Category Archives: Short Stories
Tom Benson is a multi-genre author and artist whose work I’ve reviewed several times since first discovering his writing on his wordpress site (see link below).
In 1969 at the age of 17, Tom left his native Glasgow to join the British Army. Tom’s military career spanned from 1969 to 1992. He followed this with a career in Retail Management, in which he was employed from 1992 to 2012.
Tom is a prolific writer and book reviewer and has been writing since 2007. He has published seven novels, five anthologies of short stories, a five-part novel, a five-part series of erotica novellas, and a series of five anthologies of genre-based poetry. In addition to his own writing, Tom Benson has contributed short stories to several other multi-author anthologies both commercially and in aid of various charities.
Tom is presently working on a number of other projects including helping manage and promote an international collection of indie authors on the indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com website which he helped create.
A collection of 12 stories created using a wide spectrum of scenarios. Military experiences can be funny, heart-breaking and, everything in between.
This anthology is a blend of my personal experience and knowledge together with specially created pieces to highlight the highs and lows of service life.
These tales can be enjoyed equally by those who have served and, those who have never donned a uniform.
Humour, fact, fiction, and fantasy are used to portray service in theatres as varied as Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Ancient Briton, the Persian Gulf, Africa, and elsewhere.
By Tom Benson
(Available as an eBook from Amazon – click on above title for link)
Of all the short story collections the author has written this is by far and away my favourite. Tom Benson has drawn on both his imagination and his considerable length of service to craft a poignant collection of short stories across a variety of military theatres. Unusually for a short story collection, not a single story here disappointed or fell even slightly below the high standard of every other.
Throughout this collection, Tom Benson has applied meticulous attention to authentic military detail but not to the point of overkill as to confuse the non-military reader. As anyone who has served will know, the army and other services practically speak another language with all the acronyms, slang and other assorted colourful phrases, but the author’s clever use of dialogue and context give all the slang and military terminology clear and obvious meaning thus ensuring the non-military is never left confused or wondering at certain words.
The opening story is a real ‘lump in the throat’ one of courage and self-sacrifice but it is immediately contrasted by the side-splittingly funny satire of the second, one that any military wife (or husband for that matter) will immediately identify with but its razor-sharp humour it cannot help but appeal to all. In the third, the author takes a somewhat personal trip down memory lane in a way that we can all relate to from some time in our lives when we were determined to prove our doubters wrong. Others in the collection highlight much of the military ethos of courage and protecting the weak and vulnerable but still providing the reader with a captivating story, and in the case of Photographic Memory, a real ‘punch the air feel good factor. In The Odd Couple we get a glimpse into some of the more covert activities of ‘The Toubles,’ bringing back painful memories for some of real events that mirror some aspects of the story. Another thing I liked about this collection was its sheer variety; from modern-day Afghanistan and Northern Ireland right back to the 2nd Century, from Jungle warfare to covert missions in the desert, from the sadness of a family torn apart from being on opposite sites to the sort of comradeship that transcends family that can only be formed with those you would die for and they for you. One story that is particularly pertinent to modern times is that of Walking Wounded; with today’s modern medicine and better field facilities, many more servicemen and women are surviving the sort of injuries only a few decades ago would have spelt certain death. The downside to this, of course, is that we have a whole generation of soldiers returning from conflicts having to face and cope with life-changing disabilities, and it is easy to understand the increased cases of PTSD in many such people. In the Walking Wounded we see the beginnings of one such man’s journey in finding a reason to look to the future with some hope, and with an unusually heart-warming twist too.
In ‘The Afterlife’ the author once again uses mostly his personal experience to round off the collection, giving the reader some brief comparisons of his life since leaving the army with that of a younger man who has never served and through it we see just why so many ex-servicemen refer to themselves as such rather than simply accepting their post-service ‘civilian’ status.
Overall, a thoroughly entertaining collection that will not only entertain but give the non-military reader some rare insights into military service. For others, again it will entertain but also bring back memories, some good, others not so maybe, but if nothing else, for me personally they remind me how very much I have to be thankful for still being in a position to read such stories when so many others are not.
For further links to Tom’s many other books please visit his Amazon author page by clicking on the link below:
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This is a story I wrote back in mid-2015 as my contribution to an anthology of short stories by members of the IASD Indie Author Support and discussion fb secret group …
(see: www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com for our group website).
It was an idea first suggested by IASD member and author Eric Lahti who also has a superb blog and review site at: www.ericlahti.wordpress.com.
The Indie Author Support and Discussion Group proudly presents Holes: An Indie Author Anthology.
Starting with the theme of holes of any kind, an international group of indie authors put their writing minds to work to come up a collection of stories that will make you laugh, cry, shudder in fear, and want to clap your hands. Inside you’ll find stories about:
A twisted story about innocence and revenge.
A young woman racing for her life and her love against the age of clockworks.
A man who lost his life in a traffic accident and discovers the afterlife is being stuck in a classroom.
A young African schoolteacher who tackles a band of ruthless, marauding terrorists.
A Russian mobster who made a deal and thought he’d found a loophole to get out of it.
A cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for…you just may get it.
A place where life disappears to when you’re not watching.
A question about whether we are really the dominant species and masters of our own future.
A reader-interactive comedy of errors.
An anomalous client demanding something written from the soul, a soul he is threatening to take
An Inspector Winsford murder mystery.
A legacy gift that just goes on giving.
Slapstick comedy with a touch of British buffoonery (my contribution)
A pretty tease who toys with her theology professor until dark revelations stop her in her tracks.
Some stories are full of sorrow, others full of joy, but all of them will leave you wanting more.
Well it ain’t my hole…
The man from the council stood looking at it, scratching his head in a stereotypical fashion that so perfectly betrayed his utter bewilderment. This was surprising because if there was ever anyone who knew about holes it was Adam Wiggly; what Adam Wiggly didn’t know about holes could be written on the back of a postage stamp, but this one had him baffled.
“Well it ain’t my hole.” Adam said.
“Nor mine,” agreed Karl Rockley, the man from the gas board. He too was scratching his head, almost in sync with several others who were standing around, all with about as much idea what to do as a eunuch in a harem.
“Could be one of Smiffy’s I reckon. I mean, it’s hardly the biggest I’ve ever seen.” Karl suggested.
Adam sniggered at the tail-end of Karl’s remark, but on this rare occasion resisted the temptation to say something crude in reply.
“Nah, not his style, I’ve seen Smiffy’s work, this ain’t one of ‘em.”
“What? What d’ya mean, not his style? It’s a just a friggin hole for Christ’s sake!”
“Nah, ain’t no such thing as just a hole, each one’s different, got its own character, like.” Karl turned towards him with one of those ‘what the f…’ looks.
Adam continued. “Like I says, they’re all different… ya got yer belly holes, slit trench type holes, and then there’s the sort of hole yer get from an entry wound from a small firearm, which is quite different from the hole it leaves the other side. There’s a real science to it, like.”
Karl shook his head in feigned disbelief, though inwardly acknowledging the absurd logic in what Adam was saying. He quickly dismissed the thought from his mind for fear of actually getting sucked into what was fast becoming a ridiculous conversation on the topic of the character of a hole. By now of course, one of the local plod, Police Constable Bill Witherby, had also turned up, equally puzzled but determined to bring a semblance of order to all the confusion.
“Stand back, stand back please, nothing to see here, it’s just a hole in the ground,” the young plod was declaring to anyone bothering to listen.
“I’d hardly say that mate, I mean, there’s no paperwork for it, and the council know sod all about it, not even a B41 stroke 252 for it,” Adam replied.
“And you are?” Asked the plod.
“Adam Wiggly, Chief Roadside Excavation Officer.”
“What he means is, he watches and stands around, drinking tea and scratching his arse,” Karl added by way of explanation of the important sounding title. “Other people dig the holes, and then he tells ‘em what a shit job they’ve made of it.”
Adam turned to give him a scouring look. He would have preferred punching him but there was already enough animosity between the council and the gas board as it was, so had to content himself with the curt response: “Ya fookin’ twat!”
The plod had now been joined by a second plod, Police Constable Hilary Jenkins. Adam and Karl both switched their attention to the shapely young lass. The uniform really suited her, Adam thought, reminding him of a fantasy he had about Angie Dickson, the actress who played ‘Police Woman’ in the TV series.
“Soz about the language luv,” Adam hastily added. Karl smiled, feeling smug at Adam’s obvious embarrassment, unaware that it was due more to a ‘below the waist’ reaction than his having sworn in front of a female police officer.
“No need, me dad was Navy so there’s nowt you or anyone could say that I ain’t likely to have heard… or seen… before,” PC Jenkins replied. To emphasise her point she gave Adam a sly wink and a smile while momentarily glancing down at his crotch area. For some reason Adam’s face now resembled a beetroot.
“Now, what’s being done about this ‘ere ‘ole then?” PC Jenkins asked in a gruff voice that was totally at odds with her small but shapely stature and good looks.
“That’ll be for me to decide,” said the latest arrival at the scene, a short squat little man wearing a cheap ill-fitting pinstripe suit and a Laurel and Hardy style bowler hat. Karl and Adam just sighed, knowing exactly who he was:
“I’ll take charge now, now stand aside you two so I can assess the situation,” the bowler-hatted little man demanded with about as much authority as a toddler demanding an ice cream.
