Category Archives: Esther Newton’s weekly challenge

No escape

there is no escape

you may think to flee,
to the park, or your sister’s side,
wherever your soul hopes to find ease
but your home is not where the ogre resides
he’s not in the air that you breathe
but lodged deep inside
where you cannot reach

there is no escape

you may stagger to the kitchen, trembling
and make a cup of herbal tea
while you stammer out a soothing verbal remedy –
I’m OK, I’m OK, I’m OK
but you won’t be

there is no escape

as you repeat your mantra and sip your warm drink
the tremor may cease, and you may think
you can dispel it, but
even as you congratulate yourself
the ogre is polishing his weapons
practicing his grinning stealth
for the next, evil chapter
he may
creep
up
on
you
in stages or
suddenly explode in your face as if from nowhere
and still, some sneaky vestige of terror
weaves greasily through your frame
though you have closed your ears to the ogre
willing yourself not hear him whisper
that you will never be safe again

there is no escape
you know there is no escape

Written for Esther Newton’s Weekly Challenge Option 2 “Write a poem on the theme of Fear

©Jane Paterson Basil

Five troubles

  1. The trouble with having a drink
    Is it makes you unable to think
    Now I’ve three men in tow
    And I think I may throw
    Myself and the booze in the drink.
  2.  

  3. I wanted no trouble from men
    So I built a steel walled den
    But I forgot the door
    now I sit on the floor
    Begging for help from strong men
  4.  

  5. There was a young lady of Nice
    Whose hair was troubled by grease
    She shaved it away
    And the very next day
    She went out and bought a hairpiece
  6.  

  7. A young man was having trouble
    With his face, which was covered in stubble
    De da dee dee da
    De da dee dee da
    De da dee dee da dee dee flubble.
  8.  

  9. The trouble with me is, I’m tired
    From constantly feeling wired
    Those dee da’s were lazy
    But my brain’s getting hazy
    And no longer am I inspired

Written for Esther Newton’s Weekly Challenge Choice 1 “Write a limerick with the word trouble in it somewhere.” I’ve missed this challenge so much that I felt the need to write five – maybe it would be more accurate to call it four-and-a-half…

©Jane Paterson Basil

Four nosey posies

This week,  Esther Newton challenged her readers to write a limerick which includes the word ‘Nosey’. I got carried away and wrote four…

The chicken-bellied parson of Aldershot
Was a nosey, backmailing, wicked lot
Even when in repose
The parson’s nose
Could weazel out secrets, and plot

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I used to think life was rosey
Til I married a man who was nosey.
I dispised that guy
And his efforts to spy
On my lover and me getting cosy!

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I didn’t like the people of this nosey town
The backbiting and rumours got me down
I shot everybody dead
and now, instead
I miss all my friends in this lonely town

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And finally:

Nosey Rosie Thompson-Twitty
(although she is really VERY pretty)
has a nose like a bus
but so dangerous
it’s been banished from Birmingham city

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©Jane Paterson Basil

That cracked and pitted path

Note to family and friends: please don’t be alarmed by this poem – this is a response to Esther Newton’s Weekly Challenge, and refers to the situation a year ago.

Medical mutilation is her means to an end,
a dirty deviation that I cannot mend.
It’s messed with her mind and it’s made her mad,
stealing all the inspiration she once had;
everything she tells me is a misinterpretation,
most of what she sees is wild hallucination.
Her fading head is fetid with foul fabrication,
and her family are drowning in devastation.
She shouts allegations of spies in the trees,
of worms beneath her skin and injected disease.
She threatens and she rages and she begs and she pleas:
Why don’t you ever listen to me?
She stomps to the bathroom and she locks the door,
not caring that I know what she’s in there for.
She knows I forbid the filthy drugs within my home,
but selfishness is part of the addict’s syndrome.
At one a.m. she’s yelling and she hasn’t stopped at four,
when finally I’m forced to push her out of the door.

Despair, like an iron maiden, crushes me in,
re-piercing my scarred and broken skin.
My knocking knees weaken and I sink to the floor.
I remember no yesterday, no future dawn;
no memory of the happiness we knew before,
nor the slightest hope that she may be reborn.
Rusted iron blood clogs my veins,
clanks and clammers in my brain,
and though I try to stand, I try in vain.
So this is it, I think, I will not rise again

I take deep breaths to banish from my head,
all of the recriminating things she has said
and all of paranoid drug-induced inventions,
while I try to focus on my intentions.
I lie on my back and I meditate
on how to return to a positive state.
She’s been well before, and whatever the cost
she can be well again; all is never lost.
Whatever the danger of Laura’s reproach
I’ll ring the doctor and we’ll find a new approach.

