Category Archives: Short Stories

Making things Beta

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.

Tom Benson - Creative

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.

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A Time for Courage - 1My 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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Cure Guaranteed! – Short Story

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. 

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Cure Guaranteed!

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“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.”

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“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.

“So?”

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“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!”

“We’ll see…”

***

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.”

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“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.

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“I won’t let you down,” he adds, smiling as we leave the court…

***

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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.

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“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…

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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?”

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“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.

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“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?”

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“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…”

The ‘Spectre’

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…

 

Image          Image       Image

 

The ‘Spectre’

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..”

“You mean…?”

“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…

Crash Landing…!

plane crash 5
Steve Carter was excited to be working for the new budget airline. All those years of study and tests had really paid off. So why shouldn’t he have celebrated with a few drinks and some partying? All he needed was a relaxing shower, some black coffee, a couple of aspirin, and he’d be fine. Still, he was regretting not getting to bed at a reasonable time; sleeping through the alarm call was stressing him out. He needed to relax. Maybe just a ‘hair of the dog’ to settle his nerves, he thought; that last can of lager was still in the fridge, shame to waste it…The drive to work was just as stressful. There was more traffic than he expected, and when he did eventually get onto the dual carriageway he had to break the speed limit several times to make it on time. But now he was actually in the cockpit, running through the pre-flight safety checks:

  1. Aircraft registration, certification, and related paperwork up to date – check!
  2. Ignition switch in off position – check!
  3. Turn on master power switch – check!
  4. Check fuel gauges – check!
  5. Listen to sounds of equipment powering on. Radio cooling fans, instrument gyros, and all other equipment. No unusual sounds – check!
  6. Landing flaps and gear lock down leavers all functioning normally – check!

Everything seemed good to go. A nod from his co-pilot confirmed it. This is it then Stevie boy, he thought, let’s do it…

“This is your Captain speaking,” Steve began, “I just want to welcome you all aboard UK Air 247. We are now cruising at an altitude of thirty thousand feet. I hope you all have a pleasant flight.”

The next half hour went smoothly. The take-off had gone like a breeze, what could go wrong?

“Reports of turbulence ahead.” The co-pilot said. Steve didn’t want to hear that, his head was still throbbing, and having to concentrate wasn’t helping…

“Prepare for lift to thirty five thousand feet, that should take us above it. I’ll get confirmation from Air Traffic Control” Steve replied. The plane wasn’t responding though. In fact, they were struggling to maintain their present altitude. The cockpit was beginning to rock from side to side as the aircraft entered the turbulence.

“It’s worse than we were told. This is severe turbulence.” Steve was saying before they were interrupted by a knock on the dividing door between them and the passengers. A voice asked if everything was okay, and suggesting that the passengers would appreciate a word of reassurance from the flight crew when they had a chance.

“Not now!” Steve snapped back. The co-pilot and stewardess exchanged concerned glances that didn’t go unnoticed by Steve…

“I’m sorry,” Steve said hastily, “could you just go and tell them we’re experiencing some bad weather and we’ll be through it shortly, thanks.” The stewardess nodded and closed the door behind her. Steve was finally getting the plane to increase in altitude, and was feeling more relaxed. It wasn’t to last. A moment later a blinding flash shot across the front window, followed by a sharp jolt to the cockpit and what sounded like a small explosion and the sound of thunder following the lightning.

“Captain!” The co-pilot shouted. “Fire on one of the left engines. That lightning bolt must have caught us.”

Shit shit shit, was all Steve could think, why now, why today when there was enough thunder going on in his head? He had to think, how to respond, what to do?

“The controls are barely responding, we need to make an emergency landing, and soon!”

The stewardess came back in and made another appeal for reassurance from the flight crew. Steve didn’t have time that, telling her to do her job and give the assurances herself.

“Captain Steve Carter of UK Air 247, requesting clearance for an emergency landing. Over?” He said over the radio.

“This is Air Traffic Control, state your emergency and flight status. Over?”

“We’ve been hit by lightning on the left starboard engine. Flight controls failing to respond, and losing altitude. Requesting emergency landing guidance.”

