Tag Archives: fiction

The Fog

fog

“Hereabouts, fog can come suddenly, with little warning to those who don’t know the signs. It rises from the boggy moorland, wrapping the unwary traveller in a damp mist far deeper than that which exists between waking and sleeping, and a silence drops. This silence is eerie, but you should be glad of it, for it is far safer than the sweet songs of those devils who live within the fog, stealing their sense of direction and leading them astray. You may think yourself too familiar with the landscape to be fooled, but you are wrong. Many have made that mistake, to their cost. Dan, over at Bolden farm – his folks had lived hereabouts all their lives, worked the land, knew it like the back of his sinewous hand, never strayed further than Bodmin, and yet last October he drowned in the bog just ten minutes from his home. It was a horrible sight; some animal had found him and ripped out his heart, right through his rib-cage. I tell you, he knew his way blindfold.”

While vague pictures form in my mind of the last time I saw Dan alive – on a night rather like this, in this same bar room – old Albert pauses for another sup from the tankard which has been refilled and laid quietly on the table. A creeping unease causes the landlord of The Shrinking Fox to keep Albert’s tankard filled to the brim. There’s no charge, no comment from the landlord, and no thanks from Albert.

Although Albert is undoubtedly old, it’s hard to fix my mind on his likely age, since his features seem to change, his wrinkles blurring and travelling across his face, his nose growing bulbous and then shrinking in the dimming light. Whenever I try to focus, it feels as if the fog of which he speaks has entered my brain.

Seems like I’ve been hearing his stories ever since I was old enough to drink in the Shrinking Fox, and yet when I try to remember the last time I saw Albert, my thoughts slip away from me. He draws me back into this story and I’m unsure of whether I’ve heard it a hundred times before, or if this is the first telling.

Albert slowly puts down his drink, and glances at the eight men in the room. All eyes are on him, as his listeners wait. Satisfied that he has our attention, he continues:

“Even dogs get lost in the fog. Next day they’ll be found with their hearts ripped out – always the hearts, never any other part. It’s the work of the Devil, I tell you.”

I feel a chill, and glancing toward the window, I see the grey fog swallow the world outside. Even the stunted apple tree whose closest branch scratches at the flyblown glass is concealed, save for one immobile twig which touches the glass, pointing, like a warning finger, towards the listeners inside. I briefly focus on that word, ‘warning’, before turning back towards Albert, who’s gone silent. He’s looking at the fog, and the other watchers have followed his gaze. A dismayed “Oh,” comes from the youngest man in the room – he’s only a boy, really, and I fancy I see Albert eyes flash, hungrily, and the hint of a cruel smile… but no, it’s my imagination.

Again, I wonder why I know so little about this man who is so familiar to me. Where does he live? Does he have family, and have I really seen him before, or only dreamed of him? His voice brings my attention back to the present.

“They’ll be out tonight,” he says, gruffly. “It’s a good thing you all live in the village, where you’ll be safe. They never venture this close to human habitation.”

We must all have been holding our breath. The quiet room fills up with relieved sighs, then we look at young Cyril, catching his pale face, hearing a strangled sound issue from his throat. We look away quickly. None of us wants to offer to walk with him to his home. It’s almost two miles away, and Albert’s talk has us all on edge.

Albert is the one brave man among us. Putting us to shame, he turns a gnarled, but kindly face in Cyril’s direction, and says:

“Come on, lad, I’ll get you safely home. I’m the oldest person hereabouts. I’ve heard the devils that live in the fog. They’ve not harmed me, and I have no fear of them. They’ve given up on these old bones.”

Albert is right; we’ll come to no harm as long as we’re in the village, but all the same, to a man, we stand up and follow Albert and Cyril out through the door, and walk close behind him until we reach our homes. By the time I get to my place, there are only the three of us left. I say goodnight and go quickly indoors, before Albert and Cyril have had time to walk away.

The next day, Cyril’s mother finds his body in a boggy area near where she lives; a bloody hole where his heart should be. I keep running through the events of the previous evening, and every time, self-disgust washes over me. I don’t remember much, but I know that we all left the Shrinking Fox together, and I clearly recall everyone else going into their homes, until only he and I were left, then young Cyril walked all alone into the murderous fog. I should have gone with him. I could have steered him safely home – although, with his knowledge of the moors, I can’t understand how he got lost.

