Tag Archives: Guest Writer

The Harmony Aggro [1]

Silver shoes

A Short Science Fiction story written by Guest Author: Pamela Cleaver
This story was penned in the 1970s – more innocent times. Sci-Fi was in its infancy and much of the technology is out of date. Originally published in an Anthology entitled Space 2

Inspector Deeping was worried: it had been happening for a fortnight now and he couldn’t understand it. If Everington had been a big city, it would have been understandable. Muggings, vandalism and other crimes of destructive violence happened all the time in cities, but Everington was a suburban district which had only recently developed from a village to town status by the addition and accredition of various housing estates.

His first thought, when the crime figures for his normally peaceable area went rocketing up, was that some criminal element had moved onto one of the newer estates, but he had immediately checked and found it was not so. There were one or two bad eggs in the new batches, but they soon proved they were not involved in Everington’s new crime wave.

The other thing that troubled him was the description of the criminals; in the few cases where they had been seen, they did not appear to conform to any known group. Threee elderly people had been knocked down and rendered unconscious – straight-forward muggings, Inspector Deeping had thought, except that the victims had not been robbed and the crimes seemed gratuitous and motiveless. From the description of the assailants, seen in the half dark, he had built up a curious picture. It seemed they were young people (no-one was sure if they were boys or girls) their hair was long, the locks dyed a mixture of green and blue. They wore silver trousers, jackets and boots. It sounded even stranger than the usual weird teenage gear.

Then there were four telephone boxes that had been smashed up, and six automatic vending machines that had been battered. The blue and green haired boys seemed to be involved in some cases, but in others there were some even stranger characters : shaven-headed hooligans dressed in scarlet robes.

“Are you having me on?” Inspector Deeping asked Sergeant Peel severely when he brought the reports in.

“No, honestly sir, that’s what the woman said who saw them running away. I asked her the same thing. Thought she might have been …” and he tilted his wrist to signify drinking, “but she was sober as a judge, and swore that was what they looked like.”

Inspector Deeping sucked on his pipe sceptically, but put the reports in his file. If they were not logical, he wondered where the strangely garbed youngsters were coming from. He asked his car patrols whether they had seen any groups coming into Everington from outside the district on motor bikes or in jalopies. But they had seen nothing unusual over the past two weeks. Not really surprising, he said to himself cynically, Everington was the sort of place you went away from, not came to.

He decided the only thing to do was to consult an expert, and who would be more knowledgeable about teenage behaviour than another teenager? So after supper, he took Tim, his seventeen-year-old son, for a walk.

“I want to pick your brains,” he told him and Tim came willingly, flattered to be consulted. “I want to know about any groups round here who dress in a special way,” he said.

“What – like the Skins in their bovver boots, or the Angels in their leather jackets?” asked Tim.

“That’s the sort of thing,” said Inspector Deeping, “but we know about them, though. Are there any new groups?”

Tim shrugged. “The Skins have mostly grown their hair, they call them Suedeheads now, you know, and they don’t wear bovver boots, they’re into crepe-soled boots with wedge heels. The Angels are still around, but not much in Everington.”

“Any others?”

“Most of the kids are into embroidered denim, but that’s general,” said Tim, “not any special group. There aren’t really any gangs in Everington.”

Inspector Deeping made much of lighting his pipe before he asked his next question. “What would you think of chaps with their hair dyed green and blue, wearing silver jeans, silver jackets and silver boots?”

Tim breathed a great sigh of admiration. “Wow, way out – like intergalactic, man!”

Deeping tried not to smile. “Intergalactic – that’s a new one on me.”

“It’s even further out than way out,” said Tim patiently, “it’s the ultimate.”

“I see, but do you know about this group with the silver gear?”

“No,” said Tim, “but I wouldn’t mind!”

“I don’t advise it,” said his father repressively, “they’re in big trouble. Look Tim, you don’t mind me asking all this?”

The boy shook his head.

“Well there’s another group even odder. They wear scarlet robes and have shaven heads. Do you know them?”

“Nope,” said Tim, “but they don’t sound very turned-on. Say Dad, are you really looking for kooks like this, or are you putting me on?”

The Inspector shook his head. “I said almost the same ting to Sergeant Peel when he told me about them. I really have got problems dressed in those clothes. Do one thing more for me Tim? Keep your eyes open at the Youth Club, will you?”

Tim agreed, and they continued on their way.

