Posts Tagged ‘short story’

Winnie Luv — a short, short story by G B Hobson

May 30, 2013

Winnie Luv

 Bad news comes creeping in, just when you’re thinking that life is pretty good and worth the effort of keeping alive, even if a black hole had opened up in his bank account.

John read the letter again, as though re-reading the words over and over, might somehow change their meaning:

 “Sorry but there is no other way of putting it. I don’t want to see you again. I don’t want you to communicate or ask others to intervene. We are finished. I don’t love you anymore. I know it’s cruel to tell you this way, but it’s for the best and, in the long run, kinder. I could not cope with your pleading, as happened so many times before. I enclose a cheque to the value of the ring you gave me. Well, near enough the value. I don’t see why I should pay the VAT. I have become attached to the ring, even if not to you.” Zara had signed it with a mere squiggle.

Suddenly, John realised the irony of his position. He had lost the woman he adored but gained the means to pay off the heavy debt that was dragging him into liquidation of his only asset — A ripe-for-breeding female English Bulldog — his adorable Winnie.

A broad grin spread across his face. “Come on, Winnie Luv. Let’s go walkies. Just as well she’s buggered off. One wrinkly bitch is as much as I can handle.”

The Band Played On — short story by Gladys Hobson

July 12, 2011

The Band Played On

Introduction

Ulverston, noted for its Thursday and Saturday market days, and various festivals throughout the year, is blessed with a number of musicians who willingly give of their time to entertain shoppers and visitors to the area. On Thursday mornings, throughout the summer as weather permits, a band is playing in the cobbled market square. During festivals, various bands — including the Ulverston Town Band — also play at weekends. Sometimes the whole town centre is taken over by stalls, musicians, singers, entertainers, Morris men and clog dancers, and all the fun of the fair! There is even a Dickensian Weekend, when to top it all, many people are dressed in historical costume. Add to this programme of events, the annual Carnival Day, plus the Charter Fortnight culminating in a lantern procession and fireworks, and it is clear that the town is far from sleepy!
I love to hear the band play on Thursdays. This is usually a small band of mostly elderly gentlemen dedicated to sharing their gifts with all who wish to listen. They have been entertaining for years and clearly enjoy what they do.
Standing listening, I find my feet tapping to the music, and when the band plays tunes like the Floral Dance, oh how I wish we wrinklies had the freedom to dance like children!

Today (Saturday July 9th 2011) there is a special event in the town — Furness Tradition — with music and folk dancers. Before long, small children who were watching closely began dancing too. The whole thing reminded me of the following story I wrote for my anthology, ‘Still Waters Run Deep, stories of hidden depths.’

(The words of the Floral Dance, were written by Katie Moss in 1917 during a long train journey home from her stay in Helston, Cornwall.)

The Band Played On.

In Ulverston’s sunny Market Square, the silver band of mainly red-faced elderly gentlemen gave a lively rendition of the Floral Dance, oblivious to the movement of shoppers at nearby stalls and tourists snapping photographs in front of them.
Children, bored with standing at stalls while their mothers looked for bargains, drew closer to the band intrigued by the hand movements that produced the jolly sound. One boy did a good impression of the trombonist, another lad puffed his cheeks and laboured at producing a sound from his invisible euphonium. Little girls laughed and tapped their feet. Before long, more children joined in, with watching adults smiling, tapping and clapping to the merry beat.
A weathered elderly gentleman, with long white beard wagging in tune with the music, began singing:
‘We danced to the band with the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone…’
The Floral Dance, now in full swing, more girls were dancing and swinging each other round and around while others jigged about doing their own thing.
The music came to an end, but the crowd hooped and yelled for more.
The conductor bowed, turned to the band and raised his baton.
The white-headed, bearded gent took off his coat, threw it over the nearest stall and started singing again, his elbows keeping time with the music.
Shoppers left the stalls and gathered round; smiling, laughing and clapping while their children merrily danced or imitated the musicians and singer:
‘Dancing here, prancing there,
Jigging, jogging ev’rywhere…’
Market smells of fruit and vegetables, the scent of flowers, young women’s perfume, old ladies’ talc’, sweat, soap and aftershave, mingling with fresh air breezes; rainbow colours of summer clothing, moving sights and sounds — all swelling up to entrance and befuddle minds and bodies. Not one person immune to the hypnotic beat:
‘Bassoon, flute and euphonium…’
Maggie pulled away from the hand holding hers, and ran forward to join the dancing children in the cobbled square. Round and round, arms waving in time with the beat, laughing and singing the words she could easily remember:
‘Dancing here, dancing there…’
The crowd clapped and sang with her. Maggie’s movements became more intricate while retaining the essential simplicity of country dancing. Girls began imitating her and before long the market place became a throbbing beat of music, clapping and dancing feet. Heated musicians played on, mesmerised by what they had created.
‘Each one making the most of his chance
Altogether in the Floral Dance.’
Round and round and rou…
The crowd hushed, the music petered out, children stopped dancing.
The bearded, elderly man ran forward and fell to his knees by the side of the fallen fragile lady. ‘Are you hurt, Maggie?’
She opened her eyes. ‘Lovely, wasn’t it, daddy?’
‘Yes, my darling, you danced beautifully.’
‘I want…’
Maggie’s eyes closed. The elderly man put an arm under her shoulders and held the old lady to his chest, wiping away long strands of grey hair from her wrinkled face. Tears ran down his cheeks.
A large muscular man from the vegetable stall came forward. ‘Here, Lambert, mate, I’ll carry her into the chemist’s for you.’
The crowd, no longer hushed, parted and made way for the carried woman.
‘I’ve called an ambulance,’ someone told the old man as they entered the chemist’s shop.
The old man nodded his gratitude but his eyes told those present that nothing would bring his wife back to life again. Even through his tears, he smiled. ‘She loved to dance and sing, you know. The dementia didn’t rob her of everything.’
Outside the band began to play, We’ll Gather Lilacs.
‘That’s our tune. We sang it at our wedding reception.’ He drew in a deep breath and said in a determined manner, ‘Could I have a drink of water please?’
Lambert sat on the chair placed beside his wife, now stretched out on a couch at the back of the shop, and he hummed to the music of the band. He took the glass of water being passed to him, shook tablets from a small bottle he’d taken from his jacket pocket, and threw them into the back of his mouth, swallowing them down with the liquid. Then he took his wife’s hand and began to sing in a croaking voice:
‘We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again…’
His quivering voice petered out as his body slumped to the floor.
And the band played on…

The Seeds of Ammon — short story by G B Hobson

June 20, 2011

The Seeds of Ammon came in the night from the deserts of Egypt, borne on air currents to fall on the meadows of the Vale of Eden. Even as the spores of a Lycoperdales-type plant — secretly grown in the Oracle Temple of Ammon at Siwah — were breathed in, so the people of the Vale began to prophesy.

Martha Langton, watched her neighbouring farmer, Jake Wood, mount the few crumbling steps of the ancient monument set in the centre of Eden’s Market Square. She noted an unnatural brightness to his pale blue eyes, which went well with his long silver hair flowing from both scalp and chin. He may be old and bent, his clothes old and shabby, but to her he would always be a giant among men. She felt, as much as saw, Jake unbend his painful arthritic joints to stand his full six feet of height. Trembling with an inner urge to join him, Martha waited in awed silence as Jake began to speak.

“Listen, all you blessed with hearing.”

A few people nearby glanced up but the pull of the market with its offerings of fruit and vegetables, bread and cakes, local cheeses, fresh fish, bags and trinkets, shoes and socks, women’s clothes, scarves and hats, sweets and books, had too great a hold. Stallholders continued to shout out their wares above a cacophony of voices. Martha knew that money burned in pockets as beckoning aromas wafted under noses, and paint-box colours caught the eye. Shoppers had come to shop and gossip, and they had no time to listen to a croaking old man. Something had to be done to make them listen.

Martha drew in her breath then let forth an unholy wail that reverberated on nearby pots and pans. A shocked silence fell over the area as though a banshee had suddenly arrived to presage doom on all present. Even Jake straightened his back and became more alert.

“Listen, all you blessed with hearing.” No croaking now. Jake’s voice demanded attention. “Hear me and be warned. On the morning of Monday next, a mighty storm will blow through Eden. Did you hear that? A storm like no other witnessed in these parts. Crops ravaged… buildings shattered. A great swell will sweep the river into the town… homes flooded… lives lost.” Seemingly exhausted, Jake sat down on the steps.

The Saturday shoppers now appeared compelled to stand and wait for more. Then someone shouted, “He’s off his bloody rocker.” The ensuing laughter broke the tension.

