May Challenge Submissions

Please find below the submissions in response to the May writing challenges:

1. Live the life you love and love the life you live

2. Back to nature

Stories will be published as received throughout the month. Please provide feedback and/or comments to the author in the leave a reply form at the foot of the page or over on the Facebook page. All contributing authors are asked to comment and feedback to the following story published.

Story 1. Ian Hicken – Sweet Dreams

Abraham was very excited at the prospect of his first trip on a boat.

“Momma, will I be able to see fishes in the water?”

“Maybe,” replied his Momma, “you will have to hold my hand at all times and do not let go as the water can be very rough, promise me?”

“I promise Momma.”

Crystal, her husband Joseph and Abraham sat around for what seemed an eternity. They perched on upturned crates along with maybe twenty or thirty others waiting to be called to get on a boat when it finally arrived. Crystal was in her early twenties, she was petite and wore a pretty floral headscarf and a thin nylon coat. She wondered at the time of setting off if the coat would be warm enough but remembered Joseph’s words to pack light. She clung to Abraham tightly and was concerned about his safety as he had a reputation of wandering off and getting lost in his play world as most boys of five years old often do. Abraham swung his little legs and tried hard to kick pebbles with his scuffed shoes but failed, just, to reach them.

The small unattractive port was in a very secluded cove and apart from a few old fishing boats and some rundown huts, there was little else. The nearest town was some miles away inland and the nearby village was insignificant and of no importance. The sun was hot and there was little shade apart from the shadows cast by the huts but these were fully occupied by the time Crystal and her family had arrived. Crystal untied her headscarf and held it high to provide some shade for the three of them. After several minutes her arms tired and she lowered them and wafted the scarf back and forth in an attempt to create a cooling draft but to little avail.

“Are we going soon Momma?” Abraham asked. He was becoming restless and bored like most little boys do unless suitably distracted.

“Soon son, very soon I hope.” replied his Father. “Let us count the fishing boats,” suggested his Momma. Abraham stretched out his small arm and pointed at each boat in turn, counting all six boats.

“You’ve missed one,” said his Father. “There is another half sunk in the water just out in the bay, can you see it?.

As Abraham looked out to the bay, there was a muted cheer from the waiting passengers as a boat came around the headland and made its way to the rickety jetty.

The passengers rushed forward. Crystal grabbed Abraham’s collar as the crush surged forward. “Steady, please be careful you nearly knocked me and my little boy into the water.”

“Hurry now, we do not have long, we need to get into the bay before dusk,” shouted a young, athletic man barely in his twenties, the Captain. His worn sandals, ragged vest and shorts did not inspire confidence in Crystal or Joseph whose eyes met and signalled concern as they boarded. They were ushered to the rear and sat on narrow wooden seating that was bleached with the sun and splintered through wear.

The heavily laden boat made its way out to sea, gaining pace as they left the bay.

“I am hungry Momma,” declared Abraham. Crystal reached into her small bag, pulled out a handful of dried dates and handed them to Abraham.

His father took one and told Abraham not to eat them too quickly or he would be sick with the movement of the boat. Abraham turned around, knelt on the bench and looked out to the vast ocean. He was transfixed with the waves and soaring seabirds. Hoping to see a large fish he occasionally leant over the edge and peered into the murky depths as Crystal hung onto his waistband.

There was little talk on the boat, most passengers stared with blank expressions, deep in thought and dreaming of a new life that was free from war and poverty.

The skies grew dark and the weather turned significantly cooler and breezy. The sea became rough and the boat bounced over rolling waves sending cold spray into the air and soaking everyone on board. The young captain looked tired, he was shivering. “No surprise there,” thought Crystal, “he should have worn more clothes.”

Many passengers became sick, some vomiting and feeling nauseated and most were shivering with cold. Abraham lay his head in Momma’s lap. Joseph held Crystal’s hand tightly and gently rubbed Abraham’s back to help him rest, “sweet dreams my son, sweet dreams.”

“How much longer before we are there?” came a voice from the blackness.
“I do not know,” replied the captain…

As the night passed, many passengers became ill and suffering from intensifying cold including Crystal and Joseph. Earlier on they had both taken off clothing to wrap around Abraham in an attempt to keep him warm and dry.

Several passengers became disruptive and demanded to know how long it would be before they reached land. Minor skirmishes broke out but were mostly short-lived as they were weak and suffering from their wet, cold and precarious situation.

“I need some food,” shouted one man. Another stood up and said that he saw the little boy’s Momma had dried fruit in her bag. He rushed forward and ripped the bag from Crystal’s arm scattering its meagre contents across the boat and into the ocean. Joseph tried to stop him but Crystal pulled him back, held him and whispered “leave it, that man is dangerous.”

As the night progressed, silence descended on the boat, the woman next to Joseph was incontinent, many slept, some removed clothing and became erratic with their movements, one man tripped and disappeared into the depths. Many drifted into unconsciousness and later died as their bodies and minds closed down with hypothermia. The captain, lay down leaving the boat rudderless and adrift.
As dawn broke, the boat dipped up and down in a gentler sea. Abraham woke as he heard a deep groan, he raised his head from his Momma’s lap.

“Momma, are we there yet?

No-one answered.

Story 2: Jacqueline Suffolk – The Impulse

Thunk! The dull gleam of the flat blade splintered the old timber an inch from my ear. My eyes screwed shut, I couldn’t see the impact, but my head felt the board shudder as the vibrations echoed across its width. Pounding, my heart hit the back of my throat, on impact, jolted from its everyday resting place, and air forced itself from straining lungs through gritted teeth in relief. The crowd roared, and I opened my eyes to peer back at the man twenty feet away.

The smell of sweat overpowered my senses. Was it mine? No. Raising an arm, drawing back to its full extent, and with a flick of his wrist he sent the next blade flying. Beads of sweat dripped from his armpits from the concentrated force, staining the white sleeveless top. Stale sweat, a raw maleness, senses heightened by the yells and roars of baying onlookers.

