Timepiece.

And yes, my father loved his watches and his clocks.

Pocket watches cased in silver and gold or less aristocratic steel, he loved them all; their chains breasting his waistcoat.

The winding and the polishing and the craftsmanship and the filigree writhing, delicate fingers pointing to the time, to the moon, to the sun; maker’s names inscribed and Roman numerals perfectly positioned, the whole ceremony of time. He loved the watches and the watches loved him back, and because I loved my father I wanted to love the watches too.

The watches however, did not and do not love me. They sneer at my lack of reverence for time, and refuse to count it for me.

“The time is now,” I say, and they reply by sulking, refusing to move their hands.

“Have it your way” they reply indifferently.

They do not tick or chime. The cuckoo remains behind the little doors in my presence, nesting in silence. Pendulums hang inert, apathetic.

Sometimes in the night they will chime unexpectedly, erratically; one stroke at three a.m., twelve strokes at four in the morning. Each bell fades and my heart stops, waiting for a continuance. Just as I fall back to sleep, here it comes.

One.

Two.

I hold my breath but that, it seems, is that.

“What time is it?” I am asked, and I look at the tiny clock in my hand, a gift from my long deceased father, then I look at the sky and I answer slyly.

“Summer.”

The ghost dancer

From the earliest part of her childhood she had dreamed about dancing. She begged her mother for dance lessons, but as Fiona was notoriously clumsy her pleas were brushed off.

The truth was that her mother could not afford to pay for ballet classes, but rather than admit this she instead said that it was pointless, that someone like Fiona had no chance of dancing.

Fiona, a quiet, biddable child stopped asking, but at night she dreamed of rising ‘en pointe’; casually and easily walking on the tips of her toes around the kitchen, as natural to her as breathing.

During her waking life she was shy and as awkward and clumsy as she had been labelled, seemingly unable even to walk and look backwards at the same time without falling over. She had different talents of course, and creating beautiful sculptures from anything she could find absorbed her sufficiently that she stopped hoping to dance, although she still dreamed of walking on the tips of her toes occasionally.

As she grew older her stumbling became more frequent, she dropped things and bumped into people and even doorways as she passed through them. Neither her parents nor Fiona ever got it checked out though as it was such an insidious change that everybody accepted that she was merely careless, including herself.

Her sculptures were full of grace and movement, making up for the lack of it otherwise. Her hands, feet and muscles grew painful, her arms jerky. A cup of tea would leap from her grip without warning, nonetheless her hands quietened as she lovingly cut a tiny detail into the flowing muscles of a line of galloping horses emerging from a piece of wood. Fiona was extremely short sighted and preferred to work without wearing her spectacles, holding her face so close to the tiny, exquisite pieces she created that people around her were genuinely unable to understand how she could work like that. Her sculptures sold well however, and she was able to make a good living in time.

When Fiona was twenty three, she was invited to a Halloween seance. Not really a party person she allowed her friends to chivvy her into going, it did not sound wildly exciting but that was fine by her. Not particularly superstitious, Fiona was happy enough on arrival to be told that there would be a session with a ouija board later. She shrugged, said why not, and accepted a glass of blood red punch. The seance was led by a middle aged woman who organised everybody into sitting around a table and holding hands, after first dimming the lights. After a lot of nervous giggles from the group of friends, Laura the medium started to give messages.

These were uninteresting. ‘Is there anyone here who knows somebody called John? James? Has the letter J in their name?’

Somebody would finally speak up and be told that the person they were thinking about was happy, no longer in pain and that they did not want the person who was enquiring about them to be unhappy. Fiona found this excruciatingly boring and her mind drifted from the generic messages until she was startled from her reverie by Laura speaking directly to her.

‘Don’t do it!’

The command confused her.

‘Don’t do what?’ she asked, but Laura said that the session was finished, packed up her props and left.

Fiona’s friends teased her all evening, asking what she was secretly up to. She got fed up of answering, ‘Nothing’ and she left before the ouija board appeared.

That night she had the dancing dream. As she walked gracefully around her apartment on her toes, her feet arched elegantly, her whole body as lissome as one of her sculptures, someone else entered the dream. She had the feeling that this person was a relative but did not know who.

‘You were a dancer in a previous life and you will be again,’ she heard. ‘This is just a memory and this time you have to develop in other ways. Watch out for tricksters.’

The presence left and Fiona woke to sunlight streaming through her window, her phone ringing.

Her friend Jeanette was ringing to berate her for leaving the party early the previous evening. She was told that the ouija board had been a great success and that there had been a message for Fiona.

‘But I wasn’t there, how could there be?’ Fiona protested.

‘It was definitely for you, the spirit said your name began with an ‘F’, Jeanette told her.

‘Oh right’ scoffed Fiona, ‘that proves it. Did some long lost relative want to tell me that they are watching over me?’

’Well, sort of’ answered Jeanette. ‘It was a bit mysterious to be honest, you should come over and we could hold another session, find out more.’

‘I think I’ll pass, thanks all the same.’

Fiona was firm about this and although she agreed to meet for coffee later, it was on condition that none of this paranormal rubbish would enter the conversation.

After showering and returning to her bedroom clad only in a towel, Fiona suddenly remembered her dream. For a fleeting moment she heard the voice, ‘You used to be a dancer, you will be again’ and on a whim she arched her foot and tried to rise onto her toes. Catching herself before she fell, she laughed at herself for her stupidity but the feeling that she could do this remained.

Running for the bus into town which she caught just in time, she clambered aboard and found a seat, apologising to an elderly woman who she bumped into as she sat down.

‘Be careful’ she was told, but in a friendly way, the old lady smiling as she spoke.

Jeanette tried desperately not to talk about the ouija board, but as they browsed the storefronts Fiona could see she would get no peace until she allowed her to get it out of her system.

‘Okay, I can see you are going to burst if I don’t let you give me this ‘message from spirit’ but I am not going to join in any spooky stuff and that’s the end of it.’

Jeanette explained that at first the group thought that the ouija board was not going to work when unexpectedly the planchette had started to move. The message spelled out was simple.

‘Three warnings and no more.’

A bit spooked the group had nonetheless asked about the warnings. What were they and who were they for, they wondered?

‘Three times’ the board spelled out again. ‘Tell her.’ It then moved to the letter ‘F’ and stopped responding.

‘We thought it had to be for you after what the medium said,’ Jeanette added. ‘You must be up to something, come on, spill the beans’ she begged.

After arguing that she was up to nothing at all, aware that Jeanette disbelieved her, the two went for their coffee. It was a beautiful day, feeling more like early summer than the end of it, but eventually the two parted and went home.

Having already eaten at the coffee shop, Fiona went straight to her workroom. Surrounded by finished and half finished pieces, she smiled as she looked at the large clay sculpture covered by a wet cloth which she was currently working on. About to lift the cloth and resume work, she heard her phone and went to answer it. A telemarketer spoiled her mood sufficiently that she poured herself a glass of white wine and sipped at it, watching television mindlessly while calming down. After finishing the half bottle, she curled up on her settee and continued to watch reruns of old films before falling asleep where she lay.

Sometime around two am, Fiona awoke, thirsty. As she padded to the kitchen for a glass of water she remembered very clearly the dream she had been having.

She had been standing in her studio and a young man was there, he was dressed like a Cossack and spoke to her.

‘I remember you’ he said, ‘You are the dancer.’

‘Not in this lifetime’ she answered. ‘I can barely walk without falling over.’

He had looked at her sympathetically and told her that she had taught him to dance.

‘Would you not like to dance at least once?’ he asked her; ‘I can help you, after all you have done for me it would be an honour.’

Fiona’s heart had started to hammer in her chest.
‘I don’t know’ she stammered out, ‘I don’t know if it is allowed.’

At this point she had woken up, her heart still beating fast and hard; her head was also hurting, from the wine no doubt. She mused on the dream which was crystal clear in her mind and had left her with a feeling of danger. She drank a glass of water straight down before refilling the glass and taking it to her bed, looking away uneasily as she passed her darkened studio.

