Dribble Drabble #04

The Letter

Billy picked up the letter and kicked the door shut. He edged along the left side of the worn carpet to avoid a creaking floorboard. “Grandad!”

“In here son.”

“There’s a letter.” He handed over the brown envelope and dropped to his knees, stroking the cat to a purr.

The old man’s rheumy eyes read the contents, then searched the peeling wallpaper for meaning.

Billy read the bold header in his grandad’s lap, slowly enunciating the first three syllables. “‘Eve-ick-shun’. What does it mean?”

The old man smiled. “Do you think your mum’s offer of the spare room still stands?”

Dribble Drabble #03

The Blade

Arthur transitioned seamlessly from the dull and dusty world of accounts to the quiet of home retirement. Prudence the cat purred her approval, but Maggie was determined to fill his time with trivial domestic tasks that had until then remained happily undone.

“Enter a competition,” she had suggested, and so he did.

That was weeks ago, and now he marched steadily behind his Jaguar XV-5 mower. His inch-perfect lines and symmetrical shading would surely deliver the winning points.

Mopping his brow at the finish, Arthur glanced back; then froze at the sight of a solitary blade, waving his defeat.

Lawnmower Man
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Dance Hall Days

June 1966 – England had just won the World Cup at London’s Wembley Stadium and a happy nation basked in the warm satisfaction of sporting success. Teenage boys in ironed white shirts, inch-wide ties and pleated trousers lounged against the wall outside The Ritz Ballroom in Camden Town on a balmy summer’s evening, eyeing up the girls in their colourful dresses – the hemlines having recently moved up to expose knees and thighs. The two groups exchanged banter in a timeless mating ritual – coquettish glances and shy giggles elicited macho poses from strutting cocks who combed up their Brylcreemed hair and dragged on their tabs, nonchalantly flicking the stubs in the general direction of the gutter.

dance hall days

Brian Smith knew whom he was after. A pretty little blonde girl he knew from school called Helen. She was one year his junior but was no longer a geeky schoolgirl – she had blossomed into an attractive young woman, and he was determined to ask her to dance. That was the protocol. Bundle inside, pay your sixpence at the box office, get a paper cup of fruit punch and line the walls with your mates – waiting for the hall to fill and the jazz band to strike up a familiar tune. Brian combed back his brown quiff and pushed off the wall, with a ‘good luck mate’ from a friend bolstering his nerve.

The crowds seemed to part before him as he crossed the hall. Her friends whispered and giggled as she looked up – it was as if she had been waiting for him. He held her wide blue-eyed gaze and asked, “Would you like to dance?”

“I can’t jive,” she said. Her friends laughed as if it was the funniest joke ever, buying Brian a few seconds to formulate his next move.

“Then let’s get some punch and wait for the next one,” he said, taking her firmly by the arm and leading her away from her friends. ‘Always try to separate them from their mates’ was the advice that came to mind, given by one of the older boys.

“Are you always so forceful?” she asked, sipping her drink and glancing over at her jealous friends.

“I’m no longer a kid. I’m joining the police next week,” he said. This was designed to impress her and it worked – responsibility and a steady job.

“I like this one,” she said, as the band played a popular hit. This time it was Helen doing the leading, as the infatuated couple found a space and held each other in a classic dance pose.

“It all seemed so easy,” Brian told his mates the next day. “As if it were meant to be. We’re going out now, so no comments or whistles.”

He transitioned seamlessly from hanging out with mischief in mind to police training college and being in a steady relationship. He even put his name down for a council flat. In those heady days of youth everything seemed possible, and his world was full of firsts. First girlfriend; first job; first pay cheque; first passport; first holiday and soon after, marriage and first home of their own.

Brian would twirl his police whistle in the pub for laughs, but cautioned his mates on their behaviour. He had the cocky confidence of his hero – football captain Bobby Moore – and each morning his feet slipped effortlessly into his size nine boots, as if this was always meant to be.

This short story is taken from Postcards from London by Tim Walker

http://amazon.co.uk/dp/B075C1M42Z

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Postcards from London

Postcards from London is a new book of 15 short stories by myself, Tim Walker, due for release on Sunday 10th September. Please ‘like’ my facebook page for news and updates, and to get the link to the FREE ebook download on the 10th and 11th September.

