The September 2016 TCWG Creative Writing Competition: Where to find the stories and how to vote

 

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All tcwg site members (and any other interested parties) are invited to read and enjoy the stories entered in the September 2016 TCWG creative writing competition.

If, having read all the stories, you would like to register your vote for the winner and placings, then please follow the voting instructions set out below. This is not obligatory, but if you choose to join in, your participation will be very much appreciated.
JUST FOLLOW THE LINKS TO ALL THE STORIES (which are listed below), AND YOU WILL FIND EACH STORY IN TURN.
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The deadline for entries into the July 2016 Creative Writing Competition passed at Midnight on the 30th. September 2016.

The topic for the September stories was set by the winner of the July 2016 competition , Peter Barnett who graciously agreed that there should be an open topic with each writer choosing his or hers topic of choice.

11 members have entered a total of 13 stories, and thanks are due to them for their efforts. Advance thanks are also offered to all those group members who I hope will now support the competition by reading the stories and registering their vote in the form of a comment below on this post.

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VOTING PROCEDURE.

As in previous months, when voting it will help if voters will make sure to quote the name of the story when posting their vote, particularly in the case where an author has entered more than one story.

Voting can now commence and will continue until 11 p.m. on Monday the 10th of October 2016.
There are no restrictions as to who is allowed to vote, all that is asked is that the voter reads all the stories and votes according to their preference. A brief reason for the choice is welcome but not mandatory.
Voters are requested to vote 5 points for first place, 3 points for second, and 1 point for third place.
Please do not submit any other point combinations such as 3/3/3, 4/4/1, 5/2/2, etc.
Writers are requested not to vote for any of their own entries, and voters are asked not to comment at length about the stories or record any thoughts that you may have on them, until after voting closes.

There will be no detailed summaries posted as to how the voting is progressing throughout the voting period but as soon as possible after voting closes a tabulated list of results will be posted separately and the winner declared. If then you wish to describe in detail the reasons for your choices, or comment at length about some or all of the individual stories, a separate page will be set up at the end of the voting period and after the result has been posted.

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List of entries received. (If I have inadvertently missed an entry or entries, please advise.)

JAVA LAVA. Written by Peter Barnett

https://aasof.com/2016/09/23/java-lava/#more-20343

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THE ROAD TO HELL. Written by Charles Stuart.

https://furryfeatures.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/the-road-to-hell/

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TEEING OFF WITH A BOILED EGG. Written by Atiller.

https://atiller16.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/a-september-2016-ctwg-short-story-entry/

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BETHANY’S CHAIR. Written by Capucin.

https://davidgoodwin935.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/bethanys-chair/

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A FUNERAL. Written by Colmore.

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/setember-2016-ctwg-story/

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THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY. Written by Araminta.

https://detectivemouse.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/the-persistence-of-memory/

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THE AUCHENSHUGGLE BIRD. Written by Lostinwords.

https://lostinwords2.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/september-2016-competition/

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THE FINAL MEETING. Written by tp_archie.

http://tparchie.deviantart.com/art/The-Final-Meeting-637202826

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THE RED SWEATER. Written by ExpatAngie.

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/september-entry-short-stories/

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TWO SIDES OF A DIFFERENT COIN. Written by Danthemann.

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/sep-comp-entry-two-sides-of-a-different-coin/

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BRIAN LARA LOVES BATTING. By Danthemann.

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/sep-comp-entry-brian-lara-loves-batting/

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INVENTORY OF A BEACH BAG. Written by Seadam.

https://seadamsblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/inventory-of-a-beach-bag/

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Mme. ROSE. Written by ExpatAngie. (To find … Scroll down from The Red Sweater.)

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/september-entry-short-stories/

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Pleasant reading and please  remember to vote.

 

 

The August 2016 TCWG Creative Writing Competition. Full details of how to enter.

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A FREE ENTRY WRITING COMPETITION OPEN TO ALL!
Details of the August 2016 Creative Writing Competition.

The topic for AUGUST has been set by the winner of the May/June 2016 competition  Seadams who chosen “ISLANDS” and has commented as follows …

ISLANDS.
“I’ve been thinking about islands and their connotations recently. I am quite fascinated by islands, and the idea of living on one permanently (but then, I suppose I already do.)

Island – isola – isolate…insula – insular…

I propose for August we write a story with an island setting – be it desert, tropical, luxurious; real or imaginary; legendary or metaphorical; Channel, Canary, Balearic, Pacific, Hebridean, Caribbean…stacks, reefs, atolls, archipelagos…but no cheating, please: no peninsulas.”