Fiona fell asleep more easily than she expected and returned immediately to her previous dream. The young man told her that she was allowed anything, was free to make her own reality, but that of course she would have to sacrifice something from her current incarnation to be able to take back her ability to dance. Fiona realised that they were standing in her studio as he asked her if she would not like to dance just once, to feel the music of life expressing itself through her body? It would not necessarily be a huge sacrifice he told her and nodded towards the half made, still covered up, partly made sculpture which she was working on.

Fiona thought of the hours of work, of the love she had poured into it already, and hesitated. She thought of pieces she had made, destroyed then rebuilt better than before and gave the Cossack a brilliant smile. As he smiled back in pleasure and told her how it would work she found herself nodding along even as a part of her mind screamed at her to stop, that there was still time.

Waking early, Fiona had forgotten about the dream completely. She felt edgy, still had a headache from the previous night’s wine and had a curious feeling that something important had happened or would happen.

She took a couple of paracetamol for her headache and drank more water. Deciding that she could not work with the pain which appeared to be worsening, she roamed her house restlessly. Finding an old video camera she smiled and took it to her studio, set it on a tripod and decided to see if it still worked. Having focused it towards the centre of the room she walked towards her workbench and a sudden blast of agony sent her to her knees. As she toppled over, the young man from her dream appeared and offering his hand, he helped her to her feet. Fiona got to her feet carefully taking his hand as the pain ebbed away, then curtsied deeply.

‘Ouch!’ she said, ‘That was pretty awful’ then realised that music was playing. She took his arm and said, ‘Shall we?’

It was three days later when the police broke into her house, nobody having heard from her and both family and friends worrying about her missing a christening.

Fiona lay in the middle of her studio clutching a piece of clay which was all that remained of her work in progress.

There was an inquest, of course, and it was determined that she had died of a stroke brought on by extremely high cholesterol furring up her arteries. Her grieving family were told it was a genetic condition, that she was unlikely to have been aware of this until it happened.

As the police handed Fiona’s mother the video camera which they had taken to check for evidence of foul play, they told her, ‘I’m sorry for your loss. Fiona was a truly gifted dancer, you must have been very proud of her; her last dance is recorded on here.’


Big cats.

There have always been rumours of big cats, panthers/pumas whatever, living wild in the countryside. Think Beast of Bodmin or other such media sensationalism. In spite of the odd reference to such BofB creatures the official line is that they don’t exist. When people say they have seen one they are generally fobbed off with them mistaking a large household cat or dog for something that doesn’t exist.

Now I have been interested in these sightings since being a small child. My father, a decent naturalist, saw one near Richmond in North Yorkshire many moons ago. He stopped the van he was driving and got out to get his camera from the back of the van; at this point the cat turned and started to cross the road towards him and he got back in hurriedly, sans photo. Apart from family he told nobody as he knew he would be ridiculed, but I know that he did not make up the encounter, it was a source of wonder to him. I also know that he would not mistake somebody’s black moggy for a large, exotic feline.

I have spoken to other people who have told me similar things, people who I consider trustworthy.

To get to the point, last year I was walking Bruno along a reasonably popular path, it was dusk and very quiet. Quite inexplicably he suddenly turned around, started checking the path in a very agitated manner and pretty well dragged me the mile or so home. Bruno has many faults which I work on constantly, but is very well behaved on the lead. He does not pull and it takes a lot to make him afraid. I told one of my neighbours who runs that route, he was just returning from one such run and he merely said he had been there and seen nothing. Nor had I, but Bruno did. I told a few folk but they all brushed it off as my dog behaving badly. About a week later I was walking that route and saw a dead, partially eaten sheep in a field just off the path.

The remains are still there now, a bare skull and some fleece. At the time I wondered about a big cat strike but there were no more incidents and nobody but me thought anything of it.

Last week I was walking Bruno and Fly along a lane a few hundred yards from the house. A sheep had her head firmly stuck in the pig wire fence but I couldn’t get close enough to try and free her as Bruno again went bananas, wanting to get the hell out of Dodge. A friend walking her dog went to get the farmer to free the sheep and I took Bruno home, fighting him all the way to stop him dragging me from my feet.

Bruno is an Akita, much closer in temperament to his wild ancestry than most dogs, he is the only one to have been unhappy. My collie, my friend’s dog, other dog walkers seemed oblivious, but Bruno was spooked enough to drop his tail. For an Akita to drop their tightly curled tail which they hold high over their backs is akin to another dog curling their tail between their legs.

This was so close to his previous behaviour, so unusual that I took note again, but having been ignored the last time I said nothing.

The next morning, Friday, 30th April, I put his lead on and crossed the road to the short lane which curls behind a short row of cottages before joining the one where he was afraid. There are usually a few vehicles parked next to the cottages, and here he started acting in a wary manner. Not exactly afraid, but certainly he examined one truck quite carefully. As normal cats often hide under vehicles, I had a look but it was clear; still, although Bruno skittered past he did check it out and I noted this too.

Once we were on the next lane and walking the short distance towards where he had been so quick to leave the previous day, he was far more alert to his surroundings than is usual. As we got closer to where the sheep had been held fast by her head he started to slow down and check the field to our left very carefully. Eventually, his tail went down, he turned around and dragged me home.

I trust my dog and by now was convinced that a large cat was loose in our area, although I had nothing than my dog’s behaviour to go on. I do not want to make him feel that I am putting him in danger, but I also was interested in finding out how long he would react like this. I am not afraid of being attacked by a panther; although we have heard of them occasionally, I have never heard of them attacking a human in the UK. I should think that they are way too intelligent to risk that. This aside, when I walked the same route the next morning, Sunday 2nd May, there were two dead rabbits lying near the parked truck, one had it’s head bitten off. Bruno reacted the same way as he had the previous two days.

Yesterday he walked the route perfectly happily. There was no dead wildlife, no eviscerated sheep and I am willing to believe the cat, an animal I have no proof even exists, has moved on.

Two more points of interest. I was talking to the chap who owns the fields next to where I live. He has livestock and I was trying to hint around the subject of big cats, but eventually came out with the fact that I think that there is one around here, to keep a good watch on his animals. To my surprise he told me that he used to be a forester, and while working some years back, he and a colleague were working in local woodland when they came across the carcass of a freshly killed deer. It was so fresh, he told me, that it was still steaming. One of the haunches had been eaten.

His co-worker told him that there was a panther in the area, and that he was willing to leave it alone as long as it stuck to deer and rabbits. Sadly it started taking sheep and ended up being shot and killed in Barnard Castle. This fascinated me as much by the matter of fact way it was discussed, even more so that it had been killed in a local town but that there had never been a whisper of this in the news.

The second point is that last night as I was bringing my dogs home from their last walk of the day, my next door neighbour was standing on his doorstep, next to front door, having a smoke. I always speak because that’s what we do in the countryside; also it means that Bruno knows that he is a friend and does not go into guard dog mode.

Anyway, my neighbour watches the wildlife and will often tell me that I have just missed seeing a fox or whatever, so I asked him laughingly had he seen any big cats recently. A neighbour’s kitty was crossing the road and I said, “Not that one” to which he replied a little cautiously, “You mean a big, big cat?”

When I said yes, that I meant panther, mountain lion, cougar whatever, he told me that yes, there is a big cat in the area. He has a friend who goes shooting and sees it now and then. I asked him if he had an idea of species but he just said it’s a big, black panther of some type.

So there we have it. I have proof which satisfies me that big cats not only live and hunt around the UK, but that I have had a close enough encounter with one recently that it probably saved the life of the sheep who was panicked enough to trap her head in a wire fence while trying to escape.

4th May 2021

Calanais

Talking of the coast, when I was about ten years old, my brother gave me T. H. White’s masterful retelling of the Arthurian legends, ‘ The Once and Future King’.

I loved this book, reading it over and over again; I still own a copy. At one point in the story Merlin mentions a stone circle which he describes as being on the edge of the world. After much research on my part I learned of a stone circle in Calanais, in the Outer Hebrides, and I decided that this must be the site in the book. To this day though I do not know if this is the circle referenced by the author.


Once I had placed it to my own satisfaction, I dreamed of going to see these stones for myself. I have always had a love affair with the North West of Scotland and the romance of this place, the previous existence of which I had been completely unaware, delighted me. Eventually when I was around thirty years old, my younger sister booked a holiday cottage in the village of Calanais for a week at Midsummer so that she and I could go and visit this mythical place. To say that I was excited would be an understatement.