Our eyes locked, his, black pools surrounded by creamy white, sure, steady. Mine, pale blue, wide unblinking, afraid to miss a sign, a waver that meant an encounter with death. In his left hand another blade, it wasn’t the end. The raised wrist flicked, and the blade spun. A twisting Catherine wheel reflecting the strings of coloured lights, a blur of whites, reds and blues, spinning closer. Lower this time. Dark, hot, smoky air filled my lungs once more, and paused for a second time, fear prevented release, waiting for the moment of release. Thunk, quivering, the shaft clipped the long sleeve of my loose blouse. How many more?

The chants raged, “Yeah, go for it, go for it.” Rooted to the board, the rough grooves striped my back through my thin blouse. The tips of my fingers, bloodless, turned white with fear. His headdress dipped and flailed as he ran between the yelling crowd and me. “Last one, where?” He brandished the blade, throwing it into the air and catching the sharp point between his fingertips and balanced the long shaft high in the air. He threw it into the air again behind his back, spinning. “Where?” He repeated. “Head, head, head.” Catcalls drowned out far off music. He turned, faced away from me and threw. Thunk! I ducked as the timber above my head split and shuddered. The feathers at the base of the spear shaft brushed my nose. The contents of my lungs expelled, a rush of stale fear laden air. I shrank away from the harmless decorations. He pranced towards me.

The leopard skin anklets bobbed, his skirt of animal skin tight across his muscled hips. As he smacked the shaft of a spear against the zebra skinned shield, playing to the crowd, his face lit with success, he threw back his head and cried out, a war cry. From the board he peeled my freezing hand and covered it with his own, massive and calloused, grinned and propelled me to the centre of the stage. Bowed, his animal skin and feather headdress scraped the floor in front of him and said, “Thank you ladies and gentlemen and thank you to my brave volunteer, Jacqueline.” He bowed, pulled my hand down, I bowed, a terrified grin plastered across my face. “Any volunteers for my next death-defying trick?” I sidled off stage and regretted my impulsive, “Yes” for the previous act. I looked behind and Michael the Zulu winked and smiled in thanks.

Poem 3: Jackie Byrne – No Title (Back to nature)

Story 4: Colin Lyne – Snowbound

Now their footsteps were dulled by the thickening layer of snow on the road. The drumming of the rain lower down had been replaced by silent flakes landing on their coats. The road was steep, and conversation had become intermittent. They were entering a world of muffled whiteness. 

There was scarce visibility, but the trees that lined the road already had a Christmassy look about them. 

“Can’t be much further,” Pete said after a while.

The sign at the bottom of the road had said six kilometres but they seemed to have been climbing for hours. 

“Funny things happen in a white out,” muttered Jim.

“Go on! Tell us another of your stories about getting caught out in the Himalayas!” The third member of the group was Fred, a tri-lingual Italian. The three companions were flat mates and Fred had become their de facto guide since they arrived in Spain. 

“Well,” said Pete. “From what I hear, the Hindu Kush bears little resemblance to Asturian hill country, and instead of bleak expanses of ice and rock what lies ahead should be a quaint snowy village.”

“With a bar,” added Fred in didactic mode. “Remember! At the end of every road in Spain, there’s always a bar.” 

Jim laughed: “Well, if there isn’t, you’re paying!”

“That means you are if there is!” Fred retorted. 

“San Andrés de Fresnedo”. 

Some of the letters were already blurred by snow clinging to the enamel sign. 

Next to it was the first house. Through a patch in the condensation of a tiny window an old woman in a headscarf watched them pass. She didn’t return their waves.

A moment later the rest of the buildings came into view. 

As they walked onwards, they were startled when an unusually tall man in clogs and a black cloak appeared from a side alleyway carrying a scythe over his shoulder. He strode past them without saying a word.

“Strange!” Fred whispered. “He won’t find much grass to cut on a day like today!” 

They carried on more slowly, but the village ahead seemed to be deserted. Dead silence.

Around them the snow on the ground had only been disturbed by a few footsteps and hoof marks. 

They soon came upon a small square among the main group of houses, from one of which hung a rusty “Fanta” sign. The snow-covered crates outside left no doubt.

“Told you!” said Fred.

“Never mind about that!” said Jim. “Let’s get a drink!”

Fred forced the heavy door open and, as the they entered, they were enveloped in a stale warmth. 

The room was wide and low-beamed. Behind the bar hung every type of kitchen utensil and the shelves were lined with tins of food. Like most village bars it was also a general store.

On the TV Sue Ellen and JR were arguing in fluent Spanish.

There must have been at least twelve men in there. Some at tables playing cards, others leaning on the bar. One or two sat on their own following the goings on at Southfork with an apparent lack of interest. All of them turned when the strangers walked in. 

“Hola!” the three companions said. Pete and Jim limply raised their hands in greeting.

The men watched them in silence.

“Tres vinos,” Fred said.

The barman slopped red wine into three squat glasses.

The companions took their drinks and looked around. There was an empty table in the far corner of the room, and they went over to it. They sat down and started sipping at their wine. 

The men had returned to their previous occupations as if the visitors didn’t exist. The card game resumed, and the men at the bar took up their conversation where they’d left off. The three friends, warmed by the wine, began to chat about the day’s events so far. 

Occasionally they looked up, puzzled by their apparent invisibility. There couldn’t have been many visitors to this remote hamlet in February.

The bar was warm and comfortable after the long trudge up the road. They were thirsty and after a few minutes Fred took the glasses to the bar to be refilled. 

At one point there was a sudden interruption to proceedings.

A peremptory “Eh!!!” came from a particularly old man in a beret, who was sat near the television. 

All heads swung towards the screen. Walking across her opulent bedroom Sue Ellen was untying her bathrobe. She pushed at the tinted glass door of the shower and the robe slid to the floor as she entered. The door closed behind her and fifteen disappointed faces turned back to what they were doing.

While the companions were on their third wine, the tall man who had been carrying the scythe came in, ducking his head under the door lintel.

In slippers and without his cloak, he stood at the bar and ordered a wine. 

