It’s April review time

Life is not a highway strewn with flowers,
Still it holds a goodly share of bliss,
When the sun gives way to April showers,
Here is the point you should never miss.

Though April showers may come your way,
They bring the flowers that bloom in May.
So if it’s raining, have no regrets,
Because it isn’t raining rain, you know, (It’s raining violets,)
And where you see clouds upon the hills,
You soon will see crowds of daffodils,
So keep on looking for a blue bird, And list’ning for his song,
Whenever April showers come along.

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So it’s time for the showers folks, showers of praise or a rainy squall.
Whichever it is, this is where your shower should fall,  preferably wrapped up neatly in a comment on our April Reviews page.

And for those who would like a little musical accompaniment while they ponder, here it is … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLoCQzzIo7Q

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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 September 2016 CW Competition. Full details of how to enter.

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A FREE ENTRY WRITING COMPETITION OPEN TO ALL!
Details of the September 2016 Creative Writing Competition.
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The topic for September has been set by the winner of the July 2016 competition Peter Barnett who has graciously agreed that there should be an open topic with each writer choosing his or hers topic of choice.

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The length of the story in September has been set at between 250 and 750 words and competitors are reminded that multiple entries can be accepted on as many different topics as each individual competitor chooses
Closing date for entries will be Midnight on Friday the 3oth. of September 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 September competition will be to set the topic for November 2016.

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 on this competition blogpage.

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.

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And a reminder to those still without their own WordPress site.

WordPress is not the most user friendly of sites but if I can manage it (admittedly not without some frustrations), then I am sure that we all can  … help in setting up your own blog is available, so please ask.

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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 with your stories. After the encouraging increase in the number of entries last month it seems that we may at last be coming to terms with the new arrangements … please can we make September a bumper month.

 

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.

May CW entry – Take Me to Homebase

“Stone picnic table, we’ve got a stone picnic table! Stone picnic table!” roared Bertie the Birdfeeder, otherwise known as Colin, into the mic to the tune of Guantanamera.

When Colin was in full flow like this, everything apart from the microphone was coloured a hazy grey. The world in front of his eyes didn’t register at all. He had no power to process it while he channelled every last drop of energy he could muster into his vocals. It was a state unlike anything else in life. Was it Jagger who said ‘I take to the stage as a mortal, and somehow, after the show’s over, I go back to being a mortal again’?

If his eyes focused on anything at all, it was just to loosely scan the area of space in front of him for any incoming projectiles. Nobody had mentioned the Pint of Piss since Take Me to Homebase reformed, which just went to show what a big deal it was – the proverbial urine-filled plastic pint glass in the room. The incident itself, during Undergradstock ’07, was still hard to visualise – consisting as it had merely of a sploshy container sailing past the corner of Colin’s eye and a skipped beat from Gaz the drummer. The smell had lingered a little longer – right until Colin had applied a wet cloth to wipe his sticky amp cables the following week. The distaste had lingered much further still – up to the point Gaz said he had to pack it in to study for his exams, and well beyond.

If Colin had looked up back now in 2018 while he whittled his way through the first lines of Algae on the Patio, there would have been a few ways to interpret the scene. The lone drunk flailing around the dancefloor showed someone was appreciating the music. Colin may not have been too keen on seeing the glamourous young lady sat at the bar had her back to the stage. He would have been less pleased to see her mouth “who the hell are this bunch?” to the friend she was waiting with to see the Ed Sheeran tribute act. He may have appreciated the smile on the manager in the grey blazer, who today seemed to be fairly accepting of his lot of operating a struggling music bar, when Colin stretched out the chorus “So lusciously green, but I’m gonna scrub you all clean.” The manager’s smile was kind and only moderately patronising.

