Finally, in paperback, some of my short stories.
A specially selected collection of stories and poems, showcasing the talents of members of the thriving writing group, ThirskWriteNow, produced in celebration of the group’s fifth anniversary in September 2016.
Covering virtually every genre, this eclectic mix is guaranteed to delight the most demanding of readers. Step inside and prepare to be be transported, tantalised, amused, intrigued.
They’re coming. The creaks warn me, telling me they’re on their way. Creak; wait one- two- three. Creak, wait- wait. Creak, creak. Silence, wait, one- two. Then the tap on the door. The door opens.
“Morning, and how are we today?”
The creaks were right. They’re here, all bright and breezy. Second one won’t be far behind. The first one draws the curtains, straightens the duvet, plumps the pillows.
“Morning, are we alright today?”
You stupid woman; patronising. Can’t you see I’m alone. There’s no one else. Not in here.
“Are we going down to breakfast today?”
I smile and nod, indicating ‘yes’. It’s the answer she wants to hear. Better than me saying, ‘sorry, but I ain’t going up, sweetie. Not yet anyway.’
The creaks are shouting again. I count; awaiting the new arrival. There’s no tap on the door this time.
“Morning. Is he going down today?”
Bitch. Hello, I am here. Why can’t you ask me? I may be occasionally incontinent, but I’m not totally inconsequential. Not to everyone.
I move my legs over the side of the bed and sit up. My mouth’s dry and the words stick in a queue at the back of my throat. They come out with a cough and a gob of phlegm. I tell them I am going down to breakfast.
“I’ll go bring the lift up,” the second one says and starts to leave.
“No, not today” I say. “I want to walk down. I’m getting up. Just give me time to get dressed. ”
I see them look at each other, then one glances at her watch. They hover, uncertain what to do.
I clear my throat again and bark out “Come back in ten minutes.”
They look at each other again. Then the first one smiles, “Well, if you’re sure. I won’t be far away. I’ll be back to see how we’re getting on.” They leave the room and the door closes behind them.
The creaks start up again, telling me they’ve gone. I close my eyes and the sun spreads her warm fingers across my face, gently caressing my cheeks. It feels good. A few more seconds then I’ll ready myself.
By the time the creaks start chorusing the second coming I am ready and standing by the window. The door opens, catching the thick pile of the carpet and a voice asks, “Are we decent?”
I catch the look of surprise and smile back.
“Well, I don’t want my breakfast to get cold,” I say.
The first one takes my arm and we leave, walking along the passageway to top of the stairs.
Creak, creak, silence; one- two- three; creak, creak. Then a final creak as we pass on our way.
“These old wood floors,” she says. “I’m sure they’re getting worse.”
We descend the stairs and out of earshot the creaks continue.A
One day I’ll tell her. It’s not the old wood floors at all.
Words and photographs Copyright © 2016 by Antony J Waller
Billy Preston shuffled forwards leaning heavily on his stick. He shrugged off the hands of those by his side and took a deep breath. This was one objective he was going to achieve on his own. The mood of the onlookers was quiet and reflective and the restrained tones of a brass band floated through the air.
Not for Billy. He was hearing the jangly notes of a piano thumping away, the wheezing of a discordant squeezebox and the frenetic plucking of a ukulele. He was watching Jonny Ross, Eric Evans and young Harry Smythe playing their instruments for all they were worth. The smoke filled room was alive with laughter and noise, the singing and dancing of young men and women in uniform crammed into the back bar of the Druid’s Staff. It’s what they always did; afterwards.
The sparkle of moonlight on water caught his eye and then he saw the river spooling across the unfamiliar wooded countryside like a giant silver ribbon and growing broader by the minute. They called nights like tonight a ‘bomber’s moon’, where world beneath was bestowed with an ethereal quality. In the cockpit Billy shivered and glanced at the displays on his dials. Not far to the bridge now.
He was almost there. A few more steps to the cold grey granite plinth of the memorial and the growing sea of red washing against its base. Billy knew the names were there, etched in the stone for all to see. He wanted to trace the letters with his fingers, but now was not the right moment.
