Henshaw Short Story Competition
    Henshaw Short Story Competition

           

 

 

 

 

December 2018 Competition Winners are: - 

 

 

 

                                                                         First Prize:

                             Nell Crawford of Fremantle, Australia

                                               for

                                ‘One Word at a Time’

 

 

Second Prize:

Richard Smith of Newcastle under Lyme

for

‘Plan B’

 

Third Prize:   

  Melanie Roussel of Finchley

for

                                   ‘Rock ‘n’ Revelation’

 

    

 

                                                                                        ******

                        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                   ‘One Word at a Time’

 

                                                                                                by

 

                                                                              Nell Crawford

                        

"I've got something for you, darling."

 

     Darling. Bronwyn looked up from her glass of lemonade, then looked down again quickly.

     She watched the tiny bubbles as they streaked and popped to the surface. She took a sip. No one ever called her darling. Her mother always called her Bronwyn, and the twins called her hey you or stupid. Her father never called her anything.

     Darling. A warm word, like the smell of scones baking in the oven, like this kitchen, like Mrs Darbro. Say something when people speak to you, don't just sit there like a frightened rabbit.

    "What have you got for me?" That might sound greedy.  "Thank you," wasn't right because she hadn't got it yet, whatever it was. She said nothing.               

     Her neighbour heaved herself up from the table, lumbered over to the cabinet and scrabbled around. Bronwyn watched her from behind, the wide back, grey hair trickling down in a thin pony tail. At the top of her head pink patches of scalp showed through the streaks of her hair. Did women go bald when they were old?

     The scrabbling stopped, Bronwyn looked down at her lemonade again. It's rude to stare.

     "You know how I used to live on a farm? I told you about the cow, didn't I?" Mrs Darbro sat down again with a whooshing sound. She put a plastic cow in the middle of the table.

     It stood half as high as the sugar bowl, on neat black hooves and delicate legs. It was white with black splotches but its face was completely black - a kind, gentle cow-face with big eyes, and ears like round flags sticking out either side. Could she get it home without the twins seeing it? She had a horrible thought. What did  "I've got something for you," mean? Maybe it wasn't a gift. Maybe it was just to look at.                                                                        

     "She's a milking cow," Mrs Darbro told her. "I used to milk one like this every day." She pointed to the udder - a pink balloon between its back legs, with four tiny teats. "But it's only plastic, so there's no milk. No good pulling on those teats!" She laughed. When she laughed she put head back, and the flesh around her throat wobbled and shook. She pushed the cow across the table.

     The cow was for her! She loved Mrs Darbro.

     Bronwyn put her empty glass down.

     "Would you like some more?"

     Her stomach was as stretched as the cow's udder, but Mrs Darbro had bought a big bottle especially for her, so she nodded.  She watched the woman's hands as the lemonade glugged into her glass. Big hands, with bulging blue veins and bumpy knuckles and fingers. Bronwyn imagined them squeezing the teats of a cow, the sound of milk spurting into a bucket. She looked at her own hands, flexing her fingers. Would she be able to milk a cow? Mrs Darbro said she had good strong hands for a seven-year-old.

     The old woman's words flowed over and around her, wrapping her in a cocoon of sound. She didn't have to talk, there were enough words for both of them. Bronwyn thought about her cow. When she got home she'd hide it in her box. What do you say when it's time to go home? She looked at the kitchen clock above the stove.

     "Yes, your mum will be wondering where you are." Mrs Darbro pushed herself up. "Come again tomorrow. I might have something else for you."

     Don't forget to say goodbye.

     "Goodbye Mrs Darbro." The words were a whisper, but her mother would be pleased with her.

      She was already down the veranda steps when she remembered something else. And look at people when you speak to them. It was too late.

     At her own back gate she listened for the twins. She couldn't hear them, but that didn't mean they weren't waiting for her. The red marks from yesterday had gone from her wrist but she could still feel the stinging pain. It had been hard to pretend it didn't hurt, not that it did her any good, they still took everything. She crept up the path pulling the sleeve of her jumper down over her left hand, the one with the cow in it, just in case.

      She opened the flyscreen carefully -  if you did it slowly it didn't squeak. Her mother was at the table, texting, frowning down at her phone. She looked up.

