Short stories


Following what we deemed to be the ‘success’ of our winter story-telling in Ilkley Library last year we (our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe) repeated the exercise last Saturday but with Spring/Easter stories. Three of our new members were performing for the first time. There were some great stories, poems and a song – or two.

The 'team' pictured after the performance

L to R: Kayla, Becky, John, Emma, Roger, Ruxandra, David, Helen (thanks to Adam for the picture)

Great fun, good chats in the pub afterwards for some of us then more ‘fun’ in the park for a few of us (it was a spectacularly lovely sunny day, warm, more like summer).

Emma and Becky sitting on the grass in Ilkley Park after the meeting

Singer-songwriter Emma Nabarro-Steel and blogger extraordinary, Becky Bond, who brighten up our meetings with their wonderful talent

A chat with one of our new members in the pub showed me the path the protagonists in my ‘long short story’ might take and an ‘event’ in the park gave me an idea of how they might reach their destination, whatever that might be (I’ve written the beginning and the end, though it’s all in draft so could change).

I hope that I might receive some of the contributions from other members so I can post them somewhere so you can see them, but in the meantime I can only post mine, below, prompted by a comment from a member when planning, that “children should be introduced to new words”.


Maleficently

“I’m really fed up, cooped up here in the dark.” The voice was muffled in the cramped space.

“Oh be quiet, we haven’t been in here for very long, not a day yet, and we’ll be out soon then you know what will happen, don’t you? You’ll really have something to complain about.” The answering voice was very close, a soft, calming voice even if it was telling him off.

“Well, I wish I could at least see you. You do have a lovely voice.”

“That’s nice, thank you. So, would you like me to sing you a song to pass the time?”

“Oh yes please, I’d love that.”

“OK, now let me see, let me see … oh yes …

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great —”

“No, no, no, stop! Not that one, please, anything but that one.”

“I’m sorry, it’s the only one I know. What else could I do? Oh yes, would you like a limerick instead? I know a limerick, in fact I just made it up.”

“OK, I’d rather hear you sing but if you only have that song. You do have such a beautiful voice.”

“Well, I’ll try to sing-song it. Here goes …

“There once was an egg called Humpty
Very good looking but dumpty,
He sat in a box
Protected from shocks
Till he sat on a wall and —”

“Woah, stop, it’s going to be as bad as your song for sure!”

“Oh dear. How about a haiku then?”

“What’s a hi coo? Something a pigeon says?”

“No silly, it a very short Japanese poem, just three lines.”

“Alright, go on then, but nothing about sitting on a wall this time, please.”

“Right, let me see …

 “sitting in the dark
humpty   met girl in a box
fell in love   right there”

“That’s not a poem, it doesn’t rhyme.”

“A haiku doesn’t rhyme, it just has five syllables, then seven syllables, then five syllables. Lots of poems don’t rhyme. Do you know what a syllable is?”

“Of course I know what a syllabub is. My mum makes them all the time. Do you think I’m —”

A sudden burst of bright light, and excited voices of children, interrupted:

“Oh yes, they look perfect, I think I’ll choose this one, it’s a nice pale colour so I can paint it,” said one of the children, a girl about seven years old, as she carefully lifted her selection out of the box and put it in a white egg cup.

“The one next to it looks good for me,” said another voice, a boy about the same age. He lifted the adjacent egg out of the box and put it, not so carefully, into another egg cup next to the first one.

“Be careful,” said the girl, “you’ll break it if you’re so rough. So, what are you going to do with yours? Something nice for Easter?”

“I’m going to make it into Darth Vader, all black, with a big laser gun blasting everything to pieces.”

“Oh no, that’s not right. Anyway, I’m sure your’s is a girl. It’s mine that’s a boy.”

“OK, OK … I’ll make it Maleficent then.”

“Why do you always have to make everything nasty. I bet you don’t even know what maleficent means, do you?”

“It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just the name of the wicked queen in Sleeping Beauty. I like her, she’s got horns, which is perfect.”

“It does so mean something, it means something doing evil or harm to someone else. Do you really want that for Easter?”

“Of course I do,” the boy said, drawing the sword from the belt of his red soldier’s uniform and brandishing it wildly.

“Oh do be careful, it’s you that’s maleficent, not the egg. I’m going to make mine into Humpty Dumpty, with red trousers and a big smile.”

“Did you hear that?” the soft voice said, “I’m going to be a wicked queen and you’re going to be Humpty Dumpty. You know what happened to him don’t you?”

“I don’t care, it’s just nice to be next to you again and to see you. You’re just as beautiful as your voice”.

Before an answer could be made both eggs were lifted out of the egg cups and the children were working busily with paintbrushes, the girl with red, the boy with black. Soon they had finished, a jolly Humpty Dumpty in one egg cup, a menacing black queen with plasticine horns in the other.

