Violetta Antcliff has been a member of the Nottingham Writers’ Club for the best part of Twenty years.
She is the winner of numerous short story competitions and was area short listed in Waterstone’s WOW factor story competition.
She took first prize in Nottingham short story competition with a story called Irish Mouse Tales
and has read her poetry and short stories on local radio.
Violetta for being in the 2011
Preditors and Editors top ten Short Story Category for Magic and
Congratulations to Violetta for being in the 2012 Preditors and Editors top ten
Children's Book Category for Jason Spells it Out.
Congratulations to Violetta for being in the 2013 Preditors
and Editors top ten in Sci-Fi/Fantasy Short Story Category for A Man
New Titles by Violetta
NOW IN PRINT (only in print)
The Adventures of Jason Foster: Book One (Jason and the Corner Shop Mystery, Jason and the Friendly Ghost, Magic and Mayhem and Jason Sinks to a New Low)
When Mr. and Mrs. Goldstein find they have an uninvited guest, they don’t know if they should make him welcome or make him leave. Mr. Goldstein is all for telling him to stay, pointing out to his wife that not everybody has a Leprechaun for a houseguest; and Joseph, their unruly eight-year-old son, meets his match when the Leprechaun uses magic to teach him a lesson.
Word Count: 5078 Pages to Print:
File Format: PDF Price:
Father O’Tool breathing down his neck to make an honest woman of the
widow Bridget Flynn, Patrick O'Malley had a problem. Could he ask the
woman he loved to marry him and move from her cottage with all its
modern conveniences to a farm that had nothing to offer but a tin bath
and a peat fire?
Word Count: 4100 Pages to Print: 17
File Format: PDF Price: $2.99
Read the In-House Review(s)
The fact Wisteria Cottage is supposed to be
haunted doesn’t deter Zoe from buying it; she doesn’t believe in ghosts.
However, when she starts to experience ghostly kisses, it doesn’t take her
long to change her mind. Coming to terms with the fact her ghost is
there to stay, she strikes a bargain with him.
Word Count: 6200 Pages to Print:
File Format: PDF Price:
||The abrasive love-hate between siblings
eventually leads to trouble when Jason and his friend Wayne, go
to the rescue of the owner of the corner shop. Unable to
convince relatives and friends that Mr. Kashmir Singh is in
danger, they decide to take things into their own hands. The
result is a hair-raising chase round a deserted airfield in a
stolen co-op hearse before the kidnap plot is foiled.
Word Count: 18,200 Pages to Print:
File Format: PDF
||Tommy is a boy who died at the beginning
of World War II, and has returned to look for his parents.
Wayne, Jason’s best friend, takes some convincing that Tommy is
a ghost, as he seems so normal. But the appearances and
disappearances soon convince Wayne. The problem is: how can they
tell Tommy that he is dead?
Word Count: 18,500 Pages to Print:
File Format: PDF
Dawn Reviews Bks
||Jason thinks he is going mad when he
meets a talking cat, and a man who insists he is really a Genie.
With the help of his best mate Wayne, Jason goes in search of a
missing lamp and finds himself in troubles of the worst kind. An
evil Hobgoblin, a Witches broomsticks and a Wizard’s book of
magic spells, are just some of the things the boys’ find
themselves up against. Could this dangerous escapade possibly be
the chums’ last?
Word Count: 18,800 Pages to Print:
File Format: PDF
||Lost in a maze of underground tunnels, Jason
and his friend Wayne are not only in danger of freezing to death
or dying slowly of starvation, they are also at risk of being
murdered by two dangerous criminals if they are caught. Danger
lurks around every dark, dank corner and Jason needs all his
wits about him to keep one step ahead.
Word Count: 20416
Pages to Print: 76
File Format: PDF
M. L. John
||Jason and Wayne are best friends, and
what are best friends for? Getting into and out of trouble
together! A couple of ten-year old boys turned loose on the
world of modern day England, with a touch of the past hanging
around for good measure.
Violetta Antcliff invites youngsters of all ages to accompany
the two boys as they search for a kidnapped man, relate to a
ghost their own age, help out a genii and get lost in a damp,
scary cave. Adults will enjoy their own inner journey back to a
time when the world was simpler, or at least we like to think it
Word Count: 76200
Pages to Print: 248
File Format: PDF
The Adventures of Jason Foster PRINT!
||On the outskirts of a picturesque village in
the Yorkshire Dales stood a cottage called Bramble Briar. It was
over one hundred years old and at one time the roof had been
thatched; now it was slate.
Why the previous owners had replaced it was a mystery; but
Bramble Briar was a house of mystery, with secrets people only
whispered about in quiet corners; especially if those people
were Estate Agents.
||Word Count: 5700
Pages to Print: 21
File Format: PDF
||When James invites his parents round for
dinner, it's not only to show them his new house; it is also to
let them know he has found that someone special. He guessed in
advance what their reaction would be, but nothing could have
prepared him for the explosive response that leaves him both
stunned and fuming.
||Word Count: 3900
Pages to Print: 15
File Format: PDF
||Sapphire Brent doesn’t believe in ghosts or
the afterlife, yet it doesn't stop her from accepting an
invitation to a spiritualist meeting with one of her work mates.
A spiritualist meeting would be a laugh; something different,
she thinks. But she has no idea just how different it is going
to be, or the outcome. Strange inexplicable things often happen
when least expected, as she is soon to find out for herself.
Word Count: 4742
Pages to Print: 19
File Format: PDF
||When Anne Scrimshaw makes the decision to
move her dysfunctional family from the city to a rundown cottage
in the Yorkshire Dales, she has no idea what she is taking on.
With two broken relationships behind her, a troubled teenage
daughter and a six-year-old son who craves affection, the last
thing she needs is a cottage with a history. Although Anne
doesn’t believe in ghosts, her daughter does and forms a
friendship with a ghost called Tom and Silver Blick, a phantom
horse she runs away on in the middle of the night.
Word Count: 10,620
Pages to Print: 38
File Format: PDF
|Michael O’Leary, a mouse with a larger than
average size tail, is a story teller who can hold audiences
spellbound with his tales of daring and adventure. Michael,
along with his two friends Patrick and Guido, lives on a farm in
a remote corner of the Emerald Isles and it is here he holds his
story telling evenings. Some of his yarns arere so graphic,
small rodents have been known to suffer attacks of panic, faint
clear away and have to be dragged outside.
Guido, however, is a different case; his stories, although they
always contain a grain of truth, need to be taken with a large
pinch of salt, but they are entertaining. As for Patrick, well
at times he finds it just too much trouble to compete, so he
Word Count: 4303
Pages to Print: 17
File Format: PDF
M. L. John
||Jason finds himself in troubles of the worst
kind when he meets up again with the evil hobgoblin Shrug. How
can he stop the Wizard’s book of magic from falling into Shrug's
hands? Magenta, a witch whose broomstick he’d once rescued, is
under his spell, thinking she is in love with him. Jason knows
without his help she’ll be fooled into telling him where the
book of magic is. He has to act, and fast; can a love potion be
the answer to his problems? Or will it just add to them?
Word Count: 20,477
Pages to Print: 76
File Format: PDF
||With only a cat
for company, Alice sits in the gathering gloom recalling
Christmases past. Outside, carol singers with hands outstretched
wish Merry Christmas to one and all: but it isn’t carol singers
who knock on Alice’s door this Christmas eve; it's ghosts from
Word Count: 3093
Pages to Print: 13
File Format: PDF
||When Pandora applies for the position of
companion to Lady Isobel Fitzwilliam she has no idea what she is
taking on, no idea what she is letting herself in for. After
only a few short months she finds herself so entangled in the
ghostly goings on at the nineteenth century manor house, she
finds it impossible to leave. Falling passionately in love with
a man who had died long before she was born isn’t something
Word Count: 6300
Pages to Print: 24
File Format: PDF
|Chrystal is both delighted and confused when
she finds herself the winner of a competition she never entered.
First prize: a long weekend away, all expenses paid, to the
beautiful town of Hamelin West Germany. She decides to accept
the prize, no questions asked, she has a sneaking suspicion she
knows who's behind it all.
Getting lost in a strange country and spending the night in a
shack with a total stranger, isn't something she bargained for.
Klaus Stromberg, arrogant and maddeningly handsome, is a man of
mystery, Chrystal can't decide if he's genuine or an
Word Count: 10310
Pages to Print: 37
File Format: PDF
|When Jason is on the war path, sparks fly
and it's time to head for cover.
Incensed at the inactivity of police when pets go missing, he
decides to take things into his own hands. Spurred on by his
success when he reunites one dog with its owner he hatches a
plan to catch the real villains. However, the only way he can
see of doing this is by stepping outside the law himself. Is it
too big a risk? Or should he plough on regardless of
consequences? Failure isn't a word in Jason's vocabulary
although he finds himself trembling on the brink on more
occasions than one. Left with no option, he calls on an old
friend from the past; has he left it too late or could a
sprinkle of magic be just what he's looking for?
Word Count: 16000
Pages to Print: 56
File Format: PDF
|Collingwood Manor drew Emma like a magnet;
after her first visit she couldn't keep away. She wasn't afraid
of ghosts, and until she'd spent a night on her own in the Manor
house, she'd have argued they didn't exist. However, after
coming face to face with a troubled spirit, and feeling the evil
presence of another, she soon changes her mind. The Manor house
has a dark secret, and Emma is determined to find out what it
ss. Befriending one fragile little spirit and facing the hostile
wrath of another was her intention. But now she has, she can't
and won't, back down.
Word Count: 10154
Pages to Print: 23
File Format: PDF
|Adrian had never doubted his sexuality, he
had a live-in partner, and now the law had changed they planned
to get married. First however, he had to break the news to the
family; therein lay the problem. His mother refused to accept
the fact her son was homosexual and Liam O’Donall his Irish
Catholic grandfather put it down to a phase he was going
A chance meeting with a beautiful, flirtatious girl gave him
pause for thought; who was right, them or him? Was finding that
special someone and marrying for love, no more than an
improbable dream? It was up to him to find out.
Word Count: 10100
Pages to Print: 39
File Format: PDF
Price: $ 3.99
|Susan is a strong woman; not even the break
up of her marriage fazed her. She just picked herself up,
brushed herself off and got on with life. She has a firm belief
that for every problem there is an answer. However, when she
rents a cottage on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds, she finds
her motto put to the test. UFOs, a naked man who claims to be an
interplanetary agent, and a dangerous escaped prisoner are not
typical everyday occurrences in her life. And as she is to find
out to her dismay, a cup of tea is not the answer to the strange
state of affairs she finds herself caught up in.
Word Count: 11100
Pages to Print: 37
File Format: PDF
||Is Darren Bates a dead man walking, or is
Anne Clark delusional, going mad? The death of Darren Bates, an
ex-convict, was shrouded in mystery. Who was the man who posed
as his brother, identified his body at the morgue, and arranged
his funeral? Anne is determined to find out. As an OPV official
prison visitor, she had befriended the man in life, so she is
determined not to let him down in death . . . if he is really
Word Count: 10485
Pages to Print: 33
File Format: PDF
|Samantha, with her fair hair, green-flecked
eyes and perfect figure, was at the front of the queue when good
looks were handed out. She only has one flaw: she is a woman who
can’t take no for an answer. A battle of wits between two
like-minded people occurs when she goes after a cottage that
isn’t for sale. Rumours circulating it is haunted don’t deter
her; she wants it and is determined to have it. The owner is
equally determined he isn’t going to sell. A compromise is
struck that is acceptable to both sides. But the outcome is
bizarre and unpredictable.
Word Count: 11355
Pages to Print: 40
File Format: PDF
||Peggy Rose is a woman of low self esteem,
and in this knowledge her so-called friends set her up, arrange
a meeting with a man who is looking for a wife in name only.
Peggy Rose is the perfect choice. A loveless marriage,
stepmother to an undisciplined ten-year-old, isn't something she
would have agreed to if she had known. However, when she finds
out she has been set up, she fights tooth and nail to turn
things to her own advantage.
Word Count: 11211
Pages to Print: 38
File Format: PDF
|Gordon Paxton is a hard man with a soft
centre. Born and raised in the Gorbels in Glasgow he had known
how to use his fists from an early age. By the age of fourteen
he had street cred, nobody messed with him. He was a gang member
tottering down the slippery path of crime. Caught in the act of
petty pilfering; if a certain community PC hadn't stepped in, he
would have been summonsed, given a record: an act of criminal
But that hadn't happened. PC Duckworth had befriended him, saved
him from himself, put his feet on the right path. He had a lot
to thank the man for.
Word Count: 12363
Pages to Print: 42
File Format: PDF
Price: $ 3.99
|When her mother dies, Rosie Webster, a
Vulnerable, destitute, homeless thirteen-year-old, goes on the
run with nothing in her pocket but a ring, four pennies and a
Hoping against hope the letter will lead to her salvation, she
makes her way to the address on the envelope, Moorstone Manor,
Richmond Yorkshire. But what awaits her when she arrives is
totally unexpected, and for the next five years she has to live
with a secret, shared by herself and one other.
The outcome of this impossible situation is unexpected,
explosive and unpredictable.
Word Count: 12298
Pages to Print: 42
File Format: PDF
Goldstein stood arms folded looking out of the window. She was angry,
fed up with the constant battles that raged daily between her and her
husband over their son. The cross words between them today had come
about because she’d giving permission for the boy to see a science
fiction film at the local cinema when her husband had said he couldn’t.
Face dark as thunder, she turned to face the man she’d been
married to for over ten years, walked over to where he was sitting and
plonked herself down on a chair opposite him.
“Why are you so against our Joseph going to the pictures? His
pals are going, so why can’t he?” she spoke tight lipped.
Samuel Goldstein was an easy-going man, but there were times when he
felt he had to put his foot down, like now.
“Because I told him he couldn’t, that’s why,” he snapped
“Well that’s no answer. There must be more to it than that.”
Ruth wasn’t going to be put off easily, young Joseph was the love of her
life and she would do anything for him. She still felt guilty when she
recalled how she’d lied the day his teacher had stopped her in the
street and told her that Joseph had said he was not allowed to go
outside at playtime as he had a bad chest. She'd known it wasn’t true
but had said it was, to keep him out of trouble, had even written a
letter to confirm it.
“If you must know, I told him he couldn’t go when it was
school the next day, that’s why. That child of ours is out of control,”
Samuel fought to control his anger, “I tell him he can’t do something
and he turns straight to you and you say he can. And your mother’s just
as bad, I stop his spending money because he back-chatted and what does
she do? Gives him twice as much as he should have, that’s what.”
“Don’t you bring my mother into this,” Ruth jumped up,
charged over, and began poking him in the chest with her finger, she was
“My mother,” she said between jabs, “would do anything
for our boy. Didn’t she buy him a bike when you said he couldn’t have
My point exactly, thought Samuel, with a sigh of exasperation. He knew
he couldn’t win, yet he had no idea how to solve the problem.