Fools! When will people learn to listen to ancient wisdom? Martha said to herself. Science thinks it knows it all. Compared to Wisdom springing from the Other, science is fragile and incomplete. The Oracle of Ammon has spoken, and all things shall come to pass. Her skinny body may be no more than a coat-hanger displaying a faded flowered dress, but she was not prepared to listen to the raucous remarks and be silent. Feeling a sudden surge of strength, she pushed aside shoppers and made her way to the centre of the deriding crowd surrounding the ancient Celtic monument. Standing at the top of the steps, the whole of her senses became acutely alive, overpowering her in an aura of contrasting smells and incandescent colours. Suddenly, she felt overflowing with an energy never before experienced. She could see and feel what lay ahead. Above all she could smell fear and death. Surely nothing could stop her from speaking what must be said. That morning, when she left her cottage to catch the hourly bus to town, she knew the Seeds of Ammon had penetrated her mind imbuing her with a sixth sense. If they had not, how would she know about the seeds and from whence they had come? Yes, knowing and her acceptance, gave her power beyond earthly reasoning. She had no doubt whatsoever that the words about to leave her mouth were those of the Oracle of Ammon. But first must be silence. She repeated the mournful wail.

The laughter ceased. She was aware of how she looked to others: a mere five feet tall bag of bones with hardly any hair to blow in the soft breeze. Wrinkles, like a contour map, greeted her every morning in the mirror. The curious eyes of bystanders may silently stare at her, but she could see lips ready to crack into laughter at any moment.

“You are foolish — everyone of you — not to heed Jake’s warning,” she began. “The believers at the far end of our valley are at this moment moving their sheep and cattle to safety. They know and understand. That is why they are not here today. I warn you all… those with houses by streams and rivers return to your homes and prepare for the flood. You with animals in rotting buildings, move them to stone barns or to the south side of hills. The wind will come from the north but it will whirl and move in funnels… the sky will open and streams will become torrents… rivers will break their banks. Protect your children. Take what you can and drive many miles away. Hear me… nothing is safe…. The Oracle of Ammon has spoken.” She closed her eyes as a deep sigh put an end to her message.

Opening her eyes again Martha saw the faces in front of her had turned rigid with fear. Then, breaking the silence, a stallholder started to laugh. The shocked moment now shattered, men, women and children howled with mirth.

“Oracle of Ammon? Who’s ’e when ’e’s at ’ome?” yelled a customer at the fish stall, holding up a piece of haddock. “Sounds a bit fishy to me.” More bellowing laughter.

“Aye, a right load of codswallop,” said the red-cheeked fishmonger, as he wrapped up his customer’s purchase.

Soon shouts and whoops accompanied puns and laughter. Angrily, Martha grabbed the arm of a small, thin girl and dragged her up the few steps. “If will not listen to either me or Jake, then hear the words of an innocent child,” Martha yelled, her lightning shriek now rolling with thunder.

Silence fell over the whole area. To Martha’s satisfaction, more people approached the Celtic cross as though drawn by a compelling force. Dressed in a plain pink dress, the slim girl — a little over four feet in height, huge vacant violet eyes, long straight blonde hair surrounding a thin pale face with small nose — stood with statue stillness. When she opened her small mouth, out came a flutelike voice:

“Look to the sky. What do you see?” She pointed a slim finger upwards and the eyes of all those present followed her gaze. “Clouds, soft and puffy in a perfect blue sky. But a mighty wind will come… darkness will cover this land. The sky will be ripped open… a child of death will be born. Rain will fall in mighty sheets… streams become rivers. Rivers burst their banks… the land will be as the sea.” Her expressionless face turned as her eyes swept the crowd. “The Oracle of Ammon has spoken.” The girl collapsed. Martha caught her in her arms.

“Be warned. Go home and prepare,” Martha called to the crowd. Sitting on the steps she cradled the child’s head and shoulders, whispering, “Blessed of Ammon, rest and be strong.”

Martha watched as people gradually recovered from their mesmerised state. Some were moving towards the car park, others towards the bus stop. A few stood looking at the stalls as though wondering what to do next.

“Go home,” she yelled at them, waving an arm, but they still walked around like zombies. Most of the stallholders were packing up. Others, who had travelled some distance from their stores in major towns, were shaking their heads in disbelief.

Monday morning dawned as previous days, but no bird sang. By eight o’clock a chill wind had sprung up from the north and dark clouds loomed overhead. Within an hour, darkness had fallen over the Vale of Eden. The wind grew stronger and soon tornados were moving down the valleys carrying upwards anything that lay in their paths. Lightning flashed in crooked forks of brilliance against the blackening sky. Suddenly a jagged knife split apart the darkened heavens and released rain such as never before experienced in that part of the country.

Martha stood at the top of a hill, half-sheltered by a cave. Jake, the child, and the child’s family were with her. Rain joined the tears streaming down her face. “We warned them, but the truth lay at their doors begging to enter. They heard the message but they preferred the false security of weather forecasts. We are not to blame. We played our part. Those who received the Seeds of Ammon are safe, the others… ah… if only… if only….”

Hardly able to see through the rain, she could only imagine what was happening in Eden. It would be as the Oracle warned. Uprooting and flooding, death and destruction. Over the years it had happened in other places, now it had come to Eden.

Anger followed the death of Eden. Who was to blame for the terrible destruction? Forty-five dead, over two hundred injured, few houses left intact, Farm outbuildings shattered and blown away, with only stone barns left standing and even those damaged. Animals killed, crops destroyed, fields and homes under water. Never before had Eden been so ravaged by nature. But the blocking of the spillway of the old Eden Mill’s earth dam had made the situation even worse. The subsequent bursting of the overfilled dam caused an even greater surge of water — thick with mud — through the streets of Eden. Only Upper Eden had been spared the carnage experienced by the lower regions and the town.

Martha heard the mutterings and saw the looks that came her way. Many years ago, a scapegoat would be found to resolve anger over failed crops, plagues and other community disasters. The pain and anger felt by Eden’s inhabitants could not be denied. She had warned them. They had not heeded. Unable to accept responsibility for their lack of action, Martha knew who would be accused. As for the blockage, it was surely obvious what had caused that. But the people wanted someone to blame for their own lack of foresight in dealing with potential disasters. The dam would not have stopped the massive surge of water racing down the hills to the valleys and on to the town, but it would have prevented the tons of water stored there from increasing the swell. Who had benefited? Clearly, no one, But fingers were being pointed and the hatred became only too tangible.

All those gifted with the Seeds of Ammon sensed danger ahead. But their powers appeared to be fading. They were far from the oasis at Siwah, far from where the Oracle’s temple kept alive the cult and nurtured the soothsayers. Fear made them vulnerable. Martha knew it but was powerless to do anything about it. Only the child appeared to be fully under the Oracle’s influence. Her eyes still staring, her body still.

Ronald Pickman had lost everything but his wife, family, car and caravan, in the flood. His shop had been utterly destroyed, and with it his business. His insurance had run out and, instead of renewing it straight away, he’d taken his wife and family to the Costa del Sol. He knew all about the Oracle business and saw it as some sort of hocus pocus to hide what was really going on.

“That damn woman’s been against my store ever since it opened. She petitioned against late hours to sell alcohol. And supported the Olde Tearoom against us taking over their premises. This is a personal vendetta.”

“Don’t you think you’re taking this too personally?” said his wife Hilda. “We’re not the only ones suffering.” She looked around the caravan they had just returned from Spain. “We’re lucky to still have this, and our lives.”

“Yes, and just the clothes we stand up in! Okay, she may not be responsible for the rain, but she lives near enough to the dam to see it was blocked. Maybe she and her buddies blocked it. Oracle of Ammon? Huh, anything to get in the papers. She’ll be on TV next… warning everyone of the end of the world. She’s a menace to society. She wants stopping.”

“I’m going out,” said Hilda. “Our store may be a write-off but Lily’s tearoom can be salvaged. I’ll give her a hand.”

“What? Over my dead body!”

“If necessary,” Hilda said, and, slipping on muddy wellingtons and a plastic cape, she walked out.

In the stone barn of her smallholding, Martha gathered together those who had been blessed with the Seeds of Ammon. She sensed something terrible was about to happen. “In the town there is much agitation, we must be on our guard.”

“Why don’t we go to the police?” asked Jake, looking even frailer.

“And say what? That people in the town are planning to harm us? Actually, the vibes come from one man in particular. Watch out for Ronald Pickman. His hatred flows in an aura so strong it is visible to my eyes.”

“And mine,” said a small piping voice.

Martha looked at the thin child who’d stood with her at the Celtic cross. “Anna, you must keep out of that man’s sight. He is dangerous.”