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The length of the story in August will be the regular “between 500 and 3000 words”, and competitors are reminded that multiple entries can be accepted, particularly of the shorter variety.
Closing date for entries will be Midnight on Wednesday the 31st. of August 2016.
The period for receiving votes will be announced when the competition closes, and votes will not be accepted until after the competition closes.
The “prize” for winning this July competition will be to set the topic for October 2016 when I am proposing that we will have a lower limit of 250 to 750 words, giving an opportunity for some writers to make multiple entries.

Voting.
After the competition closes there will be a vote to decide the first three places.
Just after the closing date, details of how to vote, and a vote collection point will be set up here in this competition section.

How to enter.
Post your story on your personal WordPress blogs and post a link to your story in the form of a comment below (“Leave a reply” panel.)

For those unfamiliar with the workings of the monthly competition a list of detailed rules for the competition can be found here …
https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/competition-rules/

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Pleasant writing and good luck. There are still a few teething problems (some more aggravating than others), but please persevere, and with Autumn approaching let’s try to get back into double figure entries once again.

Remember … help with your problems is available so please ask.

The Saracen’s Head – Oct 2021

“Do you believe in ghosts?” Alan suddenly asked in the middle of dinner the other night. My wife Steph and our other guests were taken aback. The conversation had been proceeding quite casually on the subject of the makeover of our local John Lewis.

“Er, why do you ask?” I responded. “Rather odd question.”

“You see, I was in Taylor’s in Guildford the other week about to try on a pair of trousers – the ones I’m wearing, in fact – and I was waiting for a changing room to become vacant when I swear someone or something brushed past me and I saw a shadow disappear through the wall. Quite spooked me until one of the staff laughed and said it was Barney, the house ghost. Apparently it’s believed he dates from the 19th century when the shop used to be houses. But I’m not sure I believe what I saw.”

“Well,” I said rather hesitantly. “I did see a ghost a good few years ago.”

“Do go on. Tell us,” the guests chorused. So I did.

******************

It was around 5.30pm on a brisk autumn Sunday in October 2005 with the trees turning a lovely golden colour when I reached The Saracen’s Head just outside Biggleswade – on the road to Hangman’s Cross, my satnav cheerfully informed me, although fortunately I didn’t have to venture that far. I was washed-out after a five and half hour journey from Chertsey round the M25 and up the A1 punctuated by traffic hold-ups. I was really looking forward to a relaxing evening with a nice meal and a glass or two of wine in a smart hotel.

I’d had my doubts when my secretary had informed me that someone in my firm’s travel agency had booked me into this “quintessentially English inn of medieval origins, originally forming the guest wing of the local abbey”. I gazed at the exterior of the building and agreed it was medieval and then I looked up at the inn sign hanging off a huge bracket above the front door and observed the melancholy face of a Saracen, his head resplendent in a rich blue turban, gazing down at me. I’m an accountant – not a historian – so I had asked myself what someone, whom I knew to be an Arab, had to do with Biggleswade. Another thing, I was a partner – albeit salaried back then – but entitled to a lot better than this. I always avoided wanting to pull rank but a faceless Travelodge might have been preferable on this occasion. And I shouldn’t have been here anyway doing routine pre-acquisition due diligence on a company one of the firm’s clients was in the process of acquiring. It was a job for one of our up and coming audit seniors; but the client had insisted on a partner undertaking the task so the senior partner had sighed and promptly delegated the job to me.

As I checked in, I looked around and my worst fears were confirmed. Dark wooden panelling, dim lighting, squeaky floors and elderly staff. The proprietor seemed almost too old to be of this world – bent with age, greying, a pince-nez on his nose, collarless shirt and braces holding up a pair of non-descript grey trousers and yet a slightly foreign look. If pushed, I’d have guessed Middle Eastern origins.

“Unfortunately, the more modern rooms at the back are being redecorated at the moment, the summer season having passed. We’ve reserved room 12 overlooking the Green at the front,” he intoned in a slightly strange almost foreign sounding voice.

He shuffled ahead of me up the stairs to show me the room – painted in faded magnolia with dim lighting and dark furniture. I sat on the double bed and it creaked ominously. I briefly cheered myself up by thinking back to my younger days and the dread of squeaky beds especially on cheap European holidays. Getting back to reality, I tried to phone my wife on my mobile but I’d had to go outside to my car to get any signal where I’d walked around aimlessly shivering, all the while conscious of the inn sign starting to swing in the gathering breeze and the bronzed leaves of the trees fluttering and cackling in the growing evening gloom.