“And your name is?” Asked PC Jenkins, her tone making it clear she had no intention whatsoever of letting the little man take charge.
Taken aback by the petite looking blonde haired PC’s authoritative manner, the little man partially delegated his response to Adam Wiggly in the vain hope of soliciting some support in asserting his imagined importance.
“Mr. Wiggly here can confirm my identity and status, I’m Mr. Dibble… Dibble of the Council.”
It was hard for anyone in earshot not to piss themselves laughing at the pomposity of the way in which he declared it. It brought to mind the likes of Gideon of the Yard or Scott of the Antarctic… and now added to those illustrious names… Dibble of the Council. Somehow though it didn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Adam and Karl shrugged their shoulders in a half-hearted manner, nodding in the affirmative, though their disdain for Dibble couldn’t have been more obvious, something the pretty young PC picked up on.
“Well, Mr. Dibble,” PC Jenkins replied, adding as an afterthought, “of the Council… What exactly do you intend doing about this ‘ere ‘ole?”
“That’ll depend, first thing’s first…” It was a typical Dibble response, to say a lot but mean absolutely nothing, particularly when he was out of his depth. Given that he’d probably be out of his depth at the shallow end of a toddler’s paddling pool, that was more often than not.
“I don’t get it?” Karl said.
“Get what?” Adam asked. “What you on about now?”
“Y’know, what Dibble said… ‘First thing’s first’… what’s all that? I mean why would anyone say that? It’s not like you might decide to go with second thing first or third thing second. It don’t make sense. Everyone turned to look at Karl, baffled as to what he was rambling on about. Knowing however that the subtleties of the English language weren’t likely to be one of his few strong points, no one really felt up to the job of trying to explain.
“And that first thing is, Mr. Dibble… of the Council?” Asked PC Jenkins.
“Assess the situation, establish the facts, and decide on a course of action,” Mr. Dibble replied, ignoring the obvious sarcasm in the PC’s voice.
In the meantime, a couple more plods working under PC Jenkins’ direction were doing exactly that rather than just talking about it. Barriers were being erected to divert traffic from the busy junction close to where the hole was, while the first officer on the scene busied himself with keeping back the growing number of curious onlookers, many of whom had their own thoughts on the matter:
“What a carry on, I wonder if it’s one of those hidden camera shows?”
“Nah, can’t see any.”
“Well you wouldn’t would you, not if they were hidden, stands to reason.”
“Ha ha, I hadn’t thought of that…”
“Maybe there’s a serial killer on the loose and they’re looking for bodies?”
“What? You think someone’s been digging up the road, tarmac and all, burying bodies then fixing up the road again, and all without seeing or noticing owt, nah, don’t be so bloody daft.”
“Reckon it’s a remake of that film, you know, the one where a load of inept workmen make idiots of themselves, oh what was it called again..?”
“You know, the one with Eric Sykes and Tommy Cooper in it and all them others…” “Oh I know the one you mean, yeah, what was it… The Plank!”
“It’s the aliens, same ones as that keep making them there crop circles,” suggested yet another. Admittedly it was the most far-fetched of the speculations, but it was probably the most justified considering the old fella spouting the latest theory was pissed as a newt.
With all the attention the hole was getting from all and sundry, no one seemed surprised when the TV guys appeared in one of their vans. First thoughts were that it might be some sort of news crew. Already the assorted parties were jostling for position, for their five minutes of media fame should they be approached for their thoughts on the mysterious hole that had appeared from nowhere. Maybe the theory that someone was filming a remake of The Plank wasn’t that far off the mark after all…
“Hi guys. So tell me, what’s the story here?”
Adam was about to speak up, well, that’s what Adam did most of the time, speak a lot when not filling his gob with beer that is. He was quickly silenced by the interruption of his bowler-hatted boss.
“I’m the one you’ll be wanting to speak to on that matter I imagine,” Adam’s bowler-hatted boss declared. “Mr. Dibble’s the name, Dibble of the Council.”
Adam and Karl, and even PC Jenkins couldn’t help but snigger at the repetition of how he introduced himself. Mr. Dibble ignored them, pretending to be oblivious to their contempt.
No one noticed the approach of the tweed-jacketed, corduroy trouser wearing man wheeling a bicycle. Had he still been riding it as he approached the police barriers no doubt he would have been stopped, but the crafty bugger had dismounted by then, and stealthily approached unchallenged in a manner your average rucksack carrying kamikaze terrorist could only ever dream of hoping to get away with…
“Ermm… Hello. Might I enquire what you’re all doing standing around and trampling through our excavation site?” The latest addition asked.
“Your excavation site? You mean this is your bloody hole?” Adam exclaimed.
“Well of course it’s mine, well my department’s I should say.”
Once again, it was the little Napoleon Dibble – of the Council – who sought to take charge, shuffling his way through the assorted workmen and other departmental officials. I say shuffling on account of his lack of height and presence preventing him from barging his way through in the way he would have liked, and genuinely believed his imagined importance should have allowed. In reality he was forced to apologetically plead to be allowed to pass and squeeze through the crowd in much the same way some suited civvy might try and squeeze unnoticed through a bunch of drunken squaddies to get to the bar…
“Which is… and you are?” Dibble of the Council asked.
“Henry Michaels… of the Ministry for endangered indigenous species and habitats.”
It was at that point Adam and Karl nearly spat out the tea they were drinking from the polystyrene cups they were both clutching. It was yet another illustrious name to add to Dibble of the Council, Gideon of the Yard, and Scott of the Antarctic – Michaels of the Ministry no less.
“This has gotta be some kind of fookin’ Candid Camera prank,” Karl was saying to Adam.
“Nah, can’t be. They’d need a F69 stroke P Form for sommat like that.” Adam replied without a trace of irony. The only thing that even came close to what Adam knew about holes was his almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the myriad of paperwork needed to dig one within the borough limits. Karl was more inclined to think he was taking the piss and probably making it up as he went along…
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Michaels of the Ministry said. “This hole is definitely not a television prank. It is a serious endeavour to preserve the Lesser Spotted Peat Bog cockroach. The creature was long thought to be extinct until its albeit yet to be confirmed rediscovery when the electricity board were laying some cables here.”
“That’s all very well but who gave you permission to dig the entire street up? My department never authorises anything bigger than a six by eight hole without a committee meeting first.” Mr. Dibble replied in his haughtiest tone.
“I can assure you Mr. Dibble, my department did acquire the emergency requisite permissions as per Form B209 stroke 4b.”
Mr. Dibble was now glowering and his cheeks were turning crimson. For once Adam came to his rescue without any need for prompting.
“Ahh right,” Adam interrupted. “Yeah, that would allow the excavation of a hole this size, but only over the weekend or a long bank holiday. What you actually needed was a D59 dash 3b Form to cover weekday emergency excavations.” Adam explained, delighted to embarrass his boss with his superior knowledge of council rules and procedures…
“Which I would have had to authorise… If I decided to!” Mr. Dibble added, determined not to be outdone by his subordinate.
“Hey, I’ve just had a thought,” Adam piped up.
“Really?” Remarked Karl in mock surprise with a sly grin sprawled across his face. Adam once again felt a desire to punch the little git for the implied sleight on his ability to think, but since it was probably no different to what everyone else was thinking, he decided Karl could wait, turning instead his attention to Michaels, the man from the Ministry.
“No offence mate.” Adam said. “But ya don’t exactly look like the sort of fella who earns a living digging holes, mate?”
Michaels of the Ministry laughed: “You’re right, I didn’t dig any holes personally, I just arranged for a more specialised firm to take over from the original excavation, though I can’t for the life of me remember who was in charge of that?”
“Actually, that would be me,” yet another new arrival to the merry band announced: “Smiffy’s the name, Arnold Smith if we’re being all formal.”
“Ha! ‘Ello Smiffy, you ain’t gonna tell us this is down to you are ya?” Karl said. “Ya see Adam, I told ya it might one of Smiffy’s but oh no, you knew better, reckoning it were too big or weren’t his style or some other bollox.” Karl added, eager to take the opportunity to prove Adam wrong.
“Yes and no is the answer to that.” Smiffy answered.
“Uh?” Adam grunted.
“I might have known the electricity board would be at the bottom of this!” Mr. Dibble huffed.
“If I may,” PC Jenkins interrupted, “If you could shed some light on this, I’m all ears?”
“Sure,” Smiffy said. “Me and my crew were called out on a rush job to replace a faulty cable last night. Not long after, some fella walking past stopped and told us he’d spotted some rare insect or bug I think he said, scurrying up along the sides of our hole. They just looked like regular bugs to me but what do I know?”
“About entomology? Probably about as much as I know about digging holes I suspect.” Michaels of the Ministry said.
“Ento…Uh? What was that?” Asked Smiffy, not being used to that many syllables in an entire sentence let alone a single word.
“Entomology.” Michaels repeated, “The study of insects.”
“Could start with taking a look at Dibble them.” Adam chipped in. Karl did his best to supress a snigger. Dibble on the other hand wasn’t so amused. PC Jenkins took a deep breath.
“Can we please let Mr. Smith continue with his account?”
“Ahh right.” Smiffy said, forgetting all about entomology: “Well, next thing I knew, half a dozen official looking bods were crawling all over the site, ya man here included. Before I knew it they were in charge with their own diggers, hence the ruddy great fuck off hole we got now.”