“I don’t normally say this kind of thing about a man,” said Pete, speaking under his breath. “But don’t you think he’s striking looking? You know what I mean…handsome.”

The other two looked over too. It was true. Apart from a prominent missing front tooth, he had more than an air of Clint Eastwood.

“Oh, yes,” the others mused.

Five minutes later the man finished his wine and left.

The companions were quite heady after their drinks and also decided to leave shortly afterwards. 

They went up to the bar and Jim got his wallet out.

The barman stared at him: “¿Qué?” he said, unsmilingly.

“To pay,” said Jim.

“It’s paid for.” The barman said.

“Sorry?” 

“The tall man. He paid for it all.”

“But we don’t know him!” remonstrated Jim.

“So what?” The barman turned away and started to wipe the bar down.

As they made their way back down the snowy road the friends puzzled over what had just happened. 

“The unfriendliest place I’ve ever been in!” said Jim. 

“Yes,” said Pete. “So, what made that guy want to pay for our drinks?”

“In other countries people do things differently from the UK,” said Fred.

The other two were not too convinced and spent the rest of the walk trying to come up with an explanation for the villagers’ behavior…

If you knew Asturias back in those days, the story will probably not surprise you. You will be even less surprised that the bar the friends visited that day closed many years ago and that no-one lives in “San Andrés de Fresnedo” all year round any more.

Hester Lott – A new beginning

Eric almost always walked up to his level rather than even try to take the lift, which was more often than not either out of order or so stinking of excrement it was unbearable. Anyway, walking was better for the health. And safer. He had once been mugged in the lift and that was not an experience to be voluntarily repeated. No fun at all.  Today he walked slowly, lost in thought. He was tired. The library was being ´downsized´, which meant that it was his responsibility to choose the books that were to be kept. 50% of the books had to go in order to lose one whole floor of the library. He had the dilemma, he and Jenny, of deciding whether to get rid of whole sections, or half the books in each section. Jenny had strongly held beliefs about what was ‘good for people’, and what wasn´t, so she was a strong advocate for self help volumes, travel guides, and books giving ‘how to’ tips on gardening, or cooking, or home decorating. Wholesome healthy Jenny. Eric leant more towards meeting demand. Murder mysteries and football were popular categories. He mulled over the relative merits of Poirot and Eric Cantonar as he trod the last few steps. 

His wife, Angela, had died very suddenly and unexpectedly ten years ago at only 45. Their son, Patrick, had gone off to uni a year later, leaving Eric alone in a semi-detached house in the suburbs. Angela´s garden was going to seed and he was fed up with the hour-long commute into town every day, so he eventually bit the bullet and rented a 4th floor flat in a block in the centre of town with views over the park to the river and beyond. He had a little balcony for some tomatoes and salad veggies in the summer, and a second bedroom for Patrick, should he ever want to come and stay for a while. He had made quite a killing selling the house, but he had not wanted to buy another property. All in good time. When he was sure where and how he wanted to live. 

He pushed open the heavy steel door to the walkway and, as usual, mused over the graffiti on the wall, Fuck The Fascists. It always amused him a little. Images of dominatrix ladies in black shirts and thigh boots goose stepping along the walkway. It was already dark and a light rain was falling. There were two other blocks on each side of his, and the lights from their windows glowed through the misty drizzle.  Wafting from flat 2 he could smell the seductive fragrance of cardamom and coriander, ginger and garlic, onions … maybe he should borrow that book on Indian cuisine that Jenny had recommended to him. Maybe he should keep the cookery section… but people got recipes on the internet nowadays….. Suddenly a door opened further along the walkway and a bright light cut across the concrete floor. A man´s voice shouted from inside the flat ‘ …and a couple of pints of milk. And shut the sodding door!’ and it was slammed shut. A gangly young man, shrugging on his jacket, brushed past him, with a grunt as greeting. Eric put his brief case down on his doormat and felt in his pocket for his keys. 

He remembered so vividly the first time he had come to view the flat. The agent was a slightly morose middle-aged man with a strong Greek accent. ‘Very good views from up here.’ He had said as he sorted out the keys, and Eric had agreed with him. It was so different from his family home, but that could only be a good thing. He and Angela had taken great pride in their house in the suburbs with the big lawn with the monkey puzzle tree in the middle. There was a vegetable patch and a green house, a rose bed and a herb garden, and they had both kept the house in excellent condition. It had been a tranquil haven of good taste and civilisation. After she died, and Eric had finally decided to make a fresh start it had felt so strange, and almost naughty. As the agent ushered him into the hallway he had felt a little guilty to be making a choice entirely for himself without consulting anyone. He was afraid he wouldn´t be able to come to a decision without Angela to help him make up his mind. She was always good at that. He looked around at the little kitchen and living room that led off the hallway, and thought it really looked very nice. He tried to imagine their furniture in it, and to see himself making his morning cup of tea in the neat little kitchen. The view from the living room window was indeed lovely. It had been a bright sunny day in late spring and he could see the river sparkling between the branches of the mature trees and the outline of the hills away in the distance. He stood still and stared for a few moments, then turned to the agent and said ‘I´ll take it.’ And that was that. Eight years ago now.

Eric pulled his keys out of his coat pocket and opened his front door. The first night he had spent here had felt a bit like the first day of boarding school. It was quite exciting, but in the back of his mind he knew he was going home again soon. And Angela would welcome him home, and almost certainly have made him a special cake.  The bedroom smelt damp and musty and the street lights shone a sulphurous yellow through the thin curtains. He pulled the duvet over his head and curled up in a ball. Lots to do. Must keep busy.

But now Eric walks into his home. It is warm and smells clean and fresh. He hangs his coat on the hallstand and takes off his shoes, slipping on his tartan slippers. In the kitchen he pours himself a small glass of white wine and takes it into the living room. He stands in front of the window, looking out at the view, illuminated intermittently with lamps picking out the paths across the park and the towpath along the river, then he draws the thick velvet curtains and turns on the standard lamp next to his armchair. He sets his glass carefully on the side table and lowers himself slowly and with great pleasure into his chair. He is content. He is free. He is complete.

