Writings and Witterings



Up here on the moors in the summer, skylarks play and the sun beats a tattoo on the old ack-ack shelter. The conversion from shelter to shelter took minutes only. Herbie came here so many years ago he can’t recall exactly when, but after the war. Certainly, after the war.

He brought with him a primus stove, a kettle and a pan and a small mix of other important things.

He walks nine miles into town to source a bit of food and books. There is silence here; few come by, it suits him.

He cherishes a gold chain; a hunting knife; a lighter and a blackened tin mug. The knife skins and guts rabbits, Herbie found it under a tree, stumbled across it when walking into town, fell over the corner of a box sticking out of the ground. Curious, he dug it up. Inside, the knife covered by a stained, decomposing mouldy cloth put him in mind of the knife he’d plucked from the body of Ian Crossley years back – Ian had fallen onto it – but with their history, no-one would have believed it.

Herbie wears his father’s gold chain around his neck; he took it as a talisman when Dad died. It worked, Herbie knew it had, he hadn’t been charged. Herbie wore the mug on his belt, much used, it reminded him of better days.

Better days – hah! The guilt shrouds him and keeps him away from others.

Who is this coming over the moors towards the shelter? Herbie feels the blood drain from his face – it’s Ian – but it can’t be Ian.

The familiar stranger barks, ‘Are you Herbie, Herbert Tolley?’ Herbie just looks at him. ‘They said you were there. That you could tell me what happened to Ian Crossley.’ Herbie says nothing. ‘You were there. He slipped and a knife went into him. How did it happen?’

Herbie starts to tremble. He tries not to let it show but the stranger notices. ‘You know, don’t you? C’mon, tell me.’ The man grips Herbie by his coat and begins to shake him, slowly at first then faster and faster until Herbie’s brain feels fuzzy, addled. Herbie offers no resistance – he deserves this – he might have stopped it, saved Ian, and didn’t.

Herbie’s lack of response infuriates the already furious man further and his efforts to shake something out of him are renewed with even more vigour. Herbie feels his teeth loosen as if they will drop from his mouth like the knife fell from his hands that black night so long ago.

When Herbie recovers consciousness, he sees the stranger on the ground outside the ack-ack shelter unconscious. He walks the nine miles into town to get someone to call an ambulance. He can’t have another death on his conscience.

[474 words]

Polly Robinson © 2012

Some of you may have seen Herbie before as a poem that’s been published in various places.  I’m doing a Flash Fiction course with Calum Kerr just now and decided to develop the character’s story a little further as a flash ~ Calum gave me a couple of editing tips which I’ve used ~ does the story work for you?


16 thoughts on “Herbie

  1. That is very interesting! The losing consciousness hints at a deeper culpability than previously indicated.


  2. mmmm … glad you found it interesting Joe, Calum said ‘What a dark and compelling tale. I love the loose ends which are left dangling so that we have to try and piece things together for ourselves, and the brooding nature of the story works very well.’

    I try to let the reader bring their thoughts to stories and I really like where your thoughts have taken you with it 🙂


  3. Hi Polly. Not familiar with Herbie’s poems, but this short story is definitely capturing. I think all readers could instantly relate to Herbie’s need to be alone, at least in a sense. Most of us just have a few days in our lives like that, wanting to be alone, shying away from society under certain circumstances, whereas people like Herbie adopt it as a lifestyle. I think your writing helps the reader understand people like him a little better, for whatever reason they should choose.

    Herbie’s reason appears to be a mental thing, guilt, and possibly the fear of it happening again, if I’m reading it right. And then, someone who looked like Ian, possibly a brother, came to call and question him about it. And Ian blacked out. When he became conscious again he found the stranger laying dead. I’d say the stranger got his answer. And so did Herbie. Yes it could happen again. And the very last sentence shows Herbie accepting that, and turning himself in.

    I hope that I got it right. If so then excellent story! If not, then I apologize…….. but still a great story!



    • Hi John and thank you for the feedback, very welcome, and I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

      Like most writers, I have a clear understanding of the character, but for me the important thing is to have the reader interpret the story and get what they will from it … there’s a saying ‘perception is reality’ and whilst I don’t agree with it all of the time, I suspect that when we’re reading it’s a given. I like your interpretation very much.

      Thank you again for your reply ~ Polly


  4. This is an excellent story–you capture so much in under 500 words. I am drawn to the falling-down-on-knives theme myself, and the loss of consciousness. Fascinates me.


    • Thanks Susan ~ I haven’t thought about being drawn to particular themes … nope, that’s not true, I’m aware I am drawn to particular themes but hadn’t thought about the falling-down-on-knives one until you said and, actually, it is something that’s occurred in a few of my pieces … hmmmm …


  5. ha…you make me curious for more details..but that’s also just the good thing about the story..that there is some room to interprete and paint our own thoughts in


  6. Me thinks Herbie is suffering from a bit of denial…

    Great story!


  7. Hi Polly, this story is so textured, and brings in so many interesting elements in compressed way. Well done. K.


  8. Well-structured with dialogue and narrative nicely balanced. Good story!!


  9. Very dark and enjoyable, would love to find out more about Herbie, his backstory and what’s to come!


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