Category: Fiction

Bailey and his Homework

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‘I don’t feel like it. I never feel like it. Why would anyone prefer to do their homework when they could lie on the bed and listen to Def Zone?’

Sharon shrugged and looked down at her done, and he knew that she remembered feeling almost exactly the same. Life hadn’t been straightforward back in her own schooldays, when Duran Duran had been her reason to rise each day, and the prospect of dragging herself out of bed and away from them was too horrific to contemplate. She’d told him this many a time when it suited her – but now now.

‘When I was your ages I had two jobs, was studying for my grade 7 on the guitar, and was one of the first girls in our area to join the scouts. I was always busy. Always happy.’

Bailey sighed and stared up at his mum, defiance seeping from every pore.

‘Yeah, and look at you now. Single parent, dull office job, and a shabby little car that’s just embarrassing. Big time.’

Sandra sighed. ‘Do you think that much of me?’

‘No, I think less than that.’ With this nasty comment, Bailey turned to one side and faced the wall – away from his mum. Only barely maintaining his composure, he sighed deeply.

‘So, why can’t you, or won’t you, do your homework at this moment?’

‘I can’t, and won’t do my homework, owing to the fact that I’ve already done my homework.’

‘What subjects?’

‘English. Design Tech. Computers…’ Bailey turned to face her again.

‘Show me.’ Hands on hips stance. Bailey knew she wasn’t buying it at all.

‘Show me,’ his mum pursed her lips at him.

‘I’ve handed it in.’

‘Oh yes?’

‘Yes. Yesterday and today.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘Well, it’s true.’

As if to emphasise the point, Bailey span himself round on the bed and struggled to sit upright, all in one less-than-fluid movement.

‘You never believe ANYTHING I say!’ He struck his preferred post of both defiance and hurt-little-boy now. ‘Why do you hat me so much? I bet you wish I’d never been born…’

He knew his mum was used to this. He came out with it once every few days. Of course, Bailey also knew how irrational he was acting, and how he was clearly trying and almost succeeding at manipulating his mum, but somehow his need to NOT do his homework won out. Even thought it was due in the next days’s first period, and even thought he wanted to succeed at school as much as, if not more than anyone in his class – in his year, even!

Somehow, something compelled him on.

‘Anyway, I can’t do homework that I’ve already done – and handed in – and the other homework I’ve got is for next week sometime. I’ve got loads of time.’

Bailey scratched his armpit and smelled his finger.

‘Anyway, I need a shower as priority. Homework can wait.’
Bailey stormed from his bedroom, motioning his mum to join him in leaving the room.

‘Come on then, thought you only came in for my dirty uniform.’

He stomped into the bathroom, proceeded to take a half-hour shower, and trudged back to his room, towel round waist, and spots round shoulders glaring angrily while recovering from the heat.

He prepared to throw himself onto his bed, turn up his music, Def Zone’s brand new fourth release – and to begin an experimental chapter of his daydream about Katie Plant, their bass player – when he realised his mum was still in his room, and had likely been for the entire time he’d been showering. Oh God, what might she have found?

‘Why are you still here?’ His shriek was shrill and girlish, and his eyes, like those acne pustules gracing his shoulder blades, glared a fiery red.

‘Get out of my room,’ he yelled.

‘I, ermm, fell asleep,’ Sandra said.

‘You didn’t. That’s so clearly an excuse. You’re been rummaging haven’t you?’

Bailey caught the towel that threatened to fall and expose him.

‘And what about your excuses?’ his mum said quietly bit with determination. ‘I checked your school planner, there are three pieces of work due in tomorrow. Two pieces for the day after, and I know for a fact that you’ve had four detentions this month.’

‘That’s not true. The teachers are liars. They are our to get me. They enjoy getting me into trouble. They are all…’

‘For God’s sake, shut up, Bailey. Put your terrible music on, get your books out and start writing.’

In the end, the argument-like conversation with his mum had taken him much longer than would the homework he’d been procrastinating about. He was grateful that his mum hadn’t snooped even more, given that there were three bage of MDMA in his sock drawer, a replica handgun behind his tshirts, and near enough half a kilo of weed, triple wrapped and stashed in a Tupperwarre pot at the back of his wardrobe.

Let her think he was a typical procrastinating teen. Let her think his excuses were the worst thing he would ever be doing. Let her live in happy ignorance, for now.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #homework #teenageboy

Be Grand, The Lull of Peace, Part 2

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It was dark night when we returned, much depleted in numbers, and much wounded in bodies and souls. But we had achieved a victory of sorts. Our village was whole and still standing low but strong against the glow of the moonlight. Tired, hungry and hurting, we knew our words would come, but for now those words were caught tight within our throats, straining against our tense yet weary muscles. The time for talk would be come morning.
Once our door had been opened by Ewan, from inside our croft the sweet scents of mutton-broth and fresh grasses welcomed us and gave us peace. We each lay silently and slept till the morning sun was truly risen, and the cattle’s lowing was becoming more urgent, for need of milking and for need of feeding.

I could hear Father preparing bread and cheese and apples for our breaking of the night’s fast, and hear Mother’s light coughing as she also rose. The silence of words would soon also be broken, alongside our fast.
Mother limped to her place on the bench, shaking Ewan’s shoulder as she passed. He yawned and sighed. For a boy of merely eleven summers, his need for sleep was deep and intense. My fourteen summers had bade me well, and I was now a young woman, already courting and ready for the responsibilities of life.