“Yes, I know. He’s a bad man. But he doesn’t frighten me.”

“Nor me,” said Jake. “What can he do to an old man who is ready for death? But Anna must be protected. People are afraid of her.”

“I don’t need protecting,” Anna said vehemently. “Ammon will shield me.”

“Faith is a fine thing, but we must be cautious.” Martha did not want to subdue a child’s faith, nor an old man’s certainty, but neither did she want to see harm come to those who had spoken at the cross. The Oracle had faded within her but maybe in the child, Ammon was still strong. “I have said enough. You have all been warned.”

Rain had ceased, when darkness fell over the drowned town of Eden, Ronald Pickman slipped on his black Burberry coat that always travelled with him, and crept out of his caravan. He rummaged inside the boot of his car, grinning at his thoughts. At least he’d driven his Jaguar away before the flood arrived. What’s more it looked like he would be getting a new one to replace it. Anger overpowering all sense of moral restraint, Pickman carefully made his way to Martha’s place. He unscrewed the cap of a can and poured petrol through the letterbox and over both front and back doors. He then smashed a window by the front door and threw the half-empty can inside, the contents spilling over furniture and carpet. He stood well back and took out his lighter.

The voice of Hilda sounded just behind him. “What on earth are you doing, Ron?”

Shocked, he turned around, dropping the lighter. A line of flame ran to the house and licked its way through the window. The can blew up. Ron staggered backwards. Hilda screamed — burning debris had set her hair alight.

From nowhere, the child appeared before them. She pointed to Hilda. Mesmerised, Pickman stood back as the flames on his wife’s hair vanished. The child then pointed to a sandbag by the front door. The bag split open, Sand poured out and followed the line of the child’s pointing finger to inside the cottage. As flames disappeared, Martha and Jake arrived with buckets. Neither showed signs of surprise.

Pickman grabbed his wife’s hand and they disappeared into the night.

Martha wrote down the bizarre happenings that had taken place in the Vale of Eden. The evening of the fire, she had been consulting with Jake when they each received a premonition of events at her cottage. Pickman had been arrested and lost his wife as well as his freedom. Hilda had been more than willing to testify. The part Anna played was kept out of it. Who would believe it anyway? Few newspapers mentioned the prophetic warnings. They had enough of horrors and dramatic rescues to report than to dabble in speculative events. The two pensioners could well be senile, even if they did assist in putting out the fire. They did not seem able to predict the time of the next bus, never mind a storm. As for the child, sure she looked odd with those big eyes, thin body and pale skin, but, saying nothing, she seemed as dim as she looked.

Wisdom came to Anna as her psychokinetic powers strengthened. Prophesying could wait. In her mind she could see the dawn of Armageddon. Her powers would be needed. In ten years she intended to travel to Egypt and draw on the power of the Oracle of Siwah. For now, she would be the quiet schoolgirl. Even so, Anna could not resist an occasional use of her psychokinetic powers. But those are stories to be told later.

Short Story — Short Changed by Gladys Hobson

December 6, 2010

Short Changed by Gladys Hobson

A little sweetness is the cause of many a problem


Roger Trumpington, six feet of hefty flesh dressed in corduroy trousers and tweed jacket aromatised with cigars, which might have been pleasant had it not been as stale as the whiskey pong that accompanied it, looked again at the till receipt and counted the change just handed to him. His face turned red with indignation.
“I’ve been short changed,” he said, his whole manner imperious as though talking to a lesser mortal. “I gave you a twenty pound note.”
“I don’t think so, sir,” the girl at the counter said in a trembling voice, in tune with her shaking hands playing a concerto on the counter.
“I should know what I handed over,” Roger stated, snatching out his wallet and searching the note pockets.
He splayed the wallet in front of the shrinking assistant, presently five feet tall but surely not for long. The pathetic creature— skinny limbs protruding from a cherry-red uniform— seemed to be disappearing behind the till, as though it acted as armour to ward off the verbal battering ram.
“Look here, woman —twenty-pound notes only. I had five, now I have four. That is all the money I have on me, plus the change you have just handed me.” A triumphant grunt accompanied the twitching of his shaggy moustache and a straightening of his shoulders. “Now, please hand over the tenner my change is lacking, and we’ll say no more about it.”
“But you only gave me ten pounds, sir.” Her worried face had turned the colour of her uniform hat — white with red blotches. “I put the note with the other tens.” She pressed a key on the till and it sprung open. “You see, there are no twenties with the tens.”
“Clearly you did nothing of the kind. My patience is wearing thin. Hand me the rest of my change at once.” He thumped the desk, causing the till drawer to tremble and rattle the coins.
A nattily dressed, overweight lady, sitting at a close-by table, took out a pen and small notebook from her handbag. Being a reporter on the Hepstone weekly newspaper, and recognising the bullying customer as a newsworthy person, she couldn’t believe her luck. She sipped at her tea and waited for a fracas to develop.
“Can I be of some assistance?” With all the customers’ eyes fixed on the drama taking place at the till counter, the café owner had materialised like a rose-scented genie out of a vodka bottle. She half-staggered to the till desk.
Trumpington visibly relaxed. “Ah, perhaps you will instruct this assistant to give me what is mine. I gave her a twenty pound note, she has given me change for a tenner.”
“But he only gave me ten pounds, Mrs Bradley. I put his note here with the tens. See, there are no twenties here.” The accused rubbed at the tears threatening to stream down her cheeks. “Look for yourself.”
“But are you sure you put the note with the tens, Ethel?”
“Of course. If it had been a twenty I would have put it with the twenties.”
Mrs Bradley smiled sweetly at Trumpington. “It seems there has been a mistake somewhere. It will sort itself out when I count the cash against the receipts this evening. Could I have your phone number please? I will let you know the result tomorrow morning.”
Trumpington’s moustache bristled as anger purpled his cheeks. “Are you doubting my honesty? Outrageous!” His overheated breath, oozing of garlic and Gorgonzola cheese, reached out to embrace all within reach. “Do you know who I am, madam? You happen to be speaking to Roger Trumpington, Lord of Little Kirkstone Manor, and Conservative candidate at the coming election.” Spit glistened on his hirsute upper lip, like beads of dew on a doormat.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, sir. No doubt a mistake has been made.” All of Mrs Bradley’s five feet and six inches of height, stood to attention, uncurling the wrinkles from her smoky-grey dress. But the furrows in her face sharpened with concern. She turned to the shrunken Ethel, now completely hidden from customer view.
“Return the twenty pounds to this customer immediately, Ethel. The meal is on the house.”
“But, Mrs Br—”
“At once. No argument. And please apologise.”
“But—”
“Now.”
“No.”
“What?”
“I said, no. I am not the liar. He only gave me ten pounds.”
A cacophony of voices filled the air:
“Apologise…” Mrs Bradley kept repeating,
“No, never…”
“Monstrous, monstrous…” Trumpington fumed, thumping the desk.
“He’s lying, not me,” Ethel yelled. “He gave me a tenner. He’s lying I tell you.”
“What!” thundered Trumpington; body now shaking with fury, hands whirling, and spit decorating pastries on a nearby stand. “I have never been so insulted in my entire life.”
A waitress muttered, “It was a tenner, I saw it.”
Another waitress, hovering near the scene, obviously heard and yelled above the commotion, “Ethel is innocent. The union will support her.”
Cheering from the customers.
“Quite right,” said one of them, and the reporter secretly made a few more notes, under the cover of her left hand and a red teapot.
Before long the whole room was as noisy as opening time at a Selfridge’s sale.
Mrs Bradley snatched a twenty-pound note from the till and handed it to Trumpington, along with two vouchers for evening meals. “Please accept these, sir, and I’m really sorry for the inconvenience caused you.”
Roger Trumpington cleared his throat noisily. “I was considering taking legal action for slander. I have my good name to consider. However, I will consider this recompense as good as an apology.” He grasped the twenty pound note and vouchers, stuffed them in his jacket pocket and made his way out, to the accompaniment of a few boos from laughing customers.
The lady reporter gave herself a few seconds break to sip her tea. What a scoop!
A voice sounded above the chatter, “Staff, all out.”
Waitresses turned and began their way back to the kitchens.
“No,” shouted Mrs Bradley. “I will personally apologise.” She turned to Ethel. “I’m so sorry, my dear. Of course you are completely innocent of lying, but we cannot afford to upset valued customers.”
“Valued customer? He only had a cup of tea,” said Ethel. “I’ve been slighted. Now everyone will think I’m a liar.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.
“You gave that old geyser twenty quid, plus two free meals,” said the waitress’s union representative, with a menacing look at her employer, “You should do the same for the innocent party. At least fifty pounds is due.”
Mrs Bradley shifted uneasily, as though someone had put ants down her back. She thrust her hand inside the till and pulled out fifty pounds. “Take this, Ethel, and please accept my full apologies for the way you’ve been treated.” She slammed the till shut, her twisted smile doing its best to be pleasant even if the woman inside the dress was as mad as hell.
Ethel sniffed back a tear. “Thank you, Mrs Bradley. I don’t see why that awful man should get away with it, though. You’ve been too generous with him. An apology was all I wanted, but this will come in handy.”
The lady reporter wondered what Solomon would have done in a case like this. A hundred pounds down the drain for Mrs Bradley, and she suspected a few customers had left without paying while the fracas was going on.
“It’s only ten minutes before your shift ends, Ethel,” said Mrs Bradley wearily. “You can go now. I’ll take over the till.”
“Oh, that’s all right, Mrs Bradley. I don’t mind staying.”
“But I mind. Please go now, Ethel.” There was no doubting Mrs Bradley’s determination to exercise her managerial rights. She put her hand on Ethel’s shoulder and guided her towards the kitchen door, then quickly returned to the till in time for a customer about to leave.
“Table number?” she asked with a well-practised smile.
“Sixteen. Cornish tea for two.” The customer, still wearing a dob of cream on her chin, leaned forward. “I really admire the way you handled that business. Poor Ethel, will you give her this tip please?” She put a fiver next to the till. “That chap is a right nasty character, he won’t get my vote.”
“I’m sure he believed he was right. Mr Trumpington is a gentleman after all.”
As the customer left, Mrs Bradley slipped the £5 into the staff box by the till.
The reporter wondered how many more sympathy tips Ethel would receive. If she had given the wrong change to Trumpington she must be a damn good actress, but then she had seen just as good in court. Ethel could have pocketed the missing tenner from the till quite easily. Sham tears? Clearly, Mrs Bradley thought so, or why did she send her off duty? Not that that anyone’s opinion counted. Election time, and in that Labour constituency, the news hounds were after Trumpington’s blood. And she, Georgina Stoke, was no exception. First, finish her tea and then a phone call to Hepstone Manor.