     "Have you been annoying that poor old woman again? She'll wish she'd never moved next door."

     Bronwyn couldn't tell if she was joking. She wanted to say something back, like the boys would, "I'm not annoying her and it's only the second time," but her mother had her head down again, thumbs flashing furiously.

      Alone in her bedroom Bronwyn pulled the box out of its hiding place and sat cross-legged on the floor. She tipped everything out and picked up each item one by one, the way she had to, every time.

     First the little yellow dump truck that belonged to the twins. She liked the way the back part tipped up. Then pieces of a broken cup that she'd found when her father was digging the garden, before he'd had to go away again for work. Then the story she'd written at school. Mrs Grant had written on it, "A lovely story, Bronwyn. I can see you love your dog," even though she'd never had a dog. She smoothed out the photo of her mother and father she'd found in the bin. It was a good photo, even with the sticky tape.

     Finally, in the bottom of the box, an old exercise book. Her word book. Some days she wrote more than one word. Sometimes a week would pass with nothing to write down.

     She read the words, each one a little burst of pleasure. Conscientious was halfway down the third page. That was on her report and she'd had to copy it because it was hard to spell.

     Yesterday's word was really two words, Get lost! She loved the sound of it. She said a few times in a flat, hard voice.

     Everything done, she turned the page. She wrote, Saturday May 8. Then underneath she wrote Darling. An easy one to spell. She'd started to draw a love heart next to it when she realised she was bursting. All that lemonade.

     She shoved everything back in the box and pushed it under the bed.

      Her mother was still texting in the kitchen and didn't look up when she scurried past. She rushed through the laundry and grabbed the toilet door handle. Someone was already in there. She jiggled the handle.

     "Go away, stupid. I'm gonna be ages. Go and shit in the garden."

     How did he know it was her? He'd never come out now.

     She'd have to use her parents' bathroom. Kids weren't allowed in there, but she couldn't wait. She sped quietly along the hallway, one hand between her legs. Her parents' bedroom was open and she dodged past the bed and just made it to the toilet in time.

     Don't forget to flush. She was checking that there were no drips on the seat when she heard her mother on the phone. She always came to her bedroom when she wanted peace and quiet for a long chat. It must be Aunty Megan.

     Bronwyn scrambled over to the corner of the bathroom and squeezed in between the laundry basket and the bath. She pulled her knees up to her chest, breathing fast.

      "...well, yes, they do pick on her, but it's only in fun. You know how boisterous they are. I sometimes wish she'd just stand up to them, retaliate somehow."

                                  

                                                       

     Bronwyn heard a thump as her mother sat on the bed. Boisterous. It had a big, bouncing sound, but the twins were skinny, not that much bigger than her, even though they were almost two years older.

     Retaliate was a better word. She thought of the snake coiled up behind the woodshed on Mrs Darbro's farm, black and yellow with shiny scales. It could kill you.

     "I know, everyone says she'll grow out of it. But she's seven, for God's sake, and she can't look you in the eye. And she won't even say thank you unless you prompt her."

    Mrs Darbro's cow! She hadn't said thank you!  She clamped her hand over her mouth to stop herself from crying out. And where was the cow now? Her heart lurched. It must be still be sitting there on her bed where anyone could see it.

     "And she's so secretive. She never tells me anything, not like the boys. I never know what she's thinking. To be honest, I'm not sure she'll ever grow out of it. She's an introvert, like her father."

     Introvert. It had a creepy, scary sound. The lemonade churned in her stomach and rose up into in her throat. She swallowed and hugged her knees.

     Her mother's voice was going on and on, rising and falling with spaces in between. Something about of course she loved her children, but it was just so hard, trying to cope with three of them on her own and he was no help even when he was home and who knows when he was coming back...

     In her mind she pictured the things Mrs Darbro had told her about the farm. The tree house in the peppermint tree, the lamb that had to be fed with a bottle like a baby, the hen that sometimes laid an egg with two yolks. The dogs trying to catch the truck, snapping and barking at the wheels.

     Maybe introvert wasn't a bad word. Maybe it was like conscientious.

     Screams of rage came from outside in the garden.

     "Look Megan, I have to go, the boys ..." Her mother's voice drifted away. 

