A collection of eleven stories from around the world. I am lucky enough to have one included in this first volume of The Writer’s Shed, edited by Davis W Berner.
Can’t believe I have a story in the Hemingway finalist again this year! wonder if I can make it a hat trick next year too?
- Where do you think ‘you’ or your ‘Mind’ is when you’re asleep?
I want to share a few personal paranormal occurrences over the next few weeks – happenings that have prompted the above question, because I feel certain that most of you will have similar experiences. Have you?
- Some years ago a friend, called Robin, came to spend the weekend. He didn’t leave for the five-hour drive to his home until after dinner. It was late when he set out and I was concerned that he might fall asleep, but he assured me he was fine and wouldn’t. I’d been sleeping soundly when woken by a dream in which I was screaming at Robin to wake up. I lay awake unable to rid myself of the image of blinding red and white lights. Early the next morning I was woken by the telephone. It was Robin. He told me that he’d fallen asleep on the motorway and would have been killed if it hadn’t been for me screaming at him in a dream, telling him to wake up. He said his eyes snapped open to find himself accelerating into the back of a lorry – he was so close to impact the lorries rear lights were almost touching his bonnet.
When the Light Shines: Hemingway Shorts
Winner of the Earnest Hemingway Shorts Contest 2018
THE EMPTY CHAIR
Stanley’s heavy-rimmed glasses had slipped cock-eyed on the damp surface of his red-veined nose, exposing his rheumy eyes, and there they rested until the sound of Frank’s voice in the hall jolted him out of his dark musings. He hurriedly brushed a hand across his eyes, blew his nose and replaced his glasses, but not before Frank had time to register exactly how his old friend was feeling. As Stanley struggled to get to his feet Frank placed a hand firmly on his shoulder and pushed him back into the armchair where his woolly-grey head slumped back against the yellow-stained antimacassar.
‘How you doing?’ Frank asked, his voice over loud with forced cheerfulness.
‘Coping. I’m coping.’
‘Had something to eat?’
Stanley didn’t answer. He just stared unseeing at the silent television screen. What was there to say? She’d always done the shopping, cooking, wouldn’t let him near the kitchen she wouldn’t, not even at Christmas when the dishes were piled high after having friends round. No, he couldn’t cook and he didn’t feel inclined to start at this stage in his life – what was the point now she was gone. Anyway, he’d been to Patel’s that morning and stocked up with a supply of corned beef, tinned soups, frozen meals for one, cornflakes, a six-pack and a bottle of the best Scotch available from the corner shop.
‘Since you refuse to come over to our place, Joan said I was to make sure you were eating properly.’
‘I’ve got food, I’ll eat when I’m hungry.’
Frank noticed the defiant clenching of Stanley’s jaw as he spoke; his lop-sided cardigan buttoned up crooked and the creased shirt. Sheila would have soon have had those straightened out, had him looking neat and tidy. One thing about him hadn’t changed though – he was still wearing a tie – Stan had never been seen without a tie ever, even in high summer. He was surprised though at him going to pieces like this, but then he’d always been full of surprises. For one thing, none of his friends had thought to see him marry, such a curmudgeonly old bachelor he’d become, when going on fifty he quite suddenly announced he was marrying Sheila from the local pharmacy. And now Frank thought he’d never be surprised by anything Stan did ever again.
‘Good, I’ll put the kettle on then, shall I?’
Frank returned from the kitchen carrying two mugs of tea, and having handed one to Stanley was about to sit down in the vacant armchair opposite him when he thought better of it and pulled up a chair from beside the table.
‘You can sit there if you want.’
‘Nah. It doesn’t seem right somehow … never sat there before, did I? That’s her chair.’
‘Was her chair.’ Stanley said, his eyes welling again.
For the last twenty years, every evening year in year out with seldom a break, Sheila had sat opposite him in that same chair. In the early days of their marriage she would do mending and darning, she was good at sewing; then she took up knitting and every evening after the dishes were done he would watch the television to the accompaniment of her clicking needles and it was her of course who’d crocheted the antimacassars to protect the chair backs.