Back to Leprechaun Magic
Patrick O’Malley had come to a decision. Today he would ask the widow
Bridget Flynn if she would consider walking out with him. He’d thought
long and hard about it, spent sleepless nights tossing and turning,
weighing up the pros and cons. Now, right or wrong, his mind was made
It was six months since
his old Ma had passed away and over two years since Bridget’s man had
died. He knew there were bonuses for a man living on his own, smoking a
pipe without being told get outside with the evil smelling thing was
just one of them. The pleasure of being able to fart when and where he
pleased without blaming it on the dog was another. But if the truth was
known, he had to admit there were some things a woman could do better
than a man. Putting a good supper on the table, darning socks and
turning collars on shirts, just to mention a few. He missed his old Ma
but it was time he started getting on with his own life, hence his
resolve to call on the widow woman and chance his luck.
Wearing his second best
working clothes and Sunday cap, the dog at his heel, he strode
determinedly towards the widow’s front door, knocked, and waited. He
knew she was in, he’d seen the curtains twitch. She’s in no hurry to open
the door to me, he thought blowing on his hands, its bloody cold
standing out here. “Sit, boy,” he said giving the dog a pat on the head,
“Not long now. I can hear her coming, Just you be on your best behavior
do you hear me? No jumping up or chasing the cat.”
Back to Sneaky Shenanigans
The Haunting of
When Zoe stepped out of the bath and reached for her terry towel
robe, she felt a kiss on the damp nape of her neck, but she didn’t turn
round to see who had planted it because she knew no one would be there.
This wasn’t the first time she’d experienced the sensation of ghostly
kisses, but it was the first time her heart hadn’t started pounding and
she hadn’t broken out in a cold sweat.
“I don’t believe in ghosts, I don’t believe in ghosts,” she declared
through clenched teeth, and patted herself dry.
Zoe had only moved into the cottage the week previous and was still in
the midst of unpacking. The electrical goods she’d bought via the
internet; fridge freezer, washing machine and cooker, still hadn’t
arrived. She was beginning to wonder if perhaps she wouldn’t have done
better paying that little bit extra and getting them from the co-op, but
money being tight every penny needed to be accounted for.
She was newly single, and the settlement from her divorce had just come
through. It hadn’t been as much as she’d hoped for, but it had been
sufficient for the down payment on the cottage. She had a reasonably
good job, ‘Agony Aunt’ for a well know woman’s magazine, and she wrote a
weekly column for a daily paper, so she’d had no trouble getting a
The fact the cottage was supposed to be haunted hadn’t deterred her from
going ahead and buying it; she didn’t believe in ghosts.
The previous owners had put it on the market at a ridiculously low price
hoping for a quick sale, but it had stayed on the Estate Agents books
for over two years. When she’d put an offer in, it had been accepted
Zoe towel dried her hair and took stock of herself in the steamy
bathroom mirror. She liked what she saw: the new short hairstyle was
easier to manage, and the high lights she thought were a definite
improvement. She recalled her best friend Emma telling her she looked
nowhere near thirty and if she had any sense, she would spend some of
the divorce settlement on a new wardrobe, and start looking for a man.
But Zoe wasn’t ready for another man; she was still smarting from the
break up of her marriage to Gregory.
The warmth in the bathroom was beginning to dissipate, and Zoe made for
The door creaked when she pushed it open; the room was cold and as yet
uncarpeted. She hadn’t got around to hanging curtains at the windows
either, but as the cottage overlooked no other buildings they hadn’t
been given priority.
She slipped hastily into panties, bra, jeans and a top before pulling a
brush through her hair and making her way downstairs.
The sitting room was bare, apart from suitcases and luggage containing
personal belongings. A cottage suite, coffee table and computer unit had
been ordered from Ikea and was due to be delivered later that afternoon.
She was aware it would come flat pack but she wasn’t fazed, it wouldn’t
be the first time she’d put furniture together without a man’s help.
Skirting past the cases she made her way to the kitchen to make herself
a cup of coffee.
The kettle whistled plaintively as it boiled, sending a shiver down her
spine She rushed to turn it off, spooned coffee into a mug and opened a
tetra-pack of milk; it plopped out, thick green and sour. “How the
bloody hell did that happen? It’s supposed to be long life!” She cursed
out loud to the empty room, annoyed with herself for not checking the
date before she’d bought it. But when she checked, she found the milk
well within its Sell By date. Another unexplained mystery to add to the
ones that had dogged her since moving into the cottage.
Back to The Haunting of Wisteria Cottage
Jason and the Corner Shop
Jason Has a Bad Day
Jason stopped what he was doing and on tip-toe peered
over the neatly-clipped hedge to see who it was doing all the
coo-eeing. He saw Tracy, his sister’s best friend racing down
the street as if she was on some important mission. Jason waved,
the girl smiled, slowed down and waved back.
Seconds later she was pushing open the gate, leaning on it and
gasping for breath, at the same time as rubbing her side as if
she had a stitch.
“What’s all the racket about?” asked Jason watching her
performance with interest.
Tracy looked up. “Oh! It’s you,” she said sounding
disappointed. “When I saw the ginger head peeping over the hedge
I thought it was Alison.”
“Well, it wasn’t, it was me.” Jason went back to what
he’d been doing before he’d been interrupted.
“Where is she?”
“Gone and never coming back.” He wiped his nose on the
back of his hand. “What do you want her for anyway?”
“Something very very important,” she whispered
“Tell me what it is, give us a sweet and I might tell
you where to find her.”
Jason knew Tracy was a softer touch that his sister.
She often slipped him sweets without blackmail. All the same, he
didn’t want to give information away too easily.
“I can’t. It’s private. Anyway . . .” The girl paused.
“What’re you doing?”
“Holding a funeral,” Jason replied, putting his hands
together and closing his eyes.
“My pet tarantula, he was squashed . . . by a trainer.”
“You’re daft. For one, you haven’t got a tarantula. For
two, there isn’t a grave.”
Jason could see by the way Tracy looked at him, that
she didn’t believe him.
“Oh yes I have,” he said, turning to face her, head at
an angle, eyes screwed up to keep out the sun. “It was a baby
one I caught in our Gran’s outside lavvy. Its grave’s there
beneath them crossed lollipop sticks,” he pointed toward a tiny
mound of earth. “I buried it in one of my Dad’s empty fag
packets.” Well it’s empty now, he thought, fingering the two
cigarettes in his pocket he planned to throw away later.
“If you’re not going to tell me where your sister is,
will you give her a message for me?” Tracy stared at the crossed
“I might, and then again, I might not. It just
“It just depends, that’s all.” No longer interested in
why Tracy had called to see Alison, Jason spread out his arms
and making the noise of an aeroplane, zoomed off ‘round the
For a few seconds, Tracy stood hands on hips watching
him, then stooping down she began to pluck daisies from the
lawn. These she laid gently on top of the tiny mound of earth.
She was so wrapped up in what she was doing, Jason could tell
she was unaware his sister was creeping up behind her.
Tired of playing aeroplane, he crept forward and hid
behind a bush so he could hear the girls talking.
“What are you up to, Tracy Hicks?” his sister demanded.
Tracy spun ‘round. “N-n-nuthing, nothing at all,” she
stammered turning a bright scarlet.
“Yes you are, and I can always tell when you’re lying,
because your ears turn bright red.”
“No they don’t.” Tracy’s hands shot to her ears.
“Yes, they do. Anyway, what are we doing standing here
arguing when we could be out looking for them lads?”
“Well, just between you and me,” Tracy whispered, “it’s
about the lads I called ‘round to see you.”
“Go on ,then I’m listening, what about the lads?”
Alison fished in her bright red handbag, as if nothing Tracy
might have to say was of importance.
“I’ve just seen them, that tall fair-haired lad and his
pal. They were in St. John Ambulance uniforms.” A little smile
played ‘round her lips, as if she was waiting for the tid-bit of
information to sink in.
Alison stopped ferreting in her handbag as suddenly as
she had started. “Well, go on then,” she said.
“That’s it. They were in St. John Ambulance uniforms.”
For a few seconds Alison stared vacantly skyward, while
Tracy beamed down on her like a giraffe.
Jason stayed hidden, he realised that he knew the
fair-haired boy they were talking about. He was thirteen, a year
older than either of them, and ever since he’d moved into the
area, they’d both had their eyes on him. They made endless trips
to McDonalds on the off chance of bumping into him. It seemed
they had no idea where he lived or what school he went to; Jason
knew and he wasn’t about to tell them.
“If you’re thinking what I’m thinking—” Alison sounded
excited. “Then for once I agree with you, Trace. Come on, let’s
see if we can join.”
Back to Jason and the Corner Shop Mystery
and the Friendly Ghost
An Unusual Present
Day—presents had been opened, the turkey carved, crackers pulled
and the pudding set ablaze. Jason still had one present left to
unwrap; it was from his granny Foster. He knew it would be
something knitted, it always was, and by the size of the parcel
he’d guessed it would be gloves and that’s why he’d left it
until the last to be opened. But it wasn’t gloves, or anything
else he recognized.
supposed to be?” he asked holding it at arm's length, a puzzled
look on his face. “It looks like a tea cosy? I think Gran’s made
a mistake Mum, this must be a present for you.”
His mother, with
a sigh of exasperation, took the woolly out of his hand and
pulled it down over his head.
“That’s what it’s
for,” she said, “it’s what’s known as a balaclava; it’s to keep
your head warm.”
“I can’t wear
that.” Jason struggled to pull it off. “If I went to school in
that everybody would laugh at me and if the police saw me I’d
get arrested, they’d think I was a bank robber.”
Mr. Foster looked
at his wife and shook his head. “Mum’s obviously been sorting
through her old knitting patterns again,” he sighed, “I wonder
what she’ll come up with next?”
sister, wasn’t listening. For the best part of ten minutes she’d
sat with a smile on her face, and faraway look in her eyes.
“Ma-a-m,” she drawled. “Can I have my ears pierced?”
parents answered her at once.
Everybody in my class has got pierced ears.”
His sister shot
him a warning glance. “She doesn’t count,” she whispered back.
“Both your mother
and I have said no, so that’s the end of it.”
than to argue with her father, Alison gave a loud huff and
flounced off to her bedroom
Jason guessed she
would stay there sulking until it was time for tea. He looked
round for something to do, sitting quietly and twiddling his
thumbs wasn’t exactly what he’d had in mind for an exciting
Christmas. They usually had friends over or went visiting, but
his mum for some reason had said for a change this year, they
would have a quiet Christmas.
Jason picked up
one of his presents, it was a book. He flicked through the
pages, before tossing it to the floor. It wasn’t one he would
have chosen for a boy nearly eleven, but he knew he would still
have a thank you letter to write later on.
He strolled over
to the window; outside it was freezing cold and everything was
covered in a thick coating of frost. He wondered if anyone would
be playing football on the top rec. He fancied a kick around,
but being Christmas Day he expected everybody would be indoors
playing with their presents. Still he thought it might be worth
a try, there was always the chance that he would meet somebody
who fancied a game.
“Mum, if I wrap
up warm, can I go out for a bit?”
His mother nodded
her consent. She was in the middle of watching a Christmas weepy
on TV and although she had seen it many times before, she still
sat with a box of tissues by her side.
With gloves on
his hands, a scarf round his neck and the knitted balaclava
stuffed in his pocket, Jason quietly closed the front door
behind him and set off for the top rec.
Apart from a
small girl pushing a doll’s pram and one of the neighbours
taking her dog for a walk, he met no one else he knew as he
The trees in the
park sparkled with frost and the grass scrunched underfoot, but
Jason didn’t notice, for as he’d expected there was no one
around. He was just going to leave when he heard a creaking
noise coming from the play area; full of curiosity, he went to
investigate. The noise was being made by a swing in need of oil.
A boy of roughly his own age sat on it, dragging his feet slowly
backward and forward on the ground as he swung.
toward him and the boy raised his head and smiled. “Hi, I didn’t
know anyone else was around,” he said. “Didn’t notice you
creeping up, do you live round here?”
Jason nodded his
head, climbed up onto the swing next to him and began bending
and straightening his knees in a steady rhythm, working up the
swing. He paused just long enough to say: “Yes, Acorn Drive,
“Don’t know it,”
the boy returned, and changed from sitting to standing and
swinging in competition. And it wasn’t long before the laughter
of the pair of them was ringing out across the deserted
After a while all
the exertion left Jason in a cold sweat, and he called for a
truce admitting defeat.
But the raw wind
soon had him shivering, and it wasn’t long before his nose was
dripping and his ears tingling. He was tempted to take the
balaclava out of his pocket and put it on, but was afraid that
if he did his new pal would laugh at him, so instead he fished a
tissue out of his pocket and blew his nose. “I’m freezing,” he
said flapping his arms round his shoulders, “aren’t you?”
perished,” said the boy, and pulling a khaki balaclava out of
his pocket began forcing it over his head
Jason was gob
smacked. “I’ve got one of them,” he gasped. “Did your gran knit
it for you?”
“No, my mum.”
Jason wondered if
his gran knew something he didn’t, if perhaps it was a new
trend. He didn’t mind wearing his now he’d seen someone else
Back to Jason and the Friendly
|Magic and Mayhem
A Bizarre Encounter
Jason had a strange feeling something was
about to happen. He didn’t know what it was, or why he should be
worried, but he was.
Sitting on the back doorstep with his
hands over his ears, he tried to shut out the sound of a
whispered argument taking place between his sister Alison, and
her friend Tracy. He knew the squabbling was nothing more than a
power struggle taking place as to who should be the one to push
little Emily Louise’s pram, when they took her for a walk.
He was in a bad mood, it wasn’t only the
constant bickering he’d had enough of, it was the way everybody
tiptoed around the house talking in whispers since the new baby
had arrived. He glanced over at the shiny new pram and the
newcomer sleeping so utterly contented and peacefully in it, and
grudgingly had to admit she really did look sweet. Nevertheless,
he reminded himself with a scowl, she was the one to blame for
all the sleepless nights he had to put up with, plus the fact
that he now took second place in the family. And if that wasn’t
enough, he was sick and tired of listening to all the cooing and
baby talk that went on. He had never been so down in the dumps,
and just when he could have done with his friend being around,
he had to be at the dentist having a brace fitted.
“Mum,” he shouted through the open back
door. “I’m off to see Gran, do you want me to take anything?”
The only answer he received was a chorus of shush, a warning to
keep his voice down so as not to disturb the baby. “It comes to
something when I’m not even allowed to open my mouth,” he
The girls finally reached an agreement as
to who was going to do the pram pushing, and Alison was the one
with the biggest grin on her face.
Jason dragged himself to his feet. “I’m
going,” he called needlessly, and without a backward glance,
Slump-shouldered, he ambled along trying
to remember what it had been like before the new baby arrived.
Grumpily he chewed over the fact that as it was mild, sunny, and
the first day of a mid-term holiday, if it hadn’t been for
little Emily Louise, the whole family would most probably have
been on a day trip out somewhere by now.
He couldn’t shake off the sense of
foreboding he woke up with. A dented Coke tin in the gutter got
the benefit of the toe of his trainer. Hands in pockets, he
stood watching as it clattered noisily down the deserted street.
“Mind what you’re doing, you big bully.
You nearly did me an injury then.”
“Did somebody say something?” he cried.
