Photo-Prompt Story: The Red Door

This is a short story in, 690 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, seen on Sue Judd’s blog.

Ellen thought it was high time the front door was painted. She couldn’t remember when it was that Norman had done it last. Some years before he died, that was for sure. She had never liked the sickly cream colour he had used, but he had half a tin left in the shed, and said it would save money. The door always looked dirty after that, with rain splashes and scuffs standing out clearly on the light colour. But she didn’t have the heart to complain, not even about the brush marks that were so apparent when the light was on it.

As she watered the plants that morning, she decided that now was the time to brighten it up. The walk to the High Street seemed to take much longer than it used to, but she liked to give her business to the local shops. Henderson’s Hardware had been there since before they moved to thr district, and after the old man had died, his son had taken it over. Norman used to say, ‘They have everything in that shop. Anything you need”. The young man behind the counter gave her a friendly smile, as she told him what she needed. “Something bright and colourful. But it must be hard-wearing, as it will be on the front door you see”.

He showed her what they had in stock, and she shook her head at the selection available. Unable to decide, she took some colour charts away, with the young man assuring her they could get anything she needed very quickly. After going through them all at home, Ellen chose her two favourites, and took them outside to look at them against the door in the light. Nodding to confirm her choice, she spoke out loud. “Poppy Red. That’s the one”.

The local free paper arrived the next day, and she looked at the advertisements for painters and decorators. Choosing one with a box around the ad, and a local phone number, she made the call. The young man had a friendly tone to his voice, and told her he could paint her door easily. He said he would pop round tomorrow, and give her a price for the job. He arrived on time, and Ellen showed him the colour chart. “Poppy Red, like this one. You can get it from Henderson’s”. He nodded, and told her he could get a good deal for trade but would need the money first, in case she changed her mind, and he got stuck with the paint. That seemed fair enough to her, so she handed over the cash.

On the Friday, he turned up as arranged. Ellen made him a cup of tea as he got ready. “Two sugars please, and don’t forget not to come out through the door”. She nodded, wondering if she thought being old also made her stupid. Two hours later, he knocked on the door. Ellen opened it to find a strange pinkish colour paint on the door. She pulled a face. “That doesn’t look right to me”. The man smiled. “It’s not finished yet, love. That’s only the first coat. I will come back on Monday when this has dried, rub it down, and get the second coat on. Don’t worry, it will look lovely. But can you give me the money for some more paint, as that one tin won’t be enough? And can you pay me for what I have done today too please?” Ellen set her lip. “Are you sure that’s Poppy Red? Doesn’t look like the one on the chart to me”.

He laughed at her, shaking his head. His reply made her feel silly. “It’s the old colour underneath, ain’t it? It’s not going to look like the one on the chart until the second coat goes on, is it?” Fetching her purse, Ellen handed over the money. Picking up the paint and brushes, he waved as he walked away. “See you Monday”.

As she watered the plants, the dustcart was at the end of the street. That meant it must be Thursday.

And the young man still hadn’t come back to finish the door.

Photo-Prompt Story: The Bench-Table

This is a short story, in 500 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, sent to me by Maggie, from

Diana had always loved that bench-table. Keith had made it himself, using moulds purchased from a builder’s merchant, and mixing the concrete in some old buckets no longer used for any other purpose. It had turned out surprisingly well, and was solid and strong. Just like him.

In the garden, it seemed to suit the mood. They never did go for a cultured, or over-manicured look, and other than a few tubs of annuals, tended to let it slide. That natural, slightly overgrown atmosphere pleased them both, and also meant a lot less unnecessary work. Weekends away from the the city could be enjoyed, rather than endured, as there was little to do but relish the surroundings.

Most mornings, they would have their coffee sitting at the bench. And on fine summer evenings, enjoy a glass of wine before and after dinner. Sitting there, feeling the roughness under their clothes, it seemed to be perfect. It went with the surroundings, and gave that feel of something timeless, that would always endure. When the weather was at its best, it was not unknown for them to have both breakfast and dinner at that sturdy table, ignoring the flies, and the occasional wasp.

And just like that bench, their marriage endured. Two kids, lots of happy memories crowded around the table, squashed on the small seats intended for one, but managing to accommodate two on each side. As time went on, work got busy, and they rarely managed once a month around the bench-table. Cherished moments though, as the concrete weathered, mimicking their own ageing. When the kids got older, they made it out to the place when they could, the eventual grandchildren sitting on their laps around the table. Happy days indeed.