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Cyril’s been gone for over a year now. For a while people stayed indoors in the evenings, huddled safely away from their superstitions, but the landlord has whitewashed the bar-room in the Shrinking Fox and it looks more cheerful these days. Maybe that’s why he has more customers. It’s back to the way it used to be, with Albert sitting at the table, reeling out yarns, making us all uneasy. Seems like I’ve seen him here a hundred times before, but I can’t remember when. He takes a drink, surveys the room to make sure he still has everyone’s attention, and he continues:

“Even dogs get lost in the fog. Next day they’ll be found with their hearts ripped out – always the hearts, never any other part. It’s the work of the Devil, I tell you.”

The room dims. Looking through the window, all I can see is grey fog. All eyes follow mine.  One of the men, James – who lives way outside the village – gulps nervously. I fancy I see a hungry look in Albert eyes, and the hint of a cruel smile… but no, it’s my imagination.

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Written for The Daily Post #Foggy

©Jane Paterson Basil

The She-Devil

hidden

Well, the doors had been padlocked for sixty years or so. Rumours had been adjusted and embellished, and now there were several – tales of goblins, witches’ curses and even one about a stairway to the underworld. Anyway, us oldies knew the truth.Many of us had been unfortunate enough to have seen the she-devil that lurked inside the shed. She possessed a strange, alluring beauty that not all who gazed on her sweet curves and glowing skin could see, but many who were prone to her charms had fallen under her spell. It wasn’t just men; women could be equally powerless against her, though, in those days, it was less common, as women weren’t so open about that kind of fascination, or if they were they often kept it under wraps. Obviously, she had no power to harm you if you didn’t fancy her. That’s how it works with them.

So they kept her locked away. Quite right, too.

This pub was famed for miles around for its old-world ambience and fine home-cooking; deservedly so. I can personally recommend the steak-and-kidney pudding; it’s very tender and full of flavour, although my husband, George – may he rest in peace -preferred their toad-in-the-hole (with onion gravy). He liked his food did George. He was such a wonderful man. In twelve years he never once forgot to put out the bin, though I did feel he let me down a bit in the end… I mean, wasn’t I enough for him? I used to say to him, “Curiosity killed the cat.” But did he listen? Oh, no, he just upped an’… sorry, what was that you said? Oh yes, the pub.

As I was saying, the Ring-o’-Bells enjoyed an excellent trade – as you can see, it’s gone downhill since its present encumbents took it over. Back then it was crowded with both locals and tourists who holidayed in the nearby caravan park, so little old Maisie Goodenough from the thatched cottage… yes that’s the one, at the edge of the cliff… Maisie enjoyed a tipple, but didn’t like to pay for it, if you know what I mean, so she used to sit around in here waiting to pounce on the nearest visitor and tell them the gory story about her brother who’d been carried away by that she-devil in the old shed. It got her a few free drinks, you see. She was a scrounging old-so and so… the drink got her in the end. I say she was old; she couldn’t have been more than fifty, but she looked ancient. Mutton dressed as lamb… and she was no better than her brother, though I don’t like to speak ill of the dead. I could tell you a few tales about… what’s that? Oh yes, the story.

It was back in the early 60s. I remember it well, but I never went running around trying to scrounge drinks on the strength of it… oh – how kind; seeing as you’re buying, another rum and coke wouldn’t go amiss.

…………

Is that a double? Oh, no, never mind. Single’s fine. Oh, well, if it’s not too much trouble… I’m not much of a drinker, but the flavour of coke is a bit too strong for me…

…………

Cheers…

Her brother was a bit of a tear-away, and one night after they’d had a skinful, he and a couple of friends decided to break in and see what the fuss was all about. You know what young lads are like, egging each other on – all that silly bravado and that. So they forced the lock, and went in, and there she was, large as life, staring them in the face. The other two boys didn’t think much of her – one of them referred to her as a dusty old heap, would you believe, but Maisie’s brother – Sam, I think it was… or Michael… no, I think it was Stan… a good looking chap, but a bit forward, if you know what I mean. Between you and me, he tried it on with me a couple of times, and me only fifteen or so at the time… but I’m not here to tell you about that.

So Stan’s two mates couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. They even made fun of her. Said she was a bit front-heavy, and he’d be in for a bumpy ride, and stuff like that. But Stan just stared at her with this look on his face. It was love at first sight. He was a gonner. The other two must have been pretty drunk, ‘cos when she swallowed him up – and he went willingly, like they do; he was totally enchanted – they started laughing like idiots, and even when she ran off down the road with poor Stan, they were still laughing.