“Come on, let’s go and hide them for the egg hunt,” said the girl, picking up Humpty Dumpty and running outside, followed by the little soldier with his dark queen.

“Let’s hide them behind the holly bush, you know, on that wall. They won’t be easy to find there, especially as it’ll be a bit prickly to get in there,” shouted the boy as he ran towards his chosen spot. The girl squeezed in behind him, placing Humpty Dumpty carefully on the wall. “Hooray,” cheered the boy. Drawing his sword and, waving it about, he knocked Humpty down, where he lay on the ground, his smile still beaming up at the children but his red trousers in a dozen small pieces.

“Don’t worry, I’ll fix him” said the boy as the girl began to cry.

“Don’t be stupid,” the girl blubbed through her tears. “If all the king’s soldiers and all the king’s men couldn’t do it, one stupid little soldier isn’t going to do it. I’ll go and make another, but you just go away, right away.” Stamping on the smile as she squeezed out of the space, she ran into the house and slammed the door firmly shut.

Now, If you looked very, very carefully at the evil queen up on the wall, you might have seen her smiling – maleficently!


Now children, I’ll let you into a secret, maleficently isn’t a word. I just made it up. But I think it’s a good word for the kind of smile you might see on that bad queen’s face, isn’t it? Can you say it? So, how did the queen smile?MA – LE – FI – CENT – LY.

Now here’s one for the adults:

CENOSILICAPHOBIA

or perhaps even better

CENOCYLICAPHOBIA

Either way:

Ceno – empty (as in cenotaph, an empty tomb)
Silica – glass, or Cylica – drinking vessel
Phobia – a fear of

So, at risk of offending any Greek scholars out there, fear of an empty glass, that Saturday evening feeling which prompts you to get to Aldi, pdq!

The author, Christmas morning 2016, with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and champagne breakfast.

Breakfast, Christmas 2016

I’ve been following Cristian Mihai’s blog almost since I began blogging approaching five years ago. I was first attracted to it because of the excellent writing in English by a Romanian, having taught English in Romania for around a decade. Since then I’ve found other Romanian blogs written in excellent English covering one or more of the wide diversity of topics you would find on mine, which as followers will know, breaks one or two cardinal rules if you want a lot of followers: posting frequently, even daily, and sticking to a theme. As I also speak and read Romanian pretty well, though I’ve never cracked writing it well, I now follow quite a few Romanian blogs posting in just Romanian or both Romanian and English, though I was sad to see that after my long absences several seem to have ceased to blog.

I used to post fairly frequently, though never every day, but some serious health issues two and a half years ago meant that posting became very erratic, particularly as I was also attempting to keep up with editing, and blogging on, a site I created for the Yorkshire village in which I live.

Our 'music corner' at home, showing tv with Vienna New Year concert 2017, panpipes sitting on the Yamaha 'piano'

Vienna New Year concert 2017

So followers may well find me writing on any one of my major hobbies – music, photography (on film); food and cooking; my efforts at writing fiction or ‘poetry’, as distinct from journalism (which was my profession), and our local writers’ club formed and run here in Wharfedale by a Romanian (!); classic cars particularly my mini and vw camper; and a few others. Or my major hobby-horses which include: discrimination in any of its many forms; the beauty of Romania, it’s people, traditions and food, particularly my love affair with the Bucovina; the idiocy of politicians; my experiences with our superb National Health Service and its staff here in the UK and the determination of those in charge of it and successive Governments to destroy it; habitual use of certain ‘four letter words’; and again, a few others, including scrambled eggs! (I know, overuse of exclamation marks but perhaps merited here 😉 ).

So, you have been warned; I am not taking up Cristian’s reblogging offer to find a lot more followers, but just to give him a bit of support. Hence this introductory blog which will be the first I’ll be asking him to reblog. After that, perhaps a few of my past blog posts then one or two new ones.

This facility must surely be invaluable to those younger than me who wish to get better known and maybe make a bit of money out of their writing so it would be very sad to see it not continue. I have no such ambition. I write because I like to write – that’s all.

It’s been quite a while since I posted here, one of the problems resulting from running other websites/blogs of one sort or another. To keep the pot boiling (no, this is not one of my cookery/food posts!) I’m blogging here my contribution to yesterday’s meeting of our local writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. We had been set a theme, ‘reflection’ to write something. The situation out in the world, particularly Romania (not surprisingly) and the closeness of Valentines Day, really got me going! It’s the first time I’ve attempted a sonnet.

Response to the set theme ‘reflection’

haiku

leaves in still puddles
reflections of lost summer
rusted    yet to fall

A short short story (100 words)

Mia stared at her bedroom door, closed. Had she really been that bad? No tv, no mobile, no games for the evening; grounded for a week.