After a mediocre meal of Shepherd’s Pie, local vegetables, ice cream and a glass or three of the house red, which was Lebanese and unexpectedly very good, to relieve the stress of the journey, I climbed into bed to sleep but was kept awake by the uncomfortable bed and the illumination of the inn sign outside the window. Eventually, the spotlights had snapped off around 11pm, although the wind promptly started to blow stronger, the sign began to squeak as it moved ponderously on its ancient iron hinges. Eventually, after tossing and turning a good deal, I’d fallen into a fitful sleep at best.

I was awoken just after one o’clock by the noise of what I took to be soft shoes or slippers padding up and down the corridor, the silent shutting of a door, urgent but muffled voices talking in a strange language in the room next door and the crying of a baby. I’d got up drowsily to poke my head out of the door to see what was afoot, but nothing. Indeed there seemed to be no room next door, where I presumed room 13 would be. I went back to bed puzzled as I’d seen a room 11 and a 14 on the way up although room 14 was a little way down the corridor as if room 13 (if there once was one) hasd vanished. In the morning, feeling weary, I’d mentioned the matter to the proprietor who had, I thought, looked embarrassed but had attempted to blame the disturbance on night-shift Eastern European workers, despite my pointing out that I couldn’t understand the distinctive sound of a baby crying.

“What were they doing in a room next door since there appears to be no room at all.” I’d said sharply. The proprietor looked genuinely vexed by my answer. I sensed him shifting uncomfortably on his feet, still seemingly shod in his carpet slippers. Somebody in the firm’s “Admin Team” would pay for this, I vowed.

“I will find out,” the proprietor replied, obviously hoping to end the conversation quickly.

I glanced at my watch – seven-fifty am – I needed to go, so I nodded sharply to the proprietor and left.

I returned after a tiring day at about six-thirty pm but there was no sign to be had of the proprietor, although I looked out for him as I still wanted answers to my questions. In the proprietor’s absence, I tackled the restaurant manager – not that he had a huge task in accomplishing his duties in a nearly deserted dining room and had plenty of time to chat. I told him about the goings-on the night before and, although he avowed a total lack of knowledge of any suspicious activities or indeed the existence of a Room 13 – he assured most me earnestly the proprietor was quite superstitious and avoided unlucky symbols, hence the absence of a Room 13. He too sounded Middle Eastern to me and he showed a remarkable enthusiasm for talking endlessly about the wine list and its  impressive array of Middle Eastern and Turkish wines.

That night I slept better on account of a day’s work and being tired from the lack of sleep the night before, but I was still awoken at about two am by the sound of voices in the supposed room next door, again seemingly arguing before ceasing. Then the padding of feet in slippers down the corridor. I fell asleep seething and determined to have the matter out with the proprietor. In the morning I got dressed and went down to breakfast quietly seething only to be told by a member of staff that “the proprietor had gone out early” on some urgent errand in Hitchin.

That Tuesday I returned, tired and grumpy, to the inn having had a heated – shall we say “discussion” – with the managing director of the business our client was aiming to buy about his expenses policies. By the end of the discussion, I was convinced he was maintaining a (female) consultant in some style at the company’s expense. Enough said, but I was wound-up. Still no sign of the proprietor – “his night off”, I was told – so I repaired to the dining room to be entertained once again by the restaurant manager and persuaded to order a bottle of a really good Lebanese red by the name of Chateau Musar. The recommendation seemed to work as, after dinner, I had put the arguments both at work and with the proprietor of the inn out of my mind and retired to my room and gone to bed early feeling sleepy and quite mellow.

I drifted off to sleep quickly until around three am when again I was awoken by a commotion in the “missing room” the other side of the wall, with the unmistakable crying of a woman, the wailing of a baby and the sounds of an argument involving several male voices – this time seemingly in English. At this I leapt out of bed and made for the door. As I wrenched it open and emerged into the corridor, I made out shadowy figures marching down towards the stairs, three soldiers dragging a fourth who, judging from his dress and turban, was a Saracen with a blue turban very like the one portrayed on the inn sign. I turned around at the sound of crying and there emerging through the wall of what I believed to be the non-existent Room 13 was a young woman – clearly European judging from her fair hair – holding a baby in her arms who I guessed from the pallor of his face and the dark colour of his hair to be of mixed race. Both seemed to be crying and in some distress.