As Ewan struggled onto the bench alongside our Mother, his eyes sparkled with the energy gained from his first battle. He’d been training well, and it showed. The first words of the morning came from my mouth. I held his arm as he sat.

‘You did grand, Ewan. That was a fine first battle. One to be proud of’.

Mother and Father nodded in agreement then looked over to me with pride.

‘Your contribution was strong and mighty, daughter,’ said Father, and I knew this to be the truth. Mother nodded and we all sat to eat.

I had been wrong. I’d assumed that this meal would herald analysis of the battle’s highs and lows, but instead we ate in silence. We rose in silence also, each attending to our usual duties.

What had, at first, felt as moments of togetherness, now was confusing.

Why the silence? Had we done what we should not?

I was thinking to speak and to question, when came a friendly deep voice shouting from outside, and at our doorway appeared Geld, a man of more than fifty summers, and the head of our village. We all rose from our benches but he gestured to us to continue with our tasks.

‘Geld,’ said Father.

‘Brother,’ said my Mother, for she was his blood.

‘Angus. Morag. Please eat. You’ve strength enough, but need building further.’

I looked up at my Uncle Geld and he smiled, moving over to ruffle my hair.

‘You were grand.’

‘Yes.’

‘And Ewan too. Angus and Morag must be proud.’

‘Indeed we are,’ my Father replied. ‘Indeed we are.’

I knew from the times of other battles that had rudely interrupted our peace, that a success would bring a visit from Geld. Father called such times ‘Tidings’ as uncle Geld would bring news from the battlefront, of those who’d died and those who’d lived, and of the results of our battles.

‘So…’ Mother said. ‘Will you tell us more?’

‘I will,’ Geld nodded. ‘Indeed…’

He sat in a bench space I made available for my uncle, and began to talk.

‘We’ve thirteen losses. Of the village’s forty-three, it’s a large number.’

Mother sighed. ‘Who?’

‘Cameron. John…’

My head went down into my lap. John. Not my John.

‘I am sorry, Fionna. John has not returned.’

‘But he may still be…’

‘He may. But we do not think so. Our enemies were many and were strong. We believe the sword slash to have taken him, as it did twelve others.’

I raised myself from the table.

‘I must go.’

My legs strong but without direction, my chest rumbling with rage.

I left my home with speed and urgency, and forced myself up Stony Crags, till I’d climbed half-way: to where the landscape plateaued and softened into a small misplaced copse. Exhausted and heart-sick I rested my head on my usual stopping place against the beech tree. Its bark, silver and fresh, brought John’s white-fair and glossy hair to mind. He had been my intended one, as I had been his.

Of all of us, he had been the brightest, shiniest star, with the strength of three men, though he was neither Darkhaven’s tallest nor its broadest young man.

But he was my young man, and we suited each other just fine.

As I rested, I felt a tear run its path down my pinkened cheek. It was followed by another and another. I was not alone, I knew that. I was blessed to still have my family around me, but John had been a blessing too, and one I could not and would not lose easily.

Our handfasting was to be held two summers hence.

I wiped my eyes and rubbed my cheeks with the cleanest part of my cloak, then stood to survey the battle’s scene. Our lost warriors would be missed.

I felt some kind of something. Being too young to name such feelings, I allowed them to overtake me. Perhaps I felt merely anger, but it was different somehow, and more powerful – but whatever it was surged up inside me and I stared towards the sky and screamed.

‘John’ I yelled. ‘Don’t be gone. Be here. Be with me.’

The skies wept and screamed along with me.

It was only then that I realised how the rain was soaking me through to my skin, and just how heavy my sword had become, held as it was by my leather and flex strap by my side. It was time to return home and time to consider how best to avenge my John.

The sword tingled in my hand, and raindrops steamed off its gleaming metal as I ran, ready to embrace the comfort of family, once again. And ready to embrace any challenge the Gods might set for me.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #heather #celtic #scotland #highland, #sword

Be Grand, The Lull of Peace, Part 1

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Purple heather crackles under my mud-crusted feet as I tramp downwards towards our small, grey dwellings. And the rain begins to fall, thunder booming from some distance away, and I know it will be with me soon. I must make haste. I’ve no fear of the weather but I’ve fear of the people who I’ve been told are following the storm to my village. Bad people who want to take all that’s good and turn it into all that’s not. I pick up speed, almost stumbling over stones and bumps in the ground and I come upon a sheep, forlorn and unusually friendly to me, but having no time to pet it, I shoo it back towards its herd. Then, looking up, I see the beauty of what lies below me in this summer-green valley, framed by hills and mountains of such splendour. I’m proud that this is my home and I will defend it, my kinsmen and kinswomen, with my life if need be.

I am Fionna, my father’s daughter, my mother’s mischievous spirit child and my young brother Ewan’s support at all times. Fionna Armstrong. Strong of arm but not of head, my father would say. But many would disagree. It is of no matter. We are all strong in Darkhaven, our clan’s village. But enemies we have aplenty amongst those who covet fertile valleys and water that sparkles clear, come rain or shine.