It was a two day journey each way by public transport but none the worse for that as the trains were far more comfortable in those days, and the route was beautiful.

When we finally got onto the island and into our cottage it was about four pm and my sister wanted us to go to the stones immediately; she must have been disappointed with my reaction to this suggestion which I did not understand myself. Certainly we needed to stretch our legs and the afternoon sunshine was very inviting. For some reason though I had a curious reluctance and managed to convince myself, if not my sister, that it would be more meaningful if we waited until the next day which was Midsummer Eve.

The following morning we got up and after some prevarication on my part, we set off for the stone circle. As we got closer I started to feel really bad but had no idea why. My sister went running up to the stones hugging them all individually like friends and I can remember hovering around on the grass outside the circle. When Christa asked me why I did not join in, I told her I did not like it there.

I felt bad as she had spent a lot of money for us to take this trip, wanting for me to fulfil a dream, but still I made some excuse and went back to the cottage leaving her to commune with the stones.

A lot of years later while discussing that visit, Christa told me that I had said, ‘The stones don’t want me here.’

I do not remember saying this, but what I do recall vividly is that they smelled to me of blood, and that they looked like sharp, bloody stone fangs, grinning at me there on the edge of the world.

I never went back preferring to spend my time looking unsuccessfully for wild otters and enjoying the bog plants next to the roadside which cut through the wet moorland. The butterworts, cottongrasses and orchids all delighted me, being very different from the plants in my local area. Of course I also had the Machair and the gorgeous white Atlantic sands to explore.

I remember the weather, waking to a day which grew steadily hotter until sometime mid afternoon when the heat and the pressure would become intolerable. At this point a thunderstorm, black and violent, would drench the earth before leaving behind a clean watery sunlight kissing the land. My sister whose interests were different to mine, told me that she had found other monolithic structures I might wish to explore but I was completely uninterested; I was probably afraid although truthfully I do not remember.

While I have never forgotten this experience, it happened so long ago that I decided at some point that I was colouring it more darkly in my memory than it actually was at the time. It is currently the end of March 2021, probably thirty years later, Two nights ago I was browsing the internet aimlessly when a small advertising video from the Scottish Tourist Board started to play at the top of the screen on my phone.

It cannot have been longer than five or ten seconds; it caught my eye but I was not really taking any notice. The film was taken in the dark and as the camera panned over some standing stones from above, before I had even recognised Calanais consciously, I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach and I very nearly threw up; it really was that visceral. I am actually sitting here trembling and my heart is racing as I write, just at the thought of the view of the shadowed inner circle which I did not see in real life. I had to get up and go outside to catch my breath.

When I came back in I told myself that I was being stupid, and thought that if I was to watch the video again, deliberately this time so that it did not catch me unaware, then I would perhaps see what had bothered me.

No. No. No.

The shadows and the stones came onto my screen and I had to turn away and click off from the video immediately.

Until this advertisement popped onto my screen I had mostly forgotten about that long ago trip, and although occasionally I would ask online friends who had visited Lewis and Calanais what did they think, I have never spoken to anybody who has been there who says anything other than how lovely and peaceful it is.

I enjoy visiting stone circles and have been to many. Two reasonably local ones have the tranquil vibes that my hippy friends tell me that they have found in Calanais.

To me though, that awful sentinel standing on the Atlantic coastline at the edge of the world, that first footfall after three thousand dangerous miles, is no safe haven for the unwary traveller, but a blood soaked maw that is ready to open in a horrific welcome.

Fairy at the bottom of the garden: 2

Lucy was bored. It was dark and raining and she had not seen her friends for some time. The children were doing schoolwork on their tablets, so she had nothing much to do.

In truth they were growing older and more independent and spent less time in her company these days. When she conjured up pictures from the air of bunnies and squirrels cavorting in the forest, the children smiled politely and showed her cartoon characters on their phones, bashing each other in a variety of ingenious ways.

Lucy was shocked at how casually violent they were. She watched the children laugh uproariously as a coyote chasing some bird ran straight over the edge of a cliff to fall hundreds of feet into a river, or children with big eyes and grown up bodies fought monsters with teeth and impressive weaponry but apparently no brains, blasting them into gory fragments. She had to admit that the graphics were pretty good, though.

Thinking that soon she would need a new patch she decided to go looking for one. She liked the city well enough, especially the places where the outcasts lived. She fitted in more easily there and the people were generally more interesting than in the richer areas where the humans tried to control everything.

The poor could not control anything at all in their lives, so they frequently had a wildness to them, a couldn’t care less attitude. Some went in the other direction, their behaviour and even thought patterns so rigid it was as though they were hoping to be completely invisible to the normal slings and arrows aimed by Fate. Those were the ones Lucy felt most sorry for as they did not appear to be living at all.

Recently the humans had been hiding in their homes, afraid of an illness which was sweeping the whole world, or at least the world of humankind. The Fairies talked endlessly about how the world had been ruined by humans, how much better it would be if they all disappeared, but Lucy privately thought that life without their inept bungling would be somewhat drab.

The Fae are multi talented and pride themselves on being able to pass as human, but having lived with and without her people, in both the countryside and cities, Lucy realised that for most Fairy folk, being modern meant living as though it was a hundred and fifty years ago.

Considering how best to bring herself up to speed, she decided to go to university and learn the modern magic which seemed centred on the internet. She was fascinated by the human capacity to believe anything if it was written down on an official looking document, or better still if it were narrated by somebody wearing the kind of white coat used by actors to lend an air of gravitas to their pseudo-scientific pronouncements in the human media. She thought that using the same learning process which the humans endured might give her more insight into their thought processes.

Joining a university looked as though it would be easy enough. She had seen posters for the local college in the shopping mall, promising a wealth of opportunity for people who were keen to start in the coming semester. Lucy fancied going further afield and it seemed that all you had to do was to pick one you liked and then provide the correct documentation. And money.

As long as you had sufficient funds, even the documents provided were of secondary importance. All of these necessities of course she could conjure up, ensuring that they would last in the system long enough to gain her a place while disappearing before anybody could check too carefully.

Understanding that she would need a measure of proficiency in computing before heading off to university, Lucy marshalled the children.

“Teach me how to internet” she told them.
The two looked at her, surprised.

“I thought that you weren’t into all that rubbish”.

Alfie spoke carefully, not wanting to upset their friend. “Have you even made a phone call before?”

“Of course not, why would I need to?” Lucy replied. “I use magic if I want to contact my friends.”

Meghan, the younger of the two, giggled. Her brother nudged her.

“What Megsie means is that phones, internet and stuff is magic too,” he told Lucy diplomatically. “It’s different from yours but can be learned easily enough. You’ll need a smartphone though, or a tablet. Probably both would be better.”

He brightened. “Shall we browse for them online?”

“Why not?” said Lucy airily, pretending that she knew what that meant. Alfie went straight to his favourite online marketplace.

“Here we are,” he told her. “We’ll have to open you an account, make you a profile and then we can get shopping.” Looking at her sideways he added, “You’ll need to pay for stuff properly though, not your magic, vanishing money.”

“As though I’d do such a thing” said Lucy, blushing. “In any case it isn’t as though human money is real either; it’s just numbers pretending to be something.”

At one point human money had been tangible, something you could hold in your hand. Now it appeared to be based on imagination; you wrote some numbers down on paper and it existed. Naturally the only humans allowed to imagine and control these numbers were the super rich and nowadays even the paper was surplus. The rich could bestow these numbers at will; they could also deny that you had ever had them with complete disregard for their own laws. This was not unlike the Fae. Anybody who had ever been paid with Fairy gold found this out the very next day.

“Here.” Lucy held out her hand and snapped her fingers. “Credit card?”

“That’ll do nicely,” grinned Alfie.

Lucy had erroneously expected this to be a quick purchase. Alfie had brought up a marketplace with pictures of various laptops which all looked the same to Lucy whose sole experience with information technology had been seeing the children absorbed in the square plastic shapes which they tapped and swiped constantly. They emitted very annoying sounds which could sometimes be called music but nothing that she wanted to listen to.