But I tell you what – they weren’t laughing when she turned round and spat him out over the cliff. When what was left of him was picked up, it wasn’t a pretty site. His face was all smashed in.

They drove the she-devil back to the shed, and put a new padlock on the door. About four years later I started courting George. I met him when I was on holiday at Bognar Regis. It’s lovely there? You ever been to Bognar? You should. I met him at an amusement arcade where he was working. He got the job because he was good with mechanics, and those one-arm–bandits were always going wrong. We got married a couple of years later. He moved in with me, as I’d been left the house by my parents… no, they’re not dead. Why would you think that?. Dad had a big win on the pools so they moved away. My George got a job in the garage – he loved ‘is cars, ‘e did – and we settled down all nice and quiet. I thought I had it made.

To start with, he didn’t seem all that interested in the monstrous beauty in the shed – and why would he be? He had me, and his cars in the garage, what more could he want? He even got us a nice little yellow mini. We used to go all over in that.

Then he started going on about the she-devil, asking for details about her. I had a nasty suspicion about what was on his mind, and I tried to distract him with my womanly wiles if you know what I mean, but he couldn’t stop thinking about her. Then one evening he said he was going to the Ring-o’-Bells to play darts – like he did every Thursday, an he upped and broke into the shed instead.

Well, I know what you’re expecting, but it wasn’t like that. You have to remember, my George was a man of experience. I’m not saying he wasn’t charmed – charmed is an understatement; He was besotted. He came home late that night with stars in his eyes. Told me straight out what he’d done. Admitted he’d been messing with her all that time, and said he was going back the next night. I warned him that she was dangerous, but he got offended and said he knew a lot more about these things than me. He said she wasn’t a monster, she was beautiful and she just needed the right handling. After that he went over to her every evening, messing about with her; said he was “toning her up”.

Yes, of course I was a bit jealous, but a man’s got to have a hobby, hasn’t he? And it’s not like she was the first. It was one after the other with him, all through our marriage. Once he got a taste for those little run-arounds, there was no stopping him, But this time it was different. He was in love, and she was dangerous.

Still, at the end of the day, he always came home to me, didn’t he? I could have done with him not going on about her all the time, but you can’t have everything in life. He thought he’d tamed ‘er. I thought it was going to be OK, but about six weeks after the affair started, he was on his way over there when he bumped into a neighbour whose wife had just given birth. A little boy, it was – so cute – at first. They spoilt him rotten, that was the trouble. He turned into a horrid child. Always up to no good, from the time he learnt to talk. There was one time… oh, my glass is empty… it’s my round…

I seem to have forgotten my purse… oh, I couldn’t possibly… well, if you’re sure?

…………

A double? Oh, you really shouldn’t have… bottoms up… oops… could you… just…slap me on… the… back…

Ahem… Where was I? Oh, yes. So George went to the pub for a coupla jars, and then maybe a couple more. By the time ‘e left there he was pretty wobbly, so they said afterwards. ‘e should’a come home, but instead ‘e went off with ‘er, an’ what with bein’ three sheets to the wind an’ all, ‘e didn’t exercise ‘is usual control. ‘E went too fast. I told ‘im she was unstable, that sort always are, and she’d killed before. Next thing, ‘e’s at the bottom of the cliff,  exact place they found young Stan, or Sam, or whatever ‘is name was.

After that they smashed ‘er up; Crushed ‘er ’til she was no more’n a… squashed thing..

Sorry. It still makes me cry. I miss ‘im so, you see. ‘E was so good when it come to putting up shelves… and the bedroom… you know… well, you can ‘magine, a man like ‘im…

Yes, p’r’aps another drink would ‘elp, feelin’ a bit sempi… ssental… sssentilental… oh, you know… thing…

…………

Ssheers… Anyway, before it… ‘appened, ‘e took a photo of ‘er. Would you like to see? I think it tells its own story… it’s in me bag somewhere… I’ll show you – it’s ‘coz there’s two at the front and only one at the back. It makes it unstable. Not safe to go too fast with one of them… ‘swhy they kept ‘er ‘idden ‘way and locked up. Bloody murderer… killed my Graham… whasat? Who wa’n’t wha’? Well, my George, then. Whatever… bloody stupid idiot, s’what ‘e was… thought ‘e knew it all…

‘Ere’s the photo of ‘er…

Messerscmitt KR200 1959.jpg
(Image Credit: Gjermundsen)

‘Sright… Messerschmitt Kabinenroller. German thing. What? Well, wha’ di’you thing I’s talkin’ ’bout?