“I did. What’s the matter, are you going
Jason peeked over the garden wall of the
house he was standing next to, but apart from a dog snoozing
with its nose on its paws in the shade, he could see no one.
“All right Wayne, you can come out; I know
it’s you,” he yelled and waited for his pal to pop out from his
place of hiding. But the street remained deserted and eerily
quiet. He quickly walked on.
“Going anywhere interesting?”
Lightening fast, Jason spun round hoping
to catch the phantom joker, but all he saw were two pigeons
squabbling over a crust of bread, and the cat he’d seen earlier,
sat on the pavement edge scratching itself. “Don’t worry I’ve
not got fleas,” it said through a stifled yawn.
Although the voice sounded as if it was
coming from the animal, Jason refused to believe it. “All right,
come out, come out, whoever you are; you can’t kid me, you’re a
ventriloquist aren’t you? You’ve been throwing your voice. I was
fooled for a bit but not anymore, so you might as well come out
and show yourself.” Jason stood grim-faced and waited for the
culprit to appear.
“Who are you waiting for kid?” The cat
rubbed itself round his ankles.
“I’ll give you this much,” shouted Jason,
“you’re good, and if I didn’t know any better I’d say it was
this mangy old moggy talking.”
“Who are you calling a mangy old moggy?”
“Scram.” He shooed the cat away, but it
refused to go. Determined to find out who the guilty party was,
Jason strode resolutely down the road looking over hedges,
peering through gates, and spinning round at unexpected moments.
When he’d walked the length of the road one side, he continued
his search on the other. Baffled, and no nearer solving the
mystery, he shook his head and flopped down on the pavement
edge, his feet in the gutter. “It’s all these sleepless nights
I’ve been having,” he mumbled to no one in particular. “Either
that, or I’m going daft.”
“Stop making excuses and accept the fact
it’s me talking to you.”
Crouched as he was, Jason slowly turned
his head until he was on eye level with the cat. Any doubts he’d
had about his sanity before, he felt were now fully justified.
Mouth gaping, eyes glazed, he watched spellbound as the animal’s
mouth opened, and closed in perfect synchronization to the
spoken words. This was just one coincidence too many for him,
and in blind panic he scrambled to his feet and belted down the
road, running faster and harder than he had ever run before. It
wasn’t until he was standing outside his grandparent’s house
panting for breath that he stopped, leaned on the garden gate,
and gulped in air. Doubled over he massaged his side to ease the
pain of a stitch.
“You got battery-operated trainers on your
feet, kid? It took me all my time to keep up with you.”
“A-a-a-h-h!” Jason yelled and stared in
horror at the cat that had not only followed him, but now sat
coolly licking its paws, washing behind its ears and he could
have sworn, grinning at him.
Not bothering to close the gate, he raced
up the path and hammered with both fists on the front door. He
heard his grandmother tutting in annoyance as she turned the key
and fumbled with the door chain. Come on, come on, hurry up and
let me in, he urged silently.
His gran came to the door with flour on
her hands and a scowl on her face. “Haven’t I told you before
about using the front door?” she asked. “I was in the middle of
taking a tray of jam tarts out of the oven when you started
trying to beat it down, I thought somebody had been murdered.”
She brushed a smudge of flour from her cheek before pausing to
look at him. “You’re out of breath, sweaty and you’ve got dark
circles under your eyes. Are you feeling all right?” She asked,
placing a cool, floury hand on his forehead.
“I’m fine, Gran, honest. I’ve just been
running, that’s all.”
“Why? Has somebody been chasing you?”
Jason recognized the glint in his gran’s
eye, but he knew the last thing he was going to tell her was
he’d been running away from a talking cat. “No one’s been
chasing me, honest. I’ve taken up jogging that’s all; I’ve heard
it’s good for you,” he said and began to jog on the spot.
“Not if it makes you look like that it
isn’t, so stop it this instant and take yourself inside where
it’s nice and cool. I’ll get you a glass of lemonade and if you
behave yourself I might even give you a jam tart.” She ushered
him into the house, replaced the chain and locked the door.
A cold drink and time to collect his
thoughts sounded like heaven to Jason. But he wasn’t prepared
for the surprise that was waiting for him when he entered the
living room. Knocked for six, mouth gapping, he stood and stared
at the cat curled up on his granddad’s favourite chair as if he
had every right to be there.
But sleeping peacefully as it was, it
looked no different from any other cat and Jason began to
suspect it was just lack of sleep, he was suffering from. “Puss,
I said puss, can you hear me?” he whispered.
At that moment his gran entered the room
carrying a glass of lemonade in one hand, and plate of jam tarts
in the other. She set them down on a coffee table in front of
him. “Who’s that you’re talking to?” she asked.
“Just a cat,” replied Jason, taking a tart
from the plate and biting into it.
“Now, how did that get in here?” Jason’s
gran shook her head in disbelief. “I know I didn’t leave any
doors open.” She leaned forward and cautiously stroked the
sleeping tom’s head, receiving a body-vibrating purr in reward.
“You poor thing,” she cooed picking it up and cradling it in her
arms. “I can feel every bone in your body.”
A pitiful meow trembled in the air and the
cat nuzzled its head under her chin. With one paw round the
woman’s neck, the other resting on her shoulder, it lifted its
head and winked at Jason.
The wink was just too much of a
coincidence for Jason. “I’d put it down if I were you, Gran,” he
said. “It could have worms.”
Although the cat hadn’t said a word since
it had followed him into the house, he was worried that if it
did start talking while his gran was holding it, it might give
her a heart attack. “Put it down, Gran,” he insisted. “It could
have fleas as well.”
Jason’s grandmother peered at the cat’s
head, before planting a kiss on a tuft of white fur between its
ears and declaring, “There’s nothing wrong with this cat a good
feed won’t put right. I don’t know who you belong to, puss, but
I know a plate full of leftover chicken pieces won’t do you any
harm.” She strode purposefully through to the kitchen, the cat
purring at full throttle in her arms.
Jason shook his head in disbelief.
Although the cat had behaved itself since coming into the house,
he still didn’t feel he could trust it. Warily, he poked his
head round the kitchen door and saw that the cat was tucking
into a plate overflowing with chicken pieces, and his gran was
in the middle of skimming the cream from a bottle of gold top
into a dish.
Feeling in need of a drink himself, he
went back for his glass of lemonade and bottomed it. Less than
ten minutes later the cat waddled to the front door, and stood
there meowing long and loud.
Magic and Mayhem
Jason Sinks to a New Low
A notice the waste ground had been acquired by the council and
was up for redevelopment was big enough for anyone to see, but
the boys chose to ignore it. They knew where a section of the
fence surrounding the ground was in need of repair, and it
wouldn’t be the first time they’d taken advantage of the fact.
After first making sure no one was about, they pushed one of the
lose panels to one side, scrambled through and pulled it back
into position behind them.
Once inside they stood, hands shading their eyes from the fading
sun, and looked around.
“They’ve done nowt,” cried Wayne in disgust, and throwing his
arms in the air, spun them round like a windmill.
“What did you expect?” returned Jason, equally disappointed at
finding nothing had changed since the last time they’d sneaked
“I thought at least there’d have been a workman’s hut or
summat,” Wayne plonked down heavily on a fallen log and pushed
his hair back out of his eyes.” Shall we go home, then?” Jason
joined him on the log and rested back against the trunk of a
“You can if you want; I’m staying here for a bit,” mumbled
Wayne. “There must be something round here worth looking at.”
Jason thought about the homework in his duffle-bag and how he
should have been at home doing it, instead of sitting there
wasting time. He knew Wayne was in no rush to get home, because
for the second time in a month, he’d smashed a pane of glass in
the next door neighbour’s cold frame. His spends were already
being stopped for the last time it had happened, and he knew
he’d be in for another ticking off when his dad got home from
Jason closed his eyes, his thoughts drifting slowly back to the
hard day he’d had at school and how unfairly he believed he’d
been treated. Mr Cox, his teacher, had told him off in front of
the class, twice. Once for daydreaming when he hadn’t been; he’d
only been thinking how he could get his dad to fork out for a
new pair of football boots, as the studs on his old ones needed
replacing. Then again for talking in class, when he’d only asked
Richard Bates what time it was because he was ready to go home;
and for this he’d been given fifty lines to write.
The sun had gone in, and it had turned cold, cold enough for
Jason to stir himself. He opened his eyes, scratched his head
and rubbed his hands together to warm them up. “Way-n-e,” he
drawled and waited for him to answer. When he didn’t, he looked
around to find out why, but Wayne was no longer sitting where
he’d been only a short time earlier; he was nowhere to be seen.
Jason was puzzled, couldn’t believe his friend would creep off
without saying anything to him first.
“Wayne where are you?” he called sharply. But apart from the
sound of wind rustling through leaves on the tree, and the
pitter-patter of a mouse scurrying from behind an upturned
rubbish bin, there was neither sight nor sound of Wayne or
anything else; it was creepy.
Jason gave a shrill whistle, but there was no reply, nothing. He
tried again, still no response. He was fuming, and muttering
under his breath what he would do the next time he saw him. He
stomped over to the loose piece of fencing they’d come in by and
pushed it roughly to one side. He was just about to step
through, when he heard someone calling his name. He stopped and
listened. He didn’t think the voice sounded like Wayne’s; it was
too croaky, but in spite of that, he knew it couldn’t possibly
be anybody else’s as nobody else knew he was there.
He returned to the spot under the tree where he’d last seen
Wayne, but nothing had changed. A mouse vigorously sorted
through the rubbish looking for titbits, and the tree still
shook its leaves.
Jason stood, arms folded, listening; “I know I’m not hearing
things,” he said to himself. “I definitely heard someone calling
He raised his voice, “Wayne, you’d better show yourself, or I’ll
go home and leave you to it. And,” he threatened, “I won’t come
and visit you if you get caught and thrown into prison for
“I’m down here; come and get me out.” A voice weak and hardly
audible trailed thinly in the air. It was followed by a violent
bout of coughing and sneezing.
“Speak up, I can’t hear you. Where’s down here? How can I get
you out if I don’t know where you are?”
“I don’t know where I am. It’s dark and I’m scared, come and get
me out pl-e-a-se.”
Wayne sounded terrified, and Jason knew he wasn’t pretending.
“Are you sure you can’t see anything?” he asked.
“I told you I couldn’t, didn’t I?”
“Okay, don’t panic. If you can’t tell me where you are, can you
tell me how you got there in the first place?”
“I went looking for conkers, tripped over, banged my head, and
the next thing I knew I was down here where I am now; so come
and get me out.”
It was starting to get dark and Jason knew if he wasn’t home
soon he’d be in trouble. His sister Alison had only just started
talking to him after being sent to the rec to look for him the
last time he’d been late home from school. All the same, he knew
he couldn’t leave without first finding Wayne.
“Stay where you are, I’m coming to find you.” Jason looked
wildly around. He had no idea where to start looking. The waste
ground covered a large area, big enough to build a supermarket
on, if the rumours were true.
He wandered aimlessly back and forth, returning time and time
again to the place where he’d last heard Wayne’s voice. He
peered into ditches half full of muddy water, tore his trousers,
got his legs stung with nettles, tripped over fallen branches,
grazed his knees, but he knew he couldn’t stop looking until
he’d found his friend.
In the distance, he heard the town hall clock strike the hour;
he’d been searching since the clock last struck fifteen minutes
ago, and he was still no nearer to finding Wayne. He’d run out
of ideas, was at a loss as what to do next, and it was time they
were home. Cupping his hands round his mouth he yelled, “Where
are you?” so loud, he scared the tiny mouse off.
“I’m down here,” echoed mournfully back from directly below
where Jason was standing. He dropped to his knees and pressed
his ear to the ground.
“Wayne, listen I want you talk, sing, make a noise—anything,
while I try and pinpoint exactly where you are. I think you must
be in a cave or something because your voice’s got a funny echo
to it. You didn’t crawl into a drain pipe, did you?” Jason
thought that was a likely explanation as there were all kinds of
rubble littered around.
“No I didn’t, now stop asking me daft questions and just come
and get me out of here. And if you want me to start singing, I
only know one song; ‘All things bright and beautiful,’ will that
“Just sing, and I’ll follow where the sound’s coming from.”
“Hurry up then, because I’m starving.”
Jason grinned; he knew if Wayne was complaining he was hungry it
could only mean he wasn’t hurt, and getting him to sing would
take his mind off things.
On all fours, Jason crawled around following Wayne’s shaky
voice, sometimes loosing it altogether and having to backtrack.
Finally a bout of coughing, louder than any he had heard before,
convinced him Wayne really was directly beneath where he was
He stood up. He needed to stretch his legs because they were
aching from so much crawling around and he had the beginnings of
cramp. He stamped his foot, hoping it would loosen the knotted
muscles in his calf, but it didn’t. If anything, it made them
worse, but as stamping had cured his cramp once before, he tried
again, only this time he stamped much harder.
The earth shook and a noise like the rumble of thunder filled
the air. Jason thought it was an earthquake; he wanted to run,
but his legs refused to move. He watched in horror as the ground
beneath him began to crumble away. He screamed, afraid he was
falling to his death. Grappling, snatching, clawing, he tried to
save himself but it was no use. Sliding, rolling, tumbling, he
plummeted ever deeper into the jaws of a yawning black hole.
Jason Sinks to a New Low
The Haunting of Bramble Briar
A couple of weeks previous, there had been
three properties on the estate agents’ books I’d been interested
in: Wisteria Cottage, The Anvil in Clay Bottom and Bramble Briar
on Old Church Lane. Now there were only the two; Wisteria
Cottage had been sold the day prior to my visit.
The Anvil once belonged to the village
blacksmith, so the estate agent informed me; hence its name. It
was well-maintained and came with two outbuildings and a stable,
but as I had no intentions of buying a horse, or starting a
riding school, I turned down the invitation to view. It was also
a tad outside of my price range.
I wasn’t short of money. I’d made some
good investments over the years playing the stock markets, and
luck was with me when I sponsored an unknown pop-group that
turned out to be a winner, and was still paying me handsome
The outdated sepia photograph in the
estate agent window showed Bramble Briar, years before, with a
thatched roof. Now it was slate. I’d have been much happier if
the previous owners had left it as it was; slate looked so out
of place on a cottage built of grey Yorkshire stone.
What I couldn’t understand was why anyone
would go to all that unnecessary expense and then, so soon
after, put the property back on the market. However, I was soon
to learn more.
“Put that down, Missus. It’s our job not
yours. That’s what you’re paying us for.”
I put down the kitchen stool I’d been
carrying through to the cottage, as the furniture removal man
requested; he nodded to his mate and received a sly wink in
“How much longer will you be?” I asked.
Both men had spent more time standing around gossiping and
smoking than getting on with the job, and as I was paying by the
hour, I was getting impatient.
“Won’t be much longer now, will we, Bert?
Mind you, we’d be done much quicker if you slipped the kettle on
and made us a cuppa. Two sugars in mine, love, only one in
Marlon’s. He’s on a diet.”
I knew it was no use arguing so I went
indoors, unpacked the kettle and plugged it in. Minutes later I
handed the steaming beverages over to the men; half an hour
later, they decided to pick up where they had left off.