Lucy’s reaction to the pictures of laptops and tablets therefore had been to poke the first picture to come up intending to say, “Get that one then.”

To her surprise as soon her finger made contact with the screen the picture changed, the photograph of the laptop now filling up most of the screen with some written information underneath.

“What happened there?” she asked Alfie.

“If you tap on it, it takes you to another page” he explained. “Careful,” he cautioned, catching Lucy’s finger before she could prod the screen again, “you might find you’ve bought it if you push the wrong button”.

“What button are you on about? ” It’s just a picture, there aren’t any buttons”.

Alfie sighed, did something which made the screen go grey and boring and started explaining to Lucy, in very basic terms, how smart technology worked.

“After all,” he told her; “if you are going to University then you need to be able to use more than just the basics.”

“Look,” he eventually told her, “probably the best way for you to get a feel for how it works is to play a couple of games on it.”

Two hours later Lucy was playing Angry Birds, grinning madly and ignoring Alfie who was asking for his tablet back.

“Not yet,” she said, and kept on saying; “I’ll be done in a minute, I just have to . . . Damn! Gimme a moment, that didn’t work.” She never lifted her eyes from the action on screen.

Fortunately for Alfie the battery died and the tablet shut down, forcing Lucy to give it back so that he could plug it in to charge it back up. She looked at Megsie who angled her body protectively around her tablet and said, “No. I’m doing schoolwork, you can’t borrow it.”

“I need to do my homework too,” Alfie said as the tablet was charging. “As soon as mine is ready I’ll order you some equipment, I can get next day delivery so it will be here tomorrow. You’ll have to wait until then but I’ll help you set it up and find you some programs to help you learn.”

Lucy wasn’t keen on waiting even until the next day, and Alfie laughed.

“Didn’t take you long to get sucked in” he told her.

“I’m just in a hurry to get started on my University courses” Lucy lied.

“Yeah, right,” muttered Alfie.

The next day Lucy hung around the garden waiting impatiently for parcels which Alfie told her would be delivered before teatime. Eventually the children had to tell her politely to let them get on with what they were doing, they could not make her goods get there any faster. Her parcel came at three o seven in the afternoon, a weird enough time but bang on what the courier service had promised.

“We have to make sure that everything is included and set it up before you can use it,” Alfie explained to the impatient fairy. “Also, we need to charge the batteries up.”

“How long will that take? “

“Probably a couple of hours” Alfie replied.

“Look,” he said eventually, “why don’t you go and terrorise the pensioners down the allotments or something? Come back about four and it should be up and running and I’ll have time to show you how it all works. Then you can go to your privy and play around in peace. You should pick up the wifi there ok. “

“What’s wifi?” Lucy wanted to know, ” and why will I have to pick it up? “

“Stop whingeing and leave me to sort this out or it won’t be ready til tomorrow, ” she was told.

Lucy took the hint and left, heading to the park to see if her friend Cat, the Naiad, was at the pond trying to catch ducks. At least she would have somebody to distract her.

Nobody though was at the park other than elderly people walking small dogs, so she amused herself by conjuring ethereal music from the air then watching them fiddling with their hearing aids while looking around for the source of the music. After a while, feeling guilty, she made the music loud enough for them to hear properly and adjusted the frequency so that they did not get feedback from the aids in their ears; it was not their fault that she was feeling grumpy after all. Mentally filing the episode away she decided that she could list the annoyance at her annual review, without mentioning that she had left her victims with expressions of bliss on their faces.

Hearing sniggering behind her, she turned to see three grey squirrels pointing at her and laughing.

“You haven’t quite got the hang of tormenting humans, have you?” one of them asked her.

“Yes well, I don’t see you causing trouble for them either.” said Lucy.

“What’s that your cheeks and hands are full of? Looks like peanuts to me. I find it hard to believe you dug up roasted peanuts in this park. “

“They think we’re cute” another squirrel told her after quickly swallowing a peanutty mouthful. “It’s not as though we ask them to bring food, is it?”

“I suppose scampering about and doing tricks for the humans is not supposed to please them then?” Lucy retorted . “Short of holding up a little sign saying ‘Please bring peanuts’ . . . ” it was at this point she saw them look guiltily at each other.

“You did?”

She looked at them astonished. Glancing around she saw a sign in front of a tree, it had been placed there by park management and had originally said,

“DON’T! FEED THE SQUIRRELL’S !”

However a row of teeth marks in one corner where the word ‘ DON’T!’ had been, made Lucy burst out laughing.

“You cunning beggars ” she said admiringly. “Since you’re helping them with their sign writing, perhaps you could help them with their grammar?”

Giving herself the form of a squirrel she turned to the trio and said, “Come on then, we might as well redeem ourselves.”

Four squirrels made their way surreptitiously to where a group of elderly folk were sitting and chatting. As they got close enough, Lucy gave a loud, squirrelly gasp to catch their attention and started limping, dragging a back foot as though in intense pain.

In no time at all she heard the humans twittering; “Oh, poor little thing, someone should do something.”

One of the men told them that squirrels were vermin.
“It needs shooting is what it needs,” he answered the others.

At this two of her new friends turned up carrying a very small stretcher onto which they hoisted Lucy. As the humans watched unbelievingly, they carried the whimpering Fairy behind a large sycamore. A loud gunshot rang out, the whimpering stopped.

Complete silence echoed around the park and the humans all stared forwards, carefully looking neither at each other nor at the single remaining squirrel who was searching the grass diligently for any overlooked peanuts. Eventually, without a word they all got up and individually walked home.

Lucy came out from behind the tree in her more familiar form, smirking. Winking at the three squirrels she realised that it was time to go back to see if her new phone and laptop were ready to play with.

Back at the house Alfie and Meghan were arguing with their dad about tidying their bedrooms.

“Can’t we do it tomorrow?” Megsie whined. ” I promised Sally we were going to do our homework together ” she lied. “Mum said it was ok” she lied again.

“Now;” they were told, “and afterwards we are going to the park and we are going to play soccer while we still have some daylight. You spend far too much time indoors as it is.”

“That’s not our fault, you won’t let us go out to play with our friends;” Meghan said sulkily .

“C’mon Megsie.” Alfie, ever the peacemaker told his sister; “The sooner we start, the sooner it will be over and done with.”

“Listen to your brother” her dad told her.

This earned Alfie a hissed, “Smarmy git” and she tried to kick him as they trailed up the stairs to do their chores.

Realising that she had lost the evening that she had planned, Lucy went to the library. She had no library card but that did not matter as neither the librarians nor the other customers could see her unless she wanted them to do so.

Although she had planned to read up on how to be a student, Lucy being a surprisingly avid reader, when she entered the building she realised that there was a bank of computers on a table by the back wall and hatched a new plan. Three of the big clunky machines had people sitting tapping away at them, two were unused. One of these had a sign taped to the top reading: ‘Out of order.’

Lucy stood by the one furthest from the library’s front desk. A young man was sitting in front of it, absorbed by what was on the screen. Lucy, standing behind him was equally absorbed, having not realised how versatile computers could be.

“I like big butts and I cannot lie.”

She spoke directly into his mind, grinning as he froze before looking up and checking guiltily that nobody was behind or nearby. He had closed the page automatically and after looking again to make sure that absolutely nobody was nearby, he erased his browsing history and logged out.

The librarian at the desk smiled at him as he walked to the exit.

“I hope you found what you were looking for, Mr. Robinson,” she told him. “See you tomorrow?”

Without looking at her, he nodded and again heard a voice in his mind.

“My word, I’ll say you did; eh, Mr. Robinson? “

The voice sounded like that of the librarian, but she had already turned away and was talking to an elderly woman enthusiastically about the romantic novels on the desk between the two. Red faced and head down he scurried through the door.

Lucy sat down in front of the computer but to her disappointment was unable to bring it to life. She had not cared what Mr. Robinson had been looking at, it seemed tame enough to her but she had wanted him to leave so that she could have his space.

Drifting behind a well rounded young woman who was sitting at one of the other computers, Lucy watched carefully how she navigated the page. She was a fast learner and soon saw how to change a page or ask the machine to find something. This lady was reading a local newspaper online, moving from one news item to another until she found, as though by accident, the lonely hearts section which she read avidly; hopefully. From watching just these two humans’ browsing habits, Lucy felt a rush of sympathy for humans as a whole. She had quickly caught on to the immense potential that computers held, but found herself wondering if humans primarily used it to connect to each other.

