The Scarecrow

Andy was a farmer. Worked the land, hands hard, worn with work, face like a wedding cake left out in the rain, year in and out, ploughed the chocolate sillions , planted the crops, kept the wildlife in the copse and out of the fields. Burly, broad, thickset, tall, dressed in the wear of work. This years’s crop was planned, soldiers in the field, left,right,left, when it was ripe it would blow in the wind, waves of crops crashing against the copse and picket fences around his land. Corn, wheat, barley,oats, planted to the horizons, hedgerows and ditches breaking the landscape into a patchwork of farms and farmers. In the rural zone, neighbours where close but far, in that strange village way, where everyone knew your business before you but not your character or dreams. Harvests were his livelyhood, and Andy tried to control what he could. The weather came, its rain and sun, hail and frosts, and there was little to do but plant three fields early and three fields late, and three fields in the middle. This made the work hard, and in good years he’d harvest three times and bad years once or twice, and in the worst not at all.

So every February , along with the other farmers, into the copse they would go to cut branches or collect fallen wood and fashion the staves and crosses to make the frames for the scarecrows. A kind of competition with the county. Farmers would spend the evenings sewing corn sacks or seed sacks together, a few would wander round the local villages with barrows , ringing the bell for the rag and bone, and of course collecting old clothes for a few coins. In the parishes, children grew ,people died and so clothes were either passed on to kith and kin or sold for scraps to the paper mill, or, when really worth nothing, sold to the farmer for his scarecrows. But the competition every year meant that sometimes farmers would pay a premium if the harvest had been good, or, if someone died with no kith or kin, a scarecrow or two would, rarely, be decked out in crinoline and bonnets , or Sunday bests , the splash of exotic in the landscape of humdrum.

So it was that Andy blustered and swore, hammered and painted his way through the scarecrows, creating as many as he could before sewing began.

He thought that ten would be enough, and with the rags and scraps he’d fashioned nine now, one more to go. He’d nailed the struts to make a cross structure and all he needed now was some clothes. Old Bert next door might have a few scraps. But when he’d trotted the 5 miles to next door, Bert wasn’t answering the door. Bert was a loner, a hot and cold .

Yes, he and Bert would set the world to rights in the local in over a tankard of stale weak warm ale, or argue about where his land began and ended. So it was in the country, at the edge of wealth, boom or bust.

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Wooden Poles

Paul was standing outside the family saloon, a dirty cheap car, where family arguments took place. As usual his parents were busy blaming each other’s parents for the situations they found themselves in, as if responsibility was somehow genetic. Wagging fingers and raised voices, shedding tears and misunderstanding, things said in anger that would echo in their ears for decades, blown down those dusty roads , the crumpled crisp packets of our dreams , falling out of family saloon cars , blown by anger, fueled by emotion, crisp packets crumpled in our hands, frowns crumpled on our faces.
So Paul watched, turned, looked at the floor, the sky, the knot-hole in the fence, and then he saw, through the hole, the man sitting at the edge of the kerb, through the keyhole, knot hole. Grey trousers, white shirt, chest bobbing sobbing, weeping, ruffling his hair and wondering, what thoughts flitted through his mind. Paul reached in his packet, for a sweet, or something to cheer up the man, something to forget the heat, the row, the shame. He found a bank note, a gift from a relative, the one they’d seen, smelt–of-wee-whiskered lady, skin paper thin veins like a road map, stretched by years, slipped him a note and winked, she’d known what age does to us all and that we’d never be cool once bladder control had gone. Poked it through the hole, and said to the sobbing man “Here, take this”. He stood up shaking his head, weeping, sobbing, shaking, seeping. Took the money, wrote a name, poked it back, and fled.

NANOWRIMO attempt

It was autumn, mist and dew fall, mushrooms and harvests, Hallowe’en and ghost stories whispered round the fireside, set in the settle, fire flames flickering the shadows on the faces, the sparks dancing on the flame tips, warm mug of ale in hand.

Claiming what was his, since the beginning, he stalked, hidden, silent, stealth wrapped in a shroud.

It wasn’t for nothing that the leaves turned their reddest at Hallowe’en. The blood of his victims, blown in the air sprinkled around like confetti at a spring wedding.

He’d been driving his new car down straight roads and windy roads for eons. The car was always new, shiny, always the latest model. In the beginning, it was a horse, then a cart, then a chariot, a carriage, a car. Something with wheels which gathered the souls of those wandering lost in the world. He’d driven most roads in the world, pathways for pilgrims, motorways for trucks, racks that clung to mountainsides and tree-lined avenues leading to palaces, roads sunk deep from foot fall and worn down to the chalky gnarls of root balls, leaf lined, still, echoing the past, desert roads, pillars of red sandstone, and eerie calls in the sky.

Stories of the phantom hitchhiker or the escaped convict, the white lady or the highwayman, the horse and coaches and the lost traveler all came from him.

He’d followed fashioned, clothes, wigs, coats hats, furs and clubs, used coins from every part of history and all corners of the world, passed  kings and peasants, white lines on busy roads and wooded glades.

Here he was, sandglass timer in hand, knocking his bony finger on the door. The lonely inn, on the Pilgrims way, high up on the hills, wooded, welcoming, the sign creaking from the posts and brackets, swinging slowly like a hanged man in the breeze.

He thought back now, and knocked on the oak door. The door was carved, weather worn and intricate, heavy on its hinges. The door opened, huge, welcoming. He strode in to the room, the fireplace huge, warm, the door shut behind. Other travelers sat, world-weary, road weary, on benches, heads in bowls of soup , minds echoing a busy day’s trade , travel, work or play. There was a monk, a musician, a tinker with his wares, the washerwoman, the inn keeper and his wife, small children running round, rosy-cheeked and bare-legged, even  bottomed for the youngest, the innkeeper’s wife laughed, her red cheeks and long hair, big breasted  under her dress, the inn keeper looking on at his family bliss and strife, both wrapped up in that moment , beer ready to be served, food ready to be cooked. He settled down , the fog from outside swept away by the fire, the cold which gnawed toes dissipating into the stars, and swept his robe from the soldiers, and looked, and began his tale. The others looked on, sops dripping from tankards, food on forks, coins in hand, or beads, or bible, grease on cheek, froth on lip.