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SHADOWPLAY

ian-curtisI jump out of bed and get dressed as quickly as I can in a practiced routine, clothes laid out neatly on a chair before going to bed, knowing how cold it’ll be in the morning. I ignore the gloominess of the tiny terraced house, the cracked bathroom mirror, narrow corridors, treacherous stairs carpet. I quickly eat my toast and drink my tea with just a grunt of acknowledgement to my nan, pull on my great coat and head for the bus stop. I am a young man and this is my World.

Stamping my feet on the frosty pavement, I take a deep drag on my ciggy. It looks even bleaker in winter ‘round here. Macclesfield is a dump. Meeting her, though. Something to look forward to. I turn up the collar on my coat to deflect the biting wind from my ears – a bargain from the army surplus shop – and shuffle forward into the warm of the bus’s interior, finding a seat upstairs. To the centre of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you.

I’m glad I put that advert in the shop window to be a singer in a band. Wasn’t sure at first, but now I’ve met those mad lads from Salford, maybe something’ll come of it. It’s stimulated my creative juices and given me a reason to turn my poems into song lyrics. What can you write about living ‘round here? There’s little colour in this grey landscape. The factory owners have fled, leaving dilapidated buildings and forgotten people, wandering about searching for meaning in this post-industrial wasteland. The Germans didn’t bomb here – they didn’t need to.

But I’m meeting her. She makes me laugh, with her cheeky Scouse humour. Our tribal cousins and football rivals – Liverpool – a port city with people coming and going, plus the Irish influence that crept westward along the canals, rail and roads to Manchester. Hell, they built it all. But they brought laughter and music and a positive outlook, to mix in with us bleak mill workers. So now we can be both dour and happy. Light and shade, we live in the shadows, we play at being thinking, rational humans, and kid ourselves that we have a say in our destiny. A kind of shadow play. She makes me laugh, though.

I’m waiting for her in the caf in a department store. Busy, clean, bright. I’m scared though. Scared that my eyes will roll back, my body will tense, I’ll black out and end up on the floor, twitching, sending the kids running to their mums. I can’t control it. Confusion in my eyes that says it all, I’ve lost control. The drugs just make me feel shit, grumpy, moody. Here she comes. I break into a smile and stand awkwardly to half-embrace her, hands on her arms, a peck on the cheek. I need her positivity like a shot of caffeine. She’s a nurse, and sees the good in people; a reason to save them; a reason to save me. I feel like I’m in the sea, swimming up to the light, and she’s there, in a boat, pulling me out. To the depths of the ocean where all hope sank, waiting for you.

She chats madly, and I think I’m falling in love. The way she flashes her blue eyes at me makes me feel more than I am, more complete. I hand her the letter.  Concern is etched into her furrowed brow as she reads.  A treatment plan for  your epilepsy, Mister Curtis, a course of medication. She squeezes my hand across the table.  She understands.  She’s on my side.  She cares.  Still, my spirits sag, my mind reels. I feel my immortal soul is dying.  In my twilight moments I see them, from across the expanse of time, and hear them calling me.

She has to go – she’s on shift. Good luck with the job interview she says. I say it’s not an interview, just a check-in at the Labour Exchange. It does what it says on the tin – exchanges your labour for cash. I wander through the city centre and end up in the record shops, flicking through albums and singles. I was moving through the silence without motion, waiting for you. Will my songs be here one day? Sometimes I feel so alone, even in a crowded place, I want to curl up in the corner, arms around my knees, head down, thinking. In a room with a window in the corner, I found truth.

What do you want to do? he says, smoking and not minding where he blows it. Not bothered, I say, and then – but I like writing. Oh, a writer are you? Then maybe an office clerk. He smiles like a movie villain. Think I’ve got something here… As the assassins all grouped in four lines dancing on the floor. Maybe I can use that. I did everything, everything I wanted to, I let them use you for their own ends.