I’ve re-established hope at last.
I’ve found my way back to that cracked and pitted path.
I wonder if the devil will feel my wrath,
or whether he’ll achieve the final laugh.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Autumn

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harvest past, the fiery globe of setting sun
paints autumn shades on dying leaves
stripped of chlorophyl
they unclip from trees
their useful season spent

sinking in final spiral dance
shimmering in precious metal hue
they land to papery stillness
rustled only by rippling wind until
wrapped in wool against skin-thick chill
children come, giggling and kicking up a
burnished whirlwind
as they play
their temporal innocence untinged
by insidious truths of death and decay

birds synchronise their flight
making changing patterns in the sky
preparing a take a trip on tired wings
and visit kinder climes

wild creatures prepare hibernatory nests
for a safe escape from winter
summer’s abundance is stockpiled in these hidden dens

the weakest will slip too deeply beyond coma
and into death

bees weaken
become ill, limiting their ability to fly
falling from heights
they crawl staggering on the ground
while I sadly wonder if they know
their time has come to die

fruit has been plumped and ripened by sun and rain
harvested, eaten or stored for the days of
nature’s freezing sleep
flowers have shed their petals, their seeds
have ripened and taken a chance with the breeze
trusting it to drive them to fertile soil to take their space
in this crazy, spinning, living, multi coloured place

I close my window in the evening
I shiver as I pile a thicker quilt on my bed
sip comforting cocoa
and think of the sweet awakening of spring

Written for Esther Newton’s weekly challenge.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Her mother’s daughter

aknife 123

Option A:

I look around at my colleagues with envy.

“Are you ok,?” Shirley asks, stopping her filing for a moment and looking straight at me.

I nod my head. Blink a tear away. Force a smile. Shirley starts filing again. How can I tell her? How can I find the words to say how I really feel?

I suddenly feel irritated. She would be unlikely to believe me anyway. Her life is so simple. Nothing like this could never happen to clean Shirley, with her squeeky clean Christian parents, her clean shaven, clean living fiance and her sickeningly clean life.

Then there’s Kazza, sitting at the desk which she apologetically insisted upon pushing up against the wall on her first day here, because she thought she was taking up too much space. She’s such a mouse, always trying to make herself invisible, stooping slightly because she’s so embarrassed about her height, constantly apologising for her existence. She should try living with my problems for a while.

I hear Kazza’s chair scrape as she stands, her whispering footsteps, and now she is behind me, a hand on my shoulder, lips close to my ear as she bends her tall, willowy frame. I can feel kindly concern emanating from her in waves, and I guiltily curse myself for having such uncharitable thoughts. What is happening to me?

“You’re finding it tough, aren’t you Sophie? You know you can talk to me any time. It’ll take a while for you to come to terms with what’s happened, but I’ll be here for you if you need me.”

Kazza knows all about my mum. It happened just over a month ago. She launched a viscious physical attack on another inmate at the prison. The woman had somehow managed to fashion a sharp knife, which she drove into my mother’s jugular vein. They told me that my mum died quickly. At first my only feeling was one of relief that it was finally over. She had her retribution.

The following day was Friday, and I went to work as usual. I was able to start making telephoned  arrangements for the funeral; after all, it wasn’t as if I had any interest  in selecting a quality coffin or sitting in the undertakers office discussing special arrangements while tearfully dabbing at my eyes with a wad of soggy tissues.

I explained to Kazza and Shirley that my estranged mother had died, so they wouldn’t wonder what was behind the unusual phone calls. At lunchtime Kazza and I went to the little kitchen where we eat our lunch. Shirley didn’t join us because she was leaving early to travel to a family wedding somewhere in Scotland. Kazza had suggested that although I didn’t realise it, I may be in shock.

I was looking out of the window, feeling strangely blank and distanced from reality, as she told me about how she switched off when she heard about the death of her abusive father, and the grief and shame she felt when it hit her. She was apologising for him; explaining that he hadn’t always been that way – it was only when she hit puberty. He couldn’t help the way he felt and maybe her skirts had been too short, maybe she did inadvertently egg him on…

As she was talking, I saw Shirley walk past the window with her parents. They had come to pick her up in their car, so that they could all travel together. Mr. Clean, the boyfriend, was with her. I suppose what triggered my reaction was a combination of what Kazza was saying and the sight of that carefree family knot outside; suddenly all of the grief and pain and anger and horrible, horrible childhood fear and loneliness exploded through my eyes, nose and mouth.

Through tears and bubbling snot I ranted and screamed. Spittle was flying from my lips, but I didn’t care.