Each would spin a yarn that night, a yarn to save their soul.

The travelers’ tales wove through the night , a tapestry to keep the night away, this All Hallow’s Eve.

The guests looked around the room, stone walled, cracks and dust, pictures and tapestries,wooden flored, the table heavy and solid, laden with ware, plates and cutlery at the ready. Who would sart their tale first? The tinker , confident, gleam I his eye, glint in his pocket sprang up, in front of the fire, shadows dancing and wove his magic spell, all around hung on his every word, his leather trousers, waistcoat and tunic, collar-less, a small bell hung from his hat, glistening in the firelight. Hush settled down over the inn as the story progressed.The innkeeper strode over to the door, letting in the last of the locals and locking the door with bolt and key. His wife gathered the children clung them all three to her bosomand took them to be washed, clean, ready for bed. The busy time had come, and she wold have to put the children to bed, clean, and come down to serve the clients food and drink.The latch rattled in the wind as the tinker told his tale.

The Tinker’s tale
The tinker started, watching the audience, judging their attention, spinning his yarn

“Dusk, dusty and cool, mists swirled up from out of the ground, rising in tendrils, as weird plants from the cold ground. Stumbling and scratched, in the wood, once full of bird’s song and sunbeams, light sunlit and dappled dauphin, now lost its backdrop for a sameness, a grey cooking paper background, stumps littered in the billowing fog. The lights of the village, eyes glowing in the fog swirled in and out of view. Salty and burnt from tears, cheeks, whipped by the wind or by sorrow and fear, burned by time and weather, seemed to shrink into his face, hiding from that which was out here. The path seemed difficult to follow, and the lantern spluttered and waved, a ship tossing in the seas of sorrow. Diving into his coat, shrugging and shivering through crisp leaves and branches, the lights blazed and he grabbed a cool iron latch. Creaking like a coffin, the hinges rolled past each other, fear crisped from his forehead to his toes, electric, refreshing. Around the table plates and glasses were to be found, as if a meal had been interrupted. Half eaten, abandoned. The candles blazed brightly. So many lit in a time of poverty meant a signal, or fear. He blew out some, keeping only a few so as to make it through the night. He closed the door, swinging fast, and the the terror hit him full in the stomach as he saw the feet swinging in the rafters, pair after pair, flittering in the candle light. He turned, and there behind was a glinting smile of a dead man, pinned to the door speared, gored, as if in mid joke.
He blew out the lantern, and shivered. Hunting round he found the slosh of a canteen full of oil, refilled the lantern and cut down the dead. Too many hours walk from a neighbor and out here, in the muffled middle of no-where, the law was all too often ignored or even openly flaunted. The inhabitants of the inn, for that was where he was, had no documents or even money. A thief, or highwayman had taken everything. Kicking open the door to the stables, dust climbing, sticking in his throat. A sole horse was left, the rest had been taken. It shivered in the night, shining with sweat. That meant a rider had just tied it up, but who?
Blood swimming its scent into every pore, into the nose and throat, as pulling and heaving with the last efforts of tiredness, he dragged the poor souls to the garden. Perhaps the beasts of the woods would feast on the corpses, wild dogs and foxes and badgers and other more dangerous beasts, bears or even wolves would creep out now, exploring nature’s larder. A shovel, a spade, rolled up the sleeves, relit the lantern, its smell bringing the blood to nostrils, and dug. He buried the dead, hoping not to join them. Then, crept back, barred the windows and doors, lit a roaring fire and sat in a chair, holding a garden fork in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.
Daylight came. A traveler knocked on the door, then pushed down the latch. He took a step back, not daring to believe, the husk in the chair, life sucked, face full of fear, sorrow, lines etched by acid, smoke smoldering in the fireplace, and the dead swinging from the rafters, the dead smiling man pinned to the door. A husk! Perhaps some crazy butterfly had hatched from that! Stumbling in fear, blood pumping in his temples, he ran, ran, ran, until his very soul turned white with fear. The sound of his body, dropping dead into the undergrowth hidden wafted through the woods and his corpse was grabbed by the very roots, for the tavern lived off nature’s bounty, whatever form it came in.”

The guests gulped down morsels of food and quaffs of beer, wine. Crumbs swept off, they stood up, applauded, sure the tinker’s tale was enough. The tinker, glint in his eye and sweat on his brow sat, knowing he’d set the scene. But he also knew now he’d have to sit and listen to the tales, was his good enough to save his soul?

The monk fingered hs beads,he was dressed in a brown habit, a chord around his waist. He was hearty, stout, and ready for his yarn. He began, as the visitor looked on,judging each tale, sharpening his blade. He thumped down the bible and addressed the crowd.

The Monk’s tale

“Trickling down his back, shivering, shining in the half light, with a clickty-click, the thief tried to pick the lock on the book. After climbing, walking, scratching his way to the hidden cave, there it was, the ultimate lifelong prize.

Years of research and of searching, reading, looking, hoping to believe and the thief knew the dangers hidden here. The cave of death. A sip of water from the flask, steady shaking hands. Concentrating now, his brow frowning, he faced the last test, opening the book. Only those with a heart truly blackened with adventure would survive.

He’d done all sorts of rituals before, but this one would be the best.

Candle wax dribbled here and there, making its sculptures on the table. The thief paused, gulping in air, hope, and luck. “Pop” and the locket swung open, and he clasped the book, ready to open it. He spoke the words of the curse, and finally opened the book.

He read the first lines, laughing, he’d survived.

Then, roaring, came the owner, hidden in the pages.

“You will be the lock of the book now” said the voice “And doomed to guard a legend from no-one”

The thief screamed. He was turning into metal. Searing up his arms, through his very veins, metal came, and held him in its grasp. He became the lock, bent, clicked onto the book’s spine. A warning for all thieves and adventurers. Even with a blackened heart, if it is not yours, don’t take it.”

A sigh went round the table. The audience breathed out, more food and drink were ordered, smile and cheers went up, shouts of “more!more” from the locals. A solid story, as good as the tinker’s. Judging who would be the visitor’s fare would take skill.

