The Yukon Called

(1150 words) Miriam Jesney was a blonde, piquant thing of nineteen summers with no relations but Gilbert, a semi-mythical brother, on the Yukon, who had not found enough gold to send her any. She earned her living – two pounds a week – as a guitarist at the splendid tea parties of the Hotel Bemrose. “Hey, Miriam, honey, what was that thing you were playing tonight?” asked Hank Malone one evening, approaching her while she sat at the hotel bar, nursing a glass of white wine. Miriam smiled. Hank was OK, a lumbering, gentle giant of a man. “Well, which one? I played quite a bit of stuff.” Hank admired Miriam’s skin. It was like pink china, and her eyes, well, those huge green eyes, were like … like crystals! “That last one, a … a rippling type of thing.” “Why, that was a study in arpeggios, just different right-hand fingerings for the same chord progression. By an Italian gentleman named Ferdinando Carulli.” “Arp … arpeggios, what’s that?” Miriam looked into Hank’s open, honest face. “Know what a chord is, Hank?” “Yeah, sure … well, no, not exactly.”

Castle Trethergowan

(1100 words) Every morning, come rain, come shine, I’d walk the cliff tops, watching huge waves thundering against the rocks and hearing the cries of gulls being thrown across the sky. There, across the strait, in the far distance were the twins’ cottages. The twins who’d taken something of mine. Something very precious. Through binoculars, I could see thin white spirals of smoke from their chimneys. For now, they were still breathing. Then, past the broken and missing windows of Castle Trethergowan, its ancient greenstone weathered and pitted by the centuries and now surrendered to the unstoppable force of ivy. Today, a very special day, I resisted the temptation to climb its creaking staircases to huge, empty chambers, there to gaze through moulded glass out at the moorland and heather of the lonely island. Instead, I made my way back to the farm to collect warm freshly laid eggs from the chicken run.

Lost in Translation

(1000 words) We’d come down to the stream to find there was no bridge. Instead, lumps of rock protruded from the water at semi-regular intervals. Stepping-stones. “We cross here,” announced Eric. “Hang on a minute, it looks quite deep,” said Jan. “And those rocks look slippery,” said Petra. “Come on, girls, you’re not scared of a little stream are you,” laughed Eric. “What say you, Saul?” “Well,” I said, “we can’t go back. I’ll go first.” I took off my boots and socks, stuffed the socks into the boots, tied the laces together and strung them around my neck. Then I rolled my trousers up to my knees. “Good luck,” laughed Eric, slapping me on the back.

All Will Be Well

(1000 words) One summer night, a man stood on a low hill overlooking a wide expanse of field and forest. By the orange crescent moon hanging low in the west, he knew it was near the hour of dawn. A light mist lay along the earth, but above it, tall trees showed against a clear sky, and far off, the small dark rectangle of a farmhouse lay visible through the haze. She’ll be asleep in her bed, he thought, feeling his body stir at the thought of naked flesh enmeshed in an eiderdown and the smell of a sleeping woman. He turned the freshly sharpened axe to a more comfortable position on his shoulder and began to walk the path down the hill, the path to the farmhouse, nestling there in the grey distance, perhaps half a mile away. As he trod the track in the silent early morning, the first birds began to stir. Soon, the deafening dawn chorus would be ringing out over the countryside. But before then, it would all be over.

Lamb Chop

(1200 words) The boy hesitated, a wild lost figure in the silence of the London Square. They were all against him, these tall remote houses with their sense of order and permanence. He came from the outside, from the dark and cold which was not allowed to disturb the peace of those lighted rooms, and the people who lived graciously behind them. From a world where a penny Oxo cube with bread might be supper, and a pennyworth of chips and a tuppeny slice of fried fish a banquet. The boy consulted a scrap of paper underneath a gas lamp, and then ran forward, driven by a concern greater than his fear of intrusion. He lifted the brass knocker, then struck it twice against its metal base. He stood shivering on the doorstep, feeling as out of place as a fish on a cloud. He wanted to run back into the all-enveloping black of the night but was determined to pass on the message. Not just for the shiny shilling he hoped to be paid – a veritable fortune – but out of respect for his friend and mentor, Kezia. The door opened, and a man in a black uniform with a white collar looked down at the boy. “Go away before I call the police.”

