and the lump reared up with a vengeance. I felt it wiggle under my fingers, causing unbelievable pain as it burrowed through flesh and nerve. I felt the thing force it's way between bone and skin before diving deep into my body. The pain was incredible, like shards of glass being driven deep. I leapt from the bed, soaked with cold sweat and sick to my core. I could still feel it moving, burrowing, deep where the nerves couldn't reach so the pain was ebbing. I was not alone, there was something inside.

The following day, I was at the doctors office hours before it opened. I had a feeling the thing inside was growing. I was hyper-aware, feeling every fiber that tickled my skin, every stretch of a muscle. As I sat in the waiting room I felt a strange sensation on the back of my hand. I turned it over and glared at the skin. It moved and I hadn't made it happen. I froze, afraid to watch, afraid not to. A ghastly shape swam under my skin, hurdling my tendons as it moved from my thumb to the base of my little finger and then it vanished. I was still staring at my hand with horror when my name was called.

Once in the office, I tried to explain but I could see my doctor thought I was crazy. He examined my skin, probed my flesh, took my fluids and measured every vital statistic know. He settled in his chair and said it was going to take some time for the test results to come back. Then he fondled an organ responsive to the touch of logic. He delved into the far reaches of my brain and I actually wished he would call the men with white coats to cart me off. At least then I would know I couldn't have felt, what I felt.

He declared me sane and blew my mind.

That had been two days ago. Since then I've not slept, not eaten, I've only felt. What exists within me is feasting now. I can feel it's tiny teeth tearing at my organs. I feel it writhe and squirm just under the skin before dividing once more. An hour ago, a white hot needle of pain pierced the back of my eye and I screamed a long gurgling scream. A shadow swam through my vision before it shot out of sight with a flick of it's rat-like tail. More pain but this time I passed out. When I woke, I knew I could not continue.

I had to get away, I had to be free. I fled from my home, heading west, stopping for nothing. But it was useless, wherever I went I took this abomination with me. I ran out of road so I walked and then I ran out of land to walk on. I stood with my toes on the edge of a cliff, gazing out over Atlantic waves as they marched in from the horizon. My phone rang, disturbing this one perfect moment.


"This is Doctor Casey. Your blood work back and we need you to come in for a second test," said the man on the other end of the line. His words were insignificant, he was powerless against this. What could they do? Poke? Point? Name something they could never understand? I felt a cough come from deep inside and the air that escaped was flecked with droplets of blood.

"Are you OK?" the physician asked hearing the cough. "You've got to get in here, and fast. You are a very sick man."

"Thanks, Doc. I'll be on my way now," I said, turning off the phone and popping it back in my pocket. I looked down and saw waves breaking on razor-sharp rocks. I swayed a little and that scene hurtled toward me. That was when I felt the thing inside squirm in terror. It knew what was coming and was trying to push it's way free of this meat coffin. I wrapped myself tightly, holding it inside and was over.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013


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 cold, even in the summer time and it smelled like an old man’s coat. The house had once been a bursting full to the seams with people but they had long ago vanished to the four corners of the world.

We 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. It was packed with old furniture, suitcases, and boxes filled with the most amazing things. To a twelve-year-old, this was an Aladdin’s cave of treasures. That morning we’d been rummaging through boxes when we found a steamer trunk pushed into a corner. It looked like a pirates chest.

“Would you look at that,” said Johnny, pulling it under the light.

“Open it up,” 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 soldier’s 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 gets him, blowing the helmet clear off his head. Johnny sat the helmet on his thick curls as he ducked behind boxes, making a pistol out of his fingers.
We soon delved deeper into the trunk and found 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 a uniform, boots and all. We both had a go at putting it on, but it was miles too big. While I was strutting around pretending to be on parade, I felt a strange bulge in the breast pocket. It 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 could have ridden across oceans under bombardment from sky and sea. It could have parachuted out over enemy lines. All the adventures this little book had and it ended up with us.

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 so it would stick to the tracks of a tank, it described 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’ve 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 it 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, this is a bad idea, but you have to remember we’re 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. That was how, operation boom, was born.

“Read back over that bit,” 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.”

“Most of that stuff is just lying about the place. There are bags of icing sugar in the press and tonnes of 10/10/20 in the barn. But where will we get some gunpowder?” Johnny wondered aloud, walking around the attic stroking his chin like some mad scientist.

“It said we could use explosive fluid. Petrol might work,” I offered.

“It’ll 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, jumping around like a loon and slapping me on the back.

We snuck in the kitchen and Johnny pinched a 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 get balloon because Johnny had none. We got to work in our laboratory, better known as the potting shed.

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

“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. 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. I didn’t fancy handling Johnny’s Granny’s tights, so pointed to the socks. “They’ll do the job, I think. All we need now 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, put it in the sock and then packed the sugar/fertiliser mix around it. We tied the top of the sock with a piece of string. I have to admit it came out great. It looked like it could go, bang, at any second.

“What will we blow up?” I asked.  

“What about the stone wall around the widow Flannigan’s paddock. Gran said she is nothing but a strap anyway.”

We ran across the fields and picked a spot in the wall, near a big tree. We could set the fuse and then run behind the tree to shelter from the blast, assuming that is the tree wasn’t ripped from the ground by the explosion. Johnny wedged the furry bomb into a crevice in the wall, then struck a match, but the lace wouldn’t light. The most he managed was to singe the plastic bit on the end.

“Run back to the shed and bring the jar of petrol,” he shouted at me, and I didn’t 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. This time it was sure to work.

You could cut the tension with a knife as Johnny drew the box of matches, one last time. The head of the match flared and he moved the flame closer to the petrol soaked shoe lace. As soon as the flame licked the lace, it shot along it, faster than the eye could see. Johnny had over-soaked the lace. We never got to take a 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 stonewall, I remember that day and all the other days I spent with Johnny. His love of all things explosive never left him as he’s now a captain in the Irish Rangers. The story of his first attempt at making things go, bang, is a favourite with his troops.