The musician picked up his violin,sprang notes and jigged, jumped and placed his violin on the crumb laden table. He bowed to the audience and began.

The musician’s tale

 He took another handful of fibers, and pushed my way up through this wall. Dark, warm, moist this twilight world. Sure seems hot and cramped in this zone!; How did he get here?, You ask. Well it’s a simple story.

He met her in that bar near the World War II bunker, green eyes, body to dribble over, red haired and heavy breasted and he’s just a man, his brain’s in his pants!

 

They talked for hours, seemed to touch, to connect. He couldn’t explain it, she just seemed to read his mind. She was in the bar, but he’d never seen her before, despite her claim of being a regular. They’d sat down in the corner, background music, that orange lighting so common in those joints, the table sticky from drink, the busy world blurred passed them as they flirted, listened, eyes flitting from face to chest to leg to hair, scanning her, wanting her. She looked at him as if she wanted to drink his soul, to taste the flesh. God she was hot, long haired, and ready. He drank another whisky, Dutch courage, sank deeper into the sofa. She had other ideas and grabbed his wrist, pulled him up. “Let’s go back to my place” She‘d whispered softly, sexually, in his ears. Her hot, full lips brushed his ear; she even nibbled it as she said those words.

By then he was hot. He wanted her. He wanted to do stuff with her that you don’t write about! They’d almost run back to her place, stopping only at the pharmacy for condoms. He could see her nipples now, hard, round, firm. There was no mistaking that night, after months of loneliness, he’d found a woman who was funny, interesting and hot. He was going to get some action, he hoped he wouldn’t disappoint. “She wanted me!” he thought. Gosh.

He was a bit flustered, so slowly they started, a drink before, and then upstairs. No hurriedly flinging clothes everywhere, they still talked, caressing each other, slowly. By now he was throbbing in his pants, holy smokes!

She’d asked for that thing that certain girls love so much, and he went down, between her thighs, and gave her pleasure. She was going crazy, and then, he fell.

Looking back now, it must have been that last drink, or a trap in the bed or the floor. He must have passed out, as he woke up here, on this sheer wall, with only these fibers to grasp as he pushes up through this huge warm carpet-like surface. There doesn’t seem to be any floor, nor any ceiling, but it sure is warm in this place.

The world seems strange, as he looks at his claws, and find a place to suckle the blood from the surface of the wall.

Looks like that witch turned him into a pubic louse !”

Tankards hit the table, jaws dropped, some laughed, some were shocked, the innkeeper’s wife blushed and poured more wine, the audience clamoured for more. People were cherry cheeked from the fire as another log was placed on the hearth. Time seemed to be still, the evening young, more time for stories yet!. Drinks came, and the inn was full, oone daring to leave till the last stories had been told, or the innkeeper opened the door for the night.

The innkeeper busily washed and dried glasses and plates, his wife busy too, cleaning tables, collecting bills, checking the children. The audience had settled down with their drinks, eager for more stories. They turned to lok at the humble washerwoman. Old, wrinked, bent double with work, she smiled toothlessly, held a glass in her hand and said “listen my lovelies to the death of Christmas”

The washerwoman’s tale

“The glitter flew through the sky, sparkling ,reflecting in his brown eyes, open in pure joy, the landscape in its muffled costume, bounded by skeletal trees. Soon, gloved,wrapped and ready to go, rolling the snow into that character from his imagination, he’d be here, throwing, ducking and rolling, and after, toasting his toes against the roaring fire he’d made before, back home.

 

Winter’s joy, bounding in his heart, the wealth of family, friends, the joy of giving, receiving, the fellowship of people, churchyard, tombstones topped with white wigs, the sky open wide, yes, he was there,even if the scene was half imagination, half from the whisky in the brown bag. He sat, in the graveyard,echoing back the 60 years, before age ran its tracks through his face, thinking about success and failure, love and loss, beard stiff and frozen, hat from the charity bag, clothes worn and stiff, tied up, Christmas parcel,with string. The last sips would make sure of it, he’d envelope himself , searching for the solution in the bottom of the bottle, like a child searching for the age of their friends etched in the glass mold of their drink glass at lunch time.Holly and ivy, mistletoe were all around this scene, in this winter’s graveyard, where one more lonely man would be found, eyes froze,wide, empty, beard stiff as death itself, lost, forgotten and excluded, enemy to himself, worn low through failure, sipped through to the whisky of the soul. The animals dare to move in, the crows and the magpies, rattling over their Christmas lunch, pulling his fingers like crackers, wearing his clothes like party hats.

 

Buried in absence, forgotten.”

A short tale, but worthy, the locals said to each other. She may be a simple washer woman, but she held us in her palm! More drinks were ordered and then, the innkeeper sat , and began his tale