Billy adjusted the levers to throttle back and lose altitude. The bridge was looming larger. He knew all hell would break loose and they would be shown no mercy from those below.
He remembered walking along the corridor and his flying boots squeaking on the floor wax.
“I’ve chosen you, Preston, and your boys for this mission. I don’t need to tell you how important it is. The bridge must be destroyed. Good luck.”
Billy smiled as he stooped to deliver his poppy wreath. They were all boys. Most of them were still boys. Only he had grown up. He straightened up, stood to attention and snapped a salute. The music in his head faltered, Eric Evans and Harry Smythe lowered their instruments and returned his salute. Jonny Ross just sat there fingers poised over the piano keys. Then he turned to face him, smiled and arched a quizzical eyebrow before slowly closing the lid. Tears welled and trickled down Billy’s cheeks. A hand gripped his elbow to steady him.
Giant ink spots began to pattern the sky, ugly pools of black pock marking the startled face of the moon. The plane began to pitch and yaw, tugging against the controls. They had been spotted. Billy pushed the throttles to the stops and dived lower. The bridge loomed out of the night swathed in a shroud of exploding smudges. He flew straight and true, ignoring the rocking and buffeting, shutting out the screams of the engines and the sounds from the night. Steel girders and metal rivets filled his view and promptly vanished as the plane soared aloft, suddenly unshackled from its heavy burden. A massive explosion rent the air followed by whoops and applause. Then another, this time closer; and Billy Preston’s war ended.
The hand on Billy’s elbow tightened and a voice choking with emotion stuttered, “Billy Preston. After all this time. Billy Preston. You came through.”
Billy turned. The voice belonged to Jonny Ross. “I thought you were…” His voice trailed off.
“Me too,” came the reply. “Well are you just going to stand there? It must be your round by now. Come on, Billy, we’ve got some catching up to do.”
At the going down of the sun and in the morning.
We will remember them.
Words and photographs Copyright © 2015 by Antony J Waller
Many writers bemoan inspiration, or a lack of inspiration for writing the next piece, short story or novel. For me, inspiration comes the minute I sit down and start to write. It simply feeds off the words that went before. However, sometimes my problem is actually sitting down to write in the first place!
Followers of my blog will know I attend a local Writing Group and we task ourselves to write a short piece for our next meeting. This time we each wrote a random word down and then said, ‘Ok-write a story using the following:- lampshade, wizard, panda, coal bunker, twelve, armchair, camel, jellyfish, battenberg, bettingslip and wellington boot’. This is what I sat down and wrote……(you can have a go too if you like)
“Doreen, don’t answer that, it’s someone going door to door!”
The shouted warning from upstairs came too late. Doreen had already unlocked and opened the front door.
“Good evening madame. Are you the proprietor? I should point out straight away I’m not here to sell you anything, merely to annoy you and take up a lot of your time.”
She found herself staring at a man of average height dressed in baggy trousers tucked into wellington boots and wearing a high viz sleeveless vest. He sported a goatee beard and a felt conical shaped hat which flopped over at the top. A laminated card dangling on a piece of red twine around his neck proclaimed ‘Wearer’s official status guaranteed’. Doreen thought his appearance rather mystical but she said nothing.
“My name is Wizard Prang and I’m here tonight to ask for a sizeable donation in exchange for a twelve per cent stake in my company, ‘ThirskWriteNow’. Thank you for your forbearance and for inviting me into your home tonight.”
And before Doreen could protest he had pushed his way past and into the living room plonking himself down into an armchair by the fireplace. Rubbing his hands in the warm glow of the fire he muttered to no one in particular, “A fresh bucket of coal and a mug of hot chocolate wouldn’t go amiss.”
“What did they want this time?”shouted her husband Roger from upstairs. “Hope you gave them short shrift. I hope it wasn’t that animal rights group with their sponsor a camel for the Tuaregs again?”
“Roger! I think you had better come down. We have a Wizard in the front room.”