“Are you two alright?” I asked, approaching the woman who took no notice and stared down the corridor behind me before turning and vanishing with her child through a seemingly solid wall. I stood there rooted to the spot and utterly incredulous and feeling a distinct chill in the air. I advanced and felt the wall, tapped on it – the wall was completely solid. Tired, bemused and not a little unnerved I returned to my bed and, before slipping into a fitful sleep, resolved to check out in the morning.

“But I do not understand you, sir.” the proprietor said, looking over his glasses at me. “There is nothing there. There may perhaps have been a room many years ago – after all, the inn is, as you can judge, very old – but certainly no room in modern times….”

“Are you telling me I was dreaming? That I’m making this up?” I was getting angry now and I leaned forward across the front desk.

“I don’t know,” the proprietor replied, sounding slightly hesitant but obviously wishing to end the conversation.

“Well, I’m checking out now,” I banged the desk. “I’ve had enough of these strange disturbances and figures in the night and supposedly non-existent rooms….”

“But you made a reservation until Friday, two more nights.”

“Well, stuff it. I’m fed up with this dreary place. Frankly it gives me the creeps and something’s not right – it’s as if you’re haunted. And I’m not paying you. You can send the bill to my firm and somebody will sort it out.”

And with that I left.

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“So what was it?” Alan’s wife said after I’d told the story.

“Well, I might never have known had Steph and I not been in a bookshop in Dartmouth a year or two back. Not my usual sort of haunt but it was raining so we went in search of children’s books to keep the kids amused. The owner was holding a book signing by a local author who’d written a book on well-known local English ghosts and a copy was thrust at me. I was invited to take a “quick dip” into the book by the author who then asked if I’d ever seen or experienced a ghost myself.

“I confessed that I might have done and related the tale of the pub without naming it. But the author was on to my story in a flash and asked if I was referring to The Saracen’s Head at Little Merston. I’d replied in the affirmative and he’d turned to page seventy-eight in his book and a chapter on “The Ghostly Saracen”.

“Apparently, so the tale goes, the inn was once part of the local abbey and under the protection of the local lord, Lord Thomas de Greave, whose residence at Merston Manor was close by. He had been a Crusader and had returned from the Holy Land with much treasure and with a captive Saracen called Mohammed al-Marak and some servants of the Saracen with him. The Saracen was well educated and Thomas had set him to work as his housekeeper, at which job Mohammed had excelled. But the job had brought him into contact with the household and particularly Thomas’ wife, Mathilde, who was by all accounts a rather attractive lady from near Aubigny in Normandy who tended to tire of her husband’s absences at court or in Normandy. Well one thing had led to another and Mathilde had become pregnant – though around the time Thomas was in residence at Little Merston so nobody suspected anything much, although there were some wagging tongues.

“Well, when the baby boy was born its parentage was then beyond doubt given the colour of his skin. Thomas had banished Lady Mathilde to the local abbey where the Abbot had taken pity on her. Mohammed he had tried to kill, but the Saracen had fled and claimed sanctuary in the Abbey, along with his servants, about which Thomas could  do very little. The Abbot was initially severely discomfited at having a Moslem under his wing despite Mohammed’s repeated reminders that they both worshipped the same God.

“Mohammed had continued to visit Mathilde and his son until one night Thomas had lost his temper after a heavy drinking session with his knights and had ordered that “the filthy Saracen” be disposed of whereupon three or four of his men went to the Abbey, forcibly dragged Mohammed out onto the Green and there bloodily beheaded him. Lady Mathilde and the boy continued to live in the Abbey. Lady Mathilde died of fever some three or four years later but the Sultan’s son and his staff lived on to run the Abbey’s hostel for passing travellers and pilgrims to Bury St. Edmunds.

“But, it is rumoured, the son and the servants – or their ghosts – live on to this day.”

An entry for the November 2020 tcwg competition. ‘The Survivor.’

The Survivor.

When the affair had first started, the four letter word ‘Love’ did not even appear on the agenda. But what was tucked away in ‘Any other business’ was another four letter word that more accurately described P.A. Lorraine’s new-found relationship with her boss, Dexter Mannering . . .  and that word was ‘Lust’, pure, simple, lust.    

If the relationship had continued along that path then given time it would have blown itself out and probably no harm would have come to either party. However, as is well documented, illicit affairs end amicably about as often as flying pigs land safely in a gale on the deck of an aircraft carrier. And so it was in this case.

At first all was well … a sneaked lunch in the country followed by a couple of hours in her downstairs bed-sit, the odd night away with him ‘on business’, the intrigue of it all when they were alone together was the perfect aphrodisiac … and how they made use of it!