The Innkeeper’s story

“The streets were dangerous, busy, and full of traffic buzzing around: here and there were market stalls, packed together, selling fruit, vegetables. Tarpaulins of faded colours hung over head, bleached by the sky. People walked by, talking, shopping, lively, busy. The roads were poor quality, pot hole filled and full of debris. A 3 legged dog ran, or rather limped out from the sun, seeking the shade, underneath the stalls. Brightly coloured buses, built nearly 70 years ago chugged in the streets. They had slogans painted on them, often religious ones, such as “God is strength” but those buses were rusting their way to heaven. Everthing happened in the street as those metal cabs and wooden clad trailers, full of smiling faces thundered past. People bought, sold, lived, and died. There a man urinated, and over there a baby was born.
How ridiculous they were, the man and his son, on the scooter. Riding tandem, weaving through the traffic, past the people selling honey, rum, mangoes, pineapples, goats, everything you could imagine and more. They weaved past one- handed beggars, their faces grey with fear, their withered hands and stumped arms, the look of hunger in their eyes.
It was easy to escape the beggars. The man pulled on the scooters throttle, but not too fast. These streets were more bomb craters than tarmacked avenues. They weren’t trying to escape the beggars, or the market, but the zombies.
The zombies were on their scent. The boy pointed and the man aimed his scooter at a large deserted building. They could hide up in there. The boy and the man shut the doors and windows they could find, and hid inside the metal building, boiling in the sun. The sun hammered down on the corrugated roof, and so the boy and his father looked for a cool spot. They found the longest corridor, and secured their zone. They opened the doors, one by one, into the long empty dusty offices, looking for barriers, weapons. The last door swung open, they found the janitor’s supply niche full of chemicals and cleaning equipment.
There was a sink. Water.
They splashed themselves with dizziness and glee! Cool, fresh, the water trickled over them as they splashed, cooling down. A moment of pleasure in the heat and fear.
Banging started outside, on the metal walls. It seemed to freeze the water to their skin.
The zombies were closing in, that was sure.
The boy and the man, startled from their daydream, hid under the sink. The tap was running, water dripped over the sink, onto the floor. They watched in the shadows. The zombies staggered past, down the corridor, one by one, their shadows creeping across the wall. The zombies could hear heartbeats, the boy had told his father. But the gushing of the tap drowned out the heartbeat, and the water dripping down hid their body heat; Shivering in the damp, hardly daring to breath, eyes bulging with fear, sweat foaming in their fearful skin. The zombies continued their crazy goose step. The man looked around; here were some cleaning chemicals; that could be useful. But how could you kill something already dead?
In their search for a safe place, the man and boy had become boxed in. The father looked into the eyes of his son. He could see fear, dread, and love. They were crouching; the zombies would kill them if they found them. He scrabbled, looking for a solution, and found a tin. An insecticide bomb!
The pulled off their t shirts, and wrapped them round their faces, trying to cover their mouths from the gas, and then the man pulled the bomb safety clip and threw it into the corridor. Smoke poured out, filling the zone. The boy took his father’s hand, and they ran, pushing at zombies in the smoke, running into the shadows, and out of the building. Haiti had certainly come to life. Outside, they slammed the door, trapping the zombies. They climbed on the scooter and headed for the hotel and then the airport. At the hotel, they grabbed their stuff, paid the bill, and left.
They got to the airport, and took the next plane out, to Miami. It didn’t matter about the cost or the destination, they just fled! They just hoped the pilot wasn’t a zombie.”

The bar buzzed, cheered. The innkeeper walked back throu the hatch to the bar, cosed it and served the next round of ales, wines and spirits. His wife sttod now, young, smiling, her hair hanging  down, her apron glistening fro work, standing by the fire, looking at the pictures and the guests. She began her tale.

The inkeeper’s wife’s story

It was a still, short, hard knock night, when the bells of the church, the old church in my village started to ring out.They were chiming, through the cloudless sky, through the star filled night, through the crisp coldness in the air.They woke me from my slumber.

I opened the window, and breathed in the cool autumnal air. The moon was in its last quarter, in the sky, and I stumbled to the bathroom.

After relief came thought. Auto pilot off. Why were those bells still ringing? I wandered downstairs, into the kitchen. I glanced at the clock, and thought about changing the battery. It had been stuck on a quarter to six for three weeks now.I glanced at the grandfather clock, always wound , ready to chime. 24 past 5 in the morning, Nanna would say five and twenty past. Still the bells were ringing! Why ?

I’d been in the fog of wake for a dozen or so minutes, those bells were still ringing. Curiosity got the better of me , and I got dressed in yesterday’s clothes and tied my laces. I hadn’t showered, so I looked scruffy. It was late October, and the daylight hadn’t really started to filter through . I slipped on a jacket, and headed out the door. I headed out to the village.

I didn’t get too far before I met Claude. He was the neighbor. I blurted out a greeting, and asked what was going on.

Claude shrugged. He’d been woken too, obviously. Together we walked up the main street. “The bells woke me” he complained.

Claude looked at me as if that was so evidently the case, as if he was stating the obvious, but the situation was so strange it needed saying, as if we were in a dream.

Claude lit his pipe.The rest of the walk to the church was conducted in silent billows of Claude’s powerful tobacco. The bells were still ringing when we got to the church, even though the church clock usually only chimed on the hour and its quarters, ringing out a chime for each hour. On the quarters and on the half it would ring once, and the hour it would ring once for each hour, so 4 times meant four o’clock.

I wondered how long the bells had been ringing. By now, most of the village had been woken up by the church bells. The village seemed to conglomerate around the church, petering out into the Loire Valley countryside

The church door was open, and there were a few other villagers standing , wide-eyed, by the church porch. I saw our friend, Pascal, he was staggering back from the phone booth in the village square. “The police are coming” he said. “Make sure everyone stays out of the church’.

Now I started to really come to my senses. What would require the presence of the police? I thought. Claude grabbed my shoulder and looked me in the eyes, and then nodded towards the church, afraid. We both turned our heads towards the church doorway, and I felt a shiver down my spine, and goosebumps, something scary was silhouetted through the doorway, we very quickly saw the scene. It burned onto our eyelids, and the smell of death hung in the air. A body hung on the bell ropes, counter balanced by a pew. That was the village priest, ringing out death on this Hallowe’en night”

The regulars smiled, and were happy. Everyone had told a story. The visitor looked and pointed to the bench. A man lay their sleeping, he’d been there all evening. He stood, red eyed, and drunk, shabilly dressed and stubbled faced, wobbled and stammered. Th regulars looked on, worried now. This was the unexpected turn , the twist in the tai. Would the drunkard spin a tale worth his soul?

The drunkard began “The visitor is the key to many myths, legends and stories, I shall scare you all with one such tale!

The drunkard’s tale

“The hitchhiker was a fallen woman, a prostitute from Rochester, escaping her pimp, pregnant and drudged down, faded and jaded. She’s gathered up her belongings, picked the pockets of clients and tourists, sold her heroin and her works, and crept out that Halloween night. She’d walked miles from Rochester to Bluebell hill, hoping for a lift, holding her thumb out, walking through mists, running to a new life.

She walked up the hill, to the crest, near the standing stones, clouded in mist. She’d been young, now she felt old, tired, desperate. Strung out and lost.

