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-fit yellow school bus bounced him around like a bucking bronco.

Jerry knew the world looked at him like a third class entity or even fourth if there was such a thing. He was a three time loser on the outside; drugs, laziness and stupidity. If anyone ever asked what he was in for he would reply "Stupidity." In prison he was even more of a nobody than he had been on the street. Any mystique he welded as a wild boy cut no mustard with the hard men behind bars. Life in prison was long stretches of stress filled boredom punctuated with times of outright fear. That was what prison was - fear.

Jerry's eyes stung, 'Hold still,' the doctor had said pinning his eyes wide open spraying and horrible smelling stuff all over his eyeball, 'This will make any defects clearer on the scan.'  For months Jerrys eyesight had been failing, his vision, now blurred, had narrowed till things more than 20 feet away were just smudges of light and dark. As he looked through the grill on the window across snow covered fields. Jerry wondered was this the last good look he would get at a 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. They would have normally sent an inmate to hospital with a pair of deputy's in a state cruiser but the heavy snowfall had most of North Dakota's state  troopers stretched to their limits. James River had one decrepit transport bus which just about ran. The bus was freezing as they loaded a handcuffed James in that morning, black duffel coat over prison jump suit did nothing to stop the freezing air from chilling him to the bone. Fat Paulie was the screw driving the bus and guarding him for the day. Fat Paulie was no understatement, he must of have 280 lbs of bone idle blubber. No point in sending a second man, even knocked out cold nobody was running anywhere dragging that great lump along. The falling apart bus and lack of worry about guarding him reinforced Jerrys belief that he was less than worthless.

Fat Paulie fumed behind the wheel of the bus pointed back along the I 94 towards James River crawling along at 4 miles an hour, his massive bulk blocking the tiny farts of heat the air-con unit was puffing out. Whatever the hold up on the interstate was did not bother Jerry he had years to kill, Paulie on the other hand was going to be late for his Friday poker game at this rate. When they reached Casselton Paulie had enough, he swung the creaking rust covered bus off the Interstate and onto 155 Ave.

"Hold on to your bretches this is going to be bumpy" he called over his shoulder as he ground up the gears gathering speed on the gritted put slippery surface. They had the country road to themselves.

"I know every highway and byway in the state," yelled Paulie back towards Jerry, sounding like some red neck tour guide. "This turnpike will take us on as far as Fort Ranson and then likity-split cross up to Valley City and a clear run for home"

"Don't go rushing yourself on my account  Officer," said Jerry settling back like he was being chauffeur driven. Jerry caught the angry crease in Paulie fat forehead. The bus picked up pace making the ride in the back even more uncomfortable. The road narrowed but was mercifully straight soon signs for Fort Ranson State Park began appearing along the roadside, trees replaced open farm land and the road began to snake. Paulies fat foot was still planted firmly on the accelerator when a deer bounded out of a bush and across the path of the bus. It was only a reactionary flick of the wheel but it was enough to send the rickety bus into a sliding skid colliding full force with a massive pine tree on the road side. Like all the bad luck in his life Jerry never saw it coming.

***

Cold cutting air brought Jerry round, he felt sore but not the searing pain of broken bones or ripped flesh. His eyes took in what they could in the dying evening light. The bus was bent nearly in half behind the drivers enclosure, Paulie was slumped unmoving over the steering wheel his jelly belly swallowing half the dash. Most of the windows were smashed or popped. jerry got his feet under him and moved to the front of the bus.

"Hay" he called. "Paulie, wake up man," but the big man did not move. Jerry watched and his ribs were not moved by even  the shallowest of breaths, from the cauliflower shaped ear a small trickle of dark red blood ran down the fat rolled neck and stained the collar of Paulies Prison uniform shirt. 

Ah shit man what the fuck Jerry said to himself realising he was in a freezing bus, on a tiny back-road miles from anywhere. Paulies bunch of keys dangled from his belt, Jerry reached his fingers through the metal grill but they were way out of reach. Jerry looked around for something to hook the keys, he noticed the metal grill over the window nearest him had given way in the impact. Jerry got both hands and hauled on the grill using his feat for leverage. He fell back on his ass as the grill came off like a knife being pulled from a soft pound of butter.