Little in the ordered routine of their lives changed over the years and Stan hadn’t noticed her restlessness, not that was, until she enrolled in a Tai-Chi class when her chair would be empty every Thursday evening. He had objected at first as it meant having to have their evening meal early, but he soon got used to that and he couldn’t really complain since he left her alone every Tuesday and Saturday when he went to the club for a few rounds with the boys and the occasional game of cards.
‘You want to talk about it?’
‘There’s nothing to talk about … I’ve got to get on with it haven’t I?’
‘How about getting out – come down the club again?’
‘No,’ he shouted, ‘how can I?’
‘You’ll have to face the lads again sometime.’
Stanley looked up, his face convulsed, ‘I was such a damned fool, I should have known something was wrong, done something.’ he said banging his fist down on the arm of his chair.
‘When did you first suspect things weren’t right?’
Stanley leant forward resting his head in his gnarled hands.
‘It was months, maybe a year back. I was dropping a customer off at the hospital. A regular she was – twice a week for months I’d drive her to St Thomas’s, wait in my cab listening to the radio while she had treatment, and then drive her home. It was while I was waiting one day that I saw Sheila come out of the main entrance. It gave me quite a shock seeing her there, not that she looked sick or anything, in fact she was quite dressed up for her. That evening I asked her if she was ill, but no – she said she’d been visiting a friend, a colleague she worked with at the pharmacy. I believed her, even when I saw her at the hospital again some months later.’
‘When did she actually tell you?’
‘She didn’t. Never said a word. The first I knew of it was that night at the club.’ he hissed through gritted teeth.
‘Did you not talk to each other, discuss things?’
‘Sometimes. I’d tell her about some of the fares I’d picked up, about the odd characters who’d get in my cab, like the geezer with a goat, but there wasn’t much to tell really, was there?’
‘She used to natter on all the time at first – can’t say I took much notice, just the usual stuff about work. Once of twice she tried to get me to go away on a trip, you know, one of those package holidays to some hot foreign place, but I’ve never been one for going abroad – not liking strange food or understanding the lingo – so we never went away, except once to the Broads fishing.’
‘She didn’t fish, I did.’
‘Did she mind?’
‘Never said if she did.’ he said, glaring at Frank over the top of his glasses.
‘She wouldn’t would she, too quiet for her own good …’
‘Huh! And mine as it turned out.’
While Stanley returned his gaze to the silent action on the television, Frank took note of his friend’s knit brow and felt the barely concealed anger seething inside him.
‘You ever tell her about the horses – your visits to the betting office every weekend?’
‘Don’t be daft!’
‘And the poker games in the back room on Tuesday nights?’
‘None of her business, anyway it never amounted to much.’
‘Bleeding hell Stan, what do you call not much?’
‘That last game – well that was different – the rest were just a few quid here and there, you know that.’
‘I know, club rules, but to bet …’
‘It would never have happened if that foreign doctor from the hospital hadn’t come looking for me and come out with all that stuff about Sheila, what was I supposed to do for god’s sake?’
‘Hit him, knocked the living daylights out of him, had him thrown out, anything other than what you did.’
‘It made sense at the time, he was as determined to have her as I was to keep her – dead lock.’
‘You could have confronted her, but no you had to wager her in a game of cards! How the hell could you?’
‘I could tell at a glance he was no card player and I would have won but for his bloody luck with that confounded hand.’
‘Well, the blokes in the club are all drinking to you now, you’re quite the hero, ‘to Stan who lost his wife to an ace of spades!’ Frank said, raising his mug and downing the remains of his tea.