That evening it’s rehearsals. I bring my notebook with my scribbled thoughts. Hooky’s fooling around and Bernie’s sullen and moody. We need a new drummer, he says.   We need a new name, I say. Warsaw’s too bleak. Yeah? Says Bernie. What else is there ‘round here but bleakness? Them grey pictures of post-War Europe describe the urban shithole we live in, and our music mirrors that. It’s only a backdrop, I say, although we’re its products and we can’t escape ourselves, I concede. Our music is our way of rising above the gloom, Hooky chips in, and bursts into a manic bass riff. We can lie in the gutter and look at the stars.  One day…

In the shadowplay acting out your own death knowing no more… I sit at a table and refine my jumbled ideas into song lyrics. I’ve got a new song, I say, and laugh, which gets their attention, as it’s not something I usually do – laugh out loud, I mean. What’s it about?  The usual – you’re born, live in a shithole and then you die.

In between, try and live a little! someone says.

Yeah, after all, it’s been a good day.

If you like this, then try my new novel, Devil Gate Dawn…

http://myBook.to/DevilGateDawn

Halloween 50BC

celtic-druidsThree loud raps on the gate sent her scurrying. Peeping through the spy-hole her eyes widened in alarm at the tall hooded figure of the Druid, staff in hand, waiting to be let in.  Elissa called her son to help pull back the heavy wooden spar.  The Druid’s arrival from his sacred grove in the woods always preceded a festival or funeral.

“Where is your husband, Waylan, the Gate-keeper?” he demanded of the cowering woman.

“Sir, he is dead this past week, killed in the last raid by the Atrebates. His body awaits burial.”

“Then we must honour him,” said the Druid, pushing past her and making for the house of the village chief. “We will summon his spirit at Sah-wen this night.  Make a place for him at your meal table.”

She was alarmed at the thought of the ghost of her departed husband and other spirits returning to walk amongst them as she set about making breakfast for her 9-year-old daughter, Dulla, and son, Tristan, aged 12.

“Mum! Do we get to wear our animal costumes tonight?” Dulla danced and tugged on her sleeve.

“Yes, dear, but first we must help build the bonfire and single out an animal for sacrifice. Perhaps the old ewe will do.  She is dry, and we must not show the Druid that she is lame.”

They had each prepared an animal skin costume with a cured head; Tristan would wear a ram’s head with curling horns, Dulla a sheep’s head and she would wear her husband’s stag’s head with antlers, as she was now head of the house. He had died defending the village’s rear gate, next to where their round house was positioned, as it was their family’s duty to keep the gate and watch out for invaders from the east.  They always came from the east, walking silently out of the woods, axes by their sides, often with the rising sun at their backs.

The village of 30 dwellings was surrounded by a ditch and earth bank, with two wooden gates at east and west. The men had been building a series of wooden platforms on top of the bank, on either side of the gates to give better defensive positions.  Tristan took his sentry duties very seriously, and would roll out of bed at dawn to patrol his new lookout position.  Attacks by their hostile neighbours were becoming more frequent.

That evening the villagers gathered in the central area where the Druid waited to address them:

“Tonight we celebrate the festival of Sah-wen to mark the end of our year, and make ready for the long winter. The harvest is stored and animals fattened.  Now we ask to be favoured by our gods and pay homage to those who have died this year, and summon them to walk amongst us, before they pass to the spirit world.”

Dulla led their elderly ewe and Tristan carried a basket of vegetables to the Druid’s assistants, who received them and placed all the offerings in a wooden box on a raised platform, around the feet of a bound captive, who chanted in his own dialect, expecting death. Tree branches and faggots of twigs prepared by the children, were arranged around the sacrificial cluster of objects.  The moon had risen over the woods as the grey Druid raised his arms and a hush fell on the group.

“Almighty Brea, protector of the people, accept our offerings to you at Sah-wen, and favour the new year. Watch over us through the long winter nights.  We offer these sacrifices to you so you may bless the crops in the fields and the fruit on the vine.”  He started a low chant that was taken up by the villagers, who held hands and swayed as the sacred bonfire was lit.  Animals cried out in terror and fowl flapped their wings in a desperate attempt to escape the flames.  Their sacrifice would ensure the safety and prosperity of the village for another year.

As the sacred bonfire burned low, the head of each household took a burning branch from the Druid’s hand, and returned to their home to re-light the family hearth. Each family group followed the torch-bearer in tight-knit groups, looking out for the spirits of the dead who might be roaming the compound.  Their animal costumes disguised them from the ghosts, who would roam mournfully before melting away into the night air once the hearth fires were re-kindled.