The lights of the traffic danced, the fog billowed, she struggled on to the pub on the top of the hill. In she walked, and the locals looked on, much as tonight, and told her the story of the hitchhiker. On the hill was aghost, seen from time to time. Some said it was a road accident, others that it was linked to Kits Coty or Countless stones  or the White Horse stone, all local Neolithic monuments on the hill. Others said the story was just urban myths. The  story went that a woman who was a bride to be had been killed in an accident, or a young girl , others said it was a boy running from school, yet others said there was a coach and horses, each regular had a version ready.

The girl listened, warming up in the pub, her drink untouched. The regulars continued with the tales.

Very often people think they’ve had an accident on the hill, they swear blind they’ve hit someone with their car, and when they stop to check, there is no damage to their car and no body to be seen.

“They go to the police and tell them, and when they come back, there is nothing to be seen. One man even wrapped a blanked around a body, and when they came back, there was nothing. Another thought he’d picked up a hitchhicker, and when he got to the address asked by the hitchhiker, she was gone. He rings the door anyway, to find people who say “she’s been dead for years” and close th door”

Another local pipes in : “There were many pubs on the hill, as horses would tire going up and down and needed changing, and each has its story, this inn’s speciality is the coach and horses. Originally the pub had a horn to blow, and the others had a bell to ring when horses left as the road only takes one horse and car at a time, so to warn they would do this, but only after the tragic accident which cost the lives of two coachmen and their passengers. Locals say they can hear the horses pounding down the hill, the iron sticking the cobbles, the reigns jangling, the coachmen pulling, the post dogs barking, the babies and women screaming and crying, the moonlight shining in the dead horses eyeballs, but there is nothing there”. Everyone was looking at the local, spinning his yarn. He stopped, pale, scanning the pub. The table was empty, the chair empty, the drink untouched.The Ghost had been and gone.”

People gasped, and turned to look.The customers turned and looked at each other, finishing the dregs of their drinks, wiping the crumbs from face and cloths. The visitor had gone, even though the pub was barred shut. The landlord stood, slid open the bolts and opened the door to the night. Each had saved their soul. road

Summer in Angers

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Golden flecks glisten and shimmer on broken ripples and waves, lapping splashing, swishing past sludging or rushing and burbling, timeless in its memory, silent but full, what history has it seen?

Whispering through airy trees, rustling eerie leaves, screeching swifts make their nets in golden clouds, black specks in the summer sky, fleeting past the aspens and planes found on the weed winding reed bound river bank. Angers, its dusty alleys and bourgeoisie houses, burnt out council estates and green parks, the supermarkets and specialist stores a Ying and Yang molded together.

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We chase that elusive wind called success when all the time it is in us. Thinking that what others think of us is important when in reality it is what we think of ourselves that counts. Oh to be alive, in the summertime, with the wind in our hair. Those moments picking fruit, strawberry picking or gooseberries, making jam with mum, or with Tom, when winter seems so far away.

Spotted along the Loire, those monuments abandoned millennia ago, standing mightily ivy and moss covered, huge dolmens or menhirs, splitting the landscape or marking territory, or aiding communication, or religious spots, marking death or long forgotten gods.

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What it means to be human? To leave those marks, make mistakes, love, lose, create and change,  even die. Pass on the knowledge, or watch it get lost in the mists of time, in the long grass of history, leaving questions and conundrums for the future.

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Modern hell

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Prologue:

Raw pain crept from red shot eyes, crisping down the furrowed face, grey with age, sagged and worn, worry lined and paper thin. It had taken so long to get here, and realize. Orwell was right, Winston was right; there was no truth, just things served up to us in the media. This or that version of events, with only our memories and spirits left to question them. One faction’s beliefs dusted down from the shelf and held up in the light as being better than everyone else’s. Belief forgets respect, respect forgets belief. Governments had organized events to justify war, or aggressive actions. Religious sects had done the same. Everyone hated everyone else, there was just that.  A deep misunderstanding and mistrust, a closing of minds and spirits. People thinking that their God made them better, or their money made them better.  Shows of affluence, shows of influence. A collective forgetfulness of what the past had been, a deliberate misrepresentation, a rewriting of events, creating people or removing them. World leaders removed from photos for being female World leaders marching for freedom of speech when in their countries that doesn’t exist, or is threatened, as if freedom of speech existed anywhere. Other countries funding the terrorists, funding the football. Control the pleasure and then you control the people.

Of course, all this bounced round inside his head. There was no alternative, rebellion was death. Even those who claimed to be in the counter culture were only there because the government needed them to prove some kind of alternative existed. Like a spare room in a dusty castle no one dared visit. The internet and the television and the mobile phone were real tele screens, always in the background, always connected to a big multinational. People had ceased to question, to think, accepting convenience, shopping in supermarkets, buying online, a consumer orgy, whilst all around them was suffering, and the bottom billion s starved and died from preventable disease and famine. The USA had spied on everyone’s emails, and now Google wanted to spy inside everyone’s minds, The google glasses had come on to the market, and been a success. No one had known they would be so addictive, so damaging. People had had chips fitted to their brains, just to be in contact; it had become fashionable, like, miniskirts or tattoos. A slow evolution to cyborgs. Starting with our thoughts, our feelings, our freedom and ending with our bodies. People didn’t die anymore, but he had decided otherwise.

His veins were blue, visible through the flesh, liver spotted sagged arms, clawing fingers and yellow teeth. His fingernails were thickened, he was ready to dance with the devil. He’d forgotten how old he was, and he didn’t care anymore. Death would be freedom, freedom from those who wanted to control, to kill, to hate, to manipulate and to rule. Those whose beliefs had overruled respect.  He lay down in his cot-like bed, looked at the white ceiling, and thought back, back over those ploughed years, those fields, landscapes of memories, and died.