To be continued (here)

Always a Lady

A beautiful, but poignant tribute written by my Father about his beloved spaniel – a working dog and key member of our family.

We first met when she was two years old. Her father was a famous field trial champion with similar achievements going back all down the sire’s line as far as the pedigree reached. On her dam’s side  there were one or two field trial awards sprinkled about, but mostly, there was clear evidence of a gamekeeper’s faithfuls like Jenny (no Kennel suffix) or Flikka. Anyway, her dam was a really cracking small springer who had the trick of keeping one eye on her boss however far out she seemed to be going. Her boss was one of the nicest gamekeepers I’ve ever met.

This small, 2 month old chubby chops was lent to me to try each other out. With my elder daughter I slowly walked and talked her up along the edge of one of the release woods near the keeper’s cottage: she followed with some hesitation but no attempt to break back or into the wood. When we got back (carrying some of the way, because small legs get tired) we popped her down by a likely looking wood pile and encouraged her to seek!  She gave that rat and rabbit smelling wood pile such a combing, with her fat little bottom and docked tail showing fully her pleasure in the work.

My daughter and I took her back to the outdoor run with her litter brothers and sisters who were just about to have their evening meal, as they were being weaned from their dam. Food, the most important event in any healthy dog’s life. Slurping and jostling each other with their backs to us, ‘our’ little bitch ignored the food. She sat facing us, looking unwinkingly at us with that peculiar intentness that is a gift beyond price. It was that which decided me to have her.

I left her with the gamekeeper for one more month as I had a rather jealous, stern Weimaraner bitch that I did not want to tyrannise her too much. My elder son came to collect the puppy with me and sat with her and the Weimaraner in the boot to see fair play. Within 24 hours of arrival she proved she had a memory. I had bought a rabbit skin back too and hung it in a tree for a later use as a dummy. In the night the wind picked up and blew the skin down. When I turned the pup out for early morning penny-worths and a run, she made straight for the shrubbery, where, unknown to me, the skin lay under a tree. She ate it whole and ran back mighty pleased with herself.

From then on her training was a pleasure. She had her mother’s trick of always keeping one eye on me whatever she was about. I found I did not have to bother about hares or rabbits. She would course them for about 20 yards, then return as she early found they were much quicker than her. Maybe she would not have ever reached a field trial, but she was a mighty putter up of game, quickly learning to get down-wind of bits of cover to save pushing through everything, she could also gauge content by nose. 

She had the usual particular stance and ‘yip’ when onto a rabbit. She loved water and swam quite flat with no fuss or tenseness. She played in the rubber boat with the children in the pool learning to trim to the set of a boat: anticipating its movements and shifting her feet. One of her favorite games, as a puppy, was hiding in the rubber inflatable boat on the grass with her two eyes peeping out of the top. She’d then run to nip my younger son’s bottom as he crept up, starck naked, to try and get in the boat too. Gales of laughter as this game went on for hours.

When she retrieved duck to me, she threw them sideways out of her mouth and turned back to the water. In this way I had to set her onto one or two runners that slipped straight into the reeds and had to be retrieved again. Once she realised this, she brought the duck to hand. She was always chancey on cock pheasants. On her first full working day she had a cock torn from her mouth by an aggressive labrador, one of a team of three worked by a gun’s wife; the bird spurred her in the mouth. I spent the rest of the season gentling her back to retrieving. 

On the last day of the season, our very last push through cover, I realised from the behaviour of both the Weimaraner and the young springer that a bird had drawn ahead of them down a ditch and hedge. I asked permission to follow up and set the dogs on again. Their eagerness increased each yard and from beside a pond at the hedge junction they pushed a cock pheasant. I shot it as it crossed the plough towards a wood and the springer was sent to retrieve. She had just collected it and was returning when the same black labrador rushed across the field and snatched the bird from her.

She adored wildfowling, starting at 18 months when she picked her first pinkfoot: a beautifully proportioned half-sized mutant. Even that was big for her at the time. If I was cross with her and swore at her (which I did I regret to say – having a low flash point and hot temper) she would not look at me for a while. She’d sit, back to me and very still, with her cheeks sucked in. All the family loved her dearly and if I or my wife had to scold the children, particularly the younger two, they would go and sit with the springer, resting their heads on her til they felt better. The Weimaraner accepted her and, latterly when I found my springer dog on Liverpool Street Station (nobody ever claimed him) he doted on the springer bitch, as did my wife’s grand little rough coated dachshund.