“Shit, shit, shit”, she said softly, delighting in the idea that if her parents could hear her it would mean another week’s grounding for sure.

At least they had not made her wash, she thought as she turned around. Wonderfully iridescent blue over long, painstakingly applied black lashes framed the bright saphire eyes regarding her, as brilliant red lips pouted for appreciation.

Smiling, she reached into her pocket …
for her mother’s Chanel Number 5.

Free verse

Rays of gold touch golden locks
Evening shrouds the muted bird song
Fading light illuminates a different vision
Lost memories emerging in gentle ripples
Even in the silence.
Cautiously, I feel for her hand
Tenderly taking it with a gentle squeeze;
Illusion comforts at such times.
One more reflection flickers; we were absorbed one in the other then.
Now, the lake is still, its duty done.

tanka

i saw you lovely
looking in a cracked mirror
quicksilver faded
too late I crossed the fractures
to reflect with you what might

Sonnet

Reflecting on the state of this sick world
I do retreat in love of those close by
When life its fighting flag has almost furled
I look upon what we have brought and sigh.
I leave the fight to those with whistles wild,
Some horns or signs with words both old and new,
E’en those who stand and wait with others mild
In cold, to show more silently their view.
When votes have failed or over-ruled by law
When corrupt men of state or wives deny
The truths so clear to those no less, or poor
Exponents of those truths rest with just “why?”
… I now do little more than pick up pen
… To scrawl my feeble protests now and then.

Blank verse

I know a grain of what I want to say
It’s how to find the words which makes me pause.
I would with love your heavy heart address
But fear my good intent be misconstrued.
The words, as rays from some distorting glass,
So oft bounce back, their meaning now corrupt.
I would not be so mute in other time
Thus quietly I just address your soul
And wait our paths to cross in future lives.

A wonderful end to the year on Saturday afternoon for our local (usually Menston based) writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, ‘performing’ with short stories, songs and poems in the intimate setting of Ilkley library.

Picture of all the 'performers' lined up after their performances in the Ilkley library, with book-fillwed shelves behind.

In the wonderful setting of Ilkley library, left to right: back row – Bob, me, Ruxandra, David, Catherine, Rich; front row – Alina, Emma, Dan, Becky. Sadly two valued members, Kelly and Marjorie, couldn’t make it.

Unfortunately I do not have the contributions available to post here or links to most though I did post my short story in a post recently and you can hear Emma’s wonderful Christmas song and buy it for £1 on bandcamp (should be No.1 in the charts in my opinion!). She also treated us to ‘In the bleak midwinter’, retaining Harold Darke’s melody but substituting her own lyrics, apart from a short spoken excerpt of Christina Rossetti’s original lyrics in the middle.

Becky, Ruxandra and David sharing a joke measuring something with hands

Picture of the day? Measuring what?

Click on any picture in the gallery below to see them larger as a slide show. Many thanks to Adam Nabarro-Steel for photo recording the event for us. Many thanks also to our wonderful ‘leader’, Ruxandra Busoiu, a remarkable young Romanian who founded the club and worked very hard to bring off this event and the previous one at Ilkley Playhouse.

Thanks also to the wonderfully supportive staff of Ilkley library who made this event possible. This library and those in my village of Menston and neighbouring village of Burley in Wharfedale had been scheduled for closure by Bradford Council. Against a background of  appalling illiteracy in the UK, especially in Bradford, libraries should surely be high on any local authority’s priorities. Thankfully, a lot of people from the local communities are now working to take them over and run them as Community Libraries. Let’s hope they succeed.

 

snowflakeShe’s done it again: our local writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) ‘leader’ has set us up to do another performance – spoken short stories or poetry and music. Even more ‘intimate’ than last time, in Ilkley library on 10 December afternoon – no stage, no microphones, no projector, no technology whatsoever. She set us the task of writing something original with a ‘winter’ theme. I’ve offered a tanka, rather than my more usual haiku, and a short story.


snowflakes in the rain
diluting their cold beauty
we wait for snowballs
like waiting for love letters
in a disrupted affair


Don’t touch

“Don’t touch me, please”.

Alicia snatched her finger back just before it touched the window, taking a few quick steps backwards and turning her head to see who had spoken. She had thought she was alone in the room but, where were they? She could see no-one. It must be that younger brother of hers, Ewan, she thought, but where on earth was he, and how did he speak with that delicate voice?

Was it someone outside? It didn’t seem likely as snow was falling fast and it was very cold, so cold that large snowflakes landing on the window did not melt but kept their beautiful, delicately intricate form. It was these that Alicia had approached the window to see more clearly.

“Don’t be frightened, come closer, but please don’t touch me”. The window itself seemed to be speaking. Alicia moved cautiously forward, a tentative step, then another.

“Oh, you can come closer than that”.