“And why wasn’t I made aware of all this earlier, and where have you been in the meantime, we could have had all this cleared up ages ago,” Mr. Dibble said.
“Out of my hands now, speak to the organ grinder over there,” Smiffy answered, pointing in the direction of Michaels of the Ministry.
“That’s absolutely right,” Michaels agreed. “This entire area is now under the jurisdiction of my department.”
Needless to say, Mr. Dibble took umbrage at seeing his authority and control of the situation fast disappearing: “Make no mistake,” Mr. Dibble said. “I shall be having words with the mayor about this I can tell you!”
As per usual, despite his official position in the council, no one was paying much attention to the officious Mr. Dibble, and even less so when Adam made his latest observation.
“Eh up!” Adam announced. “Can anyone make out that bit pointing out at the bottom at the far side of the hole, it looks like some kinda shell…”
Silence descended on the collective chatter for a few moments as the seriousness of the last statement dawned on everyone.
“It might well be,” said PC Jenkins as she stepped to the very edge of the hole and peered down at where Adam was pointing. Strangely enough the others were more inclined to edge themselves in the opposite direction…
“When you say a shell Mr. Wiggly, are you saying it might be some sort of bomb?” Michaels of the Ministry asked, who oddly enough now seemed to have lost some of his authority and confidence. Suddenly people were taking a little more notice of the oafish Adam.
“Yep, that’s exactly what I’m saying Mr. Michaels… and you there Miss, PC Jenkins, might be an idea not to be getting too close.”
“Yes, I agree, perhaps we should all move a little further away and pass this onto someone better equipped to deal with the new situation.” Mr. Dibble urged. For once, he and Adam finally agreed on something. If truth be known, Mr. Dibble was probably more worried at Adam later being credited as the first one to alert everyone to the danger and acting decisively in the matter… Mr. Dibble had no intention of letting Adam challenge him for his job on the strength of that…
“Way ahead of you guys,” PC Jenkins replied prior to getting on her radio to report the latest development.
“Ermm, Mr. Wiggly, if it is a bomb, or even just a suspect one, what’s likely to happen now?” Michaels of the Ministry asked.
“Controlled explosion of some sort I’d guess,” Adam replied. Karl nodded his agreement with Adam.
“Whoa, now let’s not act hastily, there’s already way too many people involved and contaminating the site.” Michaels of the Ministry said: “Contaminating the site? It’s not a crime scene you know.” PC Jenkins interjected.
“I know that but this site has been designated as a one of special importance. You do know the Lesser Spotted Peat Bog cockroach hasn’t been seen in over two hundred years, and that the ones residing in this hole might be the last living specimens in the world.” Everyone’s jaw just dropped at that, including Mr. Dibble’s. Until that point he had been unrivalled in his capacity for stupidity, but Michaels of the Ministry’s concern for some rare bugs over all their safety eclipsed even his capacity for coming out with complete and utter bollox.
“Err, hello up there, but I think something’s ticking down here.” Called a voice from just a few feet away from where Adam had first spotted what he was now sure was an unexploded shell, probably a souvenir of the last war.
Whilst they’d all been discussing who the hole belonged to, and then the current danger, some of Michaels of the Ministry’s lab staff had clambered down into the hole to take soil samples in the hope of collecting some live specimens of the rare bug Michaels was so excited about…
“Sorry, false alarm, it’s stopped now…” The voice called again a second or two later.
“I don’t care, you guys get yourselves back up, now!” PC Jenkins shouted down at them.
“PC Jenkins.” Said Michaels of the Ministry. “Let me remind you I’m in charge here, and I won’t have you or anyone jeopardising our preservation work here.” Before she could respond, Michaels had already turned his attention elsewhere:
“You chaps down there, carry on collecting the samples I asked for.”
“Suit yourself, on your head be it then.” The pretty PC answered.
“Might be an idea if you and your lot get everyone cleared from the area, luv.” Adam said. “If that thing down there’s started ticking once, it might start again, what with them twats down there with their digging and whatnot,” Adam was telling PC Jenkins. Again, Karl was nodding his agreement.
“Well we don’t know that for sure, and they did say it was a false alarm. And yes I think it needs to be investigated, but I’m not going to authorise a full scale evacuation of the area just on the say so of a council hole-digger and a man from the gas board.” PC Jenkins replied.
“Chief Roadside Excavation Officer, if ya don’t mind, luv.” Adam corrected her. “Gas Infrastructure Site Surveyor.” Karl added.
This time it was Adam’s turn to give Karl a ‘what the f…’ look, knowing damned well he’d just made that up.
Mr. Dibble was staying on the fence on this; he didn’t want to openly agree with PC Jenkins just in case she was wrong, but he thought Adam and Karl were probably exaggerating the danger and he didn’t want to share in the bureaucratic fall-out by endorsing their advice if that turned out to be the case.
“Thank you PC Jenkins, a voice of sanity at last,” Michaels of the Ministry declared. He was relieved he and his team of could continue their bug collecting and that no one was going to deliberately blow them up, or at least not until they had enough of their precious specimens.
“Sod this for a game of soldiers.” Adam huffed: “I’m off to the pub until the bomb disposal mob declare this a safe zone, you joining me Karl?”
“Too bloody right mate, this lot are off their heads, mate.” Karl agreed.
“Hold up, wait for me.” Smiffy shouted after them. It wasn’t that he was worried about being blown up but he knew the local pub served a mean bacon buttie.
They really should have listened to Adam and Karl. They were both ex-military and knew only too well the dangers of an unexploded bomb.
It took seconds for the immediate surroundings to feel the full blast of the explosion, though it took considerably longer for the resultant fires to be put out and for the dust to settle. Any life within the immediate vicinity was now toast. The one exception was the previously thought to be extinct colony of Lesser Spotted Peat Bog cockroaches, who were now happily scurrying away to find another hole to enjoy a well-deserved nap in after having been kept awake by a lot of silly humans. Considering cockroaches will probably still be around long after the last of the human race has been irradiated under an atomic mushroom cloud, Michaels of the Ministry really shouldn’t have been too worried about them.
Adam and Karl, who had sensibly decided they’d be better off supping a quiet pint in a nearby pub rather than gabbing away around a ruddy great hole with a ruddy great bomb at the bottom of it, continued where they’d left off in their previous discussion on the character of a hole…
An eagerly awaited military themed short story collection from the pen of friend and fellow blogger, Tom Benson. Having read and reviewed several of the author’s many and previous works I know this will make a welcome addition to my reading lists.
A glance at my Work in Progress will give some idea of my intended output for the next few months. I enjoy variety in my writing as I do in my reading, so apart from working on novels this year – I aim to produce two anthologies.
My next anthology of short stories is due for publication at end of March 2016.
I’ve already adjusted the font, and the angle of the plane on the cover for about the fifth time, but I believe the latest version does the job.
A Time for Courage is a collection of 12stories. There are two which appear in other collections, but they deserve to be included here.
As always I strive to produce a varied selection, even when adhering to a theme, and I’ve worked to develop these stories in each successive draft.
I’m now looking for volunteers to sample the…
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It’s been ages since I last posted a short story here, what with launching my debut anthology, book reviews, and updating the book listing site for my Indie author review group, but I’ve finally managed to take some time out for another retribution themed tale, my favourite genre alongside humour – it’s a bit on the dark side, and crosses over into some rather controversial subject matter. As a writer I think it’s important not to shy away from such material, but at the same time, I think much of the detail can often be left to the imagination (as it is here) rather than writing purely for some sort of shock effect.
“Damn! The bastard’s got that prick Sullivan testifying for him.” The prosecution team were not happy, knowing that their job had just been made ten times harder on hearing the news. Detective Sergeant Nelson looked at the prosecution barrister quizzically. As far as Nelson was concerned it was an open and shut case; Cross was a monster, and he’d be going away for a very long time.
“So? What difference does it make, the guy’s as guilty as hell, and with his record what difference does it make who he’s got testifying for him?” The Sergeant asked.
“When it comes to Sullivan, believe me it does matter.”
“Just who is this Sullivan bod? What can he say? I mean, we’ve already got a guilty plea. Nothing can change that?”
“Ahh, this is your first abuse case isn’t it?” Mr Jackson, the barrister replied, realising now the Sergeant’s confusion.
“It means you haven’t yet come across the renowned professor – eminent psychologist specialising in pseudo aversion therapy for those with sexual disorders – guarantees to cure all his charges – for a price!”
“Oh come on, Cross has gotta be looking at a five stretch at the very least!”
Ever since the introduction of sentence hearing legislation for violent and sex offenders, prosecution lawyers now face the double hurdle of not only securing conviction, but also ensuring that such convictions actually mean anything. I don’t suppose I do anything to alleviate their task, at least not from their point of view. But it’s not easy what I do, being hated by relatives, victims, the police, and even my own contemporaries. But someone has to do it, and I suppose the money is a bonus too. But why do I do it, you might ask? I sometimes wonder that myself… I suppose it’s because I’m the best; because the law allows my clients the best testimony money can buy – and I do guarantee my cure. Personally I can’t see what all the fuss is about; my clients, or rather those of the defence lawyers who employ me, avoid useless spells in prison; I get paid lots of money, and above all, I really do help people. Still, it’s a pity that others have to be deceived into seeing things differently…
“Really, Your Honour. In light of the seriousness of the offence and the defendant’s past history, the prosecution cannot agree to the defence’s absurd request for supervised, but non-custodial treatment.” Mr Jackson can see where this is going. I don’t envy his position, or his frustration at the system that allows such absurd argument, but that’s his problem, not mine.