Sadly, all good things come to an end, and with tragic suddenness for the little springer bitch. She ran, as she thought, after me towards a road behind a sandy beach in Northumberland. My wife and younger son had just crossed, but I had stopped to watch a bird. I whistled and called but the noise of an old banger with three tearaways in it drowned my calls; with a sickening foreboding I thought “she’s going to be hit by the car”. I ran as fast as I could towards the road and heard the bang of the impact. My wife and younger son saw her turn to try to get back to me when she realised I was still coming from the beach. My younger daughter saw it all from our caravan. Lady died quietly while my wife and I stroked and talked to her. I knew she would never leave that Northumberland beach.

The children chose her name, Lady, which always seemed so opposite to her playful nature. As my younger daughter said to her mother: “When Daddy can bear to think about it, Lady was 10 years old and she had just had her most full and successful season. He would have hated seeing her getting gradually older ‘til the Awful Day.”

They say each man deserves one good dog in his life, and I believe in Lady I may have had mine. All I know is how much I still miss her.

4Thoughts

The #4Thoughts_Fiction meme is hosted on a #NSFW site, so be warned if you follow the link, but I’m no prude The prompt is currently ‘Longing’.

A Witch in Time (2)

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

This concludes a story written in by my mother under the pen name Emma Payne. It’s pitched at the YA market and pre-dates the Harry Potter inspired flurry of supernatural tales. Previously 10-year-old Melina began to suspect that the things which made her mum perfect might have a catch, what if she was a witch! Start with Part 1 or read from here.

The final straw came when Miss Jeffers started to cast the form play. I had hoped to be the Princess, but Miss Jeffers chose Lucy Merkon. I was given the part of a lady in waiting, and Lucy’s understudy.

Lucy and I were old enemies, which made it worse. She turned round, her face a mixture of triumph and spite and poked her tongue out. I was furious and when I got home I told Mum.

“That Lucy Merkon! I’ve never liked her,” Mum said, “you’d make a far better princess. It would serve Lucy right if she fell ill and you took over.”

“She never so much as catches a cold,” I said gloomily.

“She might catch something worse,” Mum said darkly.

I thought no more about it until Mum was proved right, as usual. Lucy developed a rash and a fever after just three rehearsals, so I took over the part.

When I told Mum that Miss Jeffers said the doctor was baffled by Lucy’s symptoms, I caught her smiling and it gave me a horrible thought. Had Mum cast a spell on Lucy?

Next day when Mum was at the shops, I went into the kitchen to look at the strange book again: I wanted to compare the words with the witches’ scene in Macbeth. ‘Grockle the muncheon and slowly plebide the turlow’ did not sound much like ‘eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and toe of dog,” but then, perhaps Shakespeare had been guessing.

The book wasn’t on the shelf, so I began to rummage in other drawers in the kitchen. At the back of the knife drawer I found a strange little figure sculpted in pastry and embedded with seeds that made it look horribly spotty. I picked it up and tied round its neck with green embroidery silk was a label which read Lucy Merkon.

I dropped the figure back into the drawer as if it were red hot. That did it! Mum’s witchcraft was really out of hand now. Mrs Bearman had been talking wildly about witches and spells recently, she’d also been giving Mum strange looks. I didn’t think anyone believed in witchcraft nowadays, but the part of East Anglia where we lived historically had a strong witch tradition. It must have been closer to the surface than I knew, for that afternoon in the playground, Will Gandy said, “I hear your mother’s put a spell on my aunt and her dog. She’d better take it off or I’ll make you suffer. You’re a witch’s child.”

His friends began to chant, “Witch’s child, witch’s child,” and soon a menacing group had gathered. I was scared and began to cry, frightened as much for Mum as for myself. I burst out of the circle, through the school gate and ran home, where I threw myself sobbing into Mum’s arms. I told her what they had said.

“And don’t try to tell me it isn’t true, because I know it is.” I managed to say between hiccoughing sobs.

She hugged me tightly. “I’m not a bad witch, Melina.”

“But you are,” I wailed. “There’s Harold and Mrs Bearman and now Lucy.” I told her I’d found the strange book and the pastry person. “How come you’re a witch?” 

“It’s complicated, but I’ll try to explain. Have you ever thought what would have happened if some important event in history had turned out differently? If Richard III had won the battle of Bosworth, there would have been no Tudor kings.  Supposed America hadn’t fought the War of Independence and it had remained English, history would tell a different story, wouldn’t it?”