Where was that voice coming from? Alicia was a little frighted, but more curious so she shuffled half a step towards the window.

“Come on, just one more step, but be careful, don’t touch the window, not even with your nose”.

Alicia moved forward another step, now so close that she could see little more than one much larger than usual snowflake on the outside of the window glass.

“That’s better, now we can have a chat”.

Alicia’s eyes snapped into focus on the centre of the snowflake, amazed to see two bright eyes and a pretty rosebud mouth and realised that the speech was coming from that mouth, now smiling.

“You do look surprised”, the snowflake continued. “Can you hear me alright? I’d like to come inside for a chat but that’s not possible, it’s too warm”.

Alicia fought with the jumble of thoughts tumbling about in her head. Is she dreaming? Is she crazy? Finally she stuttered some words:

“Oh you are so pretty, a bit like some lace on my mum’s nighty, or some doilies at my gran’s, but I never knew snowflakes could speak”, said Alicia finally, struggling over her surprise. “And you have such beautiful eyes; I didn’t know snowflakes had eyes, or a mouth for that matter”.

“Oh, we can speak but we can choose whether a human can hear us. We only choose children, they seem much nicer than adults. Mind you, there are some pretty horrible children too. I was lucky enough to land on the window and saw you. You looked nice so I chose you. The double glazing is good as we don’t get warmed up so quickly unless you touch right where I am, but it does make it a bit more difficult to chat with you.”

“Do you chat to other snowflakes too”, Alicia asked.

“Oh yes. We chatter quite a bit when we are growing up, up in the clouds. Then we have some serious conversations on our way down because we know that usually when we land we are so packed together and there is so much noise we can’t hear anything. I was lucky today, landing on your window”.

“It must be lovely floating down as you large ones do”, Alicia said. “I just love to watch you”.

“Yes it is good, a wonderful feeling, and we get more time to chat, or sing. But it’s good to land on something like your window because when it eventually warms up, slowly, we quickly go back up again and, if we are lucky, rapidly grow up as snowflakes all over again. I hate it when I land in the sea; I can be there for thousands and thousands of years and it’s really boring. So I’d like to stay here as long as possible, please”.

“Oh yes, I’d like you to stay there forever”, said Alicia, “but anyway, for a long time”.

A noise behind made Alicia turn round to see Ewan had come into the room. “Who are you talking to, yourself? That’s crazy you know, my crazy sister”.

“I’m not crazy, I’m talking to a snowflake. It’s very interesting”.

“Now that’s really crazy” said Ewan, breaking into a sing song chant “My crazy sister, my crazy sister” as he came up beside her.

“I’m not crazy, look there it is and if you talk to it maybe it will talk to you. Come closer and see, but whatever you do don’t touch the window”.

The boy moved forward till finally he was standing right beside Alicia, looking suspiciously at the large snowflake now right in front of his face.

“Say something to it, but don’t touch … Don’t touch. Don’t touch the window Ewan”.

Alicia’s voice rose to a scream as he approached the window, adding a final despairing shout, “Don’t touch” as Ewan purposefully put a chubby warm finger on precisely where the snowflake rested, watching fascinated as its beautiful filigree blurred and a single tear fell, to disappear in the packed snow on the windowsill.

A couple of posts ago I said that we had been set the theme ‘Halloween‘ to write a short story or poem for yesterday’s meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. Here’s my offering:

∞ ∞ ∞

The story text as a picture

I think my fellow members were surprised. I don’t usually write so long, or dark.

For anyone who has difficulty reading the story as an image, it is available as black text on a white background on this page.

Another 'health' item added to my diet

Another ‘health’ item added to my diet

Fortunately I live in a flat so generally can avoid the horrible little trick or treaters and, worse, their parents. This Halloween money-making scam for the supermarkets, imported in its present form from the USA, is gradually usurping the traditional UK event on 5th November, leaving that to the big boys competing to see who can spend the most money to make the largest explosion.

Short story or poem?

However, this year I cannot ignore Halloween completely as this is the theme given for our short story/poem task in our local writers’ club ‘Writing on the Wharfe‘, to be read at the meeting on 29 October. You’d think it would be easy but I’m struggling, not having the recently discovered short-story-a-day talent of Jenny Malloney or the poetic talent of one of my longest standing ‘followed’, another Jenny – the optimistic pessimist. I wonder if I’ll manage a haiku. If I do manage something I guess it will make next week’s post here.

One good thing about Halloween is that pumpkins abound. Having been advised by my good internet friend Eddy Winko to eat pumpkin seeds, following my most recent post, a good source has suddenly appeared at a price much lower than the exhorbitant health food shop offerings. I’ve acquired pumpkin seed oil for salads but the seeds will readily replace the sunflower seeds I would usually put in the bread I bake.

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