However, as she was unable to switch on a computer for her own use, she left the library and thought of the two people who had been sitting virtually side by side, desperate for contact yet seemingly unable to turn and speak to each other. Humans did not appear to have the sense that every other living thing had built in as standard.

Fairies are born to meddle in human affairs; although they are supposed to cause mischief rather than what Lucy did next. Conjuring his library card from his pocket, Lucy took on the form of the girl on the computer and made herself visible.

“Mr. Robinson, Mr. Robinson;” she called in a girly voice which she hoped aproximated that of the young woman.

He turned and saw the pink cheeked, pretty girl from the library, running with her hand outstretched.

“You dropped your card as you left” Lucy told him, “I was doing jobsearch on the computer down from yours,” she explained, noting how he reddened.

“I’m in most days checking to see if I can find work,” she added.

“Me too, thanks; I’d be in trouble if I lost this.” He held aloft the card that Lucy had handed him. “Thanks again, see you;” he told her as Lucy turned and walked back to the library, giving her bum an extra wiggle. Smiling, the young man continued on his way, this time with a spring in his step.

“That will cancel out this afternoon’s little caper;” a voice spoke from the wall next to Lucy.

“Get lost.” Lucy told the squirrel. “I have pictures of you dancing in front of the humans and making children laugh.”

”I wasn’t going to tell on you” the squirrel said, adding uneasily; “Erm, you don’t really need the pictures, honest.”

“Don’t worry, I wasn’t going to grass you up either,” Lucy told the animal. “I’ll keep the pictures safe from harm, you needn’t be concerned about them,” she added.

Walking back she saw the children and their father heading home. As she followed them down their street, Alfie gave a little wave.

“Who are you waving at?” his dad asked him, unable to see Lucy.

” Nobody” Alfie replied, “the sun was in my eyes.”

After the children had eaten, done their homework and gone upstairs to their newly tidied bedrooms, Lucy turned up in Alfie’s room where he was watching tv.

He produced her laptop, phone, tablet and a small yellow box which he told her was a mi-fi router. Telling her that he would explain what it was later, he showed her how to turn everything on and off, gave her a piece of paper on which he had written down passwords and how to log on and off, pointed out that the batteries would run down and need recharging but should last her until the next day and showed her how to access various games.

“I’m tired now,” he told her, although she was sure that this was not true and that he wanted to spend what was left of the day without her pestering him for information.

“That’s ok,” she replied and vanished with her hoard of new toys.

She spent the rest of the evening and most of the night online; the more that she learned, the more hungry for knowledge she became. By the time she closed the lid on the laptop and shut down the tablet just before dawn, she knew more about computers and artificial intelligence than most.

Getting up just after midday, her brain still buzzing with the world of opportunity which had just opened up for her, Lucy took herself back to the library. Outside of it stood the young woman and Mr. Robinson, they were chatting animatedly together and ignored the tall punk as she pushed past them and through the doors.

Completely visible today she walked up to the front desk. The librarian, wearing a name tag letting Lucy know that her name was Dorothy, asked Lucy pleasantly if she could help. Lucy hesitated before saying that she did not know.

“The thing is” Lucy said, you have all these books here on all kinds of subjects,” she waved her hand vaguely, “but you also have signs up telling people how to get further education outside of all this knowledge, why do you need both?”

“Well now,” Dorothy answered. “It’s a good question. The fact is that learning in a formal setting helps people to know not only how to look for answers, but where to look. It also shows you questions that might not have occurred to you. You can’t look for an answer if you haven’t thought of the question, do you see?”

She looked expectantly at Lucy.

“I see where you are coming from” Lucy replied. “But say you had read everything in here, you would surely then have the questions answered even if you didn’t know what they were.”

“There are always more questions, more answers, more books. Plenty that you don’t know exist, education is about giving you pointers.”

“Listen” Dorothy said, “I have young people come in here saying college is a waste of time as they can find out what they need to know without it. Often it is because they can’t afford to go, don’t want to saddle themselves with debt or even that nobody in their families have had more than the bare minimum of schooling. They feel that it is not for people like them” she said delicately, wondering if Lucy was in just that situation.

“If it’s a matter of funding, there are various ways around that,” she continued, “ I could help you to fill out forms for student loans if necessary.”

“Money isn’t the problem “ Lucy told her. “I was just wondering how you learn more, if it is better to be in a classroom. I’m trying to see the benefits.”

“Well,” she was told, “it is not only about the learning. It is about going into the world, experiencing other lifestyles, meeting new people. Learning can be more fun if you are doing it with friends, if you are there because you want to be; unlike school where you are forced to go day in, day out. Also,” Dorothy added, “I hear that parties are often involved.”

“Look, if you have the opportunity and the funding, just go. You won’t regret it, I promise you.”

Lucy smiled genuinely at Dorothy. “Thanks,” she said, “you’ve been very helpful.”

“I’m really glad” she was told, “Come back in a year or so and let me know how you are getting on.”

“I will” said Lucy. “What would you wish for?”

“Honestly?” asked Dorothy, “I’d like to live in a cottage by the river.”

“Okay” said Lucy, “wish granted.”

Dorothy smiled as the strange young woman walked out, hoping that she would indeed take further education. A week later she would remember Lucy when a letter arrived from a solicitor, informing her that a great aunt who Dorothy had never heard of, had died and left her a riverside cottage in her will. She would tell her closest friends that she had met an angel, which would have amused Lucy immensely had she known.

Back in her privy she booted up her laptop which she had charged surreptitiously in Megan’s bedroom, first throwing a spell on the room to keep Meghan and her parents out.

Confirming her choice of university and courses online, she looked on maps to see places she might want to live nearby. Packing up her equipment ready to travel she had a thought.

Just before she turned off her phone, she texted Alfie;

“Won’t be bothering you or Megs for a while, going to change my courses at uni and look for digs. LL”

Thistle down and clay.

I remember as a child running with the wind behind me. I felt as though I was hardly connected to the earth at all and that with a little extra effort I could fly away and leave it behind me. During Autumn I could run through the dead leaves and be whirled up with them, up into the sky as the gales blew them hither and thither. Probably it is normal for small children to feel like this, although of course I am guessing. I knew things then which as an adult are harder to believe in, perhaps less relevant is a better way of putting it.

As a child I could not wait to be grown up. We count the milestones in birthdays and cross another day, another week, another year from our calendars. How impatient we are to become big, to be powerful and in charge of our own destinies; it is only as we grow older we realise how laughable a concept this is. Once we have learned to control time by throwing it behind us however, we realise to our horror that it is a runaway train, travelling faster and faster until we can no longer see the person who we left behind. Our true self.

As I became older I grew also more solid. It became easier to believe that we are made from clay and not from air and sunlight which is what I knew as a child. I collected possessions and discovered that they bind you to the earth more surely than anything else.

Every so often in my life I have walked away, leaving nearly, but not everything behind. There is always a rationalisation for this; I need this, and this, and this. Surely life itself will collapse if I no longer own such and such a thing. It may be that I hang onto it, whatever ‘it’ may be, for the sake of my children, my animals, my siblings. It is a safety net which prevents us from rising, not falling. Every time I clear junk from my life even in a small way, I feel lighter; why then is it so hard to let everything go?

I miss being that small child, I miss the lightness and sunlight. When, if, I run now I feel gravity pull at every step. I feel myself stump around, tethered to heaviness rather than walking. I still talk to animals, to flowers and to stones, but I generally make sure that there is nobody around to hear me now. Even when I am alone I am too self conscious to sing in case somebody unexpectedly walks by. I am clay. I wish to be thistledown and starlight again.

How sad is the loss of our childhood but it is necessary for us to believe that we must move forward, for if we did not wish for this then how could we bear for it to happen?

A child of the family.

Evie had woken early that day. Relaxing in the warmth of her bed and enjoying the sun streaming through her bedroom window she lay smiling. As soon as she moved she knew that her aches and pains would start clamouring for her attention but she had no need to do anything just yet.