“Is that you, Roger?” It was his wife calling from the kitchen, from which delicious aromas were drifting towards him. “Had a good day?”
Trumpington walked through the hall of his grand Victorian abode, intent on outpouring the humiliation he’d experienced at the café that afternoon. He ignored the pile of correspondence awaiting him on the hallstand.
“Got your letters? You seem to get more every day. Wonderful to be getting so much support. Isn’t it exciting?” Greta, his slim and elegant wife, looked radiant as usual, in spite of the plastic pinny. “Lots of messages on the answer-phone too. One caller wants to interview you about a debacle at some café or other. What on earth is the woman talking about?”
“A reporter? Hell. Surely the local papers haven’t got hold of it?”
“Hold of what?” She waved a large knife, and a salmon had its head chopped off.
“Oo, don’t do that! I think that’s what I’m in for. Do you know, Greta, a damn waitress practically accused me of trying to get money by false pretences.” He walked to the fridge and took out a bottle of white wine, then poured out a large measure into a crystal goblet. “It was most humiliating. The woman is either forgetful or a common thief.”
He sat at the kitchen table and took a large swig of the cooled liquid. The blue LED lights twinkled at him from the black quartz floor, while the white LED ceiling lights flashed lightning-bright sparkles through the goblet of wine. But he was in no mood to enjoy his wife’s delightful renovated kitchen design, even if the oak and granite fittings had cost him a small fortune — hopefully to be recouped once he was in Parliament.
“How do you mean?” Greta asked, before sipping wine from Roger’s glass. “Do you want broccoli or asparagus with the salmon?”
“Never mind vegetables, this is serious.” He waved a hand across his forehead. “I couldn’t let her get away with it. Too much of that sort of thing goes on these days. I gave her a twenty-pound note for a pot of tea. She gave me change for a tenner. I wonder how much the woman makes in a week diddling the customers?”
“A twenty-pound note for a cup of tea?”
“I put all my change in a collection box outside the Town Hall. I have to do what I can for my image. I had a hundred in twenties from the cash machine this morning and I was at the meeting until mid afternoon.”
“How much do you have now? And by the way, didn’t you get that box of chocolates for Mother? It’s her birthday and she’s coming tonight for dinner. Oh, Roger, you promised me you’d get it.”
“Chocolates? Oh yes, I forgot all about the chocolates. Not surprising with the day I’ve had. I must have left them on the back seat of the car.”
“You did get Thorntons, her favourites?”
“Yes, of course, we mustn’t disappoint the old buzzard. It was a £10 box, ready wrapped. I’ll go get it when I’ve finished this.”
“Oh my goodness. Roger, do you realise what you’re saying? You must have had four twenties and a ten when you went in the café. Quickly, have another look.”
First, Roger dabbed at the wine he’d involuntarily slurped over his corduroy trousers. “Damn, they’re ruined… I could swear on the Bible that I gave that woman a twenty.” He pulled his wallet from his jacket pocket.
His wife snatched it off him and counted the notes. “Four, there’s four, Roger.” She hurriedly searched his pockets. “You have another one here, plus a large amount of change. Nearly ten pounds I think.”
“That’s the change for the tea, plus a twenty recompense. Those vouchers were given to me as well.” He put his head in his hands. “Damn… damn… damn.”
“So you must have used the £10 change from the chocolates to pay for your tea, otherwise you would only have three twenties in your wallet… oh, Roger.”
“Oh hell. What should I do, Greta? The till receipts will show they were right. That bloody reporter who rang will make mincemeat of me.”
“Leave it to me. I’ll write a note to the café explaining that you’ve been under a lot of strain lately, and although you had good reason to believe you had proffered a twenty-pound note to pay the bill, on reflection, you may have been mistaken. I’ll put the vouchers and the money in the envelope too, plus an extra twenty for the waitress. I’ll call it a tip. After all you usually do leave a tip when dining out.”
Roger released a heavy pent-up groan and mumbled, “Bloody expensive pot of tea. Go ahead, the sooner the better.”

The next morning, Roger decided to get another box of chocolates, this time for his wife — bless her. Dear Greta had called back the person who’d asked Roger for an interview, telling her the matter had been sorted out, but promising the bloodhound bitch an exclusive videoed dialogue if Roger won the election.
The assistant in the Thorntons shop, a cheerful redhead in a coffee and chocolate uniform, instantly recognised him.
“You came in yesterday: Roger Trumpington, isn’t it?”
“Correct.” His breakfast threatened to join the chocolates on the counter. “I expect you have seen my face on the election posters.”
“Yes, that’s right… and in the papers.”
Roger inwardly groaned.
She gave him a pleasant smile. “Have you called in for the change you left behind yesterday? Here it is. I kept it by the till — a ten-pound note. I thought you might come back for it.”

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Beware Pedestrians — short story by Gladys Hobson

November 29, 2010

Beware Pedestrians

You have been warned!