Handsome and debonair, both athletic and articulate, and with a roguish personality fit to charm the panties off a bridesmaid at a wedding reception (as he had proved on at least a couple of occasions), Dexter had everything that Lorraine began to believe that she wanted from life. Of course, Dexter also came with a wife ‘who didn’t properly understand him’ and two children, but as Lorraine was quick to rationalise, that was ‘par for the course’ in situations such as this, and all omelettes entailed the breaking of a few eggs (not to mention the odd mixed metaphor).

So she eagerly wrapped herself around his little finger, and certain other appendages, with a passion and intensity that might well have frightened off a man less assured than Dexter, but experience had given him a tough outer shell, impervious to emotional involvement, whilst at the same time retaining about him a thin veneer of sincerity. 

Was it any wonder that their relationship flourished? She besotted and he iron-clad.

********************

Lorraine’s first doubts about the affair surfaced when Dexter’s wife, previously an infrequent visitor to the office, began to turn up more regularly around lunch-time.

Of course, as with all such supposedly secret office liaisons, the whole staff knew of the affair and the muffled guffaws and knowing looks when Dexter’s wife was around was beginning to get to Lorriane, and this wasn’t helped by the fact that Mrs. Dexter was such a genuinely lovely person with a word for everyone. Lorraine also had the distinct feeling that of late she was being used rather than cherished. The lunches in the country restaurants and afternoons in bed changed to a packed lunch in the car and a quickie on the back seat, and evenings out coupled with an overnight stay-away, a thing of the past. The lust that had morphed into what Lorraine had convinced herself was love, was withering on the vine … starry-eyed romance, glamour even, had been reduced to a grubby back-seat coupling in a car … the once intense relationship had reached a crossroads.

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Almost as if he had detected something in her manner, the next time that Dexter took Lorraine out to lunch it was to a country pub. The day was sunny, and so was his mood. After a pleasant enough lunch (surprisingly pleasant to Lorraine in view of what was in her mind for today), they drove to a lay-by on the A 417 just outside town and parked up. Dexter flicked a switch on the dash to open the sun-roof … “Pity to waste this glorious sunshine, poppet”, he said breezily.           

To say that Lorraine was surprised was an understatement!                              Here she was, waiting for the right moment to drop her bombshell, and he had presented her with the ideal opportunity.

“Dexter, I have something to … “, was as far as she got before she found his lips on hers and his hand on her thigh.                                                                     When she surfaced, she tried again … “Please Dexter, not here …”.                  Again she was interrupted, this time by a deep throated whisper in her ear as he drew her close … “Of course not here, mon cherie, I thought we might go through that gate over there and spend a little while making daisy chains in the clover and topping up the old tan at one and the same time”.

Taken completely by surprise, and ever conscious of his warm hand on her thigh, a little voice began to echo in her head … ‘Why not girl, if only for old times sake, and after all, when might be the next time that it is on offer?’. So they exited the car and passed through the gate and into the field.

Dexter spread out the sheet that he had brought from the car and they lay down together in the long meadow grass. He had left his jacket in the car, and now he loosened both his tie and his belt. As he started to remove Lorraine’s button fronted dress she lay back and listened idly to the shrill cry of the wheeling and diving skylarks high above them in the deep blue sky and began, for the first time, to put a meaning to the lines of Wordsworth that she had so grudgingly learnt in her youth … “Up with me! up with me into the clouds! For thy song, Lark, is strong;    Up with me, up with me into the clouds! Singing, singing, With clouds and sky about thee ringing, Lift me, guide me till I find. That spot which seems so to thy mind!

And it seemed to her that on this day she had arrived at that spot, and with it the realisation that this liaison had run its course.                                            Ringing in her ears to mark its demise was the thump, thump, thump, of Jagger’s  “This could be the last time, this could be the last time, maybe the last time …”.

And it would be! This ill-fated liaison was going to end here, today. 

As she felt his weight upon her she fixed her gaze deep into the limitless blue sky above … and twenty thousand feet beyond the skylarks to where the criss-crossing vapour trails of intercontinental  jetliners carved the sky into irregular segments; sardine-packed travellers on the highroad to anywhere with all the comfort of latter day slave ships. And if Lorraine still harboured any doubts about the course of action she was about to take, the vapour trails which so accurately mirrored the cracked ceilings of too many seedy hotel rooms added steel to her resolve.