Retirement came, and was welcomed. They could give up the apartment in the city, and spend their days enjoying relaxation and peace in their countryside idyll. Keith seemed to be rejuvenated. Diana was so happy, she had never known a time when they had been so relaxed. This was the life that had always hoped for, and a part of them had anticipated. For more than six months of every year, they took their meals around the bench-table, talking of the times when they had hoped to be doing exactly that.

Now Diana smiled as she saw Keith sitting there, waiting for her to come outside. She took the big mug of coffee, and smiled at her daughter. “I will drink this with your dad, honey”. Melanie watched as her mother walked over to the bench. She didn’t seem to see the too-long grass as she sat down, smiling and chatting.

Feeling a hand on her shoulder, Melanie turned to see her brother Patrick, his eyebrows raised. “Who is mum talking to?”

She patted his hand as he looked over at her mum sitting alone at the bench.

“Dad of course. She still thinks she sees him”.

If Ants Were As Big As Poodles

The photo above is of a ‘Murder Hornet’. I read this about them yesterday.
‘Huge ‘murder hornets’ capable of killing humans have invaded the US’.

It’s pretty big, we can all see that. But what if it was as as big as a pigeon? Then imagine hundreds of them swarming around on a hot day. It’s a lucky escape for humans that insects are tiny in comparison to us. If ants were as big as dogs, even small dogs like poodles, they would have wiped out the human race a very long time ago, I’m sure.

Even the smallest insects kill tens of thousands of us every year. Take the mosquito spreading malaria, or locusts wiping out crops, leading to starvation for many. By combining into huge swarms, or living in city-sized colonies, insects prove that there is strength in numbers.

If humble houseflies were as big as oranges, just think how miserable our life would be. Something so easily dealt with by swatting, fly spray, or even a rolled up newspaper would suddenly become a whole different ball game. And think of dragonflies as big as eagles, swooping down on us. Or perhaps don’t think about that, as it’s too terrible to contemplate.

Spiders are not insects, but if they were as big as dustbin lids, we might all be in a lot of trouble. One of those in the bath wouldn’t be easy to flush down the drain by running the hot tap. And getting trapped in their web would be the end of you, undoubtedly. And if wasps were the size of Havana Cigars, the idea of a country picnic woud never have even been invented.

Gardens would probably not exist if aphids were as big as a lemon. Try washing them away with a spray of soapy water. Not going to happen. And if bees were the size of grapefruits, forget getting anyhere near their honey.

So evolution worked out pretty well for us, didn’t it?

The Second Biggest Bang

In case you hadn’t noticed, there has been some fascinating news from outer space. The second biggest explosion in the history of the universe has been captured on a telescope.

The facts surrounding this are mind-blowing.

The huge release of energy is thought to have emanated from a super-massive black hole some 390 million light years from Earth.

“To give it another dimension; [the cavity] is about one-and-a-half-million light-years across. So the hole that was punched in the surrounding space in the hot X-ray plasma would take light itself one-and-a-half-million years to traverse”. (A Scientist)

‘A super-massive black hole released the energetic explosion over 240 million years ago. The explosion occurred in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, about 390 million light-years from Earth, and was so powerful it blasted a hole in the cluster plasma – the super-hot gas surrounding the black hole’. (Science Focus)

So, the light from this explosion was so far away, it took almost 400,000,000 years to reach Earth. (And I think Norwich is a long way to travel.)

Try getting your head around that, I can’t!

(Anyway, better than me moaning about the weather, which by the way is bloody awful!)

Parcel Prompt Story: Writer’s Block

You saw the title? Yes, this is a parcel prompt, a first. A short story, in 1280 words.
I took the photo of a parcel sent to me all the way from California, by my blogging friend, John Rieber.
He decided to go one better than a photo, and this was sent including a polystyrene box, to protect the contents.

There was a time when things were good. ‘Demon of The Marsh’ was a huge hit, and smashed into the fantasy market. Top seller on Amazon, and in the front windows of the bookshops that still existed. I was interviewed on the radio, then even a short telly spot on the BBC local news. The Guardian columnist called it ‘A fresh new take on the Demon genre’. Naturally, I was excited. And when it had sold over six thousand copies in hardback, then many, many more in paperback, I was approached by the very keen publisher with a deal for a second book.