Jean Faugier – Living the life you love – The ending

They had been running the hotel for five years and Mary could not remember now what had possessed them to imagine they could do this. She was once again on her knees scrubbing out yet another toilet that some ungrateful, rude, and frankly dirty guest had left in a state.  Nursing was a doddle compared to this.  When she had worked at the hospital in Holland, she had colleagues who cared and patients who were thankful for the care they received.  She halted her work for a second as she drifted back there in her mind, smiling to herself as she fondly remembered all the laughs and friendship.  It was hard work, of course it was, but not just…  

Now all she had was Tom who spent most of his time drinking with the hotel guests late into the night, playing mine host.  “It’s important, Mary” he would tell her, “we have to make them feel at home”.  Well, they must have some strange homes, she thought as she continued cleaning the toilet.  She could not stand most of them and she knew Tom was right when he chastised her for letting it show.  Only yesterday he had got his knickers in a twist when she had told one of the German guests to wipe his feet: Herr Gunter was a huge, ugly, red-faced oaf, he consistently ignored all the signs, walked across the lawns  and then tramped all over the hallway leaving wet grass everywhere.  “You simply cannot talk to them like that, that man is a CEO of a large company” Tom had said after dragging her away into the office for a dressing down.  Yes, she thought, I have seen his type before: no class, no manners, and of course it will not be Tom cleaning the mess they leave. 

When Tom had sold her the idea of moving to the Château in France and opening a hotel, it had all sounded just like the life she craved: she had indeed lost some of her initial enthusiasm for nursing, things had changed, too much management and people with no clinical knowledge running everything, mainly, in her view, running it into the ground!  Mary remembered all the times she had come home to Tom and moaned about what was happening at the hospital; over a glass or two of good Bordeaux, they had imagined a life in France running their own small exclusive hotel.  She was talented, she knew that all her friends rated her interior design skills: “if anyone can do this, you can” they told her.  So the thought of having a château to renovate and turn into a luxury boutique hotel had filled her, more than Tom, with feverish excitement.  She had hardly been able to wait for the move and at first, it had proved to be just as wonderful as she had dreamed.  All the buying and planning had been fun, hard work but so rewarding.  Every day was different. Mary had transformed the place into something simply quite amazing – original, quirky, artistic, chic, sumptuous – these were the words the professional reviewers used to describe the place she had created…

She felt her eyes fill with tears as she now wondered : for whom?  She had no time to do anything creative, her hands were chapped and sore from bleach and cleaning products. Most days she could be found under a pile of bed linen she had dragged from yet another bed, or running about with drink orders for people she hated.  And when not cleaning toilets, she was in the garden making sure it looked pristine for guests who seemed to hardly notice the range of plants and grasses she had put together in such an inspired way.  None of her life felt chic or sumptuous.  She caught sight of herself just then in a mirror, one ironically she had just cleaned: she looked as old as she felt; no wonder Tom spends most of his time chatting to the work-away volunteer Clara – the leggy blonde from Ukraine.  A nice young thing, Mary thought, but one who seems to manage to duck out of all the hardest work and hides in the kitchen learning recipes from Tom and laughing in a really annoying manner at all his well worn witticisms.

What had happened to the life they had imagined, she wondered as she stripped the bed in the gold room and noticed that the guests had opened every single item on the drinks station and left most of them unused.  Cursing the wastefulness, she re-filled it and set to work in yet another bathroom.  As she cleaned the plug in the shower, she thought about times she had spent in hotels in her previous life, which now felt like it had belonged to a whole other person.  Does anyone really think about the people who do the work? She replaced all the toiletries, put the linen in the trolley and made her way down to the kitchen, she needed a coffee before she continued with the two other rooms: an energy boost to keep her going.  At the beginning, Tom had talked about hiring staff, but all she heard about now was how they had to watch the margins, how they needed to do as much as they could themselves, blah blah blah!  Most days as she collapsed into bed completely exhausted, she was aware that she had swapped the management she hated at the hospital for her own personal version of it here with Tom: the bottom line was all that mattered.

She made her way down the corridor to the kitchen admiring her handywork as she went. It truly did look spectacular, the wallpaper had been an inspiration and the artwork was all from original young local artists.  She had cultivated them and commissioned the pieces with great care.  It lifted her mood to see it – so vibrant and alive.  The cappuccino made by the expensive professional machine she had bought would boost it even further, she thought as she pushed open the swing door. 

Clara was sitting on the kitchen counter, her long legs dangling lazily, as she saw her come in. Tom, however, had his back turned and was far too involved with his hands wound around Clara’s neck and his face nuzzling her breasts to notice her arrival.  Mary turned and left the kitchen in the knowledge that she had cleaned her last toilet.  She would go back later for the coffee and thought she might take the machine as well.

Amanda Gaynor – Forgotten Lives

The switch was high, the cupboard claustrophobic and every attempt to trip the fuse was another act of fucking futility. With the Israelis it was either power surges/cuts.  Still it was what I’d volunteered for and maybe this time the current would stabilise enough to run the lab –

“Yella! Yella!” He burst into the room, face sheened in sweat, trying to regain control of himself.

“We go to Bethlehem now, you’ll be safe there”

Too stunned to speak all three of us were mute.

“Now” He barked.

Outside the streets were heaving, Red Crescent sirens blasting, pushing through the tumult of screaming, ululating, people. Faces peered through the dust smeared windows. Bodies pressed up against the ancient Mercedes sedan, in ever increasing numbers, choking the street. With ragged gasps and broken English, the story rattled out. Kiryat Arba gunmen had opened fire with sub-machine guns and lobbed grenades into the college courtyard during recess. Two staff had died instantly and scores of students were injured. 

There was no response that wasn’t trite. Yet still we murmured our shock – we held back our disbelief.

“This… is our… life”

Prayer beads hanging from the driver’s mirror jiggled inanely as the car jolted in the crush of the crowd.