I cross the dried up mountain stream bed and my feet kick against an uncommon hardness. I look down at the intrusive shape and discover the hilt of a sword, plunged deep into the peat-topped land. Is it a trap? Are there enemies at hand? It is a simple sword; simple and strong – as I am – and as I slide the blade from the flesh-like peat, it’s clear that the sharpness of the blade has not been affected from its time in the ground. The handle is plain with the exception of two small carvings, and it is a long blade also: long and heavy. But when I fully extract it from the ground it lightens. One hand. Both hands. I was made for this weapon and it was made for me.
I examine my find closely and understand how it hadn’t been found before now. A rock has been misplaced from the bed of the stream, uncovering the hilt of a sword not newly placed. Moss and lichen had touched the blade and handle and seasons changed the metal’s colour a little, staining it in shades of heather and peat. Off the path in rarely travelled land, I was truly fortunate to have found this magnificent thing, perhaps placed here in this fertile moorland, in honour of Gods or Goddesses past.

It felt as though it was meant to be. A destiny of sorts, even? I wasn’t usually given to such meanderings of the mind, but the moment I’d stumbled over the sword I felt deep in my bones that I was to move it, to take it back with me and to use as need be.

It wasn’t comfortable to run with the sword tucked away deep underneath my cloak, and I knew I ran the risk of again stumbling and injuring myself. But I had no choice. I could not leave it. This sword was already speaking to me, instructing me, strengthening me… As I ran, I knew the thunder was nearing, their drums of warning banging to alert village and crops and livestock of what catastrophe would be brought in by the storm.

I ran, with no concern for anything other than my return home. I ran with the sure feeling that if I didn’t run there would be blood on my hands and pain in the hearts of all I knew.

As I neared the village, there were calls to me. I ignored all sounds and objects in my path – till I arrived home. My mother’s usual welcoming expression transformed to shock as I sought to hide the incredible sword and told my mother hurriedly all I knew of the weapon and its placement, and about the clan wars soon to be brought by the wind.

‘We’d better do something, Fionna. Your feelings are always true and we ignore them at our peril. The omen of the discovered sword is powerful, and that storm is stronger than it was. I sense something also, but…’ Mother sighed and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear.

I moved towards her and we hugged because there was nothing more to do. Mother left the house to tell her brother, and returned, shaking her head.
Our ‘better do something,’ had become ‘nothing can be done just yet,’ because we were ignorant of our enemy and when they might arrive.
When my father and brother returned from their working, we ate barley and mutton broth with nettle tops. And shortly after, dried apples and herbs with honey and roots from the fields. It would be a sustaining meal to strengthen us for the battle we were sure was approaching.

The rumbles came upon us harder and faster. Louder with every passing moment. And out of the mist that was gathering with the strengthening of the rain came a shout or two. It was impossible to tell who was shouting and from where. Then my uncle’s voice rang loud and clear, calling us out.

‘Do I use the sword?’ I asked the air. Both the Gods in my head and my Goddess mother answered, ‘Use it’. My father shouted, ‘Do it, Fionna, be grand,’ and left, his own broadsword in hand.

I scrambled for my weapon’s hiding place and the noise came to me more clearly. The sound of horses’ hooves accentuated the thunder’s crashes, and through it all came the sounds of men’s voices like the bellows of wild pigs. Loud and deep and rough, the noise was. Shouting sounds of fear and devilment.

Mother and Ewan grabbed their own swords as they made haste through the door. Mother’s hand circled my waist briefly as she passed, and she pulled me back just for a moment.

‘Be strong,’ she said.

‘I know,’ I replied, and she kissed my long red hair, flecked with straw and dust from the fields.

‘Be grand,’ I said.

‘Be grand.’ Mother ran, unbending and uncollapsed, into the throng of kinsmen and kinswomen we would protect with our lives and with our dignity.

How I wished now for heather under my heels and the soft trickle of a mountain stream from which to take my fill of life-giving liquid; how I wished for peace and harmony and whispered conversations of love in woodland clearings. But this was real. Conflict was as real and as necessary as air was to breathe and water to drink.

Peace was merely a lull between times of conflict, and merely a time to rest and to re-gather strength. The sword had appeared to me for a reason – and if I was to die that day then so be it. I would die with sword in hand and honour in heart.

My mother ran three paces ahead of me as we left our home behind, disappearing into the mist, unknowing of who, if any, might return.
I could see them now as well as hear them, those enemies and tribesmen without honour. The men and women we must fight to ensure the safety of our own. And, feet on our native lands and with sword in hand, I was imbued with a power I couldn’t explain.

I shouted ‘Ewan,’ and ran to catch him up, our swords raised, our hearts pumping strong and fearless. We were fearless, even of death. And I wasn’t mistaken, but a green gold light glowed from the tip of my weapon. I closed my eyes, lifted up my arms in simultaneous submission and attack and shouted to the skies – ‘Protect. Honour us. We will be grand’.

We would be grand.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #heather #celtic #scotland #highland, #sword

Green Was The Sky

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‘No thicker than turkey foil,’ he said, remembering the crinkling sound as he’d smooth it over mounts of meat and baking sheets. How they used to spend carefree hours in their unspectacular but divinely functional kitchen, whipping up something from virtually nothing, giggling inanely over the even more inane writings on the wine’s label, and referencing uncool of cookery books, to produce the most retro of meals.

Cal continued his staring for a short while, then a longer while, till his hunger pushed him in the direction of his food stash. His selection: a tin of stewed rhubarb pieces, or a tin of creamed chicken soup. Both watery, nutrient-deficient, and foods that would never have made it anywhere near his usual shopping trolley. But the trolleys were as irrelevant to life now, as the concept of food preferences were. He reluctantly selected the rhubarb. It would see him through till the following morning. He’d then hope for a break in the luminous skyfall, would breakfast on the cold soup, and would be forced to leave the shack. It had been a welcome shelter from the piercing, burning cold, but, food supplies exhausted, he had no choice but to say goodbye and to make his way to forage for supplies.