Colin’s focus on singing disguised the fact that this wasn’t a time he wanted to see how the world was reacting. The band felt too raw since reforming to look into the mirror of popular opinion. The question of whether the world was ready for a post-punk band singing about garden furniture remained unresolved, after all. He hoped it was a question they were now too wise to linger on, in their 30s, 11 years clear of the insecurities of youth and the bitter smell of lobbed urine. In reality, it was a definite stumbling block. The unique selling point that had energised them when they started – a gutsy revelling in weirdness that allowed every raised eyebrow to drive them on – had soured back at university as any form of success floated well out of reach. Now the band’s unique flavour was just – well, plain weird. Colin’s Take Me to Homebase T-Shirt was still locked away in the attic – it wouldn’t fit him anymore anyway – and Gav had clearly deleted the video of one of their earlier performances on YouTube, despite denying this. Presumably nobody in the band had told any friends or workmates about the comeback gig, or else more people would be here. Colin had only told his wife, begging her not to come. He had thought about telling his 18-month-old daughter but decided against it – maybe he’d share his experience with her after the gig, if it went well.

Why were they back together then? Whatever the answer was, it wasn’t explainable with simple logic. Tommy, the bass player, had written to the rest of the band out of the blue, sending a copy of some photos from the old uni gigs he had found in the attic. Jim on lead guitar had joked how “young and not that unpretty” they had all looked and asked if anyone still played or performed. Two weekends later, they were assembled in the spare bedroom of Gaz’s house, instruments and mic at the ready, sipping coffee, smiling and commenting on Gaz’s glazing, when once upon a time it had been cider, growls and comments on female students.

“Thank you, thank you, Masters Music Bar!” Colin shouted into the mic as the song ended. He didn’t bother pausing for applause. The manager had just taken his hands out of his blazer to start clapping by the time Colin turned and gestured to the other three to start the next song. Jim angled his guitar and stroked the strings to begin the solo that commenced Unblocking the Lawnmower at Sunset.

The morning jam at Gaz’s semi-detached house had quite simply been the most uplifting few hours Colin had spent in years. He had been nervous beforehand, unsure why they were putting themselves through this. Tommy had dusted down a book with the lyrics of all their songs in. They had laughed and laughed reading through them about the ridiculousness and downright mystifying nature of some of the lines.

“ ‘Glistening like snail marks on the fence, thirsty like a rosebush, I will thrive, I will fly?’ who the hell wrote that one?” asked Tommy during the jam session. Red in the face, Colin had raised his hand to laughter from the others.

Colin tapped into this energy from their reunion now that he was on stage belting out the soft tones of their penultimate song. Nobody had suggested doing anything more than this one comeback performance. Somehow it all felt a little more comfortable now than it had back in the day though. There were no longer any sky-high ambitions to be the most popular band at the university, to send demo tapes into Radio 1 or to work on new material instead of looking for jobs straight after graduating. In their second carnation, Take Me to Homebase seemed at ease with their status as no more than a molehill in the vast musical landscape. The unspoken, unconsidered reason (until now) for their reunion, Colin reflected, was to channel the creative energy that had gotten so tangled by the lust and idealism of male youth, so damaged by the inherent insecurity of their earlier selves, and allow this to flourish one final time in this smoother environment – so the band could end on a high.

Colin grinned with eager anticipation as Unblocking the Lawnmower at Sunset ended. Bertie the Birdfeeder was next – a slow, sombre tune to end the set. It was about a senile old man wandering into open gardens to feed birds until the police apprehend him for trespassing. Colin smiled with approval as the stern teenager operating the lighting for the venue implemented their instructions to dim it ahead of the chorus of “Ok, officer, d’ya have sparrows at the station too?” Colin closed his eyes, listened to his voice booming out of the speakers for a split second and heard Jim start his final, colourful solo, with more ease and style than he ever remembered from the old days. The dimmed lighting would have made it tricky to see much across the empty dancefloor, even if Colin’s eyes were open. Colin therefore missed the young man with a notebook in detailed conversation with the bar manager.