The car inched forward, a white-shrouded form on a stretcher was being relayed, arm to outstretched arm, above the throng toward an ambulance.   Roars of grief erupted, people surged desperate to know who it was? 

‘It’s Jamal’ Wailed someone. ‘

‘Jamal who?’

The Director wound down the window and called out ‘Jamal Saeed’. 

Suddenly the car was besieged with desperate enquiries.

 ‘Have you seen Samir? … Maha? ….Aida?….Rasheed?… are they safe? Do you know where they are?‘

‘Ana asif, la ‘aelam’ I’m sorry I don’t know, he rasped. The litany went on and on. And then it was broken-

‘Moussa, Moussa!’ A man, tears streaming down his face thrust his head through the window. ‘Hanna’s  -she’s in an ambulance’

Moussa crumpled ‘hafazaha allah’, God save her ‘abnataya’ my daughter. He swung round to us ‘I have to go’. His lips were a taut slit.

Bethlehem had been a stupid idea anyway, we knew no one there, had no money and all our passports were stowed in our flat.

‘Go straight home, stay there, someone will come to you’. He melted into the crowd, leaving the car where it was.

Suddenly we were  out there in the tide of grief, pushing and wriggling our way to Saleh Haddein Street and our home above the Red Crescent clinic just down from the hospital.  There was no way through. Jittery, trigger trembling young soldiers cordoned off the street with their Uzis’, tear gas choked us all, eyes were streaming. Yet still the crowd surged, frantic to reach the hospital. Stones rained the air and in anger we were a focus of attention – ‘Yehudi’ the cry went up and the volley headed to us. 

‘Ana mish Yehudi, ana muealama anjilzia!’-I’m not Jewish I am an English teacher I yelled at a stone thrower. 

Confusion clouded and then cleared. 

‘mutataweiun?’ – volunteers?

‘aiwa’ – yes.

The mood changed, we were their own. He herded us through the chaos, speaking in English.

‘Come, it’s not safe here.’

We darted through back alley after alley and finally into a house.  In the sitting room outside life seemed suspended. Gold framed photos of family lined the walls, there were smilers, scroll-holding graduates and fat cheeked babies. Yasser Arafat in kefir commanded a prime wall alongside an Al Aqsa mosque tapestry in shimmering metallic thread.  We crackled on and stuck to the ubiquitous plastic covered sofas. Elsewhere, behind closed doors  there were rapid, hushed conversations and then Asad returned with sweet  shay min nae’nae -mint- tea and ma’moul cakes.

“Shukran” – thank you….. for so much more than we can say. 

It was decided that we’d stay where we were for the day and out came albums of Wedding Photos – and ham-fisted attempts to bridge the barriers. Bursts of  surreal colour leapt from the pages, mosaic montages of happier times. Dancing, food, family, celebration.

 As the heat of the day faded we migrated to the roof top along with everyone else. News updates were called from roof to roof. Whilst overhead  military helicopters flew in formation so low we could see the guns and helmets. Ariel Sharon was rumoured to be overseeing operations. On the skyline conveys of troops wound toward the city through the Judean hills.  Megaphones ordered the curfew but below street fighting raged.  Molotov cocktails in coca-cola bottles filled with petrol and lit twists of paper were hurled down off roof-tops onto armoured cars. A futile gesture of opposition.

Day seeped into long dusk – it was time to go – someone had negotiated safe-passage for us volunteers. Tiredness and strain was stark in the faces of our hosts but still they loaded us with sweetmeats and water and fruit.

Our street was filled with shattered glass- but empty- eerily so. Armoured cars and a double row of troops barred the hospital. No one was allowed to see their dead and injured.

‘Ahlain, ahlain’ – welcome – welcome. Whispered our neighbour as she ushered us up the steps with a flashlight. She’d already filled buckets of water for us and gathered up some candles.  No power, no water and 24 hour curfew. It wasn’t a life to love but it was a way to be alive.

 These events occurred on 26th July 1983 -Hebron Occupied Territories – West Bank

  • Deaths: 3
  • Injured: 33
  • Gunmen: 3 Jewish extremists from Kiryat Arba, tried and convicted in Jerusalem 1985, released 14 months later.

In the last 38 years conditions have deteriorated in Al Khalil (Hebron). Today there are more than 20 Israeli controlled checkpoints.  The Islamic College of Hebron where this attack happened closed in 2003. 

According to UN figures  between 2008 and 2020 some 5,600 Palestinians have died in conflict and 115,000 have been injured.  During the same period, around 250 Israelis have died and approximately 5,600 have been injured.

 Charlotte Blythe – Back to nature

Dear Annie, 

You would never believe how blue the sea is, how golden the sand, how green the palm trees are. I have arrived in paradise! The waiter is just bringing the most fabulous Mojito, again. This will be my third. Later, I will go out to eat. There is a little fish restaurant in the village that the waiter assures me absolutely no-one except the locals knows about. No hoi polloi here. Oh no, Far too sophisticated. 

He is very charming, the waiter. Very good looking . Dark hair and even darker eyes. Says how nice it is to have someone as gracious as me staying here. A ‘Lady’!  Isn’t that kind? You don’t get that kind of compliment back home do you? Lucky if you even get ice in your drink.

It is so very non-touristy here of course. Worth every extra penny it has cost me. A chance to kick off my shoes, do nothing apart from read my book, write a letter or two and watch the sea. A change from the cities I have visited. Oh Annie, the sights I have seen, you have no idea. Incredible places.

Goodness me, I never realised how large all these places are. So busy, so many people, so noisy. So…dusty and I certainly didn’t realise there would be homeless people living on the streets abroad as well.  Spoils the romance of them a bit.  Also, very tiring on the old footsie’s, walking for hours. I have been visiting lots of museums. Some, frankly are a bit boring. Still, one has to see these places doesn’t one? Broadens the mind they say, expands one’s horizons. Obviously, done loads of shopping.  Not sure how it will all fit in by the time I have finished. Still, all part of the dream holiday as they say. The tan is coming on nicely by the way. Not looking like a sliced white loaf anymore. Yes, I am in heaven. . It is a shame that you had to work and couldn’t come with me. Still, it is far more important to pay the mortgage I suppose.