And that was precisely what he did with head cowed and heart just the same. The skyfall was stopped but had left behind oily blue-green puddles, and Cal ensured he avoided each and every one. Even welded protetive metal footwear offered little protection from the skyfall’s caustic nature.
Cal counted each step, though he’d no reason to do so. He was sane enough to question why he did it, but no longer sentient enough to be aware of the answers.

The plain through which he walked had once been a field of potatoes, but the acid had cracked and eroded and warped and pitted the surfaces, removing and destroying organic matter. Each of Cal’s steps uneasily taken, and he manouvered with great care, so his going was slow and methodical. It didn’t matter. There was nowhere he needed to be, nobody he needed to see.

He’d barely counted to 30, and was still well within access of the shack where he’d spent the last two days and nights, when the surface under his foot gave way slightly, and Cal’s right ankle wobbled. In panic, and acting purely on instinct rather than sensibility, he reached down to steady himself. He retracted in agony as both hands, his right thigh, knee and buttock, his lower back and then his elbow, his shoulder, and his head fell onto and into the seeping, caustic surface.

But no soul heard his cries. No comrades would rush to his assistance. No wild animals would feed on his emaciated, fried carcass. No bacteria would reduce his bodily remains, to leave no trace. Nobody would mourn. Nobody would cry for him and miss him.

Cal would, at least die quickly, and was relieved to be removed from the agonies of this life. His final thought was of how things used to be and of coming here, the worst decision he had ever made. He’d been excited when, after a long and rigorous process, he’d been selected as Captain of the Pioneer Crew. The crew’s mission had been the colonisation of a beautiful, brightly coloured planet. It had been proved to have a perfect earth-like atmosphere of an almost perfumed quality, and so materials for shelter and agriculture had been deposited during the training process of Cal and his 149 colleagues. And yes, it was a beautiful planet. It was perfect, in fact, and shelters were erected, relationships were solidified, and female crew quickly became pregnant, as was always the intention.

But, in the planet’s cycle, and the one thing the colonisers didn’t know, came the irregular and sudden skyfall. It explained the soil’s infertility, and the lack of mature greenery. It explained the lack of settlers, of wildlife and even of insects, despite the apparent perfection of the place. With no way of return, the twenty young colonisers were reduced and destroyed one by one by the inhospitable skyfall. Cal was the last. He was the captain going down with the ship, just as had his chosen wife, their unborn child, and all the others. His life DID flash before him as his frail frame melded with the planet’s surface. And all was over.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #spacetravel #dystopia

Seven Deadly Sins

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Good afternoon to you all, and thank you all for your attentions. I know that, as Broadley Manor’s Year 10 Religious Studies pupils, you’ll recognise me as Mr Colman, your head teacher, and most of you will know that I’m here back in the classroom owing to Miss Chatterley’s unfortunate accident earlier in the day.

Yes, you over there with your hand up…? No, I’m not at liberty to share information about a fellow staff member with pupils. Another question? Well, no, I’m not a qualified teacher of religion. I’m a maths teacher, as some of you in the lower sets will know.

Unfortunately no supply teachers were available to cover your class at such short notice, as the unfortunate incident occurred only a short time ago, so you’re stuck with me. Yes, I’m expecting sighs, but I think you’ll find it a most interesting lesson. I can’t find Miss Chatterley’s lesson plan, and she’s not in a fit state to answer the phone, so that leaves me to my own devices.
Right, so lesson started. I’ve decided to do something quite exciting for you all today.

Instead of going through text books, I’ve decided to talk about something fascinating. Our lesson subject is to be The Seven Deadly Sins!

I’m assuming you’ll have heard of these, despite your youth and inexperience, but how many of you can name them all? Silence? That’s interesting. What about naming just one of them? Tell you what, what’s your FAVOURITE deadly sin? Or even the most deadly?

You over there. Yes you, lanky fellow with the bowl cut and the glasses. Go on, say it out loud, and straighten your tie while you’re at it. What do you think? Murder? Of course, you would say that, as it is the only bad thing you can think of that’s deadly because it involves killing. But, and you may be surprised to hear this, murder isn’t even one of the seven deadly sins! Can anyone even hazard a guess as to what they might be? Nobody?

OK, so I’m going to share all seven with you throughout the lesson, but I’m first going to talk to you about my particular favourite – gluttony. My word: food, glorious good. It means eating and drinking too much, for those of you who have basic vocabularies. And who doesn’t love eating and drinking too much? Do you remember that 70s art film about a group of gourmands who decided to eat themselves to death? I loved that and I have a clip to play you shortly. What do you mean you’re only 14. Oh yes of course, thinking about it, perhaps it isn’t particularly appropriate.

I suppose that some of you (the chavs and those with liberal and lax parents) might have seen another film: Seven. It’s got Brad Pitt in? No? Oh, I see a few heads nodding. The children I would have expected… The whole point of the film is that lots of people are murdered in ways that reflect the seven deadly sins. It’s a disturbing film, but, I found it quite fascinating that the man who’d been murdered because of his gluttony, didn’t bother me a bit. I thought it was a good way to go, to be honest. But, the scene of the man who’d been murdered because of his sloth, and was more wretchedly skinny than any man has any right to be, was absolutely terrifying. I was going to play a bit of the DVD, but now I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t. No, don’t sigh and complain. Watching a DVD isn’t always an easy option, and I’m thinking of the parental complaints more than anything.