                                                                                                                   Bronwyn counted to two hundred and thirty to make sure her mother wasn't coming back. She stood up, her legs wobbly, walked to the bedroom door and looked down the hallway towards her own room. One of the twins was outside her door. Waiting.

     "You've been next door. I saw you." He was alone, the two of them must still be fighting. There was a scratch down his leg and his knobbly knees were scraped. "She gave you lollies again, didn't she?"

     "No she didn't." She was surprised at how loud her voice was. Her face was hot and her heart was pumping hard. He darted into her room after her, looking around. He snatched the cow from her bed and danced around her, poking her with it.

   "Moooo! Fatty's got a moo-cow, poo-cow! It's mine now!

     Red firecrackers exploded behind her eyes. Her heart was bursting out of her chest. You've got good strong hands. Bronwyn put her hands on his chest and shoved, feeling his ribs. He stumbled back, mouth open. She stepped towards him again, strong and mean, looking straight into his eyes. They were darting around, confused.

     "Give it back." Her voice was hissing, angry.

     He clutched the cow to his chest. His eyes slid over to the doorway, looking for his brother.

       "Give it back," she said again, louder, staring at him.

     His eyes were still searching for help. None was coming. His voice was a squeak. "Who'd want it? It's stupid. Like you." He stepped back and tossed the cow on the floor. At the door he turned back, his voice almost normal. "It hasn't even got horns."

     "Get lost!" She shut the door in his face. Her heart was still pounding but she felt like she did the first time she swam by herself in the ocean.

                                                                                           

     She sat on the floor until her hands stopped trembling. Then she reached back, pulled out her box and took out her word book. Concentrating hard, she coloured the love heart red.

     Darling.

     What would Mrs Darbro have for her tomorrow?

 

 

 

 

                                                    ******

 

 

 

 

 

                                 ‘Plan B’

 

                                                                                         by

 

                                                Richard Smith

 

 

 

 I swear this is the only bus in this city. It’s mental how full this thing is; it’s like a tin can full of wet squashed people. A coffee percolator with people instead of coffee. Some of them even smell as bad as a teacher’s coffee breath.  I’m so posh I know what a coffee percolator is. No wonder I don’t have friends at college. Never had any at school either. Got to blame the parents for that one. Get two posh parents with serious religion you might as well have acne and dog-breath.

            Had to be raining today. Think to yourself that you’re goin’ to do a bus journey and it’s like doing a rain dance. Bring on the clouds cos it’s goin’ to rain for sure. Never been on a bus yet that didn’t have windows steamed up so bad that a person can hardly see outside. They never clean the windows on these things but that’s ok. If they cleaned the windows I couldn’t see the messages. It’s like that church on the telly where they found all those messages from the people who built it. Messages from dead people on the walls of a dead building. Dead building, dead bus. Same thing. All heading the same way. Some quicker than others round here so if you wrote a message on this bus a couple of weeks ago you could be dead too. Only takes a flash to turn a smile into wreck. Saw it happen once too.

It doesn’t really matter about the windows because I know these streets. I can see bits of shops I know. Upstairs rooms.

            Upstairs; that’s funny. This boy in my class he does a sweet story about his name. So his dad wants to call him David like Beckham, but his mum says she wants to call him something else. She wants to get all romantic and get some meaning in her crappy life so she says let’s call him after where he was conceived and so his dad looks at her and says “You want to call our son Upstairs Jones? What is wrong with you woman?” That’s the way Dave tells it anyway. I would love to have a friend that funny. Not Dave though. Seriously not Dave. He’s funny but he runs the lines now and he’s goin’ to end up like jam on a pavement. He can run fast but he’s not Superman. It’s sad cos Dave could be the dad.

            It makes me sigh looking out at people nearly dressed and half dressed and one even naked. Mate get some clothes on. Some fat middle aged bloke drying himself in front of his window. Seriously, why wouldn’t you have curtains if your bedroom looks out on a bus route? I’d have steel shutters. Or one way mirrors like in the films so all the people on the bus could see their own faces and how sad they look when they go past and I can watch them. I wouldn’t have to be embarrassed when people realise how totally sad they are. Some look like frightened kids. Some just look even sadder and turn away quick. Jump in front of a train sad, some of them.