It wasn’t long, however, before Bert,
complaining of a bad back, made himself comfy in one of my
armchairs in the front garden, leaving Marlon to finish off, as
he put it.
“Nice view you’ve got from ‘ere, ain’t it,
Missus?” he remarked, mopping his brow with a grimy teacloth
“Yeah, better than the view from the
back,” chipped in Marlon. “Bloody graveyard. ‘Ave you seen it?”
Bert hadn’t, and he was soon on his feet,
going to investigate. “Did you know about this before you bought
the place, Missus?” he asked upon his return.
I assured him I did and plonked myself
down on the vacated chair before he had time to. He took the
hint, and went back to help cart the last of the boxes from the
“I bet nobody told you about the spooky
history of Bramble Briar though, did they?” Marlon stood in
front of me; arms folded, cigarette dangling from the corner of
“What history?” I asked.
“You’ll find out for yourself soon enough,
just like the last lot did. And—”
I cut him off in mid-sentence with a
flattened palm turned to him. I wasn’t interested. I just wanted
them gone; I’d had more than enough.
“I’m just nipping inside to get my cheque
book. I can see you’re nearly finished,” I said. Bert got the
message, picked up the chair and with Marlon’s help, carried it
into the cottage.
The cheque I made out for the exact
amount, no tip included. Mumbling something definitely not
complimentary when I handed it over, the men clambered into the
removal van and drove off, gears grating.
I didn’t feel guilty. The day was half
gone, and I had a lot to do before I could take a break. A job
that should have taken the removal men no more than three hours
at the most, had been dragged out to four. I was glad to see
That night I slept the sleep of the dead.
No sooner had my head touched the pillow than I was off, out
like a light. I awoke the next day to the sound of the morning
chorus, feeling refreshed and ready to start work. The sun
shone, I was in a good mood and it promised to be a lovely day.
What could possibly go wrong?
After a breakfast of tea toast and
marmalade, I decided to take a walk in the back garden before
getting dressed for the day. Apart from the graveyard and the
ruins of a church, there was no other property nearby. I could
have strolled outside stark naked, if I’d wanted.
I trod carefully down the overgrown,
weed-covered cinder path, to the wall that separated my property
from the church graveyard. Everything looked peaceful—a stone
angel, hands folded in prayer, stood no more than a foot away
from where I was standing. Tombstones, lichen-covered, many at
sloped angles, dozed peacefully in the early morning sunlight.
Feeling like an intruder, I made my way back to the cottage, but
the door I had left open and unlocked was now shut tight;
wouldn’t budge no matter how hard I pushed, pulled and rattled.
Admitting defeat, I made my way round to the front hoping to
gain entry that way. No such luck, the door was firmly bolted as
I knew it would be; I was locked out and had no idea how I could
I plonked down on the front doorstep and
sat head-in-hands trying to find a solution to my problem. I
couldn’t phone for a locksmith, as my mobile was upstairs in the
bedroom on the bedside table along with my car keys. I couldn’t
phone for help or drive anywhere.
Time dragged and there was nothing I could
do but sit and wait. The sun had gone in and rain threatened. I
was just giving up hope of anyone passing by when I heard a car
coming down the lane. I dashed outside and stood arms waving,
yelling, “Stop! Stop!” at the top of my voice. The vehicle
slewed to one side, narrowly missing me, before coming to a
halt. The driver was the village postman, looking shaken and
none too happy as he walked towards me.
“What’s up?” he asked, face scowling.
“Don’t you realise you could have caused a nasty accident
jumping out at me like that? It’s a good job I was looking where
I was going, weren’t it?”
“Yes, I really am sorry,” I smiled in way
of apology. “It was the only way I could think of getting you to
“What’s up, then?” he repeated.
I explained what the trouble was and asked
if he could help me in any way. It took him less than two
seconds to open the back door, pressing down the latch and
pushing it open with one finger. I felt like an idiot.
Back to Bramble Briar
His Father's Son
|James checked his appearance in the
bathroom mirror and rubbed his chin considering whether or not
he should run his electric shaver over it one more time.
Deciding there was no need; he pulled a comb from his pocket and
carefully teased it through his mop of unruly curls.
He smiled, showing a set of perfect teeth;
satisfied at last with the image that stared back at him from
the looking glass, he left the room.
Downstairs in the kitchen, the meal he had
spent most of the afternoon preparing was ready, apart from one
or two final touches. The dining table was set for three.
Crystal glasses sparkled on a white damask tablecloth next to
bone-handled stainless steel cutlery. A bottle of
Chateau-neuf-du-Pap stood uncorked, allowing it to breathe and
come up to room temperature. He fussed with the serviettes that
had been folded to resemble water lilies, checked the condiments
to make sure they were all full.
Satisfied at last, he stood hands on hips
and surveyed it with approval. Tonight everything had to be
perfect—nothing must go wrong. All he had to do now was wait for
his parents to arrive.
A grandfather clock that took pride of
place in the room ticked hollowly, the pendulum swinging
hypnotically. James checked the time with his Rolex: seven o’
clock; his parents should have been here by now. He strode
impatiently to the window and looked out, heaving a sigh of
relief when he saw his father’s blue Ford coupe turn into the
drive and pull up.
He watched as his father, ever the
gentleman, got out and rushed round to the other side of the car
to open the door for his wife.
James’s mother was blond, petite, and
looked younger than her fifty-four years. She took pride in her
appearance, never a hair out of place, and kept up with the
latest trends in fashion. Her hobbies were reading, the theatre
and travel; she could also hold her own in any discussion on
politics or current affairs. She led a full and satisfying life,
and both James and his father were justly proud of her.
With his dark hair and blue eyes, James
took after his father, but that is where the similarity ended.
He had no interest in his father’s leisure pursuits: fishing,
cricket, racing, not for him; his interest was in the arts,
classical music, the ballet.
When James opened the door to welcome his
parents, his mother gave him a hasty peck on the cheek and
pushed past him. This was the first time she’d seen the new semi
and she was impatient to be shown around.
“I sense a woman’s touch in this place,”
she said, taking in the long-stem, freshly cut red roses that
stood in a cut glass vase on a coffee table. She nodded
approvingly at the cream leather suite with its carefully
arranged myriad of cushions. “Come on who is she?” she asked.
James smiled—he knew his mother would
think a woman was involved; she never stopped trying to
match-make and had introduced him to so many single girls, he’d
“No women mum, all my own work,” James
returned. It was a white lie, but as yet he wasn’t prepared to
say anything else; the timing wasn’t right.
“What about Sally, is she still around?”
Sally had been a girl he’d had a fling
with at university, but it had never taken off and it hadn’t
“Mum, Sally and I were never an item.”
“Yes, you were. I remember you buying her
that lovely blue handbag . . . or was it red?
Back to His Father's Son
At age nineteen, with a mop of unruly
auburn hair, green eyes and wolf-whistle figure, Sapphire Brent
had everything going for her. She worked in the offices of
Cartwell and Sons, a family-operated Insurance Company of long
standing. She’d considered herself lucky at landing a job there
when she didn’t have much experience in secretarial work and
knew absolutely nothing about insurance.
Her last place of employment had been
Zen’s boutique, but she had left there under a cloud after
borrowing a chiffon top without asking permission and not
getting it back on the rail before the manageress had arrived
the following morning.
Sapphire, or Saffy as she was known to her
associates, made friends easily, but as a rule didn’t always
keep them for any length of time. Her longest friendship to date
was Mandy, a girl she worked with. Six months without a serious
falling out, which was a result of Mandy’s sweet and forgiving
Most Fridays, the girls went to the local
cinema after work, something that had started as a one-off, but
had somehow grown into a regular thing. Sapphire would have
preferred to spend her Friday evenings at a disco or night club,
but Mandy wouldn’t consider it, giving the excuse her boyfriend
Sapphire had yet to meet this mysterious
boyfriend, whom she secretly believed existed only in Mandy’s
“How about we give the pics a skip and do
something different tonight?” she asked, and bent down to rescue
a local free paper from the waste-paper basket under her desk.
Patiently she trawled through the What’s on section in the hope
of finding something of interest to them both.
Mandy stood watching her, and Saffy could
tell from her friend’s puckered brow she was giving the idea
some serious consideration.
“How—” She hesitated as if first testing
the water—“do you fancy going to a spiritualist meeting?” she
“Spiritualist meeting!” shrieked Saffy.
“You know I’m a confirmed atheist.”
For a few seconds, neither of the girls
spoke. Mandy stood staring into space, face clouded with
disappointment. Sapphire, feeling a rare moment of compassion,
caved in. “Go on then, I’ll give it a go.” She sighed, making it
clear she was doing Mandy a big favour.
The cottage was run-down, drafty and in need of repair;
guttering needed replacing, doors rehung, as they didn’t fit
properly, and there was no central heating.
Regardless of all the faults, the Estate Agent could tell the
woman was interested, and he was desperate to get rid of the
property, for it had been on his books for far too long.
“The cottage is worth twice what it’s going for; the owners want
a quick sale,” he said, smiling down at the woman benignly. “If
you want my advice, snap it up while you’ve got the chance. Look
on it as an investment.”
Anne wasn’t looking for an investment, she was looking for
something in her price range as far away from Nottingham as she
could get. “Would the owners consider dropping another thousand
off the price, as it needs so much done to it?” she asked.
The man rubbed his chin as if considering the idea, then shook
his head. “Can’t see them agreeing to another thousand—five
hundred maybe. I’ll tell you what: you take another look round
and I’ll phone and see what they have to say.”
Mobile in hand, he walked round to the far side of his car out
Anne didn’t want to take another look around; she’d seen all she
wanted to. Anvil Cottage was just what she’d been looking for,
but she couldn’t let the man know this; it was the reason she’d
been finding fault with every little thing since they’d arrived.
She’d pointed out it was a long walk to the village, grumbled
about the lack of entertainment in the area, questioned the
frequency of the bus service. Gone out of her way to nit-pick,
making believe she wasn’t really interested in the property
“Susan! Martin! Come on, we’ve got a bus to catch.” Anne’s tone
was sharp, impatient. She hadn’t seen either of her children
since they’d arrived and she wondered what mischief they’d been
getting up to.
“Susan, Martin, I’m warning you—if we miss the bus you’ll both
be in for it.”
A boy no more than six years of age appeared from inside the
cottage. Hands thrust in pockets, he ambled over to where his
mother was standing and stared up at her. “Don’t like this
place, there’s nowt to do ‘ere,” he growled.
Anne ignored him; she had too much on her mind, enough problems
of her own to contend with. What her son liked or disliked
didn’t come into the equation.
Patience wearing thin, she looked at her watch and yelled again,
this time angrily, “Susan, where the bloody hell are you?”
A head belonging to a teenage girl poked over the bottom half of
a stable door. “What you yelling for?” she returned hotly. “You
knew where I was.”
Anne bit her tongue, determined to keep her temper. Her daughter
was the reason she wanted to get away from Nottingham; the
reason she’d split from her partner, Martin’s dad.
“Now you’ve seen it, what do you think?” she said, waving her
arm around taking in the cottage and out buildings.
“Hate it,” the girl said, “and if you think I’m going to come
and live in a dump like this you can just think again. I’ll go
and live with my dad and Marlene, if they’ll have me,” she added
under her breath.
“Just been on to the owners.” The man sauntered over to where
Anne was standing, all smiles.
“And?” she said.
“They have agreed to five hundred off the asking price.”
Anne hesitated. five hundred off the price was less than she’d
hoped.”I’ll think about it,” she said, brow furrowed.
Anvil Cottage was the type of property she’d been searching for
and she’d considered herself lucky to have found it, but she
still wondered if she was doing the right thing dragging the
children away from a bustling city to live in the quiet of the
She was a woman on her own with two broken relationships behind
her and two children to look after. Martin, with his dark hair
and brown eyes, took after his father. He was a serious child,
doing well at school. The girl spent more time playing truant
than attending classes; fair skinned, blue eyed and blonde, she
was the exact opposite of her brother.
“If you’re worried about missing the bus.” The man tousled the
boy’s hair and got his hand pushed away for his trouble. “I’ll
be only too pleased to give you a lift into Darlington. You can
catch a later train, or a bus from there.”
“I said I’d consider it, I’ll be in touch when I’ve had more
time to think about it.” Anne could see the man was weakening.
She was no fool; she’d guessed he wanted rid of the property.
“If the owners had been prepared to drop it a thousand, well . .
. who knows?” she shrugged her shoulders.
“A thousand less it is, then.” the estate agent came back
without a moment’s hesitation, and stuck his hand out to shake
on it. “You strike a hard bargain, Mrs. Scrimshaw,” he said,
ushering her toward the car. “Hop in and I’ll take you back to
the office, and we’ll sort out the details.”
The only ones not happy with this turn of events were the
children. Sullen-faced, they clambered in the car and sat
tight-lipped, arms folded, on the back seats.
|Back to The
Irish Mouse Tales
Michael O’Leary was relaxed and in an expansive mood. With his
longer than average tail draped over one arm, perched
nonchalantly on a bag of corn, he surveyed the motley crowd that
had gathered for one of his storytelling evenings.
“Did I ever tell you about the time Patrick Shaunessy, Guido
Rafferty and myself nearly met St. Peter?” he began.
For a while no one answered, then, “You did me,” piped a small
vole. “You did me twice.”
Michael peered round to see where the voice came from. “Well,
just youse keep quiet not to spoil the telling for the others
then,” he warned. The vole scurried away into a dark corner of
“If there is any blame to be proportioned,” he continued.
“Patrick Shaunessy was the instigator, therefore it’s on him
I’ll be putting it.”
Patrick, whiskers flaying the air, shook his head vigorously.
“It’s not denying it that you are, is it, me old friend?” The
look Michael gave the little mouse was enough to silence further
protests. “After all, was it or was it not your idea that we
should visit Father O’ Brien, and see if he had anything
brewing?” The nod he received in answer to this question was
“Yes, if I remember correctly . . .” he paused for effect. “It
was October, and Father O’Brien had gone away leaving his barn
of a place unprotected. So, Patrick, Guido and myself decided to
keep an eye on the place for the good man. Naturally we rewarded
ourselves for the good deed, by sampling a few drops of spillage
from his vats. Myself, I only had a wee sup. But Guido, his
mother being one of those that came over on the boats, had a
liking for the stuff and got legless.”
“You must admit, Michael, it was some of the best stuff that’s
been brewed round here for a long time,” squeaked the
unrepentant Guido, “and, if I remember correctly, your head was
as thick as mine the next morning.”
Michael chose to ignore that remark and continued with the
telling. “Blind drunk they were, the pair of them. I’ll admit my
own vision was a bit blurred. But I was in a better state than
the pair of youse. And,” he stressed, “if it hadn’t been for my
clear thinking we wouldn’t be here now.”
“As I recollect, me old friend,” ventured Patrick. “It was my
idea to tie the rope round Guido’s middle and drag him along
“And was it or was it not my tail you hung on to for support?”
Michael flicked the said tail angrily.
“And just whose idea was it to cut through that old Biddy’s
garden, nearly getting us killed?” As Patrick grew more daring,
his squeaks rose higher.