“Bloody hell, Doreen. What did you invite him in for? You know its Tuesday and I’m supposed to be going out.”
“He just came in. Says he wants to offer us a share in ThirskWriteNow. ”
“I’m putting my trousers on. Doreen you’d better put the kettle on and pander him with some of your homemade cake. It’s not every day you get a Wizard popping in and we don’t want him waving his wand around.”
“So Mr Prang, how long have you been a wizard and what is it you wizard exactly?”
“Oh please Roger, call me Denton. By the way that’s an awfully nice looking brocade lampshade in the corner. Exquisite macramé work and fringed with drop down tassels too. Do you mind if I try it on?”
“Tea, Denton, and would you care for a square of battenberg.”
The wizard did and much to Roger’s consternation chose pink, eating both squares and removing the marzipan from the remaining yellow ones.
“Simply delicious, thank you. Now without further ado I suppose I had better persuade you to invest in my company and relieve you of your money. You won’t be disappointed. Roger and Doreen listened intently as Wizard Prang embarked on his spiel setting out his aspirations for ThirskWriteNow. He concluded with a little demonstration, and with a flourish produced several betting slips from an inside pocket which he promptly turned into a chapter of Thrills International and a dastardly fiendish murder plot.
“Hey presto, our unique selling point and the end of my presentation. Are there any questions?”
There certainly were. Roger wanted to know how he’d arrived at such a ridiculous valuation for a writing company and was eager to drill down to the underlying hardcore financials. Doreen on the other hand was sceptical and rather bemused to hear a group of writers variously described in such terms as ‘free swimming’, ‘gelatinous’, ‘umbrella shaped’ and having lots of ‘trailing tentacles’. It sounded more like a jellyfish to her, but there again she wasn’t a writer.
She coughed politely. “Wizard Prang, I’m going to say I’m out. Now unless you have anything else in your pockets that might burn this wicked witch of the west is going to trip the light fantastic down the yellow brick road to the coal bunker. Goodnight!”
And with that Doreen promptly disappeared.
The latest challenge at my local Writing Group this week was to write a short piece inspired by the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s ‘Another brick in the wall’. I’m afraid my inspiration came from a visit to the Baltic, the Art Gallery on the quayside at Gateshead, and an exhibit by Mark Wallinger. Here it is:
“Morning Gilbert, another fine and sunny day beckons. I can feel the warmth seeping through me already.”
“Morning Elisha. It’s yet to reach me, I’m a few layers down from you and it’s still shady here.”
“Sorry, old chap. Still could be worse. You could be an engineering brick further down or even worse one of those white-washed basement Johnnies. Dank and dreary if ever was. At least we get to see a bit of life. Procession for the Royal Jubilee was rather well done don’t you think.”
“I was draped with a flag, old thing, but I remember the one before. The soldiers, the bands, the cheering crowds and the good queen herself.”
“Oooh, hark at you two. What about the Olympics celebration cavalcade. That really squeezed my mortar.”
“Ah, morning, Thaddeus.”
“Morning Gilbert, Elisha. Have you heard the good news? Maurice had his graffiti cleaned. Took them long enough, Banksy it most certainly wasn’t.”
“No, things are not like they used to be. Gone are the days of ‘Votes for women’ and ‘Kilroy was ‘ere’.”
“Chads, I liked the Chads. The big doleful eyes and that bulbous nose followed by ‘Wot, no sausages’. Sorry, where are my manners. Morning Thaddeus, Gilbert, Elisha and Maurice if he’s listening.”
“’Ban the bomb’, ‘CND’, ‘Yanks Go Home’. That one got a bit sticky.”
“Yes, a few heads cracked that day. I don’t like it when they start throwing bricks. Could be someone you know. An awful way to go. Broken up and smashed, skittering along the road to end up in the gutter. Reduced to dust and swept away. Not everyone gets re-constituted you know.”
“Winston, are you getting re-pointed?”