            Shannon just appears on the bus and starts talking to me. She’s like that. Here one minute and gone the next. In Theology once we learnt about how single mothers had electrodes wired to their heads and ZAP, in goes the shock. Guess I know two parents who would like to give that a go. If they knew about Shannon and Casey they’d have me locked up and plugged in for sure. They would definitely not get those two girlfriends. Mum would pray but she’d flick the switch anyway while she was kneeling down there.

            Mum loves a good prayer so she said she would pray for my soul. Pray for me? “You had sex once too Mum” I say to her. “Or had you forgotten?”  Then she looks like she’s swallowed a lemon. Her eyes start watering and she’s making a funny strangled noise. She doesn’t know what’s going on in her own head mostly so she’s got no chance in mine so she coughs instead of talking. So then it’s Dad’s turn. Yeah, it’s the lecture from Dad about sin and forgiveness. “Grow a pair Dad” I tell him before he can really get started. “Mum isn’t right about everything.” For a minute I think he’s going to take his belt off but he manages to keep control. Maybe there is a God.

            So he starts on the sin thing and when that runs out of ground they tell me they love me. Really? What a pile of bull. They think I was a punishment for something they did wrong. Probably for not being married. They think I don’t know that one. They are totally wrong about so many things. I know they’re not married, I know Mum wears the trousers; I know Dad has vodka in his shed. I mean! Vodka in his shed. I know he beats me because he doesn’t have the courage to hit mum. My dad is a walking, breathing reason not to live your life afraid. Never give in to someone because they’re stronger or can shout louder or can make you feel like crap just by staring at you.

            So anyway there’s Shannon suddenly, totally telling me to keep the baby. Don’t worry about the nappies and the crying and the cleaning and the no sleeping and the stuff you need; the clothes, the pram, the shoes, the food, the bottles, the toys. Get on with it and love the child. Easy for you to say, I tell her. You won’t be living in some tiny bedsit trying to start a fire with two sticks and some cotton wool because you can’t afford to turn on the gas fire. She laughs at that and keeps talking. She has a brilliant laugh. I could listen to Shannon’s laugh all day. Sometimes when I’m in bed and the house is so quiet you can hear the hallway clock ticking, I try and fill all that quiet with Shannon’s laugh. Works for a while but the quiet always creeps back. I screw my eyes shut to keep it out but I can still feel it when I breathe in sometimes.

            Babe, it’s goin’ to be a boy, says Shannon grinning and now I know it is. It’s a baby boy growing right there. She’s never called it wrong. She gives me this news and disappears off the bus as sudden as she got here. Got to love a girl with an entrance and exit like that. Blink and she’s there. Blink again and she’s gone. Could have done with some back up from her at college when the news got out. Had to be one of the bitch secretaries. They totally love to gossip. Confidential my arse. Still, it was nice not to be invisible for a few days.

            Getting back to Dave, no idea why he suddenly wanted to be a Dad but he comes up to me puffing out his chest saying he’ll look after me and the child. Who’s goin’ to look after him? Guess he just wants to feel older than he is. I look him in the eye and tell him it’s not his baby. “Do you remember us doing it at that party?” I ask him. “Cos I don’t.”

Dave looks confused then. Honestly I think he totally believes he’s the dad. Jaeger bombs have got a lot to answer for. Including this baby. Truly I have no recollection of doing it with anyone. Must have happened but I can’t place it. Truth is it could be Dave’s. First party, first kiss, first baby. A hat trick. Nailed it! Should have named me after Beckham as well.

            The bus lurches to a sudden stop and there’s a commotion. Someone so desperate to get on this can of sardines they’re ready to throw themselves in front of it. City living. While that’s going on Casey has slipped onto the seat next to me. What can I say about Casey? This dude holds me together with her patience and common sense.

            I hear it’s a boy, she says. No hello, no hug, no intro. Straight to the main course. I tell her it’s not official. Shannon says it’s a boy, not the doctors. It’s too soon. If Shannon says it’s a boy, it’s a boy, says Casey giving me her Grandma look. Then she softens those big brown eyes and asks me what the plan is. I’m on my way to the clinic to get rid of the baby and she asks me what the plan is? I tell her the plan is still the one that my devout parents came up with. What other plan could there be? They forgive me because they have to, but not enough to let me keep the baby.

