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Violetta Antcliff

Violetta Antcliff 

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.

Congratulations to Violetta for being in the 2011 Preditors and Editors top ten Short Story Category for Magic and Mayhem.
                                2011 P&E Short Story

Congratulations to Violetta for being in the 2012 Preditors and Editors top ten Children's Book Category for Jason Spells it Out.
                                2012 P&E Readers Poll Top Ten Winner

Congratulations to Violetta for being in the 2013 Preditors and Editors top ten in Sci-Fi/Fantasy Short Story Category for A Man Named Klaus.
                    Sci-Fi/Fantasy 2013 Top Ten Romance Short Story, P&E Readers Poll

New Titles by Violetta Antcliff

Leprechaun Magic by Violetta Antcliff Sneaky Shenanigans by Violetta Antcliff The Haunting of Wisteria Cottage Jason and the Corner Shop Mystery Jason and the Friendly Ghost by Violetta Antcliff Magic and Mayhem by Violetta Antcliff Jason Sinke to a New Low by Violetta Antcliff The Haunting of Bramble Briar by Violetta AntcliffHis Father's Son by Violetts Antcliff Sapphire by Violetta Antcliff The Anvil Ghsts by Violetta Antcliff Irish Mouse Tales by Violetta Antcliff Jason Spells it Out by Violetta Antcliff The Carol Singers by Violetta Antcliff The Haunting of Pandora Fox by Violetta Antcliff A Man Named Klaus Jason Turns Detective by Violetta Antcliff A Fragile Ghost by Violetta Antcliff An Improbably Dream by Violetta Antcliff Adonis by Violetta Antcliff Paranoia by Violetta Antcliff Peppercorn Rent by Violetta Antcliff A Vulnerable Woman by Violetta Antcliff Paxton—Life Full Circle by Violetta AntcliffFour Pennies and a Journey by Violetta Antcliff

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)
The Adventures of Jason Fosterby Violetta Antcliff

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Leprechaun Magic by Violetta Antcliff

 

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.

                                                                                                       Excerpt

Word Count: 5078                             Pages to Print: 23
File Format: PDF                               Price: $2.99  

      

 

 

 

Sneaky Shenanigans by Violetta Antclifff

With 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?

                                                                                                       Excerpt

Word Count: 4100                             Pages to Print: 17
File Format: PDF                               Price: $2.99   

    

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The Haunting of Wisteria Cottage by Violetta Antcliff

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.

                                                                                                       Excerpt

Word Count: 6200                             Pages to Print: 24
File Format: PDF                               Price: $2.99   

      

 

 

 

 

Jason and the CornerShop Mystery by Violetta Antcliff  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. 

                                                                 Excerpt
Word Count: 18,200                      Pages to Print: 61
File Format: PDF                          Price: $3.99
 
     


Jason and the Friendly Ghost by Violetta Antcliff 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?

                                                                 Excerpt
Word Count: 18,500                      Pages to Print: 70
File Format: PDF                          Price: $3.99
Reviews
  From Dawn Reviews Bks

   

   
Magic and Mayhem by Violetta Antcliff 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?


                                                                Excerpt
Word Count: 18,800                      Pages to Print: 66
File Format: PDF                          Price: $3.99
 
      

   
Jason Sinks to a New Low by Violetta Antcliff  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.


                                                                                      Excerpt
Word Count: 20416
Pages to Print: 76
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99 
Reviews
   From M. L. John

     

   
The Adventures of Jason Foster: Book One by Violetta Antcliff  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.

Danger? Check
Bravery? Check
Courage? Check
Magic? Check

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 was. 
                                                                               Excerpt       
Word Count: 76200
Pages to Print: 248
File Format: PDF
Price: $20.98

  ORDER The Adventures of Jason Foster PRINT! (ISBN #978-1-61950-023-5)
   
The Haunting of Bramble Briar by Violetta Antcliff 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.


                                                                                 Excerpt
  Word Count: 5700
Pages to Print: 21
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
    

   
His Father's Son by Violetta Antcliff  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.
 