The ploughed fields

He was born back in the other time, before the revolution. His diary told it all, the society of then. Hardships and poverty, austerity and want. How they had rebuilt society, to be fairer, more just. Politicians had nationalized big companies, introduced social and health care systems, retirement and care for the elderly. Workers had paid from their saleries, employers had contributed too. But then the nationalized companies had become giant monopolies, full of people doing nothing, producing nothing other than paperwork. Strikes crippled the country. A politician smashed trade union power, smashed communities and created a new state. The revolution. Of course, all that mattered now was money. Lives and health, security and happiness had been forgotten. The diary etched the path from poverty to plenty to greed, where people saw want and shared, and then people saw plenty and wanted greed. Then, society started to change. Before, people had been republican or democrats, now they were just out for themselves; Any notion of working for a better society was quickly forgotten, and no need to trips to Room 101 , where you would be broken, rather just the glint and gleam of cash.

The money was electronic, cooked up by banks and something that didn’t really exist. The commoners didn’t know that, they borrowed from banks and paid back with interest, not worrying that the repayments often equaled many times the sum originally borrowed. People paid for cars a few  times, and a house many times. Credit cards were great, because it ensured a debt for the commoners.Even education had to be paid for, then health. If you were a commoner, the decision was debt or death; and if you died, you left the debt to your children. Poverty was thus ensured to be heredity. Then death tax was cancelled, so that being rich became hereditary too.

When the commoners couldn’t pay back the debt, the bank took away the house, selling it to a new owner. Often, the commoners would be disgraced and humbled. The party engineered it so that those Bolshevik enough to question, or those with independent enough minds, or open enough eyes would be those crushed on the cogs of the machine. The elected class had become the ruling class, career politicians who lined their pockets, fleecing the poor, disabled, hungry and uneducated. The rulers made sure the poor stayed poor, and that the rich became richer, the forelock tugging to rich capitalists.

Of course, the elected class made sure that tax cuts were applied to the rich, so the rich would fund there election campaigns; This led to austerity and a lack of social investment; Sick commoners had to wait for months, schools in commoner districts became shoddy, run down, teachers were migratory at best and drunk at worst. Social care for the sick, disabled and elderly was seen as a waste by the ruling class, who bullied and despised these ideas, seeing them as weaknesses, rather than bad luck or statistics

Then the terrorists came. The rich elected class needed oil from Arab and Islamic countries. Oil was the new black slave, capable of doing many men’s work at a fraction of the price; slavery had been outlawed, but here was an alternative. Besides, the rich society had a currency backed on oil. The Petrodollar. At first they invaded these countries and made them colonies, then protectorates. Eventually, after the second war, they were made independent. But it was a ruse by the rulers. They weren’t really independent at all, the rich class had too much influence, and often dictated policy, or even installed pupped governments, or overthrew legitimacy elected ones.

Inside these countries a great cry of injustice came, and then the religious class used the bitterness and envy to form and train terror groups. Instead of forgiveness, revenge came from the East. The terrorists struck at the heart of the rich empires, destroying buildings, people newspapers, and trains, buses and killing soldiers and Jews. They killed anyone who didn’t think the same as them, who didn’t believe the same as them. An extreme way of life had come. Because the rich had neglected society so much, they had forgotten to invest in society. The army and the police were so run down that they couldn’t deal with this new threat. Training new civil servants was expensive, as schools were so poor, and health so bad that commoners needed better diets and hospitals. But the ruling class all agreed on one thing, neoliberalism for all, crushing all who disagreed, and creating more terror gangs.

Then the shock in the diary. The terror gangs were also funded by the Rich Rulers. They were part of the woven fabric of lies held up to the commoners on TV , in newspapers and on the Internet. Some governments had even organized terror attacks to justify wars, to control key countries. Countries where oil or drugs could be found. The media pumped the Rich Rulers message that terror needed to be confronted by war. War followed war followed war. It had become difficult to discern where one conflict ended and another began.

The Ruling Rich made sure countries piled up debt, as then they could ensure independence was finished. A country in debt was easy to dictate to, cash was king.

Television and internet, film and radio made sure the commoners were entertained. Enemies were identified, and hated, only to be loved soon after. News programs told blatant lies, employed shrills as specialists who spread lies and disinformation. Media moguls could make or break the rich rulers, and so they had to be bowed down to, and their very whims seen to happen. The electorate voted not on policy but on image and the media moguls made sure the result they wanted happened. The commoners voted another way, but it was just the same really. Then yet another way, with a coalition, but it was worse, even worse than before. Hope itself was dead. All that was left was the dream of a better world held in the diaries.

He had died, and it was our job to fight, somehow, we could do something. Better to die on the cogs of the machine than in the gutter of despair.

In the second war, The Nazis had dreamt up the final solution, but the Rich Rulers knew nothing so obvious or evil was needed, people would do it to each other without government sponsorship. Investing in terror gangs had made sure.

As usual it would take decades for the truth to come out, battered and changed, the first victim of the wars.

Who were we? Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to describe the group. I’d never met more than one member at a time, it was too dangerous. In the streets, cameras followed your every move. Once, I’d stopped to roll a cigarette, three police officers arrived to check it wasn’t drugs; You could be stopped and searched with no reason given, no reason needed. Terrorists gave the Rich Rulers an excuse to pass punitive laws and freedom hindering opportunities; I never knew just how many we were, or where each member lived; We would meet in public parks and crowded bars, or in the old churches at night, making different paths to the rendezvous, and leaving at different times. The press was full of those fallen from grace, put on pedestals to be knocked down. I never knew if they were members or not, hints and rumors.

I worked in the faceless school, teaching those students who bothered to come. So much information flowed from so many sources that what was true no longer mattered. The student could just look up anything on the net, and read out the information from the official source. They never questioned the sources, or the authors.

The students would gang around and hit or mock the weakest, and have to be punished. Parents took the side of bully pupils, being bullies themselves. Colleagues came and went, worn by the grind of disobedience and laziness, a dumbing down and a brainwashing sponsored by the Rich Rulers.

We all  had mindless jobs, in health, education, or the like, all having gone in with a burning desire to help or change or improve society, all crushed by the Rich Rulers. Crushed with debt, or illness, or both, crushed by lack of funding or vision, bad management and old Boy’s Club promotions, nepotism and networks. I was as good as all the others, they were as good as me. That old lie “Liberty, equality, Solidarity’.

The teacher of course had some power, judging who passed and who failed, all too often basing it on behavior rather than ability, not questioning that the children who came were bored, or violent. Perhaps the devil existed, perhaps it was us.