 Before I go I must ask.

How is the little hedgehog family at the bottom of the garden? Are they eating well now?  Is the tiny one growing? Are the plum trees in bloom and spraying confetti everywhere? It always looks like the most beautiful fairy wedding garden when they do that. Is the kingfisher back, have you seen him, and the Heron? The river is so peaceful at this time of the year.  The dappled sunlight through the trees.   The freshness in the air.  The peace. Are the daisies coming through and speckling the lawn. Does the moonlight shine on the pond where the waterlilies grow? Are the house martins nesting? 

Funny that I am thinking of them all now,

However, I must stop, I really have to go and change.

Take care and…..I miss you my dear friend

I miss them too.

Love

Hattie xx

She put down her pen and closed the envelope. Suddenly she felt very alone. She never realised how much she was missing all the things from home that she had just written about. All the threads that made the fabric of her life happy and serine. She took out her camera and scrolled through the photos of her trip so far. Ah! Such memories. So, why was she feeling so homesick? Why did she really just want to be back in her garden, with the sounds and sights and wildlife that she had taken for granted all this time.

As she sipped the last of her Mojito she understood. There isn’t only one paradise, or one heaven. There are many.  The photos had proved that. Most of them she realised were of trees, birds, wildlife even in the cities, not buildings or monuments. The expensive dream holiday that Annie couldn’t afford had started to look shallow all of a sudden. It had taken this travelling to make her see what she had had all the time.

She just wanted to be home, with Annie and the hedgehog family. In the fairy wedding garden. In heaven.

.  

C:\Users\Charlotte\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\G1XUA9L7\MP900427698[1].jpg

Jeremy Peter PlumptreLove the life you live and live the life you love

The Red Cross minibus was late: it was supposed  to come at 11.30. I was waiting at the portal. I  rang up to Fernando.

” Fernando, I’m your acompañante, we should be off to the hospital as soon as the minibus arrives.”

“Better get a move on, then.”

There was the big van, suddenly, white and red.

“You’re late.”

“I know. Traffic’s awful, today.”

“Fernando, we’re coming up,” pressing the bell.

We went up. The wheelchair was outside, ready. Fernando was waiting. Fernando. He has to have oxygen pumped into his nose 24/7. He has a machine weighing 10 kilos which we dragged behind the wheelchair along to the lift and then out onto the street. The driver lowered the platform at the back of the bus and Fernando was pushed in, connected to his precious machine. I rode beside him holding it for him: an unwieldy pump, hissing quietly. I leaned towards him,”When did all  this start?”

“About ten years ago,20 years ago I went from 3 packs a day to zero. But my lungs were  jodido. And so this is me, now, bloody useless “(A laugh).

“What happens when you go to bed?”

“I have another mask I put on at night..I sleep with the angels.” ( a laugh).

We arrived at the hospital, and I found out how to push him and hold the machine at the same time. We were checked for Covid, and went up in the lift. I wasn’t sure which button to press and he told me. “That one,” he said,”you’re very slow.”

“Do you mind ? I’m very efficient.”

“Ok Ok “,He chuckled and patted my arm.

We followed the long yellow line to his waiting area. He was seen 10 minutes later in “cardiografía.”

“Well that part of my body is, fine they told me.” (with a laugh).

We wheeled our way up to the top of the hospital. “Keep to the yellow line, por dios,” The van came soon, and even sooner we were back in his flat. He got up out of the wheelchair at his door. He could walk with heavy breathing. “The only thing I miss,” He said, “is not driving.”And that was it. He smiled,” Cuidate y no fumes” (Take care and don’t smoke). A wheezy guffaw.

He didn’t love the life he lived, but he lived the only life he had left. With courage and style.

Published by Ian

Music maker and story teller

61 thoughts on “May Challenge Submissions

  1. Hi Ian,
    Surprising twist from thinking it was a family boat trip to the drama of ‘pateras’.
    I enjoy surprises and twists in tales as you have to completetely change the invented lives you create about the characters from their first description to later happenings in story.
    I think your ending promotes reflection upon this ceaseless tragedy that unfolds daily on our tv screens.
    Thank you for prompting a more human reflection of the lives of refugees as they are so often gobbled up by the tragic statistics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. An effective shifting of understanding for readers. Your verbs are strong in the first half but I could point out that your favoured verb choice later on, ‘became’ is overused, though it is a good one for generating a sense of change. If you use Word’s Find feature you might notice some occasions where you could replace it with another choice for variety. The details of the splintered and worn wooden boat seats stayed with me.

      Like

  2. I enjoyed your take on migrants. The story moved me near the end as I imagined the trauma this little boy was about to face. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Liked this one very much. The description of what seems to be an innocent family outing sets the scene for something else (probably not good) that’s going to happen. Little details like Abraham kicking stones are beautifully done and suggestive. The unfolding is unexpected and the ending dramatic. I agree with Dika that there are some points of style that could be changed. Calling a port “unattractive” doesn’t say much – whose opinion is that? Maybe better to do what you do elsewhere so well – just stick to details, like the “rundown fishing boats” etc. They tell us it’s unattractive without the narrator coming in.Similar with the “disruptive” passengers. Again these are small details. Overall it’s a really nicely done piece.

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  4. ‘Sweet Dreams’ is moving, a story with a lasting impact on the reader. What starts as a subdued boat trip, slowly turns ugly and ultimately deadly. The curve of suspense rises steadily till the open ending: Is Abraham the only (momentary) survivor?
    The story is eminently political. All across the Mediterranean (and lately across the Atlantic) the ‘boat people’ are fleeing ‘poverty and war’ The media cover it extensively, from successful rescue missions to tragical drownings.
    Nobody can elude having an opinion about it.
    ‘Sweet Dreams’ sits the reader among the refugees. With every passing hour it becomes clearer: They are on a suicide mission: no food, no drinking water. a captain without a clue, no companionship among the passengers.
    It is revolting. One cannot remain uninvolved, neither the reader nor the author.