Wounded Walking

(900 words) “What are you talking about, I don’t have a sister!” Maurice Humphries was taken aback. Surely this gentleman, the last of the group to arrive, was the Reverend Herbert Galton? Apparently to be accompanied by his sister, Dolly. “You are Reverend Galton, are you not?” “I am Colonel Galton. Kenneth. The reverend is my brother.” Humphries regarded the motley crew of walkers gathered underneath the old railway bridge at Woodman’s Hyde. They stood, shuffling, fiddling with maps and compasses, clad in brightly coloured tops sporting names such as North Face, Berghaus and Patagonia. The colonel, by contrast, wore a Barbour jacket and high leather boots, looking for all the world as if he were going on a pheasant shoot. “Oh, I don’t have you on the list,” Humphries said. “No matter,” snapped the colonel, “you can put me on it now.”

No Place Like Home

(1000 words) “Where am I?” thought Donnie Jackson, looking out of his parents’ bedroom window on the morning of his fourteenth birthday. He gazed across an endless black plain towards towering mountains in the distance, all silverised by a huge moon filling the sky. The moon wasn’t ‘our’ moon, he thought, there were no maria, the lava plains clearly seen from Earth, and there were visible canyons. They must be huge, gigantic. And this moon was, what, maybe ten times as big in the sky? But where were his mum and dad?

A Sliver of Silver

(800 words) Donnie Jackson went to bed feeling elated. Tomorrow was his fourteenth birthday and his mother had told him they’d be taking him somewhere for a special surprise. He lay in bed, listening to the traffic on the nearby motorway. Donnie likened it to the relentless waves on the shore at their summer home on Morton Island. He wondered where they would take him? Maybe to the climbing centre? He’d made noises about wanting to learn rock climbing. Or maybe they’d arranged a secret outing with his friends? To the bowling alley, maybe to the skate park? But his best friend Marty Chang had seemed normal at school. Not like he was hiding a big secret. And he knew Marty better than anyone. He hoped it wouldn’t be a trip to a boring museum or art gallery. The thought of that made a funny feeling in his stomach. Like he was going to puke.

Vigil in the Snow

(1300 words) Our breath misted in the air as our horse Blacklock made his way along the track leading to Billinghay Manor. We’d made good time, under three hours for the fifteen miles, but even with the thick rugs and blankets, the cold wintry weather was beginning to penetrate my bones. “Come on, Blacklock,” called Charles, tugging on the horse’s reins, “afore we catch our deaths of cold.” There was a thin crescent moon, low in the sky, and the stars were largely blotted out by ominous clouds, pregnant with snow. Blacklock’s clip-clop on the track into the village rang out into the hollow night like rifle shots. Apart from the occasional hoot of an owl, which made me jump, there was otherwise no sound in the suffocating darkness. Distant church bells sounded six times as Blacklock pulled us into Billinghay but early as it was that winter evening the place seemed deserted. Save for a handful of candles burning in windows of dark, friendless houses there was no sign of a soul.

Scene in a Tent

(600 words) The tent flap opens, and Trevor comes in. Everyone’s here now. Everyone, that is, except Alan the group leader. He’ll be sorting out logistics with the mule team. Eating with them too. I give Trevor a bright smile from beneath my red baseball cap, holding out my plastic plate to Muhammed as he serves from a huge bowl of lamb and vegetable stew.

Smitten

(800 words) I have collected in my time – to the chagrin of my dear beloved husband, Cyril – snow globes, porcelain cats, and Tommy guns, and perhaps I should explain what happened to these old collections before I proceed to my newest hobby. My Tommy gun collection may be regarded as having been discontinued since I collected only two, the second and final one as long ago as 2003. Not only are they hard to come by and very expensive, but they are also highly illegal.