Evie had been widowed for an incredible fourteen years now. She still missed her Ron, sometimes the longing for his presence, for one more bear hug, ate her soul. Lying alone this morning though, instead of automatically turning to the empty bed beside her, she purposefully counted her blessings.

Ron seemed very close to her today and she felt that if she turned her head she would see him smiling at her, asking where was his morning cup of tea? This feeling was so strong that she felt the crushing disappointment of the empty pillow would be unbearable so she purposefully looked straight ahead.

”Give over, darling” she spoke out loud to her absent husband. “I’m eighty two years old. If I can’t enjoy a lie in at my age, when can I?’

In spite of this Evie sighed and started the slow job of getting up, washed and dressed for the day. Carefully making her way down the stairs she thought again about how easy a bungalow would be. Her children tried frequently to persuade her to move to somewhere more sensible, but this was her home. She had moved there as a young wife, raised her children to become fine people and of course her Ron had shared her life here too. He had died in the bed she slept in still; she had woken one morning to find him cold and still, a puzzled look on his face.

Her family expected her to get rid of the bed at least, but Evie found it a comfort, she felt a strange intimacy sleeping there even now. As for the house, every room, every surface, every corner held memories for her, from the cracked tiles in the bathroom to the pretty fanlight above the front door.

“After all” she thought. “I must be running out of time to enjoy this place now, why would I want to go somewhere else at my age?”

Moving about her kitchen she made herself a breakfast of tea and toast. Once she had eaten and washed her solitary cup, saucer and tea plate, after tidying away the crockery, the butter the marmalade and the milk jug, Evie suddenly burst into tears. She was completely unprepared for the wave of grief which swept over her.

“Oh Ron” she sobbed, “why did you leave me all alone?”

She felt his comforting presence, smelled the smoke from the cigar with which he treated himself at Christmas and on his birthday.

“I never left you Love” she thought she heard him say. “Buck up, you have friends and family who love you and we will be together again; it won’t be long now.”

A light kiss on the top of her head startled Evie and she stopped crying. She looked around but of course there was nobody there. After washing her face at the kitchen sink, she repaired her makeup and put on the kettle to make a flask of tea. Evie was going out on a bus trip to the coast, her friends Mary and Dot would be picking her up shortly, all of them travelling together. The coach would take a beautiful route including breathtaking views from a road following a heavily incised cliff top. After stopping at a viewing area for people to take photographs, the coach would take them down into a small sandy town where they could buy fish and chips, candy rock, postcards and plastic mementos, either for themselves or for their families and friends.

Evie had been looking forward to this outing but felt a sudden doubt about going. Ron’s presence had felt so strong just now she felt afraid to leave the house, afraid that she would miss him if he came back to their home. Even as she considered this, her friends knocked at the door.

Feeling foolish Evie told her friends that she was calling off her trip, said she felt a bit unwell. That this was at least half true did not lessen her feelings of guilt at the obvious disappointment on the faces of Dot and Mary. She assured them that they must absolutely go without her, and bring her back a ‘kiss-me-quick’ hat or something equally cheerful and tacky. The more they twittered around her, the more firm her resolve became. She would be fine, she insisted, probably just needed to take things easy for today and they would all meet up for tea at Mary’s house in two day’s time.

Closing the door behind them, Evie sat back down at her kitchen table. She really did feel a relief at not going with them though had no idea why. She spent the day pottering around her house and garden, having a snooze after lunch and then picking up a book to read. It really was a lovely way to spend the day, she thought.

Just as she opened her book the telephone started to ring. At the same time somebody rang her doorbell and also hammered on the door with their fists. Unsure of which to answer first, Evie put down her book, her neighbour was now knocking on her window, peering through and shouting, “Evelyn; Evie, are you home?”

Waving to her neighbour she went to pick up the phone.

“Mum, you’re there, you’re ok”

She heard her daughter burst into tears then shout to someone in the background, “She’s at home, Mum’s at home, she isn’t on the bus.”

“Penny what’s up with everybody, what’s going on?” Evie asked bewildered. “Half the street is banging on my door and you ring me then sound surprised when I answer the phone. Who did you expect to pick it up, the queen?”

On the other end of the phone Penny pulled herself together. “Mum” she said, then crying again, “Oh mum, you’re okay, you really are.”

Evie went to the window to show the phone in her hand to her neighbour who was still trying to get her to come to the door, then went and sat back down.

“Come on now Penny, tell me what’s up, eh? You’re beginning to worry me here.”

Eventually her daughter calmed down enough to explain that the bus on which Evie had intended to travel had crashed through a cliff top barrier and plunged down onto the rocks below. It was believed that nobody had survived the fall and recovery of the bodies was being hampered by an incoming tide.

A wave of dizziness overcame her, had she not already been sitting she would have fallen. Her hand holding the phone fell into her lap and her head was spinning as she heard the tinny chattering from the phone, followed by the end of call signal.

She did not hear her daughter say that she was coming around to pick her up.

“No survivors “ she whispered. “It can’t be true.”

The implications filtered through the numbness and even as tears trickled unnoticed down her cheeks, tears for Dot, for Mary, for everyone who had lost their lives, the one sickening thought played over and again in her mind.

“I should have been with them. I should have been there.”

Penny arrived and let herself in, telling Evie’s neighbours that it was okay, her mum was fine but she had just had an awful shock and she, Penny, was taking her mum to stay with her for a while, Evie was still sitting trembling on the couch, the phone fallen onto the cushion beside her.

“It’s okay Mum” Penny said, wrapping a fleecy blanket around her mother. “We’re going to have a cup of tea and a biscuit and then you’re coming home with me. You’ve had horrible news and I can’t tell you how bad I feel for you, but I’m bloody glad you are still with us.”

2:

Evie stayed with Penny and her family for five days. The first day there she stayed in bed being treated like an invalid. When she got up and packed her things away ready to go back home, Penny would not hear of it.

“It’s too soon” she told her mother, “You need a little longer. It isn’t as though we see too much of you and Peter and I love having you here. We’ve talked it over and decided it would be better for you to wait until after the ceremony.”

By this Penny meant the requiem mass which was going to be held in the town for the lost inhabitants.

Evelyn agreed to this but tried to insist that she would go home immediately after the service, before being persuaded into staying for that night as well.

“After that we won’t stop you” Penny told her, “but don’t you dare try disappearing off the radar once you’re back home. We know what you are like and appreciate that you don’t like to ‘be a burden’ as you put it”. Here Penny rolled her eyes, “Just remember we nearly lost you and hate the thought of you all alone there without even your two friends popping by.”

“Besides,” she added, smiling, “don’t forget your first great grandchild will be here soon and looking forward to meeting you.”

“Your first grandchild” Evie grinned. “You won’t know what hit you. It turns your life upside down almost as much as your first child, in the nicest way, of course.”

Mother and daughter sat and chatted over the ever present cup of tea. Penny tried not to look as though she was trying to distract her mum from what had happened although of course this was the case. She was really concerned about Evie but as her husband Peter reassured her later that day, his mother-in-law was tougher than she looked; she had to be to deal with everything her life had thrown at her.

“I know you mean well Pen,” he told her, “but like it or not she is going to get through this in her own way. That doesn’t mean that you should let her think you aren’t there to help; just don’t take over. She won’t thank you for it.”

Finally back in her own home a week later, Evie walked around touching everything as though to fix it in her memory. The service had left her with a feeling of unreality, she felt even more strongly that she should have been on the bus with her friends, though she tried to push the thought away.

This coming week her grandchild Ella was going to the hospital to have her baby induced, both she and her daughter felt uneasy about this although Ella herself had said brightly that everything was fine. She had dark shadows under her eyes though and Evie thought that she was hiding her worry, unable to speak her fears in case she called them into existence.

These fears were well founded. Although the pregnancy had gone well up until now Ella’s baby struggled to be born and the doctors had to do an emergency caesarean to bring her into the world.

It was now Evie’s turn to comfort her daughter. The new child was sickly and barely responsive, soon slipping into a coma. The doctors were unable to say what the problem was but had gently told the child’s parents that they should make the most of their time with her, as baby Evelyn was not expected to survive. The child’s parents, grandparents and great grandmother all spent their time in a daze of unhappiness, trying to support each other from day to day as baby Evelyn struggled on, unresponsive but not quite ready to leave.