The judge looks up from the sheaf of papers he’s been reading before pulling his half-rimmed spectacles a further half inch down the bridge of is nose: “I shall decide what is and isn’t absurd Mr. Jackson.” The judge begins, before turning his attention to the defence barrister: “But in deciding so, I must confess to some degree of sympathy with the prosecution. Do you have anything to say in support of such a request Mr. Harris?”
“Not directly, but I would like to call upon the expert testimony of Professor Sullivan of the …
“Yes, yes, Mr. Harris. I’m well aware of the eminent Professor and his qualifications. Proceed.”
I enter the dock, calm and relaxed, mentally preparing myself for all too familiar onslaught.
“Come now Professor, are you really suggesting it would be safe to let loose on the community a convicted child molester?”
“I have not suggested anything as yet,” I reply, waiting for him to say, or rather, state something more concrete, something I can use to my advantage. I don’t have to wait long…
“But that is what you will be asking for, is it not?”
“No, Mr. Jackson. That is what you are asking the court not to allow.”
“Is there a difference?” Perfect, I think, so predictable. My advantage…
“Mr. Cross..,” I say deliberately (subtly separating him from the ‘defendant’ label), “…is an admitted paedophile, someone who is prey (making my client a victim too) to intermittent erotic attraction and fantasies, the subjects of which happen to be prepubescent children.”
“And the difference?”
“Perhaps none. Certainly not a quantative one from many of the attractions and fantasies of you, myself, or any other member of the public.” I’m careful not to include the judge in that list, whatever the truth of the matter.
“That is not the difference I was referring to.” As if I didn’t know, again so predictable. I say nothing, pausing for him to push home his perceived advantage: “Is it or is it not your assertion that it would be safe to allow a convicted child molester, a homosexual menace who preys on little boys to essentially walk free from the court, albeit under your supposed supervision at one of your clinics?”
I mentally sigh at the pathetic predictability of his logic; a wonderful but irrelevant piece of rhetoric better saved for a jury. When will these would be actors realise they’re not playing to an audience, I ask myself…
“I appreciate your expertise is one of law, and not of either psychology or psychiatry, and as such your ignorance in these matters can be forgiven. However, a man’s future is at stake here, as well as the well-being of potential victims…”
I must be careful here – mustn’t let it appear that my concern for the defendant’s potential victim’s well-being is secondary to that of my client….but to continue…
“…Firstly, a homosexual as I’m sure you’re aware is simply one who is sexually attracted to one’s own sex. Provided he or she is content with such feelings it is not classified as a disorder. A sexual offence is an offence whatever the sexual preference of the perpetrator, a fact recognised when dealing with heterosexual offenders – one does not hear of a man offending against young girls being referred to as a heterosexual offender. Sexual preferences determined at birth are not considered to be disorders, only some of their many variations which are shaped or developed through experience, social, or environmental influences. Paedophilia is such a variation in that it is volitional, and therefore curable.”
“In that case, surely their conduct is even more reprehensible? At least in the case of the former one can offer the excuse they can’t help themselves, that they’re born like it?”
I inwardly chuckle. The prosecutor thinks he’s got me on the ropes, that I’m digging myself into a hole of which can’t get out. I know it’s wrong – we’re both on the same side at the end of the day, want the same outcome – but I do so enjoy these little one-sided exchanges; slowly I begin to construct the arguments which will tighten and squeeze the emotional strength of his equally emotional rhetoric: “There is some truth in what you say. Even if innate homosexuality was considered a disorder it would indeed be appropriate to proffer the excuse that they can’t help it. But such an excuse is equally applicable to the paedophile. Environmental influences are every bit as powerful as those of our genes…”
A vague and broad statement, but one which I doubt he’ll see the contradiction in what else I have to say… But I digress…
“Such influences compel the victim to act as he does, and yes, I do use the term victim, for paedophiles are as much a victim as those they offend against…”
A risky but necessary line of argument if I’m to keep the pervert out of jail…
“Paedophiles are mostly the product of society, usually having suffered similar assaults to the ones they perpetrate.”
“By your definition then Professor, any child that is molested will become a molester themselves, your words Professor, not mine.”
“No Mr. Jackson, your interpretation of my words. Of course not all children who are molested go on to become molesters themselves, but other factors can combine to make it more likely. But ultimately it is a matter of choice however compelling those factors – just like you or I are physically free to act in all manner of savage ways, but feel compelled not to act as a result of social conditioning – our choice. But change our environment, the rewards of our choices, and indeed so will our choices change.”
“But the fact remains Professor that recidivism among this type of offender is amongst the highest of any criminal group, sexual or otherwise?”
“In the main, yes,” I willingly agree, knowing what he is leading up to. I read him like a book…
“So you agree also the defendant’s likelihood of reoffending then?”
“Of course, that is if he is dealt with in the way you are suggesting. You see Mr. Jackson, there is ample evidence supporting the correlation between stress and instances of reoffending, and considering the nature of prison culture and the scorn and derision with such people as my client are subjected to in prison, stress levels are understandably higher than even the most well-balanced of us could be expected to cope with. The recidivist levels you refer to are largely compiled from previously incarcerated offenders. My own success rate is one hundred percent – not one of the offenders referred to my care has ever been reconvicted of a similar offence, which is considerably better than any record prison can offer amongst any category of offender.”
“But what you fail to take into account is that the prison service cannot choose its charges in the way you do. It has to try and protect society from all such offenders. At least by imposing a custodial sentence, society – its children – is protected from the likes of the defendant.” The prosecutor looks pleased with himself. He thinks he’s dealt a major blow to my reasoning, but all he’s succeeded in doing is set himself up…
“Yes, but for how long? My aim is to protect society – and its children (two can play at that game) – for the duration of the offender’s life, and not just until the rapid extinction of the limited coercive conditioning of a prison sentence. Unless society is willing to imprison such people for the rest of their natural lives then prison is not the answer. Whatever the understandable strength of desire for retribution, and as a father myself…” I pause for breath, and if I’m honest, for dramatic effect… the bit about being a father myself is always a good line…
“…as a father myself,” I repeat, “I do understand such feelings, but my concern must be for the long-term protection of the innocent.”
How easy it is to pull the rug from under him, I think. My job here is almost done, but not yet…
“But returning to your first point, that my exemplary success rate is based on the fact that I can pick and choose who I care to treat; such an assertion is only half true. The real truth of the matter is that I can only choose who not to treat. But anyone referred to me whom I consider curable, I feel compelled to treat. Mr. Cross is such a person; I feel compelled to treat him. If he were not such a person, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending a lengthy prison sentence.”
“And what exactly is it that makes such a person suitable?” Poor old Jackson, he’s clutching at straws now.
“A number of factors, but primarily the offender’s desire to be cured. Mr. Cross asked for psychotherapy and psychiatric treatment even before he was convicted.” That last bit is a lie of course, but the doctor patient confidentiality laws prevent its exposure as such…
“Hmm… you say that your evaluation of suitability for treatment is based upon the offender’s desire to be cured?”
“Yes,” I agree, waiting for the punchline…
“And is that the only criteria, and not the offender’s ability to pay for such treatment? You do after all run a very profitable clinic.” A cheap shot, but just as I expected, I muse smugly. I wait for Mr. Harris’s equally predictable objection…
“Objection!” Right on cue, the defence barrister roars, springing to his feet: “Any question of monetary gain on the part of Professor Sullivan is irrelevant.”
“Overruled, but I would appreciate it Mr. Jackson if you would make clear the precise point you are trying to make.” It was obvious the judge would overrule. Perhaps Mr. Harris is feeling a little side-lined in our verbal sparring, though I can’t think why, I’m doing a far better job of keeping our little monster from the warm embrace of his fellow inmates than Mr. Harris ever could. But wait, Mr. Jackson isn’t done yet…
“Do you stand to benefit financially from Mr. Cross’s attendance at your clinic, not to mention your attendance here in court today?” Mr. Jackson continues, thinking he’s scored a point.
“Of course I do, just as you, the defence barrister, and all the other court officials, along with numerous other auxiliary staff stand to benefit by way of salary for doing their job. But to be more specific, I benefit no more than I would from any other patient, and, as a State referred patient, even less than I would from most of my private patients undergoing much less intensive and demanding treatments. And as for my court attendance, I stand only to receive reimbursement of my travelling costs, some twenty seven pounds taxi fare from my Harley Street London residence.” A warm glow overtakes me as I note the look of abject defeat in the prosecutor’s face. I know what’s in his mind, that another monster is about to walk free. I can’t help but sympathise… If only he could understand; he did his best, and I commend him for that, but it wasn’t, isn’t good enough. I watch and listen as he resigns himself to defeat, making one last appeal to the judge’s sympathy, for the right of Cross’s innocent victims for some form of redress, but knowing the battle is lost… Cross will walk free… again, if only he understood…
“I wouldn’t have believed it possible. I was sure I’d get another sentence, a long one this time. You really are the best,” Cross says to me, leaving the dock after being sentenced to two years’ probation under my supervision and minimal attendance at my country clinic.