            Step back, says Casey. Plan B. This is your baby not theirs. Your baby, your decision. Wait a sec’ Casey, I say. I can’t go back home and tell them I’m still pregnant. They’d discipline me for sure. The last thing I need right now is a beating.

            Casey looks into my bag and ticks off all the things I’ll need for leaving home. Passport, birth certificate, National Insurance number, NHS card. Then she pulls a ‘really?’ face. Totally no way you are going home today child. You got everything you need right here. There’s a women’s refuge on this bus route, she says. Get off the bus and knock on the door. They’re waiting for you. Shannon rang them. You know where it is.

            Plan B is starting to scare me now. What if they don’t let me stay? What if they don’t think I deserve a bed? Show them the scars on your back and arms Casey says. Then invite them to tell you how you don’t need a place in a refuge. Casey is getting angry with me and for me. She folds her arms like the mother she is. They’ll let you stay or they’ll have me to deal with.

            Suddenly Shannon is there agreeing with Casey. This isn’t happening. Shannon and Casey both in my head together. Big day for everyone cos this never happens. And I mean never. I never let them in together in case I can’t handle it. I may have to go into meltdown right here and now. I close my eyes and concentrate, trying to make one of them leave. But they both stay. One on either side of me. That’s a neat trick on a double seat. They each take one of my hands and we sit there quietly. Casey eyes blazing, Shannon laughing softly. Babe, they say together, you are not going to that clinic. You are going to knock on that refuge door and they are going to let you in.

            That nails it for me. I am totally goin’ to have this baby and he is goin’ to have respect from everyone. He will never be lonely and I will never be alone. He’s goin’ to save me first and then the whole world. This is seriously the start of my happy ending right here cos this is where my bus stops and our life starts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                 ******

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       ‘Rock ‘n’ Revelation’

 

                                                                                        by

 

                                                                     Melanie Roussel

 

 

Mike moved cautiously in a crab-like crawl over the wet, slippery roof. The rain wasn’t as heavy as it was a moment ago, but his grip was still precarious. Between the crowbar, chisel and hammer, he managed to wrench off another hunk of metal and throw it down to join its pilfered fellows on the ground.

The church, which was being methodically divested of its lead, was buried in the heart of the English countryside. It was unremarkable; grey-bricked and blocky like a child had put two bricks together in an L shape. Its lacklustre resident priest, who couldn't remember why he’d chosen his calling, wasn’t what you'd call an inspirational speaker. If a priest’s job was to spread the word of God, it hadn’t travelled very far in this county. Every Sunday the disillusioned man spoke to a select band of old ladies, with their small dogs, who attended regularly. Until they didn’t come again.

Mike passed the black sleeve over his forehead and took a moment to catch his breath. Even over the patter of the rain, he could hear the protesting creak of the leather. He had dug the beloved jacket out of the attic where it had spent the last twenty something years. But now it seemed tighter around the waist. Could leather shrink?

        The guy in the pub hadn’t said it would be this much work. His muscles ached at this unfamiliar hard labour. But he decided a few more slabs of the valuable lead sheets and he could shimmy back down the ladder, load it into the van and be out of here before midnight.

        The grip of his boots failed. With a yell, he slipped down the wet roof. He twisted in panic. Hands grasping at air. The edge was coming up fast to a four-storey drop. Nothing to grab hold of. There was a panicked flailing of scrabbling hands before he finally recovered his footing. He gasped in relief and felt his legs shaking. His stomach clenched and his head spun alarmingly in a kind of numb horror at what might have been.

        'Careful there.' The unknown voice from the darkness made Mike jump again in fright.

        He wobbled dangerously, before gaining his balance once again. 'Jesus, scare me to death, why don’t you?' Mike exclaimed once he could breathe, clutching his chest.

        'Wouldn’t worry about that, mate.'

        Mike’s eyes searched the roof. He couldn’t at first identify the snide speaker until a shadow shifted and he saw two red eyes in the dark.

        The shambling shape moved out into the moonlight and Mike saw the body of a dark stone gargoyle. It was monkey-like but twisted with overly defined muscles. Bat-like large wings were folded over his back and the creased face was narrow with a tooth filled mouth.