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Colin’s phone pinged the following Thursday at the office. A notification alerting him of another message from the band’s WhatsApp group popped up. He sighed, as he was currently engrossed in the accounts of a haphazard client, and he didn’t want to lose his mental note of various movements needing to be made in the Excel sheet.

“Interesting band reviewed in today’s Journal, wouldn’t mind watching them some day,” Gaz had written.

Colin tapped on the photo of the ‘Culture and nightlife’ page of the local paper, puzzled. Then he saw an obscured image of himself wailing into the microphone, and he smiled.

‘Something definitely different’ was the headline.

I won’t lead you down the garden path, Take Me to Homebase are not everyone’s cup of tea on a sunny afternoon in a deckchair. As quite possibly Chippenham’s sole horticulturally-themed post-punk band, they add an undeniably explosive element to the town’s placid music scene. The energetic days of youth may be behind the four members of Take Me to Homebase, but at approximately half the age of the Rolling Stones, they were still capable of getting Masters Music Bar bouncing. Synching raw experimental zaniness with skilled instrumental play and passionate vocals, their bold and extremely original music made this reviewer tap his feet even more often than he scratched his head. Colin Tuttelwell’s powerful vocals were accompanied with aplomb by Gareth Thomas on drums, James Duckworth on lead guitar and Tom De Souza on bass. Having reformed after a decade’s hiatus, the question of whether Take Me to Homebase will grace the town’s stages again remains shrouded in mystery – or whether it will be like Hendrix at the Isle of Wight Festival, and if you weren’t there to see them, you never will. The only disappointment is that their lyrics don’t extended beyond the topic of garden furniture. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Colin stopped at the newsagents on the way home, searching through the pile of Journals to find the best-looking copy. He read the review again and smiled as he handed over his one pound fifty. He briefly considered mentioning his fame to the cashier, but he didn’t want to appear boastful. She was also around 15 years younger than him and had the look of someone who would find a boast from an older man downright annoying and strange. He consoled himself with the knowledge his wife would offer her gleeful congratulations, and the paper could be stored away safely to show his daughter his moment of fame when she was able to read.

His phone buzzed again.

“Fantastic!” wrote Jim. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to jam again on a Saturday though as my little ones are starting their swimming again when term starts.”

“Yeah my boy’s taking up rugby as well this year! That’s pretty much the whole weekend booked up,” added Tom.

Colin tucked the newspaper under his arm to write a message. “Never mind lads, we had some fun while it lasted, didn’t we?” He then skipped out of the newsagents’ door.

The Abandoned Farmhouse

The CCF platoon was nearing the end of a stifling summer’s day, sweating uncomfortably in uniform with packs on their backs when they discovered the old farmhouse by the river, partly hidden under bushes and creepers growing over the building.

With the freshening wind and dark clouds piling up to the west they were glad to find shelter – if you could call it that – the roof and most windows broken and now roughly boarded up. But it would afford basic protection from the worst of the storm that was coming.

“Well…,” announced Jake, the leader, contemplating the building, “not ideal but it’ll give us some shelter if the weather turns shit. Bit early to stop but I suggest we get settled, have a dip in the river to cool off then think about firewood and cooking.”

“This place seems dead creepy,” observed David, one of the younger members, shivering despite the heat. “Those black marks on the wall and the charred roof timbers look odd – like there’s been a bloody big fire. There’s a decent farmhouse over the other side. Couldn’t we cross over and see if we could sleep in a nice dry barn? Maybe cadge some food?”

“Orders are to stay on this side of the river until we meet up with the other platoon. Plus I don’t see a crossing place,” Jake retorted, “now let’s get set up before the weather turns.”

The platoon settled down, had a swim and wash and got a fire going when a voice hailed them from over the river.

“Halloo,” shouted a farmer, “You OK there? I just noticed you and could offer you better shelter at my farm over here; there’s a crossing point at the stones 100 yards down river. It might be more comfortable. I don’t recommend the old farmhouse…. Not a good place….”