I admit it, I was excited. I gave up my job without talking to Stella about it. She thought it was premature, but when the royalties started to roll in she stopped talking about that job, and began to spend the cash. Then ‘Demon’ went onto Kindle, and sold like hot cakes. In less than a year, I had an agent, and he arranged publicity too. Conor Farley wasn’t even a pen name, and it was on a lot of lips, I tell you.

There was a problem though. The first book had a definite conclusion. A good one, if I say so myself, but no scope for a sequel. And for the life of me, I couldn’t think up anything nearly that good for my next novel. I wasted hours on drafts, eventually settling on one idea and sending the first six chapters off for consideration. My agent thought it was crap, and the publisher said there was no way they would put it out. I bet they were relieved they hadn’t paid me the advance.

Eighteen months later, it was all going wrong. The money was draining away, and Stella went with it. The old house had to go, exchanged for a run-down one-bed flat above the local Indian Restaurant. At least I didn’t have to go far to buy something to eat. I had a great new story, but only the title and page one so far. What saddened me most was that the fans of ‘Demon’ were clamouring for more. One even started a Facebook page called ‘Where’s Conor?’.

To be honest, I was seriously thinking about going back to work. My old job had gone of course, but they were recruiting at the call-centre, and I was desperate enough to consider their no-hours contract. I really was. Then one day, Mr Patel from the restaurant downstairs stopped me as I was going to the corner shop. “Mister Conor, I took this parcel for you. You must have not heard the driver knocking”. I went back in, intrigued to examine the parcel.

The first thing I noticed was that it was from America. I didn’t know anyone over there, and certainly not the person who had put their name and address as the sender. It was also very light, easily lifted in one hand. I went up to the kitchen with it and got a sharp knife, to open it carefully. Inside, was a polystyrene box. That contained a box of small cakes, called ‘Twinkies’. I confess I was flummoxed. Who would send a box of presumably cheap cakes all the way from America, to someone they didn’t know? The postage alone must have cost considerably more than the box of cakes. It freaked me out a bit, I have to say.

The cake box was sealed, and the cakes inside individually sealed too. I unwrapped one and held it to my nose. It smelled fine. I gave the cake a lick. Tasted alright. I went for broke, and bit the end off. It was sweet and creamy, the sort of thing you instinctively know isn’t good for you. But what the Hell? So I ate it all. Then I went to the corner shop to get the tea and milk I needed.

Waking up in the middle of the night was very unusual for me. But that’s what happened. The bedside alarm read three-fourteen, and I was wide awake. What’s more, I was buzzing with thoughts and ideas. Without getting dressed, I was soon sitting at my computer churning out pages. I didn’t even stop for tea, coffee, or a pee. By the time the morning light was coming through the window overlooking the street, I had over sixty pages written and no sign of flagging. When the men came to get the rubbish piled on the pavement outside, I was up to eighty-eight pages. Then when I heard Mr Patel’s chef opening up to do his lunchtime prep, I was on page one hundred.

Tea was needed, and I felt myself trembling as I made it. I would have to go back over what I had written, but my gut told me it was bloody good. Better than ‘Demon’, I could already tell that. The re-read confirmed what I suspected. it was great. Better than great, and tons better than ‘Demon’. I treated myself to another of those Twinkie cakes with a second cup of tea, and got back to writing. I had started to really like them, and it wasn’t long before I had eaten two more. It saved bothering with lunch, and then the rest of the box was gone by dinnertime. I was buzzing though. The book was looking superb, and I was already on page two hundred and six. Another hundred and fifty pages would be long enough, and I already had the ending open for a sequel. Lots of sequels in fact.

Then the tiredness hit me, after that early start. I decided to have a bath and get to bed. That book would be finished by tomorrow afternoon, at this rate.

When I got up the next morning, it was past nine, and very sunny. I made tea first, then sat in front of the computer, raring to go. But as I stared at the page, I suddenly didn’t have a clue. I couldn’t remember that magnificent open ending I had in mind last night, and two of the characters started to seem underdeveloped, even unnecessary. The doubt crept in, and I couldn’t type a word. I decided to get dressed, and go and buy some more of those cakes. They might help me focus.