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    1. Thank you Manfred, I wanted to humanise the stories we see and hopefully make people less judgemental about situations we know very little about.

      Like

  5. Ian , I really enjoyed your story . If enjoyed is the right word ? Really vivid descriptions of the family and crew meant you could visualise them and feel their anxiety. Steph has à boy in one of her classés who.lost all his family on such à boat trip to Europe . He now lives alone in à bed sit in Oloron and considers himself very fortunate to have been helped by the French state. In fact she says he is the most positive and hardworking kid in the class , and he has nobody and nothing . Your ending was very poignent and moving , and your description if the fear on the boat and the desperation was really authentic and not over done. Enjoyed it .

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  6. Story 2 Jacqueline Suffolk – The Impulse
    Great short insight Jacqueline into your emotions and fear as you face Michael (lol) the Zulu. I enjoyed your story and could not imagine why you volunteered in the first place. I did wonder about the context. Was it a circus, show or street performer? It took me a few seconds to connect Thunk with the sound of the knives etc. All in all a great albeit brief insight into your brush with the knife thrower.

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    1. Thank you, it will be part of a travel memoir. I’m not very brave and spent more time in my life saying no and denying myself experiences than embracing them. I decided before we took this trip to South Africa to say yes to every opportunity. Fortunately or unfortunately the first opportunity came in Cape town and a street entertainer asked for volunteers and the rest as they say is history.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes it took me à while to be in the expérience but eventually the penny dropped. Really scary but exhilarating and the impression is that that is why you /she volunteered. Really atmospheric and enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes I also wonder why you volunteered in the first place to have knives chucked at you if you were so frightened,but then that’s human nature: we’re far too proud to back out of things once we’ve started.Pride comes before fright.A good read!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. No 3 – Jackie Mae Byrne. I am never too sure of how to respond to poetry Jackie. It is something I do not know too much about but saying that, I enjoyed your short poem and the images it brought to my mind. The natural landscape, the playfulness and love, the humour and the fantasy, all brought together in your brief glimpse into a day out in nature. Well done.

    Like

  10. The Impulse by Jaqueline.
    Clever trickery and quick witted read.
    What I’m learning from this group is the art of leading your reader down one path and then quickly doubling back.
    Good tale. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Jackie. I enjoyed reading your poem. The line breaks acting as punctuation allowed the reader to choose their own stops. I read it both ways and it worked for me. The imagery of your beloved and rocking horse dog made me smile. You painted a pleasant spring picture of your surroundings and those surrounding you. A lovely poem evoking a very happy moment in your life.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jacqueline Suffolk
    Great piece. Very atmospheric – scary start. Thought it was about gladiators or something similar and was dreading what came next. Realising it’s a woman added to the mystery – Hunger Games maybe? Great writing style – rich language and well handled. Lots of nice details – like “The leopard skin anklets bobbed”
    Good, humorous ending.

    Like

    1. Thank you Colin. Your comments are what I was after. It has now been rewritten and is winging its way as a piece of flash to an online competition. That’s even scarier than standing in front of a knife thrower. LOL

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  13. Hey colin. You gave me a fright with that ending! Well done. I like the way you set the scene and the use of ‘dallas’ interludes. There might be some way to improve the way you describe the situation in timeline. Like ‘they get the wine, spot a table, walk over, sit down, etc. It’s a bit staccato, but I’m struggling with this myself, so not quite sure how to improve or how my favourite authors do this 🤷🏼‍♀️. Maybe something like: they made their way to an empty corner table with their drinks?

    Jacqueline. Very suspenseful. I love your way of describing things. Something about your word choice and sentence structure makes it very pleasant to read for me and puts me right inside your story.

    Sorry that both these feedbacks alude to writing technique or grammar and I don’t quite have the knowledge to pinpoint exactly what I mean. Will need to do some studying. I hope it helps anyway. Mainly just wanted to say I liked them.

    This is dika by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dika. Thanks for the comments. These are very useful as they’re things I don’t notice. I was trying for a minimalist style with this one – maybe my short sentences (I always swear short is best) are getting too short after all! Trying to do a Hemingway but a long way to go yet!!

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      1. Really enjoyed your tale . Great atmosphère. At the end I was convinced it was a ghost story untill you explained the Asturias village stuff .

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Colin. I liked the story altho i missed the Dallas bit, but now I remember it!!
        Only one thing occured to me .Instead of “telling ” us about san Andrés de fresnedo , i would have the three friends going back to it years later and letting them comment on the empty village!

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I enjoyed reading your story of the bar and strangers Colin. Are you sure you don’t live in Galicia? It’s one of the hardest things to do here pay for your own drinks!! And I love the comment the locals make as they pass by whilst you are eating ‘aproveche’. Normally happens when I have a mouthful of food and can’t answer. And the card playing, the Asturianas are much quieter than the Galegos. Cards get thrown onto the table, foreheads get smacked with palms and the gods or madre mias are always looked to, plus a few other choice curse words! Such fun living here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jacqueline! This story is west Asturias in the early 80s. The paying for drinks hasn’t changed but country people are a lot more open now. Some parts of Asturias were pretty primitive in those days!

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  15. Colin – Not a great deal to add but I could relate to your story and have encountered similar bars and such in and around Asturias. One thing that struck me was there was little information about your leading or secondary characters. Apart from them being outsiders, what made them stand out? Also, it would seem odd for them not to try and communicate with the locals at all but these are just minor story embellishments that possibly could be used in a longer piece. I enjoyed reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ian. The characters were purposely kept to a minimum – just the presumptious nature of young Englishmen (I was one of them). This did happen and although I’ve dressed it up for the story, remote parts of Asturias were incredibly closed off from the world just 30-40 years ago. Many people had never travelled beyond their valley (the men maybe to do the mili only) and outsiders were often treated with suspicion (at first). Of course, as I say at the end, many of those communities no longer exist.