Elissa led her children through the dark doorway of their house and lit the hearth fire from the torch. The wood crackled and spat embers out as light and warmth were restored to their home.  Their meals had been laid out before the ceremony, and now they turned their attentions to the dining table.  A cold breeze made her shiver and she gasped as she saw the plate of food that had been set out at the head of the table was now empty.

“Look Mum!” Dulla cried, “Daddy’s been to visit us again!”

Gunpowder Plot Revisited

Life of George, Chapter 8 – Gunpowder Plot Revisited

Parliament bombedFollow my serialised novel at:-

http://channillo.com/series/life-of-George

‘…Ken eyed his moody companion and said: “Come on George, I’ve arranged for us to meet the Inspector at the staff entrance to the Parliament building. We can play our part in preventing this madness by identifying any of the main activists on CCTV if they approach the building. We should be able to recognise Stevo and Tommy by their body shape and gait long before any of the coppers, even with hoods up. Come on, it’s the final act of the Thames Valley Four! Let’s finish what we started”.’

‘…George called over WPC Wishaw and pointed to the screen. “He’s definitely one of them! Alert security! They’re in the building!” The petite PC smashed her hand on a big, red plastic button, setting off a loud alarm, as she dashed across the room to call her superior. “Quick! Get everyone you can to the service area! There are two of them and they’re carrying a back pack!”…’

Sanctioned!

He woke up at the noise. The first plane flew over the house at 6am every day, including Sundays, like a Promethean punishment from the Establishment. Although his alarm was set for 7am, he rarely slept beyond the first low-flying aircraft heading for Heathrow Airport. “Please, don’t let them build another runway,” he moaned, as bleary-eyed and with an uncomfortably full bladder, he manoeuvred his swollen legs and numb feet over the edge of the bed and sat up.

despairMarge was still sleeping, ear plugs in and mask on. He looked at her with a mixture of love and envy. He couldn’t sleep with ear plugs in – what would happen if there was a break-in or explosion? Such things were not unheard of on the Runnymede Council estate. He managed a slow, painful shuffle to the bathroom and relieved himself. After a quick wash and shave he returned to the bedroom to get dressed. Not a straight forward procedure, as nerve damage to his hands and feet made routine tasks a trial. He sat on the bed and took his pills.

Johnny was downstairs having his cereal, ear phones in and eyes glued to flashing lights on his tablet. Thankfully, he was a self-sufficient teenager and could make his own way to school.

“What you got on today?”

He removed one ear plug. “Nuffin’ much.”

“Well, let’s hope your teachers can spark an interest; and stay out of trouble.”

The letterbox snapped and he robotically moved to the front door. His heart froze in shock. A brown envelope. He hated getting brown envelopes. It was not his fault he was unable to work anymore due to a chronic condition. These things happen. Now he was in The Welfare System.

He sat at the kitchen table, turning the envelope over in his tingling hands, sitting quite still with bowed head as the boy plonked a mug of tea in front of him and rushed out just as she rushed in, gulping a cup of coffee.

“What you got there?” she said.

“Letter from the sosh.”

She hovered behind him. He could sense her unease.

“I’ll open it when you’ve gone.”

“Oh, no you won’t. I want to know what it says before I go for work. You know our budget is on a shoestring. Any changes will leave us going to the Food Bank. Open it.”

He reluctantly thumbed it open, fearing the outcome. He read in brooding silence.

“Come on then, what does it say?” There was an uneasy tone in her voice.

“It says, ‘…you are required to attend a meeting to review your status as being medically unfit for work.’”

“Oh God!” she cried, as she slumped onto a chair. “Why can’t they leave you alone? Doctors have examined you and said you’re not well enough to return to work. Why are they doing this? I’ve got to go. We’ll talk later.” A kiss on the cheek and she was gone.

He took his time clearing up. Put warm water and washing up liquid in the sink. Pile the dishes in, then sit down. Wash up and leave on the drainer. Sit down. He moved slowly to the lounge and picked up his inhaler and welfare correspondence file. Sit down. He was breathing heavily and took a few seconds to recover. A squirt on the inhaler. His tired eyes wandered to family photos on the wall. One of him with team mates holding a trophy.

The warm sunlight and effect of the medication made him drowsy and afternoon naps were a part of his new routine. He woke to the sound of sobbing coming from the kitchen. Slowly pushing himself up from the armchair, on swollen feet he moved to the kitchen. She was sitting at the table, head in arms, body shaking with deep sobs. He put his arm around her.