Mr Allen in the corner shop hadn’t heard of them. He suggested I try one of the big supermarkets on the edge of town. That meant a bus ride, and a long walk around the trading estate. Still, something told me I did need those cakes, strange as that seemed. So I got the bus. The big Morrisons didn’t stock them, and neither did Tesco. The man in Asda told ne he had heard of them, but they didn’t carry that line. He suggested I try to order them online. I thanked him, but couldn’t admit that I no longer had a credit card, and my bank account was almost empty. And I didn’t mention that I could no longer afford to be connected to the Internet, either.

Four smaller shops I went in on the long walk home didn’t have any, and I arrived back at my flat exhausted.

Six weeks later, and I have literally run out of money. I am still on page two hundred and six, and waiting hopefully for another parcel to arrive from California.

Meanwhile, I have posted the application off to the call centre.

Photo Prompt Story: The Duggan House

This is a short story, in 1350 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, sent to me by Darlene Foster.

When she split up with Joanne, the first thing Carrie wanted to do was to get out of Vancouver. She put in to the RCMP personnel department for a transfer to anywhere, and it wasn’t long before Alberta was offered.

Edmonton, somewhere she had never been. She accepted it without a second thought, and told them she would stay in a motel until she found an apartment to rent.

It was an Inspector’s job with the detective branch. Most of the others were well established already, and she knew she wouldn’t get anything high profile until she proved herself. After a couple of weeks getting used to the place, and settling in, Carrie found a decent apartment, then set about getting on with the job. She arrived early, and stayed late. When there were no cases coming her way, she looked for work.

Superintendent Roy looked at her as she tapped on his office door. “Can I help you, Inspector Chang?” She held up a file. “I was looking through this old case, sir. Be alright if I take some time to check it out?” He took the file, and flicked through it. “An old missing person job, out near Busby? Jeez, that’s over three years ago, Carrie”. She shrugged. “Looks funny to me sir, almost like it was let go. The guy has never showed up, not anywhere. I think it’s suspicious”.

She had come with good reports, and an excellent case clear-up rate. He thought he might as well see what she could do. “Sure, drive up there and look around. Take a week if you need it, then let me know what you think”. That night, Carrie took the file home, and read it in bed. Something had been missed, and she knew what that might be.

It was forty-five miles to Busby, and she made it under the hour. Not much happening there, just a small farming community. Even the gas station had closed down, probably unable to compete with the new one she had passed on highway forty-four. Taking the detailed map, she spread it over the front of the car and scanned it carefully. If she was right, she should be able to climb the tumbledown fence, and walk to the place.

The patrol car pulled in just behind her. Local cop. He walked over, smiling. “You lost, ma’am? Need some help?” Carrie flashed her badge. “I’m heading for the Duggan House. Were you around when that young fella went missing a few years back? Luke Anderson, he was a student at The University of Alberta, down in Edmonton”. He took off his hat and rubbed his crew-cut hair. “You mean that kid from Grande Prairie, nineteen or so?” Carrie nodded. “He told his room mate at the student accommodation he was going to head out here to look over the Duggan House. Nobody ever saw or heard from him again. He didn’t have a car, so he must have got the bus from Edmonton, and walked from the stop”.

The cop put his hat on and started to turn back to his car. “As I recall, there was a big search for him, and nothing showed up. If I was you, I’d keep away from the old Duggan House. That’s a bad place”. Then he was in his car, and driving away. Carrie folded the map and put it in her backpack. Then she locked her car and left it in the pull-off by the side of the country road. It took less than ten minutes to cross the fields until she saw the house in the distance.

It looked to be unloved, to say the least. The glass was gone from the windows, the roof shot, and there was light between the planks that had been used to build it, God knows how long ago. She walked straight up to the gap where the front door had been, and went in. The floor boards creaked under her feet and dust rose in small clouds that settled over her shoes. It seemed very cold inside, much colder than it had been out in the field. The ground floor was just one big empty room, and her footsteps echoed as she walked around it.

At the side was a lean-to. Judging from the single tap still bolted to the wood, she guessed it had served as a kitchen at one time. She headed up the stairs, which groaned under her light weight. The hand-rail looked like it would easily come away from the fixings, so she left it alone. There were two bedrooms upstairs, with an old iron bedstead still in one, and the other empty. Much of the upstairs space was taken by a big old storage space at the front. It was dark in there despite having no window, not even the frame. She took out a small flashlight from her pocket and shone it into the space.