This piece of shit is rotten to the core he said to no one in particular throwing the rusted grill to one side. Jerry eased himself out the smashed window. He sunk up to his knees in the fresh powder drifted in the ditch. He waded around to the front of the bus and climbed into the cab, shaking Paulie by the shoulder, but he was gone. Looks like you took your last tour chief Jerry said to the dead screw as he unclipped the keys from his belt. Once he got the handcuffs off he searched the cab finding Paulies winter coat and snow boots where he had stored them. He patted down Paulie taking the guards wallet from his rear pocket but leaving the gun holstered on his belt. It was one thing to be on the run, but being on the run and armed was sure to get you shot first, questioned second. Jerry was going to have to get out of here anyway, the choice was to go back to prison until he was stone cold blind or take the chance and see the world one last time.

***



All night Jerry 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 the first flakes of new snow began to drift through the canopy.

Just keep moving he said to himself but his body so desperately needed to stop, His limbs were numb but his torso shuddered under constant attack of muscles trying to combat the frigid conditions. You stop, you die he repeated to himself through trembling chapped lips. Soon the falling snow had covered all signs of his passing , not that his blind eyes could pick out much in these conditions. It had been light a few hours when he heard the first helicopter in the distance. Twice he had to bury himself deep into snowdrifts covering himself completely with freezing snow to hide from the thermal cameras they would be using to locate him. Soon the low drone moved away to quarter another section of the park. Jerry trudged on, the woodland giving way to higher mountain tops where scrub was covered by deep snow hiding pit's with a deceptively level covering. Shit! Fuck! Bastard! he exclaimed each time his numb leg vanished under him threatening to break a bone or twist an ankle. The last stumble was accompanied by a savage bite through his jumpsuit leg and into his flesh.

For fuck sake, Ow fuck he shouted grabbing at the pain filled area under the snow, his fingers came away bright red , slick with blood. Reaching back under the snow his numb fingers played across the taut length of barbed wire now completely hidden under a bed of white innocence.

Barbed wire means livestock, livestock means farmers and farmers mean farmhouses Jerry said to himself aloud. His poor eyes scanned as best they could, squinting against the bright light and reflecting snow. In the distance he had a notion of a darker area more square than nature was fond of making, he headed for it favouring his injured leg and feeling for any more hidden fences.


The barn was long abandoned, or only used for high grazing in the summer months. The door hung ajar strong winter winds having ripped it from one hinge. Jerry slipped inside pulling the door shut after himself. The dark of the barn was as warm as a womb after the hours of biting cold wind. The timber sides of the barn let in silvers of bright winter light illuminating dancing dust motes disturbed by his passing. He Let his sight come as good as it would in the gloom of the barn but that was still only a notch above blind. In the far side of the barn was a mound of dry brittle hay, Jerry threw himself down on it exhausted from the cold and hours of walking, he drifted into a deep sleep as close to death any living man could get.

It was fully dark when he awoke, the growling of his stomach rousing him. It only occurred to him now that it was nearly two full days since his last bite of food or water aside from a few handfuls of snow on the run through the forest. He raised himself up on his elbow, his thirst winning the battle for his attention. As he stood another low rumbling growl came, this one not from his stomach but off to his left. The growl was low and threatening the word that came to mind was wolf. Feeling his way along the side of the barn Jerry backed from where the growling was strongest. His shoulders brushed some tools, he grabbed a handle and held whatever it was out in front hoping to defend against the attack that was sure to come. The growl came again at the clanging of the tools hanging from their hooks but it remained steady and in the distance. Jerry aware he could well have been holding a brush out in front of him felt quickly along the handle and fount the head of a spade at then end. It would have to do.
Easy boy, he said in a calming voice Easy. At last the edge of the door was at his back, Jerry pushed it open wide leaving a clear route to escape by if needed but waiting inside out of the worst of the elements.

Through the passing hours the growls subsided and an uneasy truce was called. In this tiny barn both dangerous beasts realised they needed shelter, it would have to be fought for or shared. Sharing seemed to be the choice of the night. Dawn came shedding a blue grey light across the floor of the barn before bursting alive in a naked fire ball crested the hill inching its way into the sky. The golden light flooded the barn, in the far corner Jerry could make out the glowing yellow eyes reflecting the light back hovering above pitch black paws spread on the floor ahead of the beast. As the light grew stronger the wolf in the corner shrunk to a skinny black mongrel with ribs sticking out painfully under paper thin skin.  It gave one last guttural growl in Jerrys direction before laying its head down in defeat. You scared the shit out of me boy Jerry said in relief. With the immediate  treat lifted Jerrys thirst returned with a vengeance.

In the corner he found a rusted catering size bean tin, he filled it with snow and held it close to his body letting his heat melt the snow, he avoided the area where the dog watched him from but searched the rest of the building for something edible. I may as well be on a fucking desert island mumbled to himself. He was soon getting sips of metallic tasting water from this can as he hunkered near the the door. The dog had not moved but its eyes never left him not even for a second. It had began panting its bony sided rising and falling with extreme speed as if it had just ran a good race.