“Very kind,” Jake yelled back, “but my orders were to stay this side of the river. And I think we’re
OK.”
“Well, if you’re sure. The offer’s there,” replied the farmer, “You might find it more comfortable
and, dare I say, safer over here. It’s not always so pleasant over your side,” he added darkly.

“Though I can’t see that a small deviation would do any harm……,” David cut in.

“Look we’re here now so shut up,” Jake snapped.

The farmer gave a wave and walked off, though Jake couldn’t help noticing that he turned to look back at them shaking his head.

The boys ate their rations in near silence as the sky got darker, storm clouds rolling in with the distant rumble of thunder and flickers of lightning. The air got increasingly hot and stuffy and for no apparent reason, the boys began to feel jittery.

“Going to be stormy,” remarked one of the company nervously, “let’s hope we don’t get totally pissed on….. Wonder where the other lot are.”

“Let’s not worry about them,” Jake replied, suddenly feeling chilly and apprehensive for no apparent reason, “just hunker down.”

Just after the boys had finished supper, the storm broke. After some banter, which faltered nervously, the boys eventually fell asleep after the day’s walk despite the hammering rain and wind, drips through the roof and the thunder and lightning. All except for David who felt unaccountably edgy and dozed fitfully with strange dreams of dark figures. Eventually he looked at his watch – just after midnight; the storm had petered out and was away off east. He heard some owls hooting mournfully to each other in the distance. Otherwise all was deathly – almost unnaturally – quiet except for splatters of rain dripping from the trees.

Then an odd feeling prompted him to get up and look out of the windows. Through the gloom, now partly lit both by sporadic flashes from the receding thunderstorm and by moonlight breaking through the clouds, he saw a number of dark figures prowling around outside the farmhouse. David watched with a sense of growing menace gnawing at his heart as he observed how noiselessly the figures seem to glide purposefully across the ground, as if floating on air, picking up what looked like pieces of wood from underneath the trees and heading towards the farmhouse.

He shook Jake awake.

“What’s up?” Jake enquired sleepily.

“Some strange people out there. They look weird, like ghosts almost,” whispered David struggling to force the words out of his throat.

Sure enough Jake could see them, mysterious black figures coming ever closer carrying large dark bundles. The two boys watched as the figures approached.

Then Jake hissed,“Wake the others quickly and quietly. Something’s not right. I don’t like this.”

David shook the others whilst Jake continued to watch. The figures seemed to be laying their bundles around the building. Then he saw a flare appear in the hands of one of the figures and realised that they were going to set fire to the house.

“Everyone! Awake now – out! Fire!”

But as the boys found the door blocked by planks of wood and they saw haggard but ghostly figures with matted grey hair, eyes as black as coals contrasting with their deathly white palor and with thin colourless lips laughing obscenely through stained teeth. The house began to fill with smoke flames licking at the roof lighting the surviving timbers. Jake and the boys began to try and force the barricade but could not move the planks whilst the shadowy figures poked at the boys through gaps in the planks with sharpened sticks.

“Let us out…, please,” David cried in terror.

“Burn, like those bastards what possessed our property,” came a deathly rattling response, “and what lived on what was rightfully our land and suffer the pains we suffered.”

The house filled with smoke and the heat was becoming unbearable as. The boys were terrified with thoughts of being burnt alive or suffocated. Several began to scream. Jake thought quickly,

“Let’s try and break one of the side walls. Stonework’s crumbling over there. Come on, quick,everybody….”

They began to tear furiously at the wall with their bare hands desperately pulling away the loose stones in a last attempt to escape dripping with sweat from naked fear and heat.

Then shouts outside, the sound of a gun being fired and the splintering of the planks over the doorway.

“Quick.” a voice shouted urgently. “This way – now.”

A figure frantically gestured through the smoke and flames. Jake was last one out as the farmhouse crumbled, the roof timbers crashing down in a shower of sparks. Some of the boys began to shake and weep.