Only dust and boards, nothing to bother with. Just about to turn and retrace her steps, she saw something glinting in the beam. She held the light on it and walked into the far corner. It was a small digital voice recorder. The chrome trim had reflected the light.

From her other pocket, Carrie took a latex glove, and a small evidence bag. She picked up the recorder in the gloved hand, then dropped it into the bag before sealing it up. It was getting colder all the time in there, so she decided to head back to her car. In the statement from the room mate, it was clear that Luke had been heading for the Duggan House. But it was also clear now that nobody had ever searched the place at the time. Or they would surely have found that recorder.

Back at the station, Carrie wrote up a report about what she had seen, then found some fresh batteries in the storeroom, and turned on the voice recorder.

“This is Luke Anderson. First recording for the Duggan House. It’s eight at night, and I am just going through the doorway”

Then there was the sound of footsteps, and creaking boards. Carrie began to jot down some notes in the file.

“Okay, the flashlight isn’t showing anything but an empty room. Going into the side room. I think this was the kitchen, but according to what I have read, nothing happened here”.

Creaking and heavier breathing followed. Carrie guessed he was walking upstairs.

“The old bed is still in one of the rooms, no furniture anywhere though. It feels really cold in here, considering it was around sixty degrees outside. Got to check out the old storage loft now, should start to get something where most of it happened”.
He probably meant that big empty space with no door or windows, Carrie made some more notes. Then there was just breathing, heavier this time. Almost a gasp.

“Jesus, it’s so cold in here. I can see something in the far corner. Going closer. Wow, it’s as cold as ice now”.

The next part made Carrie jump back in her seat. Luke was shouting, really loud.


There was no more audio.

Placing the recorder back into the evidence bag, Carrie put that and the case file into her backpack, and reached for her car keys. The case had taken a completely different turn now, just as she had suspected. Grabbing an extra flashlight from the desk drawer, she headed down to her car. It was already dark.

The best time to go back there, and try to find out what happened.

On Friday morning, Superintendent Roy walked into the main office. He raised his voice so they could all hear him. “Anyone seen the new girl? You know, the one from Vancouver, Carrie Chang”. Everyone shook their heads in turn. He raised his eyebrows. “She hasn’t let me know her progress, and it’s been three days now”.

He turned to the admin girl who was seated at the back.

“Janice, get on to the uniforms. Ask them to send someone to check her home address”.

Photo Prompt Story: Big Vern’s New Friend

This is a short story, in 1118 words.
It was inspired by the above photo, sent to me by Kim Barker.

Vernon was a big man, and I mean big. He looked as wide as he was tall, and had hands like bunches of bananas. Okay, he was getting some flab as he got older, but woe betide anyone who took him on. Anyone who thought that ‘the bigger they are the harder they fall’ was destined to be very wrong, when it came to Vern.

A big man needs a big dog, at least as far as he was concerned. And he got the biggest and meanest dog he could find. Tank was a Rottweiler, and one of the biggest I had ever seen. He was well-named too, as he could bash through any local dogs, and didn’t even notice them as he did so. Vern kitted him out, so he looked the part. He had a spiky collar, and needed two choke chains just to make him walk to heel. It was unlikely anyone other than Vern could have managed him.

There was no doubt that Tank was the king of the canine world in our town. Most other neighbourhood dogs wouldn’t even venture out when he was around. Vern would walk him all the time, taking Tank everywhere he went. He walked tall and proud, sure that his dog was by far the best around. Sidewalks cleared as they approached. One look at Tank’s menacing stare and drooling jowls, and anyone would cross the street to avoid them. Vern lived in the rough part of town. Though pretty much most of the town was rough, he chose to deliberately live where others tried to move away from. With a dog like Tank, nobody, but nobody was ever going to try to break in.

He really loved that dog. He would wrestle it in the front yard, and the growls and snarls could be heard along the street. And that was just Vern.

Then one day he had to go to the dentist, and they said there was no way Tank could come in. Even when Vern gave the dentist his most withering look, Mr Macaulay stuck to his guns, and said Tank would have to wait outside. Vern tied him up to a bike rack, and told him to sit and wait. It would have been alright, if Duke the German Shepherd hadn’t suddenly appeared across the street. Maybe he could tell Tank was tied up, we’ll never know. But he barked and barked at his old enemy, until Tank had had enough. He snapped that leash as if it was a shoelace, and took off across after Duke.