Dexter shifted his weight, and her attention switched to the ever changing and drifting clouds on the horizon, desperate for some kind of release from the grubbiness of her situation … here a witch on a broomstick, there a galleon in full sail … reminders of the innocence of childhood when she would lie with her school friends picnicking in the long grass … 

Another shift in weight interrupted her thoughts, but this time not so much a shift as an increase both in his weight and in the urgency of his breathing as his rhythmic exertions gave way to a low anguished moan and a gurgling deep in his throat.                                                                                                           Alarmed, Lorraine wriggled clear to ease the pressure on her stomach and Dexter rolled away from her and to the side, now clutching his chest. There was an ominous purplish foam around his lips and his handsome features were contorted and disfigured by pain. Lying there in agony with his trousers around his ankles, he presented a picture both pathetic and grotesque in equal measure, but Lorraine could feel nothing but a cold detachment and disgust, mostly with herself.  How long she sat there in shock she would never know, but the sound of a combine harvester way across the field brought her down to earth with a bump.

Among her many talents she had a rudimentary understanding of the principles of First Aid and whilst giving mouth to foaming mouth resuscitation did not figure high in her consciousness, she did realise immediately that however compromising her situation, right at that moment Dexter did need some urgent medical assistance and her mobile phone was in the car, out on the road in the lay-by. Crawling four steps on her hands and knees away from his body, she struggled to her feet and stumbled across to the gate in a blind panic.       Wrenching the gate open, and painfully losing three scarlet mostly false nails in the process, she made a dash for the passenger door of the car, yanked on the handle, and promptly lost another two nails … it was locked! Now, screaming with both pain and frustration, it was back to Dexter’s tortured body and a fumbling search through his trouser pockets for the keys to his car.

It was a distraught and dishevelled Lorraine who finally retrieved her mobile from within the car, only to discover that they were parked in an area with a far less than perfect signal. Stumbling from the car in search of a connection, a looped seat-belt caught her foot and she tumbled out through the door and landed painfully on her knees in the road  … things were not going well and they were about to get worse.

 One hundred yards down the road, young Jimmy Roberts, local boy racer and proud owner of a newly purchased Harley Davidson Sportster, was “ear-holing” towards the lay-by at a considerable rate of knots. The sight of an attractive naked from the waist down female falling into the road in front of him was not something that was commonplace, or at least not in his experience, and the resultant split second delay in his reflexes gave him no chance whatsoever of missing the crouching body of Lorraine and he braced himself for the inevitable collision.

His frantic cry of “Oh shit!” just before impact would prove to be his epitaph.

Lorraine had no such warning and would never know what hit her. The speeding Sportster, now an out of control projectile, struck Lorraine across the back of her neck and rammed her head into the gravelled road, killing her instantly.    Careering on, the bike cart-wheeled down the road catapulting young Jimmy high into the air and straight into the windscreen of a mini-coach laden with senior citizens that was coming from the other direction. They had enjoyed a convivial liquid lunch in a pub three miles down the road … and were in full voice. It was later reported that the pleasantly refreshed occupants were half way through the second verse of “She’ll be coming round the mountain” when Jimmy’s head shattered the windscreen of their mini-bus, and although it mattered little to the four pensioners who were killed outright in the collision, at least they died happy.

All this had happened in less than 15 seconds, and except for the spinning wheels on the coach, the scene speedily returned to an eerily quiet peacefulness, disturbed only by the drone from the farm machinery in the adjacent field and the anguished moans coming from the upturned coach. 

Reporting the accident was left to the local vicar, who came upon the scene five minutes later whilst out exercising his dog by trailing it behind him as he rode his bicycle into the village. He had to ride on for a few hundred yards before he found a signal for his mobile, but eventually three police cars, four ambulances and an emergency helicopter were in attendance. Almost thirty minutes had passed.

The official police report of the incident was later to summarise the final toll of dead and injured as follows……..

“On attending the scene, and in the light of the subsequent investigation, the bodies of a partially clothed young woman passer by (clothes probably ripped off in the collision), a young motorcyclist, and four passengers on the mini-coach were found and certified dead at the scene. The coach driver, badly injured in the collision with the motor-cycle, was taken to hospital where he died the following morning. Two passengers in the coach lost limbs, three other coach passengers received broken bones and the remainder escaped with cuts and abrasions to various parts of the body.

During a sweep of the area, and alerted by an unlocked vehicle in an adjacent lay-by, a man who had suffered a heart attack (probably whilst attending to a call of nature), was found in a field on the other side of the lay-by hedge. It is not thought that he had any involvement in the accident, but the fortuitous arrival of the emergency services meant that he was able to be given emergency treatment at the scene and subsequently he was airlifted to hospital where he remains in intensive care.