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  16. Hi Hester! Good description of every day life and a ‘normal moment’ out of someone’s life. The scene you put down is quite ‘gloomy’… Mugging, graffiti, library downsizing, wife dying, son not visiting, etc. But then you end with him being content. I didn’t quite get where’s the new beginning as he’s lived there for 8 years?

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hester – A new beginning: I know you were not 100% happy with your story when you submitted it. I understood the context of the piece but not until the end. I recognised this as the end stage of a long grieving and adjustment process that many go through. Finally, he was content in his new life / with his new beginning. There were elements that seems unclear and superfluous for me such as the library…I take it he was a librarian. I think for some, the 8-year timeframe might be a puzzle but for others they will recognise it takes time to come to terms with loss. Furthermore, I enjoyed the description of the run-down and seedy tower block but if he had made a killing on the sale of his house why would he stay in such a situation? All in all this piece makes you think so well done.

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  18. Thanks, Jacqueline — a tense tale! I like the slowly built description of the man. Readers fill in the gaps and anticipate the next detail. This sentence would be better as two, since the last actions are a little too far away from their actor, meaning the reader has to reread that section for clarity:
    From the board he peeled my freezing hand and covered it with his own, massive and calloused, grinned and propelled me to the centre of the stage. It’s difficult to believe people actually did this act, isn’t it?

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  19. Hi Hester. Nice cameo about how someone deals with loss. Well built descriptions and atmosphere. Had some problems with the time frame – didn’t get the sequence on first reading and why he’s so content at the end is not clear to me. Agree with other comment above on the library – maybe makes a point about time passing I suppose. Nice details – lights, etc.

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  20. Hi Jean. True to life story! One style point: some sentences are over long I would say. This one had me stumped by the time I got to the end! (I copied and pasted it!):-

    When Tom had sold her the idea of moving to the Château in France and opening a hotel, it had all sounded just like the life she craved: she had indeed lost some of her initial enthusiasm for nursing, things had changed, too much management and people with no clinical knowledge running everything, mainly, in her view, running it into the ground!

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    1. Yes see your point .I rather thought the punctuation was sufficient and helped the flow of the ideas which seemed linked to me . Will try to remember.

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  21. Jean – Living the dream eh? It rang so true as a story and insight into the lives of new hoteliers who more often than not have a very romanticized view of life in the service industry. Would have been interesting to hear more about Tom but word allowance is tough. All in all enjoyed it but not too sure if there is an overuse of colon and semi-colon.

    Like

  22. Amanda: What a harrowing account of a life and land in turmoil. I think it might have been a first-hand account? If not, it did convince me. Your description of the events unfolding were vivid but not overdone. So saddened to see this conflict continuing.

    Like

    1. Hi Ian
      Thanks, yes it was a personal account. I wanted to bring that day into focus to try and look behind the world of statistics like you did with your refugee piece.

      It is a tragic waste what is happening at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Jean, I really enjoyed your piece. I felt Mary’s pain and I hope she took him to the cleaners. I know all about lazy workaways! It must be a well practised talent looking busy and avoiding hard work. Most of our workaways were excellent, but a couple of them, ugh! I liked the long sentences as well, they set a rhythm which undulated throughout your story.

    Amanda, as Ian said, a harrowing account. Beautifully written. I loved the difference between the violence going on outside and the photo album portraying a life of peace and happiness, which the family had and wanted. Also, the use of Arabic with the English translation tucked in, I was almost unaware of the two languages, it was so cleverly done. It’s a terrible situation and so unfair. I read today the Israelis had destroyed the only covid testing station in Palestine. There are some wicked people in the Israeli government.

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  24. Amanda –

    Very dramatic and atmospheric piece! Interesting too to see these events from so close up. Taut writing style and great touches – loved the prayer beads in the car. The use of Arabic as others said is well handled. Not sure if anything could be improved – maybe the respite in the flat could have been longer to heighten the contrast? But that’s just being picky!

    Like

    1. Hi Charlotte.
      I enjoyed reading your letter. I don’t think the post letter thoughts were needed. With a bit of tweaking, the journey through the letter first all new excitement, then the disillusionment and the final missing what she has at home won’t need anything else. Lovely piece. (Apologies for lack of punctuation, I’m on my phone)

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      1. Thank you Jacqueline for your kind comments. I must admit that I hadn’t thought of that. Good idea. I will remember that

        Like

  25. Hi Charlotte
    What a great first story! There is a lovely rhythm of speech in your letter. Your variation of sentence structure really creates an oral feel. I read it aloud and it really moves on very well.

    I like the use of flat tones of colour ‘green’, ‘blue’ which create a sense that Hattie is not fully engaged with her ‘dream holiday’.

    I agree with JP that you don’t really need the second part reflection and could weave threads of it through your letter. Almost as though echoes of ‘home’ burst through in a kind of counterpoint to the mechanical fulfillment of the holiday and all those things we ought to find enjoyable but sometimes don’t…. museums, sightseeing etc! It is so true that we get wrapped up in questing for dreams that we overlook the beauty of what we have. You could even make home sound less idyllic and perfect but still capture the contrast. Sometimes it is the mundane that is the most lovely. Maybe the chuckle of Hattie’s friend’s laughter over a shared cup of coffee, or battling over a crossword together? For example.

    I really look forward to reading your June story!! Thank you for having the guts to give me a very enjoyable read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Amanda, What I really meant to do was concentrate on the courage of this man who really exists.But if it´s a cautionary tale….so be it !

      Like

  26. Charlotte.
    Nice idea and flowing writing style. Agree with the comments about the last section being hinted at rather than explained. Great start if it’s your first one!

    Like

  27. Hi Charlotte, I quite liked the second half of your story, for me, it helped to contextualise the piece and brought another dimension with it. Congratulations on your first of many submissions. Welcome to the group. New challenges will be posted at the end of May so subscribe for email updates.

    Like

  28. Jeremy, I enjoyed this piece, and it brought back vivid memories of my time working on General Medicine wards. Albeit a short piece, you managed to convey this gentleman’s resilience and strength in his ever incapacitated world. The Spanish might throw one or two readers. Well done.

    Like

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