Unluckily for Tank, it was a cement truck that ran him down. If it had been a car, he would almost certainly have survived. He might have even jumped up and carried on after Duke. But even a dog as big as Tank had his limits, and that limit was a cement truck.

Big Vern was distraught. He carried that dog home as if it was as light as a bag of groceries, then he buried him in the back yard. He marked the spot with Tank’s choke chains and a rubber bone toy, before wondering how he would cope without his best friend. The locals left him alone for a long time after that, as his mood was impossible to predict. They knew he had done some hard time in his youth, and there were bad rumours about his past. Enough for everybody to leave him in peace with his grief.

Some time later, Vern had to go to the Post Office, to send back a shirt that was too small. Even when he bought the largest size available, they were usually too small.

After checking in the parcel, he headed for home. Shoulders slumped, feeling lost without a leash in his hand, and the feel of Tank pulling hard at the end of it. Approaching the corner, he looked behind for traffic, and was surprised to see a tiny dog behind him. As he stopped, the dog stopped. When he crossed at the light, the dog crossed too, and as he walked into his street, it was still behind him. He thought no more of it, and went into the house.

After some coffee and a few sandwiches, Vern thought he might hose down the front yard, just for something to do. Standing by the gate was the tiny dog, giving him a concentrated scare. Wandering across, he loomed over it, smiling. “You lost, little one? Where’s your mom and dad?” It just stood there, with that same stare. Vern leaned forward, and scooped it up in one of his shovel-sized hands. “I s’pose I better take you to the Vet, see if you got a chip or something”.

There was nothing on the Vet’s scanner, and nobody had reported the little dog missing. He told Vern that it was a pure-breed Pomeranian bitch, and was around five years old. Vern asked if he reckoned he could find a home for it, and the Vet smiled. “Sure, these dogs cost a lot, and are very fashionable. Leave her with me, and I will charge the new owner for my time”. As Vern turned to leave, he saw that the dog was still giving him that look. Try as he might, he couldn’t bring himself to pull on the handle to open the door.

Reaching into his pocket, he removed his wallet. “On second thoughts, I will pay your bill and take her. I don’t like to think about who might want her, and whether they will look after her”.

Vern carried the dog home, and stopped off in the pet store on the way. The owner looked at him in wonder as he bought a pink leash, a collar with rhinestones, and a small dog bed. He knew Vern from old, and thought the old guy must have lost it. Vern’s next stop was the fried chicken shop. He bought a family bucket, and smiled as the dog’s nose twitched at the aroma.

Back at the house, he carefully removed the fried coating, and separated some chicken from the legs into one of Tank’s old bowls. It was big enough for the tiny dog to take a swim in, but she gobbled up all that chicken in record time. Vern went into the bedroom to take a nap, and the tiny dog folowed him, jumping straight up onto the end of the bed. He smiled at that cute little face. “I’m gonna call you Little Kimmy. You live here now”.

Little Kimmy looked straight back into the big man’s eyes.

She knew she was home.

Photo Prompt Story: Kevins Karsull

This is a short story in, 1025 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, the third one sent to me by Jennie Fitzkee.

Mister Dolman was a good teacher, everyone agreed on that. He could make his lessons come to life by pretending to be a brave knight in armour, or a hedgehog snuffling for food. He would bring things in to show the kids, anything from a funny-shaped rock he had found, to the medals his Dad had been given during the war. Not for him just the dry text of the curriculum books, oh no. In Mister Dolman’s class, the kids actually turned up excited to be there, wondering what would happen next.

And he included everyone. No kid was allowed to sit things out because they were shy, or if they had doubts about their own abilities or skills. Inclusion was his creed, and that applied to Kevin too. A quiet boy, who always seemed to be worrying about something, Kevin didn’t play with the others at break, and nobody willingly sat next to him. Of course, that didn’t go unnoticed by the dedicated teacher.

So one day, Mister Dolman brought in a huge box from home. It was full of all sorts of random objects. He invited the kids to stand around and look in the box, then asked them what they thought was in it. Melody smiled. “Just junk”. Danny actually laughed. “You brought your garbage into school, Mister Dolman”. Letitia put her hands on her hips. “That’s boring”. He called Kevin forward. “Here, Kevin. You look, and tell me what you see”.