My glash ish empty…

.

Written for The Daily Post #Hidden

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Lighthouse

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Inhibited sky
hides day’s naked light
behind a blushing veil of cloud.
Bashfully, it dons its night time hues.
Below the sleeping beacon, dark ocean cools,
murmering its merciless melody
of endless, incidental
conquest.

Saline spray
lingers on skin and lips,
like the memory of a million kisses;
signposts on a highway to heaven or hell.
She wishes that she could pinpoint them all;
rinse away those that were planted by force,
retaining only the imprints of pleasure –
but thinks it too late.

Her eye
measures the drop,
the sharp surprise of rock.
Oh, to be taken by the reckless sea
 {{{ – enveloped in its fluid caress – }}}
not this ignominious nosedive onto stone,
bequeathing her decomposing carcass
as appetising fast food
for carnivores.

In such a ferocious place,
to be quick is to be too harshly dead;
not her imagined romantic dissipation,
but yet another beaky invasion.

She considers;
shall she precipitate
this cheapened technique
to attain irreversable decay?

With a final, longing glance,
she steps off the catwalk,
her spiral descent
no shocking
freefall,
after
all.

spiral_staircase

~

©Jane Paterson Basil

In the Pink

in the pink

You hate the smell of the place. The sickly stench of cheap air freshener, rather than neutralising the compacted odour of aged bodies, urine-soaked furnishings, and stale cooking, highlights it. You loathe sight of the magnolia walls, the  poorly reproduced generic prints of countryside scenes, the institutional, mint-green, dralon seats. You pity your grandfather’s baggy frame, his wrinkled incapacity, his silent distance. When he doesn’t recognise your voice, it makes you want to cry.

You wonder why he smiles so freely, at the walls, and towards the fluttering, fading curtains.

You think his restless flitting eyes are nigh on blind, but he sees sights to which you are not privy.

He sits at a dinner table, relishing shepherd’s pie with home grown potatoes and carrots. The sun’s rays fall onto a dark green mantlepiece on which sit several crinolined ladies, fashioned in porcelain. Monochrome photos of two young heroes who have yet to die for Britain, shoulder their rifles, proud uncles eager to do their bit. A third photo shows  a shy couple, frowning as the camera clicks. The man wears baggy corduroys and a tweed cap. In his hand he holds a shepherds crook. The woman cradles a baby wrapped in a woollen shawl.

The three white plates are scraped clean, knives and forks placed neatly together, glasses emptied of water. His father sighs contentedly, leans back in his chair, and tamps down tobacco in the bowl of his pipe.

His mother sends him out to play, safe in the knowledge that this rural farm is far from the danger of bomb attacks. He skips down gritty lanes, grabbing at plumes of meadowsweet, stripping off the sweet, creamy blooms, flinging them in the air, watching them fall like confetti. Grinning to himself he thinks how much better life is for a child than a man. He wants to stay forever in this perfect time – never to grow up, never to have the responsibilities of a job and family. He wants his days to be a constant round of  romping in the fields, soaking in the summer sun, returning home when his stomach tells him it is dinner time, enjoying board games with his parents in the evening, or helping his tin soldiers to defeat Hitler’s armies, and bring everlasting peace.

His eyelids sink, and you think he’s asleep, but his head slants just so, and an expression of ecstasy floods his face.

He hears a recording of Vera Lynn’s voice, drifting through a cottage window.

“There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,”

but you are too far in his future to hear the music. All you hear is the traffic roaring along the busy road outside. You reach for his wizened hand. His smile widens.

You can’t understand what reason he could possibly have to smile. Living in this place, you’d think he would want to die. You don’t realise that in his mind, he is in the pink, having the time of his life.

“Tomorrow, just you wait and see.
There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after.
Tomorrow, when the world is free,”

The ghost of a squeeze makes your hand tingle. His old bones feel so tiny, so fragile.

His lips lips part. His voice is no more than a whisper:

“Mummy.”

A chill goes through you, and lodges in your heart.

“Grandad,” you say, your voice urgent, “Grandad Jimmy!”

He can’t hear you, your voice is too far away.

Vera Lynn has such a beautiful voice. He knows – has always known – that she sings her song just for him.

“The shepherd will tend his sheep.
The valley will bloom again.
And Jimmy will go to sleep
In his own little room again.
There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.”