Whilst it appears that both the motor cyclist and mini-coach were exceeding the speed limit, the demise of both drivers means that no further action was necessary  and the investigation has been closed.”

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Footnote. 

Four months later, Dexter was back at work, his doting and somewhat ingenuous wife aware only of his miraculous good fortune in being found at the scene of a dreadful crash and treated so expeditiously, Not being one to spend much time reading the local newspapers, she readily accepted that with his P.A. having been head-hunted by a rival company during his absence, Dexter’s first task when he returned to work was to replace her with another.                                          “Choose your next one carefully, darling … preferably one with a bit more loyalty” Mrs. Dexter advised.                                                                                      With not even a hint of remorse or even a slight flush, Dexter replied … “Oh, don’t worry, poppet, I intend to. I’ve drawn up a short list of five so it’s likely you won’t be seeing much of me for a week or two”. 

**************************

WHAT GOES AROUND…….

Its a winter day – a real one finally. Snow has fallen overnight and shows no sign of stopping.  The street, wide anyway, looks twice the size and magnificent with the pale sun on it. Michael is trudging down the path on the way to school with the girls. They look up and scoop up balls of snow in their gloved hands, trying to throw it up to the first floor window where Jane, still in her dressing gown, flattens her head on the glass to tempt them. Michael scores a direct hit. They shriek with laughter as she flattens her face against the glass exactly where the snowball hit.   In three months they will move to Oman for four years, so they’re making the most of the gorgeous weather.

“Coffee…”she says to Dudley, their ginger cat who’s been witnessing the family fun.

Before she turns from the window, the taxi stops across the road at 119 to collect the handicapped girl who lives there. Jane watches, as Dudley arches to be stroked, and the driver tenderly places her in the back, then loads the wheelchair.  She’s seen the girl, on nice days, trying to walk from the house to the car but her efforts are usually covered up with a dramatic swoop by the driver, much chuckling and giggling, to disguise the fact that she can’t manage it, however hard she tries.

 As the car moves slowly off, Jane’s horrified to see the pink teddy bear lying on the bike path.  The snow is falling hard now, teddy lies on his back, his pink paws at the mercy of the snow and any other thing that will fall on his exposed pink belly.  A middle-aged woman rides her sturdy bike towards the bear. Jane’s relieved. It’s the habit here to pick up the glove/scarf/toy and put it on a gatepost. Common sense that whoever owns it will find it back. The woman gets off the bike and, to Jane’s horror, in one swift movement dumps the bear in her large bag and rides on.

“You bitch!” she cries at the departing back, the woman seems to speed up, feeling wrath from high up through the frozen glass.                                                               –

Half an hour later Jane rings the bell across the road. A thin, dark girl in her 30’s opens the door, head on one side, but says nothing.

“Good morning, I live on the other side of the street, your daughter dropped her teddy, I saw someone pick it up.”

“Come in”, the lady opens the door and leads through the hall into the kitchen.

“I’m Marian, how do you like your coffee?”

“Sugar, please….I always see your daughter with that bear, but was too late to do anything.”

There’s silence from Marian. She looks exhausted, then quietly says,

“She’ll be very upset…”

“Tomorrow I’ll wait for the cyclist, try and get it back…”

“Thanks, I can’t because I didn’t see her. She brings the coffee over and sits down.

”What do you think of the street now?”

Until last month it was a four lane carriageway, now reduced to two, with plans for cycle tracks all the way through, promised by the council. Though she knows all the neighbours on her own side of the road, the other is new territory.

“Ït makes the neighbourhood much more….well, cosy, I suppose.”

“What a lovely kitchen,” Jane looks round at the superb, sleek lines of understated Italian design.

Marian’s sad eyes look back, she lights up a cigarette.

“It’s taken me four years to get the house right and now he….wants me to leave. ”

 Who wants her to leave? What’s happened?

 As if she’s read Jane’s thoughts, Marian says,

“Martin…he’s met someone else. Blonde, clever – a lawyer, no children of course.”

“You’ve made a fabulous home out of a wreck, and he’s moving a new blonde in?”

“We’re not married. We planned to after Sophie was born, but he never mentioned it and got angry when I pushed for it.  In the end….it happens so often….to mothers with sick children. We always put them first, men just want to forget the reality, they can’t stand the neediness, the energy it takes.”

