Polly

Writings and Witterings


8 Comments

Skinny Latte

A short story—two characters who knew each other a long time ago meet unexpectedly.

House Blend Coffee - Weak Skinny Flat White - ...

House Blend Coffee – Skinny Latte (Photo credit: avlxyz)

‘Jennifer? Is it? It is you. Jennifer?’

‘Oh my god, it’s…’ Jennifer shrinks, she’s back at school being told off by Miss Evans while Esme stands behind the teacher smirking.

‘Esme Davis.’

‘So good to see you,’ says Jennifer, ‘you haven’t changed a bit.’

‘Neither have you. Why, even your hair…’

Jennifer’s suddenly hyper-aware of her jeans and scruffy T-shirt. ‘Yeah, don’t say it, same old style.’ Jennifer sighs.

‘I’d have known you anywhere… got time for coffee?’ Esme tilts her head at the doorway of the coffee shop. She points; the gesture shows immaculate red nails, bracelets tinkle. She raises an eyebrow. Jennifer nods and follows her into the cinnamon laced air of the café. They order and sit watching the busyness of the town. They glance at each other over the top of their cups. George walks past the window and picks his hand up to Jennifer. Nice to see a friendly face, thinks Jennifer, and waves back to him.

‘Are you still in Allistown, Esme?’

‘No. Visiting mother. She’s in a nursing…’ Esme’s voice trails off.

‘Which one?’ asks Jennifer.

‘Just local. What are you doing?’

Esme might have asked a question but she’s not interested in the answer. Why did I agree to coffee? How typical of Esme, she won’t even say which nursing home her mother’s in. So secretive. She always was, of course. ‘Well,’ Jennifer says, ‘since John died I’ve been…’

‘Ha ha, “Dear Reader I married him”?’ Esme snickers, her eyebrow arches again as she sips her skinny latte.

‘Yes, you would say that.’ Jennifer shuffles in her chair, looks in her handbag, realises it would be rude to look at her mobile right now and closes the bag; she puts it on the floor, smiles. When Esme ordered the latte she couldn’t help but think: ‘don’t be a latte fatty.’ Esme, as ever, is like a lathe.

‘I always liked John.’ Esme pats at her hair.

‘Yes, I remember.’ Jennifer has a vivid picture of Esme hanging around John at the Methodist youth club: the way he would turn away from Esme; try to discourage conversation. They sip their coffees.

‘Do you remember?’ Jennifer asks.

‘What?’ Esme’s eyebrow is up again.

‘You were always the one who had everything,’ Jennifer says.

‘I was?’ Esme waves her free hand as if brushing the words away, the bracelets clatter.

To Jennifer’s surprise, she sees tears in Esme’s eyes. ‘Are you all right?’ She hands Esme a tissue. Esme dabs at her eyes carefully. Jennifer touches the back of Esme’s other hand, she’s not sure what for, but it seems the right thing to do.

‘Of course I’m all right.’ Esme snaps moving her hand away from Jennifer. ‘Such a do-gooder, so loved. So helpful. So bloody helpful all the time.’

‘You make it sound wrong…’ Jennifer frowns. ‘I like to help out when I can.’

‘I knew I shouldn’t have stopped. Couldn’t help myself. Wanted to know about John.’

Jennifer suddenly feels cold, ‘Why would you want to know about John?’

‘He meant a lot. Even though he was seeing you, I liked him,’ says Esme.

‘Yes, he knew that.’ And I did too. You made no attempt to hide it.

‘He still married his goody-two-shoes. Goes to show…’ Esme sounds bitter.

Jennifer tries to change the subject. ‘The children are grown now. Do you have children, Esme?’

‘Good god no! Can you imagine me? No way.’

Jennifer finishes her coffee and gets to her feet. ‘Well, lovely to see you, Esme. I hope all goes well with your mother.’

Polly Stretton © 2012


15 Comments

Changeling

Here is my short story about The Changeling which was shortlisted in the Fantastic Books Publishing International competition ~ as was another short story Dust to Dust ~  I was delighted to learn both stories will appear in their forthcoming anthology and am looking forward to seeing the winning entries.

Changeling

“What are these things?” Sarah asks, picking up a pinch of pointy green stick-like things the size of hundreds and thousands.

John stares, his eyes wide in amazement. “They’re tiny! How on earth did you spot them?”

He’s right; mortals rarely see faerie teeth.

The collective gasp from the fae sounds like a breath of wind; there’s something in the air. It’s Alemin. He flies, his wings on fire, to the faerie court.

“Mortals! Mortals!” he wheezes, “Found the teeth.”

The faerie queen grins, her mouth glittering greenly, “Mark her! We’ll take the child.”