So, anyway that’s Gluttony and Sloth covered. What do you mean, you want to know them all? Here you are then. Sloth and Gluttony (we know all about those two now), then there’s also Envy, Pride Lust, Wrath and Greed.

Alright, now students, I’m a little rusty at this teaching lark nowadays, so instead of me talking about them, I’m going to get you to do a little writing. So now it’s time for you to select the sin you’d like to write about. Ah, I see we have a hand up in the corner. Which of the seven deadly sins are you going to write about, young lady? Lust? Oh my word, I’m not sure I can say anything to you lot and I’m beginning to feel that this lesson wasn’t the best idea. That’s what happens when you’re put on the spot. Dear me, please stop giggling about lust at the back, you’re making me get in all of a fluster.

Tell you what, children, I’m not feeling it too brilliantly. Yes? Oh, yes, you may write about lust if you wish. No cheering, children, this is supposed to be a religious studies class, remember. It’s a serious subject, so no smut.

Now, now, please stop with the giggling.

I’m going to have a sit down now in front of the open window. Get writing, and keep things clean.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #sevendeadlysins

Routine Rum and Pep

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‘Rum and pep, Barb?’ the barmaid shouted as Barbara Lamb teetered through the saloon door.

‘Yeah, sweetheart. The usual.’

The Swan was only a couple of minutes walk away from Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and Barbara had to pass the attraction each night. It did indicate another change. Years ago she’d found the place eerie, but as time went on, she’d stand and look and listen for a few moments to all that was going on around her, before making the remaining 5-minute walk to The Swan.

As was her nightly practice, Barbara stopped in front of the metre-wide mirror with its printed advert for Stones bitter. She prodded her newly-dyed copper ringlets, checked her fuchsia-pink lipstick and matching eyeshadow, and wiped a few speckles of errant mascara from beneath her eyes. Yes, she would do.

It was four steps further to the bar, and Barbara’s drink was already waiting. She grabbed the glass, clinking her fuchsia fingernails against the bar. Only two seconds later, the glass was empty. Carol behind the bar had already prepared another.

As nightly rituals go, this particular pattern must have been a good one, as she’d been honing it since the day she started work, more than 40 years earlier. Back in those days, the rum was a single and was the cheapest brand. But nowadays it was a double and was a brand of quality. That was progress. She’d also progressed from leaving the factory’s office at 4 pm and arriving at The Swan by half-past, still in her work clothes.

Nowadays she’d get off the bus and straight into the shower, then she’d make herself a usual dinner of tuna sandwiches with stewed apples with digestive biscuits for dipping. It was the same every work night. She’d also dress up nowadays. Progress indeed that the older she looked, the better she prepared for her night at The Swan.

‘Best pub in Blackpool,’ she said, with a grin, as she did each night.

‘It is that,’ Carol agreed as she did each night.

As nightly rituals go, there can’t be many that are more long-lasting and more comfortable.

‘You alright, love?’ asked Carol.

‘Not so bad. Not so bad.’

‘I like what you’ve done with your hair.’

‘Oh, thanks, Carol.’

Barbara shook her head and spun around on the barstool.

‘Barb, love, you’ve been pooped on. Seagull poo all down the back of your jacket. Here give it to me, and I’ll go and sponge it off.’

‘No need, Carol, I’ll get more of it on the way home. We know it always happens at this time of year. There’s so much rich food lying about for them to forage, and it gives them dicky tummies. No point fretting on it, is there?’

‘You have a point.’

The two old friends chatted while Carol prepared drinks – some for regulars and some for the tourists. Barbara had always noticed that Carol treated everyone the same. That was not common practice by the seaside!

As they spoke, Barbara shed her layers. At first, it was the offending coat, then her polyester neck scarf with mock Chanel-style pattern, then her turquoise cardigan. After her third rum and pep, it was time for Barbara to shed her shoes.

‘I always get hot feet, don’t you?’

‘I do, love. I do.’

Another nightly exchange.

Barbara carefully placed her new shoes on the plush-covered stool next to her.

‘Ooh, they are nice,’ said Carol. ‘Are they new?’

‘From the factory. Staff discount as usual. Smart and comfortable. They’re a bit like Hush Puppies but lots cheaper.’

‘Get us a pair, would you? Size 5. Do they make them in navy?’

Barbara nodded as Carol went to serve Arthur with his pint of lager top and two packets of plain crisps.

He little-acknowledged Barbara’s presence, as he never did.

‘Got any new plants, love?’ Carol asked Barbara.

‘A yucca and four African violets.’

‘Ooh, nice.’

‘And I got this too,’ Barbara chuckled as she removed a small brown box from her capacious handbag. She unwrapped it carefully using her fuchsia fingernails, and proudly showed Carol her latest find – a bone china cheetah of about six inches in height.

‘For the collection?’ asked Carol.

Barbara nodded and carefully packed the cheetah back into the box, which she replaced in her bag. She zipped it up thoughtfully, then unzipped it to remove a small tetra pack of cold, sweet coffee, and unscrewed its plastic cap. She downed it in one, in a recently-acquired nightly ritual which prevented her from falling asleep as she walked home.

Arthur left the pub, and other customers came and left. Some were drinkers; others like her were in the pub as a social thing. Still others came in only to get themselves out of the rain.