She looks at Jane who has a sudden long-ago vision of Michael standing in a 2.a.m. kitchen, an umbrella over his head, the coughing baby on his shoulder as he boils the kettle to get steam under the umbrella to help her croup. 

From experience, Marian correctly deduces that Jane is mentally comparing her own husband, and not finding him wanting.

Jane knows from neighbours he’s an estate agent, with a reputation for being bad to do business with. He has many people arriving in cars in the middle of the night, sometimes they stand on his doorstep and beat the door with their hands. Why?

“Marian, I’m off to the dentist now but I’ll get the bear tomorrow, we’ll see each other then.”

Jane couldn’t believe her luck when the cyclist hove into view after five minutes of waiting next norming. The path was clear, the snow piles having been shoved up on the pavement on which Jane stood. She smiled in recognition as the cyclist neared. Unbelievably, when stopped, the woman was stony faced, completely denying even seeing the bear, let alone picking it up. She’s wearing exactly the same clothes, at exactly the same time, turns her back on her and rides on.

“It belongs to a handicapped child, who loves it,” Jane yells very loudly.

 No reaction. Something in her cracks, not heartbreak but hate, a strong feeling that revenge must be taken on this hard old crone with her useless, wasted prize.

Ï’m so sorry, it’s dreadful, she lied, I can’t believe it,” Jane blurts out to Marian in her kitchen.

“Sophie cried for hours,”Marian said calmly.

Jane’s heart lurches downwards.

”She’s had him since she was born, almost 7 years, we’ll get another one.”

“Would you and Sophie like to come over this afternoon. Lulu is her age, they could play….”

It’s the first time she’s seen how pretty Marian really is when she smiles.

Sophie and Lulu hit it off immediately. Though Sophie can’t get her head off the floor because of cerebral palsy, Lulu treats her exactly the same as anyone, putting pencils in her fingers and giving strict orders.

“Now draw a cat, please” and Sophie draws a cat.

“No, bigger than that, and try to get the ears right.”

The mothers laugh as the kids stick to their roles – bossy Lulu and willing Sophie are good foils for each other.

“She likes her,” laughs Marian.

“He’s found us a flat.”

She lights up again, inhaling deeply.

“We’ll be out within a month, it’s being adapted for Sophie first.”

“What went wrong?” Jane asks.

“Our first child, a boy, died at birth. He says it’s my fault, that I have bad genes.”

The tears are rolling down her cheeks.

“I think it’s him, but he refused to have any tests. It could be me, but they won’t test unless he agrees too, as they won’t have the full picture. I’ll never know the truth, never. After three more years I got pregnant with Sophie and when she was a few weeks old, they diagnosed cerebral palsy.  So now he’s got someone else, he doesn’t want us.”

They sit silently watching the girls, busy and noisy on the floor.

Marian asks “What about you, are you happy here?”

A question Jane was dreading, it makes it sadder still.

“Well, we’re moving to the Middle East for four years around Easter….”Jane says, imagining Marian’s shoulders slumping a little.

“That’s a shame, we could have been friends.”

“I thought the same, isn’t life strange….”

Over the next weeks, Sophie comes often to play with Jane and her friends. Marian’s devotion and protection are plain to see, though she looks ever more exhausted.  Her mother will help her, she says. A few days before the packers arrive to swoop everything to the Middle East, the two mothers go to a posh hotel for lunch. Marian asks Jane to come and see the flat which has been adapted and is in a nice area, but too far away to be neighbour. 

“We won’t keep in touch, but maybe see each other after you’re back,” Marian says.

                                                                                          —

Eight years, not four, have passed,  they are all finally back in the family house. It’s thrilling in their old stomping ground, so familiar, easy. The tenants leave, the house is done up, their own stuff moved back in. What bliss to bike everywhere, meet the old friends. The freedom of it all, after years of driving round in 4×4’s and living in hideous heat. They even love rain.

It’s a week or so before Jane stands again at the study window. Dudley, their longest serving cat at 15 (having been ripped from a suburban windowsill to learning to survive snakes, scorpions and mad dogs in the Middle East) is sitting quietly staring across the road. Jane sees the door of 119 open and a young girl about 7, struggle out through the door with calipers on her legs, and crutches. Her heart stops – it’s Sophie! But it can’t be…. Sophie is almost 16, a teenager, but this is her spitting image.  Jane can’t breathe.

 The blonde, beautiful mother drives up with a boy in tow. He’s about six, leaping all over the place. Normal. They all go back into the house – the mother, the son – and with great difficulty, the girl with crutches.