“I won’t let you down,” he adds, smiling as we leave the court…
I begin Cross’s ‘cure’ the day following his sentence hearing. His is an easy case to deal with; no immediate family, or at least none that want anything to do with him. I look forward to transforming such a deviant individual into one who can contribute to the good of society. I stare across at him, holding his look as he tries to fathom what I have in mind.
“There’s no need to be nervous,” I reassure him, “I’m here to help, to understand. I know that’s what you want. Now, tell me about… about what you did, what you still want to do.” He stares at me, puzzled: “Please Mark, I can call you Mark can I?” ‘Good’ I say as he hesitantly nods his agreement…
“It’s all about honesty… honesty and trust. Now tell me why it is you do what you do, feel the way you do… I’m not here to judge.”
Cross looks at me, hard – this isn’t what he was expecting. I stare back, just as hard. He averts his eyes and starts to speak: “It’s not like it seems, not like they said in court. I loved those boys, really I did. And they loved me. They wanted me to love them, to give them something special, offering themselves in return. But isn’t that the way of any relationship?” The monster wants me to agree, to absolve him from blame, confirmation that what he did somehow wasn’t wrong…
Even he wouldn’t try to say that what he did was right, at least not to me…
I sit in silence, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. He takes this as a positive indication to continue his rationalisations: “It was they who seduced me… You must know how seductive some kids are, how they use their innocence and cuteness to get what they want… what’s a man to do?” I feel the contents of my stomach turning. As I said before, my job isn’t an easy one; you all have the luxury of openly displaying your disgust at such monsters. I have to actually listen to their diatribes of excuses. But I have a job to do…
“But it was more than that with you wasn’t it? I mean, you say you loved them, really loved them… especially David Franks, the little boy you were caught with?”
“Yes… Yes I did, and they loved me… David most of all. It was special. Maybe that’s why I hurt him – they say you hurt the one you love and someday society will see that, that it’s just as pure and special a love as any other… One day it’ll be looked on as the most special love of all and not the one that dare not speak its name…”
“Perhaps…” I say, wondering if he knows from whom he’s quoting. Of course he does, this is not a stupid man whatever his other faults: “But there’s a world of difference between Oscar Wilde’s definition of the love of an older for a younger man, and that of an adult for a child, a very young child…” I deliberately use the words ‘very young child’ to emphasise the simplicity and innocence he refers to, that such simplicity and innocence is theirs, however deceptive he may perceive it to be. He must understand this before…
“But whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter…” I continue, “…Until things change as you hope they will, you have a problem, Mark…” I let the words trail off, to make him think about it, to place his trust in me to provide the magical cure that subconsciously he believes will allow him to ‘have his cake and eat it,’ for make no mistake, none of these monsters truly wants their desires cured – imagine if you can, being threatened with having your own heterosexual preference replaced by one of the many supposed paraphilia, or simply losing it altogether? Think if in years to come society should change so very much that heterosexual or any form of physical sex was frowned upon, would you be the first volunteer for removal of desire, your desire? Of course you wouldn’t…
“It’s society that has the problem, society must change…” He still won’t admit…
“But Mark,” I say reassuringly, “you must see the need to compromise, that I wouldn’t be able to save you from prison a second time.”
“So… But then…W-what, where to from here?”
“That’s good, Mark. You’re thinking of the future, and what can be done to control it… I take it your biggest fear is of going back to prison?” Predictably, he readily agrees to this, surprised and relieved that I’m not probing about the effects of what he did to all those boys… very young, innocent boys, I remind myself.
“What we’ve got to do is make sure you never get caught committing a similar offence again, would you not agree, Mark?” Of course he agrees, he says, nodding at the same time. But I can see he doesn’t like it, being in the company of someone who can have him sent back to prison at any time they like if he doesn’t cooperate or do as he’s told… too much like the position of the boys… We’ll see…
“But… How, Professor?” I can see he’s puzzled. No other therapist has ever stated or even implied the simplicity of his ‘problems.’
“Oh, a variety of approaches, all geared to your successful integration back into society.” The word ‘variety’ clearly worries him, it worries them all…
“What approaches? One doctor they made me see suggested drugs… Wanted to chemically castrate me… You wouldn’t do that?”
“No, no, no,” again I reassure him: “They’ll be nothing like that, and nor will there be any of those other out-dated modes of treatment; no group therapy, no EST, no one-to-ones with any of your victims, and no aversion therapy.” He shudders at them all, but the last in particular – I’m not surprised; having electric rings placed round your penis and receiving often quite painful shocks for becoming aroused at the very things that make you you.
“You see, Mark, what we do here at the clinic is prepare you for life, not some artificial psychological interpretation of it, but real life, free of the temptation you’ve had to endure in the past. We deal in the practicalities here; once you leave my care you’ll be provided with the means to make a new start, a new identity, away from anyone who knows your past. You’ll be above suspicion; not only will you be ‘cured,’ you’ll never have had a problem in the first place.”
He smiles, relieved at how agreeable, how sympathetic I am towards him and his kind, that I understand. And he’s right, I do understand, all too well, which is why I do what I do, why I’m compelled to treat him just as much as he feels compelled to do what he does. There! I’ve answered your original; question, ‘Why do I do it?’ – Because I really do understand… Perhaps there’s more to self-analysis and all this psychological mumbo jumbo than I give credit for.
“Congratulations, Mark. It’s been a long, hard two years, especially this past six months living away from the clinic (but still well away from temptation, I made sure of that), but I’m sure you’d agree it’s been worth it?”
“Definitely,” he says, thinking that’s what I want to hear. He knows I’ve been keeping his libido artificially low – not so low as to disappear – he’d never stand for that – but low enough for him to control, to still enjoy the memory of times gone by. Yes, he thinks he’s fooled me into believing he’s cured. Not to worry though, they’re all like that at this stage, but the time will come, I silently promise him… Soon, very soon, I promise myself too…
“As you know, I have to produce evidence that you’ve completed certain prescribed modes of treatment, otherwise the courts wouldn’t recognise my competence to recommend your release from psychiatric probation; group therapy, mild aversion therapy, one-to-one counselling – all those I can fudge the paperwork on, all except one last aspect of your treatment, the victim confrontation one, but that can be gotten round by a simple letter of apology from yourself to the court, asking it to pass on your deepest regrets and apologies to the boys, saying that it was entirely your fault what happened, but that you’re going away somewhere so they never need worry about you again.”
I’m sure you all know what I mean, the courts like that sort of thing…
“Yes, yes I can do that, Professor, Just so long as I don’t have to see any of them… I won’t… will I?”
“No, you won’t have to face them, not ever again. In fact, you just write me a draft of what you feel you should be saying, and I’ll make sure it’s appropriate for what I think will most impress the court. Just leave it all to me…”
I call on Mark to collect the letter. It’s quite early, but he’s already up and dressed. I suspect he hopes I’ll be gone quite soon, leaving him the rest of the day to visit some school he’s no doubt scoped out in my absence… I think not…
Perfect, I say to myself; he’s written it just as I asked. I’m impressed. It could almost be sincere, but even he’s not that convincing a liar, at least not to me. But it will do very nicely, especially should it become necessary to answer any awkward questions into Cross’s whereabouts at some later date. I think, placing it in my inside jacket pocket.
He offers me a drink. I accept. I wait for him to pour himself one before asking if he could fetch some ice to go with mine, knowing that the kitchen is at the far end of the secluded cottage I had set him up in. He fetches me the ice. Long enough, the deed is done. All that remains is for me to wait for the cocktail of drugs I added to his drink to take effect. Five minutes or so and he should be in a semi-state of delirium. He doesn’t know what’s happening, which is more than can be said for those boys – they suffered every minute of their ordeals.
It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to get him to swallow a more than liberal amount of alcohol, and the thirty or so Valium I’ve brought with me. Meanwhile I return my own now empty glass to the drinks cabinet. It isn’t long before he lapses into unconsciousness. I haul him towards the open fireplace. The actual fire has not long gone out by the looks of it, but there are still sufficient hot burning embers for what I have in mind. I lift his body to a semi-upright position before letting it fall towards the edge of the coal grate. His head misses the brass spike I was hoping it would strike. It doesn’t matter. I simply raise it about nine inches or so and direct it myself, making sure of its impact this time. The almost pointed spike lodges in the side of his left temple a full three inches, stopped only by the ornamental criss-cross brass rail that runs round the edge of the grate. I position his hands in the dying embers of the fire in a way that suggests he tried to thrust them forward in an attempt to break his fall. By the time police arrive any trace of his palm or fingerprints will have been scorched out of existence, just like the rest of his previous identity. I’ve already checked that no dental records of him exist from when he was last in prison). It will be my creation they identify, the new life and identity I had promised him.
I’m careful to place a voice altering device over the receiver before calling 999 for an ambulance. I explain that I’ve taken an overdose, slurring my words at the same time. I let the receiver fall to the floor. A line trace will be automatic once the receiver has been left off the hook for more than three minutes; it saves me the time of having to give my name and address. There is only one more thing I have to do before I go. I place the organ donation card in his back trouser pocket, clearly stating Albert Peterson’s permission to use any of his organs in the event of his death, and of course, the absence of any next of kin.
You see? I do help people; I have integrated (bits of) him back into society. Who knows, he might well contribute to the successful and productive lives of several members of the community, perhaps even one of the young lives he tried so hard to destroy.
My thoughts return to the immediate task at hand: I leave the cottage. I must remember to add its cash rental costs to my fee from little David Franks’ parents. Another successful cure!