“You can forgive your bastard father if you wish, but I will never forgive my mother. I was there when she raised the butcher’s knife in her left hand. I saw my father’s look of terror as his arms jerked in an effort to protect himself.” I shouted. “I saw the blade sink into my father’s bare chest and the blood that escaped from the hole it left when she pulled it out to stab again. I saw the blood and heard that last gurgle as his life leaked into the carpet. I heard her gleeful laugh as I ran for the door and escaped.”

And now I lay my hand over hers. I lean towards her. I tell her the half-truth that she expects.

“Yes, it has been a shock. I thought my mother could never hurt me again, but she has, and it doesn’t go away.”

I don’t tell her about the phantom night-time visits from my mother when I am trying to sleep, or the way she conjures up the spectre of my gentle father for her grisly theatre. He’s bare chested as he was on that hot summer day, accidentally knocking over a vase of plastic flowers on the table, apologising, apologising, apologising – even though no harm was done, nothing was broken, dirtied or damaged – inciting the rage that caused her to stab him to death. I don’t tell her how I have to hear him apologising over and over, and I can’t stop it. I can’t stop the thing that happens next.

I also omit to mention the blind rages that fly up from nowhere, or of coming out of them in a different place than I was when I became angry. Each time it happens I seem to be gone for longer. I tend to take walks late at night, to put off the time when I must go to bed. Although my mother’s ghost doesn’t visit me every night, there’s no knowing when it will happen, and I dread it. I was out after midnight last night. The streets were empty apart from a drunk, who was lurching along. When he got alongside me he staggered and stumbled against me. He immediately started slurring his apologies, trying to brush my coat down, and saying “There, see? No harm done,” before saying sorry again. I became angry at his constant repetition. Everything else is a blank until the moment when I found myself standing in my bathroom with both taps running, rinsing something off my cuff. I was distressed to discover, later, that I had somehow lost my coat.

I sit in that small room with Kazza. I cut up an apple with a sharp kitchen knife as I talk instead about my memories of my mother during those times when she was well.

Our lunch-hour is over. I pick up the dirty plates and the kitchen knife, and take them to the sink to wash them up. Kazza brings her cup over. She didn’t drink all of her tea, and it’s gone cold. There’s something slippery on the floor, and it causes her to lose her balance for a moment. The liquid flies across the room, splashing my closed handbag. It’s plastic, so it won’t stain. She grabs a cloth, and starts wiping at it, repeatedly telling me how sorry she is, how clumsy. There’s nothing to apologise about, and yet she’s apologising again. I’m beginning to feel angry. It’s all just pointless, maddening noise.

It feels just like that time way back, before they locked me up, when my irritating husband wouldn’t shut up. He just kept on and on about those stupid plastic flowers, while he tried to arrange them properly in the vase, and apologising because he couldn’t make them look the way they did before. I had to kill him. It was the only way to get some peace.

I feel young and rejuvinated. The strength has returned to my fingers. I switch the knife to my left hand, and grip it tighter, and turn towards the tall babbling woman who is wiping at a spotless bag on the floor. It’s good to be back. It will be better still once I’ve silenced her.

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This is my response to this weeks challenge from Esther Newton.

Esther says:

This week I’m going to give you two choices:

Option A: I’ll give you a story opening and the challenge is to continue the story from that point.

Option B: For this choice, I have a story ending for you and your challenge is to write story up to the ending. 

Here is your opening and your ending:

Option A:

I look around at my colleagues with envy.

“Are you ok,?” Shirley asks, stopping her filing for a moment and looking straight at me.

I nod my head. Blink a tear away. Force a smile. Shirley starts filing again. How can I tell her? How can I find the words to say how I really feel?

Option B:

I was wrong. I thought finding a ghost would be exciting and fun. At the very least I thought it would be scary. But it was more than that. So much more.

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I was inspired by Option B, so I used the idea, but I started the story with Option A.

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©Jane Paterson Basil

Dead man walking

gallows-858572_64

Dead man walking towards the gallows with eyes that scour the dowdy skies, on his brow a question mark; a puzzle. On his lips, a mysterious half smile

as if oblivious to the relentless drizzle which soaks his prison rags and his hair

as if unaware of the ill-wishing crowd that ghoulishly fights for the clearest view; to mock and deride, and to stare as the trapdoors drop, stretching his neck

and hard as they try, nobody knows if the wet that shines on his cheeks is caused by the rain or tears from his eyes, and aside from the woman clad in black, weeping behind a midnight veil, away from the crowd, far off to the back, not one of them offers a kindly prayer.

They wrap the rough noose around his neck while he calmly continues to stare at the sky, as if searching the gloom for a heavenly ray. He stands silently. No sigh leaves his lips, no string of curses, no sob, no brief cry.