        It lurched and shuffled, but it was disturbingly alive. The red light that emanated from its eyes shone out along the joints of his body and, as it moved, the radiating light showed behind cracks, like veins under the skin.

        The lidless eyes fixed him with a not unfriendly gaze. 'Got a fag?'

        Mike hesitated, still unsure of what he was seeing. He eyed the rocky creature carefully, but it didn't seem dangerous. Why not? How dangerous could stone be? He reached into his pocket and pulled out the forbidden packet of Mayfair and a lighter.

        The creature took them and lit one. For a pair of stone, clawed hands, it was remarkably dexterous. It took a deep pull from the cigarette. 'Cheers for that,’ it said.

        Mike nodded. 'I’m trying to quit, but, you know. Old habits.'

        There was a rocky chuckle that rumbled from the stone, punctuated with little clouds of tobacco smoke.

        'What?'

        'Nothin’,' the creature said.

        Mike considered the gargoyle as it took another breath of smoke with apparent enjoyment. 'Who are you?'

        'Sid.'

        'Sid the Gargoyle?'

        'Got a problem with that?'

        Mike was sure the talking statue had suddenly acquired more teeth. 'No.'

        'What ya doin’ up on a church roof at this ungodly hour?' Sid asked, but Mike saw the cynical gaze sweep the roof. The reflection of the red glow shimmered in puddles of rain.

        'Victimless crime.' The argument had been going around his head since he heard of the amount of money you could make. 'I’m starting a new life. Or, rather, going back to an old one. I need the money. And who am I hurting?'

        Sid shrugged, an impressive motion with those grey shoulders. The hollow sound of stone against stone made Mike wince slightly. 'Ain’t my job to guard the stuff.'

        'People don’t go to churches anymore. It’ll probably be turned into a community centre or an art hall anyway.'

        'Right. Who cares where a few lumps of metal go?' The gargoyle pointed out with a wide, leering smile, with rocky lips and teeth like tombstones. Almost as an afterthought, he said, '’ave you asked yourself why you're not surprised?'

        'Surprised?'

        Sid rolled his eyes, which was difficult to achieve with no eyes. 'Mate, you’re talkin’ to a gargoyle.'

        Mike had to admit he hadn’t so far considered it. Come to think of it, he couldn’t remember a gargoyle sitting atop this church either. He probably should have thought through his situation before now. To hide his embarrassment, he floundered, 'Well… you’re talking to me.'

        'Real mature.'

        'Lots of people talk to inanimate objects.'

        'That’s true. That’s human nature, that is. Thing is, they don’t generally talk back, is the direction I’m going with this.' Sid shuffled to the edge of the roof, his taloned, birdlike feet gripped the masonry as he gestured with his head.

        With one hand anchoring himself, careful where he put his feet, Mike peered over the edge. A still body was on the ground. A halo of blood around the head made the cause of death pretty apparent. And his jacket was probably soaked in it.

        'Shit,' Mike said. Not a quote for the ages certainly, but at that moment, he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Other than the obvious. ‘I’m dead.’

        'Yep. That’s your day pretty much buggered, I’d say.'

        'Maybe I shouldn’t have done this in the rain,' Mike said, a little mournfully. The benefit of hindsight was an evil thing. 'I just figured, you know, less people about. They said it would be an easy job, an easy sell.'

        'So sayeth the guy in the pub. The modern philosopher, entrepreneur, adventurer...’ Sid glanced at Mike’s obviously forlorn figure and added in an overly bright tone, 'Aye, don’t need to worry about lung cancer now.'

        'My jacket is ruined.'

        'Funny how death focuses the priorities, right? What’s a man at your age doin’ with a jacket like that anyway?'

        'It’s a biker jacket, it’s cool. Wore it in the 70s. Like the Ramones did.' That jacket reminded him of the best years of his life. Yes, okay, with his job. At his age. But why shouldn’t he wear it? He wasn’t getting any younger.

        'You ain’t exactly gettin’ any older either.'

        'Shut up.'

        Sid shrugged again, the sound of a small avalanche punctuating the silence as his wings flexed. 'Fact of life. Or, you know. Whatever.'