Of course, this particular cure isn’t applicable to all those I help, no indeed. For the more usual and less complicated cases, such as your average violent bully, wife beater or drug pusher I sometimes sub-contract their treatment to others more suited to such cases, men such as Ronald Hatch, or Hatchet Ron as he’s better known. Old Ron, as I affectionately call him, to all intents and purposes comes across as a hard and brutal money orientated hitman, but I know different – beneath that vicious exterior beat a heart of gold, and a real understanding of what’s right and wrong – I think that’s why I employ him from time to time. And for those less violent individuals but for which the world would be a better place without I sometimes introduce them to a former patient of mine, a legitimate patient and budding writer I might add, a funny little chap simply known as Mr. Brown. I do have to be careful with him though – the last person I sent his way ended up getting his head hacked off; Mr. Brown does tend to over react sometimes. He’s currently being treated in a prison hospital for that little outburst, but I’m hopeful of using my influence to get him released quite soon, but I digress, those stories are for another time perhaps…
“I suppose you heard about Deakins? Sullivan helped get him off with a year’s probation… Just so long as he undergoes therapy sessions twice a week,” snarled the detective constable who had helped convict Deakins for messing about with a three year old girl, one of Deakins’ own daughters in fact: “The man should have been put away for life for what he did.”
“I know, I know,” said the DC’s superior, Detective Sergeant Nelson, “it was only a few years ago I first came across the sodding professor myself. A guy I thought was going down for five years at the very least, walked out free as a fucking bird thanks to the good professor… he’s had more than twenty cases like that… if only he understood the harm he’s doing trying to protect these monsters…”
I’ve partly been inspired to write this story while on a trip to Glen Coe in the West Highlands of Scotland, and today in particular where many years ago I was fortunate enough to witness a rare and beautiful atmospheric phenomenon atop the summit of Leum Uilliem, a place that holds a special place in my heart as the following story and memoire will make clear.
The other part of today’s inspiration stems from one of the AtoZchallenge posts from yesterday which stressed the importance of connecting with and really feeling what you’re writing, and my memories and feelings for this particular place I’m sure will bear witness to that.
Today was the first time I’ve returned to that particular spot in twenty years…
Those experienced in outdoor pursuits or simply possessing a love of the mountains and countryside will no doubt immediately recognise the phenomenon it for what it is from the photographs, but otherwise, the phenomenon becomes clearer towards the end of the story…
It had been three years since his mum died; Liam was seven now and of an age when simply telling him his mum was in heaven really didn’t cut it anymore. It wasn’t just curiosity though that was spurring his questions, but fear – afraid that he was forgetting her just a little bit more with each passing day, and more so the fear that she might be forgetting him.
I tried explaining that memories weren’t like that, that you didn’t remember loved ones in the same way you remember the route to school or what you saw in a film, that memories were something much more special, that you felt them in your heart and at special times when you were feeling either sad or very happy. I could see in his eyes he was puzzling over what I was saying but not really understanding enough to allay the sadness I knew he was feeling. At that moment I would rather have been facing my most frightening and dangerous enemy than those questions to which I had no answers for, at least not for now…
It was the school holidays, a couple of weeks before the start of the Scottish deer stalking season, and I’d rented a small cottage for the two of us just a few miles from Corrour Station on the West Highland line, and ideal for taking Liam on his first ever proper climb up Leum Uilliem in the Glen Coe region of Scotland and home to the majestic Ben Nevis, highest mountain in the UK.
Needless to say that was the one Liam said we should tackle but the more interesting and difficult routes would have been too much for him, and as for the tourist path, it would have been chocked with ill-equipped day trippers trundling up in their flimsy trainers and even on occasion, flip-flops, hardly the example I wanted for Liam on his first climb; besides which, it’s really quite a boring trek going that way.
I had it in mind that taking him to some of the places me and his mum had spent so many happy times walking and climbing together might make him feel closer to her and generally cheer him up; actually telling him that he was almost certainly conceived in one of those places was probably a little more than even his inquiring young mind was quite ready for so perhaps another time for that little revelation. Beyond that I really didn’t know what else I could do.
We began our ascent of Leum Uilliem, one of the easier Corbetts at a shade under 3000ft, from Corrour Station, itself positioned at a height of 1,340ft, thus making the ascent a not too difficult one, though still quite a challenge for a seven year old given some of the terrain.
At the start, a corner of the Moor of Rannoch, we began our journey westwards across the moorland towards the northern ridge of the hill, crossing the Allt Coir’ a’ Bhric Beag along the deer stalking-path as we approached the crest of the ridge and then upwards to the south west, over Tom an Eoin while I explained about such paths and the deer stalking season of the following month. He didn’t seem to approve of deer stalking but I was pleased to note that his initial disappointment at not being able to tell all his mates when he returned to school had climbed the ‘Ben’ had all but disappeared.
His disapproval of deer stalking was so much like his mum’s, I thought at the time, as she too hated anything like that no matter how many time you explained its necessity; perhaps Liam would understand better…
“I think mum was right,” Liam proudly declared, “it’s wrong killing the deer.”
Obviously not! Well that told me in no uncertain terms, I couldn’t help thinking. I needn’t have worried about his dwelling on it though as soon enough, he was firing more and different questions about our trek at every juncture:
“What’s… Alt.. Coy.. a.. brick?” He asked, trying to interpret the pronunciation while looking at the map I had given him to hold.
“Well, let’s take a look at the book shall we?” I replied, taking out a small local guidebook from my rucksack.
“Allt means stream, and Bhric Beag means speckled and small, and Coir’.. It’s not here but It means corrie, and altogether it roughly means stream of the speckled corrie.. You’ll soon get used to seeing words and names like these as you do more map reading”
“And what about that one… Tom an E..oin?”
“Ahh, that’s an easy one,” I said, “it means knoll of the bird.. or eagle maybe.”
“And what’s… Lee.. Um… Oo.. Illiem.. ?” I couldn’t help but chuckle at his struggle with the spelling, and Liam chuckled too…
“It means William’s Leap.” Liam looked at me, not even trying to hide his puzzled frown…
“And before you ask, no one really knows who William was, or why he leapt, it’s something that’s long since been forgotten.”
“Okay.” Was his short and accepting reply; perhaps I had been was wrong, and he really wasn’t bothered who William was or why he might have leapt. And on that note we continued our trek, slowly gaining height as we turned eastwards across the saddle of and up the broad ridge towards the spacious summit of Leum Uilliem, or ‘William’s Leap’ as I had previously and as it seemed, unnecessarily explained.
We had been at it for the best part of nearly three hours by now and the summit was in sight. It had been quite a hard slog what with the rain the previous day making much of the ground hard going, and I could tell the effort was beginning to tell a bit, but not once did he complain or appear to lose interest. Right at that moment I couldn’t have been prouder of my little trooper, and instead of denting his own pride in asking him if he needed to rest I discreetly slowed the pace right down before declaring I needed a quick rest before our final push to the summit…
“Okay dad, if you like…” he happily agreed.
“So son, how have you enjoyed our day so far?”
“It’s been great dad, and the map reading, that’s been fun too, but I still don’t get the compass and … bearings thingy yet.”
“Don’t you worry about that, we’ll do more of that another time.”
“Was mum good at… Maps and things?” He asked, quite out of the blue.
“Ermm, yes, sort of, but… Between you and me I think she was probably a lot better than she let on, but she preferred enjoying the scenery than doing the hard work and thinking bit.” Liam laughed out loud at that before munching into a sandwich.
“Shall we kick off again then matey?” I asked, hoisting my rucksack back on.
“Yep, let’s go!” He replied eagerly, lifting himself up to join me.
The extensive views from the top were simply stunning, embracing moors, lochs and innumerable summits…
“You’re right dad, it’s great up here,” Liam declared, “I reckon mum must have really loved it.”
His back and face slightly turned away from me as he stared across the landscape, some several feet away from me. I recognised that tone of voice, it was the one he had when he sometime got upset when thinking about his mum. I saw his hand raise up to wipe his face, no doubt rubbing away the tears he didn’t want me to see. Perhaps it was just as well he was turned away from me otherwise he might have seen me doing much the same thing a moment later.
“I know son…” I said, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“I won’t forget her, I promise dad.”
“Of course you won’t, just as she won’t forget you either.. She’s out there.. Somewhere, watching us… And smiling no doubt at how muddy and dirty we are.”
Liam turned his head to look up at me: “You really think so?”
“You betcha’ son.” I said with all the conviction and certainty I could muster, and for that brief moment I believed it too.
And then I saw it, in the distance, pointing to draw Liam’s attention to it too…
“What’s that dad?” Liam asked excitedly, adding, “it looks like a rainbow, but not like the ones I’ve seen.”
I was about to explain but something stopped me as the germ of an idea began to take shape…
“Try moving to the side a bit and look it straight on.” I urged. He moved as I suggested and stared open mouthed in amazement…
“It’s… It’s like… An angel standing in the middle dad…”
“Not just an angel son, I told you mum was looking out as us from somewhere..”
“Maybe… Why not give her a wave, see if she doesn’t see and wave back?”