Information was passed between us, but no one was trusted; Was the peper really destroyed, or handed to the authorities, or used to bait or blackmail others, in this crazed society, nothing was real anymore, even the everyday interactions were guarded and hidden. Love was fleeting, sex had become the act, people forgot to build relationships. The answer lay on the net, not in the head or the heart.

Perhaps the net was built to spread information, to take it out of the hands of the rich rulers, but they had bought it,as they buy everything.

We were decided. I science was the tribute to what we know even though we were fallible, we had to use science in our debates, our policies, our questions; we couldn’t bend our knees to violence, dogma, extremes  or religion; But then the Rich Rulers used or rather misused science, creating phoney debates or arguing that certain questions or debates were over, decided. The worst was global warming, an argument in every science class.

So we planned, did, checked and acted, those four ways to quality

David Wellington’s Fear competition

I recently tried my hand at entering this competition ( see the wonderful web site here http://davidwellingtonsfearproject.com/) and forgot to read the rules carefully enough, as usual getting carried away with the writing. I was out of the rules as I had published a book, and the competition is only open to those who haven’t, but here is my attempt anyway!

Good luck to all those who take part, and I look forward to reading those scary stories!

The pitch to David Wellington

Trickling down his back, shivering, shining in the half light, with a clickty-click, the thief tried to pick the lock on the book. After climbing, walking, scratching his way to the hidden cave, there it was, the ultimate lifelong prize.

Years of research and of searching, reading, looking, hoping to believe and the thief knew the dangers hidden here. The cave of death. A sip of water from the flask, steady shaking hands. Concentrating now, his brow frowning, he faced the last test, opening the book. Only those with a heart truly blackened with adventure would survive.

He’d done all sorts of rituals before, but this one would be the best.

Candle wax dribbled here and there, making its sculptures on the table. The thief paused, gulping in air, hope, and luck. “Pop” and the locket swung open, and he clasped the book, ready to open it. He spoke the words of the curse, and finally opened the book.

He read the first lines, laughing, he’d survived.

Then, roaring, came the owner, hidden in the pages.

“You will be the lock of the book now” said the voice “And doomed to guard a legend from no-one”

The thief screamed. He was turning into metal. Searing up his arms, through his very veins, metal came, and held him in its grasp. He became the lock, bent, clicked onto the book’s spine. A warning for all thieves and adventurers. Even with a blackened heart, if it is not yours, don’t take it.


Horror Monologue. ADULT CONTENT

Horror monologue. Warning adult sexual content

I took another handful of fibers, and pushed my way up through this wall. Dark, warm, moist this twilight world. Sure seems hot and cramped in this zone!; How did I get here?, You ask. Well it’s a simple story.

I met her in that bar near the World War II bunker, green eyes, body to dribble over, red haired and heavy breasted and I’m just a man, my brain’s in my pants!

We talked for hours, seemed to touch, to connect. I can’t explain it, she just seemed to read my mind. She was in the bar, but I’d never seen her before, despite her claim of being a regular. We’d sat down in the corner, background music, that orange lighting so common in this joint, the table sticky from drink, the busy world blurred passed us as we flirted, listened, eyes flitting from face to chest to leg to hair, scanning her, wanting her. She looked at me as if she wanted to drink my soul, to taste the flesh. God she was hot, long haired, and ready. I drank another whisky, Dutch courage, sank deeper into the sofa. She had other ideas and grabbed my wrist, pulled me up. “Let’s go back to my place” She‘d whispered softly, sexually, in my ears. Her hot, full lips brushed my ear; she even nibbled it as she said those words.

By now I was hot. I wanted her. I wanted to do stuff with her that you don’t write about! We’d almost run back to her place, stopping only at the pharmacy for condoms. I could see her nipples now, hard, round, firm. There was no mistaking that night, after months of loneliness, I’d found a woman who was funny, interesting and hot. I was going to get some action, I hoped I wouldn’t disappoint. She wanted me! Gosh.

I was a bit flustered, so slowly we started, a drink before, and then upstairs. No hurriedly flinging clothes everywhere, we still talked, caressing each other, slowly. By now I was throbbing in my pants, holy smokes!

She’d asked for that thing that certain girls love so much, and I went down, between her thighs, and gave her pleasure. She was going crazy, and then, I fell.

Looking back now, it must have been that last drink, or a trap in the bed or the floor. I must have passed out, as I woke up here, on this sheer wall, with only these fibers to grasp as I push up through this huge warm carpet-like surface. There doesn’t seem to be any floor, nor any ceiling, but it sure is warm in this place.

The world seems strange, as I look at my claws, and find a place to suckle the blood from the surface of the wall.

Looks like that witch turned you into a pubic louse too!

World War One story

Hunched down in the hole, bodies half recognizable, strewn around,the thud-thud-thud of guns, like a factory, hammering out death, the drips, drops falling from noses, was it mud, or blood, or sweat, or all combined? Hot metal danced around ,whizzing overhead, mini coffins glowing in the dark, crazed glow worms ready to eat through you.

Down here, lying flat, trying not to sink into the mud, scrabbling up, grabbing what was close and not worrying if it’s dead. Looking up, or where you think is up, to the torn sky.Clipboard03 Clipboard03

Those are the dead around, soon joining them or surviving are the options.The mud, caked, spread, dry, wet, dry, drummed in, on parade, left-right-left, a shroud, hanging on to the bodies, a uniform for all soldiers, keeping in the cold.Empty eyes, twisted forms, clawed hands and death all look at the soldier, the bullets stop. That means shells.

Ripples in the puddles, showing earthquakes all around the rain of shells. Face against the mud side of the hole, hoping to survive, hoping to die quickly.

Counting the things needed to survive, the invisible checklist: gun, bullets, bandage, gas mask, backpack, knife, bayonet, plus those things with no business in war, pocket watch, wallet and photos, letters and lighter. No shower at half time now, crawling up the rim, a crazy tree sloth, sliming slowly out of the mud. Up, Up to the sky, jab of knife, kick of foot, climbing the wall, away from death or towards, who cares now, away from, stink, mud.