        Mike glanced over at his body on the ground again. With only the light of the moon, he couldn’t see the red in the blood. It was just a black puddle in the gravel. He tried to summon a little… what? Horror? Misery? Mostly, he just felt self-pity; that clawing, self-indulgent sin. He sat back on his heels and stared at his stony companion who was smirking at him. 'Who are you?'

        'Well, let’s look at it all logical like. You’re down there, flat as a pancake, agreed? Dead as a dodo. And if you’re dead, you can’t be talking to no-one. Stands to reason. Ipso facto, you’re talking to yourself.'

        Mike wasn’t in the mood for philosophy or correcting the blatant double negative. He sat down on the lip of the roof, wincing at the twinge in his back that apparently had followed him into the afterlife. His black doc martens, also unearthed from the attic, dangled over the side. Staring out into the darkness around them, Mike realised he hadn’t seen real darkness before. It was complete, like the church and its two reluctant passengers existed only in a bubble.

        ‘Rain’s stopped,’ Sid said.

        Mike pulled out the pack and lighter once more. If he was dead, he was going to have a cigarette. 'I was going to sell the lead. Go back to London and bloody well enjoy myself like I used to.'

        Sid shook his head in mock outrage. 'And you a man of the cloth and all. Robbin’ your own church. I thought you’d found God. What happened? You lose him again?'

        'I don’t think I ever found God. And at some point l just… stopped looking.'

        'Did you try texting ‘im?'

        'You’re not funny.'

        'Right, and that’s why people never came to your sermons. That an’ people can smell a fraud a mile off, even inna church.' Sid took a long pull on the cigarette, the end glowing in the dark like a tiny star. ‘Why ya ever left London in the first place is what gets me.’

        With the freedom that comes from no longer having to plan for a future, Mike took an honest look at his past. He thought about the rock and roll. The drugs. His band playing in the nightclubs of Soho and Camden. He thought about the gigs he'd played at and the girls he'd known. For the first time in years, he thought about his mate Reg, lying face down in his own vomit. They hadn't realised he was dead until the morning.

        ‘We weren't that good.’

        ‘But why a priest?’

        ‘My father…’ Mike stopped. Second lie in as many minutes. Like smoking, lying is one of those habits difficult to shake.

        ‘Preaching ain’t biological. You don’t inherit it. That was your only two options, was it? Rock or revelation? A bit of the ol’ beatific vision, probably drug induced, and all up for the church?’

        Mike didn’t answer. It did all seem a bit daft in retrospect. After half a lifetime trying to be the model repentant sinner, Mike, or as most knew him now, Reverend Michael Taylor, had decided at the final gate that solemn sermons in the middle of the countryside wasn’t for him.

        Sid shook his head. ‘You can't rock, you can't preach. What can ya do?’

        ‘Die, apparently.’

        ‘That don’t exactly make you unique, mate.’

        Mike flicked his cigarette into the darkness surrounding them. 'So what now?'

        'I dunno. You’re the priest man.' Sid looked around disparagingly. 'If this is ‘eaven, I’d ask for ya money back.'

        'Maybe it’s Hell?'

        'Charming. This wasn’t exactly my idea either.'

        'Some philosophers say that Hell is just the absence of God.' Mike sighed. He added in a mutter, 'Bury me in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots.'

        There was contemplative silence before Sid asked, 'Who said that?'

        'Some rock star.'

 

 

                                                    ******

           

The Short List for the December 2018 Competition is:

 

 

                      One Word at a Time   by Nell Crawford

                      Rock and Revelation   by Melanie   Roussel

                       Plan B   by Richard Smith

                       Moving On   by Barbara Young

                       Red Teardrops   by Mike Carr

                       A Very Cold Case  by  Martin Halliday

 

 

 

The Long List for the Deember 2018 Competition is:

 

                           Now You Don’t   by Diane McKee

                           One Word at a Time   by Nell Crawford

                           Second Chances by Gill Osborne

                           Cherry Blossom   by Rowena Fishwick

                           Rock and Revelation   by Melanie   Roussel

                           Plan B   by Richard Smith

                           Moving On   by Barbara Young

                           Red Teardrops   by Mike Carr

                          The Goodbye   by   Cathryn Rose Goddard

                           Safely Out of the Way   by Dominic Bell

                          A Very Cold Case  by  Martin Halliday

 

 

 

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Henshaw Press (inc Parlow Press)