Les pedalled up to the sea end of the canal and stopped at the BEWARE PEDESTRIANS sign, grinning at his thoughts: loiterers on foot had better look out if they didn’t want to tangle with his super-geared Cannondale, SystemSix, the lightest and most explosive bike he’d ever ridden.
His legs turned into dynamos as he set off along the restricted road by the canal, aiming to reach the main road in one minute flat. The excitement of watching the Olympic contestants racing for their medals still fuelled his brain: now that he had his new bike, whatever they could do, he would do. Okay, he will have to allow for the fact that his bike had cost a fraction of theirs, but all things taken into consideration what he lacked in bike perfection he’ll make up with perfect coordination and sheer guts! His legs will go faster, his determination will be keener — he, Les Jolly — will be a champion to reckon with: this year, fastest along the canal; in four years time a winning member of the Olympic team!
‘Clear off,’ he yelled at the same time as he pressed the hooter he’d fixed to his handlebars.
The couple of joggers ahead of him turned their heads, saw him racing towards them and jumped quickly out of his way.
A dog walker came into view. A long blast on his hooter sent the dog off into the bushes with its owner still attached to the lead.
Eyes on the road ahead and breathing hard, Les had no spare energy to laugh at his thoughts, a pair of old wrinklies were doddering just ahead. Huh! Must’ve heard the horn but hadn’t budged. Did they think they owned the road? Were they deaf or daft?
Les overtook them, almost touching the old boy. He gave a quick glance in his mirror and noted with satisfaction that the old woman was clinging to the old guy who stood angrily waving his walking stick. Serves them right, pensioners think they have rights beyond their capacity to enjoy them.
Whoa! Woman with a kid. A long blast for that pair! That got her to pull the little blighter out of the way.
Now what we got? Ducks walking across the bloody road! Keep the hooter going for that lot. Damn — a splatter on my helmet as they flew off.
Nearly there. Keep the legs moving. What the—
Brake quick! Must be a bus-load of tourists. Ah! Saw me coming. Seems a couple fell in the canal — keep going, keep going.
Main road coming up now, take a detour up the Hoad.
Les slowed at the A590 junction, but quickly took off again as a gap in the traffic allowed him to get into the lane to turn right. Ignoring the blaring horns of motorists stopped in their tracks, Les put his legs into full power to shoot along on the inside of traffic until he came to the gateway that led up to the Hoad Monument footpath. He swung onto the pavement and halted at the gate, picked up his mechanical steed and hoisted it over the gate. He mounted the bike again and set off at full power. The uphill gradient kept his legs at full throttle but slowed down his rate of progress.
This was the stuff for men, not boys. He might be just sixteen but his muscular build — acquired through hard graft — medium height with body sun-tanned to perfection, spoke of his manhood. Pity the girls couldn’t see it under my gear, Les thought as he laboured on. I’m a man all right, a cycling tornado… unbeatable… unstoppable!
Hoot! Hoot!
Walkers saw him coming and stepped out of his way.
On and on, labouring hard up to the top of the hill. No time to gaze at the view from Hoad Monument. Now to ride completely round the mock lighthouse and back to the canal.
Wheeee… down… down…
Sheep scattered, their lambs chasing after them. Dogs barked and one of them gave chase pulling its owner off the path — both rolling down the hill entangled in the lead.
Hoot! Hoot!
An old gent pulled his old biddie partner onto a seat. Children ran out of the way: in his mirror Les saw them looking after him with awe written on their faces.
A skid brought him to a halt at the bottom of the hill. He lifted the bike over the gate, mounted again and crossed over to the left side of the road. A lorry braked hard with a screech of tyres. Les mentally laughed at his invincibility.
Now back at the road by the canal. He saw the sign, a copy of the one at the other end: BEWARE PEDESTRIANS
He checked his watch. One minute allowed for his return journey. His legs became dynamos again. He met again some of those he’d passed by on his way up, and he grinned at their startled faces and shaking fists. Nearing the end of his journey he saw the pair of old wrinklies sitting on a seat. Well, they’d better stay there if they knew what was good for them. He gave them a loud blast of his hooter just the same.
What the—
Les found himself spinning in the air, his feet, still attached to the pedals, took the bike with him.
Splash!

An hour later, sitting on a trolley in the A and E department of the local hospital, Les related to the police how he came to be fished out of the canal by a pair of pensioners:
‘But they sent me and my bike into that oversized water butt deliberately,’ he complained. ‘That old buzzard’s walking stick is still entangled in my front wheel. He’s responsible for my broken ankle! I’ll sue the blighter!’
‘Sir, there are warning signs at both ends of the road by that canal,’ said the policeman. ‘You should have taken notice. We have some assertive pensioners who do not take kindly to having to jump out of the way of cyclists. If you saw a sign on a gate “Beware of the bull” I assume you would take notice?’
‘Of course,’ said Les.
‘Well, I suggest the next time you see the warning notice: “Beware Pedestrians,” you do just that!’

From – Still Waters Run Deep, stories of hidden depths
Magpies Nest Publishing
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The Churchwarden’s Conversion — short story by Gladys Hobson

November 20, 2010

The Churchwarden’s Conversion

A pleasant stroll by the river?


“Mystery trip? It’s a mystery to me why Doug Hammond brought us here. Pouring with rain, freezing cold, and nothing to do till tea time.”
Doris showed her displeasure by pushing up the spokes of her red umbrella so hard that the fabric turned inside out. At that very moment a fractured waterspout showered down a collection of rain and filth from the gutter.
“Bloody hell!” she yelled, as cold dirty water ran over her blue-rinsed coiffeur and down the back of her neck. “Why the devil did Doug bring us to this God-forsaken dump.”
“Hush, Doris, this is a church outing not a pub crawl.” Her dour husband — thin, tall and bent, long poker face with slender crooked nose, a slash of dusky pink for a mouth, and with hair doing a remarkable imitation of a worn-out bottle-brush under a shabby cap — looked around to see if anyone had heard his wife’s ungodly tirade. “Here, give the umbrella to me, I’ll sort it out.”
Doris pulled a few dead leaves from the nape of her new blue jacket. “Huh. Okay for you. You look like a drowned geriatric rat, no matter how much you dress up. Dark suit and striped tie for a coach trip? And that stupid flat cap, you never take the damn thing off. And don’t think I haven’t seen you polish your shoes with it — disgusting.” She dabbed at her hair with a handkerchief and then pulled tissues out of a pocket to mop her neck and shoulders. “My new jacket’s ruined. Not that you care.”
Henry looked dolefully at his wife of forty years, and wondered what had happened to that demure, slim and pretty redhead that had won his heart. No doubt about it, an unbridled appetite for chips with everything, plus an old-fashioned drawstring corset, had given her a real live bustle of Victorian proportions, no matter how much she blamed her size twenty on bearing their two children. Was he to blame for her dissatisfaction with life? He righted the umbrella and passed it back to her. “Hold this and I’ll help clean you up.”
“Just get that damn rubbish out of my hair.”
Henry sighed; she used to speak so nicely. Television soaps have a lot to answer for. He carefully removed the detritus from the now blue-rinse-with-brown-streaks hair-do. He actually thought the change rather fetching. He liked her scent too. Lavender water mingling with her light makeup? It took him back to their wedding bed, it always did. Now he got the scent but none of the action.
“Look, Doris, there’s a church across the road. A notice says it’s serving coffee. That’s good. We can look round the church until the rain stops.”
He took hold of her elbow but she pulled it away.
“You think I’m going on a mystery trip to spend my time in a bloody church? I have enough of that on Sundays. You go, I’m going to that shoe shop we passed back there.”
“Hang on, Doris. Look, the sun’s coming out. We can take a walk in that park by the river.” The last thing he wanted was to go home laden with shoes that would hardly get worn. His pension wouldn’t stand it anyway. “I think there’s an old castle near the river bank. You always like visiting old castles and country houses.
“Oh, all right. How long is it before we meet for tea?”
“The coach picks us up again at half four. Doug said by the bus stop, close to where we were dropped off.” Why tell her it was the other end of a row of posh new shops and a Bingo hall? “I don’t even know where we have tea. Like the rest of the trip — it’s a mystery.” He took hold of her arm again, but she pulled it away.
“For God’s sake, let me get this umbrella down, before you poke my eye out,”
Henry put up his hands in alarm. “Don’t blaspheme, Doris. Please remember you’re the wife of a churchwarden.”
“Huh. How can I forget it, with you spending most of your time either in church or messing about in the graveyard. Anyone would think you were booking a plot for permanent residence.” She gave a loud sniff. “I only came on this mystery trip to please you. I don’t get a thrill spending an afternoon with a load of holier-than-thou pensioners.” She pushed the umbrella under her left arm and started walking, her handbag clutched to her breast as though expecting to be robbed at any moment.
“You’re going the wrong way.” He took her arm again and led her in the opposite direction, along a line of drab shop fronts, most of them smelling of urine and looking as if they were due for demolition. “You’re not exactly spending the afternoon with the others, we will only be with them for tea.”
“And for the bloody journey! Sitting in a coach just looking at the rain. And with Holy Jo sitting behind us, stinking of fish and boiled cabbage. Huh! He’s forever whistling All Things Bright and Beautiful. Hell… that’s what it is, sheer hell.”
Henry steered Doris round the corner and through the park entrance. “Jo Brown’s okay. He just wants to make folk happy.”
“Happy? Happy? Driving them nuts with that damn whistling?”
“You only had to ask him to stop, Doris. He’s a kindly soul.” He tried to ignore his wife’s continual moaning and take in the pleasant scene: a formal sweet-scented flower garden and acres of mown grass, with nature-reserve islands dotted around. He followed the path along the river’s steep bank. The other side of the river, deciduous trees, glorious with summer foliage, dripped diamonds of light to the rough grass below. Water bubbling over rocks sparkled in bright sunshine. Against slate-blue clouds, a rainbow suddenly appeared. “Look Doris, a rainbow!”
“Never mind a bloody rainbow, did you hear what I said, Henry? I did tell the old geyser to shut up… when you were up front chatting with one of your girl friends.”
He sighed. The rainbow quickly disappeared as if knowing it was not appreciated. A lovely walk and fresh air but they might as well be at home. “They’re not my girl friends, you know that. I was merely asking them if they were—”
“I don’t give a damn what you were asking them. How do you think I feel? My hubby trailing around the coach, chatting up any woman still capable of giving him the glad eye? Body snatchers, that’s what I call them. They’re after any man — young or ancient — capable of unzipping his own fly!”
“Keep your voice down, Doris. And don’t be crude. Remember you—”
“Are the wife of a churchwarden? Or is it Jake the rake?” She stopped and gave him a long hard look. “I’ve heard talk, Henry. You and Mary Balding… goings-on in the vestry.”
“Goings-on? You know we meet occasionally to meditate for half an hour. Anyone can join us. Sometimes a few do. Really, Doris, look at me… I’m not exactly a Sean Connery.”
“She’s no Mona Lisa.” She burst out laughing. “Mona Lot, would be more accurate. The way she goes on about the cost of living, she should spend less time on the Costa del Sol.”
Henry had to smile. For once Doris was right. He’d been thinking of giving up the meditation at the church because Mary spent most of the time moaning. Not about the cost of food, but about her husband. It made him feel uncomfortable. “Maybe you’re right, but not about the chatting up. Well… I guess I do like to make sure everyone is happy. After all, I suggested the outing. It was Doug who decided on a mystery trip. He’s been driving coaches for years. I thought he would know the best places.” He did a sweep of a hand. “You have to admit, now the sun’s shining, this park is paradise.”
“Shit!”
“Doris, really. No need to be like that. It’s lovely here.” He looked around to see if other walkers had heard. A woman with a big dog about fifty yards away. Could she be within range?
“You fool. Dog shit — I put my foot in it.” Bending, with difficulty, to look at the soul of her shoe, her face blossomed to a brilliant crimson. “Some paradise with this stinking muck.”
Shaking his head in disbelief, Henry took a plastic bag out of his pocket and knelt on the wet grass to clean up the smelly flat-heeled shoe. Why can’t she look where she’s walking?
“Idiot!” Doris yelled, “Now you’ve knelt in the bloody stuff.”
“What? Oh dear. Never mind, let’s get your shoe clean first. I’ll do my trousers by the river. I’ll have to use my hanky.”
The sun suddenly disappeared behind a cloud and drops of rain began to fall. Doris quickly put up her umbrella.
“Ow!” Henry felt a spoke hit the corner of his eye, just as he was rising to his feet. He saw red all right — blood running down his cheek.
“Let me clean it for you.” Doris pulled the hanky out of Henry’s hand.
“No! Not with that.” But it was too late, Doris was already wiping his face with the hanky he’d polished up the shoe with.
“Bloody hell, Doris!”
“Hell? Henry, you just said…”
He didn’t hear any more, He was running down the bank to the river to wash his face, while trying to rid his mind of ungodly thoughts concerning his wife and dog owners.
With rain falling in a brisk shower, he chose where a tree gave slight cover and knelt on pebbles at the side of the river, first rinsing his hanky before using it on his face. His trousers must wait. He was aware of Doris shouting from the grassy bank where he’d left her, but he was in no mood to listen. Suddenly he felt a warm sensation on his backside. Curious, he turned his head and met face to face with a Golden Retriever. “What the—”
Too late, the dog had peed all over him. He shook his fist. The dog appeared to grin before running out of reach. Henry stood up, caught his cap on an overhanging twig, which propelled it off his head and into the jaws of the laughing dog. Each time Henry dived for his cap the dog ran out of reach, clearly enjoying the game. Fury rose and exploded from Henry’s throat. “You damn, bloody dog, drop the bloody cap or I’ll belt the bloody life out of you!” He waved his fist, tears of anger and frustration running down his cheeks.
The dog dropped the cap and Henry dived for it. Not since playing rugby had he managed such a manoeuvre. But the dog was too quick for him. He scooped up the cap and took it for a paddle in the river.
Henry fell on his knees and raised his arms and eyes to heaven. “My cap, my precious cap!”
He felt a rush of air beside him. Doris’s bustle of a bum nearly knocked him over as she threw herself at the dog about to run off again. She grabbed the cap and somehow managed to maintain her balance as she tore it from the jaws of the dog.
“Well, it’s a bit torn but I can patch it up for you. So for God’s sake stop your wailing.” She pushed the soggy cap back on his head. “I don’t know, Henry, what would you do without me?”
“Oh, I am so sorry,“ came a voice from the bank. “Rover is a very naughty boy.”
“Naughty? He’s bl—“
“Never mind,” Doris cut in quickly. “Dogs will be dogs. Is there a place we can clean up, and get a cup of tea?”
“How kind of you to be so understanding. Would you care to come over to my place just the other side of the park? I’ll get you some tea while you clean up and dry out.”