Near the top.The edge of the hole. Raining now, hiding any movement, sheeting soaking. Bodies wet, bent, hurt, dead.Peeping over the edge, hands over, heaving, kneeling,rolling, crawling. Which side is home?

Picking a way, decisions. Crawling, crawling, though wire, mud, soil, bodies, broken wood, trees, branches, cartwheels, here a horse’s corpse, bubbling in the soup, climbing the horizontal up, up, again up.

A voice, calling: Something, but what?

Listening. Which language is that? The thud of guns drown out the voices. In the heart,  the soldier cares not, and  crawls, dancing to safety or death.

Into the shadows.The trench is near. Head down,he sings the national anthem. If its good, the soldier gets in, if not,  the soldier gets shot.The soldier may get shot even if its the good side, suspected of cowardice, or mistaken for the enemy.

Slipping down the sides of the trench, stand, salute.

Soldiers, helmets hanging over their brows, half asleep, half dead, sleeping, backs to the wall, standing asleep, fatigued, confused, more than scared. A drink. Wine splashed into faces.Or blood.

Staggering through the filth, gun in hand, sentry style; back to the fray now, the hammering of guns.

Tomorrow the sun will come, or death, or life. Killing other humans. For what?

The folly of Kings, or empires,of Gods, of Ghosts.

The rain makes the trench into a canal, edging along,seeping.The war will continue. No one will win.

Names on monuments in autumnal parades, poppies and wreaths, flames lit, salutes and songs. Long lists of the living-turned-into-the-dead. The stubbornness of futility.

Christmas story

The glitter flew through the sky, sparkling ,reflecting in his brown eyes, open in pure joy, the landscape in its muffled costume, bounded by skeletal trees. Soon, gloved,wrapped and ready to go, rolling the snow into that character from his imagination, he’d be here, throwing, ducking and rolling, and after, toasting his toes against the roaring fire he’d made before, back home.

Winter’s joy, bounding in his heart, the wealth of family, friends, the joy of giving, receiving, the fellowship of people, churchyard, tombstones topped with white wigs, the sky open wide, yes, he was there,even if the scene was half imagination, half from the whisky in the brown bag. He sat, in the graveyard,echoing back the 60 years, before age ran its tracks through his face, thinking about success and failure, love and loss, beard stiff and frozen, hat from the charity bag, clothes worn and stiff, tied up, Christmas parcel,with string. The last sips would make sure of it, he’d envelope himself , searching for the solution in the bottom of the bottle, like a child searching for the age of their friends etched in the glass mold of their drink glass at lunch time.Holly and ivy, mistletoe were all around this scene, in this winter’s graveyard, where one more lonely man would be found, eyes froze,wide, empty, beard stiff as death itself, lost, forgotten and excluded, enemy to himself, worn low through failure, sipped through to the whisky of the soul. The animals dare to move in, the crows and the magpies, rattling over their Christmas lunch, pulling his fingers like crackers, wearing his clothes like party hats.

Buried in absence, forgotten.

Hallowe’en horror story

Are you ready for FEAR!

The hidden tavern
Dusk, dusty and cool, mists swirled up from out of the ground, rising in tendrils, as weird plants from the cold ground. Stumbling and scratched, in the wood, once full of bird’s song and sunbeams, light sunlit and dappled dauphin, now lost its backdrop for a sameness, a grey cooking paper background, stumps littered in the billowing fog. The lights of the village, eyes glowing in the fog swirled in and out of view. Salty and burnt from tears, cheeks, whipped by the wind or by sorrow and fear, burned by time and weather, seemed to shrink into his face, hiding from that which was out here. The path seemed difficult to follow, and the lantern spluttered and waved, a ship tossing in the seas of sorrow. Diving into his coat, shrugging and shivering through crisp leaves and branches, the lights blazed and he grabbed a cool iron latch. Creaking like a coffin, the hinges rolled past each other, fear crisped from his forehead to his toes, electric, refreshing. Around the table plates and glasses were to be found, as if a meal had been interrupted. Half eaten, abandoned. The candles blazed brightly. So many lit in a time of poverty meant a signal, or fear. He blew out some, keeping only a few so as to make it through the night. He closed the door, swinging fast, and the the terror hit him full in the stomach as he saw the feet swinging in the rafters, pair after pair, flittering in the candle light. He turned, and there behind was a glinting smile of a dead man, pinned to the door speared, gored, as if in mid joke.
He blew out the lantern, and shivered. Hunting round he found the slosh of a canteen full of oil, refilled the lantern and cut down the dead. Too many hours walk from a neighbor and out here, in the muffled middle of no-where, the law was all too often ignored or even openly flaunted. The inhabitants of the inn, for that was where he was, had no documents or even money. A thief, or highwayman had taken everything. Kicking open the door to the stables, dust climbing, sticking in his throat. A sole horse was left, the rest had been taken. It shivered in the night, shining with sweat. That meant a rider had just tied it up, but who?
Blood swimming its scent into every pore, into the nose and throat, as pulling and heaving with the last efforts of tiredness, he dragged the poor souls to the garden. Perhaps the beasts of the woods would feast on the corpses, wild dogs and foxes and badgers and other more dangerous beasts, bears or even wolves would creep out now, exploring nature’s larder. A shovel, a spade, rolled up the sleeves, relit the lantern, its smell bringing the blood to nostrils, and dug. He buried the dead, hoping not to join them. Then, crept back, barred the windows and doors, lit a roaring fire and sat in a chair, holding a garden fork in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.
Daylight came. A traveler knocked on the door, then pushed down the latch. He took a step back, not daring to believe, the husk in the chair, life sucked, face full of fear, sorrow, lines etched by acid, smoke smoldering in the fireplace, and the dead swinging from the rafters, the dead smiling man pinned to the door. A husk! Perhaps some crazy butterfly had hatched from that! Stumbling in fear, blood pumping in his temples, he ran, ran, ran, until his very soul turned white with fear. The sound of his body, dropping dead into the undergrowth hidden wafted through the woods and his corpse was grabbed by the very roots, for the tavern lived off nature’s bounty, whatever form it came in.