“Stand-by please…”

The temperature inside the cockpit was rising. Steve and his co-pilot were sweating, but Steve more so. The damage to the engine and the controls must have affected the cooling circuits. That in itself wasn’t too much to worry about, but it raised the danger of a complete electrical short-circuit.

“Air Traffic Control to UK Air 247, please respond?”

“UK Air 247 here, pass your message control.”

“We’re sending a revised flight plan now, stand by.”

Steve was directed to land the plane at a nearby airport several miles ahead. Steve and his co-pilot prepared for their descent and landing…

“Aircraft lined up with runway. Check.” The co-pilot confirmed.

Steve pulled back the throttle, less than a quarter inch, being careful to keep their airspeed within the green safety arc. The nose of the aircraft began to dip slightly, but Steve found himself having to constantly pull and push on the yoke to keep the aircraft steady. He could see the look of concern on his co-pilot’s face, who was remaining conspicuously quiet. Despite his best efforts, the cockpit was rocking from side to side and their descent was much too fast. Once again the nose began to dip, but this time much too quickly and too much. They were too low. Some power lines loomed ahead of them in the distance. Steve tried to pull the aircraft up, but… Too late! The landing gear caught the top of them, and again the nose of the aircraft started to dip even more, just before going into a headlong dive…

Steve, the crew, and the fifty seven passengers never had a chance….

 ********************

“Well, that was pretty dire wasn’t it?” The chief flight instructor began, “had that been a real aircraft you were flying instead of one our latest advanced simulators then you, your flight crew, and all the passengers would now be dead!” Steve started to try and say something but was cut short… “I would suggest you try bus driving but they don’t particularly like their drivers with a hangover or half pissed either. Now get out!”

The Great Bank Robbery…

ImageImage

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…

Freedom….

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…

Starship Shooters…

Image           Image

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!”

Sperm Bank Donor…

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…

Image  Image

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…

“Yes?”

“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…

A Mis-Understanding…

sunrise2    images4Y0APJ9S    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…”

Behind the Sofa…

My first attempt at what I would call a ‘proper’ flash-fiction piece. I hope you enjoy it…

The room was pitch black but for the small light source at the end of the room. Tom was scared, very scared. He crouched down out of sight of the man brandishing the dagger, who appeared to be looking for something or someone

Tom’s eyes were tightly shut. He knew he should keep them shut and stay out of sight till the man left but curiosity kept prizing them open, just a squint, while he ever so slowly edged his head to the side to catch a glimpse of what was happening…

The dagger was glistening in the man’s hand. Tom watched the man as he continued to silently search through the room, opening drawers, moving furniture, determined to find what he was looking for, or maybe some clue to finding who he was looking for.

Whatever it was, Tom was sure this man was dangerous. Tom tried holding his breath so the man wouldn’t hear his breathing. He needn’t have worried, for that moment the room erupted into life as another figure burst through the door, laughing and hissing like a snake. The man with the dagger jumped back, pulling a religious cross from his jacket, which seemed to stop the other man in his tracks. The other man hissed again, but he had stopped laughing as he raised his arm, holding his black cloak up to shield his eyes.

Tom didn’t understand what was happening but he knew it wasn’t good, that his own life would be in danger if he should be discovered. He knew he should never have come downstairs. Tom’s eyes closed tightly shut again as he instinctively curled into a foetal position, praying that it would all soon be over. Tom could hear the two men shouting and arguing, and then a crashing sound and a cry of pain. Tom curled his body up even tighter, his hands clasped over his ears to try and block out the sound…

“I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist one last look round the castle,” the man in the cloak hissed, “It’s time we put an end to this…”

The room immediately lit up as if it were ablaze. Tom feared the worst as he heard that familiar scream…

“Tommy!” Screamed his mother, “How many times have I told you not to creep down at night to watch horror films, you know they give you nightmares.”

Four year old Tommy crept from behind the sofa, his tearful wide-eyed innocence more than a match for his mother’s initial anger, and skedaddled back to the safety of his own warm bed…

This was a sort of twist on those early episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ that so many of my generation would tentatively watch from behind the sofa, worried that the monsters on screen might just be real. I made the TV program a horror film, as a Doctor Who episode probably wouldn’t be shown late at night…

 

 

 

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