                                                                                        Excerpt
  Word Count: 3900
Pages to Print: 15
File Format: PDF
Price: $2.99
 
 
    
 
   
Sapphire by Violetta Antcliff 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.

                                                                                     Excerpt
Word Count: 4742
Pages to Print: 19
File Format: PDF
Price: $2.99
 
     

   
The Anvil Ghosts by Violetta Antcliff 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.

                                                                           Excerpt
Word Count: 10,620
Pages to Print: 38
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
     

   
Irish Mouse Tales by Violetta Antcliff





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 doesn’t bother.

                                                                                  Excerpt
Word Count: 4303
Pages to Print: 17
File Format: PDF
Price: $2.99
Reviews
From M. L. John
 

    

   
Jason Spells it Out by Violetta Antcliff 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?

                                                                                          Excerpt
Word Count: 20,477
Pages to Print: 76
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
    

   
The Carol Singers by Violetta Antcliff 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 her past.

                                                                   Excerpt
Word Count: 3093
Pages to Print: 13
File Format: PDF
Price: $2.99
 
     

   
The Haunting of Pandora Fox by Violetta Antcliff 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 she’d planned.

                                                                                                        Excerpt
Word Count: 6300
Pages to Print: 24
File Format: PDF
Price: $2.99
 
    

   
A Man Named Klaus by Violetta Antcliff




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 accomplished liar.

                                                                                   Excerpt
Word Count: 10310
Pages to Print: 37
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99

 
     

 
   
Jason Turns Detective by Violetta Antcliff








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?

                                                                                     Excerpt
Word Count: 16000
Pages to Print: 56
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
     

   
A Fragile Ghost by Violetta Antcliff


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.

                                                                                    Excerpt
Word Count: 10154
Pages to Print: 23
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
    


   
An Impossible Dream by Violetta Antcliff





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 through.

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.

                                                                                       Excerpt
Word Count: 10100
Pages to Print: 39
File Format: PDF
Price: $ 3.99

    

   
Adonis by Violetta Antcliff



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.

                                                                                             Excerpt
Word Count: 11100
Pages to Print: 37
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
      

   
Paranoia by Violetta Antcliff 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 dead.

                                                                                       Excerpt
Word Count: 10485
Pages to Print: 33
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99

     



Peppercorn Rent by Violetta Antcliff


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.

                                                                                   Excerpt
Word Count: 11355
Pages to Print: 40
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
      

   
A Vulnerabls Woman by Violetta Antcliff 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.

                                                                                              Excerpt
Word Count: 11211
Pages to Print: 38
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
       

   
Paxton—Life Full Circle by Violetta Antcliff




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 occurrences.

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.

                                                              Excerpt
Word Count: 12363
Pages to Print: 42
File Format: PDF
Price: $ 3.99
 
    

Four Pennies and a Journey by Violetta Antcliff







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 letter.

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.

                                                                Excerpt
Word Count: 12298
Pages to Print: 42
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99

 
     

   
   
   
   

Excerpts:

Leprechaun Magic

 

    Ruth 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 crossly.
    “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 cross−very cross.
     “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 one?”
    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

 

Sneaky Shenanigans

    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 up.
 
     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 Wisteria Cottage

     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 mortgage.
     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 without argument.
 
     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 bedroom.
     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 Mystery 
                                                                                                   Chapter One
                                                              Jason Has a Bad Day

     “Coo-eee, coo-eee.”
     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 mysteriously.
     “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.
     “Who’s dead?”
     “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 lollipop sticks.
     “I might, and then again, I might not. It just depends.”
     “On what?”
     “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 garden.

     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
 
Jason and the Friendly Ghost
 
                                                         An Unusual Present

     Christmas 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.
     “What’s this 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?”
     Alison, Jason’s 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?”
     “No.” Both parents answered her at once.
     “Why not? Everybody in my class has got pierced ears.”
     “Tracy hasn’t,” whispered Jason.
     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.”
     Knowing better 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 sauntered along.
     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.
     Jason walked 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, number thirty-six.”
     “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 playground.
     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?”
     “Yea, I’m 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 wearing one.
                                                                                      Back to Jason and the Friendly Ghost
Magic and Mayhem

                                                              Chapter One
                                                      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 grumbled.

