Friday, 14 November 2014

The Night Shift

A fox barks, and a distant owl hoots somewhere across the playing fields. I peek out from my shelter among the roots and watch as darkness rapidly covers what’s left of the dull, damp day like a shroud spread over a dearly departed. The glare of a street light pokes jagged fingers through the branches above me as I wait for dusk to give way to night.

Out there, humans are returning to their homes. Closing heavy curtains against the unknown night. Enfolding them in the comfort of their own homes, where they’ll grab a few hours with their loved ones – and maybe a take-away as they watch a TV movie – before seeking solace in the safety of their beds. At least, that’s where they think they’re safe.

There’s no home our kind hasn’t visited. No sleep we haven’t shattered with a spasm of fear and panic. No locked doors or barred windows that can keep us away.

Ironic really that they’ve started hanging up ineffective spiders’ webs of wool and trinkets bearing our own name to keep us away. 

Little do they know that we’re not the ones who conceive and give birth to the night terrors that haunt them – they manage that just fine all on their own in the depths of their buried hopes and fears.

We just gather them, take sustenance from them, and use them to build our dark subterranean kingdoms.

We are the Dreamcatchers.  

This story was written for the 5th SSFFS (Short Story & Flash Fiction Society) Project contest - and it won!

For more about the SSFFS Project go to or follow Facebook or Twitter @SSFFS_project]

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Coming ashore

Jacob heaved his sailor’s sack onto his shoulder as the ‘Wind Rider’ bumped into her berth. He sniffed, unused to the singed caramel tinge to the smoggy air from the nearby Tate & Lyle sugar works at Silvertown. 

Stevedores’ shouts cut through the damp evening and light drizzle shimmered the cobbles. Ahead, the refinery’s twin chimneys rose up behind the dockface of warehouses, cranes and bustle – a dark terrestial reminder that he was leaving his old life behind.

A small black paw gently batted his sea-roughened cheek. It came from a cat perched parrot-like on the old salt’s other shoulder, nestling in the bush of hair that hadn’t seen a barber for nigh on forty years.

“Don’t fret, Shaitan,” rasped the sailor. “Tis land, nothing more. You’ll come to know it soon enough.”

Nodding farewells to the deckhands, he walked down the gangplank and left a lifetime afloat behind him. It was time to reacquaint himself with the London land he had left as a boy.

The tavern had no draw on him, buoyed as he was against the cold by the tot of rum in his last mug of ship’s tea. A faded beauty threw a weary “Fancy a good time, darlin’?” in his direction, but he just trudged on. He’d had every kind of portside whore the world could offer, and had probably fathered more street urchins that he’d had hot dinners.

He stopped at a fishmonger’s stall. Shaitan purred into the sailor’s beard at the smell of poor man’s fish. Jacob pulled out a few coins for a pint of winkles and couple of pieces of the jellied eel.

Two streets down, he reached a door unopened for many a year and pulled a key on a grimy string from around his neck. It slotted into the lock, and turned rustily to open to a small room, piled high with the cluttered order of poverty. An embroidered tablecloth beneath the dust of neglect revealed the woman’s touch that had once held sway. But no more. Sarah was gone. Taken away by the diphtheria whilst her brother was sailing the world.

Shaitan leapt to the ground, sniffing at her new surroundings. Jacob dropped his sack, took a saucer from the shelf above the sink in the corner and placed on it a piece of gelatinous fish. He put in on the floor and settled into a tired red armchair, taking a long pin from his pocket to ease the winkles out of their shells.

Empty shells rustled as he fell into a deep sleep, dreaming of the sea. The mistress – sometimes harsh – that he had served, man and boy, and who he had now left behind.

A sudden weight on his chest jolted him awake. Luminous eyes stared into his watery blue ones. Claws, ever-so slightly extended, experimentally dabbed his lips, and a pink tongue voiced a demand for more food.

Jacob had a new mistress now.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Half century mumblings

As I hurtle through the past few weeks of my 40s, it occurs to me that I’m supposed to have grown up and found myself by now.

In some ways, I have – I’m in a settled, long-term relationship, I’ve raised my contribution to the next generation, I’ve achieved a few things in my career, I’ve made some fabulous friends, and I’m probably more comfortable in my own skin than I ever was.

In other ways… not at all!
As I've got older, I've become more of a rebel now than I ever was growing up in provincial middle class England (at this rate, I’ll have a half-shaved head and green eyebrows by the time I hit 70).

Anyway, just for the sheer hell of it, I decided to draw up some lists to remind myself of 50 of the things that have got me this far (and a few of those that I still want to tick off before surrendering to  middle age, the menopause, or whatever else is lurking around the corner).

Things I’m glad I’ve become before I slamming into my 50s:
1)      A redhead
2)      Bilingual
3)      A Humanist
4)      More open-minded
5)      Fit(ter than I was)
6)      Owl-obsessive
7)      An unapologetic man-loving feminist

Things I reckon I’ve always been:
8)      Loud
9)      Clumsy
10)   Passionate
11)   Opinionated
12)   Unexpectedly introvert
13)   In a hurry
14)   An unashamed idealist
15)   The butt of people’s jokes
16)   Slightly nerdy

Things that make my life better:
17)   Tea
18)   Friends
19)   Loud music
20)   Laughter
21)   Books
22)   The Internet
23)   Cheese
24)   Eyeliner
25)   The Mr
26)   The ManChild
27)   Red lipstick
28)   Red wine
29)   A mother who’s also a great friend and inspiration

Things I’ve never regretted:
30)   Speaking my mind
31)   Believing most people are fundamentally good, kind and decent.
32)   Falling in love, head first.
33)   Every book I’ve ever read - even the bad ones, the ones that make me say "If this crap can get published, why the hell can't I?".
34)   Marrying my best friend.
35)   Moving to Greece and making my life here.
36)   Becoming a mother….   once.

37)   “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” – me.
38)   “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” – Dorothy Parker.
39)   “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly past.” – Douglas Adams.
40)   “I can resist anything but temptation.” – Oscar Wilde.
41)   “Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
42)   “Laughter is an enema for the soul.” – Robin Williams

Things I promise to keep doing:
43)   Being me
44)   Loving life
45)   Exercising regularly
46)   Seeking out interesting people – even if I have little or nothing in common with them

Things still left to do:
47)   Swim with dolphins
48)   Watch the Aurora Borealis
49)   Hug a koala
50)   Write that damn book I know is inside me

Have I missed anything out?