I nodded, I loved history, but I couldn’t see where this was leading us.

“Imagine time is like a huge tree, with the creation of the world the thick part of the trunk at the bottom. Each time an event occurs, that could have two possible outcomes, the tree branches so the two results exist as branches of equal thickness. Then when another crisis moment comes, the tree branches again.

“Each of those branches is another world or timeline. Beside the world where William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings, there is an alternative world where King Harold won.

“My world had the same history as yours until 1590. In that year Elizabeth I was queen of England and James VI king of Scotland. James had not yet married and his heir was Francis Stuart, earl of Bothwell, who was secretly leader of the Scottish witches. Have you ever heard of the Plot of the North Berwick witches?”

I shook my head.

“No? Well it’s only a footnote in your history books because it failed in your timeline, but in mine it succeeded. Three covens of witches, under Francis Stuart’s guidance, raised a storm that drowned the King as he was bringing his new queen home from Denmark. So in my world Bothwell became King Francis I and witchcraft became an accepted way of life.

“People with second sight and people who could harness magic were encouraged, instead of being hunted down and burned as they were in your timeline. We developed communication by mind-power and human energy instead of electricity. Transport was achieved by focussing minds instead of using engines. People learned to work with animals. America was colonised by traders rather than persecuted religious minorities. Hosts of other things were different.

“I’m not saying my world was perfect, trouble was caused by greed and fear because humanity is fallible, but I liked my world better than this one.”

“If you liked it so much, what made you leave?” I asked.

Mum laughed. “I didn’t mean to. It happened by mistake. I was working on a space-travel project that involved the pooling of mind power. I was using my technical manual (the ‘spell’ book you found) and was endeavouring to add the force of my mind to that of many others. Accidentally I turned over two pages, saying half of one formula and half of another. That sent me sideways in time and into your world. While I was trying to figure out how to get back, I had to blend into this world. Then I met your dad and fell in love, so I stopped searching for a way back. When you were born my decision to stay in this world was made.

“At first I tried to live by this world’s rules, but a little bit of witchcraft made life so much easier. I used my powers sparingly and thought no-one would know. But I didn’t fool you and it seems I’ve now made other people suspicious. I need to think how to correct this.

“Why don’t you reverse the spells, Mum? That would take the pressure off.”

Her eyes lit up. “I can do better than that, I’ll make them forget and we can start afresh.”

“Wonderful,” I said “and you must promise not to use spells any more.”

“Not even to help in the house?” she said wistfully.

“We-ell ,” I said wavering, “little spells for cooking and cleaning should go unnoticed.”

“Perfect,” she said smiling, “and I can teach you spells, you’d be easy to train, being half witch.”

“No thanks, I prefer to stay the way I am.”

Mum laughed and went off to undo the magical mayhem she’d caused, while I went upstairs to do my homework. I’d forgotten, until I opened my bedroom door, that I’d rushed out that morning and left my room looking as if a tornado had struck.

“Oh fiddlesticks,” I said to myself, “I wish I could use a little magic to tidy this mess.”

There was a noise like a rushing wind and my clothes lifted off the floor and bed to arranged themselves tidily in the open wardrobe. Books floated back onto shelves and the duvet shook itself and spread neatly on the bed.

I sat down, overcome by shock. I was stunned, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been. They say blood will out and I was, after all, a witch’s daughter.

THE END

A Witch in Time

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

I’ve mentioned in my ‘why write’ page that my mother was a writer. Here’s a story which she wrote under her pen name Emma Payne. Pitched at the YA market it was written before Harry Potter influenced so many authors of fiction. I’ve made a couple of tweaks to keep the plot current. Part 1 is here, the conclusion will follow.

My mother was a witch, but I had no clue until I was ten. Up to that age, children expect their parents to be all powerful, but after that, they begin to question.

Mind you, she was a fantastic mother, she never said “not now dear, I’m busy,” and she was brilliant at inventing games. She could tidy up in a snap as if by magic (which  is probably how she did it) and she ran the house without any fuss or bother. She was a great companion and she always took my side in any quarrels. She kept her promises and her forecasts always came true. I thought she was perfect until the fateful day I discovered her secret.

It was an autumn afternoon when Miss Jeffers sent us home from school early because she had a sick headache. On the way home, scuffing through piles of dead leaves, I planned to play a trick on Mum.