“It’s not an argument I’m looking for, me old friend,” Michael
said. He could see that if he wasn’t careful, things would get
out of hand, and the evening would most likely end in a free for
all. “It’s just a telling of things the way I saw them.”
Patrick gave a mollified grumble. From the rest of the barn
there was no sound. Those who had not heard the story before
waited for its conclusion with baited breath.
“I knew we could be taking our life in our hands, taking that
shortcut,” he admitted. “But things were desperate, and if it
hadn’t been for Guido—” Guido tittered nervously. “—we’d have
got away with it. We’d tiptoed through the cabbages, broccoli
and carrots, crept along the gravel path and we were just about
to pass the front door of the cottage, when Guido decided to
wake up and give a rendering of O Sole Mio at the top of his
voice. This set the dog barking, a wolfhound that bayed like the
very hound of the Baskervilles.”
Irish Mouse Tales
Jason Spells it Out
Jason was restless; he couldn’t get to sleep—something bad was
going to happen and he sensed it. The house was not only quiet,
it was unnaturally quiet; no sound of snoring coming from his
sisters room or creaking of the cot, from the nursery where
little Emily Louise slept.
Jason tossed back the duvet and glanced round the room—it was
bathed in beams of moonlight that danced high on the walls and
cast shadows in the dark recesses. He got out of bed, padded
over to the window, opened it and looked out. At first he saw
nothing unusual, nothing different; then from the corner of his
eye he noticed a movement. The hairs on his arms quivered as if
under attack from static electricity, his heart began to pound
erratically and he felt weak at the knees. For a fraction of a
second, Jason thought he was going to pass out, but when the
wave of dizziness slowly passed, he knew he was going to be all
In a daze, he returned to his bed, clambered in and pulled the
duvet over his head; he couldn’t believe what he had just caught
a glimpse of and wanted to shut it out. He tried to convince
himself he was really asleep and just having a bad dream, but he
knew he wasn’t, knew the goose-pimples were real and the fearful
apparition he’d seen wasn’t a figment of his imagination.
Nerves stretched to breaking point, Jason trembled
uncontrollably; he could taste the fear and broke out in a cold
sweat. Someone, or something, was in the house, in the
bedroom—his bedroom—and he could hear it breathing.
“I know you’re only pretending to be asleep. Aren’t you pleased
to see me?” Whoever it was cackled mischievously as if deriving
pleasure from his plight.
Jason refused to open his eyes and plugged his ears with his
“I’ve not come on my own. I’ve brought somebody with me; I told
him all about you and what you did.”
Jason screwed his eyes up even tighter and pushed his fingers
deeper in his ears. Finally however, curiosity got the better of
him and with eyes narrowed, he peered out from behind the duvet.
A woman stood at the foot of his bed, and if Jason hadn’t been
so frightened he would have yelled for his dad to come and chase
her away. He knew without being told she was a witch because she
fit every description he’d ever read about them in books: hook
nose, warts; red-rimmed eyes that stared without blinking and a
mouth no more than a gash in a white face. Hair blacker than
deepest midnight streamed out from beneath a conical shaped hat.
“What . . . what . . . what do you want?” His words came out in
short gasps, he was so frightened.
“I told you when you retrieved my favourite broomstick from the
clutches of that evil hobgoblin, I wouldn’t forget, didn’t I?”
The witch perched herself on the foot of the bed and sat, arms
folded, staring at him.
“Did you?” Jason inched away; he still vividly remembered
everything about the broomstick and the ride he and Wayne had
taken on it. Remembered how it had been whisked away soon as
ever they’d landed, but he didn’t recall any witch saying
anything; he hadn’t even seen one.
“I said what do you want with me?” Jason demanded bravely.
“It’s reward-time for services rendered for you and your friend
. . . where is he, by the way?”
“You mean Wayne? He’s at home in bed where he should be.” Jason
wasn’t feeling so frightened now; his nerves had settled, the
goose-pimples had disappeared, and his hair was no longer
standing on end. And although he felt more in control, he still
kept his voice low as he didn’t want his dad to hear and come
“Shall we go and get him?”
“I said he’s in bed, and I expect fast asleep, as I should be.
So you can bog off and don’t forget to close the window on your
The woman threw her head back and cackled so loud Jason leapt
out of bed and rushed over to close the bedroom door. “Shut up,
will you?” he mouthed. “Do you want to wake everybody up?”
“Nobody else can hear me but you,” she assured him. “And I am
going nowhere without you, so you’d better get used to the idea
and get dressed.”
The way the woman’s eyes narrowed, Jason could tell she meant
it. He scrambled into his jeans, pulled a T-shirt over his head
and pushed his feet into his trainers. “I thought you said you’d
brought somebody with you,” he said.
“I have,” replied the witch, “my friend, Bertie Crowsbreath.
He’s a warlock, and he’s outside looking after the broomsticks.
I’ll call him.”
Eyes closed, head cocked to one side, she muttered something
unintelligible under her breath. Less than a split second later
there was a whooshing blast, and a broomstick with a man cloaked
in black sitting astride it whizzed in through the open window
and skidded clumsily to the carpeted floor. The newcomer got to
his feet, shook himself, and stood looking around.
“Where have you left my broomstick?” the witch asked, finger
“Don’t worry, my dear.I’ve parked it on the roof next to the
chimney stack. It’s quite safe. I can assure you.”
The man turned his attention to Jason. “And you must be the boy
Magenta has told me sooo much about,” he said in a spray of
“Who’s Magenta?” Jason wondered if they’d gotten the wrong
address, he didn’t know anybody called Magenta.
“That’s me,” simpered the witch with a flutter of eyelashes.
“Is it true you have a baby sister?” The warlock rubbed his
hands together and licked his lips. “How old is she?” he asked
in a lowered voice.
“Ten months. Why?” Jason wondered why the man was interested in
his little sister.
“No special reason, dear boy. It’s just that children are so
scrumptious at that tender age.”
Apart from his strange appearance, Jason didn’t like the man,
didn’t trust him and wanted him to go and take the freaky witch
with him. But he sensed they wouldn’t leave unless he went with
“I’m dressed,” he said, “but I can’t go anywhere until I’ve
scribbled a note for my mum and dad.” Jason was playing for
time, hoping to come up with some plausible excuse for not going
He looked for something to write on; a school jotter he been
doing his homework in was on the bedside table, so he picked it
up and tore a page out. “This’ll do,” he murmured. “Now all I
need is a pencil.”
“What for? You’ll be back long before you’re missed. Now stop
wasting time and climb up on the broomstick behind Bertie.”
Magenta’s mouth twitched at the corner, revealing crooked yellow
Jason shook his head. He wasn’t ready to go anywhere.
“Come on, stop dithering. Jump on the broomstick behind Bertie.
You know there’s nothing to be afraid of, you’ve done it before,
and I’ll be right behind you on mine.” The witch put two fingers
in her mouth and gave a long, low mournful whistle. Fork
lightning streaked across the sky and through the open window
Jason caught sight of the second broomstick dipping and diving,
countless coloured sparks trailing in its wake.
Seconds later the three of them, on broomsticks that seemed to
have grown in size, were swooping and diving over gardens and
rooftops as they headed toward Canal Cottages.
Jason Spells it Out
Rock, rock, went the old chair, wearing away the last vestige of
pile from the faded carpet. Alice had inherited the chair when
her mother had passed away many years ago.
She, along with her sister Mildred and brother George had all
been rocked in it as babies.
Alice loved the chair and all the memories it held; she recalled
the times she’d cradled sweet lovable little Tommy, her own baby
in her arms. Remembered how she had rocked him through teething
troubles and sleepless nights.
“We’re getting old, Daisy,” she murmured. The old cat she now
rocked in place of her baby answered with a low, rumbling belly
purr and snuggled deeper into the folds of the shawl spread over
Alice often talked to the cat; one-sided conversations, she
called them. She had no one else to speak to; no one else to
argue with, or to exchange points of view.
In days gone by she’d been an avid television viewer, never
missing an episode of the soaps; and would pit her wits against
contestants on quiz programs, often answering the questions
before they did. But the set was old, and when it broke down she
didn’t have the funds to replace it. Now it just stood in the
corner next to the fireplace, gathering dust.
Alice missed the corner shop most of all; it used to keep her up
to date with everything that was going on in the street. Unable
to compete with a supermarket that had opened on the outskirts
of town three years ago, the owner of the little convenience
store finally gave up trying, rolled down the shutter, locked
the door and left.
What Alice missed most of all was the neighbourhood gossip, the
scandal—who was expecting a baby? Who was in trouble with the
law? Who wasn’t married, but just living in sin? This would be
whispered from behind a hand, given with a nod and a wink not to
be passed on, which it always was. Alice liked to think she’d
never been guilty of spreading rumours, but she’d listened and
nodded her head along with the rest of them.
The letter box rattled, breaking the silence in the room, and
mail thudded to the mat. Alice gently removed the sleeping cat
from her knee. “Sorry to disturb you, puss,” she said, getting
to her feet. “I know it’ll only be junk mail and bills,” she
mumbled, making her way over to the front door to pick them up.
“That’s all it ever is: junk-mail and bills; nobody ever writes
to me anymore.” She moaned and rubbed the small of her back with
one arthritic hand before bending down to retrieve the mail from
“What’s this then?” she murmured, separating an official-looking
envelope from the pizza delivery offers and holiday brochures.
It was addressed to the occupant of Number Five Cathcart Street.
Alice pulled out a chair and sat down at the kitchen table to
read it. The table was still set with a cup saucer and plate she
hadn’t cleared from breakfast time. She hesitated momentarily
before picking up a knife and painstakingly slitting open the
envelope and removing the letter. Glasses perched on the end of
her nose, she gave it a quick perusal before reading it out
aloud. “It’s from the Council,” she said. “This is to inform you
of the decision of the local council regarding your house,
Number 5 Cathcart Street. It has been condemned and is due for
demolition the early part of next year. You will be offered
alternative accommodation and help with relocation. Blah . . .
blah . . . blah. Yours sincerely.”
Alice read the letter through again, this time to herself, and
it was a good ten minutes later before she pushed back her chair
and stood up. With trembling hands, she cleared the table and
washed the pots. Her mind was not on the task in hand. Instead,
she was remembering times past when she had first moved into the
little two-up, two-down terrace house.
“I was only seventeen, when Charlie carried me over that
door-step. Did I ever tell you that, Daisy? After being
unemployed for over a year, my Charlie finally landed himself a
job, and he rushed me down to the Registry office and made
arrangements for us to get wed. That’s the type of man he was,
never stood still long enough to let grass grow beneath his
feet. You’d have liked him,” she added.
The Carol Singers
Haunting of Pandora Fox
Born Dora Anne Cox, in the St. Ann’s area of Nottingham to an
unemployed labourer and a school dinner lady, Pandora hadn’t had
the best of starts in life, but this hadn’t discouraged her. At
the earliest opportunity she’d changed her name, by Deed Poll,
to Pandora Fox, upped sticks and moved to London, believing like
many others before her, the streets were paved with gold.
Living in a shared flat above a Kebab shop, it didn’t take her
long to realise she’d only changed one back street for another;
consequently, she was ready to move on again.
Pandora changed jobs as often as her boyfriends, so, when the
opportunity to work as a Ladies companion dropped in her lap
unexpectedly one day, she jumped at the chance.
Karen, the girl she shared a flat with, on seeing the advert in
the jobs section of a newspaper one evening, said it looked too
good to be true and passed the paper over for Pandora to read
for herself. A quick scan was all she needed before her mind was
made up. Without wasting time, she dug out her CV, updated it,
with one or two additions, and posted it the next day.
Less than ten days later, she received a letter saying the
position was hers if she wanted it. She never questioned why an
interview wasn’t necessary, never questioned why the conditions
of employment she’d insisted on—use of a car, days off, and so
forth—were accepted without argument; she’d just been happy to
know the job was hers if she wanted it, and she did.
As a Ladies companion, she expected and looked forward to visits
to the theatre, trips abroad, all expenses paid, and a chance to
mix with people her parents would have called her betters. What
she didn’t realise was all these things came with a price.
Hardwick Hall lived up to Pandora’s expectations. It stood in
its own grounds, with manicured lawns, rose gardens and boxed
hedges. The only thing missing, as far as she could see, was
The reception she received on her first day however, did not
live up to her expectations. A female of considerable years
answered the door to her persistent knocking.
“It’s the back door for servants,” she said, raking her eyes
over Pandora and her suitcases. “And you’re late,” she added.
“I’ve had to stay behind to show you to your room and that’s
something I never do, I always make sure I’m away long before it
gets dark. Today’s an exception—I couldn’t just walk out and
leave my lady in the house all on her own.”
Pandora mumbled her apologies for any inconvenience she’d caused
and followed on the woman’s heels through to the back of the
house and up the stairs to a room that was to be hers.
“I’m off now,” the elder woman said. “Once you’ve got yourself
sorted, go to the library. Lady Isobel’s expecting you, so don’t
keep her waiting.”
Pandora didn’t have the chance to ask where the library was,
because by the time she’d put her cases down the woman had gone.
The Haunting of Pandora Fox
|A Man Named Klaus
Chrystal hadn’t entered any competitions, and yet she’d won a
long weekend-away in Germany, all expenses paid. She assumed
someone had entered the competition on her behalf, and fully
expected whoever it was to own up.
But they didn’t and the mystery only deepened when a week later
an envelope containing airline tickets plopped through the
letterbox onto the doormat.
Chrystal, with her dark hair and hazel eyes, had more than her
fair share of good looks.
Of her wide circle of friends, there was one whom she felt sure
was her anonymous benefactor.
“I know it’s him,” she confided to her friend Karen. “Do you
remember the time I received anonymous tickets through the post
for a show? He had no option but to own up that time because his
seat was next to mine in the theatre. If he wants to waste
money, he can. I’ve decided to accept, no questions asked, and
enjoy myself. I might take the opportunity to look up some old
friends,” she added.
Chrystal and Karen both worked for a large retail company in
Nottingham. Chrystal had started there straight after leaving
Sixth Form College and worked her way up to area manager’s PA.
However, Karen, who’d joined the firm at the same time, had
progressed no further up the ladder than where she’d started as
a routine duties clerk.
Chrystal’s position entitled her to five weeks holiday instead
of four and her take home pay was double her friend’s. Karen
always insisted she wasn’t jealous, insisted she wouldn’t have
taken the job as PA’s assistant if it had been offered to her on
a silver plate.
“This won’t be your first visit to Germany, will it?” Karen
wanted all the details. “Didn’t you tell me you’d taken part in
a student exchange scheme years ago?”
“That’s right. I stayed with a family in Hamelin, the Ungers,”
Chrystal confirmed, “but sadly I’ve lost touch. The last time I
heard from them was over four years ago. They were thinking of
moving, so I’ve no idea where they are now.”
Determined to make the most of the unexpected treat, Chrystal
packed her case and set off in high spirits.
But things didn’t go as smoothly as she’d hoped; first her
flight was delayed for two hours due to fog, and when she landed
at Hannover airport it was dark and pouring down rain.