Apart from two toilet visits, Barbara has remained on her usual stool all evening and had purchased her typical five rum and peps. Also usual, she felt suddenly hungry.

‘Right, darling, I’m off,’ she told Carol. ‘See you tomorrow.’

Carol waved her out, and Barbara toddled off along her stretch of Blackpool’s Golden Mile. She watched the tourists still dressed in shorts and t-shirts, stumbling out of bingo halls and amusement arcades, then called in at her usual burger bar.

‘Usual, please,’ she said and was near immediately presented with a cheeseburger, cut into quarters. She ate the first as she paid for the food. She ate the second as she walked towards her home. The third she saved for eating as she made herself a nice mug of milky tea. She wiped the bird poo from her jacket, as usual, then sat on the sofa with a grunt and leaned across to open the cage that dominated her entire living room.

‘Out you come, Precious,’ she sang, and her grey parrot hopped onto her hand, then onto her lap for a ruffle of feathers and a nuzzling head stroke.
Even Precious had his routine, and he dug around in her pocket for the remaining burger quarter. He ate it excitedly, chattering as she did so.

Barbara quickly drunk her tea, then poured herself her usual nightcap – a small dry Amontillado sherry. Precious nestled in the crook of her arm, and the pair of them watched evening telly and fell asleep together, as they had every night for forty years.

It was family, of sorts. It was love, of sorts. And it was undoubtedly contentment.

The regularity of routine. The security of simple friendships.

Life was good. Life was good with rum and pep.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #blackpool #rum #publife

2050

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Concrete loomed overhead, offering nothing other than relief from the endless burning rays of the sun. It was one of many vertical slabs, inconceivably unsupported yet unwavering, which sprouted from the sand and paving stones like geometric lifeless trees.

Four young people walked towards the nearest monolith. In contrast with others around them, they did not walk independent of each other, but walked as as a group.

Esme knew this particular monolith well. Her father had told her many times of skyscrapers from his youth, and how this construction was bigger than even the tallest he had before experienced. This nameless block of grey had been the first to be constructed in their city.

Esme turned to look at her three companions.

‘Are we ready, people?’

Three faces stared back at her, their words unrequired and the acquiesence confirmed simply by three nods of three well-loved heads.

‘You know we won’t get away with it? That this likely means the end?’

Again, another three nods.

‘Right then. Let’s do it.’

Esme’s three companions left her to take their carefully pre-planned positions, one at each corner of the concrete structure. Though communication wasn’t possible owing to the distance and due to the impregnated concrete’s role as blocker of all distance related sound waves, there was no reason for Esme to believe that their pre-prepared mission wasn’t being carried out. Each young person had traced their path independently on many occasions, and Esme knew that within a count of 800, all four would be in position and ready to take their agreed action.

She took a deep breath and delved into her pocket. How she longed to know what it had been like in her dad’s day, when every person, near enough, was connected with the world via a small rectangular device they’d keep in their pocket or bag. Since the concrete cataclysm, no connection was possible, owing to the masts being ripped away and to the new federal crime of owning a mass communication device.

In her pocket she kept one forbidden item – and her fingers wrapped round the smooth, flat stone. She couldn’t see it, but knew it was painted with the words ‘To my Daughter With Love’.

‘I love you,’ she said out loud, and she knew that the concrete would be listening to the same words from each person in her group as each one stood at the structure’s four corners.

She spoke the words again, and again. No louder, no quieter, no more sure and no more unsteady. Unwavering. Unabashed.

Esme and her companions independently articulated their abstract love despite knowing that to do so was the ultimate federal crime.

The declaration of love had been outlawed even before her birth, following a series of insane 21st century electoral frauds and government leadership disasters. A Prime Minister’s insistence that the world be reconstructed according to his own incomprehensible principles had led to the vilification of the genuine, the good, the caring, the empathic, the ethical…
And within just twenty five short years, it had led to this.

Love was unallowed. Marriage unallowed. Affection between friends unallowed. Love of God unallowed. Love of nature aunallowed.

What had been denoted as the ‘hate crime’ of declaring love was legally indicative that there must be a flipside – an unloved – and this led to the new statutory crime of discrimination and prejudice against the unloved and non-tribe members. A logical follow up to this was that all declarations of alignment, affection or support were outlawed.

All that was allowed was obedience to the billionaire mindmakers, and most citizens complied.

But Esme loved Melanie, and was loved in return. Freya loved Dan, and received back his love in spades full.

Being the people they were, and Esme being her father’s daughter, the quartet could not accept the law as it was.

Love had always been legally sanctioned, that’s what her dad had said. He’d said it out loud too, and that was why he was no longer able to join Esme and her friends in their protest against the societal restrictions.

Not one of the four young people were sure of what would come of their protest, but each and every one knew that they had no choice but to stand, to face into the corner of the monolith, and to declare their love for each other, for their kinsmen, for the city, the country, the planet…

Who knew what would happen next. What knew what their punishments would be.

These were questions that could not be answered, but as the miniature cameras positioned within the concrete monolith registered their criminality, the four young people knew they had no choice but to make their protest and show their love. And behind Esme a small crowd gathered. She turned to see Joe, an elderly neighbour, with shoulders shaking and tears running down his cheeks, whisper over and over, ‘I loved you, Edith. I really did love you. I still love you. I will always love you’.

And Esme continued speaking. Her schoolfriend, Jay, slipped her hand into Esme’s. ‘You’ve got some balls, kid,’ she said, then ‘I love you. I love you. I love you’.