After five days of this, Evie went home and raged at God for letting the child suffer in such a way. It was not right that an old lady like herself should be spared for however long, actually cheating death, whilst the innocent baby was going to be taken.

When she fell asleep that night, she dreamed that Ron was there. She dreamed of him far too rarely, usually the dreams would comfort her in bad times but this time he spoke to her sadly.

“You were an accountant” he told her. “You know how it works, you have to balance the books.” He walked away from her seemingly disappointed, speaking over his shoulder.

“I miss you too Evie, I was looking forward to holding you again. Checks and balances.”

Evie woke up crying, but knew what to do. Washing herself, dressing and putting on just a spritz of perfume, she called a taxi and explained where she wanted to go and why.

The driver who picked her up was sympathetic, like everybody local he knew about Evie. He understood that while it would seem she should be happy, she was bound to want to say goodbye to her long term friends. Privately determining that he would not charge her – she looked too much like his granny, he ended up accepting a very much reduced fare in advance.

He was happy to stop and wait while she bought a wreath of flowers from a florist and helped her back into the car.

At the site of the crash they were unable to park as it was too dangerous, but the view point where she had expected to take photographs was just a little further, they could stop there her driver explained. He had brought a folding camp chair so that she could sit in privacy for a while, after which he would help her to either lay the flowers for her friends or to throw them over the wall built to keep sightseers safe.

Evie thanked him for his kindness as he helped her into the chair then thoughtfully retreated into his car.

Evie sat for a while then said, “Come on then, I can’t do this alone” and smiled as Ron stood a few feet in front of her.

“Look at this Love” he told her, “it’s the red carpet treatment for you.”

He looked so young, and as impossibly handsome as he had been when he first started courting her. Evie rose to her feet and stepped onto the red carpet.

“You won’t need that” Ron laughed, pointing at her walking cane. Laughing back she realised that she was as young again as her husband and throwing away the cane she ran to his arms.

The taxi driver would later tell the police that he had no idea how this elderly woman had managed to climb the barrier. He had looked up and ran from his car to try and stop her but she just stepped forward and disappeared over the edge. A couple of hikers confirmed this they had seen it too, and eventually the unfortunate driver was taken to the nearest hospital where he was treated for shock.

The doctor who came to talk to him before discharging him explained that it was not unusual for survivors of such a tragedy to feel such an overwhelming guilt at not dying alongside of their fellow passengers, that this kind of thing was all too common. He prescribed anti anxiety medication, told him that yes, it was a puzzle how the old lady had managed to throw herself over the cliff, but that people were very determined in such cases and he must not blame himself. He was given leaflets and the number for a telephone helpline if he found himself struggling.

In another part of the hospital where he was being treated, a paediatric nurse, smiling from ear to ear, came and woke up Ella where she was half sleeping and crying at the same time.

“Do you want to come and hold your baby?” she asked her.

As Ella, her eyes red from weeping looked numbly up at the nurse she was told,

“Baby Evelyn is awake and wants her mum.”

Campfires

Across the road my neighbours are sitting around a campfire in their yard.
I watch them through the fence, sitting, talking, drinking tea, or beer, or wine, in the winter dark.

I walk by with my dogs, their last walk of the day.

I am envious as I walk past, the flames bright against shadowed faces, my dogs pulling towards the beck at the bottom of the road.

I wish that I was sitting by the fire with them, or by a fire in a field, or on a beach. I would be silent and my friends would chat quietly, pointing out stars and remembering old friends long gone. And when folk started to drift back to their vans, to their beds, I would say goodnight and maybe get a hug in return.

My neighbours are sitting quietly in the dark, the flames leaping high, a shower of sparks as somebody nudges a log with a boot.

They are good people but keep to themselves, apart from the village which sees them as different. I talk to them and surely they would welcome me if I asked to sit there with them, the warmth of new friendships warming my soul as the fire would warm my face. Shy however, I take my dogs home where I settle first my birds and then my dogs, before I climb the stairs and go to my bed.

The Selkie.

The storm crossed the ocean, gathering strength as it travelled. By the time it reached landfall, a handful of outlying islands some distance from a larger island; it had reached a fury of destruction.

The islanders, the first in its path; were no strangers to violent weather and had built their homesteads low to the ground. The roofs of the buildings were sloped to almost touch the land on which they sat, to deflect the wind upwards, over the tiny settlement. A line of wattle fence carefully constructed with sufficient gaps to let some of the wind pass, surrounded the village. This was uprooted by the storm, whirling inland, crashing against the homes and the few trees surrounding the houses. Broken and dispersed, the pieces would be collected after the storm, supposing that they were both repairable and not lost to the hills. One of the homes lost it’s heather thatch, but this family was still more lucky than the folk nearest to the shore. They had to climb out of a window at the back of their house, to escape the ravenous sea which entered through the front. Very little would remain of this home when the storm finally left the coastline, losing most of it’s strength as it crossed the mountains, and then the channel between island and mainland.

Sometime in the night when the winds had dropped, the villagers gathered in the watery moonlight to assess the damage. The homeless were given shelter by those who had survived the storm, and eventually everybody settled down to sleep; time enough in the morning to start retrieving what could be found, and rebuilding where necessary.

A young man on the outskirts of the village, rather than sleeping what was left of the night, instead took himself down to the water, to see what the ocean might have cast ashore. Finding and dragging broken spars up high above the tideline, his eye was caught by a soggy bundle. As he poked cautiously at it, a smile lit up his face as he realised what the cloak like object was. He picked it up and took it straight to his home which had escaped the wrath of the storm. Burying it under his porch, he hid the evidence of his digging with a large, flat stone which he had been keeping for use as a hearthstone. Once he was sure that all looked as normal as possible after such a storm, he took some rope and went back to the beach.

He did not have to look for too long before he found the woman, little more than a girl, really. She was naked and shivering, searching among the wreckage left by the sea and the wind, and crying. Catching her by her hair, he spoke to her as she struggled to free herself from his grip.

“I have what you are looking for, you must come with me.”

Looking at him with horror, she spat and tried to bite him, and push him away. He laughed, hitting her in the face and knocking her down. Kneeling upon her, he used the rope to tie her hands behind her back, then forming a collar with the rest of the rope, he dragged her away from the beach and to his home where he fastened her to his bedpost.

“You’re my wife now,” he told her, unfastening his trousers and introducing her to the first of her new, conjugal duties.

She cried out against him, her voice like the call of the gulls; she appeared to have no speech. This seemed to him an advantage, who wanted a wife constantly nagging and complaining? Other men would surely envy him.

After he had finished with her, he dropped a blanket over her, and took himself to his bed, sleeping soundly, uncaring of her comfort, tied up as she was.

The next morning the beach was littered with tiny fish which had been dumped and left by the waves. Some were flapping in shallow pools, most were dead but still fresh. Putting off dealing with the damage caused by the storm, the villagers were out with buckets and any other vessels they could find. They collected the unexpected harvest, and the women and children set to cooking a big breakfast for the men, before settling down to salt, to dry, and to otherwise preserve the rest of the bounty.

One of the villagers to have lost her home to the storm, was a widow; an unknowing mother-in-law to the girl from the sea. Her son had been a loving child, but had turned unpleasant and aggressive when his father had drowned, while fishing. She tried her best with the boy, but without a father to check him, he caused more and more trouble in both his home and the village, developing a streak of cruelty which she both abhorred and felt guilty about. She spent many a sleepless night wondering what she could have done to prevent it. When he was fourteen he ran away from home. Nobody knew where he had gone, but he returned two years later and saying nothing of his previous whereabouts, he built himself a house on the edge of the village.

His mother hid her relief at him not moving back in with her. When she had timidly mentioned it upon his return, he had laughed in her face, saying that the last thing he wanted to do was to have to look after a doddering old woman. Looking at her ruined home though, she reluctantly made her way to her son’s house, to beg for help.

To her surprise and relief, he was outside, building a small porch in front of his home; he was whistling and appeared quite affable.