She mulled over the possibility of catching a train from Hanover
to Hamelin, but couldn’t recall where the train station was, so
instead of wasting time dithering, she opted to splurge out on a
The taxi driver was a friendly soul who would have liked to
chat, but as his English was as good as Chrystal’s German, the
journey was undertaken in companionable silence.
A lot had changed since Chrystal’s last visit. She didn’t
recognise any of the places they drove through and by the time
the taxi drew up at her destination, she was completely lost.
“Entschuldigung bitte ich glauber,” she struggled to find the
right words; she wanted to say Excuse me I believe this is
the wrong place. It’s nothing but a dirt track leading
to what looks like a shack, but with the taxi driver
frowning and shaking his head, an indication he didn’t
understand a word she was saying, she gave up, paid the fare
shown on the clock, and got out.
|Back to A
Man Named Klaus
|Jason Turns Detective
When Jason made his way downstairs, it was still only six thirty
and the rest of the family were only just stirring. Alison,
still in her pyjamas, poked her head round the bedroom door and
in no uncertain terms told him to get a move on and see who it
was leaning on the front door bell.
Although it was still dark outside, Jason could just make out
the shape of a woman through the glass panel in the door.
He fumbled. Drawing back the bolts and turning the key in the
lock, with the safety chain still securely in place, he opened
the door a crack and peered out. He was astonished to see old
Mrs. Pilkington, one of their neighbours, standing there;
usually she didn’t rise in the winter months before eight-thirty
in the morning. She had a regular routine, or so she’d told his
mother. Her first task of the day after washing and dressing,
was to feed the dog; after that she sat down to her own
breakfast—porridge in the winter, cornflakes spring and summer.
Next came walkies and shopping. Her routine, apart from the
extra thirty minutes in bed during the winter months, never
varied, so Jason was more than surprised to see her standing on
the doorstep at such an early hour.
“Anything the matter?” he asked. The fact the woman wasn’t
wearing a coat and still had her slippers on hadn’t gone
unnoticed by him. “You’d better come in,” he said, removing the
safety chain and opening the door to its full extent. He stepped
swiftly to one side, just in case she stepped on his toes. But
no sooner had the woman placed her foot over the threshold than
she slumped to the floor.
Jason was horrified. “Mum, Dad, come quickly,” he yelled. “I
think Mrs. Pilkington’s just dropped dead.”
Within seconds the thudding of feet, both slippered and bare,
could be heard pounding down the stairs.
All this noise set little Emily Louise bawling at the top of her
lusty little lungs. And with his mother shouting, “Alison, look
after the baby,” and his sister shouting back, “Why, what’s
happening?” the Foster household was in rowdy turmoil.
Mr. Foster, first on the scene and still in his pyjamas, took
charge of the situation. He lifted the frail old lady up in his
arms, carried her through to the sitting room and laid her
gently down on the settee.
“Is she dead?” Jason asked. He’d never seen a dead person before
and wasn’t sure what to expect.
“No, she just fainted, that’s all,” his father replied. “She’ll
be as right as rain once we get a hot drink inside her.”
Jason could see the colour creeping back in the woman’s cheeks
as his dad spoke, and when her eyelids fluttered and she opened
them, he sighed with relief.
Alison, Emily Louise in her arms, pushed Jason to one side so
she could see for herself just what was going on. Her mum took
the baby from her and whispered, “Go and make a cup of tea,
there’s a good girl.”
“Why me?” Alison grumbled. “Why can’t Jason put the kettle on,
he’s standing there doing nowt.”
“Your brother’s in shock,” her mother replied, laying a cooling
hand on her son’s forehead to test his temperature.
Alison, seeing it was useless to argue further, shuffled off to
“Do you take sugar?” Knowing the woman was sometimes hard of
hearing, when it suited her, Mrs. Foster raised her voice.
Alison didn’t wait to hear the answer. “Hot sweet tea is good
for anybody suffering shock,” she muttered, and once the tea was
made, she stirred two heaped spoons full into the mug before
bringing it through from the kitchen and handing it to the old
“You should have called me first, not Mum and Dad,” she hissed,
sidling up to her brother. “What do you think I’ve been taking
first aid exams for, if it wasn’t to be called on in an
Jason shrugged his shoulders. He knew it was no use arguing with
his sister when she was in one of her self-righteous moods.
The old lady, obviously feeling much better after sipping the
reviving mug of tea, started getting to her feet, but Mrs.
Foster wasn’t prepared to let her go so fast.
“Stay where you are. You’re in no fit state to go dashing off,
“she said, gently pushing her back down again. “Anyway, you
haven’t told us why you called yet. It must have been something
important, you’re not usually up and about at this time of the
day, are you?”
Mrs. Pilkington pulled a tissue from her cardigan sleeve and
blew her nose. “It’s my little poodle,” she sniffed. “I think
he’s been stolen. I let him out in the garden last thing last
night to do his business and when I called him to come in, I
found the front gate wide open when I always keep it bolted, and
he’d gone, vanished into thin air.”
Mr. Foster, just returned from getting dressed, sat down next to
the woman and put his arm round her shoulders.
“I suggest you go home and put your feet up. Soon as ever my
lad’s got some clothes on, he’ll go looking for your dog I’m
sure you’ve got nothing to worry about, in fact I wouldn’t be
surprised if he wasn’t sitting outside your house this very
minute waiting for you to come home,” he comforted.
It was Saturday, and Jason had other plans for the day, but he
knew he couldn’t say so; couldn’t refuse to go looking for the
“Give me five minutes to get dressed and . . .” he paused and
sniffed the air; the smell of bacon wafting in from the kitchen
reminded him he hadn’t had breakfast. “And after I’ve had
something to eat, I’ll walk home with you. If Tandy isn’t back
by then I’ll go looking for him, okay?”
Mrs. Pilkington, aware for the first time she’d come rushing out
without first putting her teeth in, placed a hand over her mouth
and nodded in agreement.
Jason Turns Detective
A full moon shining through a barred window caused shadows to
dance high on the walls of the room. Emma shivered, and tucked
the scarf she’d been given into the collar of her jacket.
Harry had unwound the scarf from his own neck and placed it
round hers, minutes before locking her in the filthy,
vermin-infested room. She could still smell his manliness on the
gift, and somehow it gave her comfort.
Apart from a broken down bedstead, the room was empty of
furniture. On the floor next to the bed, a candle leaned
precariously in an empty tin can.
Emma squinted at her wristwatch and sighed; there were still ten
hours to go before someone would come to unbolt the door and let
She heard footsteps on the landing outside and the door knob
rattled; she knew it was Harry checking up on her.
“Now you’ve seen the room, do you still want to go through with
it?” he asked.
Emma was sorely tempted to say, No I don’t; I’ve changed my
mind. Let me out, but she didn’t. Instead she said simply, “Go
away, I told you I’d do it, so just leave me alone. Let me get
on with it.” She sounded braver than she felt.
She heard Harry’s retreating footsteps, sensed his slight
hesitation before he descended the creaking, rickety stairs,
going back the way he’d come.
Sat hunched on the bed in the deafening silence, Emma recalled
the events that had led up to the bizarre situation she now
found herself in.
She brought to mind the retirement party thrown for the
undermanager of the city store where she worked. Drinks had
flowed and during the course of the evening, tongues had
loosened and things had been said that, perhaps, would have been
better left unsaid.
She knew she would have to do some apologising when she returned
to work after the weekend. Telling her boss to keep his hands to
himself or she’d have him up for sexual harassment hadn’t gone
Tom, her boyfriend, had berated her in front of everybody, told
her she’d be lucky if she had a job to go back to on Monday, if
she didn’t apologise immediately.
This had made her angry. Boss or no boss, she’d spat, I’m not
going to let him get away with patting my bottom and trying to
peer down the front of my dress.
Tom had said she was an idiot, and she had told him to get lost.
Eve, a girl who worked in the millinery department of the store,
warned her she’d lose Tom if she wasn’t careful.
She had responded with a couldn’t care less shrug of the
shoulder and walked away to join in a heated discussion about
the supernatural taking place in another part of the room. Tom
had tried to drag her away, and for the second time she’d told
him to get lost.
That was how it had all started, she’d pooh-poohed the idea
there were such things as ghosts and zombies, and when she’d
been challenged to spend a night on her own in a haunted house,
It was the reason she now sat shivering in a derelict building
on the outskirts of town, in the room that was supposed to be
the most haunted in the house.
Collingwood Manor had been left to the country by its previous
owner, Lord Baverstock. Over the years, due to neglect, it had
fallen into disrepair and there was now talk of it being
The manor house had a reputation of being one of the most
haunted buildings in the midlands. Allegations a wailing ghost
haunted the place went undisputed. And it was common knowledge
that both squatters and Romanies gave the place a wide berth.
|Back to A
An Improbable Dream
“Iron it yourself, can’t you? Who do you think I am, your bloody
mother?” Adrian’s handsome face was contorted with rage. He
loosened his tie, kicked off his shoes and plonked himself down
angrily on the settee.
He’d had a long hard day at the office and the last thing he
wanted was to come home to a domestic.
He gently massaged his temples with his fingertips and closed
his eyes, hoping the headache that had just started would go
away without him having to resort to taking pills.
“Do you really need a clean shirt? I thought we’d decided to
stay in tonight, order a take-away.”
“You can stay in if you like, I’m going to the club,” his
partner retorted angrily. “And whilst you’re asking, no I don’t
think you’re my bloody mother. If you had been, I’d at least
have had a clean shirt to put on.”
Adrian heard the front door bang to, and he knew any chance he’d
had of making it up was now out of the question. He felt guilty.
He knew Toby was right, it was his fault there were no clean
shirts in the cupboard, or clean anything else, as far as that
went. He’d been that busy at the office he hadn’t had time to
think about domestic chores, let alone tend to them.
He sighed, dragged himself up from the settee, and made his way
through to the kitchen to make himself something to eat; but the
cupboard was bare: no milk, no butter, zilch. He slammed the
fridge door to. He’d started to calm down, but now his anger was
back with a vengeance. He wasn’t the only one who’d been
shirking his duties. It was Toby’s job to do the food shopping;
they’d sat at the kitchen table less than a week ago and drawn
up a list of whose own job it would be to do what.
He returned to the lounge and sat, tight as a wound up spring,
back down on the settee.
It was starting to get dark outside, but he made no attempt to
pull the drapes to or turn the light on.
Eventually however, his anger drained away and his thoughts
turned once again back to basics. What take-away should he
order, Chinese or Indian? He was hungry.
He washed the Tika masala down with a can of Coke. Feeling much
better now he had a full stomach, he settled down in front of
the television to watch a game of football.
It was past twelve o’clock before he decided to retire for the
night, and past one o’clock before he heard the key grate in the
front door lock and Toby creeping up the stairs.
He felt the duvet being pulled back and feigned sleep, the last
thing he wanted was another row.
He could smell alcohol on Toby’s breath and wondered if he’d
risked driving home the worse for drink, or if he’d done the
sensible thing and hired a taxi, he hoped it was the latter.
The next morning, Adrian killed the alarm before it had time to
go off; he guessed Toby would prefer an extra hour in bed to a
jog round the park.
It was a beautiful morning, the grass was heavy with early dew
and the birds were in full chorus. Adrian felt at peace with the
world; he had a wedding and a honeymoon to plan, and at that
precise moment he couldn’t have been happier. He jogged along in
a euphoric mood, oblivious of where he was going.
A friendly, “Morning,” followed by, “Look where you’re going,”
brought him back to earth with a jolt. A girl stood in front of
him, rubbing her shoulder and grimacing in pain.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t see you,” he said, hoping an apology would
suffice and he’d be able to continue with his run.
“That’s bloody obvious,” the girl said, exercising her shoulder
gingerly, face twisted in agony.
Adrian couldn’t make up his mind if she was genuinely in pain,
or if she was putting it on for his benefit.
“If I’ve hurt you, I’m truly sorry,” he said. “Look, allow me to
run you to A and E, just to make sure no serious damage has been
The girl sniggered. “What, we jog along to A and E together, or
are you weighing me up to see if it’s possible to piggy back me
Adrian could see the girl was making fun of him. “I have a car,”
he said tight-lipped. “If you would like to sit down over
there—” he pointed to a park bench “—I’ll go and fetch it.”
The girl stood looking up at him, a smile quirking the corner of
her mouth. He noticed for the first time how pretty she was. Her
eyes were blue and full of mischief, and her hair, even though
half-covered with a sweatband and dragged back in a ponytail,
was the colour of spun gold.
Until she coughed to attract his attention, Adrian hadn’t
realised he’d been stood staring at her. “Look, I can only
repeat I’m sorry. If there’s anything I can do, please just tell
me,” he said, flustered.
to An Improbable Dream
It had threatened rain all day; the sky had been overcast, and
thunder had been rumbling in the distance for some time.
Susan hated thunderstorms; they brought her out in a cold sweat,
turned her into a shivering jelly.
As a child she’d been told that the seconds between a clap of
thunder and flash of lightning counted as the miles in distance
to an approaching thunderstorm.
She counted the seconds between the claps and the flashes and
they were getting shorter by the minute; she knew it wouldn’t be
long before the storm was directly overhead.
Fork lightning zigzagged across the sky, slitting open the
swollen bellies of the clouds overhead. And rain, torrential in
volume, fell like stair rods on the sunbaked earth, turning it
into rivulets of mud.
Sat huddled on the settee, hands over her ears, Susan sprang to
her feet when a clap of thunder rattled the window frames. She
had to brave the storm and check to be sure the cottage’s
thatched roof hadn’t been struck by lightning and caught fire.
Grabbing a coat from the rack by the back door, she flung it
over her head, turned the key in the lock and stepped outside,
and that’s when she saw him.
Common sense told her she should be afraid, run inside, call the
police, but common sense had left her. She couldn’t move, didn’t
want to; she was overawed, spellbound.
Sheet lightning lit the sky, acting as a backdrop to the
hypnotic scene. A clap of thunder finally broke the spell. Susan
shook herself to regain her senses, and slowly began inching her
way back to the safety of the cottage.
She had to call the police, tell them she had a stark-naked,
raving lunatic stood in the front garden.
Once inside she locked and bolted every door and window in the
cottage, drew the curtains and picked up the phone to make a
call. But the line was dead; she tried her mobile, but couldn’t
get a signal.
She was at a loss as to what to do, she knew she had to do
something, but what? She peered out of the window to see if the
man was still there. He was. He hadn’t moved, and as if sensing
her presence he turned to look at her and held her gaze.
Susan caught her breath, the man was handsome beyond words and
she couldn’t tear her eyes away from him. An Adonis was stood
outside on the rain-soaked lawn and she had no idea what to do
When Susan had rented the cottage on a short term contract,
she’d been looking for somewhere away from the maddening crowds.
Somewhere to hide, lick her wounds, get over the breakup of her
marriage to a man she’d once loved dearly. A man who’d walked
out on her without explanation one day and set up house with an
unmarried mother, a temp at his place of work.
Susan felt she would never trust another man again for as long
as she lived.