“Thank you,” Jake shakily addressed the group of men standing around with lanterns and staves. By the light of the flames he recognised the leader, cradling his shotgun, as the farmer from across the river. “We probably wouldn’t have survived if you hadn’t arrived. But who were
those people? They looked like ghosts.”

“Let’s get you to the farm. I’ll explain then.” the farmer replied quietly.

Back at the farm the boys were ushered into the large kitchen where the farmer’s wife bustled around rustling up hot chocolate snacks and discreet whiskies for the boys as the men downed large tots.

“So what was that?” Jake asked, embarrassed to notice his hand was shaking.

“Lammas Farm always had a reputation,” the farmer explained. “So story goes, it were tenanted for many years until Lord Howthwaite, who used to own estate on the other side of river, evicted the tenants and abandoned them to the road to provide somewhere for a member of his family to live. Ever since then the ghosts of the tenants have haunted anyone living there – and I mean truly haunted. Howthwaite’s family had several fatal accidents there and legion are tales of later tenants meeting death or injury. Then the house mysteriously caught fire in a storm and wife of tenant was burned to death. I remember the accidents, if you call them that, as I were a young lad here in my mid-twenties; and I can still remember the wife screaming for help as the flames consumed her – utterly hideous it were. Since then farmhouse has gone to ruin. Nobody round these parts goes near it.”

“That’s why I were concerned about you,” he continued, “but seeing as you were just camping for the night I thought you might be OK. But I had bad feelings on account of the likely thunderstorm. There was a storm when the last tenant’s wife died in the fire. Many said lightning struck the farmhouse but I myself never believed that and nor did my late father.”

I’m not sure I believe in ghosts, although what happened was really terrifying,” Jake answered
somewhat shakily.

“Well, you might do now when you think on it.” the farmer replied. “Never underestimate evil. I know, I’ve seen it first hand and now you lads have. You cannot be rid of it – it lurks in this world.”

The Last Haddock

Al gave the basket a good shake in a failed attempt to dislodge a chip that had bent itself around the meshing in the bottom corner. He angled it to the side and shook again. Still no luck.

“I’m gunna pitch a fit with you in a second, Mister –” he muttered. Aware that his hands were starting to shake now, he placed the basket back in the fryer. The unmistakable sizzle sounded out.

“So I’ve heard you won’t be heading back to Ireland?” said Mrs Joyce, the newsagent’s widow, when the sizzling had calmed from a frantic assault to a quieter, more rhythmic hissing.

“Ain’t gonna happen Miss Joyce. Ain’t nobody I know there anymore,” he said, turning back to the chips before he had a chance to gauge her reaction.

“Well,” she said, gulping, “how nice that you’ll still be around here. We’ll be seeing you, well in here as a customer, perhaps.”

Al gave out an affirmative grunt as his fingers struggled to open a paper cone in preparation for pouring the chips in. He felt heavy from the heat. It was high time to hang his chip basket up. 83 was not an age for any of this, but still he couldn’t help feeling apprehension of what was to come.

“75 isn’t anything in this day and age, you know?” said Mrs Joyce, switching her glance several times between Al and Deborah at the till. “Look at Doris Johnson. She went to the market in Harrogate last week you know? On the bus, and everything. 96 and right as rain! Fit as a finely tuned fiddle!”

Al turned around to watch the chips cool. He wanted to say: ‘Yeah, except ol’ Doris ain’t had one thousandth of the life I’ve had’. A few bumps raised themselves on the ridge of a particularly chunky chip as the steam wafted aimlessly from the basket. Al patted his apron at the side of his bulging stomach. It had been a lot worse. 40 years of just frying fish and running had improved his physique no end, but now the aches and pains from that time of excess were returning. What he feared much more than any physical deterioration was all the time. Time to think about it all. About the past life that he had done so well to lock away but was now stood at the door with a knock, knock, knock that was getting harder to ignore.