I stepped a few paces back and to the side as Liam gingerly raised an arm before waving at the figure in the circular rainbow, silently praying that the conditions were right for what I was hoping…
“Dad!” Liam shouted, “dad, dad, look… She waving back, look dad, she’s waving back at me…”
I had never gone much on religion and God, and even less so with the things and I’d seen and done in my past career, but I mouthed a silent ‘thank you’. By now of course, Liam was waving like a madman at the angelic figure, utterly mesmerised by its apparent responses, utterly convinced his mum was joining in the fun.
An elderly couple were looking on from a short distance away, they too probably there either to just enjoy the moment or perhaps reliving memories of their own.
I strolled towards them and briefly explained about Liam and his mum, and how he believed he was waving back at her in the rainbow.
They of course knew the truth, that it was just an optical illusion brought about by a unique set of weather conditions, of the sun shining from behind us as we stared down from the ridge into the mist below while the light projected shadows through the mist, and Liam’s movements seemingly reflected in that of the ghostly figure…
The old woman smiled and started to cry, just a little, but with a beaming smile across her face. Her husband put his arm around her, and gave her a gentle hug and thanked me for sharing the moment with them.
And in that moment we shared an unspoken understanding and so there was no need for them to promise not to shatter the illusion once the phenomenon passed…
I turned back towards where Liam was still waving and dancing at the shadowy figure and made my way over. By now the rainbow was starting to dissipate, and the angelic shadow was losing its form…
“Bye mum,” I heard Liam softly say… “Love you…”
I put my hand on his shoulder once again…
“Where did you go dad? Why didn’t you stay and wave with me?”
“It’s okay son, it was you she wanted to see and tell how much she loved and remembered. That was your special moment. It’s why I brought you here, I had a feeling mum would be somewhere about to say hello.”
I had no idea of course that we would see a ‘Brocken Spectre’ that day; I’d seen such phenomena several times on Mt. Snowden, and a few more times in Germany too, but never one quite so spectacular in this part of the world.
On those previous occasions I had often wondered what our ancestors might have thought, that maybe some peasant farmer on the hills of Macedonia might be thinking he’s staring down or across at the inhabitants of Mt Olympus, or even some Gaelic tribesman closer to home, truly believing himself to be staring into the very soul of some pagan god, but right now nothing could have been further from my mind, all I could see was my happy little boy who really believed me when I told him his mum was in heaven and still loved and remembered him.
I wouldn’t normally of lied to Liam, but seeing his face, seeing all his fears and tears disappear I thought I might reasonably be forgiven, just this once…
There’s an old saying, ‘We all make mistakes,’ and of course, we all do: big ones, little ones, silly ones, and often, stupid ones. And once and a while, someone makes one that is as ‘big and stupid ‘as they come…
The plans were all laid. Big Ron had a gotten together quite a crew for this one: There was little Mickey ‘Wheels’ Tanner, the best getaway driver short of Sterling moss. Jack Dawkins, the explosives expert, electrics and alarms man, Peter Hills. And last but not least, that well known hard-man, Hatchet Harry, had been brought in to add a bit of muscle; any problems with wannabe heroes, and Hatchet Harry was more than willing to shove a sawn-off shotgun down their throat – and pull the trigger too if they thought he was bluffing.
Rumour had it that this was a rather exclusive bank, very discreet, catering to the stars, politicians, the super-rich, and even senior members of the Royal family. Located in the heart of London’s exclusive Mayfair, it was an old Victorian building, with little to indicate what is was other that a shiny brass plate, saying simply, The Bank.
Big Ron had high hopes for this one. With that sort of clientele there had to be serious money to be had, not to mention jewellery, bonds, and god knows what sort of secrets the rich and powerful preferred kept secret…
“So, we’re all clear then, we go through the adjacent wall. Pete here has already traced the in-wall alarm wires so there’s no probs there.” Big Ron said.
“And I’ll be waiting right outside with the motor running.” Peter Hills assured them.
“Yer’ bloody well better be!” Added Hatchet Harry.
“I still don’t get why there ain’t more security though, I mean like, if there’s really as much as yer’ reckon there is?” Hatchet Harry said. He might have been the hired muscle but he was far from the stupid oaf many thought him to be…
“It’s as I explained,” Big Ron began, “‘it’s because of who the customers are. They don’t want people, you know, the public and the Press and stuff knowing their business. And a load of armed guards and security cams and stuff would attract too much attention.”
Hatchet Harry nodded, still not fully convinced, but sufficiently tempted by Big Ron’s promises of untold money to put aside his doubts.
“Right then, let’s do it.
It had been a well-planned job, right down to the last detail. Big Ron had leased the adjacent basement office for the past six months, at no inconsiderable expense. Every penny he had, had been invested in this one last caper. And things were progressing nicely…
“That’s it, we’re in,” declared Jack, the explosives man, “an’ you’re sure we haven’t tripped any of them alarm wires, Pete?”
“No chance.” Pete Replied.
“Stop yakking and let’s get in and out, pronto!” Said Big Ron, following the two of them through the hole in the wall, closely followed by Hatchet Harry.
“Who the hell…” A voice boomed at them, “Where… How did you get in here..?” Hatchet Harry was the first to respond…
“Down on the floor. Now!”
The night security guard did as he was told; when Hatchet Harry told you to do something, you did it.
“Right, Pete, start on opening those deposit boxes,” Big Ron bellowed.
“Wh… What is it you want here?” The security guard stuttered, turning his head to look up at them all.
“Are you serious? We want what’s in all those cash filled deposit boxes.” Hatchet Harry replied.
Despite the obvious danger he was in, the security guard couldn’t help but let out a muffled laugh: “That’s what this is about, money?” And again he laughed.
“First one’s open,” Peter Hills declared.
“And?” Asked one of the others.
“Erm, I’m not sure… Just some test tubes and, erm, petri dishes I think they’re called.”
The others looked around at each other in disbelief, and then to the security guard:
“There’s no money in any those boxes.” He said
“No money!” Growled Hatchet Harry, not at the security guard, but at Big Ron.
“What do you mean, no money?” He said again, turning back to the security guard who was still lying prone on the ground…
“This isn’t that sort of bank, it’s a blood and tissue bank, you know, genetic material, stem-cells, stuff like that, to help the rich and famous to stay young and healthy when they start to get old and sick. They’re the only ones who can afford all this.”
Hatchet Harry turned again at Big Ron, shot-gun in hand…
“It’s not my fault, how was I to know that?” Big Ron pleaded.
It didn’t matter; Hatchet Harry raised the gun a little higher and fired a shot straight in Big Ron’s head…
“Pretty bad mess we got here.” The detective in charge was saying.
“Yeah. Who’d have thought Big Ron would end up making a deposit in the very bank he was trying to rob?” His colleague added, looking across at the mass of brain tissue and scull fragments splattered across the front of the tissue deposit boxes of the vault…
After getting some very nice feedback on my last two Flash Fiction pieces I’ve decided to write a few more. One, because they’re fun to write, and two, they provide a welcome distraction when I get stuck on some of my longer pieces and the novel I’m working on.
After more than ten years, Billy Jenkins was free – no more watching him all the time. No more not being allowed to go beyond a certain distance, no more stupid grey trousers or lights out at a certain time – free to roam as far as the open road would take him.
For more than the past decade, almost every minute of his life had been controlled, monitored, and spied on, everything from what he wore, his behaviour, right down to the food he ate. Many’s a time he had considered trying to make a run for it, but he knew they’d simply bring him back, that he’d have to start over, convincing them he should once again be allowed the few small freedoms and choices that made his life a little better.
Billy was relishing the first day of his new found liberty. He finally understood when he heard people say, ‘there’s a whole wide world out there’, and here he was, a part of it, free to savour every moment of it.
The sheer thrill of hurtling down the road, weaving in and out of the slow moving traffic, the wind in his hair, no one to nudge him this way or that, it was hard to remember feeling so good.
And why shouldn’t he? He had earned it, proved he was safe to be let out. It wasn’t as though he’d never been free before; they had let him out a couple of times before, but always with restrictions, limitations, escorted everywhere, so much so he felt like a dog on a leash. Not any more though, he thought.
He slowed down, just long enough to smile and whistle at a girl walking along the pavement. She chuckled and smiled back. He would never have been allowed to do that before. And then he sped up again, he wanted to try and beat the lights, which he did. He’d never been so far before, not on his own, unsupervised, but no one was stopping him now, so he continued, on and on the rest of the day.
“Hi Billy, you had a good day did you?” His dad asked.
“Sure did dad,” Billy replied, “I must have ridden a hundred miles on the buses this morning, and ridden another hundred on the bike.”
“That’s great son, you’re growing up so fast it’s hard to keep track of you.”
Young Billy Jenkins hadn’t returned back home till nearly eight in the evening, the latest he’d been allowed out on his own in all his eleven years on the planet, but it was his birthday, and he’d gotten a racing bike. That, and the free to travel bus he was now old enough for, had opened up the whole wide world for him that day…
“That as maybe,” his mother interrupted, adding,” But it’s time for your dinner, then bath and bed young man.”
Billy sighed, knowing there were still a few more rules he had to abide by for now…
Jake Hogan was the best starship fighter pilot in the Federation of the Outer Worlds, but even he was nervous of the odds this time. Coming into view from behind the asteroid belt, he could see the armada of enemy ships closing in, shields up, weapons all primed for firing, led by the only opponent to have ever bested him in one on one space combat. And here he was, facing the same opponent at the head of a fleet ten times the size of his own.