When she’d been looking for somewhere to take a break,
Wilderness cottage had ticked all the boxes; it had once been a
farm laborer’s cottage; it was off the beaten track, and the
nearest house to it was over a quarter of a mile away.
She’d seriously considered asking the owner if he’d be prepared
to sell. Toyed with the idea of buying it, a second home; a
place to escape to when she needed Me time.
Money was no problem, the divorce settlement and an unexpected
inheritance from a distant relative had left her financially
secure. But it was still early days and she had lots to think
It was starting to get dark outside and Susan’s curiosity was
stretched to breaking point. She had to know who the man was,
and what he was doing standing starkers in the pouring rain.
Armed with a poker she’d picked up from the hearth, and a bath
sheet, the nearest thing to hand, to cover his nudity, she
stepped outside, ready to do battle.
“Who are you, what are you doing here?” she yelled from a safe
Brow puckered, the man looked at her without speaking.
“I said, what are you doing here?” she repeated.
Back to Adonis
“Dead men don’t walk, smoke cigarettes or hail passing taxis.”
In shock, Anne spoke her thoughts out loud.
A big Issue vendor standing in a shop doorway gave her a
quizzical look and held a magazine out toward her. “Did I just
hear you say you wanted one?” he asked.
Anne shook her head, feeling embarrassed at being overheard
talking to herself. Taking a pound coin from her pocket, she
pushed it in the man’s hand. “Buy yourself a cup of coffee,” she
“With a quid? You must be joking.”
Anne knew the man was right; you couldn’t get much for a pound
these days. But taking into account she didn’t want anything he
was hawking, she considered him lucky she’d given him anything.
Deep in thought, she made her way across the street to a nearby
cafe, she needed a drink and time to pull herself together.
Common sense told her the man she’d seen getting into a taxi
wasn’t Darren, he was just somebody who looked like him. Darren
Bates was dead—hadn’t she been to his funeral? The incident,
however, had unnerved her.
Sat at a table in a recess of the tea rooms, Anne recalled
events that had taken place over the last twelve months: the
accident, the funeral . . .
A waitress sauntered over to where she was sitting and forced a
smile. “Lovely day, ain’t it,” she said, handing her a menu. I
can recommend the meat pie, it’s chef’s speciality.”
The girl sounded bored to tears, as if the last thing she wanted
to do was to be working on a nice sunny day.
“Just a pot of tea, please.” Anne said, handing the menu back to
the girl without looking at it. She’d missed lunch, but she
wasn’t hungry—at that precise moment, food was the last thing on
Anne Clark wasn’t usually the type of woman who let things faze
her, she liked to think of herself as level-headed, sensible.
She had a good job—window dresser for a large store in the city
centre. In her spare time she was a prison visitor, that’s where
she’d met Darren. She’d visited him on a regular basis for over
two years, got to know him, and against her better judgment had
formed an attachment.
She didn’t need reminding that on his release she should have
forgotten him, erased him from her memory, but she hadn’t. She’d
gone one step further than prison visitors were supposed to.
She’d been instrumental in finding him accommodation, and a job.
Darren had assured her he wouldn’t let her down, and like a fool
The tea shop was beginning to fill up, Anne glanced at her
wristwatch. It was coming up to four o’clock, a busy time for a
cafe that specialised in afternoon teas. Anne finished her
drink, settled the bill and left.
Fifteen minutes later, stood at the back of the Broad Marsh
shopping centre waiting for the number 89 bus to take her home,
Anne saw the man again. Heart pounding, she watched him cross
the road and disappear down the underpass leading to the bus
That’s twice in one day. He either has an identical twin, he
never told me about . . . Or . . . she mused, he isn’t dead.
When she arrived home, she kicked off her shoes, slumped down on
the settee and turned over in her mind what had taken place,
tried to make sense of it; but she couldn’t.
She needed to talk it over with somebody who would listen to
what she had to say without passing judgment. And that somebody
was Susan Ferris, a neighbour who lived only a few doors away.
She decided to give her a call.
“Hi Sue, it’s me. I just wondered if you could pop round for
five minutes, there’s something I’d like to talk over with you.”
Susan wasn’t only a good neighbour, she was also Anne’s best
friend; they’d known each other since sixth form, had been firm
friends for over fifteen years.
Minutes later, Susan was knocking at the door; Anne rushed to
open it. “Shall I put the kettle on, or would you prefer
something stronger?” she said.
“Tea’s fine,” Susan replied, following her through to the
Over cups of tea, Anne opened her heart and bared her soul. “You
know Darren died, don’t you?” she began. “Well, would you
believe me if I told you I’d seen him not once, but twice,
within a couple of hours today?”
“Whoa! Let me get this straight before you go any further.”
Susan sat shaking her head, a look of disbelief on her face.
“First, you tell me that a bloke I didn’t like is dead, then you
tell me he’s not. Am I missing something here?”
“No, you’re right. Darren is dead and buried or cremated. I went
to his funeral, remember.”
“Of course, I remember, I’m not the one that’s going senile. I
helped you choose a wreath, didn’t I? Are you sure you haven’t
had a fall and banged your head or something?” Susan gave a sigh
“No, I haven’t had a fall, I haven’t banged my head and you’re
not missing anything. It’s just . . . Oh hell! I’m not
explaining myself very well, am I?”
“You can say that again.” Susan rolled her eyes upwards. “How
about starting again and this time from the very beginning,” she
“You know most of what’s been going on since I became an
OPV—official prison visitor—don’t you?”
“Yes, but just remind me, in case I’ve missed anything.”
“Well, I wanted to do something worthwhile with my life, so when
someone asked if I’d be interested in being a prison visitor, I
said yes, jumped at the chance.”
“Couldn’t you have adopted a stray kitten or worked in a charity
“I’m serious, Sue, the work you do is worthwhile, fulfilling.”
Susan was a state registered nurse. “The only thing I have to
show for my being on this earth for over thirty five years, is
I’m good at my job and I’m kind to my elderly parents, and it
just isn’t enough.”
“Okay, so you signed on to be a prison visitor, although God
“Susan, some of those men and women never have a visitor, never
see anyone from the outside world from one year to the next.”
“Right, you’ve convinced me.” Susan took a sip of her tea and
pulled a face. “It’s gone cold,” she said.
Anne tested her own cup with her hand. “You’re right, it has,”
she agreed, “shall I make another?”
Sue shook her head. “Not for me, thanks. Just let’s get back to
your story. You started visiting a prisoner and fell for him.
Now, go on from there.”
“I didn’t fall for him, Sue. I thought he was an interesting,
intelligent man and I started looking forward to our visits as
much as he did.”
“As I said, you fell for him.” Susan put her hand up, palm
towards her friend, a warning for her not to interrupt. “I know
when he was released you helped him find accommodation and a
job. I told you at the time what I thought about that. And how
did he repay you?” Susan hunched her shoulders and spread her
hands. “Anne, you’ve been a damn fool. Why in hell’s name you
couldn’t have just forgotten him and found another prisoner to
visit, preferably one from the women’s win . . .” she added.
“I’m no longer a prison visitor, Sue, I gave it up when Darren
was released. I may take it up again later, but at the moment .
“Who got you interested in the first place?” Sue broke the
silence. “Visiting some con who’s doing time for breaking the
law isn’t my idea of a fun day out.”
“Bill Paxton suggested it and I thought it was a good idea at
“I told you, I’ve given it up. I don’t want to get involved
“Is Paxton the copper you went out with a couple of times a few
“Yeah, that’s him, and it’s over two years not a few months.
He’s a detective sergeant now, doing quite well for himself, if
all I’ve heard is true.”
“What did he say when you told him about this Darren look-alike
“I haven’t told him.”
“Seeing Darren today freaked me. Bill will think I’m an idiot if
I tell him.”
“No, he won’t. Why don’t you call him?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Don’t just think about it, do it now. Where’s your phone?”
“I said I’d give him a bell, and I will, but not at this
“Okay, don’t bite my head off.” Sue glanced at the mantle clock.
“Anyway, I’m off now,” she said. “I’m on shift in the morning.”
Anne saw her friend to the door. “Thanks for the visit,” she
said. “And I’ll let you know what Bill has to say when,” if, she
murmured under her breath. “I phone him.”
The cottage on the outskirts of a hamlet in the Yorkshire Wolds
was just what Samantha had been looking for; there was only one
problem, it wasn’t for sale.
As a rule, whatever Samantha Ferris wanted she got, and the
cottage she was now stood outside looking at was going to be no
At the precise moment she had no idea how she was going to go
about getting it, but when her mind was made up, heaven help
anyone who tried to stand in her way.
Samantha, an only child with more than her fair share of looks,
had never wanted for anything; both her parents doted on her,
denied her nothing.
By the time she was twenty, they had provided her with a
self-contained apartment in a select area on the outskirts of
Nottingham, a top of the range sports car, and a well-paying
job—PA to her father in his wholesale-retail business.
For some time, Samantha had been looking for a cottage, a
weekend retreat where she could uncurl, let her hair down,
slouch around in torn jeans, T-shirts and trainers. This cottage
she had come across by chance ticked all the boxes, and the
longer she stood looking at it, the more determined she was to
Pushing open a gate that needed to be rehung, Samantha scrunched
up the cinder path to the front door of the cottage in her high
heels. She didn’t knock straightaway, she just stood there
looking around, taking in the overgrown garden, the curtainless
windows, the door in need of a lick of paint. The place, when
she took it over, she mused, would need serious money spent on
She was on the point of walking away when she glimpsed movement
in an upstairs room. It could just be a trick of the light, she
reasoned, then again it might not be. She balled her fist and
knocked on the door; it was opened almost immediately by a man
in his late twenties to early thirties, tall, clean shaven and
He looked down on Samantha, head to one side, a quizzical look
on his face. “You knocked?” he said.
For a fraction of a second, Samantha was thrown, she had been
expecting a country yokel to answer the door, and this man, with
his Oxford accent, was anything but. Pulling herself to her full
height, 5 ft 4 in, she said what she had come for. “I am
interested in this cottage. Is it for sale? If it is, I would
like to put an offer in.”
“What makes you think it’s for sale? I can’t see a for sale sign
anywhere, can you?”
The way the man was looking at her, Samantha felt disconcerted,
momentarily out of her comfort zone. “Well, it looks as if it
might be. And the garden is desperately in need of a gardener,”
“Are you offering?” A smile quirked the corner of the man’s
“Of course not, don’t be stupid. Look, if you’re the Estate
agent, I am prepared to offer a decent price for this rundown
“Well, Madam, for your information, I am the owner of this
rundown property, as you call it, and it is definitely not for
Samantha sighed with disappointment, but as far as she was
concerned, this was only round one; she was not ready to give in
yet. Her mind was working overtime as she retraced her way down
the cinder path. She paused at the gate and peered over her
shoulder. She noticed the man was stood arms folded leaning
against the door jamb watching her, he nodded when she caught
“I don’t suppose you would be interested in renting, would you?”
“I might, if I found a suitable tenant. Do you know anybody?” he
“What about me?” Samantha’s hopes soared.
“What about you?”
He’s playing with me, but he doesn’t realise he’s met his match
this time. “I am quite willing to pay a peppercorn rent,” she
“And what would a lady like you know about the meaning of such a
phrase?” he returned in a flash.
“A peppercorn rent is a metaphor for a small amount. Smart . .
.” She didn’t finish what she was going to say, thought better
“One learns something new every day, doesn’t one?”
Samantha noticed the man was biting his bottom lip, trying to
suppress a smile. “Doesn’t one just,” she returned mockingly.
She was beginning to enjoy the thrust and parry of the
conversation, quite happy to play along if it meant getting her
own way in the long run.
“Wouldn’t you like to look around before offering to take on
something without seeing it first?” he said.
“You’re . . . willing to rent the place to me, then?” Samantha
was hesitant; she’d wanted to buy the place not rent it, but now
she’d gone this far, she wasn’t going to backtrack.
“Let’s just say you talked me into it.”
Samantha plucked her mobile out of her pocket and held it to her
ear. “I’ll be with you in a moment,” she said dismissively.
“Just phoning home to let them know where I am, won’t be a
minute . . . Hi Dad, I’m going to be late for the meeting . . .
start without me.”
to Peppercorn Rent
A Vulnerable Woman
Stood in front of the bathroom mirror, Peggy took stock of
herself. She hadn’t been blessed with good looks, but she wasn’t
one to complain; she made the best with what nature had given
Hair, still wet from the shower—thick, glossy and the colour of
ripe corn—she considered it one of her best assets. A generous
mouth—dimpled at the corners when she smiled, blue eyes and a
Taking a bathrobe down from a hook on the back of the door, she
wrapped it round her ample figure and sighed. She didn’t bother
to stand on the bathroom scales because she knew what they would
show . . . the latest diet hadn’t worked; she hadn’t lost any
Tonight she was going on a blind date and she wanted to look her
best. Janet, a girl she’d known since school days, had begged
her to make up a foursome; she’d objected at first, tried to get
out of it, but her friend had been persuasive, and she’d finally
It was five minutes past eight when she pushed through the doors
of Yates Wine Lodge in Nottingham City centre. Her friend was
standing in the crush at the bar, she beckoned Peggy to come and
“You’re late,” she complained, frowning. “I said meet me
outside; eight prompt. What’s your excuse?”
Peggy glanced at her wristwatch. “I was five minutes late,
that’s all, why the sour face?”
“You’d have a sour face if you were left to buy your own drink,”
she huffed. “Tom said he’d left his wallet in his other jacket
and his pal hasn’t turned up. I’m not a happy bunny.”
“So what you’re telling me is, I won’t be needed to make up a
foursome?” Peggy felt a flood of relief, she hadn’t wanted to go
on a blind date. Now she could go home with a clear conscience.
“You can stay if you don’t mind playing gooseberry.”
“Thanks for the offer, but if you don’t mind I’d sooner go home,
watch a bit of telly.”
“It’s up to you, but before you shoot off, help me carry these
drinks. And while you’re at it, would you mind paying the
barman? I’ve only got a twenty and I don’t want to change it.”
Peggy took a tenner out of her purse, handed it to the barman
and told him to keep the change.
“I can see you’re having no trouble carrying a bottle and two
glasses, Jan, so I’ll make myself scarce. Say hello to Tom for
“Say hello to him yourself, there’s no need to rush off this
minute. Why don’t you buy yourself a drink and join us for a
“Ok, but ten minutes only. I’ll get myself a Slimline tonic,
then come and join you.”
The ten minutes stretched to fifteen, then twenty. Every time
Peggy collected her things together ready to leave, Tom went out
of his way to persuade her to stay.
“Can I get you another drink?” he said the first time she made a
move to go This was followed by, “Did Jan tell you about the
holiday we’ve got planned?”
Peggy sat nursing an empty glass and listened patiently to the
“I’ve never been to France, have you?” he asked.
“Yes, I went to Paris when I was at school, on a student
exchange,” she replied. “It was lovely, lots to see and do. I’m
sure you’ll love it. If I remember rightly, Jan, you went as
well, didn’t you?”
Janet nodded. She looked bored.
Peggy made another attempt to leave, got as far as getting to
her feet before Tom grabbed her arm.