The boy stared into the box for a long time. He looked at the cardboard tubes from old toilet rolls and kitchen paper, the parcel box, some wires, and old paints and brushes. There were a few empty plastic bottles, washed out and clean, and two food storage tubs that had seen better days. The other kids shuffled their feet, as Kevin thought about those objects. Finally, he looked up at the teacher. “I see a castle”.

Smiling, Mister Dolman nodded. “That’s great, Kevin. Okay class, after lunch, we are all going to make a castle. Kevin is going to show us how”.

Using an old cupboard door as a base, and glue provided by the school, they set about creating that castle, guided by Kevin, who could undoubtedly picture it in his head. The cardboard rolls became strong towers, the bottles were carefully cut to become crenelated bastions, and the parcel box turned into a gatehouse and drawbridge, with the old wires used to raise and lower it. The storage tubs were cut and stuck in place to provide walls between the towers. By the time the end of the school day was approaching, everyone agreed it looked just like one of the castles they had seen in old pictures.

As they were getting ready to go home, Mister Dolman lifted the castle, and put it in a safe place on top of the bookshelf. “Safe journey home now, everyone. Tomorrow afternoon, we are going to paint the castle”. He smiled as he watched Melody and Danny walking with Kevin. They were all chatting and grinning. Everyone wanted to know more about how Kevin had thought up the castle.

True to his word, the paints were brought out the next day. The other kids were asking Kevin things. “What colour should I paint this, Kevin?”. “Shall I paint the drawbridge brown, like wood, Kevin?” After it was almost finished, Kevin took the thinnest brush, and drew lines up and down the castle, making it look like the various stone sections would have appeared. Mister Dolman gave him a piece of strong card, and asked him to name the castle. “We will put the card in front on the base, Kevin”. The boy took a marker pen, and wrote carefully.

‘Kevins Karsull’.

It was easy enough to persuade the head teacher to let him put the castle in the trophy cabinet in the entrance hall. Then every day for the rest of his time at that school, Kevin would walk past something he had created, and the other kids would say “We helped too”.

Retirement was compulsory, but that didn’t mean Mister Dolman was looking forward to it. His wife was worried about him. “Maybe you can still do something, Phil? You know, voluntary stuff. Teaching slow readers, helping out at the museum. You’ll find something, I’m sure”. The retirement party was after school on the Friday. They gave him gifts of framed photos of the school, and a lovely collage made by his last class. Everyone signed his card, and wished him well.

When he walked across to his car, Phil Dolman didn’t look back, not even once. He didn’t want them to see him crying.

The following Monday, it already felt strange to not have to go to work. He sat around reading the papers, and watched the breakfast news on television. Just after nine, there was a knock at the door. The parcel was really big, and at first he thought it must be for his wife. But the parcel guy made him sign for it in the name of Mister Dolman, and he was intrigued as he opened it carefully, noting the large FRAGILE stickers all over it.

Inside, there were acres of bubble wrap, and once he was through those, he revealed a beautiful castle made from plaster,  lovingly crafted and painted. There was also a note.

‘Mister Dolman, I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to your party. I live a long way from that town now, and I was busy with work. I phoned the school and explained, and they were kind enough to give me your address. I have never forgotten the day we made that castle, and I wanted you to have your own one, so you could remember how you helped me back then. I hope you like it. Kevin.
There was another card inside, with careful writing on it. It simply read
‘Kevins Karsull’.

Phil showed it to his wife, his eyes wet with tears.

They both agreed it was the best retirement present any teacher could ever wish for.

Photo Prompt Story: Albert Sees The Light

This is a short story, in 1210 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, sent to me by Ed Westen.

The first shop didn’t have any Bakewell Tarts in stock, and it took two more tries before finding some in the fourth. They had to be Mr Kipling, the only brand Mildred liked. Albert reversed the car out onto the main road, and headed for home. Why his wife wanted to eat Bakewell Tarts all of a sudden, and at nine at night, he had no idea. It wasn’t as if it was one of those pregnancy fancies. She was sixty-six last birthday, and they had been sleeping in separate rooms for nine years.

Oh well, anything for a quiet life.

When his mother died, Albert had started to feel lonely. Almost fifty years with her had become a familiar, cosy feeling. It had never bothered him that he didn’t knew who his father was, as he was never alone when she was alive. He had asked her about who his father was once, and she had just shrugged. “Can’t remember love, there were a lot of men back then. I was quite a looker, though you wouldn’t think so now”.