Two hours later, Henry helped Doris up the steps of the stuffy coach. He was in awe of the change in her. Instead of laughing at his fall from grace, she’d been most understanding.
“Where have you two been all afternoon,” Mary Balding, said. “We’ve all had a grand time at the Bingo hall. Betty’s won five pounds.”
“Oh really?” said Doris. “Actually, we were invited for tea at Rockingham Hall. It was rather splendid, but I don’t wish to talk about it. I dislike name-droppers.”
An awed silence filled the coach. But it didn’t last long; fluttering conversations began and gradually turned into a flood of speculation and rumour.
Henry smiled. Yes, they did have tea at Rockingham Hall — in the housekeeper’s flat in the attic. He glanced at Doris, looking serene and happy. “Enjoying the mystery trip then?”
“I don’t know about that, but I’m enjoying having a normal husband for a change.”
Whistling sounded behind them. Henry turned round in his seat.
“And you can stop that bloody whistling.”
“Henry, really,” Doris said, a huge grin making dumplings of her cheeks. “Naughty, naughty. Don’t forget you’re the churchwarden.”

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Nothing To Fear — humour/horror story by Gladys Hobson

May 6, 2010

Nothing To Fear

Dark morning in Lent

‘Anyone there?’
No answer, so what the ‘ell were the chancel lights doing on?
‘Huh!’ she said, locking the door of the west porch behind her and waddling up the centre aisle. ‘If I’d left them on there’d be the Devil to pay.’
Chuntering to herself, Doris made her way to the vestry, switched on the nave lights and took the vacuum cleaner and dusters from a corner cupboard.
‘They’ve ‘ad the kids in again,’ she grumbled when she saw the state of the floor near the outside door. ‘Blooming mud and rubbish all over the place. What the ‘ell are these nails doin’ ‘ere?’ She looked around the floor. ‘Whackin’ big hammer, and what’s this? Looks like a stapler. God knows what’s been goin’ on.’
She tossed the offending equipment inside the cupboard. ‘Vicar can sort it out. Must be somethin’ to do with Lent — God knows what.’
There was a tap on a window. Something shaped like a head draped with a sheet was being waved about outside.
‘Flippin’ kids; always tryin’ to scare me.’
She raised her fist in the direction of the vestry window.
‘Bugger off!’
She took off her coat and was about to hang it over the vicar’s surplice on a hook near the door: ‘Huh, that could do with a wash. And what’s ‘is clothes doin’ dumped on the floor? Vicar’s wives aren’t what they used to be: too busy doin’ their own thing. Mind you, Vicar’s no better. I don’t know — church’s goin’ to the dogs.’
Putting the offending clothes over a chair, she threw her coat inside the cupboard and took out a broom. Pulling on a wraparound pinny, she swept the mud into a pile and left it until she could sweep it outside. Then she noticed the vestry key was in the lock.
‘Good ‘eavens, the door’s unlocked. Must have been open all night. Huh! No wonder the place is in a mess.’
Opening the vestry door wide, she swept the mud outside. In the churchyard, the kids were playing with their skateboards — footing them along the steep paths, leaping on and off the fallen gravestones.
‘No respect for the dead. They need their ‘ides tanning,’ she muttered, waving her broom at them. Sighing and shaking her head in disbelief at the antics of modern youth she hurried back inside, locking the door behind her.
She dragged the vacuum cleaner out of the vestry into the nave.
‘Funeral in less than an hour, Lent service this afternoon — what the ‘ell do we need that for? Vicar’s a right killjoy. Can’t even eat a bit of chocolate without feeling guilty. Oh well, got to get cracking.’
Muffled noises echoed around the church. The hairs on her arms stiffened and her heart rate zoomed. ‘Don’t be stupid,’ she told herself, ‘It’s that coffin sitting in the side chapel that’s spooking you. Get the job done and get out.’
A thought struck her. Suppose the coffin’s occupant is still alive?
‘Huh! Imagination running riot again, Doris. Time you gave this job up, you’ll be seeing ghosts next!’
Starting from the back of the church, she plugged in the cleaner and began her work — another half hour and the vicar would be arriving. She began singing ‘Abide with me’.
Just outside the side chapel she found empty beer bottles strewn around.
‘My goodness! No respect for the dead these days. Mourners drinking beer last night? Celebrating their inheritance? Huh! No business comin’ in the church and leavin’ the vestry door unlocked. I don’t know, whatever next?’
She trotted off to the vestry for a black plastic sack.
‘More work to do. The vicar will be here any minute. Better not be in one of ‘is moods.’
She started picking up the bottles. Muffled moans sounded from the side chapel just behind her. Fear immobilised her body. Bottles dropped from her hands with a crash. Icy fingers gripped her heart, stiff pimples covered her flesh, her hair uncurled and stood on end.
She forced herself to move. She was being stupid again: it was just kids messing about, the central heating playing tricks, timbers shrinking, or….
Slowly she turned to face the coffin.
‘Is there anyone there?’ she croaked, unable to think what else to say.
The coffin lay still and silent on its trestle in front of her. The only movement coming from the single spray of red roses resting on the lid — petals were dropping like tears of blood to the floor below. Her heart began to slow its rapid pace. She sighed with relief. ‘Silly woman, Doris.’
Suddenly the sound came again — much louder this time.
Her eyes darted to her left. Her mouth opened in a scream, but nothing came out. Paralysed to the spot her gaze was held captive by the vision before her.
Sitting naked in front of the chapel altar, his hands nailed cruciform to the altar frame, and his feet nailed to the floor below the step on which he sat was the Reverend Donald Charles Geoffrey Bloom — Father Don, as he preferred to be called. His bloodshot eyes were wild with fear and pain. Muffled grunts were vibrating the plastic tape sealing his mouth.
Grey ash of penitence drifted over his head, down his face, over his body and onto the sanctuary carpet. On a board resting on a piece of sacking stapled between his legs, was written:

I AM A SINNER

Even through the haze of her shocked brain, Doris remembered the village gossip about the vicar and the treasurer’s wife. Her eyes turned towards the coffin. Elizabeth Jones had died — or so it was rumoured — of a self-administered abortion. She looked again at her suffering vicar and nodded her head in understanding.
She turned and picked up the broken glass. How silly of her to think the body in the coffin was alive. Mrs Jones was dead all right: there’d been a post-mortem. Poor old Mr Jones was a very distraught man. Well, no man likes to be cuckolded… it’s against ‘is dignity. And to end up a widower as well. ‘Dear, oh, dear…’
‘Change and decay…’ she sang to no one in particular.
She stopped and picked up a small card.
‘Now what’s this?’

THOMAS DREADNOUGHT JONES.
DEBT COLLECTOR.
PERSONAL ATTENTION
SATISFACTION GUARANTEED

She dropped the card into the sack. ‘What’s ‘is card doin’ ‘ere?’
She dragged the sack to the vestry. ‘Better get on, the funeral will start soon — ‘ope Vicar’s ready in time.’
She took a last look at the side chapel.
‘I don’t know, the lengths folk go to at Lent… ash on ‘eads… fasting… flagellation… and now this! Why can’t Vicar give up sweets like the rest of us? Well, I’m not cleaning that lot up.’
‘’Elp of the ‘elpless……………….’

Gladys Hobson’s story is published in Northern Lights
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The Eagle — short story by Gladys Hobson

March 17, 2010

woods
The Eagle

It wasn’t a dream, Ruth wasn’t asleep, but all seemed dreamlike even if crystal clear: watching through her own eyes but seeing herself from a distance. She could hear sounds too, of birds and animals and traffic on a distant motorway. She breathed in the scents of nature borne on a gentle breeze: ploughed earth of close-by fields, musty undergrowth of the woods with a pungent hint of fungi, and fruits of late summer resplendent on briars.
But all senses became suspended as, from her perch on a sycamore tree, she watched sleek white birds gathering in the topmost branches. Lots of happy chattering going on as their numbers increased. She stretched her wings, flapped them a little and flew upwards to join the gathering.
‘Go away, go away,’ they screamed, ‘you are not one of us.’
Unhappy at her exclusion, she returned to her branch and gazed at the white birds as they sang together in gleeful chorus. Suddenly, they took wing and flew like a wind-driven cloud, circling this way and that, their joyful chorus filling the air in choir-like harmony. Oh how she longed to be with them. But why not, didn’t she have wings too? Of course she did. Surely she must be one of them.
First she flew to the top of the tree and waited until they circled once more above her. Then up she flew and carefully filtered in among them. Such pleasure!
But one by one they dived towards her, screaming their unwelcoming message: ‘Go away… go away! You’re not one of us.’
She returned to the tree and, with streaming tears, watched the white birds’ graceful movements. Oh, why would they not accept her? She could sing, she could fly just as they. She sat alone and sang her own lonesome song.
But the pull to be flying with the glorious white birds became impossible to control. Before long she took off again, flying to meet them in the air.
‘Go back, go back, you’re not one of us. Go on… get busy, get busy!’ they screamed, swooping down on her. ‘We don’t want you. Go back and get busy.’
So day after day she sat singing, even if pining to be what the white birds said she was not. As time passed by, the birds became friendlier. Pleased she hadn’t bothered them again?
‘Keeping busy? Keeping busy? Good, good,’ they chirped, over and over, day after day.
One day, a white bird swooped down to her branch and sat by her side. ‘Keeping busy? Good…good.’
‘Why can’t I fly with you?’ she croaked through her tears.
‘You are not one of us. Accept it… you are not one of us. Birds of a feather flock together.’ It flew off calling, ‘Keep busy… keep busy.’
As the white bird flew away, Ruth watched her tears as they fell to earth. Then she noticed movement among the leaves there. Yes, birds… large birds; some with beautiful feathers, others with dull ones, but each bird contentedly pecking at the ground. Surely she had found her place in life? She flew down to investigate.
The ground birds carried on pecking at whatever they fancied. They didn’t send her away, rather the birds cheerfully accepted her presence amongst them.
‘Good, she said to herself. ‘I must be where I’m meant to be,’ and she started shifting leaves with her feet and beak. ‘These seeds are good,’ she said to herself.
So day after day, she stayed near the ground. But her heart longed to be up in the sky, She heard the white birds and flew upwards to join in with their singing, but each time she did so, they told her to go away and get busy, she was not part of them.
Sighing, she returned to the ground and joined a red-faced bird pecking at berries.
Red Face stopped pecking. ‘Why are you down here with us?’
‘I have nowhere else to go. Those birds flying in the sky don’t want me.’
‘That’s because they’re white birds. They always flock together. You’re not white. You don’t belong with them.’
‘Am I like you then?’
‘No, not like us, you are an eagle. Didn’t you know that?’
‘An eagle?’
‘Yes, look at yourself in that pool. See? You are a beautiful eagle. Everyone knows that eagles can fly higher than other birds. They are fast and strong… they can soar and swoop. And they can see better than any other bird.’
‘An eagle? Yes I am an eagle. Why couldn’t I see that for myself?’
‘Maybe because you’ve been too busy looking at the white birds, and wanting to be what you are not,’ Red Face said wisely, even if his small head gave the impression of containing a small brain.
‘You are right. I have wanted to be one of them. It is hard being on my own.’
‘You don’t need them; you don’t need anyone. Fly high, eagle bird. Soar into the sky, drift with the wind, swoop and glide. Be free and live.’

And so Ruth’s eyes were opened. She knew that while her path might be lonesome and, at times, hard, she had no need of other birds to fly and sing with. Her path was not theirs.
A new picture came into her mind, that of an eagle lectern, the eagle hovering over the world with the Holy Scriptures resting on its back. Ordination might not be for her, but her path had been made plain and she was not alone.

Gladys Hobson’s books can be seen at
Magpies Nest Publishing (post free in UK when ordered from web site)
And can be ordered from any good bookstore
The AGPress Bookstore for USA versions and Seduction By Design (post free in USA)
Visit — Writing For Joy
Ask Gran Hobson
Gladys Hobson — author
My Space — Gladys Writes

The Band Played On — short story by Gladys Hobson

February 24, 2010

The Band Played On

They danced to the band with the curious tone…

The Band Played On

Introduction

Ulverston, noted for its Thursday and Saturday market days, and various festivals throughout the year, is blessed with a number of musicians who willingly give of their time to entertain shoppers and visitors to the area. Throughout the summer, as weather permits, on Thursday mornings a band is playing in the cobbled market square. During festivals bands play also at weekends and are often joined by dancers. Sometimes the whole town is taken over by stalls, musicians, singers, entertainers, Morris men and clog dancers, and all the fun of the fair! There is even a Dickensian weekend when on top of all the above, many people are dressed in historical costume. Add to this carnival day, and Charter Fortnight with events and a lantern parade, and it is clear that the town is far from sleepy!
I love to hear the band play on Thursdays. This is usually a small band of mostly elderly gentlemen dedicated to sharing their gifts with all who wish to listen. They have been entertaining for years and clearly enjoy what they do.
Standing listening, I find my feet tapping to the music, and when the band plays tunes like the Flora Dance, oh how I wish we wrinklies had the freedom to dance like children!