“My pal will be here any time now; I know he will. Stay for
another five minutes, can’t you?”
This time, however, Peggy’s mind was made up. She was leaving. A
glass of Slimline tonic in a crowded bar didn’t compare to a
good night out in her book. “If your friend should turn up, just
tell him I had to go.”
“You can tell him yourself. He’s just walked through the door.”
Peggy turned to looked at the man walking towards them and held
her breath; she couldn’t believe this was her blind date.
to A Vulnerable Woman
Paxton—Life Full Circle
Well, Mum, in a sense you were right after all; you always said
I would end up in jail, didn’t you? Gordon Paxton put down his
biro and chuckled, remembering the twists of fate that had
brought him to where he was today.
He’d always been a man you didn’t mess with; born in Glasgow in
the Gorbals, a district normally noted for its slums and
tenement buildings. He’d learnt how to use his fists at an early
The youngest of a family of six; the runt of the family, his
father called him. But he didn’t mind, what he lacked in looks
and size he made up for in personality.
As a kid, he’d worn his national health service glasses with
pride, glasses that helped hide his squint. Cock-eyed was a word
that was never used in his presence. He’d always known how to
stand up for himself.
He recalled nostalgically, that by the time he was fourteen, he
not only had a girlfriend; he also had street cred, nobody
messed with him.
He’d belonged to a street gang, knew he was going places.
Prison, his Mum always said when he told her.
Gordon picked up his biro once again and went back to
concentrating on the letter he was writing.
I knew when I asked for a transfer to Nottingham I was doing the
right thing, he wrote. I wouldn’t say prisoners here have it
cushy in the jail in Nottingham, but there are worse places and
they know it, so most, if not all, keep their noses clean whilst
they are serving their time.
Gordon switched from writing to recalling his past. The physical
training he’d endured that he had considered a waste of time. No
matter how hard he’d tried he couldn’t put on weight, eleven
stone wet, through. Five-foot-nine, and a receding hairline. It
must be my personality that gets the girls, he mused.
“Paxton, are you about ready to go?”
Gordon put the biro and half-written letter in his jacket
pocket. “Give me five minutes, Harry, and I’ll be with you,” he
“Five minutes, no more. I’ll wait for you at the gates.”
It was a bitter cold day and it threatened rain. Gordon turned
up his collar and thrust his hands deep in his pockets.
On the road outside the prison gates, his colleague was waiting
for him in the car, with the engine running.
“You took your bloody time, didn’t you?” he grumbled as Gordon
slid into the passenger seat next to him.
“Needed to go for a slash. Two mugs of tea on top of the pint of
Shipo’s I had at lunch time was just too much for my bladder.”
“Didn’t know you could still get Shipston’s.”
Shipston’s was no longer available, the brewery having closed
down, but it was still fondly remembered by the locals.
“John Smith’s then,” Gordon said, conceding the point.
“Where do you want dropping?”
Gordon shrugged his shoulders, “Parliament Street, Broadmarsh, I
can catch a bus home from either.”
“You still living at the same place?”
“Yeah, until I can find something better. My landlady is getting
a bit too familiar for my liking, started doing my washing,
knitted me a ruddy scarf for my birthday. I think she has
designs on my body.”
Harry burst out laughing. “You should be so bloody lucky,” he
“You haven’t seen her, have you?”
“My landlady, who do you think I’m talking about?”
“Gordon, would it be too much to ask you to stop wittering on
about your love life for five minutes and allow me to
concentrate on my driving? I almost went through a red light
“You can drop me here if you like. It’s not raining; and I
wasn’t wittering on about my love life, or lack of it, come to
that,” Gordon added testily.
“I’ll take you home if you give me your bloody address,” huffed
“Bulwell, Nottingham Road, you’ve dropped me there before.”
Harry concentrated on driving, tailed along behind the evening
traffic, slowed down as he approached the next set of lights
changing from amber to red.
“Next Road on the right.” Gordon broke the awkward silence that
had started to build up between the two of them.
The house was in darkness when they arrived. Gordon got out of
the car, pulled a key out of his pocket and opened the front
“Would you like to come in for a cuppa, or have you got to dash
off?” he asked over his shoulder in a conciliatory tone.
“A cuppa would go down nicely, thank you. The missus is visiting
her parents in Darlington for a couple of days, so I’m in no
rush to get home.”
“Good, take your coat off and I’ll stick the kettle on.” Gordon
bustled around in the small kitchen of the two-up, two-down
semi, rattling cups, filling the kettle.
Fifteen minutes later, comfortable, ensconced in easy chairs
nursing mugs of tea, the two men began to chatter amicably about
their day’s work.
“What were you doing at Nottingham prison?” Harry asked between
sips of tea. “I was there because I’m a probation officer.
What’s your excuse?”
“I was checking up on a boy I arrested a couple of months ago,
wanted to know how he was getting on. I could see myself in that
youth, Harry. If a certain community copper hadn’t taken an
interest in me, set my foot on the right path, that could have
“Is that why you joined the force?”
“That, and the fact I didn’t want to let down the man who had
saved me from myself. He caught me red-handed nicking fags from
the corner shop, gave me a clip ’round the ear, something that’s
not allowed these days, but I tell you it did me some good
“At the time there was a spate of robberies and break-ins around
the area where I lived,” Gordon continued, “and the police had
been ordered to crack down on petty criminals. Police Constable
Duckworth could have turned me in and I would have started life
with a black mark against my name, but God bless the man, he
didn’t. Along with a clip ’round the ear, he warned me what
would happen if he caught me doing anything wrong ever again.
“That day a bond was formed between the two of us. He told me I
was the son he’d never had. No one, not even my own father, had
ever taken an interest in me like that man did.”
“So apart from your road to Damascus meeting, what made you
decide to become a copper?”
“I told you: he did. I wanted to be like him, didn’t want to let
him down. He persuaded me to stay on at school, paid for me to
have my squint rectified, got me to join a club. When
eventually, I joined the Police force, the fact I had once been
a member of a street gang was a factor in my favour. I could
talk to kids on their own level. Most of the time I knew what
they were going to do before they did. PC Duckworth came from
Nottingham, served in the force here before transferring to
Glasgow. Told me it was a beautiful city, and it is.”
Paxton—Life Full Circle
Four Pennies and a Journey
Rosie lengthened her stride in a race against time. Just in
front of her little Arthur Scrimshaw, head down, breathlessly
panted his way towards the school gates. Rosie encouraged him
along as she shot past.
“Come on, Arthur, you’ll make it in time,” she shouted.
The school gates were now no more than a stride away. Rosie
could see the straight corseted figure of her form mistress,
Ethel Falconbridge, stood bell in hand, arm raised, in the
playground. Before that arm gave the final downward swing, she
would be standing in line. As if reading her mind, Miss
Falconbridge, raised her free hand and placed it over the
clapper inside the bell, silencing it on the downward swing.
Through steel rimmed glasses, she glowered down her razor-sharp
nose at Rosie.
“Late again. Webster,” she declared.
Little Arthur Scrimshaw scurried past and joined the end of his
class line. For the amount of notice Miss Falconbridge took of
him, he could have been invisible.
“Sorry, Miss, I had to help my mum,” Rosie whispered
“Excuses, excuses, I don’t accept excuses. You should know that
by now Rosie Webster. You can stay behind after school tonight.”
“I can’t, Miss Falconbridge,” cried Rosie. “My mum is ill, I
can’t stay in after school.
A gasp of astonishment rippled through the lines at her daring
to answer back.
“Can’t! Can’t! There’s-no-such-word-as-can’t.” Every word
delivered was punctuated with a prod to Rosie’s shoulder. “I’ll
see you inside, my girl.”
Rosie bit her bottom lip and stared down at her shoes. It didn’t
matter how much trouble she got into, she couldn’t be late home
tonight. For a long time now her mother’d had a persistent
cough. It was something she had got used to hearing around the
house, something she had readily accepted as smoke from the fire
causing the irritation. But this time it was different, there
were no reassuring words of comfort from her mother that it was
time they called in the chimney sweep, or it was only another
one of her troublesome coughs.
That very morning before Rosie left for school, her mother had
made her sit down and listen to what she had to do if ever she
was left on her own. Never before had her mother spoken so
seriously to her, and for the first time in her thirteen years
she felt scared.
Silently the lines of children shuffled into school. Rosie
joined the end of the last line and shuffled along with them.
It was the beginning of October; the classroom was cold and
uninviting. Along with the others, Rosie dropped her packed
lunch in the basket by the door as she passed.
Today she had two slices of bread and lard. Although it was the
only food in the house, she had been pressed into taking it by
You’re a growing girl Rosie, you need it more than I do, she had
Taking her place behind her desk, she waited patiently for Miss
Falconbridge to call the register.
One by one as their names were called the children answered
“Here, Miss,” and sat down until the only one left standing was
The minutes ticked by until her name was finally called and the
register slammed to.
The act had been deliberate and had left Rosie smarting at the
unfairness of it.
Everything Miss Falconbridge did was deliberate, calculated. Her
aim in life was to catch someone doing something they should not
be doing. She was a strict disciplinarian and prided herself
that one glance from her pale blue eyes could quell even the
faintest hint of rebellion.
Slowly she turned her back to the class and faced the
blackboard. New stick of chalk in hand, arm poised ready to
begin writing, she asked. “Can anyone tell me today’s date?”
“October the twelfth, nineteen hundred,” chorused the class.
The chalk screeched across the blackboard, snapped under the
pressure. Alice Turnbull, a girl sitting directly behind Rosie,
Without bothering to turn around, Miss Falconbridge laid the
blame. “Get out of my class, Webster,” she shouted.
“But it wasn’t me!” Rosie protested angrily.
“How dare you answer me back.” Snatching the ever-ready cane
from the top of her desk, Ethel Falconbridge spun round and
cracked it down on every desk as she strode towards Rosie. The
boy sitting next to her dived for cover.
The cane circled in the air and swished down across the back of
Rosie clenched her teeth—not giving Miss Falconbridge the
satisfaction of seeing how much pain she had inflicted.
Again, the cane rose in the air, but this time Rosie raised her
head and stared defiantly straight into the eyes of her form
mistress and waited for it to fall. For a few minutes, they
stood, eyes locked, not speaking. The arm holding the cane
menacingly in the air slowly sank. For the first time in living
memory, Ethel Falconbridge had been stared out. For the rest of
the morning Rosie was left in peace.
Dinner time, as much as Rosie wanted to run home to see if her
mother was all right, she didn’t, knowing she could never make
it there and back again before the bell went.
The afternoon dragged agonizingly slowly along. Personal hygiene
followed history and maths. For this final lesson of the day,
the girls were separated from the boys. Miss Lambert, taking the
girls; Mr. Spence, the only male teacher in the school, the
Personal hygiene was Miss Lambert’s specialist subject, one she
revelled in, having worked for a short time as a midwife’s
assistant. She told the girls what to expect now they were
reaching maturity and how to deal with it.
Mr. Spence dispensed fatherly advice to the boys.
Eventually, the bell rang indicating another school day was over
and they could all go home—that was, everybody but Rosie
“Fifty times on the blackboard you will write I must not answer
back, and sign it. I want everybody to see it when they come in
tomorrow morning.” Miss Falconbridge emptied a tin of chalk
stubs onto the desk for her to use. Eyes averted, the rest of
the class filed out, leaving Rosie on her own.
Most of the chalk stubs were too small for Rosie to get a good
grip, and it wasn’t long before the front of her pinafore was
covered in chalk dust.
Seconds before she finished, Miss Falconbridge poked her head
round the classroom door and told her she could go.
Rosie mumbled, “Thank you,” signed her name on the board with a
flourish and, head held high, walked sedately past her and out
of the school. Once outside the gates, her feet took wing and
she ran as if all the demons in hell were after her.
She paused at the corner of the street where she lived to pull
up her black woollen stockings and catch her breath.
The street was unusually quiet, net curtains twitched as she
walked by. A small number of neighbours were congregated outside
the house where she lived, not talking, just staring at her. She
knew instinctively something was wrong.
Pushing her way past, she burst into the house and yelled, “Mum,
mum, where are you?” There was no reply.
On the table was a bundle of freshly laundered washing, ready
for her to take round to Mrs. Turnbull. After promising Rosie to
leave the ironing until she got home after school, her mother,
ill as she was, had struggled to finish it.
Mrs. Turnbull lived just a couple of doors away. She had a
husband and two sons who worked at the pit, and boasted that
with the sort of brass her men folk brought in, there was no
need for her to do her own laundry.
After the hair net factory had laid off all its outside workers,
her mother had started taking in washing to help supplement the
little she earned from lace work.
Rosie had been sorry when the man had stopped calling at the
house with the boxes of hair nets.
She had enjoyed helping her mother to card them in the evenings.
One gross of hair nets to a card. One hundred and forty-four
nets stretched over a card the shape of a head, for a few
pennies. The pay had been poor, but had been something she could
help her mother with after school.
There was a knock on the door, and Mrs. Scrimshaw, Arthur’s
mother and their next door neighbour, waddled in.
Mrs. Scrimshaw, fat and motherly, always had a small child
tugging at her skirt, or a baby in her arms. Rosie had lost
count of how many children she had.
“Are you all right, love?” She asked. “I’m sorry about your Mum.
Nobody realised she was as ill as that.” She stressed the word
that, tutted and wiped a tear from her eye. She was such a nice
little woman. Again, she tutted. “There’s not much you can do
sat here all on your own, love. Haven’t you got an auntie or
gran you could go and stay with?”
Rosie shook her head; there had only ever been her mother, her
father and herself. Now there was only her.
“I expect they’ll be sending somebody round from the authorities
to take care of you, love.”
Rosie listen in stunned silence, she wanted to tell Mrs.
Scrimshaw to go away, stop talking, stop calling her love.
Instead, head held high, she said, “Thank you, Mrs. Scrimshaw. I
will be all right, there are one or two things I have to see to
. . .”
The rest of the sentence she left hanging in the air.“Just as
you please, love, but you know where I live if you want me.” She
shook her head, wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and
Rosie sank down on a chair by the table. That was it then, her
mother was dead and they had taken her away. Her eyes filled
with tears and a lump in her throat threatened to choke her.
First her father, and now her mother. Her father had left home
when she was just a little girl. Her mother had told her they
were all going to emigrate to Australia, her father had just
gone ahead to make a go of it before sending for them. It was
over six years since he had left, but she could still remember
what he looked like: tall, slim, black wavy hair and laughing
grey eyes. Her mother had called him a dreamer, told her she
took after him, although Rosie couldn’t see it. She loved to
read poetry out loud like he used to, but she would not have
called herself a dreamer. Her hair was mousy, not a wave in
sight, and she wasn’t very tall for her years.
Her mother had stopped talking about Australia and her father a
long, long time ago, and one day when she came home from school,
his pipe had been taken from the rack and his muffler and cap
had vanished from the hook on the back of the door.
As she recalled the happier times when all three of them had
been together, the tears, fat and unchecked, tumbled down her
cheeks and plopped onto her clasped hands.
Much later when they had finally run their course, she pulled a
handkerchief out of her pinafore pocket and blew her nose.
to Four Pennies and a Journey