“Next week, Maurice. It’ll be good to get some fresh joints. Hey, Elisha! Did you know you’re going to be shrouded in plastic for a while? That’ll spoil your view; stop some of your nocturnal habits, the velux windows opposite!”
“I bed your pardon. I’ll have you know there’s nothing untoward about my evening activities whatsoever, thank you very much.”
“Oh, pull the other one. We all know what you get up to from your lofty vantage point.”
“You should have more respect. Height has its disadvantages too you know. The 1940s, the Blitz. I still shudder when I hark back to those dark days. Fire and flames shooting into the night skies, the baking heat, then drenched in water, buckling timbers, collapsing roofs. Walls disappearing before your eyes. Dreadful times, simply dreadful. Isn’t that so, Gilbert.”
“23rd December 1941. I remember it as if yesterday. One minute a terrace, next an exposed gable end. But we pulled through, survived. Didn’t lose a single brick. We all clung together, held firm. Every last one of us. Dust and smoke swirling everywhere. Do you remember? We had a full roll call that night, basement east corner to apex top, each brick shouting out in turn, name, number, level. Never been a night like it. Individually we may be just a block of clay, a brick in a wall but together, collectively, en masse and in unison, we’re a structure, an edifice, a monument….”
“Oh well said, Gilbert, well said. We’ll make an old brick of you yet.”
It is usual for writers to say, “The characters and events portrayed in this story are fictitious and any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended.” All I will say is, Walter and Nimrod are characters from my imagination, two Yorkshiremen in their later years, but as for the rest…..!
It was a balmy summer’s evening in North Yorkshire and the horizontal rain had slackened to a dreary downward drizzle leaving the countryside cloaked in a damp and misty murk. The puddles on the footpath were tinged with an orange glow as two figures clad in damp tweed jackets with cloth caps pulled firmly in place met by the village’s solitary lamp-post.
“Nah then, Walter. Thought you were away on yer holidays with the Missus.”
“I am, Nimrod. Went on Friday for an all inclusive long weekend break to that new holiday park down the road. Problem is all the caravans were booked so we’re stopping in a yurt. And they don’t allow pets in yurts so I’ve come home on me bicycle to see to Sabre.”
“Good job you chose a short haul holiday then. So what’s with the piece of string?”
“I haven’t got a lead for t’dog.”
“You mean there’s somat tied to the other end? What sort of dog you got?”
“A Mexican sheep dog, Sabre’s a Sheepwowah.”
“Well I’ve heard it all now. Walter, tha’s been ‘ad. T’only way he’ll be wowing owt is if he starts crooning Mexican love songs to lull sheep at shearing time. Aye up, Walter, mind that puddle!”
Walter bent down and picked up the dog as the pair walked on in silence for a while.
“Anyway, Nimrod, what you doing out tonight? It’s not your usual night for going out.”
“I’ve been down the Village Hall.”
“Village Hall? But it’s W.I. night. Nimrod, what you been up to?”
“Tonight’s the night they were picking the months for the new Calendar Girls and doing a photo shoot. Mrs Newman was misty March, Mrs Lane hot July, Mrs Fallows and young Julie autumnal harvest….”
“And you were helping out?”
“Well not exactly, Walter. I went with me camera and was peeking through the windows hoping to get some shots in full digital colour.”
“Joined the hoards of the papparazzi now have you? Fancy a quick pint down The Feathers and you can tell me more.”
Nimrod sighed and shook his head. “I didn’t actually manage to get any photographs. I was thwarted, Walter. Thwarted by that Amanda. Too clever by half she is. She’d covered all the windows in bubble-wrap.”
“Well I hope you didn’t see my Enid in there. I don’t fancy giving her a croggie back. Anyways, Nimrod, time I was getting Sabre home and back to me holiday. Right fancy them yurts, you know. Ours even has a chandelier.”
This was written for my writers’ group, ThirskWriteNow and the idea was to write a piece using the following 8 words…Lamppost, Bubble, Chihuahua, Bicycle, Chandelier, Feather, Caravan, Camera.
You are the judge of whether I achieved that aim!