I opened the door soundlessly. The smell of freshly baked cakes drifted through the kitchen door, which was ajar. I crept across the hall and peeped in. Where was Mum? I saw a basin on the counter with a wooden spoon stirring vigorously, but no-one was holding it! I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Then I saw her: she was floating in the  air just below the ceiling, totally relaxed as if she was lying down. Jason, our cat was floating beside her, washing his paws. I watched in disbelief as a tray of cakes wafted out of the oven and arranged themselves on a wire tray, while Mum drifted above them. That was my first clue that she was a witch!

I slammed the front door and stamped noisily. When I entered the kitchen, Mum was standing by the cakes spooning icing over them while Jason rubbed himself against her legs.

Mum turned round with a welcoming smile. She offered me a cake to try while I explained about Miss Jeffers.

“Never mind, Melina,” she said. “I guarantee she’ll be well tomorrow.”

[“How?” I wanted to yell, “by magic?”]

After that I began to watch her more closely.

That evening she and Dad and I were sitting round the fireplace. We were arguing about the age of different types of rock. Dad said sandstone was older than chalk, but Mum disagreed. I just sat there like a spectator at a tennis match.

“Best not to argue with her Dad,” I warned, “she’s always right.”

Dad grinned. “I bet a box of those fancy chocolates you love to a tub of my favourite ice cream that I’m right.”

Mum almost purred. “Mmm, I can practically taste those chocolates. Melina run and get your tablet so that we can settle this. You left it beside the cook books.”

On the side in the kitchen, when I went to get my iPad, I saw that a thin book had almost slipped off the shelf. As I rescued it, I noticed it had a strange iridescent cover and the pages were smoother and shinier than paper, but it was the text that stopped me in my tracks.

‘After this,’ (it said) ‘grockle the muncheon and slowly plebide the turlow; this should create a smooth felox without unsightly veblons.’

It had to be a spell! This confirmed my suspicious, she was a witch.

At that moment she called out. “Having trouble, Melina?”

I jumped guiltily, and grabbed my tablet. “It’s OK, I’ve found it.”

I don’t remember the outcome of the argument, I went to bed early to think about my awful discovery.  There might be a simple explanation but I was strangely shy about asking. As she only did good things, I concluded it didn’t really matter; but I had to think again next day.

Mrs Bearman, our next door neighbour had a rather fat pug called Harold, who was the darling of her heart. Jason, our cat, teased him by using their garden as a shortcut, knowing he could outrun the breathless, overfed pug. However, on this occasion Jason misjudged his advantage and the pug’s snapping teeth connected with the tip of Jason’s tail. Jason howled and ran to Mum for comfort. She soothed the cat while saying dreadful things about the pug.

Soon after this, Harold lost his voice. When he barked, no sounds came out. I heard Mrs Bearman telling another neighbour that Harold seemed to be bewitched.

Bewitched! If that was the case I knew who had cast the spell, and was frantic in case Mrs Bearman guessed too. When I went into the kitchen to try and persuade Mum to remove the spell by hinting to her, I’m almost sure the potatoes were taking off their own skins, but I looked again and saw Mum had a potato peeler in her hand.

“Mrs Bearman can’t hear Harold barking any more, she says it’s as if he were bewitched.”

“Nonsense,” said Mum, “she’s just getting a little deaf.” And then she looked out of the window as if struck by a thought.

I sighed and went to help Dad rake up piles of leaves for a bonfire.

“Tell Mrs Bearman I’m planning a bonfire,” he said. “Don’t want to be blamed for getting smuts on her washing.”

She answered the door drying her hands. “Good morning, Melina.”

“Hi,” I was filled with the usual awkwardness at having to hold a conversation with an adult I didn’t know well. “I came to warn you we’re having a bonfire.”

“No, I am not in the choir,” she said haughtily.

She must have misheard. “Dad is having a fire, do you mind?” I said, a little louder.

“No, I do not mind that I am not in the choir. Why are you asking me this?”

“Fire!” I shouted, “fire not choir.”

“Fire?” said Mrs Bearman, alarmed. “Where is the fire? I must fetch Harold.”

I grabbed her hand. Slowly and clearly, with 100% eye contact, I said “Dad – is – having – a – bonfire.”

“Oh,” she was embarrassed. “How silly of me, I misunderstood.”

“How is Harold?” I asked, “is he better?”

“Letter?” she was off again. “Harold didn’t get a letter, who would write to a dog?”

She looked at me pityingly, but it was I who pitied her. I could only blame Mum for her deafness.

[To be continued …]