It was only an hour later when the authorities arrived to arrest Esme, her lover and friends, and four expanding crowds of brave supporters and onlookers.

She submitted willingly, knowing that Melanie, Dan and Freya would do just the same.

For her father had taught her how sometimes worlds progress in the right direction, but that sometimes they don’t, and it takes the actions of someone strong to put things right along the way. Esme was happy to be one such person and to have led the latest love-based mass protest.

‘I love you,’ she said to the guard who fastened her handcuffs, but as expected the guard only smirked through his facial visor before leading her away.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #dystopia #love

Antihero

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‘So, what do I call you?’ Tony asked, his hand quivering as he offered it to shake. Her refusal disturbed him not at all.

‘I’m Kate, Mr Evans.’

‘Call me Tony.’

He scratched his ear and watched as the shaky skin he disturbed dropped slowly onto the brown of his jacket. Snow on earth. Perhaps snowdrops and crocuses would emerge soon, to pierce the fabric with their speared-sharp shoots.

‘So, Kate… do you do this kind of thing often?’ He used the back of his right hand, and then his left, to smooth out the sweat droplets that were gathering and being absorbed into the bushy mat of his eyebrows.
‘You’d be surprised just how often. It is a strong demand chain. Tell me what you need.’

Tony rubbed his eye and cursed the roughness of his fingers and their tips. He cursed the labouring and the constant scratches of the gardener’s life. He was sure he’d scratched his own eyeball, and rummaged in his bag self-consciously.

‘My wife,’ he said as he passed a photo to Kate. It showed the couple surrounded by lupins, both man and wife smiling joyfully at the icecreams they licked.

‘I’ve put our address on the back, with a list of the times when she’s at home and I’m at work.’

‘I’ll be in touch when it’s done,’ Katie said, and left without another word. She hadn’t been as he’d expected – a young, vibrant woman with short, bobbed hair, a woman who was sleek and agile with wealth and who was tough, almost psychopathic in character. Kate must have been in her sixties at least. Ordinary. Attractive, even. And he’d liked her no-nonsense approach enormously.

Deciding against another drink after having watched the barwoman tip out the drip trays, it was time to return home. He knew that Tina would be waiting, and she’d doubtless have a barrage of questions for him.

Tony opened the door of their living room, a room they’d decorated only a couple of years ago. He remembered their giggles as the wallpaper crinkled and fell, and sighed. He found his wife asleep in her favoured armchair, with the fire on full blast. He turned down the heat, then turned down the television’s volume.

‘Well?’ Tina said, waking groggily and looking at him straight in the eyes. ‘Is everything on?’

‘Yes, darling. I met Kate. She was lovely. I gave her your specific requirements, I told her we’d already said our goodbyes. We need to leave the safe open and empty, and trash the living room and home office before she arrives. She’ll be in and out. Quickly.’

Tina smiled gratefully. She knew that the Euthenasia Hitwoman would be discreet and gentle, and that all her pain would soon be no more. Kate had been hard to find, even with the assistance of her son, and with hours of scouring them all Dark Web, but for Tina, her services would be well worth the expenditure. At any rate, all of Kate’s earnings would be paid as charitable donations for hospice care, cancer research, heart disease research and much more.

‘Kate said you can still change your mind up to five minutes before the event,’ Tony said, begging her to have a change of heart.

‘I’m sorry, darling, but we both know I won’t.’ Tony stroked his wife on her head and she winced in agony. ‘Not long now,’ she whispered, and for the first time in months, she looked content.

Silk Fairies

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Not so long ago, in a place not too far away, a young man found himself lost in a woodland copse. To the young traveller, Erik, it seemed like any other copse: a small clearing of tree stumps and daisies surrounded with a ring of bracken and bramble tangles.

But for those who knew the place as every place should be known (to its very core, to each and every inch of its surface, and with understandings also of its heights and magical depths) it was not like any other copse.
To Erik, it was simply an airy relief from under-tree dampness and the dark heaviness of the rotting undergrowth underfoot. But within this copse lived beings not found elsewhere in the wood, or even elsewhere in the world. They were the rarest species of Silk-Fairies.

Erik had found no joy in his weeks of travel. His search for employment as a journeyman carpenter had brought neither money nor shelter. It had brought only incessant pouring rain, and the perpetual discomfort of cold body and boots that leaked. It also had brought hunger, and an ever-decreasing supply of food for sustenance.

Erik almost fell onto the springy moss as he struggled to pull off his knapsack. It dropped to the mossy ground, and he followed it, his weary head on its pillow.

Cold and wet to his bones, he was ready to give up.

He sighed, almost cried, and closed his eyes for what he could have sworn was only a second or two. However, when he opened them again, it was to something he had not expected.

Hovering in front of his world-weary eyes had appeared a group of tiny creatures. They were fairy-like with transparent wings, and wore clothing fashioned from leaves and flowers and feathers.

‘You’re beautiful,’ said Erik, for he was a young man who was not afraid to speak of what he felt, despite his misery. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘Am I dead? Is this heaven?’

The smallest of the tiny creatures perched upon his leg as Erik lay entranced on the sodden moss.

‘We are Silk-Fairies and appear only to those who need us: those who travel and struggle and those who seek shelter and rest. We require only three words. Once spoken, we will provide all you need.’

‘What are the words, kind fairy?’

‘Dark and Light. You must say Dark and Light.’