Outnumbered and out-gunned, he directed the Federation fleet ships to the pre-calculated strategic positions to provide his home world Atarious, the best chance of surviving the coming battle. This was going to be a David and Goliath fight, of skill verses overwhelming fire-power…
Along with four other attack craft, Jake Hogan started to zig zag in and out of the asteroids that lay between them and the enemy. He was grateful now for the armament upgrades his and the other ships had been fitted with: laser light cannons, photon Q-bombs, jump drive positioning, every conceivable defensive and attack capability he could hope for. But would it be enough?
POW! POW! POW! The enemy hard started to open fire, blasting a path through the asteroids. One of Jake’s fellow fighters was hit by some of the debris and was now out of action. Jake himself had to dart away pretty sharpish to avoid being hit. The three remaining ships of his fighter squad closed in around him, providing cover fire as he re-directed fire at the enemy lead ship…
Ratter Tat Tat !!! “Bastards!” Jake cursed to himself… Enemy scout ships were trying a flanking manoeuvre, spewing out bursts of laser fire to force Jake’s fighter squad from their attempts to strike at the heart of the enemy fleet. Jake and his fellow fighters scattered in different directions, littering the battle field in their wake with photon mines, primed to explode as the enemy scout ships tried to follow. With sweating hands, Jake swung his ship round to face the pursuing ships and opened fire, setting off the mines. Blinding flashes of light exploded all around. The pursuing ships were blown to bits, the rouse had worked. But the bulk of the enemy fleet still lay protected by the remaining asteroids. Jake gathered the Federation fleet ships for an all-out attack.
“Launch Q-bombs!” Jake ordered. And with that, every last Federation ship launched the equivalent of a thousand bombs, each a thousand times more powerful that the most powerful of the primitive nuclear weapons of the twenty second century. Jake knew the Q-bombs alone couldn’t destroy all the enemy ships, but she shattering of the asteroid belt would provide the additional destruction to ensure complete and utter victory for the federation…
“Yes!” Jake screamed, “Take that you fucking alien bastards!!!”
“What’s all the noise about Jake?” Jake’s older brother asked.
“I just got a high score… This new X-box online game is fucking awesome!”
To write regularly, all writers need fresh inspiration from time to time. Where it comes from isn’t always obvious, but often it comes from the strangest of places. The inspiration for this story came from the classified ads of my local paper… I wanted to write something a little wacky
and off the wall, so here it is…
Sam saw the ad in the paper for sperm donors – twenty pounds per ‘sample’. With money being a bit tight – well, when wasn’t money tight for a student – easy money, Sam thought. Sam noted down the address. It was only a short bus ride away, no reason to delay…
“I’m Sam Hillman, here about the ad.” Sam informed the receptionist.
“What ad. is that?” She asked.
“The one in the paper, twenty pounds for sperm donations.” Sam replied.
The receptionist frowned and gave Sam a somewhat quizzical look:
“The sperm donors wanted ad?.. That’s definitely the one you’re here about?”
“Yes, that’s the one.” Sam replied, wondering at her obvious scepticism.
“Erm.. Could you wait here a moment while I get my supervisor, please?”
“Yeah, sure.” Sam replied, and took a seat in the waiting room as the receptionist disappeared through a door behind her desk. Five minutes later, an older man in a white coat returned with the receptionist…
“Well? You see what I mean don’t you?” Sam heard the receptionist whisper to whom Sam presumed must be one of the clinic’s medical staff.
“Yes, well, I’ll take it from here.” Sam heard the man in the white coat whisper back.
“Well Sam, it is Sam is it?” The white coat asked.
“Yes, that’s right,” Sam confirmed, adding, in anticipation of the next question, “here about the sperm donors wanted ad.”
“Ah …Yes, so my colleague said.” The white coat said. Sam could see he was a little perplexed: “Is there a problem?” Sam asked.
“Err… Well, I’m not sure… You have read the ad? You… do understand… what it entails don’t you? What… exactly… we need from you.”
“Yes, of course I do, why wouldn’t I?”
Sam was getting quite frustrated at all the questions, thinking it would all be over and done with by now, and twenty pounds the richer…
“Yes, of course, why wouldn’t you, what I meant was…” The white coat paused, not quite sure how to continue…
“Well, I’m really not sure how to put this,” the white coat said, now almost stuttering to get his words out, “are you absolutely sure about this? What I mean to say, rather, what I’m trying to say is, I mean, is that, well…”
“For fucks sake,” Sam exclaimed, “what is it you’re saying?”
“Well, to be a sperm donor…” The white coat paused before continuing, “there are… certain requirements… that have to be met, that the donor has to meet first.”
Sam was trying desperately hard to remain calm and composed, despite the white coat’s seemingly determined efforts to prevent that…
“Will you please, just please; tell me what the problem is?” Sam asked in the most condescending voice imaginable.
“The problem, as you put it,” the white coat began. He paused for a moment, then adding:
“Is that… Err.. You’re a woman!”
“And?” replied Sam.
“Isn’t it obvious? You need to be a man! To have testicles!”
Sam laughed before answering: “Well I might not have testicles, but my boyfriend certainly does. And like most boyfriends, he’s a lazy sod. That’s why I’m here instead of him.”
And on that note, Sam, short for Samantha, promptly produced a small vial with the required sample…
This is a little piece I was inspired to write after reading a short, rather sad but heart-warming ‘tweet’. All I’ve done is add a bit of ‘what if’ imagination either side of the gist of the original ‘tweet.’
Jack Morgan, still a little dazed and confused from the past few days, sat down in the bland interview room, he one side of the small equally bland table, and Detective Higgins, the other:
“It’s like this Jack; we’ve a few concerns about your wife.” The friendly approach to start.
“My wife? Wh..What are you talking about?” Jack replied, clearly upset by the question.
“We’re concerned for her whereabouts.” Still quite informal.
“Her whereabouts?” Jack repeated, “Is this some sort of sick joke?”
“I hardly think disposing of your wife off the top of a mountain to be a joke Mr Morgan.” The detective’s tone now more formal and assertive, closing in for the kill, that detailed confession, so beloved of courts and prosecutors, that would lay to rest any doubts of Jack’s guilt.
“It was her dying wish, it’s what she wanted.. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Detective Higgins was not moved by Jack’s tearful pleas. A life was a life and no one had the right to terminate it prematurely, no matter what the reason. The evidence was all there: reservations for Mr and Mrs Morgan at a local hotel, eye witness accounts of Jack Morgan accompanied by and talking to a woman both in the hotel and whilst ascending the tourist path up ‘The Ben’, as it was called, and lastly, reports from the hotel manageress, that Jack Morgan had returned alone in a distressed state, muttering about having held his wife aloft at the top of Ben Nevis…
They’d planned the trip many years ago, when they young and full of life. They were going to climb every mountain in the UK, leaving the highest till the last. That was a lifetime ago, but now they were finally going to make that climb to the top of Ben Nevis, the last and highest of the Munros they’d yet to climb during their forty years together.
The hotel had been booked several months in advance, and so they arrived…
Maggie, Jack’s wife’s sister, had met them at the station for the short drive to the hotel.
“Reservation in the name of Morgan,” Jack informed the hotel receptionist.
“Yes of course, a double room for you and your wife, room four.”
Jack didn’t reply other than with a forced smile and a slight nod of the head; she wasn’t to know, after all. He kissed Maggie goodbye, thanking her for their lift, and took Jill, his wife, upstairs to their room. He remembered for a moment the many wry smiles and knowing chuckles every time a hotel receptionist or stranger had noted their names, Jack and Jill. And their friends too, they’d become minor celebrities in the rambling and climbing communities – Jack and Jill going up another hill, their friends would say. It had been a little irritating at first, as if everyone who ever made the connection with the nursery rhyme of the same time naively believed they were the first to make it – but eventually they just accepted the comments and smiles, they knew there was nothing malicious about them, and were soon making the comment themselves, beating whoever to the punch line. Jill of course had never minded, happy to smile and laugh along with anyone and everyone, before the cancer that was. It was because of the cancer that they’d had to leave this last Munro for so long. But that was behind them now… Now they were on the verge of one last adventure, to watch the sun rise atop of the highest peak in all the UK…
That was enough reminiscing he thought, time for bed. He was going to need several hours sleep if he was to make the climb up The Ben in time to watch the sunrise.
Maggie pulled up at the hotel just before ten that night. Jack and his wife were waiting for her. They were taking the easiest of the routes up the Ben, so there was no reason they shouldn’t reach the summit in time for the 05:20 sun rise for that day, but what with the darkness, he was taking no chances – an easy steady pace was all that was needed.
Maggie had agreed to accompany them, just as far as the point where the tourist path diverges for those wanting to take a more ambitious route. The extra company was very welcome, but he was glad of his time alone with his wife as they made the final trek to the top.
It had been a hard slog, a far cry from the energetic exertions of their youth but there they were, watching the first rays of sun emerging on the horizon, watching from the last of the mountain peaks they had sworn to scale…
“Yes, that’s right Detective, my wife died just a month ago from cancer. She made me promise we’d finish our climbing ambitions together. We weren’t religious people; neither of us wanted a funeral or a gravestone…
…I took the small urn from my rucksack and held it aloft just as the sun began to rise, and pulled the lid from the top and allowed her ashes to scatter to the wind. I was keeping my promise and saying goodbye at the same time…”