“Don’t worry, love. Things will be alright. I’ll get another letter from the doctors. I’ve already made an appointment.”

“Oh no it won’t!” She sat up, red eyed. “Look what’s in today’s paper!”

He read out loud: “‘Sick Dad Killed Himself After Benefits Axed’. Hmm… a Coroner has ruled that a man committed suicide as a result of a government-approved assessor telling him to get a job against doctors’ advice.”

He looked at a photo of the Minister responsible, clearly selected to make him look sinister. She sat up and looked at him miserably, mascara running down her cheeks.

“What are we going to do? You can’t win against these people. They’re on a mission to cut welfare payments at all cost, even killing people! It says in there that 2,500 sick and disabled people have died within two weeks of their benefits payments being stopped after being declared fit for work. It’s not fair!”

“Come on, love. There’s no way they’ll find me fit for work. Look at me! Still in my dressing gown in the afternoon. I’m a wreck, and that’s how they’ll see me. Let’s have a cup of tea.” They sipped their teas and munched on biscuits in miserable silence. How can I tell her that I’ve already been sanctioned for missing a meeting?

He persuaded her to go upstairs and have a lie down. His mind was numb. There was nothing else to be done. They’ll probably be better off without me – the Union will pay-out. He took a roll of washing line and a foot stool and walked out into the back yard. Blinked up at the late afternoon sun, he scowled as the shadow of a ‘plane flashed over. Placing the stool under a tree he stood on it and threw the washing line over an overhanging branch.

Madge woke from her nap when the front door slammed.

“Mum! I’m home!” Johnny shouted.

She got up and made her way to the bedroom window, looking down to their tiny patch of garden. She froze in horror at the sight of her husband’s legs standing on a stool under the tree. With a scream she rushed downstairs, past the startled boy, and out into the garden. His head and torso were obscured by the leaves of the tree as she rushed up to him, throwing her arms around his legs and squeezing as tight as she could.

“Hey! What’s going on, you silly mare!”

“Don’t do it!” she sobbed, “We’ll manage!”

“What are you on about? I’m just fixing the washing line!”

Thames Valley Tales – Two Months Old!

Themes_Valley_Tales_Cover_5My first dip of the toe into the pool of creative writing…

I’m glad I paid for professional proof-reading and copyediting, as I can face my readers and say, ‘It’s the best I can do at this stage of my development, and I’ve ensured it is technically sound and a smooth read.’

As for the stories themselves…are they engaging? do they stand comparison with other author’s work?  Here’s what my first five reviewers said…

“I love the range of emotions wrapped up in each story.  Witty, informative, educational – a thoroughly interesting read.  Strongly recommend it to any literary reader!”  awww…thanks sis.  I’ll try and be nicer to you…

Here’s a slightly cryptic one from someone I don’t know…

“Great collection of stories. Intriguing and witty.  Popeye shouldn’t read this…but everyone else should.”

Thrilled to get a five start rating from a stranger…but what does it mean???  I can’t see Popeye grappling with a tablet with his big thumbs, open can of spinach in the other hand.  Olive Oyle is a potential reader though…

A review from a member of my writing group is most welcome and I appreciate the peer support…

“Fascinating glimpses into the history of the area.  I thoroughly enjoyed all the stories and wanted some of them to continue so I could find out what happened to the characters.”

Hmmmm….perhaps some stories could be extended into something longer, but I like the short story format because of my short attention span and inclination to hop from one idea to another.

Another review was from a cousin who I have no contact with, so the family grapevine works…

“An excellent collection of short stories which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Well written – can’t wait to read more from this author.”

Wow! great review and from an unexpected quarter… maybe I should re-engage with some distant branches of the extended family.  Especially now I’m an erm… author.

A review from a golf buddy who I never discussed books or reading with, just put his email on a speculative mailing…

“Great little stories.  Who is the murderer at Henley Regatta? Definitely the best of the bunch.”

Nice…and I’ve put ‘Murder at Henley Regatta’ forward for inclusion in an anthology of emerging writers…

With a few sales and a handful of reviews, I feel I’m emerging, blinking into the sunlight, embracing my new status and standing firmly behind my book in a few local media interviews.  It’s a start.  I’m up and running.