The fae pack their string pockets. They have nectar to feed the mortal babe and keep it quiet when they put the changeling in its place. The faerie court, the tannafae, want a blue-eyed, blonde-haired boy child to pet, cosset and tease… to keep for the solstice. The fae hunters head for the land of mortals.

“This way.” Alemin leads as they leave the magical meadow-scented realm. They pass through the hawthorn to the world of mortals. Alemin hates the green stained teeth; he rubs a tooth-cleansing twig over his own to freshen his mouth. He hears the fae now, chattering and jittering behind him; he sees squirrels leap up trees, rabbits disappear down holes, there are snuffles and scuffles, twigs snap. He wonders once more why he does not feel part of them, he was born into fae, so why is he different? Alemin glances up through the dappled canopy, mottled sunshine picks out bright spikily waxed hair, disproportionately large knuckled hands, thin fingers, tapered nails. He is aware of them scraping the unmistakeable fae marks in moss and on tree bark. Coal black faerie eyes glitter, the fae sneer at the creatures scattering before them.

At Alemin’s raised hand the fae hunters quieten and move swiftly now silently in shoes of scuffed moleskin. Alemin carries a poor sickly little mite, blue-eyed and blonde-haired, a faerie baby, the one his family call the good-for-nothing, the changeling. He does not like it, what he is about to do, but it must be done. He, Alemin, must be elevated to the position of tannafae and from there to faepeer. He has little choice until he can win enough favour to become tannafae. They reach the archaic ridgeway and work along it. There, in front of them, appears the isolated cottage. Alemin makes a wide sweep with his arm and the fae blend into the gorse and bracken on the hillside. Not a sound is made.

Alemin sees Sarah pegging out washing. She is their target mother the mortal who picked up the faerie teeth … Alemin and the others enter the farmworker’s cottage. They snatch Sarah’s child from the cradle and Alemin deposits the faerie changeling without a backward glance. The fae leave, Alemin stops outside the window to see what Sarah will do. She peels potatoes for dinner, cries over onions, then she moves to the cradle. Alemin sees her tilt her head to the side as if puzzled. He stiffens. Will she realise? No. Trick of the light. She tucks the blankets around the tiny child. She smiles fondly at the child who grizzles in its sleep.

The tannafae coo over the tiny new mortal, delighted with the blue eyes and blonde hair. They pinch it to make it cry then pick it up and fuss it. Alemin sees they love the novelty. He feels sick. They chuck it under its chin to receive a gummy smile. They feed it on nectar, giggling as it becomes drunk and starts to hiccup. Alemin looks away.

The faerie queen smiles and nods her head graciously. She is pleased with Alemin.

He shivers as he thinks about the solstice, the blood-tithe. Before the last solstice he talked with his father.

“Why do we need mortal blood?”

“Because otherwise it would have to be fae blood.”

“But it is fae blood if we give away our weak and feeble to get mortals”

“That’s not how she sees it. The fae hunters search for the mortals who find faerie teeth. It has been so for centuries.”

“They are away from their families for months. What’s the good of that?  There has to be a better way.”

“You are a great hunter, Alemin, you have the knack of spotting teeth finders and marking them for the blood-tithe.”

“But there must be a better way.”

“Find it, my son. Get into court. Become a tannafae. With good fortune you could be nominated a faeseer, then you’ll make your mark.”

Alemin knows he has pleased the faerie queen. He will soon join the tannafae.

At the faerie court, the tannafae fun lasts until the babe is so hungry it won’t stop crying and doesn’t smile any more. They tire of sticking it with pins to make it scream louder. Now the sacrifice is made, the blood-tithe gathered. They put the limp bloodless body on the bones of others in the Northern cave; the babe will die of cold, blood poisoning and anaemia.

Another half dozen and the fae will be safe until winter solstice.


Leave a comment

Flash Fiction

Last Saturday saw the final of the first Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe Flash Fiction competition that was organised by author Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn as part of the Worcestershire Literary Festival.  The competition was judged by Lindsay and by Calum Kerr, the King of Flash Fiction himself!  Calum had only recently completed National Flash Fiction Day and also a whole year of writing a Flash every day, you may have heard about it on BBC Radio.

Maybe those who didn’t enter this time would like to see the finalists’ work—there were nearly 100 entries from all over the UK and from further afield.  A Worcestershire writer, Amy Rainbow, was the winner.  Most of the flash writers were present on Saturday and read out their work, suffice it to say that Amy’s flash moved many people to tears.  Plans are already being made to run the competition again in 2013.

You can get A Flash Of Fiction, the anthology created from the submissions, from the publishers: Black Pear Press. Click here for details and scroll to the base of the page.