‘Dark and Light,’ Erik said immediately. ‘How appropriate are those words, for you are my only light in this terrible darkness.’

Delighted that he’d allowed them to proceed (for it was their life’s mission to provide succour to those in need) the Silk-Fairies hovered around Erik as a protective cloud. The gentle buzzing of their wings gave him calm as they wrapped him in their gossamer blankets. He was soon as warm and comforted as a swaddled baby, each blanket thread wicking the water from sodden garments and drying him more quickly than even the most hearty fireside could ever do.

‘Thank you,’ he whispered as the Silk-Fairies sprinkled his papoose with a silvery dust, and Erik fell into the deepest of sleeps.

He woke in front of a roaring fire, having no idea how long he’d been asleep. As the flames crackled, Erik sighed with contentment and relief and wiggled his feet within the knitted gossamer hose that his feet now wore, and realised that he was surrounded by thousands of same tiny creatures that had rescued him: creatures the size of dragonflies who possessed the dragonfly’s delicacy and grace as well as their bright colours and sparkling wings.

One Silk-Fairy came to rest on his forearm.

‘Thank you,’ Erik said, his waking words echoing his sleeping thoughts.
‘We live to help those who truly need. It is our mission and our pleasure and our joy. You must stay for as long as it takes your wounds to heal, your heart to warm, and your mind to clear.’

When his time came, a stronger Erik was returned to the middle of the copse and was presented with gifts to assist him on his journey: a garland of daisies and hawthorn flowers for protection against the darker forces of the world; a cloak woven from fairy gossamer and peachskin fuzz in which he would never be wet, or cold or fearful; and boots created from bark and vines and dried, knitted moss which would always lead him in the right direction.

As a final gift, four Silk-Fairies placed a small wooden box into his knapsack. It appeared empty, but if he was to open it at a time of true need, it would provide what was required. Perhaps a meal, a coin or potion… It was not an everlasting box of wishes that would prevent his need to work, make him greedy and encourage bad decisions, but a small and simple something that would give him aid and strength when times were hard. Not too much. Not too little.

‘What is this thing? What is this magic box? How can this exist?’

Another Silk-Fairy pipped up joyously.

‘It is the most magical thing on earth. It’s called… a Friend.’

Erik knew that, more than anything else, a friend was what he needed, and set off on his travels with renewed vigour.

For the rest of that Erik’s happy life, he wore his new clothes daily, he worked hard and assisted many countrymen and women who came to him in need. He, like his box, was a true Friend. He often traveled the country’s woodland and would search for the Silk-Fairies, as he wished to give them thanks. But the talents of those wonderful creatures were always required elsewhere.

He never spoke of his time with the Silk-Fairies so, when Erik’s time came to rejoin the earth, and his final words were whispered to his wife and family, they put them down to his advanced age. But his words summoned the Silk-Fairies who fluttered in to lead him towards the next stage of his existence.

‘Dark and Light,’ he said as his eyes closed for the final time. ‘Dark and Light’.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #adultfairytale #fairy

Review of Anne Berry’s ‘The Adoption’

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I am not sure if someone in my position is best suited to review this book. On the other hand, perhaps I am the best person. Let me explain. I have known all my life that I was adopted, and have borne that knowledge happily and without problems. I always believed that my parents were good people who wanted the best for me, and that my birth parents had felt the same.

This book told the tale of a simple Welsh girl, Bethan, who found herself pregnant in the years following the second world war. The father of her baby was an ex-prisoner of war who was working at her family’s farm. Their relationship was loving, though massively disapproved by the Bethan’s parents. Bethan is forced to give up her baby and Thorsten is forced to leave the farm.

I found the book to be initially confusing as I couldn’t always get my head around the characters. However, it didn’t take too long to understand the multiple viewpoints. It also didn’t come easily how Lucilla/Laura would narrate passages about herself in the third person.

Once I realised why this was happening, I relaxed into the book and couldn’t put it down.

The more I read of all the characters and their life difficulties, the better the book became.

I could write so much, but don’t want to give spoilers. All I will say is that most people might read this book assuming that a reconciliation between two lost souls (Lucilla and her birth mother, Bethan) would be the book’s inevitable heart-warming ending. However, the actual ending wasn’t expected, and the book was better as a result.

All I can say is that the book was beautifully written, gorgeous and poetic, particularly in the early chapters set in Wales. I felt such a strong sense of time and place.

‘The Adoption’s heart-wrenching themes are difficult and passion-inducing. So many times while I was reading this, I became angry at the treatment of victim characters.

Of course, Bethan and Thorsten shoudn’t have been forced to give up their baby to adoption, just as Harriet and Merfyn should not have been allowed to take the poor child and abuse her both emotionally and physically. I was adopted at about the same age, but my own experiences were wonderful. All I could think was Poor Lucilla.

Initially I wasn’t convinced that I would enjoy this book,. I felt it was either going to be too clinical (the name ‘The Adoption’ seemed to imply this) or that it would be saccharine-sweet and unpalatable. It was neither.
Searching for a birth parent doesn’t always bring the expected and desired results, either with relation to the people involved, or with relation to how we might feel about it.

I loved ‘The Adoption’. I loved it far more than expected.

I’ve looked at this subject in some depth in my novelette, ‘Changes’ which is now part of a collection called ‘Conflict Management’ by Meredith Schumann.

#meredithschumann #theadoption #anneberry #adoption #birthmother #changes #conflictmanagement