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, mooched off.

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 deaf?”

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.

                                                                                                         Back to Magic and Mayhem
 
Jason Sinks to a New Low 
                                              Chapter One
                                              Trespassing

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 inside.

“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 tree.

“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 work.

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 me.”

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 trespassing.”

“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 do?”

“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 kneeling.

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. 
                                                                                                                                   Back to 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 profits.

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 return.

“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 sized handkerchief.

“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 furniture van.

“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 his mouth.

“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 them go.

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 get in.

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 stop.”

“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 lost count.

“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 lasted long.

“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   
 
Sapphire

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 nature.

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 wouldn’t approve.

Sapphire had yet to meet this mysterious boyfriend, whom she secretly believed existed only in Mandy’s head.

“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 gushed.

“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.
Back to Sapphire   
 
The Anvil Ghosts

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 of earshot.

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 countryside.

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 Anvil Ghosts  
 
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 the barn.

“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 barely discernible.

“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 behind us.”

“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.”
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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 right.

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 fingers.

“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 investigating.

“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 way out.”

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 wagging.

“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 spittle.

“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 them.

“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 with them.

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 teeth.

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.
Back to Jason Spells it Out
 
The Carol Singers

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 her knees.

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 the door-mat.

“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.
Back to The Carol Singers
 
The 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 peacocks.

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.
Back to 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 taxi.

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

                                                                Chapter One

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 the kitchen.

“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 lady.

“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 emergency?”

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 little dog.

“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.
Back to Jason Turns Detective
 
A Fragile Ghost

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 her out.

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 down well.

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, she’d accepted.

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 demolished.

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 Fragile Ghost
 
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 done.”

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 there?”

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.
Back to An Improbable Dream
 
Adonis

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 about it.

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 about.

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 distance.

Brow puckered, the man looked at her without speaking.

“I said, what are you doing here?” she repeated.
Back to Adonis
 
Paranoia

“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 said.

“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 her mind.

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 she’d believed.


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 station.

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 kitchen.

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 of exasperation.

“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 said.

“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 shop?”

“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 knows why.”

“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 the time.”

“And now?”

“I told you, I’ve given it up. I don’t want to get involved anymore.”

“Is Paxton the copper you went out with a couple of times a few months back?”

“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 you’ve seen?”

“I haven’t told him.”

“Why not?”

“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 moment.”

“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.”

“Promise.”

“Promise.”
Back to Paranoia
 
Peppercorn Rent

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 exception.

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 have it.

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 it.

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 well-dressed.

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,” she said.

“Are you offering?” A smile quirked the corner of the man’s mouth.

“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 property.”

“Well, Madam, for your information, I am the owner of this rundown property, as you call it, and it is definitely not for sale.”

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 his eye.

“I don’t suppose you would be interested in renting, would you?” she called.

“I might, if I found a suitable tenant. Do you know anybody?” he replied.

“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 joked.

“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 of it.

“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.”
Back 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 her.

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 firm chin.

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 weight.

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 given in.

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 join her.

“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 me.”

“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 bit?”

“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 proposed holiday.

“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.
Back 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 age.

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 called.

“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 chortled.

“You haven’t seen her, have you?”

“Who?”

“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 then.”

“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 Harry.

“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 door.

“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 been me.”

“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 regardless.

“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.”
Back to Paxton—Life Full Circle
 
Four Pennies and a Journey

Ding-dong-ding-dong.

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 apologetically.

“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 her mother.

You’re a growing girl Rosie, you need it more than I do, she had insisted.

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 Rosie.

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, started tittering.

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’s knuckles.

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 boys.

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 Webster.

“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 before
. . .”

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 walked out.

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.
Back to Four Pennies and a Journey
 
 
 

 

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