She explained her predicament, and he told her that she would come to live with him, he was extending the property and there would be plenty of room. She had brought a bucket full of the little fish, and he laughed as he took her inside, saying that they were exactly what he needed. She smiled happily, wondering if her son had changed his ways, then she saw the girl, bruised and clad only in a blanket, tied to the bed.

“Meet my wife, your new daughter,” he told her. “She’s a bit wild, you can teach her how to look after me properly.” Pointing to the bucket of fish he said, “You can start by cooking me a meal, better give her some of that, no need to cook them for her.”

As his mother stood looking with incomprehension at the girl, he spoke more sharply. “Well, get on with it, there is a lot for you to do.”

The mother got the fire going on the crooked hearthstone, and started to cook the fish for her son, stealing glances at the girl as she did so. She knew that there was no point feeding herself or the girl, his ‘wife’, until he was fed and happy.

After his meal he returned to building the porch and she took the bucket with the remaining fish to where the girl huddled, watching her. Showing her the fish, she offered them. The girl shrank away from her, holding her hands, now tied in front of her, up to her face to protect herself.

“Don’t be afraid, I won’t hurt you. Look, there is food; you should eat.” She spoke soothingly, hiding her anger that the girl was bound, but not daring to loosen the bonds. “What’s your name?”

The girl neither looked nor spoke to the older woman, who then set the bucket down and started to clean up the house, moving slowly and not watching what was happening with the fish and the frightened girl. Eventually, having settled the embers of the fire, she went back to retrieve the bucket. To her relief it was empty, although she had not heard the girl move, and indeed, she looked as though she had not, still huddled at the end of her rope, still holding her hands up protectively in front of her.

“Good girl,” she spoke gently. “I’m just going to collect some things and we’ll see about cleaning you up and getting you something to wear.” Picking up the bucket she said, “I won’t be long, don’t fret; things will improve.” She wondered if they would, though.

Walking past her son she told him that she was going to collect some things from the remnants of her cottage; food, cooking utensils and the like. He told her to make sure she collected plenty of the fish too, as they had an extra mouth to feed, then he got back to his building.

Back at her ruined cottage she started collecting her meagre belongings. Her nearest neighbour came to see how the widow was coping, and was told that everything was good, that she was to live with her son and his wife.

“He’s taken a wife?” was the astonished response. “When did that happen?”

The widow had to admit that she was uncertain of the actual timing of the wedding. “She’s a good girl though,” she boasted. “A little quiet and shy still, but she will soon come around.”

Both women stood quietly for a moment, both wondering how a quiet, shy girl, would cope living with such a bully of a man. The widow spoke first, looking away as she gaily told her neighbour that she must be off to welcome her new daughter properly.

Back at her son’s house she put her belongings tidily away. The girl was still where she had been when the widow left, but lowered her hands to peep at the older woman. Seeing the extent of the bruising to the girl’s face, her heart sank. “You poor thing,” she spoke softly. “Let’s clean you up first, then we’ll see about trying to get you more comfortable.”

Heating water on the fire, she brought a bowl and a soft cloth, and started to gently wash the girl, cleaning blood and dirt and tears from her face. “Good girl” she spoke softly as to a wild animal. “Will you not tell me your name at least?” The girl remained mute, looking at her warily from pale, sea green eyes.

It was only when the woman took her comb from her pocket and started to untangle the young woman’s hair, that the girl became more animated. She leaned against her new mother, and started to sing. The song had no words, but was hauntingly beautiful. As she combed and listened in enchantment, she suddenly realised what her daughter in law was. She did not have to look in the girl’s mouth, past her swollen, bloodied lips, to know that her daughter would have sharp, curved teeth, like those of a fish.

The song suddenly stopped as the husband walked into the room. Looking at his mother, her arm protectively curved around the girl, he sneered.

“How touching, but you can get out now. Take the bucket and fill it before the tide washes everything back out to sea. My bride and I will spend some time making you a grandchild.”

Her heart heavy, his mother picket up the bucket. “Your bride” she queried sadly? “No god ever blessed that union.” He merely laughed at her as she left the house, trying not to hear the birdlike cries of distress.

Down at the beach she found herself alone. After collecting the remains of the fish she walked to the edge of the water.

“There is a daughter of yours” she spoke to the emptiness. “I will do what I can, and if I find what is rightfully hers, I will return her to you.” A few yards out to sea, a seal raised it’s head. “I’m a mother too,” the widow continued, “I would not harm another’s child.”

Gradually the village was rebuilt, the villagers got on with their lives. In the house at the edge of the settlement, the unhappy trio lived a reclusive existence. The mother altered some of her own clothes to fit the girl, and persuaded her son to untie her. “After all,” she reasoned, “she can go nowhere without her belongings.” Life in the cottage became, if not happy, then at least routine.

The two women became friends, each sheltering the other against the moods of the man who controlled their lives. The girl never learned speech, but mother and daughter were able to communicate well enough within time. When they knew that the husband was out and would not come home until late; the mother would take her comb and pull it through her daughter’s hair, gently removing any tangles until the long, golden mass rippled through her hands like waves in silk. The girl would sing and both women would relax, happy in their temporary respite from fear.

At night, when the husband had finished pleasuring himself with the girl, she would sneak over to her mother’s cot, and the two women would wrap their arms around each other and sleep. Both women spent any spare time they had free from the man’s influence, in looking for the girl’s cloak, but they never found it.

After some years had passed, the old woman became sick. Her breasts pained her, and she got more and more unwell, until it became obvious to all that she was dying. Her daughter tended to her, keeping her as comfortable as was possible, but one evening it became certain that the old woman would not make it through to the next day. Her son was out somewhere, avoiding the house as the smell of his mother’s sickness and impending death revolted him.

Her daughter lay next to her, holding her gently, stroking her hair and murmuring small cries of sympathy. Her mother looked at her with love. “Who will care for you when I’m gone? You must not stay here with him, but where will you go.” She shivered, and her daughter got up to light a fire.

She looked at the crooked hearthstone and in pain and anger at the coming loss, she hit it with the iron poker, trying to assuage her grief. The hearthstone split, and she just looked at it.

Thinking hard, she took the poker and used it to try and lever up the perfect, flat stone in the porch. This would be the new hearthstone, and the two broken pieces; well they could make a new floor in the porch.

Dragging the newly loosened stone from the porch, a box was exposed. Lifting it from its hiding place, she took it to show the old woman. Both were sure what it must contain, both held their breath as the daughter opened it and smiled.

Lifting out her sealskin cloak, she leaned down and put her arms around her mother and kissed her. “Take me with you?” her mother asked.

Draping her cloak around her shoulders she lifted her mother from her cot. She carried her, feather light from the ravages of her illness, down to the sea; singing all the time. As she stepped into the waves with her precious bundle, the old woman sighed, “You must help me”.

Her daughter lowered her into the cold water, watching and singing.

“Thank you”. Her mother sank below the surface of the water, gratefully, and after a short time her features, blurred by the water and her daughter’s tears, relaxed.

The seal stayed with the woman until she was certain, then swam out to where her birth family waited for her beyond the surf.

Spot.

What is he called

And how old is he?

I spoke to the man with a gun and a dog

About to use the first on the second 

I don’t know he’s your dog now he said

Call him Spot or Patch or whatever you want

And he handed me the dog

Through the window of his truck

And drove away

And the dog had neither collar nor lead

But he wagged his tail

And I put him in my bus

And I called him Spot

And I told him that things would be just fine

And he was fine

Although he had a burn on his neck

From a collar which had given him electric shocks

But still he wagged his tail

And walked beside me

And ran to me if he was afraid

And he dug holes

And ate rabbit droppings

And snow and things which looked edible

And things which did not

And he looked to me for protection 

And wagged his tail.

He slept on my bed

And then slept in my bed

Under the covers

Where he farted and snored

And warmed the back of my knees

And my heart

And his head rested on my arm

Or over my stomach

And his head was silky as my hand brushed the dome of his skull

And his eyes were brown

And filled with love

As he wagged his tail.

And he grew tired and ill

And I gave him cheese and treats and love

As I had so much to spare from that

Which he gave to me

And I put on his coat

And he climbed into the car

And we drove to the vet

Where I said goodbye

And he wagged his tail

Looking at me

Trusting me

As the vet set him free

He wagged his tail

He wagged his tail.