“Where are you from in Ireland again?” asked Mrs Joyce, as Al handed her a cone of warm chips.

“Oh, nowhere in particular, kind of middle o’ nowhere, if you know what I mean?” he replied.

“Oh,” she said as Deborah tapped a few melodic chirps at the till and Mrs Joyce slid a five pound note towards her on the counter.

Deborah turned to Al to smile and shake her head. He saw the quizzical look in his boss’s eye that showed she remembered the occasion a couple of years ago a family from Limerick had stopped by on the way back from the York races, and Al had served them in an evasive silence. Still, Deborah wasn’t the sort to ask questions she knew would be uncomfortable. In fact, nobody was in the entire village. That is what made it the perfect place to retire too. Well, retire from his previous life. And now he was retiring again, leaving the fish and chip trade.

“What time do you make it, Al?” Deborah asked a couple of minutes after Mrs Joyce left. “That clock says 3:20 but my phone says 3:14.”

“Ermm, my watch says ten past,” said Al.

He was due to finish his shift at four. His final shift. He was standing on the edge of a black hole he didn’t want to look down. The ticking of the clock heaved at his heart. Amid all the fumes of battered fish, fried chips and the cloggy whiff of mushy peas he could smell the bitterness all over the shop left from his row with Deborah earlier in the week. Linda McCulfey the teacher had let the secret slip when ordering a jumbo sausage on Tuesday lunchtime – Deborah had contacted the Harrogate Gazette on the quiet, begging them to take photos and run a story on Al’s retirement. Al had immediately stormed out and gone to his flat, telling Deborah he would only come back to work when she confirmed she had cancelled the photographers. He was sorry for making her wince when he threw his apron over the counter and slammed the door in the middle of the lunchtime rush. She would have loved some positive press for the shop instead of an incident that was likely to be talk of the village for years to come – and cast doubt on the people her business employed. He had done what he had to do though. The hair may have gone – after a short period of wearing wigs, he had kept it shaved until it simply stopped growing – and the face had shredded all its earlier roundness, but he couldn’t run the risk of being recognised. Couldn’t Google even recognise a face these days? It was definitely time to call it a day. What with all the mobile phone cameras, his luck would run out at some stage.

“I’ll go in the back and check the delivery sheets. I thought Barry would be dropping off the goujons by now,” said Deborah.

“Right you are,” said Al.

He grabbed a couple of handfuls of potatoes to take to the sink. He could feel another flashback coming on. His mind wandered far away from the steel sink that Deborah’s late father Frank had proudly installed in 1998. He remembered instead the gold tap and the mirror dotted with lights. Folk swatting around him like ants checking his clothing. Someone squeezing a pill through his lips to weed out any remaining nerves. The feeling of immense power at being a rock everyone wanted to flock to. Tarred by an undercurrent of sadness at not feeling entirely human. A constant feeling of being ready to explode.

Al turned the tap to its fullest to flush out the memories. He splashed a little cold water on his forehead. He then spent several seconds focusing on the flow of the water. He recalled the words of his psychiatrist back then for the ten-thousandth time: “It’s not enough to feel like a new person. You need to be a whole new person. Focus on the little details of life like a child would. That’s the only way this will work.”

Al closed his eyes to focus on the sharp roar of the water hitting the sink basin and turned the tap closed. He opened his eyes and felt a bead of sweat drip down. He was losing his power to shut out that past life. Fear creeped up his spine once more. The pleasant memories were coming to tempt him, but when he let them in, it would only be a matter of time before all the desperate lows flooded back too.

‘Ah so be it,’ he thought, as he brushed a well-rounded King Edward potato. ‘I may have had two very different halves of my life, but at some point they have to come together into a whole’. He smiled at how proud Jerry the Shrink would be to know he was still here. He wondered if Jerry was still alive. He had thought a few times about getting some message out to him. Surely curiosity would have gnawed away at Jerry too. He would have wanted to see if his top secret plan, his very own footnote in history, had worked out. It wouldn’t be a big surprise to find Jerry had been traveling the world, scanning millions of faces, just hoping to see Al.