What big house are you on the run from Jerry asked the dog. As if knowing the question was for him the dogs ears pricked up and it stopped half pant, cocking its head to one side. This got Jerry laughing good and the dog settled back into is position chin against the floor.
We would have been better off picking a pizza hut to hide out in than a pottery barn giggled Jerry in the direction of the barn. With that the dog began to keen and whine. Oh come on! It was not that bad a joke Jerry said to his new cell mate. Now along with the whining the dog began to shake and shiver, Jerry edged closed a step at a time. That was when he found out that this poor little dog was not a dog at all but a bitch soon to be a mommy.
Good Girl, it will be ok Jerry cooed at her but staying back 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 low 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 the cold water, Jerry topped up the dish from his can as the hours ticked by. Three little puppies arrived, two flopped to the ground slimy and still. The little black dog licked and cared for them with her long pink tongue but her efforts were for nothing, the tiny little things were never for this world. As the third still little body slid to the floor and she began cleaning and nursing her baby Jerry could not help saying You're a great little mommy, you know that girl, its not your fault, your a great mom. The little dog ignored all about her and licked with more vigour cleaning the tiny pink nose and rubbing the tiny pink and black belly with her glistening snout. She licked and licked until the puppy let a weak cry. The dog's ears perked up again and if a dog is capable of smiling this one was grinning 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 dogs neck she went rigid, looking sideways at him expecting the worst from a life time of abuse. They both stayed still for a few long seconds before her long pink tongue flopped back out and she continued cleaning her newborn. Jerry gently stroked the little dogs neck and felt elated, she accepted him and let him into her life when nobody else on earth could give a damn, that was when he noticed the spreading pool of blood.

As the little dog pushed the lone pup towards painfully empty teats on her belly Jerry saw the little pool of blood spread from under her tail.

That don't look right girl, that don't look right at all but what could he do about it. He watched as the little pup began to suckle and the momma dogs head flopped to the floor exhausted but happy. Jerry stroked the dogs neck. You did so good momma he said. In the distance Jerry heard the thump thump thump of a chopper searching for him, but as this little girl had said I got bigger fish to fry right now. Instead of slowing down the little dog panted harder and harder. Jerry looked into those innocent eyes and saw the fear he saw in his own shaving mirror every single day. Things will be ok now little momma, no more pain for you and I will take care of your little one for you. Jerry scooped up the tiny crying pup in one hand and laid it where the little dog could see it. Weekly the long pink tongue licked the tiny blind little face and with three happy little swishes of her tail the light in those beautiful eyes faded and died.

That was how a dangerous, escaped convict ended up cradling a new born pup and crying like a baby over a dog he never knew as anything except little momma. Wiping away the tears on fat Paulie's sleeve Jerry pushed the little pup against the dogs tummy helping it to find a teat Drink up little guy, it might be a while before we next get a meal. Jerry sat beside the little dog, encouraging the pup to suckle until the last heat left her body. In the corner of the barn Jerry found some old sacking and made a little pouch stuffed with straw for the new born pup. He covered over little momma with straw and stood over her with her baby in his arms We got to get going, girl but I promise I will get your little man to a good home. 

The light was fading out of the day as Jerry unzipped the warm winter coat, he palced the pup agains his chest where it could feel the beat of his heart, holding the pouch in place he zipped up the jacket once more with his right hand buried inside like a modern day Napolen. He trudged out into the dim evening heading back in the direction he had come from. This little guy had not much time he had to get back to the road. He had not gone ten steps when a bull horn blared from off to the left

"Freeze, US Marshals Put your hands in the air," a pissed off voice commanded.
Don't Shoot Called Jerry to the voice he could not see
"Get your god-damn-hands in the air," Came the incensed voice they must give out in police school.
OK OK don't fuckin shoot shouted Jerry back at them realising that this was going to be the best outcome for his new little friend. This way he would be back in custody and where they can get the pup to a foster mom or something. Jerry raised his left hand high, he pulled his right hand free of his coat but the cloth wrapping the pup snagged on his zippier as he tried to get it into the air. Jerry felt the kick in his shoulder and in his lung, 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 in air but it would not come, deep inside 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 tiny little cry.
"Jesus, it wasn't a gun it was a fucking puppy". the trooper holding the scrap of cloth pushed back his helmet showing a startled but kind face. Jerry managed to wave the man closer to him before saying Take care of that little guy, he's all I got before his failing sight gave out at last.



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.