The football supporters on the train left me thinking about how to get the young, and maybe not so young, into thinking about life, where we came from and what becomes of us when we die. Heavy stuff? Not really. But then I’ve lived amongst ghosts most of my life and, following a series of uninvited and disturbing events taking over my life, ended up training at the College of Psychic Studies where I gained a deeper understanding of these supposedly paranormal events. Does anyone remember Joan Grants books? If so you will know how her exciting stories imparted simple explanations of spirituality and reincarnation in particular. That, I decided was what I wanted to do too. Only how? Well, whilst working in London, I was also engaged (still am) at the Theatre Royal Plymouth as an audio describer for the blind and partially sighted, and this involves a degree of writing. This was fine as being dyslexic and hopeless at spelling didn’t matter as everything in AD is spoken. Not so writing. Undaunted by the endless wiggly red lines littering my script, I began writing what was to be my first book. No, not The Spirit Trap, another book, as yet unpublished – too controversial. When I began writing it, I had absolutely no idea what form the story would take other than it would involve a carousel horse – I passed a battered one in antique shop window on the way to the theatre, and felt sorry for it. After six weeks at the computer I had a 85,0000 word unpublishable story. But I had enjoyed the process; allowing my imagination to run wild – writing a character into a corner and the puzzle of how to get them out it, all the while trying to maintaining a subtle philosophical thread. The whole process was fun. This book was for younger children and the prequel to The Spirit Trap. It was at this point that I thought maybe it was time I learnt, if not how to spell, at least how to write …
This is my first attempt at writing a blog and as a dyslexic OAP I can’t imagine what I can be thinking of when people my age should be sitting back with a glass of wine enjoying a good book – written by someone who knows what they’re doing. So what prompted this folly?
It all began with a late night train journey disrupted by a gang of intimidating drunk football fans. It was several years ago and I was working at the College of Psychic Studies in London – as a sensitive/ medium – something I don’t shout about as people tend to recoil thinking you’re either weird or a witch. I am neither. I am an ordinary housewife with four adult children living on the edge of Dartmoor surrounded by Highland cattle, sheep, cats, an eagle owl and mud. But back to the train. I was returning from London on the last train. There were quite a few people in the carriage, all quietly reading or working on their laptops, when a gang of young men burst in and started kicking an empty beer can up and down the aisle. This went on for a while with them shouting obscenities and trying to provoke trouble, until one of them started being unbelievably horrible to a black girl sitting across the aisle from me. That was it, and I stood up (intending to find the transport police who I’d seen board the train at Reading),when the leader snatched my book from me and started to pace up and down reading it out loud. He then stopped, turned to me and shouted,’you don’t believe this F****crap do you?’ I asked him if he had any better ideas of what happened to you when you died. He then came and threw himself down in the seat next to me and we began to talk. It wasn’t long before the rest of his mates squeezed in too – six of us in seats for four – very cosy!The rest of was spent with them talking about friends who’d died in accidents, relatives or friends with terminal illnesses – they all had a story to tell, but none had ever given a thought to what happens next. At the end of their journey we all exchanged phone numbers and big hugs, and as the police were escorting the lads off the train one of them turned to me and said,’ I don’t know what you’ve got that I haven’t, but thanks for looking after the lads.’ To which I replied, I have a book. The book was Memories, Dreams and Refections by Carl Jung – it made them think, and it made me think too. Not only think, but to embark on writing stories about what might happen next.
- Anyone who has read The Spirit Trap will know it is about a girl who tries to release / rescue a ghost – well I was only able to write the story because releasing earthbound spirits is something I also do, or to be more precise, try to do, as not all ghosts are exactly amenable. And for anyone who is interested in this sort of thing I thought I’d tell you, (very briefly) about such a rescue that I was asked to do this summer. I had a phone call from someone who rents out a very remote cottage on Dartmoor. She said that her new tenants were unhappy and were thinking of leaving as they felt “something other” than themselves was living there. Iwent to the cottage and was taken around by the owner. Initially the house seemed fine until we returned to the main room for the second time, when as I moved to a certain place I was ” hit” by a paralysing cold – the tenants were right – there most certainly was someone else there. As requested I was left alone to try and make contact with the spirit, who, luckily, was only too glad to communicate with someone who understood his plight and help him to move on. The happy tenants are now no longer looking over their shoulders and the distressed young man has moved on. Yippee.
- PS His story, or what I gleaned of it, was interesting and sad as it transpired (as is so often is the case with earthbound spirits), that religion played a large part in his inability to recognise that he was dead and move on.