17 Comments

Antics

Babies born ‘in the caul’ (when their amniotic sack, or amnion, has not burst and remain intact on the babies head or face like a circular crown) are in many instances worldwide thought to be lucky, special or protected (JSTOR: Folklore: Vol.61, No.2, p.104 in http://england.prm.ox.ac.uk/englishness-sailors-charm.html retrieved November 2011).

Antics

There I was, hurrying through Worcester Cathedral grounds, late for tea with the Bishop. Suddenly, something flew past my head. I ducked instinctively, looking around to see what it was. A small dark figure disappeared into a grating.

The next instant another one jumped off the Cathedral. A gargoyle! It launched off sprouting little arms and legs. Giggling wickedly, it scurried past to join its companion.

‘Look out,’ I cried, seeing another about to descend. A child laughed and pointed at me crouched with my arms over my head. The child tugged at its mother’s skirt, she shook it off.
‘Don’t be rude, Wayne,’ she said, ‘the vicar’s only praying’.

They couldn’t see the little beasts! I pondered this, now praying fervently as another whizzed past. It tumbled by me chanting ‘Whee … born in a caul, born in a caul, you can see us no trouble at all. Wheee …’ and scampered to the grating. Another followed quickly. I looked up at the scaffolding to see if more were to follow suit. Didn’t look like it. Not believing my eyes, I ran to the grating.

There the four of them sat in a circle. Tiny, childlike voices echoed up to me. ‘He-he-he, we are free, we’ve got an hour, what can we see?’ With that, they all jumped out onto the path and, holding hands, set off towards town. I had no alternative. I followed them, severely doubting my sanity and offering up a prayer for the Bishop’s understanding.

They moved fast for such little blighters. In seconds they closed on a rather large woman bending over her full shopping bag on a bench. I watched in horror as one found a stick and poked her rear with it. She jumped, turning angrily. Then, seeing me, she blushed furiously, simpering ‘Oh, vicar!’

‘Pardon me,’ I said indignantly and hurried off after the little monsters who were well down the path, holding their sides and hooting with laughter.

‘Juggernaut! Juggernaut!’ they squealed, seeing one stopped at the traffic lights. Within seconds they were aboard, moving the driver’s mirror. He straightened it, puzzled. They moved it again. They took his keys; the engine stopped. The lights turned green. The driver cursed, reaching for his keys. Car horns blared. Delighted pedestrians charged across the road at breakneck speed. I joined them.

The gargoyles were now by Elgar’s statue depositing the keys at its base. A mother with a child in a pushchair approached. They snatched the child’s lollipop. He began to scream; his mother searched the footpath for the lolly. ‘What have you done with it?’ she asked him crossly. The child continued to scream while just yards away the lolly was disappearing into the gargoyles’ fleshy mouths. ‘Yummy, yummy, yummy, food for our tummy,’ they chuckled. A Labrador swerved, sensing them, his eyes popping as he pulled his unsuspecting owner into a lamppost.

A policeman strolled along heading for the snarl-up at the traffic lights. Irate motorists shook their fists at the bewildered juggernaut driver. Another rhyme floated back to me. ‘Once in every century we have a chance to dance round free. We have fun and few can see, save those who were born in a caul.’

They turned, heading for the hotel. I’d lost them. Through revolving doors I saw the four of them busily emptying a guest’s suitcase. The guest had her back to them, signing in. Bras and stockings flew through the air, the gargoyles rummaged through cosmetics, smearing lipsticks, emptying bottles. It got worse when they found the talc. I dashed in without thinking and started shoving things back into the case. She turned around. Through a fog of talc I saw her open-mouthed amazement at the sight of me clutching a pair of filmy white panties to my cassocked chest. The receptionist, galvanized into action, reached for the phone. I knew just what was happening, heaven forefend!

The young woman of the underwear found her voice, ‘You’re a vicar! A vicar! What are you doing?’
‘Don’t worry miss, the police are on their way,’ said the receptionist. The gargoyles gambolled with glee, giggling and winking. ‘He-he-he, now you’ll see just how long an hour can be. Back to the Cathedral, that’s where we’ll be.’ They left.

Well … what could I say?  The police arrived.  The receptionist pointed an elegant, accusing finger at me.

The policeman viewed the devastated luggage and clouded reception area, a look of wonder on his face. He shook his head, saying ‘There’s something in the air today. A lorry driver threw his keys at Elgar, held traffic up for ages, now this! In public! Come along vicar.’

He escorted me to his car. I saw the Bishop in the distance. Beyond him the gargoyles squatted by the Cathedral. I looked again and they were gone as if they’d never been. Someone, as they say, crept over my grave, I shivered. ‘Pon my soul, how am I going to explain this to His Grace?

Polly Stretton © 2012