For two years, he muddled along. Then the house began to feel empty, and he could hear his own breathing when he was watching television. So he joined a club, a Bowls Club on the edge of town. That was where he met Mildred. It was her idea to get married. “Just for company though, Albert. None of that lovey-dovey stuff, okay?” That suited him just fine.

It took him quite a while to work out the truth. Mildred didn’t want company, she wanted a servant. And a chauffeur, and a cook, and someone to pay the bills. Albert regretted ever telling her about his inheritance, as she gave up her job the week before they got married. He had to work until he was sixty-five, coming home every day to get her dinner, do the washing and ironing, and watch her play Bejewelled on her phone for hours on end.

At least he wasn’t lonely.

The light on the road ahead looked like someone had left their full beams on, but then it got brighter and brighter until he couldn’t see anything. Scared he might crash, Albert pulled the car over and stopped on the verge. The light got closer and closer, then seemed to pass over him, showing up the blood vessels through his skin. And there was a noise too, like the drone of a million bees, right inside his head.

It stopped as soon as it had started, and the road was plunged into darkness once again.

Mildred insisted on a plate, so he brought the three Bakewell Tarts back on a nice Royal Doulton tea plate, and watched as she wolfed them down. She had been checking the Bingo numbers in the daily newspaper, and spluttered crumbs everywhere as she shook her head in disgust. “I only needed two numbers. Bugger it!”

Three days later, Albert woke up with a bad pain in his jaw. It felt like toothache, and his gums were swollen close to the pain. But it was in a spot where he had had to have two back teeth removed over three years ago, so he didn’t see how it could be toothache. He found an old bottle of tooth tincture, and rubbed some onto the area. It didn’t help much, but Mildred was asking when he was going to hang the washing on the line, so he had to forget about the pain, and get on with his chores.

Later that night, he was aware of a terrible sharp pain in his mouth, and when he went into the bathroom, he saw some blood around his lips. Gingerly touching inside, he could feel that his gum had broken open, and the pain was getting worse. Mildred came in, complaining that his putting the light on had disturbed her. When he told her what was happening, she just switched off the light, and turned to head back to bed. “Well go and see the dentist tomorrow, but don’t wake me up again”.

They said there were no appointments, but when he told them he was a private patient of Mrs Gomez, they fitted him in. She was perplexed, to say the least. “Albert, I have to tell you that I have never seen anything like it. The two teeth I took out are growing back, and seemingly very quickly too. I need to take X-rays, and do some tests”.

She showed him the X-ray on her computer screen. “No doubt about it, look here. See? They are almost fully grown again”. When Albert told her that they had only started hurting the day before, she shook her head. “Amazing, just amazing. Would you mind if I wrote about this to the Institute of Dentistry? You could become famous, Albert”.

He was given a prescription for pain killers and antibiotics, told to be careful what he ate on that side, and to come back in ten days.

When he woke up the next morning, the pain had gone, and he had two brand new teeth. But his fingernails and toenails were all over two inches long. He couldn’t get his slippers on his feet, and when he tried to use the nail clippers, it was hard to grasp them with the strangely elongated fingernails. He managed after a while, and went downstairs to tell Mildred. But she was busy with an online slots game on her phone, and waved him away.

By the afternoon, Albert had made his tongue sore, by rubbing it constantly on those new teeth. And his other teeth seemed to be bigger and stronger too, as if they were filling his mouth. He tried to eat a slice of fruit cake, but could hardly hold it with fingers that had long nails that had regrown. When he finally bit off some cake, he found he was chewing his tongue along with the cake. In a panic, he drove back to the dentist, and waited until she could see him.

Mumbling through a mouth full of fast-growing teeth, he managed to tell her his problem, and showed her his fingernails too. She looked scared, and said she would have to ask advice from the head of the practice. Meanwhile, he should go home, and she would phone him.

It was impossible to walk to the car, let alone drive it. He had to pull his shoes off there and then, on the rain-swept pavement. His toenails had ripped through his socks, and were as long as the claws on a wild animal. He just about managed to drive without hitting them on the surface above the car’s controls. Once out of the town centre, Albert had to open his mouth slightly, to allow his tongue to hang out and take the pressure off. Mildred would be angry that he had been gone so long, he knew that.

But he knew something else too. He had to go back to where he had pulled off the road onto the verge. Then he had to wait for the bright light to return.

He could only hope they would come back for him before it was too late.