Al snapped out of his daze at the sound of the shop door swinging open. He staggered around to see Mumbling Maud sweeping towards the counter with her tiny robotic steps. He checked the clock. Twenty to four. It could be the last customer he ever served.

Reflecting on that had a strange affect as Al felt some of the energy of his early years, which he had spent so long feigning and then suppressing altogether, swirling up inside him again.

“Hey honey, how you doin’?” asked Al, finally dropping his faked Irish accent.

Maud grabbed the handle of her shopping basket and looked up, startled.

“Hmm, mmm, huh – you still here, are you? I thought you’d be gone by now?”

“Yes, dearie, I’m finishing 40 years of service at four o’clock. Which means for another 20 minutes I’m all yours.”

“Hmmm,” said Maud. “A haddock please, I’d say, though not a big one. And just cooked gently so it’s still soft.”

“Comin’ right up, madam!” said Al. He went to the fridge to take a haddock fillet to toss in the fryer.

“Some like them soft, some like them hard. Then some like both, I hear,” he said as the sizzling pitched up. Maud continued to silently grasp her shopping basket handle.

Al thought back to the women now. That had been the hardest thing to give up, despite age helping to dampen his passions a little. Not the wife, of course, that had all been a sham really. Memories of embracing his first loves, had stayed with him, and then he felt a tingle of excitement, and power, at all the conquests in later years. How he had kept Jerry the Shrink’s advice to steer clear of the fairer sex he would never know. Was it one of the injections they’d given him before he made the big move? Or Jerry’s mantra – ‘One wrong move and it’ll all be over. The End.’ – which Al still repeated each day at the breakfast table in his council flat. And then there was the daughter. Damn. That was the brick wall that his flashbacks, his memories always ending running into. Leaving her was a sadness he could never suppress. Folk do even worse, and to everyone there I was as good as dead. That’s what Al kept telling himself, and it may have been a branch that felt very flimsy at times among the deluge of regrets, but that’s all he had to hold onto, and hold onto it he must.

“I had a life before I came to work in this place, you know?” he said. He wasn’t quite sure if he was addressing Maud, the haddock, Deborah – who could be heard shifting boxes around at the back – or the whole world.

“Oh yes, I have heard. You came from errr, Ireland wasn’t it?” asked Maud.

“No ma’am that was all a bit of bull, if I can be frank,” said Al, smiling at seeing the bubbling in the fat pan.

“Oh.”

“I actually came all the way from Memphis, Tennessee. Except folk didn’t call me Al back then – they only put that on the counterfeit documents. A Christian name with just the two letters would speed things up, so they said. As a matter of fact, I used to go by the name of Mr Elvis Presley.”

A small chunk of batter dislodged itself from the haddock and floated to the top of the pan.

“Can I have a small amount of mushy peas on the fish when it’s ready, but no vinegar please?” asked Maud.

“Of course you can honey” said Elvis. He grinned at his last chance of relishing the insignificance working in this place had gifted him. He wrapped the haddock in paper and handed it over the counter.

“On the house!” he announced, as Maud was fumbling to open her purse.

He took off his apron and hung it up on the hooks behind the counter.

“If you see Deborah, tell her I’ve retired ten minutes early,” he said.

He left the building at the exact time the sun peered out from behind the clouds on the winter afternoon. Dazzled in light he felt like he was taking to the stage again at the International Hotel in Vegas. He could taste some of that one more time if he wrote to the papers; if he confessed to just one of the many millions of people who he had touched in his previous life more than Mumbling Maud. An ache nagged at his knee as he walked along past a mother with a pushchair and a gaggle of school children. ‘Or more likely not a soul will believe me, and I’ll be locked away’ he realised. Time to put the feet up for good.