When the trapdoor flaps with a creaking report it can smash the hearts of kindly allies, sending hands to the throat as if they are feeling the cut of the rope, the constricted breathing, the pounding head and the weight of lead; the filthy stench of their own demise.

But only one woman is on his side. The rest will be cheering until he has died.

Briefly he dances the final adieu of every man who ends on the gallows, then his body stretches, and swings only a little, then eerily stills, to dangle immobile from the thick hemp.

Still the mysterious half smile plays, and still his bright eyes, open and swollen, try to stare skywards, with the question still, stilled on his dead face, as if he is searching a heavenly place.

Like a miracle brought by his hallowed gallows gaze, the weather clears and the clouds disappear, lulling the eager, satisfied throng who are self validating while they’re waiting to see the rope cut and to hear the thud of the corpse hitting the floor, when something unseen, an uneasy feeling seems to stir briefly through the air. People glance toward the dead man and shudder anew at his upwards stare.

In an instant dread darkness shadows the sky. Thunder assaults the earsdrums and rain drives diagonally against the prison walls, painting them the shade of the prisoners lives, slamming onto the ground; splashing, spattering brown mud onto the drenched dresses of the women who watched the thrilling spectacle of death and mocked the flailing victim as he fought and lost his battle for breath

The milling citizens lick their lips, tasting savoury flavour on their skin, shocked by the strangeness of salt-caked rain which attacks their heads, their faces and ears, when over the commotion a young child speaks a simple truth, “this rain tastes like tears.”

And now, through fearful eyes, they wince at the victim. His lids have closed. His cheeks and skin are dry as biscuit. His arid lips still have that strange half-grin, and although the rain falls all around, it falls just clear of the hangmans sting.

The fleeing throng who’ve been baying for blood, taking entertainment from the theatre of pain, won’t rest easy in their beds tonight, with the taste of phantom tears still fresh in their minds and the threat of sorcery or the terror of a phantom with a mysterious smile.

This is my take on this week’s  Writing Challenge from Esther Newton

She asks us to write a story or poem on one of the following themes

  • Ghost
  • Horror
  • Crime
  • Romance

I couldn’t choose which one to go for, so there’s a hint of everything here.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Reflections

lake-678994_64

my hand tingled in your firm grip
as we gazed at our reflections in the cold lake below,
faces close, winter coats concealing our hearts.

letting me go, you bent at the knees,
carefully selected a round, black stone
and dropped it gently to splosh and sink,
sending ripples across the water,
blurring our faces so they seemed to
separate from themselves and each other.
the light changed, and our images disappeared.
in silence we turned from the scene.
icy hands thrust in our lonely pockets
lonely hearts warmed only by wool
while behind us the ripples expanded
ever outwards.

And that, friends, is my poem for this weeks challenge from Esther

©Jane Paterson Basil

Three Glowing Sparks

I love Esther Newton’s weekly challenges!

Esther’s challenge this week is to write a poem or story based on the visual prompt of a haunted lighthouse.

stepping  from
       the car with  an 
          airy feeling  in 
          her head  and  her 
        feet, and a return of
       that  lost  freedom 
       she hasn't  felt 
        since      then, 
           a  lifetime  ago,
             she lets the grey 
             glow  in  the  sky 
            lead  her  where it 
          may; along  familiar 
        lanes,  abandoned  by 
        her; so, so long ago
         in the  vain  and
          hopeless  hope
         that the pain 
        may  fade
      one day,
     one
     day
      forever 
         awaited,
            and yet she 
              roams these 
              roads   again 
            untouched now  by
        the memory of       then;
   of  that  searing  second, minute, 
 hour, day, week, month, year, eternity
when everything had screamed within her.
 when. everything. good. was. dead.
   everything     dead.
      everything
         except 
            her.
              now the 
              old windmill
            towers above her,
          its crumbling walls 
       concealing worm eaten 
     floorboards which 
     killed........
      and now  two 
         illuminated 
           figures approach 
            and she walks into 
             their silken glow.
            her   children
          have waited
       in this place  
      these many years 
      so  patiently   waited  
        for her embrace and as they 
           all  join  hands  her   form
               shimmers into translucence.

                 several   miles   away, 
                  strangers  stand in 
                  shock beside the 
                 wreck of a car, 
               mourning     her 
             shredded  shell  on 
          the blood-spattered bonnet
      and sadly  shaking  their heads.
   an  approaching  siren  wails,  and 
  they turn their heads   from  death;  
   but    I    see     the      three 
     glowing    sparks     as   they 
      leave the heart of the woman 
        and soar up to the sky
         and I know that 
        she's healed 
      at last.

© Jane Paterson Basil