The Band Played On.

In Ulverston’s sunny Market Square, the silver band of mainly red-faced elderly gentlemen gave a lively rendition of the Floral Dance, oblivious to the movement of shoppers at nearby stalls and tourists snapping photographs in front of them.
Children, bored with standing at stalls while their mothers looked for bargains, drew closer to the band intrigued by the hand movements that produced the jolly sound. One boy did a good impression of the trombonist, another lad puffed his cheeks and laboured at producing a sound from his invisible euphonium. Little girls laughed and tapped their feet. Before long, more children joined in, with watching adults smiling, tapping and clapping to the merry beat.
A weathered elderly gentleman, with long white beard wagging in tune with the music, began singing:
‘We danced to the band with the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone…’
The Floral Dance, now in full swing, more girls were dancing and swinging each other round and around while others jigged about doing their own thing.
The music came to an end, but the crowd hooped and yelled for more.
The conductor bowed, turned to the band and raised his baton.
The white-headed, bearded gent took off his coat, threw it over the nearest stall and started singing again, his elbows keeping time with the music.
Shoppers left the stalls and gathered round; smiling, laughing and clapping while their children merrily danced or imitated the musicians and singer:
‘Dancing here, prancing there,
Jigging, jogging ev’rywhere…’
Market smells of fruit and vegetables, the scent of flowers, young women’s perfume, old ladies’ talc’, sweat, soap and aftershave, mingling with fresh air breezes; rainbow colours of summer clothing, moving sights and sounds — all swelling up to entrance and befuddle minds and bodies. Not one person immune to the hypnotic beat:
‘Bassoon, flute and euphonium…’
Maggie pulled away from the hand holding hers, and ran forward to join the dancing children in the cobbled square. Round and round, arms waving in time with the beat, laughing and singing the words she could easily remember:
‘Dancing here, dancing there…’
The crowd clapped and sang with her. Maggie’s movements became more intricate while retaining the essential simplicity of country dancing. Girls began imitating her and before long the market place became a throbbing beat of music, clapping and dancing feet. Heated musicians played on, mesmerised by what they had created.
‘Each one making the most of his chance
Altogether in the Floral Dance.’
Round and round and roun…
The crowd hushed, the music petered out, children stopped dancing.
The bearded, elderly man ran forward and fell to his knees by the side of the fallen fragile lady. ‘Are you hurt, Maggie?’
She opened her eyes. ‘Lovely, wasn’t it, daddy?’
‘Yes, my darling, you danced beautifully.’
‘I want…’
Maggie’s eyes closed. The elderly man put an arm under her shoulders and held the old lady to his chest, wiping away long strands of grey hair from her wrinkled face. Tears ran down his cheeks.
A large muscular man from the vegetable stall came forward. ‘I’ll carry her into the chemist’s for you, Lambert, mate.’
The crowd, no longer hushed, parted and made way for the carried woman.
‘I’ve called an ambulance,’ someone told the old man as they entered the chemist’s shop.
The old man nodded his gratitude but his eyes told those present that nothing would bring his wife back to life again. Even through his tears, he smiled. ‘She loved to dance and sing, you know. The dementia didn’t rob her of everything.’
Outside the band began to play, We’ll Gather Lilacs.
‘That’s our tune. We sang it at our wedding reception.’ He drew in a deep breath and said in a determined manner, ‘Could I have a drink of water please?’
Lambert sat on the chair placed beside his wife, now stretched out on a couch at the back of the shop, and he hummed to the music of the band. He took the glass of water being passed to him, shook tablets from a small bottle he’d taken from his jacket pocket, and threw them into the back of his mouth, swallowing them down with the liquid. Then he took his wife’s hand and began to sing in a croaking voice:
‘We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again…’
His quivering voice petered out as his body slumped to the floor.

And the band played on…

Fantail Fantasy — short story by Gladys Hobson

January 29, 2010

This brief story was inspired by a fantail pigeon that visited our garden nearly every day. Fifteen or more pigeons, ranging from pure white to dappled beige, came to feed from seeds dropped from our bird trays, plus rice and seed I threw out to them. They became quite tame and would come to the kitchen window and other windows and tap — having trained me to throw out food for them!
But the fantail was my favourite. It amused me with its fluffy ‘bootees’, and delighted me by its fantastic flight with its wings and tail fully extended. Unfortunately, a neighbour (who fed the pigeons and housed them in a dovecote) found it in her garden with its head bitten off.
It is this fantail that inspired this story (the nucleus of a novel yet to be written?)
We do not have a photograph of the fantail but this is one of a clever pigeon that managed to shake seeds to the ground for other pigeons to eat. Curiously, it did not eat them itself, just kept providing seeds for the flock.

Pigeon (not a fantail) scattering the seed for the flock!

Fantail Fantasy

Pure white, the fantail pigeon — feathers lightly surrounding its headless spread-eagled corpse — lay on the fragrant, newly-mown grass, the red of a little blood drawing the eye to the dreadful tragedy of nature in the raw.
Tears streamed down Annie’s cheeks. For weeks she had watched that angelic bird feed off the tray in her rose-scented garden, wondering at the sight of such a magnificent creature. Her sore eyes had followed the bird’s flight: feathers caught in sunlight, beauty in motion, and a healing balm to her weary spirit. With joy she had fed it with rice, slowly getting it to come closer but never close enough to feed from her hand. And now it never would.
To her, the bird had been a comforting reminder of her dead husband, a breeder of fantail pigeons. She could see him as he lovingly nurtured each one with food held in his hand. But unhappy memories of the birds being taken away after his death continued to haunt her. She should have stopped them. Her family had no right to sell what were hers and Larry’s. She could have looked after them, if only she’d had a little help.
She smiled at how Larry had thwarted their efforts to keep them apart, This magnificent specimen had returned. Everyone had said it was too young to be one of Larry’s birds and wasn’t tame enough anyway, but she knew better. ‘Don’t you tell me that bird isn’t Larry’s. I know it is… don’t ask me why, I just know it. You know nothing, about pigeons, or Larry.’
Now the bird had been murdered. Just like Larry had been. That was no accident when the truck ran over Larry’s head, no matter what the coroner has said. ‘Oh Larry, they are trying to separate us. But they won’t succeed.’
Letting go her walking frame and ignoring the pain that racked her arthritic limbs, with deep reverence she stooped to pick up the pigeon’s lifeless body. Tears now mingling with the dried blood, a glossy red gleamed in the bright sunlight, uniting her fragile life to the motionless corpse.
As Annie reached for the bird, her legs suddenly gave way. She reached the ground with a snap of her bones. Drenched in a red haze, agonising pain shot through her whole body, now burning with fire.
Annie embraced the bird and held it to her breast, It was Larry, her Larry.
The torture ceased. Joy burst from the heart that had been broken the day her Larry died. As life now misted from her body, she knew, without doubt, Larry had come to carry her home.
Psychedelic light, tongues of angels, fragrant scents, sensual touch, blended together in an unspeakable rapture as she felt herself lifted up… up….
Larry… Larry… she tried to say, but the words would not come.

‘She’s coming round.’
‘Thank you, doctor. We thought we’d lost her,’ said a familiar voice.
‘Close call. But she’s not out of the woods yet.’
‘All over that damn pigeon. It’s a nursing home from now on,’ The voice grew louder in Annie’s ear. ‘Did you hear that, Mother? Fractured bones because of that stupid pigeon. Whatever possessed you to pick it up?’
Tears welled up in Annie’s eyes. Larry… Larry… but still the words refused to come.
The voices drifted away. A blanket of peace descended.

Annie’s heart had stopped beating, but her lips were smiling.

If you enjoyed this short story, why not try one of my cheap eBooks? You will find my Designed By Love trilogy eBooks for sale at the Dare Empire Media bookstore. Also my new book, The Dark Mirror.
You will find information and excerpts at the bookstore.

Innocent, naive June, is determined to be a top dress designer


Is women's fashion design more about seduction than clothing the body?


Checkmate, the third part of the trilogy. The final battle of control — winner takes all!


Now for the latest eBook — The Dark Mirror

'G B Hobson's dramatic, controversial masterpiece will keep you turning page after page until the very end.'