With horror, you notice your hand is tightly gripping his, crushing his fingers together. You think you’re hurting him. You let go, and his hand flops. He sinks sideways, the beatific smile frozen on his face.

Outside, the light has a pink hue. A blue bird flies past, swooping and soaring, up, up high into the sky. You watch until it is out of sight.

blue-bird

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The Daily Post #Pink

©Jane Paterson Basil

Dinnertime

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Showered and fragranced, she slips into well-chosen clothes; clothes with the perfect mix of sexy and casual, as if it’s only by chance that she looks that way. She smoothes down her hair and applies the right amount of make-up – not too much; she doesn’t want her look to appear contrived. She checks in the mirror, and sees the reflection of a naturally alluring woman with a lovely figure. Her disguise is perfect. She leaves the house, and walks slowly down the road, with the merest suggestion of a wiggle, a carefully designed expression of uncretainty on her face.

She catches the eye of every man she passes. They look interested, but always, something startles them, and they recoil in horror, before making a wide berth – sometimes even crossing the road to avoid walking past her. She’s getting hungry; it’s been days since she’s managed to lure anybody back to her lair.

Presently, clouds cover the sun. Shadows fade. She spots a meaty giant of a man walking her way. He sees her lost-little-girl look, and pauses to ask her if she is OK. She gives him her well-worn story about only having moved into the area the previous day, and not being able to remember her way home; it always works. He asks for her address, and offers to walk her there.

Her sensitive nose picks out aftershave, lemon soap, coffee, fresh bread, ham, the ingredients of coleslaw, an encouraging tang of lust, and knows she’ll have no trouble. Beneath those ugly scents is the delicious perfume of blood type A, rhesus positive; her favorite flavour.

She sighs in anticipation of her feast.

Written for Michelle’s Photo-Fiction Challenge

©Jane Paterson Basil

Broken dreams

Sometimes when I look down from my window, onto the street below, I see Poppy unexpectedly, and I don’t immediately recognise her. She’s thirty-five, and even now she seems to glide a centimetre above the pavement, as she did when she was sixteen, her long hair rippling as if a balmy breeze is riffling through it, a faraway look in her eyes.

When she is walking with the two girls the three of them are enclosed in a bubble of love – gliding in a bubble of love – and I find it hard to believe that my matriarchy has resulted in such love, such loveliness.

I’ve suffered with her through all the bad times, and my soul has rejoiced when things have gone well for her, but I never felt that she had the life she deserved. Her school’s refusal to diagnose or even to admit the possiblility of her dyslexia – because they didn’t wish to waste the effort and expense – meant that she didn’t have a good education. When she found she couldn’t keep up she thought she was stupid, and her lowered self-esteem caused her to rebel, and stop making any effort to do what she felt she would humiliatingly fail at.

Poppy had her children while she was still in her teens – conceived by default, she wanted them anyway, and she has been an adoring and attentive mother, always patient, always doing the best she can for both Alexis and Lizzie.

Because she left school with no qualifications, the only work she has ever done has been menial, but she has always excelled within her limited sphere.

I think of my brilliant daughter, who has so much to give, and I wonder if she ever had dreams, and if so, what they were. She has never told me, and I have never asked. Maybe her pathetic education crushed all hope that she would ever do anything – be anything – but although she is not a consultant gyneacologist, or a big shot lawyer, or a star of the silver screen, she is something – something wonderful.

Poppy is coming up the path now. I let her in, and make a pot of tea. We talk about Alexis, who is currently rehearsing for the lead part in a school play, She tells me how pleased Lizzie’s English teacher is with her. I feel the familiar thrill of pride, in my daughter and my two grand-daughters.

There’s a moment’s silence. I take a deep breath, and she looks at me expectantly. She can tell I want to say something.

“What were your dreams? I ask her. “When you were a child, what did you want to do with your life?”

She looks out of the window, and I know she’s not seeing the cars going by, or the paint peeling from the Victorian house opposite. She’s staring straight into her dreams. She glances at my face and then away again.

“I always dreamed of being the mother of two lovely daughters, and my dreams came true” she says.

“Really?” I ask her incredulously. “That’s it?”

This time she looks unwaveringly into my eyes as she replies:

“Yes, really. I have all I ever wanted.”

That’s the thing about Poppy – she will lie rather than cause unnecessary pain to those she loves. My daughter will never speak to me of her broken dreams.

©Jane Paterson Basil